Tortoise is the Hare

Freshman Melo Trimble leads the Terrapins (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

In the Big Ten, the newest team is the fastest team and last week Wisconsin found out just how good it was. The Maryland Terrapins are blazing a trail along the midwest guns blazing.

Leading the Terps is their backcourt, specifically their freshman phenom Melo Trimble. He’s been outstanding for Maryland averaging over 16 points and 3 assists per game. Joining Trimble is senior Dez Wells who has been having an outstanding season himself scoring over 15 points per game himself.

Coach Mark Turgeon was on the hot seat before the season started, but he’s squelched any thoughts about his lack of job security. He has his backcourt to thank for that. It’s one that could take Maryland to the Final Four

Conference Tournaments start this week so here are some previews.

ATLANTIC SUN: The Atlantic Sun has gone in a different direction and is holding the entire tournament at campus sites. North Florida won the regular season title and the only team to beat the Ospreys on their homecourt is the South Carolina-Upstate Spartans. The good news for the Ospreys is the Spartans are on the other side of the bracket. I expect North Florida to ride homecourt to the NCAA tournament.

HORIZON LEAGUE: Last year, Milwaukee shocked everyone and made a run to the Big Dance. This year it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Valparaiso, Green Bay and Detroit are all capable of winning this tournament. Given the fact that the tournament will be played on Valpo’s homecourt and the format protects the higher seeds and I think we’ll see Green Bay and Valpo in the final. In that scenario I expect the Green Bay Phoenix to go dancing.

PATRIOT LEAGUE: This has been a disappointing year overall for the Patriot League. In the past, this has been a league that provided upsets in the tournament. There’s little chance of that happen as the champion will most likely have to play in the First Four. Bucknell is the best program in the league and routinely navigates this tournament. That’ll happen again and the Bison will go dancing.

OHIO VALLEY: Murray St has been the class of the OVC for decades. This year the Racers have been special. They blew through the conference finishing 16-0 in league-play. The next closest teams, Belmont and Eastern Kentucky, have five losses. That means there was no one even close. I don’t expect there to be anyone close to Murray St this week in Nashville. The Racers are going dancing.

BIG SOUTH: This should be one of the better tournaments of the early part of championship week. Charleston Southern and High Point finished atop the league with 13-5 records while Coastal Carolina, Radford and Winthrop all had 12-6 records. In total, seven teams had winning conference records. The tournament will be played at the home of defending champion Coastal Carolina so expect the South Carolina teams to have a strong presence. It will be a Coastal vs. Charleston Southern final with CSU heading back to the tournament.

NORTHEAST: If there has been any truth here its that the homecourt in this tournament has never really mattered. Teams have gone on the road and won in this tournament on a consistent basis. St. Francis (NY) won the regular season title, but I’m willing to bet the Terriers don’t want to see Mount St. Mary’s. The Mountaineers beat the Terriers at home and took them to overtime on the road. I expect the Mountaineers go dancing.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: UCLA, Texas A&M, Michigan St, Purdue

Last Four Out: BYU, Colorado St, Texas, Stanford

Good for games through 3/1.

MIDWEST

1.Kentucky16.North Florida/Bucknell Louisville

8.Ohio St9.Xavier

5.Northern Iowa12.Stephen F. Austin Columbus

4.Louisville13.Harvard

6.Georgetown11.Tulsa Seattle

3.Gonzaga14.New Mexico St

7.Iowa10.NC State Omaha

2.Kansas15.William & Mary

WEST

1.Arizona16.Sacramento St Portland

8.VCU9.Oklahoma St

5.Butler12.Michigan St/Texas A&M Jacksonville

4.North Carolina13.Bowling Green

6.SMU11.Purdue/UCLA Seattle

3.Oklahoma14.UC Davis

7.Georgia10.Indiana Pittsburgh

2.Villanova15.Georgia Southern

SOUTH

1.Virginia16.Charleston Southern Charlotte

8.St. John’s9.Temple

5.Arkansas12.Wofford Louisville

4.Iowa St13.Valparaiso

6.West Virginia11.Illinois Portland

3.Utah14.North Carolina Central

7.San Diego St10.Oregon Omaha

2.Wisconsin15.Albany

EAST

1.Duke16.St. Francis(NY)/Texas Southern Charlotte

8.LSU9.Dayton

5.Notre Dame12.Louisiana Tech Columbus

4.Wichita St13.Murray St

6.Providence11.Mississippi Jacksonville

3.Baylor14.Iona

7.Cincinnati10.Boise St Pittsburgh

2.Maryland15.South Dakota St

Steamin’ towards March

Purdue F JaJuan Johnson has been outstanding this season

Last month, it looked like Ohio St was going to win the Big Ten championship in a landslide. Now the Purdue Boilermakers are making their claim for a piece of that title.

