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

Strongmen of the Southland

Image

Stephen F. Austin’s Jacob Parker

Wichita St is rolling.  So is Florida and Arizona. However, there is one team that hasn’t got a whiff of the publicity of those teams.  That team plays in the Southland Conference and it hasn’t lost since Nov. 23.

The Stephen F. Austin (SFA) Lumberjacks sport a gaudy 27-2 as they steamroll toward the finish in conference play.  While the Southland isn’t one of the best mid-major leagues in the country, SFA’s accomplishment should be celebrated.

It’s hard to go through any conference unscathed and the Lumberjacks are two games away from completing that.  This team ranks No. 21 nationally in offensive efficiency and averages over 76 points per game.  It has veterans and will be hell to beat if it earns a bid.

It’s March.  Time for conference tournament previews.

PATRIOT LEAGUE: For much of the season, people raved at the turnaround being made at American under new coach Mike Brennan.  However, the conference figured out how to play against his Princeton-style system during the second half of the season leaving the experienced Boston Terriers as the regular season champs.  The only problem with either one of those squads winning is Bucknell, who’s been to two of the last three NCAA tournaments is the hottest team in the conference and won at American and Boston over the past eight days. That’s why the Bison will be going dancing.

ATLANTIC SUN: Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer finished tied for the regular season title in the Atlantic Sun with 14-4 record conference records. They split the regular season match-ups with Mercer winning by 13 on its home court and Florida Gulf Coast winning by 14 on its home court.  The two teams are evenly matched, but the conference’s decision to play the tournament at campus sites and Florida Gulf Coast winning the tiebreaker has me picking the Eagles to return to the dance.

HORIZON LEAGUE: This is a league that’s seen two programs leave recently in Butler and Loyola-Chicago, but really skipped a beat.  That’s because the Green Bay Phoenix staked it’s claim early this season as a team to be reckoned with.  The tournament will be played on Green Bay’s home court and it will be protected to the semifinals.  Expect this fringe at-large candidate to capture an automatic bid.

OHIO VALLEY: Is there any surprise who the two best teams in the conference are.  Perennial NCAA tournament contenders Belmont and Murray St continue to dominate the OVC.  College basketball fans should expect this to happen for the foreseeable future.  I expect to see the two teams in the finals with Belmont going back to the tournament.

BIG SOUTH: The Big South Conference was one of the more competitive leagues all year long with seven teams with 10-6 or better conference records.  That will make for a lot of fun this week in Myrtle Beach.  What won’t be fun for most of the conference is having to play the tournament on Coastal Carolina’s home court.  That hasn’t always guaranteed a win for the Chanticleers, but it will this year.

NORTHEAST: Last season, in the postseason NIT, seeds were planted that have carried over to this year.  Robert Morris upset Kentucky at home.  This year, the Colonials continued their winning ways winning the league outright for the second season in a row.  There’s no team like Long Island in their way this year though.  Robert Morris is going dancing.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: Nebraska, Dayton, Florida St, Colorado

