Championship Monday Night. Four middies had their conference tourneys tonight, and we’ll be damned if we didn’t see at least a couple of RTCs out there (and a half-RTC in the WCC just for good measure). Make no mistake, though, the four mid-major teams that won their leagues tonight are all excellent teams that nobody, we repeat, NOBODY, is going to want to see opposite their name in the brackets next week. Every one of these four squads are seasoned, experienced and battle-tested units that won’t get rattled by seeing some bright lights, a big arena and a brand-name team standing at the other end of the court. If none of these four teams pulls a first-round upset, then we don’t know anything about this game.
WCC Championship. St. Mary’s 81, Gonzaga 62. This game came down to a team that looked like it was playing for its NCAA life versus a team that was just happy going through the motions. It was a complete mismatch in the second half of the WCC title game, as St. Mary’s confirmed its bona fides in a cathartic victory over its biggest rival and in the process serving notice that there are two powers coming out of the WCC this season. The Gaels broke up a close game at halftime with a 51-point second half that included 68% shooting in the second half led by multiple threes from Mickey McConnell (26/6 assts/4 stls) and Ben Allen (20/9/4 assts). Essentially it was a do-no-wrong kind of half for Randy Bennett’s team to the point where his team didn’t even need a big offensive night from their superstar center Omar Samhan (9/7/6 blks). As for Gonzaga, this was the latest in a series of disappointing no-shows during the last six weeks where Mark Few’s team looked largely uninterested and apathetic — losses to San Francisco and LMU were similar occurrences. Elias Harris in particular was miserable tonight, shooting 3-13 for eight points, and the entire team seemed to have grease on their hands with fourteen TOs in the game. We realize that the Zags are always a threat to do some damage in March, but we’re just not convinced that this is one of Mark Few’s better teams, so it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if it was St. Mary’s that sticks around a little longer next week than their better-known counterparts in the NCAA Tournament.
MAAC Championship. Siena 72, Fairfield 65 (OT). For an oh-so-brief moment, every bubble team in America held its collective breath. Colin Nickerson’s three-pointer from the left corner was in the air to win the MAAC title for Fairfield, and if it had dropped, the weak bubble would have suddenly gotten a little more crowded with Siena joining the party. Of course, it didn’t fall, and instead Siena capped off its title game comeback by dominating the overtime period and capturing its third straight MAAC championship to return to the NCAA Tournament. For the third straight night, Siena found itself down at the half (this time by eleven) but as appropriate for a seasoned team, they never panicked, instead keeping their cool and eventually working their way back. Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin, veterans of four NCAA Tournament games in their careers, combined for 49/19 to lead the Saints, but it was Ubiles’ 360-dunk in the second half that signaled to Fairfield and the rest of the building that Siena was not going to leave without a victory tonight. Forget about the six losses on Siena’s record this year — five of those were away games, and the last we checked, the Tournament is played on neutral floors, and we know what this group is capable of in that respect. Ask Vanderbilt or Ohio State: nobody wants to play this team next Thursday or Friday. To close out the MAAC, check out this video from SienaSaintsBlog of the RTC tonight. Great stuff.