Some wrote the Boilermakers off after Robbie Hummel suffered another torn ACL. However, there was still plenty of talent left in the cupboard in West Lafayette, Ind.

JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have been outstanding for the Boilermakers averaging 20.4 and 18.5 points per game respectively. They have more than picked up the slack for Hummel and look like they’re positioning themselves for a deep run this March.

The Boilers are ending the season with two very winnable games at home against Illinois and on the road at Iowa. If Wisconsin can manage to upset Ohio St on Sunday, they can possibly claim a share of the Big Ten title and an outstanding chance for a No. 1 seed.

No Stock Report this week as we preview some mid-major conference tournaments.

BIG SOUTH: This one is hard to call. Coastal Carolina was cruising before an injury to Kierre Greenwood and a suspension to Desmond Holloway derailed its dreams. Now head coach Cliff Ellis is hiring lawyers in response to media reports about the state of his program. It doesn’t smell like a team ready to claim a NCAA bid. It’s sad to see, but I don’t see Coastal getting past the semi-finals. In the Chanticleers place will be the Liberty Flames.

OHIO VALLEY: Anybody who doesn’t want to see Murray St and Morehead St duke it out one more time doesn’t like college basketball. Murray St is a squad that I thought would be in position for an at-large bid this season, but the Racers struggled against their ramped up schedule. Meanwhile, Morehead St has one of the best players in the nation in Kenneth Faried, the NCAA all-time rebounding leader. I expect the two to meet again in the finals with Murray St coming out on top.

ATLANTIC SUN: Belmont has been in complete control of the Atlantic Sun the entire year. The Bruins have lost four games all year and only one of those came in league play. This team has been one of the dominant programs in the Atlantic Sun since it joined the league and this year reinforced that. There’s nothing indicating any team other than Belmont has a chance. The Bruins are going dancing.

HORIZON LEAGUE: This will be one of the more competitive conference tournaments in all of college basketball. Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Butler and Cleveland St tied for the league title at 13-5 with Valparaiso finishing in fourth at 12-6. In fact, only 3 games separate first and sixth place. This is pretty much a toss up, but you have to go with the experience of the underachieving Butler Bulldogs to return to the NCAA tournament.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Washington St, Baylor, Richmond, Alabama
Last Four Out: Memphis, Butler, Penn St, California

Good for Games through 2/27

SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas16.McNeese St/Texas Southern Tulsa
8.Tennessee9.Gonzaga
5.Xavier12.Missouri St Tucson
4.Connecticut13.Princeton
6.Villanova11.Washington Washington, D.C.
3.Wisconsin14.Bucknell
7.Missouri10.Virginia Tech Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Murray St
SOUTHEAST
1.Purdue16.Long Island Chicago
8.Utah St9.Marquette
5.Georgetown12.Colorado Tampa
4.Florida13.Belmont
6.Texas A&M11.Alabama/Washington St Washington, D.C.
3.Syracuse14.Wisconsin-Milwaukee
7.UNLV10.Michigan St Charlotte
2.Duke15.Vermont
WEST
1.BYU16.Coastal Carolina Denver
8.Temple9.Old Dominion
5.Vanderbilt12.UAB Tampa
4.St. John’s13.Oakland
6.Kansas St11.St. Mary’s Charlotte
3.North Carolina14.Fairfield
7.UCLA10.Georgia Cleveland
2.Pittsburgh15.Long Beach St
EAST
1.Ohio St16.Northern Colorado/Bethune-Cookman Cleveland
8.West Virginia9.Florida St
5.Kentucky12.Richmond/Baylor Tucson
4.San Diego St13.Charleston
6.Arizona11.Illinois Denver
3.Louisville14.Kent St
7.George Mason10.Cincinnati Tulsa
2.Texas15.Florida Atlantic

In Graphical Form

Swamp Things

Florida point guard Erving Walker does everything for the Gators

After a slow start to the season, the Florida Gators have distanced themselves from the pack in the SEC East. Tied for the overall lead in the league, they have easily been the most impressive team thus far in the SEC.

Billy Donovan seems to finally getting his program back the level it enjoyed when it won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. He’s getting a balanced attack that is proving a difficult task for opponents to guard.

Erving Walker leads the team with 14.8 points per game, but gets plenty of help from Kenny Boynton, Vernon Macklin and Chandler Parsons who score about 35 points per game together. They’re an experienced group that has been through the rigors of the SEC before and want to return the program to glory.

Despite the success though, now is not the time for the Gators to rest on their laurels. Their final four games of the season all look to challenge their stranglehold on the standings. Home games against Georgia and Alabama along with trips to Kentucky and Vanderbilt will test the Gators. Time to see how bad the Gators’ bite is.

