Games of Sunday, March 9
America East Semifinals
Matchup: #4 Seed Vermont (16-14, 9-7) vs. #1 MD Baltimore County (22-8, 13-3), 12:00 p.m. EST
Rankings: Vermont, #184 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 9 in America East); MD Baltimore County, #156 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: MD Baltimore County, 76-73 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 38%
Prospectus: Vermont beat host Binghamton 65-57 yesterday, while top seed MD Baltimore County easily dispatched Stony Brook 76-60 to advance to this semifinal. The Retrievers beat the Catamounts twice during the regular season, by 18 at home and by two on the road. The key to MD Baltimore County's success this season--the Retrievers had their first winning season since 2002--has been the second lowest turnover percentage of any team in the nation, which has gotten them enough looks at the basket to score 1.13 points per possession, the 15th best raw efficiency. Especially impressive in this department is 6'8 senior Cavell Johnson, who uses 24.6 percent of his team's possessions and turns it over less than 10 percent of the time. Vermont is searching for its first America East tournament title since winning back-to-back-to-back crowns from 2003-2005. The Retreivers, who joined the America East in 2004 after moving over from the Northeast Conference, are gunning for their inaugural tournament title after winning the regular season for the first time.
Matchup: #6 Seed Boston University (14-16, 9-7) vs. #2 Hartford (17-15, 10-6), 2:30
Rankings: Boston University, #220 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 9 in America East); Hartford, #253 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Boston University, 69-67 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: Hartford downed seven seed New Hampshire by three points yesterday, while Boston University beat two-time defending America East tournament champion Albany in overtime. These teams split the season series, but the Terriers sent a message in the second of those games, winning 97-66 at home in Boston on February 28. Freshman John Holland, who has established himself as a force during the conference season, scored 38 points in that one on 73 eFG% shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds. That blowout exposed Hartford, which has gotten very lucky this season and is an overrated two seed. Boston University last won the America East tournament in 2002, while the Hawks have never won it. The winner of this game will either travel to Maryland to take on top seed Baltimore County, return home to play for the championship (if Hartford wins and Vermont beats UMBC), or travel to Vermont for next Saturday's deciding game (if Boston University and Vermont win).
Matchup: Florida (21-9, 8-7) at Kentucky (17-11, 11-4), 12:00, CBS
Rankings: Florida, #45 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in SEC); Kentucky, #55 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kentucky, 68-66 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 41%
Prospectus: Kentucky can clinch the second seed in the SEC East and the first round bye in the conference tournament that comes with it with a win over Florida or a Vanderbilt loss at Alabama. The Gators, meanwhile, desperately need this win in order to get back into the NCAA Tournament to defend their back-to-back national championships, as Florida has lost two straight games and will fall to .500 in the conference if it loses again tonight. These teams played in Gainesville back on January 19, and the Gators won in overtime, 81-70. Kentucky has played well thus far without its best player, forward Patrick Patterson, who is out for the season with a stress fracture in his ankle. In their first game without Patterson, the Wildcats lost by just three at SEC leader Tennessee, and this past Wednesday senior shooting guard Joe Crawford stepped up to score a career-high 35 points on 63 eFG% shooting to help Kentucky win in South Carolina. Florida, meanwhile, lost a 16-point lead at home against Tennessee and fell 89-86 on Wednesday.
Matchup: Virginia Tech (18-11, 9-6) at Clemson (19-10, 13-5), 1:30
Rankings: Virginia Tech, #48 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in ACC); Clemson, #20 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Clemson, 71-62 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 18%
Prospectus: This game will decide who grabs the third seed in the ACC tournament, and who gets stuck with the fourth. The Hokies have come on strong with four straight wins, and are now guaranteed to finish above .500 in regular season conference play, which is an important part of their case to be considered for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. A win over the Tigers on the road would virtually lock up their place in the field of 64. Thanks to its recent stretch of strong play, the Virginia Tech defense now ranks 13th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, second in the ACC behind Duke and ahead of Clemson. The Tigers, who lost at Georgia Tech on Thursday, have the better three-point percentage defense, while the Hokies have the better two-point percentage defense.
Patriot League Semifinals
Matchup: #7 Seed Bucknell (12-18, 6-8) at #3 Colgate (17-13, 7-7), 2:00
Rankings: Bucknell, #241 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 8 in Patriot); Colgate, #212 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Colgate, 63-58 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 27%
Prospectus: Bucknell, which shared the Patriot League regular season title last season with Holy Cross at 13-1 before slipping this year, and which won back-to-back Patriot League tournaments in 2005 and 2006, upset No. 2 seed Navy 87-86 in triple overtime in Annapolis on Wednesday in the tourney's opening round, and now will try to victimize another higher seed to make it to next Friday's tournament finale. Gate State beat six seed Lafayette by just two points on Wednesday. The Bison beat the Raiders twice this season in highly contested games, with Colgate losing 65-61 on the road and 91-85 in overtime in Hamilton. The Raiders are looking for their first Patriot League tournament title since 1996, and a win this afternoon will send them up against either Navy or American next Friday for a chance to find it.
