Fear the North

 

011516.S.GFH.UNDMBB

North Dakota’s Quinton Hooker (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

In the first time since both universities have been Division I participants, both North Dakota and North Dakota St have legitimate shots to  go dancing.

At the publishing of this post, North Dakota is  in first place by a half-game in the Big Sky while North Dakota St is tied for first in the Summit with South Dakota.

This would be quite the feat for the two universities and would give the state bragging rights over the Dakota to the South. Both schools will most likely be 15/16 seeds, but that doesn’t take away of how historic this will be for the state. Besides, the world needs to see North Dakota’s Quinton Hooker in the Big Dance.

Stock Up: Wichita St. As you will see below the Shockers are an No. 8 seed without an at-large resume. That’s because I believe what my eyes tell me when I watch them play. This is a tournament team. They are destroying the Missouri Valley. In 13 of their 15 conference wins, the margin has been double digits. In fact they beat Illinois St, the team they’re tied with for first place, by 41 points earlier this month. You don’t want to see this team in March.

Stock Down: Virginia. I’m starting to wonder if the rest of the ACC has figured Tony Bennett out. It happens from time-to-time, but the Cavaliers are currently on a four-game losing streak and haven’t looked good in the process. There is now a scenario where Virginia is playing in a 7/10 or 8/9 game in the Big Dance.

Stock Up: Bucknell. On Sunday, Bucknell traveled to Boston University to play a game for first place in the Patriot League. When the game was over; there was no doubt. Bucknell throttled Boston 86-66 to take a two-game lead and are now the odds-on favorite to win the automatic bid.

Stock Down: Mountain West. Last week we spoke about the downturn of Conference USA and this week it’s the Mountain West, which appears to be a one-bid league again. Long-term this appears to be more of a blip than a trend as it has major state universities. However, more is expected of this league.

 

Last Four In: TCU, Seton Hall, Syracuse, California

Last Four Out: Alabama, Marquette, Providence, Illinois St

This bracket is good for games through 2/19.

EAST

1.Villanova16.UC Irvine/Mount St Mary’s Buffalo

8.Virginia Tech9.Saint Mary’s

5.Florida St12.Texas-Arlington Orlando

4.Cincinnati13.Monmouth

6.Maryland11.Dayton Orlando

3.Florida14.UNC-Asheville

7.Northwestern10.Kansas St Indianapolis

2.Louisville15.Florida Gulf Coast

SOUTH

1.North Carolina16.North Dakota Greenville

8.Oklahoma St9.Michigan

5.Wisconsin12.Nevada Buffalo

4.West Virginia13.Vermont

6.Creighton11.Tennessee Salt Lake City

3.UCLA14.Belmont

7.South Carolina10.USC Tulsa

2.Baylor15.Texas Southern

WEST

1.Gonzaga16.North Dakota St Sacramento

8.Wichita St9.Georgia Tech

5.SMU12.Syracuse/Seton Hall Milwaukee

4.Purdue13.Bucknell

6.Iowa St11.California/TCU Greenville

3.Duke14.Valparaiso

7.VCU10.Michigan St Sacramento

2.Oregon15.Furman

MIDWEST

1.Kansas16.North Carolina Central/New Orleans Tulsa

8.Miami(Fl)9.Xavier

5.Notre Dame12.UNC-Wilmington Milwaukee

4.Butler13.Akron

6.Virginia11.Middle Tennessee St Indianapolis

3.Kentucky14.Princeton

7.Minnesota10.Arkansas Salt Lake City

2.Arizona15.CSU Bakersfield

 

 

More Conference Tournament Previews

AMERICA EAST: Albany was by far the most dominant team in the league this season. The Great Danes didn’t lose their first conference game until Feb. 17. With all games being at campus sites its going to take a lot to keep Albany from repeating.

MISSOURI VALLEY: This certainly was a top heavy league this year as Wichita St and Northern Iowa ran away and hid from the rest of the conference. That’s why it is expected that those will be the two teams playing for the championship on Sunday. In the rubber match, expect Wichita St, the team with the superior experience and talent, to cut down the nets.

METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: A loss on the last day of the regular season is the only thing that kept Iona from winning the league by three games. The Gaels’ misstep doesn’t scare me too much as they’ve been to the tournament recently and will be tough prep on short rest. The tournament will be competitive as always, but expect Iona to go dancing.