Stock Up: St. John’s. About 3 weeks ago, the Red Storm was the quintessential bubble team. Now, it looks like the only way it doesn’t make the NCAA tournament is if its canceled. St. John’s has beaten Duke, Georgetown, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut. At this point, it looks like they may be just playing for seeding now.

Stock Down: Missouri Valley Conference. The MVC’s showing in BracketBusters this weekend was very dissapointing. The conference did harbor some hopes to be a multiple bid league before the weekend, but after its three best teams lost in national TV games, those hopes are dashed. I’m used to seeing this as one of the best mid-major leagues, but it is truly a down year in the Valley.

Stock Up: Cliff Ellis. Here is a man in charge of a team that won the regular season title in the Big South last season, but was upset in the conference tournament. His Coastal Carolina squad is dominating the regular season again, but lost it’s starting point guard to a torn knee ligament. Then it found out leading scorer Desmond Holloway was suspended for a violation of NCAA rules. Ellis didn’t wallow in pity, he just got his team prepared to go out and beat North Carolina Central by 35 points. He continues to do a hell of a job with that program.

Stock Down: Minnesota. Gopher fans are seeing why Wildcat fans ran Tubby Smith out of Kentucky. A promising season is now on the verge of disaster as the Gophers have lost five of their last six. The Gophers face the real possibility of missing the dance altogether – possibly putting Smith on the hot seat. That’s something no one saw coming.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Memphis, Virginia Commonwealth, Boston College, Alabama
Last Four Out: Richmond, Butler, Colorado St, Virginia Tech

Good for Games through 2/20

SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas16.McNeese St/Morgan St Tulsa
8.Utah St9.Old Dominion
5.Arizona12.Alabama/Memphis Tampa
4.Connecticut13.Princeton
6.Syracuse11.Nebraska Tampa
3.Florida14.Bucknell
7.Florida St10.St. Mary’s Chicago
2.Purdue15.Miami(Oh)
WEST
1.Pittsburgh16.Montana Cleveland
8.UNLV9.Washington
5.Missouri12.Boston College/VCU Denver
4.Wisconsin13.Missouri St
6.Xavier11.Minnesota Washington, D.C.
3.Villanova14.Belmont
7.St. John’s10.Tennessee Tulsa
2.Texas15.Long Beach St
SOUTHEAST
1.Ohio St16.Vermont Cleveland
8.Kansas St9.Georgia
5.North Carolina12.Cleveland St Washington, D.C.
4.Louisville13.Oakland
6.Kentucky11.Illinois Charlotte
3.Georgetown14.Morehead St
7.George Mason10.Marquette Denver
2.BYU15.Florida Atlantic
EAST
1.Duke16.Long Island/Texas Southern Charlotte
8.UCLA9.Cincinnati
5.Texas A&M12.UTEP Tucson
4.Vanderbilt13.Charleston
6.Temple11.Gonzaga Chicago
3.Notre Dame14.Fairfield
7.West Virginia10.Michigan St Tucson
2.San Diego st15.Coastal Carolina

In Graphical Form

Heroes in a Half Shell

Jordan Williams in the paint makes Maryland a tough out this March

The Maryland Terrapins, who welcome Duke on Wednesday, are one of the hottest teams in the nation. They’ve won five in-a-row and 11 of 13.

Everyone knows about the guard ACC fans love to hate, Greivis Vasquez, but the revelation for the Terps has been freshman post player, Jordan Williams. Williams is averaging nine points-per-game, but what’s more impressive is the 8.4 rebounds a game. He gives the Terrapins a legitimate presence in the paint that they can rely on in a half-court game.

Gary Williams has been criticized a lot in the Washington, D.C. media and by Terrapin fans, but now is the time for folks to be quiet and give Gary Williams a round of applause for the job he continues to do in College Park. This team is playing hard and playing well and people should thank Gary for that.

We’re forgo the Stock Report this week for conference tournament previews.

BIG SOUTH: For some reason, this might be my favorite low-major conference. Whenever I watch a Big South game, it’s always entertaining. I expect more of the same from the tournament. I killed Coastal Carolina earlier this season for not beating Radford at home. Well, Coastal went traveled to Radford on Valentine’s eve and shut me. At 26-5, it’s Coastal Carolina’s year. Expect the Chanticleers to go dancing for the first time in 17 years.

OHIO VALLEY: On Bracketbuster Saturday, I finally got a glimpse of Murray St and boy was I impressed. They were running through the OVC and took a pretty good Morgan St team apart down the stretch. Then the Racers paid a trip to Morehead St to play the Eagles and had their quest of a perfect league record eliminated. After a disapointing loss in the the OVC semi-finals and the recent loss to Morehead St, expect to see a very motivated Murray St team this week. Motivated for a trip to the Big Dance.

