Marquette rallied in Morgantown Friday night and handed West Virginia its seventh loss in nine games. The Mountaineers are sliding, and headed straight toward potential bubble trouble. Not that WVU is alone. Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi have created their own issues. Southern Miss has lost back-to-back games to Houston and UTEP – which follows an earlier loss this month to UAB. Mississippi State has lost four straight and now leaves home for two straight SEC road games – starting at Alabama. It’s never easy to close out an NCAA bid.
Championship Week is shaping up to be quite interesting. What are the odds that conference favorites all win their tournaments? Less that fifty percent, most likely. That means we’ll have a few bid stealers before Selection Sunday. It’s almost March. Who’s ready for a little Madness?
Enjoy a great weekend of hoops. I’ll try to have more frequent updates as we go through the final two weeks.
Maybe it’s because the Mountaineers toppled Kentucky in the East Region final. Maybe it’s because the Spartans are down a key player and the Bulldogs are considered a mid-major by most standards. Maybe it’s because Duke is often a polarizing team among fans. Whatever the reason, visitors to Bracketville tabbed West Virginia (44%) as the favorite to cut down the nets in Indianapolis on Monday night. WVU was followed by Duke (32%), Michigan State (16%), and Butler (8%).
The one common denominator among the last four standing – defense. You can’t listen to a commentary and not hear the word defense mentioned. We credited West Virginia’s 1-3-1 zone with disrupting Kentucky’s offense. Duke puts a lot of pressure on the ball and has size around the basket as back-up. Tom Izzo demands that his Michigan State team commit to defense. All Butler has done is hold every one its NCAA opponents to 59 points or less. This in mind … here’s a quick preview of what to expect at Lucas Oil Stadium:
Butler vs. Michigan State
A great matchup of two teams who prefer to play half-court. Safe to say, the game could very well be decided in the 50′s. Most likely, it’ll come down to two or three possessions. The Spartans thrive on rebounding. Butler out-rebounded Kansas State despite a disparity in size. Repeating that task against MSU won’t be easy. It’s not critical for the Bulldogs to outrebound the Spartans, but Butler can’t get destroyed on the offensive glass. Second-chance points will be at a premium for both teams. If Ronald Norad can keep Durrell Summers in check on the perimeter – MSU could have trouble scoring. The other key is Korie Lucious. Butler forces turnovers by clogging passing lanes and playing physical chest-to-chest defense on the perimeter. So who wins? Gut says Michigan State finds a way; heart says Butler earns the right to play for a national championship. The pick? Butler with a last-possession defensive stand.
West Virginia vs. Duke
As you may have noticed in our final 2010 Bracket Projection, West Virginia was the final No. 1 seed, Duke a No. 2 seed. Does that mean West Virginia is favored here? Not necessarily. The Mountaineers – in my opinion – accomplished a tad more than Duke in the regular season, thus the No. 1 seed projection. Once the ball is tipped, however, none of that matters. Both teams excel at offensive rebounding, so that stat-line bears watching. Duke beat Baylor largely because of second-chance points down the stretch. West Virginia gave up 22 offensive boards to Kentucky, but won because the Wildcats missed a lot of shots. Duke has a little more firepower on offense than West Virginia, and it’s hard to imagine the Blue Devils missing as many shots as Kentucky did against the zone. The pick? Duke makes a couple of extra shots late and advances.
Championship: Butler vs. Duke
Classic matchup between a college basketball program on the rise and one that’s been consistently good for decades. Much like Syracuse and Kansas State, Duke has technical advantages at most positions. They also have a Hall-of-Fame coach. But … sometimes none of that matters. Sometimes, it’s about the right team at the right time in the right place. Would there be a more compelling story than Butler winning the national championship in its home city? So I’ll go with Butler to cut down the nets. Enjoy the games. I’ll be in Indy doing some stuff for NBCSports.com. Follow along on Twitter. We’ll have a very early look at the 2011 tournament field on Monday.
After a thrilling, exhausting, and truly memorable opening weekend, the 2010 NCAA Tournament delivers a series of delicious Sweet 16 matchups. Is there a more intriguing game than Cornell vs. Kentucky? How about Northern Iowa against a depleted Michigan State (Kalin Lucas is out with a torn achilles)? There’s also a rematch: Xavier-Kent State … a St. Mary’s arrival … a Boiler resurgence … and a forgotten group of Huskies. What’s it all mean? Hopefully, a few more shining moments …
If you consider Xavier a mid-major (a bit of a stretch), there are 5 Mids and 11 Majors left in the field. Which begs the question … Can the Mids go Major? Northern Iowa already has – beating Kansas, the tourney’s overall No. 1 seed. If Butler, Xavier, St. Mary’s and Cornell do the same, imagine this Elite 8 … No. Iowa, Butler, Xavier, St. Mary’s, Cornell and your choice of Duke-Purdue, Washington-West Virginia, Ohio State-Tennessee. Will it happen? Not likely, but let’s take a look …
Northern Iowa – Michigan State: Without Kalin Lucas, UNI might actually be considered the favorite. The Panthers’ biggest concern is momentum. How does a four-day layoff affect their last-second Karma? Sparty will battle much harder on the glass than Kansas and it’ll be critical for the Panthers to keep MSU from dominating the glass. Read more…
Word of warning: Proceed at your own risk. Selecting winners in the actual NCAA tournament isn’t necessarily my strong point. Of course, if we all knew what would happen, what fun would it be? For what it’s worth (lets be honest, not much) …. here are some sure-to-be-wrong picks for the upcoming 2010 tournament …
MIDWEST … Thought to be the toughest Region, Kansas’ road to the Final Four shouldn’t be too bumpy until the Elite 8. For all the big names, most potential threats are in the lower half of the bracket, meaning the Jayhawks only have to beat the survivor.
- 1st Round upset: San Diego State over Tennessee. Recent tourney history hasn’t been kind to the Vols.
- 2nd Round upset: Michigan State over Maryland. Given the Spartans’ rebounding ability – a weakness for the Terps – MSU gets enough second-chance points to survive.
- Headed to St. Louis: Kansas, Michigan State, Georgetown, Ohio State.
- Elite 8: Kansas and Ohio State. The Jayhawks are too strong for Michigan State and Evan Turner is the best player on the court against Georgetown (and just about anyone else).
- Final Four bound: Kansas. Read more…
Three days until Selection Sunday. Several bubble teams collapsed Thursday. A couple actually won. Where does that leave us? It looks like there are six (6) openings left. Due to several important bubble games on Friday, I’ve decided to delay our next bracket projection until Saturday morning – March 13. For now, here’s the latest bubble update …
Huge day in the Atlantic 10. With Memphis and UAB both losing Thursday, at least one spot is likely available. Rhode Island, St. Louis, and Dayton are all in the mix. It’s very possible the A-10 could still end up with five bids. Also a big day in the Big 10 … Illinois must beat Wisconsin and Minnesota has to upset Michigan State. In the SEC …. Mississippi and Mississippi State have critical games. Then, in the Mountain West … San Diego State gets New Mexico. Hard to ask for a lot more meaningful action.
Who benefitted Thursday? Utah State is now in good position to earn an at-large, if needed. UTEP moved into our Should Be In category and is a win away from Lock status. Washington won its quarterfinal with Oregon State and now has a clear path (Stanford) to the Pac-10 title game. Of course, a loss to the Cardinal wouldn’t be advised. Making the final will probably be enough.
It really comes do what happens in the Big 10, SEC and A-10. Those leagues still have bid stealers – or at least teams that can play their way in. If more bubble teams keep losing, then some teams who’ve already lost could be back in play. We do have to take 34 at-large teams.