Games of Saturday, March 15
Conference USA Championship
Matchup: #7 Seed Tulsa (20-12, 8-8) at #1 Memphis (32-1, 16-0), 11:35 A.M. EST
Rankings: Tulsa, #68 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in CUSA); Memphis, #3 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Memphis, 77-59 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 5%
Prospectus: The Golden Hurricane knocked off UTEP in overtime yesterday, 64-62, to advance to its first CUSA championship game since joining the conference in 2005. Six foot eleven inch sophomore center Jerome Jordan had another strong game for Tulsa, scoring 12 points on 5-of-8 from the floor with nine rebounds and four blocked shots, one day after he put up 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, 17 rebounds and five blocks in a quarterfinal win over UAB. In Tulsa's two losses to Memphis during the regular season, Jordan was held to 12 points total on 4-of-11 shooting, but he did block a total of eight Tigers' shots. Tulsa has now won 10 of its last 12 games, and four in a row, with the two setbacks in that stretch road losses to Memphis and UAB. The Tigers cruised against Southern Mississippi 69-53, their 41st straight Conference USA win and eighth straight in conference tournament play. Memphis can collect its third consecutive CUSA tournament title with a win this afternoon. If the Golden Hurricane can somehow find a way to upset the conference bully, they would make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003, when they were a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
In their most recent victory over Tulsa, on February 27 at home, the Tigers displayed their remarkable depth and balance, as seven players scored between nine and 14 points in the 82-67 win. The Tigers shot 13-of-25 from three-point range and forced 17 turnovers, the biggest area of weakness for the Tulsa offense. In its first meeting with the Golden Hurricane, Memphis, which has the best defense in the country by raw efficiency (0.86 points per possession allowed), held Tulsa to 0.70 points per possession on 34 eFG% shooting to win on the road 56-41, by far the lowest offensive efficiency for the Golden Hurricane this season.
America East Championship
Matchup: #2 Seed Hartford (18-15, 10-6) at #1 MD Baltimore County (23-8, 13-3), 12:00 P.M., ESPN2
Rankings: Hartford, #239 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 9 in America East); MD Baltimore County, #148 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: MD Baltimore County, 82-69 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 13%
Prospectus: The Retrievers have risen up for the first time since moving from the Northeast to the America East conference for the 2004 season. MD Baltimore County finished at 4-14 in conference play in 2004, 5-13 in 2005, 5-11 in 2006, and 7-9 last season. It won the America East regular season title this year by three games over Albany and Hartford, and could close the deal tonight with the conference tournament championship and the automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, which the Retrievers have never been to. Hartford has also never been to the NCAA tourney, so one of these teams is guaranteed a trip to the dance for the first time. The Retrievers appear to have lucked out in getting a championship matchup with Hartford, rather than Albany or Vermont, but the Hawks played MD Baltimore County extremely tough this season. The first game between the two was won by the Retrievers in Baltimore 86-85 on a three-pointer at the buzzer from senior shooting guard Brian Hodges. Hodges shot 6-of-9 from deep in the game, as the Hawks defense, one of the worst in the nation at defending the three-point line by both percentage and volume, allowed the Retrievers to shoot 14-of-25 from deep for the game. The second game between the two had as much defense as the first had offense, and MD Baltimore County shot just 4-of-18 from three and lost 58-57 in Hartford on the last day of their regular season.
The Retrivers have built their program up with a number of JUCO transfers, and consequently have an older team that ranks 29th nationally in experience. MD Baltimore County has just a seven man playing rotation, and the team's starters play 79.5 percent of the minutes, the eighth highest total in Division I.
