Games of Tuesday, March 11
Summit League Championship
Matchup: #2 Seed IUPUI (26-6, 15-3) vs. #1 Oral Roberts (23-8, 16-2), 7:00 p.m. EST
Rankings: IUPUI, #87 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in Summit); Oral Roberts, #82 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Oral Roberts, 64-62 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 40%
Prospectus: Oral Roberts gets to play this game in its home city of Tulsa
(although not in its home arena), which gives the Golden Eagles a slight advantage in a game that would otherwise be a toss-up. These two teams are virtually identical in quality, and judging by the games they played in the regular season--Oral Roberts won 64-63 in Tulsa, and IUPUI 69-66 in Indianapolis--this one should prove worthy of its championship billing. IUPUI took care of Oakland last night 80-65, while Oral Roberts rallied to dispatch IUPU Fort Wayne 58-42 to set up the final. While both teams have had great seasons, it doesn't look like the Summit will support two bids to the NCAA Tournament, so the loser of this will likely head to the NIT. IUPUI has the best eFG% in the country, while Oral Roberts is 14th in eFG% defense. Both teams shot 50 eFG% or better and scored more than a point per possession in their two regular season games against each other. However, George Hill, IUPUI's stellar junior guard who sports a eFG% of 61.9 on the season, shot only 10-28 for an eFG% of 38 in the two games against the Golden Eagles. Hill is coming off a 32 point, 68 eFG% performance in yesterday's semifinal win over Oakland. Led by Scott Sutton, son of San Francisco coach Eddie Sutton and brother of Oklahoma St. coach Sean Sutton, Oral Roberts has won the last two Summit League tournaments, while IUPUI won in 2003.
Big Sky Semifinals
Matchup: #3 Seed Weber St. (16-13, 10-6) vs. #1 Northern Arizona (20-10, 11-5), 8:30
Rankings: Weber St., #184 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 9 in Big Sky); Northern Arizona, #150 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Northern Arizona, 68-65 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: Northern Arizona beat Weber St. twice during the regular season, and will have to do so a third time at the Rose Garden in order to advance to the Big Sky championship game to play for an NCAA Tournament berth. Weber St. has 6'9 senior Arturas Valeika, sixth in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, while Northern Arizona counters with its own 6'9 senior, Kyle Landry, who ranks in the nation's top 35 in both offensive and defensive rebounding, as well as free throw rate. There are sure to be plenty of free throws shot in this game, as Northern Arizona and Weber St. rank 5/6, respectively, in free throw rate among Division I teams. They are also two of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country, with Weber ranking sixth and Northern Arizona seventh in defensive rebounding percentage. Northern Arizona separates itself from the Wildcats, however, with an offense that ranks 15th in eFG%.
Matchup: #4 Seed Idaho St. (12-18, 8-8) vs. #1 Portland St. (21-9, 14-2), 11:00
Rankings: Idaho St., #290 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 9 in Big Sky); Portland St., #130 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Portland St., 73-58 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 7%
Prospectus: Idaho St., the nation's ninth luckiest team at +2.7 wins, snuck into the semifinal by beating Montana 67-65. Portland St. won the Big Sky regular season with a 14-2 record to earn a bye into the semifinals, and it gets an added boost here by playing in the Rose Garden in Portland (although the Rose Garden is not the Vikings' home arena). Idaho St., one of the nation's slowest paced teams at 61.7 possessions/40 minutes, lost to the Vikings twice in the regular season. Portland St. has the 12th best eFG% in Division I and the 12th best three-point percentage, thanks primarily to 5'6 sophomore Jeremiah Dominguez, who has hit 77 of his 173 three-point attempts (44.5 percent) and 62 of his 116 two-pointers (53 percent). The Bengals, meanwhile, have just one above average offensive player among their top six in percentage of minutes played--6'6 junior Matt Stucki, who leads the team in assist rate, free throw rate, and two-point field goal percentage.
Matchup: #2 Seed Cleveland St. (21-11, 12-6) at #1 Butler (28-3, 16-2), 9:00
Rankings: Cleveland St., #110 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in Horizon); Butler, #36 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Butler, 66-55 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 11%
Prospectus: San Diego knocked a team off the bubble last night by beating Gonzaga in the WCC championship game, and Cleveland St. could do the same here tonight if it beats Butler for the Horizon League title. The Vikings beat the Bulldogs in the regular season, 56-52 at home, and only lost by 51-46 on the road at Hinkle Fieldhouse, where tonight's game is being played, so an upset is not out of the question. Cleveland St. is powered by its defense, which is best in the Horizon in adjusted efficiency, and which is especially strong at holding down opponent three-point percentage (31.9). Butler has the Horizon's best offense, a unit which turns the ball over at a lower percentage than all but seven other Division I teams. Butler also shoots three-pointers on 48.6 percent of its field goal tries, the fifth highest rate, and converts from deep at a 37.6 percentage. Senior A.J. Graves has taken 245 threes and hit 33.9 percent, down from last year, when he shot 35.4 percent in 277 tries. Whereas Graves carried the offensive load last year for a team that made it to the Sweet 16, this year freshman forward Matt Howard has stepped in to shoot 61 eFG% from the floor and top the Bulldogs in offensive rating. Butler is looking for its first Horizon tournament title since 2001, while Cleveland St. has never won the tournament since joining the Horizon League in 1994.
Sun Belt Championship
Matchup: #4 Seed Middle Tennessee (17-14, 11-7) vs. #1 Western Kentucky (26-6, 16-2), 9:00
Rankings: Middle Tennessee, #163 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 13 in Sun Belt); Western Kentucky, #64 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Western Kentucky, 74-63 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 15%
Prospectus: Middle Tennessee knocked off No. 1 seed South Alabama yesterday, leaving the Jaguars to sweat until next Sunday when the NCAA selection committee reveals whether they will still make the tournament as an at-large team. Western Kentucky, meanwhile, beat Arkansas Little Rock by 15 to advance despite their best player Courtney Lee only scoring 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Lee, a 6'5 senior, is second in the nation in offensive rating among players using at least 28 percent of possessions, behind only Cal's Ryan Anderson. Lee also does it on the defensive end, with a strong steal rate and block percentage, and only turns the ball over on 13.9 percent of his possessions used, extremely impressive for a player so heavily involved in the offense. Lee, however, was mostly held down against Middle Tennessee this season--he scored a season-low six points on 2-of-6 shooting in Western Kentucky's first game against the Blue Raiders, and scored 18 points on 47 eFG% shooting while committing six turnovers in the second. The Hilltoppers won both games, however, beating Middle Tennessee by 11 at home and five on the road. The Blue Raiders will be looking for their first Sun Belt tournament title, and first appearance in the NCAA tourney since 1989. Western Kentucky won three straight Sun Belt tournaments between from 2001 to 2003.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.