SOUTHERN: As good as Wofford has been over the course of the year, Chattanooga has been right there all along. The two squads were far and away the class of this conference and appear to be on a collision course for a Monday night showdown. The teams won on each other’s home floor so this creates a bit of intrigue. Wofford is the favorite here, but not by much.

COLONIAL: The regular season in the CAA finished in a four-way tie for first place. If there’s anyone out there who’ll tell you they have this league pegged than than call that person’s bluff. On a true neutral court in Baltimore anything can happen. Given the disappointment from last season and performing well against the other top teams in the league, I’m going with William & Mary.

WEST COAST: There may be many people wondering if there’s a major kink in the armor of Gonzaga after losing to BYU in it’s last regular season home game. I am not one of those people. BYU played fantastic and could very well be a tournament team itself, but Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country and it’ll have motivation. The Zags will win in Vegas.

SUMMIT: South Dakota St and North Dakota St went back and forth this season vying for the Summit League’s No. 1 spot. At the end of the day, both teams finished with 12-4 records with South Dakota St winning the tiebreaker. Playing the tournament in the state of South Dakota gives the Jackrabbits a bit of a chance. Despite that, there’s a team on their side of bracket who’s beaten them and is even closer to the site where the tournament will be played. That’s the South Dakota Coyotes and they’re my upset pick to win the Summit League.

The Biggest Cats in the Valley

Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle. Photo: Jeffrey Becker, USA TODAY Sports

The country has been so enamored with Wichita St over the past three years that it overlooked a program that has been among the most successful in the Missouri Valley in the past decade. That is no longer an issue as Northern Iowa has staked its claim as the team to beat in the MVC.

As in most years, the Panthers are doing it with defense as they lead the league in points allowed, field goal percentage defense, and three-point field goal percentage defense. In fact, when Wichita St made the trip up to Cedar Falls it only shot 35.4 percent for the game.

Defense can carry a team a long way in March and the Panthers, who’ve only allowed one opponent to score 60 since December 13, have the tools to get to the second weekend.

Stock Up: Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. The arch rivals are having quite the run in recent weeks. Both are climbing the Big XII standings and posting impressive wins while they do it.

Stock Down: Georgetown. There’s a lot of talent on the team, but it’s just not coming together as of yet. The Hoyas have plenty of time to climb out of their current funk, but getting swept by Xavier and Providence won’t look good on Selection Sunday.

Stock Up: Harvard. Hasn’t been the prettiest start, but it looks like the Crimson has found its groove. Harvard is beginning to resemble the team everyone thought it would before the season started.

Stock Down: USC. The Trojans are 1-10 in conference play and this is a down year in the Pac-12. Andy Enfield has yet to get Dunk City to move to Los Angeles.

On to the Bracket.

Last Four In: Miami(FL), Stanford, Purdue, Texas A&M

Last Four Out: Colorado St, Michigan St, Boise St, Rhode Island

This bracket is good for games thru 2/8

Quick Note: Virginia is on the No. 2 line because of Justin Anderson’s injury. We’ll see how this week plays out.

MIDWEST

1.Kentucky16.North Florida/Alabama St Louisville

8.Iowa9.Xavier

5.Ohio St12.Stephen F. Austin Jacksonville

4.Oklahoma13.Harvard

6.Cincinnati11.Old Dominion Portland

3.Utah14.North Carolina Central

7.SMU10.Georgia Charlotte

2.Virginia15.Albany

WEST

1.Gonzaga16.Sacramento St Seattle

8.Georgetown9.Dayton

5.Northern Iowa12.Purdue/Stanford Columbus

4.Iowa St13.Valparaiso

6.Oklahoma St11.Texas A&M/Miami(FL) Louisville

3.North Carolina14.Bowling Green

7.VCU10.Illinois Portland

2.Arizona15.New Mexico St

EAST

1.Duke16.North Dakota St Charlotte

8.Indiana9.Tulsa

5.West Virginia12.Wofford Pittsburgh

4.Wichita St13.Iona

6.Maryland11.UCLA Seattle

3.Baylor14.UC Davis

7.Mississippi10.Texas Pittsburgh

2.Villanova15.Louisiana Monroe

SOUTH

1.Wisconsin16.St. Francis(NY)/Colgate Omaha

8.San Diego St9.LSU

5.Butler12.Murray St Jacksonville

4.Notre Dame13.Louisiana Tech

6.Arkansas11.Temple Columbus

3.Louisville14.William & Mary

7.Providence10.George Washington Omaha

2.Kansas15.High Point

Nothing Cavalier about the Cavaliers

Virginia guard Justin Anderson (Photo: Amber Searls, USA TODAY Sports)