Last Four Out: Tennessee, Minnesota, Providence, Missouri

SOUTH

1.Florida16.Florida Gulf Coast                     Orlando

8.Iowa9.Gonzaga

5.Cincinnati12.Toledo                                     San Antonio

4.Saint Louis13.Belmont

6.Ohio St11.BYU                                               Orlando

3.North Carolina14.NC-Central

7.UConn10.George Washington                                St. Louis

2.Kansas15.UC-Irvine

EAST

1.Wichita St16.Davidson/Alabama St       St. Louis

8.Arizona St9.Pittsburgh

5.Oklahoma12.Harvard                                 San Antonio

4.Creighton13.Louisiana Tech

6.Kentucky11.California                                                Milwaukee

3.Michigan14.Boston

7.SMU10.Oklahoma St                                   Raleigh

2.Duke15.Delaware

MIDWEST

1.Wisconsin16.Weber St/High Point        Milwaukee

8.Kansas St9.Saint Joseph’s

5.New Mexico12.Green Bay                       San Diego

4.Iowa St13.Stephen F. Austin

6.UCLA11.Baylor                                               Spokane

3.San Diego St14.Georgia St

7.Memphis10.Stanford                                 Buffalo

2.Syracuse15.Robert Morris

WEST

1.Arizona16.Utah Valley                                                San Diego

8.VCU9.Xavier

5.Michigan St12.Florida St/Dayton            Spokane

4.Louisville13.North Dakota St

6.Texas11.Colorado/Nebraska                   Raleigh

3.Virginia14.Iona

7.UMass10.Arkansas                                      Buffalo

2.Villanova15.Vermont

Sons of Westwood

UCLA coach Ben Howland and freshman Shabazz Muhammad. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The rumors of UCLA’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  Early in the season it looked bleak for UCLA after struggling to beat Georgia and losing to Cal Poly.  The Bruins chemistry looked shoddy and they were working to incorporate Shabazz Muhammad into the lineup.

Now the Bruins are tied for first in the Pac-12 and Muhammad, along with other freshmen Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are key contributors to the team’s success.

Those freshmen are now meshing with North Carolina transfers, David and Travis Wear and Larry Drew II, to form a team that can score and will put fear in the hearts of any team in March.

That being said; regular season success isn’t the measuring stick in Westwood.  It’s Final Fours and national championships and any season when neither happens is a disappointment.  So while I commend the Bruins for figuring it out, they have a long way to go to please their fans.

It’s March.  No stock report this week as we have conference tournament previews.

BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE: This is a league that’s grown in numbers and appears to be undergoing a changing of the guard.  UNC-Asheville and Coastal Carolina had been at or near the top of the standings lately, but this year Charleston Southern and High Point have taken over that mantle.  I like experience and until proven otherwise, I think UNC-Asheville will find itself in the NCAA tournament again.

HORIZON LEAGUE: Butler is gone, but the top of the conference looks similar to last season.  Valparaiso finished in first, the same place it finished in 2012 while Detroit finished second – one spot above where it finished last year.  In the conference tournament Detroit avenged regular season losses to Valpo to get to the dance.  I think Detroit is the more talented and more explosive team and will go dancing  again.

OHIO VALLEY: One of the more underrated moves in conference realignment was Belmont leaving the Atlantic Sun to go to the OVC.  That move has proven to be a good one for the Bruins as they won the regular season title in the league while gaining a conference mate that rivals them in quality in Murray St.  The Racers return one of the best players in the country in Isaiah Canaan, but did not finish the season well.  Watch out for Eastern Kentucky, but I think you have to go with the Bruins in this league.

ATLANTIC SUN: Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami earlier this season and looked to be in good shape.  However, Mercer walked the Eagles down even with a loss to them last week.  Mercer is hosting the conference tournament and I expect the Bears to be tough to beat on their home court.

On to the Bracket.

Last Four In: Tennessee, Saint Mary’s, Villanova, Iowa St

Last Four Out: Kentucky, Alabama, Iowa, Arizona St

This bracket is good for games thru 3/3

MIDWEST

1.Indiana16.Norfolk St/Charleston Southern Dayton, OH

8.Pittsburgh9.Creighton

5.Saint Louis12.Akron  Salt Lake City

4.Oregon13.Iowa St/Tennessee

6.Illinois11.Louisiana Tech Salt Lake City

3.New Mexico14.Princeton

7.North Carolina10.La Salle Philadelphia

2.Georgetown15.Stony Brook

EAST

1.Duke16.Robert Morris Philadelphia

8.Missouri9.Oklahoma

5.Arizona12.Belmont Dayton, OH

4.Ohio St13.Villanova/St. Mary’s

6.UNLV11.Virginia Kansas City

3.Kansas St14.Stephen F. Austin

7.VCU10.Colorado Lexington, KY

2.Louisville15.Niagara

SOUTH

1.Kansas16.Montana Kansas City

8.Memphis9.Minnesota

5.UCLA12.Boise St San Jose

4.Marquette13.Davidson

6.Syracuse11.Colorado St Auburn Hills, MI

3.Michigan St14.Valparaiso

7.Butler10.Wichita St Lexington, KY

2.Miami(FL)15.Long Beach St

WEST

1.Gonzaga16.Northeastern/Southern San Jose

8.California9.San Diego St

5.Wisconsin12.Cincinnati   Austin

4.Oklahoma St13.Bucknell

6.NC State11.Middle Tennessee St  Austin

3.Florida14.South Dakota St

7.Notre Dame10.Temple Auburn Hills, MI

2.Michigan15.Mercer

In graphical form

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

Let the Tournaments Begin

For the next couple of days, I’ll be giving previews/prediction of mid-major conference tournaments.  Today we’re going to begin with the big South, Ohio Valley, Horizon League, and the Atlantic Sun.