Matchup: #5 Seed Army (14-15, 6-8) at #1 American (19-11, 10-4), 2:00
Rankings: Army, #268 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 8 in Patriot); American, #162 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: American, 62-53 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 13%
Prospectus: American was nearly picked off by a very dangerous eight seed Wednesday, as the Eagles got by Holy Cross by just two points, 62-60, while Army beat the No. 3 seed Lehigh 64-61 in overtime. That's right--all four first round games in the Patriot League tournament were close ones (decided by less than four points or in overtime), and between the Navy and Army games, a total of four overtime periods were needed. The Eagles get a break here after playing the second best team in the conference in the first round, as Army is statistically the Patriot League's worst team despite having garnered the five seed. The Cadets have a very bad offense, which is 14th from the bottom of Division I in offensive efficiency, but Army does have the best defense in the Patriot League. American, conversely, has the league's best offense and a weak defense. The Eagles beat the Cadets twice during the regular season.
Matchup: #2 Seed Illinois St. (24-8, 13-5) vs. #1 Drake (27-4, 15-3), 2:05, CBS
Rankings: Illinois St., #53 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in MVC); Drake, #28 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Drake, 65-62 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: Drake beat Creighton 75-67 yesterday, and Illinois St. beat Northern Iowa 56-42 to set up a predictable final between the first and second seeds. The Missouri Valley helped out a bunch of at-large teams with this outcome; assuming that Illinois St. would have garnered an at-large berth even if it went out earlier in the tournament, based on its strong second-place finish in a good conference, any team other than the Redbirds or Bulldogs winning the Valley--such as Southern Illinois, the perennial NCAA contender that was a real threat to take the conference title as a three seed--would have knocked a squad off the NCAA Tournament bubble. Drake beat Illinois St. twice during the regular season, but those two wins came by a combined nine points, and given the way the Redbirds are playing of late, having won six in a row, this game promises to be an excellent one.
Matchup: #5 Seed William & Mary (16-15, 10-8) vs. #1 Virginia Commonwealth (24-6, 15-3), 3:00
Rankings: William & Mary, #204 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in CAA); Virginia Commonwealth, #71 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Virginia Commonwealth, 64-52 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 8%
Prospectus: VCU gets a boost from having the tournament be played in its hometown of Richmond, in an arena (the Richmond Coliseum) that the Rams used to call home. VCU beat Towson by 11 points yesterday, while William & Mary beat Old Dominion 63-60 to set up this matchup. The Rams, trying to win the CAA tournament for the second straight year, beat the Tribe by double digits in both games they played William & Mary this season.
Matchup: #3 Seed George Mason (21-10, 12-6) vs. #2 NC Wilmington (20-12, 12-6), 5:00
Rankings: George Mason, #98 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in CAA); NC Wilmington, #164 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: George Mason, 76-69 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 23%
Prospectus: The Patriots struggled down the stretch, dropping four of their last seven games to lose their shot at first place, and George Mason will have to win its next two games and capture the CAA's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament if it hopes to enter the Big Dance. The Patriots beat Northeastern 63-52 yesterday, while two seed Wilmington beat Delaware by 23 to set this one up. The Seahawks took the two seed because they beat George Mason in both games the two played this season. Both of those were close contests, decided by a total of five points. The winner of this game advances to Monday's final against either VCU or William & Mary.
Matchup: #4 Seed Mount St. Mary's (16-14, 11-7) at #1 Robert Morris (26-6, 16-2), 3:00
Rankings: Mount St. Mary's, #182 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 11 in Northeast); Robert Morris, #137 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Robert Morris, 73-64 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 20%
Prospectus: Robert Morris is in search of its first Northeast Conference tournament championship since 1992, which is also the last year the Colonials won the conference's regular season title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Mount St. Mary's last won the Northeast tourney in 1999. Robert Morris swept the season series over Mount St. Mary's. The winner here advances to the championship game next Wednesday against either Sacred Heart or Wagner.