In a conference boasting the likes of Duke, Louisville,North Carolina and Syracuse, there’s one team that’s standing out above all those. The Virginia Cavaliers are one of the best teams in the country and looks to be the class of the ACC.

With Virginia, it’s all about defense.  Virginia’s pack line defense has befuddled foes ever since head coach arrived on campus. This year has been no different as Virginia is fifth nationally in defensive efficiency, second in field-goal percentage and second in points per game.

That kind of defense keeps the Cavaliers competitive in every game and if they’re able to continue to do this all year, they might be on their way to the Final Four.

Stock Up: Kentucky. This is the only team with better defensive numbers than Virginia. Kentucky’s size, length, athleticism and skill makes it the heavy favorite to win the national championship.

Stock Down: Pac-12.  I thought the league was on the cusp of a basketball renaissance, but it looks like its going to take a step back this season.  If it weren’t for the surprisingly good season for Utah, the Pac-12 would really be in trouble.

Stock Up: Wichita St.  The Shockers clearly aren’t undefeated this year, but they’re still a real threat to go to the Final Four.  They have one of the best backcourts in the country and can play with anybody.

Stock Down: WAC. Quietly, the biggest loser in conference realignment.  The WAC went from having teams like Utah, New Mexico and BYU to Grand Canyon, Utah Valley and Cal State Bakersfield.  Even the MEAC has a better RPI as a conference.

On to the bracket

Last Four In: Mississippi, Kansas St, Tennessee, Washington

Last Four Out: Colorado St, Texas A&M, Ohio St, Alabama

It’s good for games through 1/19/2015.

MIDWEST

1.Kentucky16.Grand Canyon/North Florida Louisville

8.Old Dominion9.Oklahoma St

5.Texas12.Green Bay Jacksonville

4.Louisville13.Buffalo

6.Iowa11.Xavier Columbus, OH

3.Notre Dame14.Murray St

7.SMU10.NC State Pittsburgh

2.Maryland15.Coastal Carolina

SOUTH

1.Duke16.St. Francis(NY) Charlotte

8.Seton Hall9.Stanford

5.Oklahoma12.Western Kentucky Jacksonville

4.Wichita St13.Harvard

6.Indiana11.Tennessee/Kansas St Columbus, OH

3.Villanova14.Texas Southern

7.Arkansas10.George Washington

2.Wisconsin15.Louisiana-Monroe Omaha

WEST

1.Arizona16.Monmouth Portland

8.Northern Iowa9.Cincinnati

5.San Diego St12.Tulsa Seattle

4.Iowa St13.Northeastern

6.Georgetown11.Washington/Mississippi Louisville

3.North Carolina14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Dayton10.Miami(FL) Seattle

2.Gonzaga15.UC Davis

EAST

1.Virginia16.North Dakota St/Colgate Charlotte

8.Butler9.Georgia

5.West Virginia12.Wofford Pittsburgh

4.VCU13.Eastern Washington

6.Baylor11.Michigan St Portland

3.Utah14.North Carolina Central

7.Providence10.LSU Omaha

2.Kansas15.Albany

Published in: on January 20, 2015 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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SHOCKing Results

Fred VanVleet has led Wichita St to a 19-0 record

Threw almost three months of the season there is one team whose undefeated record is as surprising as its run to the Final Four last season.  Wichita St rolled through its non-conference schedule and with Creighton in the Big East, it looks like the Shockers will face little resistance in the Missouri Valley this season.

Led by one of the best point guards in the country in Fred VanVleet, the Shockers destroyed Indiana St, the only other team in the Valley with real at-large aspirations.  He runs the show and is surrounded by talent that plenty of high majors schools are probably envious of.  Throw in Gregg Marshall, a man who’s legitimately one of the best coaches in the country and this is a team that looks like a national title contender.