Matchup: #6-East Seed Georgia (14-16, 4-12) vs. #2-East Kentucky (18-11, 12-4), 12:00
Rankings: Georgia, #101 in Pomeroy Ratings (11th of 12 in SEC); Kentucky, #55 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kentucky, 63-60 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: The roof almost literally came off the Georgia Dome last night due to a massive storm, forcing the postponement of this last SEC quarterfinal game until today, and the shifting of the tournament from the Georgia Dome to Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The winner will play again tonight at 8:30 against Mississippi St.--which survived a last-second good look for three by Mykal Riley to beat Alabama 69-67 in overtime last night--to determine who advances to tomorrow's conference championship game. The Bulldogs beat Mississippi in overtime on Thursday, 97-95, on a shot by senior center Dave Bliss with less than a second remaining in the extra session. Junior forward Terrance Woodbury, who has suffered through a down season after playing well in limited time last year, scored 25 points on 87.5 eFG% shooting from the floor to lead Georgia to the win. Now the Bulldogs face Kentucky, a team many thought would miss the NCAA tournament after losing star freshman forward Patrick Patterson to a stress fracture several weeks ago. The Wildcats have rallied, however, and after losing to Tennessee by just three on the road, beat South Carolina and Florida to close their season, lock up a first-round bye in the SEC tourney, and gain a firm hold on an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament. Sophomore guard Derrick Jasper continued his improvement in Sunday's 75-70 win over Florida, as he scored a career-high 14 points on 4-of-4 shooting from downtown, and, perhaps most importantly, committed zero turnovers in 31 minutes. Turnovers have been the biggest bugaboo for Jasper this year and throughout his young career, and in fact the entire Wildcats team this season has struggled to protect the ball, with a last place conference ranking in turnover percentage (23.4 percent of possessions).
Matchup: #2-West Seed Arkansas (21-10, 9-7) vs.
#1-East Tennessee (29-3, 14-2), 6:00
Rankings: Tennessee, #12 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in SEC); Arkansas, #36 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Tennessee, 77-71 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: Arkansas and Tennessee both got their games in before a massive storm rendered the Georgia Dome unfit for play last night. The Razorbacks took down Vanderbilt 81-75, while Tennessee sneaked by South Carolina 89-87, with the Volunteers needing a good defensive play in the final seconds to prevent the Gamecocks from taking the potential tying or game-winning field goal attempt. Arkansas' win over the Commodores likely secured its berth in the NCAA tournament, and now the Razorbacks will attempt to win their second SEC tournament. They got their first title in 2000, a year the tournament was also held at the Georgia Dome. These two teams, who will play this game at Georgia Tech because of the storm, met once in the regular season, a game Tennessee won 93-71 at home on February 13. The Razorbacks were put away by the three-point shooting of senior guard JaJuan Smith, who hit on all six of his attempts from deep and tied a career high with 32 points. Arkansas normally plays strong perimeter defense, as it has held opponents to a 31.5 three-point percentage on the season. The Razorbacks also scored just 0.92 points per possession in that game against the Volunteers, which was the team's low this season in conference play.
Atlantic Coast Semifinals
Matchup: #4 Seed Virginia Tech (19-12, 9-7) vs. #1 North Carolina (30-2, 14-2), 1:30, ESPN
Rankings: Virginia Tech, #44 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in ACC); North
Carolina, #6 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 81-69 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 14%
Prospectus: Virginia Tech came up with a big 63-49 win over Miami in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament yesterday to keep alive its slim chance for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament. The Hokies, who have the second best defense in the conference behind Duke and the 12th best in Division I overall by adjusted efficiency, held the Hurricanes to 37 eFG% shooting from the floor in the win. The victory was the first of the season for the Hokies against a team in the Pomeroy Top 50, meaning that they will need a win over the Tar Heels today in order to put themselves in position to earn a berth. Such a victory will not come easily, however, especially considering the result of Virginia Tech's first crack at North Carolina this year--a 92-53 loss on Chapel Hill February 16, in which Virginia Tech put up its lowest offensive efficiency of the season (0.67 points per possession) and gave up its highest total of points per possession (1.16) in conference play. The Tar Heels destroyed the Hokies despite not having sophomore point guard Ty Lawson, who was out with a sprained ankle, and North Carolina, ranked No. 1 in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls, has kept rolling upon Lawson's return. The Tar Heels won easily yesterday over Florida St. 82-70 in the quarterfinals, the team's ninth victory in a row since losing to Duke at home February 6.
