LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. -- Last night was a great evening for regular-season champions, all of which have now clinched at least a spot in the National Invitation Tournament. In addition to five crownings last night, Belmont took a share of the Atlantic Sun title with an 11-point win over Campbell
. We have more coming this weekend, with Cornell within a win of a precedent-setting Ivy League championship (and autobid), the Patriot League, Sun Belt and WCC one-seeds are about to become unsettled, and UNC Asheville and Winthrop are squaring off for the Big South. It's the kind of madness that make you happy.
Let's celebrate some titles! Butler.
All hail your
Horizon League regular-season champion Bulldogs, who at 15-2 have claimed one of the titles that eluded them last year. They did that by holding off recent nemeses and 2007 double-champions Wright State, 66-61
at venerable old Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The hero was a Bulldog who doesn't get talked about a lot in all the Graves/Green (pictured, left)/Howard madness, perhaps the only player ont he team that wasn't mentioned in yesterday's G!O!T!N! preview. Julian Betko
, No. 1 in your program and No. 5 on the Butler depth chart, contributed a career-high 17 points, all in the first half, and helped Butler build a slim lead it never relinquished. I think the Slovakian sensation from Ruzomberok has officially earned the "secret weapon" tag going into March.
And about those Wright State Raiders. The 66 points they allowed was the most since January, and the defense-first squad has been winning close games, always on the slim edge of the margin for error. Now they walk another type of tightrope: WSU (12-5) has to win on Saturday at Valparaiso in order to clinch that second seed. Cleveland State, which has been left for dead twice now, is at 11-6 and owns a tiebreaker hammer on the Raiders. Austin Peay.
It probably was pretty sweet to capture the OVC regular-season championship on the home floor of the team that broke its heart in the final seconds of the 2007 title game in Nashville. The Govs completed a season sweep of Eastern Kentucky last night, 65-59
, to clinch its second straight title, which means that once again they won't have to pack the red shirts next week. Ernest Fields
, a 6-6 sophomore who played just two minutes of that 63-62 loss last March, had a monster double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds.
So Austin Peay will get the eighth seed at home (Tennessee State or Tech) before it ehads back to Nashville next week. As we've been saying all year about these guys, don't bet against a team with shoulder chips. Robert Morris.
We've talked a bit about the three-way tussle atop the Northeast Conference among RMU, Wagner and Sacred Heart, but the Colonials have quickly turned it into a one-horse race. After ripping apart Wagner at home last Saturday by a 74-52
count, RMU destroyed SH on the road last night, 82-69
. With one game to go in the regular season, the men from Moon Township, Pa. have claimed their first NEC regular-season title in 16 years.Jeremy Chappell
and A.J. Jackson
, a pair of holdovers from years of past struggles, delivered with 41 combined points. But I think this was a night to give the game ball to first-year head coach Mike Rice, who came in after a year in Pittsburgh's top assistant chair and whipped this team into shape quickly. We saw the Colonials in November at the Philly Classic, and they were a disjointed, ineffective mess at that point, trying to run teams off the floor with complete disregard to ball control. And there was Rice, screaming at his players all game, going so far as to question their manhood.
The message got through: the team grew up fast enough to beat Boston College
later on, and are currently on a 12-game streak that's lasted since mid-January. Now, they go into the league tourney with home-court advantage and psychological advantages over teams No. 2 and No. 3. With solid shooting and a ton of forced turnovers, this could end up as one of those "surprise" teams that shocks everybody but our readers. Oral Roberts.
The Golden Eagles (21-7, 16-1) captured their fourth straight regular-season championship last night, and the first-ever Badlands Conference title. You might say they've achieved the Summit, but they're Bad. Meaning good. You know, like the kids say.
We're venturing a guess here, but the close BracketBuster loss on Saturday may have crystallized the G'Eagles' focus. They came out last night against BLC newbies South Dakota State and did to them what they've done to most of their conference competition -- dominated them. In a 67-52 decision
, the Jackrabbits missed their first 19 shots, and ORU held them to 13 points in the first half. Nice of them to let SDSU score 39 in the second, but the point had been made. Portland State.
I lived in western Oregon for seven years, back in my power-conference days, and never really found myself in a position where I needed to remember the difference between Portland and Portland State. I know better now, of course -- UP wears purple, is nicknamed the Pilots, and are in the WCC; PSU wears green, calls its teams the Vikings, and competes n the Big Sky. But now there's another difference: Portland State is the one with the regular-season championship. The Vikes went on the road last night to Montana State, shot a school-record 70 percent
, and beat the Bobcats 96-68
to claim the title. They're now 12-2 in the league, 19-9 overall, and have won their last 10 league games.Jeremiah Dominguez
, every inch of 5-foot-6, broke a three-game mini-slump and went off for 26 on 8-for-11 shooting. Scott Morrison
, the team's 6-11 'hemoth, chipped in 11 (on 5-of-7) and grabbed eight rebounds. If you're having trouble remembering who Portland State is and what their team is about, it's kinda like this
Also, on your Leap Day...How 'Bout™
Cal State Northridge? This team is putting a whole new spin on the term "Matador defense." CSN (19-7, 11-2) leads the Big West in every meaningful defensive category, and forces opponents into turnovers 25 percent of the time (tied for eighth nationally). Last night, they bounced back from a one-point BracketBuster home drop to Rider by avenging an earlier league loss to Cal State Fullerton. In the 82-74
win, the Matadors held the Titans to 37 percent shooting and went up two games in the loss column against Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara with three games to go.How 'Bout™
, also, Saint Louis? With a nationally televised 64-55
win on Hawk Hill against Saint Joseph's, the Billikens officially created Hoops Nation's most exciting, baffling cluster****. The grand old Atlantic 14 now has four teams tied for second at 8-5 (SJU, Richmond, Temple and La Salle), with three teams in the RPI's top 100 below .500. Three bids, two bids? Aw heck, let 'em all in. I'd rather watch Charlotte or Fordham than Arkansas or Mississippi. OK, all except for 1-12 Saint Bonaventure, of course... those six straight losses are making us think we should call this the Atlantic 13
Or How 'Bout™
Nevada? The young Wolf Pack (18-10, 10-4) has struggled with consistency and has been pure blah on the road in the past month, laying as much of an egg that mammals are capable of last Saturday at Southern Illinois (a 74-49 loss
). But they do seem to have New Mexico State's number. Nevada swept the WAC tourney hosts last night with a 98-85
offensive fireworks show: 61 percent overall shooting, and 67 points from the three-man backcourt. What was surprising, though, is that the Pack outrebounded the much larger NMSU team by three -- now they're a game behind first-place Boise State in the Wickity Wackity.
And How 'Bout™
Boston University? While other America East teams are jockeying for position and generally pushing each other around
, the Terriers (12-15, 8-6) are slowly creeping up on the America East charts. Last night, they moved into a three-way tie for second by blasting Hartford behind John Holland's
38 points. After digging themselves a 2-5 hole to start league play (attributable in part to Tyler Morris'
foot injury and recovery), BU is back! Seven wins in eight games, and the loss was a tight three-point drop
at regular season champs UMBC.
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