Overview. What a day. By our count, there were eleven conference tournament games today that went down to the final minute where either team had a realistic shot to win. We’re proud to say that we saw most of those games and recorded it for all posterity over at our daily journal of hoopsography, Boom Goes the Dynamite. So without rehashing everything that we transcribed over there, let’s take a look at some of the key storylines that we’re keeping an eye on going into Championship Saturday.
Get Your Voodoo Dolls Out. These are the teams that Bubble Nation despises right now because these are the guys still standing in their conference tourneys that are in position to take away ‘their’ much-more-deserving spot in the field of 65. So if you’re a fan of one of the below teams and you feel a prickly feeling tomorrow in your thigh emanating from Omaha, Las Cruces, Gainesville, Providence, et al, you’ll know why.
- USC. The Trojans entered the Pac-10 Tourney in nobody’s field of 65. With good reason, they faltered down the stretch, losing six of their last nine and looking listless throughout much of the season. And now, after defeating crosstown rival UCLA tonight, they’re 40 minutes away from an automatic bid playing a team in their hometown whom they split with on the season.
- Temple/Duquesne. The A10 has already guaranteed that somebody will be disappointed on Sunday because neither of these two teams were on anybody’s board either. Temple was at least in the conversation, but Duquesne has come out of nowhere, upsetting Dayton today to sit one game away from an auto-bid.
- Baylor. We discussed Baylor a little today in the BGTD, but obviously with a 5-11 Big 12 record, they’re not anywhere near the bubble. Yet, they’ll play Missouri tomorrow for an automatic bid, and given how they seem to have their mojo back after a major half-season swoon, we wouldn’t be surprised to crown Baylor as this year’s Georgia tomorrow in Oklahoma City.
- San Diego St. Well, at least SDSU is already on the bubble. Their hard-fought win over BYU tonight ensured that they too will have a chance tomorrow to take the decision out of the NCAA Selection Cmte’s hands. The Aztecs split their two games with Utah, who was already ensured a bid either way. SDSU will feel the wrath of Bubble Nation on them tomorrow.
- Mississippi St./Auburn – MSU defeated South Carolina and Auburn beat Florida today to move into the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, which means that half of the SEC semifinalists are teams that probably aren’t going to get in without an auto-bid. The SEC is so muddled that either of these teams can beat LSU or Tennessee (respectively) and get a shot on Sunday for the guaranteed invite.
- Maryland – This one is less likely considering that Maryland will probably have to beat Duke and Carolina to win the auto-bid, but merely beating Duke would move the Terps from bubble to lock status. The voodoo dolls have a lot of work to do tomorrow.
Championship Saturday. Twelve automatic bids will be earned tomorrow. Her’e's a brief primer on each.
- America East – (6) UMBC @ (1) Binghamton. UMBC got pounded at Binghamton a couple of weeks ago, and the Bearcats have 12 of 13 coming into tomorrow. We’d expect Tony Kornheiser to be a happy man tomorrow, celebrating Binghamton’s first ever trip to the NCAAs.
- Atlantic 10 – (7) Duquesne vs. (4) Temple. Just like last season, Temple is coming on strong at the end of the year, having won 9 of 11 coming into this game. Temple defeated Duquesne in their only meeting in Pittsburgh earlier this year, and we expect to see the same in AC tomorrow.
- Big 12 – (3) Missouri vs. (9) Baylor. Baylor has won three in a row for the first time since December, and we’ve noticed that they have some of their swagger back this weekend. As well as Mizzou has played this year, Baylor has more “big game” postseason experience, so we’re going with the Bears in the upset here.
- Big East – (6) Syracuse vs. (1) Louisville. For the Cuse’s sake, they’d better hope they lose tomorrow night. The last time they had a great BE Tourney run like this in 2006, Texas A&M ran them off the court in their first round NCAA game because they had nothing left in the tank. We think that SU’s tired legs catch up to them and Louisville gets a #1 seed with tomorrow’s Big East title.
- Big West – (3) Pacific vs. (1) CS-Northridge. These two teams are essentially even, but Pacific beat CSN twice already this year, and it’s difficult to beat a team three times, so we’ll go with Northridge.
- Conference USA – (2) Tulsa vs. (1) Memphis. Yeah, we’re going to go against the team that’s won sixty league games in a row. Playing at home. Sure.
- MAC – (5) Akron vs. (3) Buffalo. These two teams knocked off the top two seeds today in the semifinal round, and they split during the regular season. We like Buffalo because they darn near beat UConn back in December. That’s as good a reason as any.
- MEAC – (3) Norfolk St. vs. (1) Morgan St. Todd Bozeman’s Morgan crew is the class of this conference and will earn its first NCAA bid tomorrow.
- Mountain West – (4) San Diego St. vs. (2) Utah. The Utes comfortable beat SDSU at home, but the Aztecs are playing with a purpose right now. Tossup game, but we like Utah to eke one out in Vegas.
- Pac-10 – (6) USC vs. (4) Arizona St. USC has looked like a different team in this conference tournament so far, with Demar DeRozan suddenly playing the superstar he was projected to be. We like the hometown team here stealing an NCAA spot from someone else.
- SWAC – (2) Jackson St. vs. (1) Alabama St. Jackson St. is the hotter team, having won 13 of their last 14, including a win a few weeks ago against ASU.
- WAC – (1) Utah St. @ (2) Nevada. This should be an excellent game – the prohibitive favorite playing essentially a road game for the automatic bid. They split their games with each team winning at home, and we think Nevada will ride its home crowd to another win here. The question is whether Utah St. at 29-5 (16-3) would be an at-large? Answer: probably.
A Few Other Thoughts.
- ACC – The call that gave the victory to Carolina was yet another late-game example of the ACC powers-that-be protecting their own, and we don’t know what BC was thinking when they decided to shoot a 28-footer to beat Duke instead of driving to the rim. Maryland has had a nice run, but it will end tomorrow. Duke-Carolina Part 3 is imminent on Sunday.
- Big Ten – Ohio St. will probably hang with Michigan St. for a while, but ultimately will fold. The Purdue-Illinois game should be really good, though. Illinois took both prior games but Robbie Hummell missed the last one. We like Purdue to pull off a close one here.
- SEC – Auburn is one of the hottest teams around now, having won nine of its last ten games. We like the Tigers to outlast Tennessee tomorrow to face LSU in the finals on Sunday.
Finally, Welcome American to the Dance… (15 down, 50 to go…).
#15 – American (24-7, 13-1). American earned its second consecutive trip to the NCAAs with its easy win today over Holy Cross, 73-57. Jeff Jones’ squad got 24 from star guard and Tourney MVP Garrison Carr, but it was their defense that once again shut down a conference foe (holding HC to 32% shooting).
Projected Seed: #15
Something to Remember: American got bombed by Oklahoma, Georgetown and Maryland this year, but it’s their defense that should have high seeds concerned. They have the 24th best defensive efficiency, but they likely don’t have enough offense to run with the big dogs unless they catch a really poor offensive team on an off night.
On Tap Tomorrow. Be sure to check in with us tomorrow, as we’ll be back with BGTD all day, covering the dozen auto-bids plus the four other conferences that don’t finish up until Sunday. The three games that have us most excited on Championship Saturday? Louisville-Syracuse, Illinois-Purdue and Utah St.-Nevada. See you then.