Matchup: #3 Seed Clemson (23-8, 10-6) vs. #2 Duke (27-4, 13-3), 3:30, ESPN
Rankings: Clemson, #19 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in ACC); Duke, #5 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Duke, 81-73 in 76 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The Tigers, who scuffled a bit down the stretch of the ACC regular season, emerged from their mild slump with a decisive 82-48 victory over Boston College in the quarterfinals last night, while Duke took care of Georgia Tech 82-70. Now Clemson and the Blue Devils meet for the chance to play in Sunday's conference championship game. Duke has beaten the Tigers 22 straight times, most recently on January 19 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in a 93-80 decision. Clemson turned the ball over 20 times in that game, giving it away on 26.5 percent of its possessions, which was the highest rate of the conference season for the Tigers, who average a turnover on less than one out of five possessions. Duke has the ACC's best turnover-inducing defense, which has forced opponents into giveaways on just about one in four possessions, the 14th highest rate in the country. Clemson would have still been in the game despite those turnovers if it had come up with a better performance from the free throw line, but the Tigers made just 10 of their 23 free throw attempts. Much has been made of Clemson's poor free throw shooting this season--the Tigers have a team percentage of 62.2, which is last in the ACC and ranks them in the country's bottom thirty--but perhaps equally troubling is the team's inability to get to the stripe. While Clemson did a good job of getting to the line against Duke, on the season the Tigers have averaged 18.8 free throws per 100 field goal attempts, the lowest free throw rate in the ACC and 325th of 341 in Division I. The Tigers don't shoot that many three-pointers, with just 33 percent of their field goal attempts coming from deep, and also are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country--a factor that you would think would be related to free throw attempts--so it is curious as to why Clemson doesn't get to the stripe more often. It is also a worrying factor for single-elimination play, as an inability to get to the line would seem to make a team less likely to survive a poor field goal shooting night.
Big Ten Semifinals
Matchup: #4 Seed Michigan St. (25-7, 12-6) vs. #1 Wisconsin (27-4, 16-2), 1:40
Rankings: Michigan St., #17 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 11 in Big Ten);
Wisconsin, #4 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wisconsin, 63-58 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 27%
Prospectus: The Badgers held an overmatched Michigan squad to 34 points yesterday in a 17-point quarterfinal win, while Michigan St. quite possibly eliminated Ohio St.'s chance of getting an NCAA tournament bid with a 67-60 win over the Buckeyes. Wisconsin won its lone game this year against the Spartans, 57-42 in Madison on February 28. Ugly is the word most often used to describe the Badgers' style of play, and that game would have been aptly designated as such, for Wisconsin held the Spartans to 0.8 points per possession to grind out the win in an extremely slow 52 possessions, which is the slowest pace at which Michigan St. has played in any game this season (and tied for the slowest game for the Badgers with a 52-possession win at Iowa). The Spartans, who have shot 36.7 percent from three-point range this season, were held to 1-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc by a Badgers defense that has allowed the third lowest eFG% in the country (43.3). Wisconsin also held the Spartans to five free throw attempts on the game--for the season, the Badgers have allowed opponents to shoot 25.5 free throws per 100 field goal attempts, which is the 11th lowest rate in Division I.
With a win over the Spartans today, Wisconsin will advance to its second straight Big Ten tournament title game, and fourth in the past five years. The Badgers lost to Ohio St. last season, and to Illinois in 2005--coincidentally, both teams that went on to lose in the NCAA championship game. In 2004, the Badgers beat Illinois to capture the tourney crown. Michigan St. has not been to the Big Ten title game since 2000, when it finished a run of three straight tournament championships.
Matchup: #10 Seed Illinois (15-18, 5-13) vs. #6 Minnesota (20-12, 8-10), 4:05
Rankings: Illinois, #40 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 11 in Big Ten); Minnesota, #55 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Illinois, 63-61 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 43%
Prospectus: The expected matchup for this afternoon semifinal was Purdue-Indiana, the in-state rivalry that the good people of Indianapolis buying tickets for the Big Ten tournament likely wanted to see. A pair of upsets yesterday in the quarterfinals prevented the state of Indiana from having its day, however. Illinois, which couldn't win the close game all season, came up with its second straight close victory, beating the Boilermakers 74-67 in overtime thanks to freshman guard Demetri McCamey's 6-of-6 performance from beyond the arc. The nightcap at Conseco Fieldhouse provided an even better finish, as Minnesota used a full-court pass and turn-around, buzzer beating elbow jumper to take down No. 3 seed Indiana 59-58, a play which was reminiscent of Christian Laettner's NCAA tournament buzzer beater. The Fighting Illini were certainly happy to see freshman Blake Hoffarber's shot go down, for Illinois lost twice to Indiana this season but beat the Golden Gophers both times they played--84-60 in Minnesota, in which Illinois produced its highest points per possesion output of the season (1.31), and 67-58 in Champaign. Junior guard Trent Meacham was probably the happiest of the Fighting Illini with Minnesota's win., because Meacham torched the Gophers from long range in both games this season, shooting 5-of-5 on three-pointers for 19 points in the first meeting and 4-of-5 for 21 points in the second.
The Fighting Illini have played the sixth toughest schedule of any team in the country per the Pomeroy Ratings, and consequently Illinois' defensive efficiency jumps from a raw total of 0.96 points per possession allowed (58th best in the country) to 0.90 after adjustment, putting it in the nation's top 25.