Stock Up: Tyler Ennis.  The Syracuse freshman has taken this team to another level.  Any thoughts of a drop off after Michael Carter-Williams have been erased as Ennis has made the Orange the favorite to win the ACC.

Stock Down: Big East favorites.  Both Georgetown and Marquette are sputtering to find themselves as injuries, suspensions and early departures have crushed their respective rosters.  Both squads thought they’d perform much better this season but neither have been close to upholding the standard the each program has set.

Stock Up: Kansas.  The Jayhawks are putting it together and its going to get scary for everyone else.  It appears that Joel Embiid has taken the reigns as the best player on this team and everyone else has followed.  Kansas already has four losses, but it could be a good while before it losses again…if it losses again.

Stock Down: VCU. The Rams have been figured out.  If you limit VCU’s transition opportunities they can’t score.  This team can get hot from deep, but it’s not consistent when the Rams are off, they’re extremely easy to defend.

On to the bracket:

First one of the year.

Last Four In: North Carolina, Stanford, Providence, SMU

Last Four Out: Saint Mary’s, Boise St, Purdue, Georgetown

 

WEST

1.Arizona16.Robert Morris/Chattanooga               San Diego

8.Baylor9.Florida St

5.Ohio St12.Providence/Stanford             Raleigh

4.Duke13.Mercer

6.Memphis11.Texas       San Antonio

3.Wichita St14.Georgia St

7.Kansas St10.George Washington           Milwaukee

2.Wisconsin15.Vermont

SOUTH

1.Florida16.Radford        Orlando

8.UCLA9.Xavier

5.Pittsburgh12.Toledo   San Diego

4.Cincinnati13.Stephen F. Austin

6.Gonzaga11.Clemson   Spokane

3.Oklahoma St14.Boston

7.Michigan10.Harvard    Buffalo

2.Villanova15.Utah Valley

MIDWEST

1.Michigan St16.Southern            Milwaukee

8.California9.Southern Miss

5.Iowa St12.Missouri      Raleigh

4.Louisville13.Manhattan

6.Oklahoma11.Green Bay            San Antonio

3.UMass14.Northern Colorado

7.Virginia10.Oregon        Spokane

2.San Diego St15.UC Irvine

EAST

1.Syracuse16.South Dakota/Morgan St  Buffalo

8.Minnesota9.Colorado

5.Saint Louis12.SMU/North Carolina        Orlando

4.Kentucky13.Belmont

6.Creighton11.VCU         St. Louis

3.Iowa14.Towson

7.UConn10.New Mexico               St. Louis

2.Kansas15.Old Dominion

More Conference Tournament Previews

WEST COAST: This one is academic.  There is one team in this league that will potentially be a No. 1 seed and then there is one team who may get an at-large bid.  Gonzaga went 16-0 in league play this year with some really impressive victories.  In Las Vegas this weekend, I can’t see anyone beating the Bulldogs on a neutral floor.  Saint Mary’s is playing for its NCAA tournament life, but I don’t think it will be enough to overcome the talent Gonzaga has.

NORTHEAST: Robert Morris finished two games ahead of the crowded bunch of teams which includes Wagner, Bryant and Long Island University.  In fact, the top seven finishers in the NEC finished .500 or above so I expect this to be one of the craziest conference tournaments in all of college basketball.  In a situation like this I give the edge to a team that’s been there before and that team is LIU.  The Blackbirds know how to navigate this tournament and I expect them to go dancing again.

PATRIOT LEAGUE: This year was supposed to be nothing short of a coronation for Lehigh.  However, C.J. McCollum injured his foot and Lehigh wasn’t able to sustain early season success.  One school that has been able to is Bucknell.  The Bison have lost only two games in conference play and five overall and since this tournament is played on the home court of the higher seeded team, I’d say its the heavy favorite to win this tournament.

MISSOURI VALLEY: The eyes of the nation were on Creighton and Wichita St in the Missouri Valley this season.  While many expected the two to dominate; history tells us that this conference has been known to eat its own and that’s why Indiana St’s at-large hopes have gone up in smoke.  This is always one of the more competitive tournaments and this year should be no different.  I expect one of the hottest teams in the league to shock the world.  Evansville will cut down the nets in St. Louis.

