February 25, 2009 11:36 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
HARRISONBURG, Va. -- Still trying to figure out what all this means. So you're saying that if I had just auctioned off a crate full of Ballys last month, we wouldn't have had to do that whole bailout thing? But seriously, it's amazing to see that we've touched off the hottest plushie trend since Peace Bear. Thanks to all.
And after the strained response to last week's contest that triggered the first-ever Bally auction, this week's version is shaping up to be a classic-rock classic. The rules are simple: submit a plea to the Selection Committee to the tune of a Tom Petty song, use The Formâ„¢, and we'll put the best handful up to a vote over the weekend. "Free Fallin'" is by far the most popular appropriation so far, we're looking for a few more from Wildflowers or Echo to balance things out.
Next Tuesday, we'll roll out our always-popular Tourney Central daily feature, with updated conference tournament brackets and quickie game previews all the way to Selection Sunday. Over the next week or so, we'll look at the conference races as they draw to a close, and take them a few at a time.
Big South (begins Tue., Mar. 3): Radford (14-2) captured the No. 1 seed last Saturday with a 97-90 win at VMI, which turned around and thrashed Liberty last night 109-72 (the Keydets' largest road victory margin in a half-century) to clinch No. 2. Liberty (12-5) is in No. 3 position, and split with current No. 4 and 2008 regular season champions UNC Asheville (11-6) in the season series. The way the Big South has operated since last year is that the top seed is guaranteed to host the semifinal
and final rounds, but if Radford is upset in the quarters, the hosting duties would fall to the highest surviving seed. As the tourney has not gone completely according to seed since 1999, it's not outside possibility's realm.
Horizon League (begins Tue., Mar. 3): Two games remain in the HL, with slates on Thursday and Saturday. Butler is a game up at 13-3 and can clinch its second consecutive regular season championship (and the right to host the semifinals) with a home win against Youngstown State tomorrow. Green Bay, at 12-4, could possibly still win the No. 1 seed outright with two Butler losses and wins at Detroit and Wright State. If a tiebreaker at the top is necessary, it would be the record against the No. 3 seed, which looks like Cleveland State (11-5) at the moment. Green Bay split with the Vikings; Butler, which beat CSU earlier this year, ends the regular season on Saturday by hosting the return game. Either way, the top two seeds get two-round byes to the semifinals in Hoops Nation's strictest seed protection policy.
Ohio Valley (begins Tue., Mar. 3): Tennessee-Martin's (11-4) 15-point G!O!T!N! loss at Murray State Monday means that the Skyhawks are drawn back into a tie with Morehead State, which is also on a two-game skid. Two games for each team on Thursday and Saturday, and the top seeds will undergo a lot of shuffling before it's over. Murray and champions Austin Peay are currently one game back at 11-5, and the hottest team in the conference is 10-6 Eastern Kentucky, which has won four straight. The top four seeds all host campus-site first round games against seeds No. 5 through 8, and the winners advance to the Sommet Center in Nashville for the semis. Two teams will remain home next week; 0-16 Southeast Missouri will be one, but there's a tense battle for the eighth and final seed between Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State. Both are 5-12 at the moment.
Patriot League (begins Wed., Mar. 4): Two games left here as well. League champion American (11-1) has assumed full control of the conference and has clinched at least a share of the regular-season title, winning eight straight and dumping second-place Holy Cross at home last weekend by a 56-50 count. The Crusaders are now two back at 9-3 and would have to rely on tiebreakers should they pull back even in the season's final week. If Navy (7-5) loses its last pair at American and at home versus Colgate, it would continue the burgeoning tradition of the Patriot League featuring only two teams with conference records above .500. That's happened the past two seasons (2008: American/Navy; 2007: Holy Cross/Bucknell).
Sun Belt (begins Wed., Mar. 4): There's no budget-busting crunch quite like the first round of the SBC playoffs, which forces low seeds to travel (sometimes to jet cross-country) in order to allow the first round of eliminations to occur. The top three (the two division champs and the next-best record) advance straight to the quarters in Hot Springs, Ark., but seeds 9 through 13 travel to Nos. 4 through 8 for opening games next Wednesday (you might even see a 12 over 5). With a Thursday-Saturday slate still to be played, Arkansas-Little Rock (West) and Western Kentucky (East) are division leaders with matching 13-3 records and the conference's only top 100 RPI's. While there won't be a second bid again this season, it'll be a wide-open tourney; UALR just dismissed its leading scorer.
Atlantic Sun (begins Wed., Mar. 4): Few races this season have been as boffo as the ex-TAAC's. Jacksonville (14-4), three-time champion Belmont (13-5) and East Tennessee State (12-6) have been trading haymakers all season, and they'll all descend on Lipscomb's Allen Arena next week after finishing up two final contests each. Too early to mull over the infinite tiebreaker possibilities there. But the host school may end up crashing its own party; the Bisons have won six straight to climb up to 10-8, and will be a tough out on its own floor.
U'useless Stat of the Day
Last night's G!O!T!N!, the Bizarro Valley throwdown-showdown between Northern Iowa and Illinois State, ended after 50 minutes when Adam Koch tipped in a missed shot to give UNI the win. The Panthers really, really needed that one; they ended a three-game losing streak and stayed on pace with Creighton at the top of the league. One home game remains for both Creighton (Illinois State) and Northern Iowa (Evansville), neither of whom have won the regular-season title in the last eight years.
It was the second double-overtime game of the season for UNI; the Panthers lost to Indiana State in two extra frames to start the season. Boston University, Bucknell, Idaho State, Mississippi State, Rhode Island, Sam Houston State, Texas-San Antonio and William & Mary are the only other schools that have played a pair of 2OT games.
And then there's Long Beach State, current co-leader of the Big West. The 49ers have played a total of four multiple-overtime games: at Idaho State on Nov. 25, at San Francisco on Dec. 6, at home versus Pacific on Feb. 7, and then at UC Riverside four days later. They're 2-2 in those contests, a team that always gives fans their money's worth.
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