March 3, 2008 9:45 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- The calendar does not deceive you, it's been March for two-plus days now and we haven't seen one conference tournament game. We'll take care of that tomorrow (the Big South, OVC and Horizon get underway), but this in-between day gives us a chance to catch our collective breath and warn you about what's coming next.
Folks who read along last year probably remember the daily Tourney Central posts, which laid out constantly-updated brackets for each of the 21 conference tourneys, provided scores and links to boxes, and featured the occasional insightful comment. We're doing that again this year!
The big difference is that all the stat stuff is over at Basketball State now, and we'll be throwing links over there at a thoroughly alarming rate in the next two weeks. So we've instituted some new March pricing: get access until April 2009 (from now until the end of next year's NCAA's) for $29.95, and if you just want to hang around short-term, it's ten bucks for this month only (non-recurring). When you compare that to girlie sites, that's a darn good deal.
And as the days get longer, The Boubacar will get shorter as the action shifts to tourneys. We'll do Game! Of! The! Night! posts until early next week to showcase the last few key regular-season games, and there'll be Ballers of the Week from here on out. We'll sprinkle in some interviews, cartoons and random jokes just so it doesn't get too stagnant.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at some two-bid scenarios, but it's time to recap the weekend!
Cornell. Twenty years ago, Mike Dement led Cornell to the Ivy League championship (he's at UNC Greensboro now), flew out to Los Angeles, and got throttled by eventual Final Four participant Arizona by 40 points. This year's Ivy champs have a much better chance to give someone a game. With solid 6-6 shooter Ryan Wittman, speedy guard Louis Dale and junior big Jeff Foote, there's 38 points of offense for a team that shoots nearly 50 percent.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves, perhaps understandable when a conference names an outright champion 15 days before the bracket gets made. On Saturday, the Big Red became the first Ivy title-holder in 20 years with a school name not beginning in "P," and they didn't even need to change their name to Pornell. With a 86-53 final, Harvard became Cornell's 14th straight victim; the Big Red have run a perfect 12-0 Ivy record and are 20-5 overall. Outgoing title-holders Penn could not be reached for comment, they were busy getting a 32-point colonoscopy from Brown.
Letdowns! It's not altogether too uncommon to see a team follow up a emotional performance, or championship moment, with a flat-footed loss. A few teams dropped their season finales after clinching conference regular-season titles, leaving us with all sorts of "momentum" questions headed into Championship Week. Others lost their chance to achieve solid footing after a huge performance boosted them from oblivion to fingernails-on-the-cliff position. Some just lost games they weren't supposed to lose.
Oral Roberts clinched its Badlands Conference title last week, and the Golden Eagles celebrated by going all the way up to North Dakota State, shooting 38 percent, and losing wire-to-wire to the Bison by a 68-55 count. Travel won't be an issue in the tourney, since it's right down the street at Tulsa's John Q. Hammons Arena (not to be confused with Missouri State's). Then there's America East winner UMBC, which took its party on the road Sunday for a final regular-season game at Hartford, then left with a 58-57 hangover.
After Navy's huge home win against American last Thursday to pull into a tie at the top of the Patriot League, the Midshipmen went out and shot 33 percent at Colgate, losing 73-62 to allow American to take the No. 1 seed on the final day. The Eagles beat Lafayette 84-72 at home, and they'll stay there until such time as they're eliminated.
Kent State was getting all sorts of at-large talk last week after topping St. Mary's on the road in the BracketBusters, but now their position is a bit more tenuous. With seven days off, they came out flat at Bowling Green and lost 89-83. Don't forget how tough this league is, and how difficult some of these arenas are to play in. Kent will close the slate next Sunday down the road at Akron, their primary rival.
The Southland race was thrown into chaos Saturday, as both high-flying division leaders lost. Stephen F. Austin's (23-4, 11-3) lack of rebounding was exposed by Texas-Arlington in a 75-65 decision, which featured a 11-board advantage for the Mavericks and 12 of them from Anthony Vereen, who also threw in 27 points. Lamar's (18-9, 12-2) lack of defense finally caught up to them, as McNeese State shot 55 percent over the Cardinals and defeated them 74-71 at home.
How 'Bout™ UNC Asheville? The Bulldogs earned the Big South regular-season championship the hard way, winning on the floor of perennial titlists Winthrop. The 63-50 win was a celebration of all things Bryan Smithson (25 points). But our favorite 7-7 guy, Kenny George, was on the floor for 23 minutes (10 points, 9 rebounds), a signal that his knees might hold up for the upcoming tourney. Meanwhile, No. 2 seed Winthrop has to be wondering where the offense is going to come from this week.
How 'Bout™ Temple? The Owls are your Atlantic 14 second-place team at 9-5 after beating Saint Joe's at the Palestra last night 57-56. The Hawks led this game pretty much throughout until TU's Mark Tyndale went nuts (15 points, 7-for-8 shooting). Losing three out of four headed into March (and five of seven) is never good, but each recent drop has featured some sort of late collapse, leading some in Philadelphia to mount an emergency lobby to have the NCAA shorten games to 38 minutes.
Elsewhere on the bubble outside the bubble, UMass won their fourth straight to take the mantle of "A-14 second-hottest team," topping previously-hott Richmond 78-74. So there's a four-team 8-6 clump in third: UMass, SJU, Richmond and La Salle. Xavier is somehow light-years beyond and above all of this at 13-1, but don't forget that Temple presents a really bad matchup.
And How 'Bout™ Murray State? The OVC field is set with top seeds Austin Peay, Murray, Morehead State and Tennessee-Martin hosting games to open the tourney. And it's great to see that UTM has moved from perennial punching-bag to No. 4 this year. But the No. 2 Racers sent a serious warning shot to the upstart Skyhawks on Saturday, blasting Martin 98-59 with six double-figure scorers and outrebounding them 44-21.
Or How 'Bout™ Valparaiso? The Crusaders lost six of seven during a February stretch, but have finished strong. Starting with that crazy double-OT BracketBuster win over Miami (Oh.), Valpo quickly cobbled together a four-game win streak, winning three Horizon games in six days -- on Saturday, they topped Wright State in OT (on ESPN2!) 75-73. Freshman Michael Rogers provided the tired Crusaders fresh legs with career highs in minutes (38) and points (21). Now they'll enter the HL tourney as a No. 6 seed, and have already busted the bracket: Wright will be a three-seed, clearing the way for Cleveland State to steal the two.
And, wow...How 'Bout™ Portland State? No letdown there. After clinching the Big Sky last week, the Vikings took to the road and beat Montana, the last conference team to win an NCAA game (2006). OK, maybe "beat" isn't the right word. In a 108-56 win, PSU did things to the Grizzlies that you usually see at home against D-III teams. The Vikings shot 63 percent, doubled up Montana on the boards 44-21, and scored on 75 percent of their possessions. We have a complicated system of ranking team performances relatively, and this game rated as the second most dominant all year. Of anybody.
Finally, How 'Bout™ Davidson? That sentence has been repeated a lot this year, but a perfect 20-0 regular season is complete after a 89-69 roadie at Georgia Southern. The final seedings in the SoCon won't be finalized until tomorrow, but the Wildcats won't need those red jerseys until the Tournament. Sure, they won't get an at-large, but the way things have been going it would be a major shock if they lose in the tourney. The second time around the league, Davidson's been even more impressive than in the first meetings. Like we've been saying, nobody's getting any closer to these guys the second time around.
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