More Conference Tournament Predictions

PATRIOT LEAGUE: Defending champion Bucknell was rolling along in the Patriot League until mid-February when two losses tarnished its perfect league record.  The fact that one of those loses came to second-place finisher Lehigh at home would make me extremely nervous if I were a Bison fan.  For that reason, and the fact that the Mountain Hawks have been just as good, I’m taking Lehigh to go dancing.

WEST COAST: Saint Mary’s won the league outright in a minor upset.  However the Gaels finished just one game ahead of Gonzaga and two ahead of BYU.  This will be a competitive tournament with the four teams having a legitimate shot at cutting down the nets in Las Vegas.  BYU in its first season in the WCC is used to playing in Vegas, is relatively close to Vegas and will take the matter out of the committee’s hands by winning the WCC championship.

MISSOURI VALLEY: Wichita St and Creighton has been the class of the Missouri Valley this season, but this is a tournament that has seen its fair share of upsets over the years.  That being said I find it very hard to pick against the Shockers the way they’re playing right now.  I expect them to beat a scrappy Missouri St team in the finals.

NORTHEAST: Wagner got everyone’s attention in December after it upset Pittsburgh.  The Seahawks followed that with an impressive conference record of 15-3.  The problem though is that two of those losses came at the hands of the regular season and defending tournament champion Long Island.  The Blackbirds wouldn’t have to play Wagner or Robert Morris until the finals and will play every game of the tournament at home.  I like them to repeat.

AMERICA EAST: This will be a good one.  I would not be surprised if regular season champion Stony Brook, Vermont or 2011 NCAA tournament team Boston University won this tournament.  I think Vermont is due for the win I thought they’d get last season.  The Catamounts are going dancing.

Anthony Davis’ Block Party

Kentucky's Anthony Davis (23) and Kentucky's Terrence Jones (3) block a shot by South Carolina's Damien Leonard (32) during the first half of their NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, in Columbia, S.C. (Mary Ann Chastain, Associated Press)

There’s a lot people can say about the way John Calipari has built his program at Kentucky.  You can say he’s running a factory for pros.  But right now, you can say he has the No. 1 team in the nation and a large part is because of freshman Anthony Davis.

Davis, a likely first-team all-American and candidate for national player of the year is setting records for the Wildcats on the defensive end.  Davis broke Shaquille O’Neal’s record for blocks by a SEC freshman and still has plenty of ball to come.  Right now Davis has 127 blocks, which is a staggering number for anyone.

The Wildcats’ great defense doesn’t end with Davis though.  Fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may be the best overall defender on the team with other athletic guys like Terrance Jones and Doron Lamb who compete on that end of the floor as well.

This is Calipari’s best team since he’s been at Kentucky.  He may give Big Blue Nation the championship it so desperately craves.

Stock Up: Wichita St.  The entire country spent the first three months of the season praising Creighton and rightfully so.  However, if you look at the Missouri Valley Conference standings now you’d see that it’s Wichita St that has a two-game lead on the rest of league.  The Shockers went to Omaha on Saturday and dismantled the Blue Jays, sending a message to the country that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in March.

Stock Down: The leaders in the Horizon League.  Valparaiso and Cleveland St are solid teams with some big non-conference wins.  I have no faith that either one of these two will win the Horizon League tournament.  Cleveland St lost two games last week and Valparaiso, who beat Cleveland St last week, lost it’s next game to Youngstown St.  These two are showing me that they can’t handle success and with the fact that Butler is lurking doesn’t bode well for the Horizon leaders.

Stock Up: Michigan St.  Tom Izzo is at it again.  His team went into Columbus and beat Ohio St.  Izzo, in my opinion, is the best coach in the country and he has a team with chemistry this year.  An Izzo team that has talent and chemistry can do a lot of damage down the stretch.