ATLANTIC SUN: It’s hard to find words to describe this season in the Atlantic Sun. The first place team changed weekly it seemed so it was only fitting that there was a four-way tie for first. Lipscomb, Belmont, Jacksonville and Campbell finished with identical 14-6 conference records while East Tennessee St was just a game back at 13-7. No program in the Atlantic Sun knows how to navigate this tournament like Belmont. It had a down year last year but it’s back this season and will make a return to the NCAA Tournament.

HORIZON LEAGUE: Butler completely dominated the Horizon this season. It was the only team to finish with an undefeated league record in conference. The Bulldogs are six games ahead of their closest competitors. There is no reason to believe that someone is going to be able to beat them at home this weekend. Butler will win the Horizon League tournament and make a bubble team somewhere very happy.

This week’s bracket projections:

Last Four In: San Diego St, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Connecticut
Last Four Out: Mississippi St, Virginia Tech, Mississippi, Rhode Island

NCAA Projected Bracket

Tar Heel Blues

North Carolina's Roy Williams has repeatedly been frustrated by his team

In the 2005-2006 season, the season after North Carolina won its previous national championship, not much was expected. All that happened was North Carolina having a surprisingly good year and Roy Williams doing perhaps his best job ever as coach. Unfortunately for Tar Heel fans, this season isn’t shaping up to be quite as successful.

The Tarheels are struggling in every since of the word right now. They are losers of three of its last four including a blowout loss at Clemson and a road loss at the College of Charleston. They are 12-6 right now and their RPI is in the 50’s. The Michigan St and Ohio St wins will go a long way for them, but if they don’t turn it around soon, this season can spiral out of control.

The main reason North Carolina is in this position is because Ty Lawson plays for the Denver Nuggets. North Carolina is solid in the frontcourt, but guard play is holding it back. If they’re able to get solid play out of Larry Drew, this team can be dangerous in March. Right now though, its just not looking good for Roy Williams.

Stock Up: Ohio State. This is a completely different team with Evan Turner. As you saw by the show he put on in West Lafayette, Ind. last week, he’s clearly an All-American. In a foul-plagued game against Wisconsin, Turner still managed to score 15. This team might be too far behind Michigan St to catch the Spartans for the Big Ten regular season title. However, at full strength, this very well may be the best team in the conference.

Stock Down: UConn. The Huskies are very much in the same boat as the Tarheels, except they aren’t the defending national champions and preseason favorites to win their conference. That being said, they are reeling. They haven’t been the same since Georgetown rallied to beat them and with Texas on its way, it could get worse before it gets better.

Stock Up: BYU. The Cougars continue to be the top program in the Mountain West. They were expected to win the conference again, but they way they’re playing it looks like no one else is going to have a shot. At 17-1, the Cougars are in complete control at it appears that they’re going to sail to another NCAA tournament berth.

Stock Down: Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are having the best year they’ve had in years, but they had an opportunity to send a message to the rest of the Big South last week and failed. The Radford Highlanders went into the Chanticleers building at took their lunch. Although the Coastal is still a game ahead, no one is going to put their money on it over Radford to win the Big South.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: St. John’s, UConn, Northwestern, Old Dominion
Last Four Out: Virginia, Notre Dame, California, Oklahoma St

SOUTH
1.Texas16.Lafayette/Jackson St Oklahoma City
8.Mississippi St9.Cornell
5.Temple12.Old Dominion Jacksonville
4.UAB13.St. Johns
6.Northern Iowa11.UNLV San Jose
3.Wisconsin14.Murray St
7.Clemson10.Dayton Buffalo
2.Pittsburgh15.Weber St
EAST
1.Villanova16.Morgan St Providence
8.Georgia Tech9.Minnesota
5.Baylor12.Siena Spokane
4.Gonzaga13.College of Charleston
6.Vanderbilt11.Cincinnati New Orleans
3.Kansas St14.Pacific
7.Richmond10.Illinois Jacksonville
2.Duke15.Coastal Carolina
WEST
1.Kansas16.Campbell Oklahoma City
8.William&Mary9.Rhode Island
5.BYU12.UConn San Jose
4.Purdue13.Louisiana Tech
6.Ohio St11.Washington New Orleans
3.Tennessee14.Buffalo
7.Wake Forest10.Texas A&M Buffalo
2.Syracuse15.Sam Houston St
MIDWEST
1.Kentucky16.Quinnipiac Milwaukee
8.Missouri9.Arizona St
5.Butler12.Northwestern Spokane
4.West Virginia13.Western Kentucky
6.Xavier11.North Carolina Providence
3.Georgetown14.Oakland
7.New Mexico10.Mississippi Milwaukee
2.Michigan St15.Vermont