Liberty G Seth Curry

Liberty G Seth Curry

Big South: This is a conference that I’ve been watching all season long.  There’s VMI whom opened the season with a win at Kentucky and then led the country in scoring.  Watching how perennial Big South powerhouse Winthrop handled a rebuilding year.  Then there’s Seth Curry at Liberty who can score just like his big brother.  With that in mind, how did Radford win the regular season crown?  The Highlanders were consistent throughout league play and were far and away the best team in the league.  I expect the Highlanders to cruise to the finals next Saturday where they’ll play Liberty.  Unfortunately for Radford, I’m not betting against a Curry in a tournament setting.  Seth can put the Flames on his back just as Stephen can.  Liberty is going back to the Big Dance.

Tennessee-Martin G Lester Hudson

Tennessee-Martin G Lester Hudson

Ohio Valley: Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky, and Murray St are knocking on the door.  That should come as no surprise as these three schools have collected all of the OVC’s automatic bids since 2001.  These teams all have a win over the OVC’s regular season champion, Tennessee-Martin.  The Skyhawks’ Lester Hudson is among the nation’s leaders in scoring and is a leading candidate for OVC Player of the Year.  Can he lead them to a trip to the NCAA Tournament.  I believe he will and he’ll do it in spectacular fashion.

Horizon League: They’re praying in College Station, TX.  They’re praying in Ann Arbor, MI.  They’re praying in Providence, RI.  They’re praying that Butler cuts the nets down in Indianapolis next Tuesday.  The Bulldogs nowhere near untouchable.  They’ve lost three games in conference and have been pushed to the limit twice by Cleveland State.  I expect to see Butler in the finals along with Wisconsin-Green Bay, a team that caused one of the three conference losses Butler has suffered.  The Phoenix will have the Bulldogs un-divided attention and Butler will repeat as conference tournament champs.

Atlantic Sun: Jacksonville wins the Atlantic Sun regular season crown and it’s reward in the semi-finals of the A-Sun tournament could be Lipscomb, the tournament’s host.  Such is life for the Dolphins, but I guarantee you they’ll take the situation they’re in right now.  I think it’s going to be very difficult for Jacksonville to navigate through a tournament, played in Nashville, when the 2-4 seeds are all from the state of Tennessee.  The #3 seed, Belmont has been here and has done this.  The Bruins will do it again.  They’ll be a dangerous #16 seed in the tournament too.

This week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Miami(FL)

Last Four Out: Florida, St. Mary’s, Virginia Tech, Providence

EAST

1.Connecticut16.Cal St Northridge Philadelphia, PA

8.Tennessee9.Texas A&M

5.Clemson12.Utah St Portland, OR

4.Xavier13.Siena

6.Marquette11.Michigan Philadelphia, PA

3.Wake Forest14.American

7.BYU10.Arizona Kansas City, MO

2.Memphis15.Bowling Green

WEST

1.Oklahoma16.Cornell Kansas City, MO

8.Boston College9.South Carolina

5.Illinois12.Davidson Miami, FL

4.Villanova13.Binghampton

6.Gonzaga11.Penn St Portland, OR

3.Washington14.Weber St

7.West Virginia10.Dayton Greensboro, NC

2.Duke15.Radford

SOUTH

1.Pittsburgh16.Tenn-Martin/Alabama St Dayton, OH

8.Wisconsin9.Creighton

5.Utah12.Maryland Boise, ID

4.Missouri13.Virginia Commonwealth

6.California11.Miami(FL) Miami, FL

3.LSU14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Butler10.Oklahoma St Minneapolis, MN

2.Michigan St15.Morgan St

MIDWEST

1.North Carolina16.Jacksonville Greensboro, NC

8.Syracuse9.Texas

5.UCLA12.Kentucky Boise, ID

4.Purdue13.Western Kentucky

6.Florida St11.UNLV Minneapolis, MN

3.Kansas14.North Dakota St

7.Arizona St10.Ohio St Dayton, OH

2.Louisville15.Robert Morris