Stock Down: Pitt.  I praised the Panthers last week, but they promptly went out and lost two games – effectively ending any hopes of an at-large bid.  They need to string a bunch of wins together and last week wasn’t just a speed bump, it was a mountain.  The Panthers will have to win the Big East tournament to get a bid.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Minnesota, Northwestern, NC State, Texas
Last Four Out: Seton Hall, UCF, Wyoming, Washington

Good for games through of 2/12

SOUTH

1.Kentucky16.Stony Brook/Norfolk St Louisville

8.Murray St9.West Virginia

5.San Diego St12.Xavier Portland

4.Michigan13.Long Beach St

6.Wichita St11.Illinois Columbus

3.Georgetown14.Valparaiso

7.Vanderbilt10.Purdue Greensboro

2.North Carolina15.Belmont

WEST

1.Ohio St16.Long Island Pittsburgh

8.Iowa St9.Southern Miss

5.St. Mary’s12.Miami(FL) Nashville

4.Louisville13.Nevada

6.Wisconsin11.Cincinnati Albuquerque

3.Baylor14.Iona

7.Mississippi St10.Saint Louis Greensboro

2.Duke15.Bucknell

MIDWEST

1.Missouri16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Omaha

8.California9.New Mexico

5.Notre Dame12.NC State/Minnesota Portland

4.Gonzaga13.Oral Roberts

6.Florida St11.Alabama  Louisville

3.Marquette14.Akron

7.Memphis10.Kansas St Columbus

2.Michigan St15.Weber St

EAST

1.Syracuse16.UT-Arlington Pittsburgh

8.Creighton9.BYU

5.Temple12.Texas/Northwestern  Nashville

4.Florida13.Middle Tennessee St

6.Indiana11.Connecticut Albuquerque

3.UNLV14.Davidson

7.Virginia10.Harvard Omaha

2.Kansas15.Drexel

In Graphical Form

More Conference Tournament Previews

PATRIOT LEAGUE: Bucknell and American are way ahead of the pack in this league. Bucknell ran through Patriot League competition with only one loss and American only three. Too bad for the Eagles, two of those losses came from the Bison. Nothing really to say here, but to expect part three with Bucknell winning again.

MISSOURI VALLEY: I’m used to seeing multiple bids come from this league, but the trend of it being one-bid the past few seasons has to be troubling for commissioner Doug Elgin. Despite this, there are still teams in this conference who can win a game in the NCAA tournament. The Missouri St. Bears finished in first with the Wichita St. Shockers one game behind. The two teams were the most consistent all year and appear to be on a collision course. In round three, expect the Shockers to come out on top.

NORTHEAST: Long Island’s uptempo style has led it to an impressive 16-2 league record. In fact, the Blackbirds have only loss once in the 2011 calendar year. Given the fact that this tournament is played entirely on home courts give them an extra advantage. The Blackbirds should expect a challenge from the tournament-tested Robert Morris Colonials, but this team is head and shoulders above the rest of the league and will make their way to the NCAA tournament.

COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION:
This one should be interesting. After back-to-back losses to Hofstra and Old Dominion, George Mason ran off 15 wins in-a-row to put a stamp on an at-large bid. Old Dominion, by virtue of stellar play in the non-conference did the same. The question right now goes to the hunger of both teams and I believe both may already know they’re dancing. One team however, isn’t going to be dancing without an automatic bid and I expect it to come out firing on all cylinders. Virginia Commonwealth, at home in Richmond, will “steal” a bid and punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament.

METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: After its impressive showing in BracketBusters, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) became one of the most intriguing leagues in the country. The conference tournament is usually entertaining and this year should be no different. Fairfield finished in first in the regular season, but show kinks in the armor in losses to Rider and Iona, the two teams that tied for second. Iona, by virtue of being hot at the right time seems to be surging towards a NCAA bid, which it’ll get.

SOUTHERN: College of Charleston was cruising through league play until the last week of the regular season where it lost its final two games. That brought into a tie for the South Division and league title with defending champion Wofford. Although Charleston has a win over Tennessee and an almost win at Maryland, I think its going to be tough for it to navigate through this tournament. Chattanooga and Wofford will meet for round 3 with Wofford making a repeat trip to the NCAA tournament.

WEST COAST: St. Mary’s and Gonzaga both have at-large hopes with Gonzaga’s chances being a tad bit better at the moment. Given that the tournament is set up to give top two teams an advantage expect to see the two class programs in the conference go at it one more time. It will be a heavyweight slugfest in Vegas with St. Mary’s getting an automatic bid ensuring two WCC teams go dancing.