Matchup: #3 Seed Sacred Heart (17-13, 13-5) at #2 Wagner (23-7, 15-3), 7:00
Rankings: Sacred Heart, #201 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 11 in Northeast); Wagner, #225 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wagner, 75-72 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: Wagner last won the Northeast title in 2003, while Sacred Heart has never won since joining the conference in 1999. The Seahawks have been the luckiest team in the country by far, with an astounding 7.2 wins above what should be expected based upon their points scored and allowed totals. Sacred Heart was a victim of Wagner's great fortune on February 14, as the Pioneers lost in double overtime 100-93 in Staten Island. Sacred Heart now returns to the scene of the crime to try and stop the Seahawks' streak of good luck and earn the chance to play for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Matchup:Oklahoma St. (16-13, 7-8) at Texas (25-5, 12-3), 4:00, ESPN
Rankings: Oklahoma St., #50 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 12 in Big 12); Texas, #10 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas, 74-62 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 13%
Prospectus: A victory for the Longhorns would give them a share of the Big 12 regular season title along with Kansas, and, by virtue of their having beaten the Jayhawks, the top seed in the conference tournament. It will be interesting to see whether Texas exhibits any signs of late-season fatigue as March wears on, as the Longhorns are a young team that relies more on its starters than any other Division I team, getting a national-low 16.9 percent of minutes off the bench. Texas will be going up against another young team in the Cowboys, who showed their talent in a recent five game conference winning streak with wins over Kansas, Baylor, and Texas A&M before a disappointing loss at home against a Blake Griffin-less Oklahoma team on Wednesday.
Matchup: #5 Seed NC Greensboro (19-11, 12-8) vs. #1 Davidson (24-6, 20-0), 6:00
Rankings: NC Greensboro, #128 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 11 in Southern); Davidson, #49 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Davidson, 76-66 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 18%
Prospectus: If any Southern Conference team is going to beat Davidson this season, it is going to be tonight, with the best the conference has to offer outside of the Wildcats on a neutral court. Bubble teams in the power conferences are hoping that Stephen Curry and Co. take care of business and that the one-in-five chance of an upset doesn't come through, because even if Davidson should lose in the next two games it would likely make it into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team on the strength of its schedule and its undefeated conference regular season. The winner of this game tonight will face the winner of the second Southern Conference semifinal game, between the College of Charleston and Elon, on Monday for the championship. Davidson is in search of its third straight SoCon tourney title.
Matchup: Kent St. (24-6, 12-3) at Akron (21-8, 11-4), 6:00
Rankings: Kent St., #74 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in MAC); Akron, #89 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Akron, 68-66 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 40%
Prospectus: The Golden Flashes will clinch the MAC regular season title with a win, while a loss would drop Kent St. into a two or three way tie for the crown, pending the outcome of Western Michigan's game (W. Mich stands at 11-4, and in first place in the West division). Kent St. holds the tiebreaker over both Akron and Western Michigan, so the Golden Flashes have already locked up the top seed in the MAC tournament. A victory for Kent St. would be another quality win to add to the ledger in case the Golden Flashes fizzle in the MAC tournament and need an at-large berth to make it to the Big Dance. Kent St. won the first meeting between these two teams, 75-69 at home on January 23.
West Coast Semifinals
Matchup: #4 Seed Santa Clara (15-15, 6-8) vs. #1 Gonzaga (24-6, 13-1), 9:30, ESPN2
Rankings: Santa Clara, #158 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 8 in WCC); Gonzaga, #24 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Gonzaga, 71-56 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 6%
Prospectus: Santa Clara beat San Francisco by just one point, 51-50, to reach this semifinal, while Gonzaga had a bye into this round because of its status as the tournament's number one seed. The Bulldogs have won the past four WCC tournaments, and eight of the past nine, while Santa Clara has not won since 1993, which was Steve Nash's rookie season. Gonzaga won both games against the Broncos this year, in double overtime on the road and then in a 34-point blowout at home. The winner of this game plays tomorrow against the St. Mary's/San Diego winner for the West Coast tourney title.
Matchup: #2 Seed St. Mary's (25-5, 12-2) at #3 San Diego (19-13, 11-3), 11:30, ESPN2
Rankings: San Diego, #135 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 8 in WCC); St. Mary's, #41 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: St. Mary's, 66-60 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 25%
Prospectus: San Diego is hosting the West Coast Conference tournament, which obviously gives it a better chance of knocking off St. Mary's in this semifinal. The Toreros also played the Gaels tough during the regular season, giving St. Mary's one of its two conference losses in a 63-55 decision at the Jenny Craig Pavilion in San Diego (the site of tonight's game, as well), and then losing by seven in Moraga. The Toreros are the one West Coast Conference team besides Gonzaga to have won the WCC tourney in the past nine years, as San Diego stopped the Bulldogs' four-year winning streak by taking the 2003 title. That was also the last year that the tournament was held at San Diego's Jenny Craig Pavilion before this year.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.