Big 12 Semifinals
Matchup: #4 Seed Oklahoma (22-10, 9-7) vs. #1 Texas (27-5, 13-3), 2:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Oklahoma, #32 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in Big 12); Texas, #8 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas, 68-63 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 30%
Prospectus: Texas has spent what seems like its entire conference season beating teams from Oklahoma--the Longhorns picked up their third win over Oklahoma St. yesterday to advance to the semifinal, and swept the Red River Shootout rivalry with Oklahoma in the regular season, with a 64-54 win in Norman and 62-45 win in Austin. The Sooners advanced to the Big 12 semifinals with a 54-49 win over upstart No. 12 seed Colorado, despite just four points on 2-of-7 shooting from their best player, freshman forward Blake Griffin. That performance is worrisome for Oklahoma considering that Griffin returned early two games ago from minor knee surgery. Griffin scored 16 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in Oklahoma's 62-45 loss to Texas on February 23, but the Sooners shot just 31.1 eFG% from the floor, far-and-away their worst shooting performance of the season. Oklahoma didn't do much better in its earlier loss at home to Texas, shooting 38.9 eFG% despite another big game from Blake Griffin (19 points on 6-of-9 from the floor, nine rebounds). Texas' defense ranked second amongst the Big 12 teams in conference play this season, as it gave up just a point per possession. The Longhorns offense, led by sophomore point guard D.J. Augustin, was third in Big 12 games with 1.09 PPP. Augustin had 19 points, six rebounds, and seven assists in Texas' win at Oklahoma, and also scored 19 in the team's win over the Sooners at home.
Matchup: #6 Seed Texas A&M (24-9, 8-8) vs. #2 Kansas (29-3, 13-3), 4:20, ESPN2
Rankings: Texas A&M, #16 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in Big 12); Kansas, #1 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas, 72-60 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 10%
Prospectus: Kansas was down by as many as nine points to Nebraska yesterday in its quarterfinal matchup, but turned it on in the second period after a 22-point first half to win 64-54. Texas A&M, meanwhile, likely played its way into the NCAA tournament by beating Kansas St. 63-60. Seven foot freshman center DeAndre Jordan, attempting to return after missing a game with a stomach virus, was able to play just five minutes yesterday, but the Aggies were picked up by senior guard Dominique Kirk, who shot 5-of-6 from three-point range and had 19 points. Today's game is a rematch of the final regular season game of the year, which was won by Kansas 72-55 in College Station. The Jayhawks, who rank sixth in the country in two-point field goal percentage (55.2), shot 58 percent from inside the arc against an Aggies defense that has been the fifth stiffest against interior shooting this season (41.2 two-point percentage allowed). Kansas has won the last two Big 12 tournaments, and five of 11 since the tournament began in 1997, while the Aggies have yet to make it to the Big 12 title game. The crowds at the Sprint Center in Kansas City definitely favor the Jayhawks, which gives Kansas an additional boost in its quest for another conference tourney title.
Atlantic 10 Championship
Matchup: #5 Seed Saint Joseph's (21-11, 9-7) vs. #2 Temple (20-12, 11-5), 6:00, ESPN
Rankings: Saint Joseph's, #58 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 14 in A-10); Temple, #70 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Saint Joseph's, 72-70 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: The Hawks have completely turned around their season, which appeared to have slipped away before the start of the A-10 tournament, with a strong run at Boardwalk Hall. After closing the regular season with losses in six of its last nine games, Saint Joseph's has won three straight A-10 tournament tilts, the latest a 61-53 defeat of the conference's best team, Xavier. Yesterday's victory was keyed by a 24 point, 79 eFG% shooting performance from senior Pat Calathes and a defensive effort on the perimeter that held Xavier to 1-of-14 shooting on threes. With their second win over Xavier on the season, the Hawks all but guaranteed that they would advance to the NCAA tournament even should they lose today's title game to Temple. The Owls are also in great shape in that regard following yesterday's 60-45 win against Charlotte, which set up a Philadelphia Big 5 rivalry game in today's finale. The Hawks and Owls split in the regular season, and the two games couldn't have been any closer--Saint Joseph's won at the Liacouras Center 68-67 and Temple won at the Palestra 57-56. The Owls will be looking for their first A-10 tournament title since back-to-back wins in 2000 and 2001, while Saint Joseph's last tournament title came in 1997. The Hawks will be playing for the fourth straight day, and Temple, which had a first-round bye, for the third straight day. Plenty of offense should be on display in this one, as the attacks of both these teams rate as well better than their defenses.