AMERICA EAST: Vermont and Boston University have been the two best teams in league play, but neither is perfect. Maine had a run at the both of them and should be in the mix this weekend in Hartford. However, I still believe that Vermont and Boston will get through a tough tournament to meet for all the marbles once again. Boston will not be able to finish Vermont for a third time and the Vermont Catamounts will go dancing.

Irish Eyes

Notre Dame Guard Bens Hansbrough

Not many teams around the country have been as pleasant a surprise as Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have gotten off to a great start this season led by seniors Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis.

The Irish have already gone to Orlando and won the Old Spice Classic taking out Georgia and Wisconsin on its way to the title. In addition to that, it has also dispatched of Georgetown, Connecticut and Pittsburgh in Big East play.

The reason why Notre Dame has been so successful however is because of shift in philosophy. Towards the end of last season coach Mike Brey, prompted by an injury to star forward Luke Harangody, changed his team’s style of play from fast-paced to a more methodical or “burn” offense. It’s an offense that the talent he has thrives on.

Hansbrough is surprisingly effective off the dribble along with being a great shooter while Abromaitis is a matchup nightmare with his size and ability to step outside and knock down jumpers. Throw in the supporting cast of Tyrone Nash, Carleton Scott and Scott Martin and the Irish may realistically be a Final Four contender.

Stock Up: North Carolina. A few weeks ago coach Roy Williams went off on Tarheel fans. Well his team has been going off on Tarheel opponents. After a slow start, the Tarheels have managed to set themselves apart from every ACC team not named Duke. A blowout loss to Georgia Tech almost started a coup in Chapel Hill, but now it looks like this team can challenge for the ACC title.

Stock Down: Wichita St’s quality wins. Where are they? They’re nowhere to be found. Wichita St has played four games against opponents in the RPI top-100 and it’s 0-4 against them all. The Shockers are still living off of preseason expectations, but if they expect that to translate into a postseason berth, they’ll have to sweep Northern Iowa and Missouri St on the road.

Stock Up: Harvard. The Crimson is poised for its first ever NCAA tournament berth with a 4-0 start to Ivy League play. The Crimson may also be poised for an at-large berth as well. Harvard has already taken out Colorado and Boston College this season with its three losses coming to George Mason, Michigan and Connecticut. Traditionally Ivy League teams have been very competitive in March and it looks like this year will be no different.

Stock Down: Kansas St. If you declare that you’re not going to play in the NIT, then you better play like you don’t want to play in the NIT. Jacob Pullen has failed in that regard and the preseason top-5 ranked Wildcats are one of the biggest disappointments in college basketball. There’s no leadership on the floor and now players are defecting from the program. Manhattan is morphing back into the laughing stock of the Big XII.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: New Mexico, George Mason, Georgia, Richmond
Last Four Out: Colorado St, Wichita St, Virginia Tech, Penn St

Good for Games through 1/30

EAST
1.Ohio St16.McNeese St/Bethune-Cookman Cleveland
8.Temple9.Missouri St
5.Syracuse12.Georgia/George Mason Tampa
4.Missouri13.Harvard
6.Florida11.UCLA Washington, DC
3.Villanova14.Bucknell
7.West Virginia10.Michigan St Charlotte
2.Duke15.Belmont
WEST
1.Pittsburgh16.Long Beach St Cleveland
8.Illinois9.Old Dominion
5.North Carolina12.Richmond/New Mexico Tucson
4.Texas A&M13.Oakland
6.Washington11.St. John’s Denver
3.Purdue14.Coastal Carolina
7.Vanderbilt10.Memphis Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Northern Colorado
SOUTHWEST
1.Texas16.Long Island Tulsa
8.Marquette9.UNLV
5.Minnesota12.Washington St Chicago
4.Georgetown13.Charleston
6.Xavier11.Northern Iowa Charlotte
3.Kentucky14.Kent St
7.Utah St10.Boston College Washington, DC
2.Connecticut15.Florida Atlantic
SOUTHEAST
1.Kansas16.Austin Peay/Texas Southern Tulsa
8.Florida St9.Cincinnati
5.Wisconsin12.UAB Tampa
4.Louisville13.Valparaiso
6.Tennessee11.Virginia Commonwealth Denver
3.BYU14.Maine
7.Arizona10.St. Mary’s Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Fairfield

In Graphical Form