Pacific 10 Championship
Matchup: #2 Seed Stanford (26-6, 13-5) vs. #1 UCLA (30-3, 16-2), 6:00
Rankings: Stanford, #13 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in Pac 10); UCLA, #2 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: UCLA, 66-59 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: Stanford gets its third crack at beating the Bruins today, this time with the Pac 10 tournament championship on the line. The Cardinal dispatched Washington St. last night for the third time this season, while UCLA beat USC by three points to advance, as an O.J. Mayo three-pointer at the buzzer to tie was off the mark. In these teams' last meeting, which came March 6, the Bruins beat Stanford 77-67 in overtime to clinch the regular season Pac 10 championship. Besides its starting five--Josh Shipp, Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Darren Collison--UCLA used just two bench players in that game, Alfred Aboya and Lorenzo Mata-Real, and those two got in for just 15 minutes combined, as four of five Bruins starters played 40 minutes or more. Coach Ben Howland likely won't employ that same usage pattern tonight in the final, as Mbah a Moute sprained his ankle in yesterday's win over USC and will probably be sidelined today. The junior was a key presence in UCLA's March 6 win, leading the Bruins with 11 rebounds and scoring 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting, so his absence could be a factor. Neither Aboya or Mata-Real are scorers, and both will be pressed into a good deal more time if Mbah a Moute indeed cannot play. Mbah a Moute missed four games earlier this season to injury, and the Bruins went 3-1 in that stretch, with wins over Oregon, Oregon St., and Washington St., and a loss to Washington.
To finally beat UCLA, Stanford will need a better shooting performance from its best player, 7'0 sophomore center Brook Lopez. Lopez shot just 8-of-22 from the floor in the overtime loss, and was 5-of-14 January 3 in the Cardinal's 76-67 home loss to the Bruins. Stanford will be looking for its second Pac-10 tournament title (this is just the 11th season the conference has had a tournament), with the first coming in 2004. UCLA last won it two years ago.
Matchup: #3 Seed Akron (23-9, 11-5) vs. #1 Kent St. (27-6, 13-3), 7:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Akron, #85 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in MAC), Kent St., #71
Pomeroy Prediction: Kent St., 67-66 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 45%
Prospectus: The two best teams in the MAC play for the third time this season, with this one determining the conference tournament champion. Kent St. will likely get into the NCAA tournament as an at-large berth even should they lose this game, but Akron has no such reassurance, and must win today to reach the tournament for the first time since 1986 and second time overall. The Zips lost both games in the regular season to the Golden Flashes, 75-69 on the road and 61-59 at home in the last game of the regular season, but beat Central Michigan in the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament and Western Michigan yesterday in the semis to earn one more shot at the top seed. Kent St. barely got by Miami OH in the semis yesterday, needing a jumper from junior guard Al Fisher with three seconds left to beat the RedHawks 49-47, a game in which Kent St. held Miami OH to 0-of-5 from three-point range. The Zips know all about Fisher and final second shots, as it was Fisher's three at the buzzer on March 9 that gave Kent St. the 61-58 victory over Akron. Fisher--who is the cousin of Charron Fisher, the nation's leading scorer this season as a senior at Niagara--is first on the Golden Flashes in percentage of possessions used and shots taken, as well as free throw rate, but has been below average offensively, with a rating of 95.6 and a 47.6 eFG%. It is Akron that has the MAC's best offense, while Kent tops the conference in defense. The Golden Flashes have won the MAC tournament in four of the past nine years, most recently in 2006, While Akron is looking to win its first tournament title after losing by a point in the championship game to Miami OH last season.
Mountain West Championship
Matchup: #1 Seed Brigham Young (27-6, 14-2) at #2 Nevada Las Vegas (25-7, 12-4), 7:00
Rankings: Brigham Young, #39 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 9 in Mountain West); Nevada Las Vegas, #63 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Nevada Las Vegas, 67-66 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 46%
Prospectus: UNLV beat Utah and BYU beat San Diego St. last night in the quarterfinals to set up a rematch of last year's Mountain West tournament championship game, which was won by UNLV 78-70. That game was played under the same circumstances--with BYU as the one seed and UNLV the two at UNLV's home arena, the Thomas & Mack Center, which hardly seems fair to the Cougars. Even should they lose, however, the Cougars will still make it to the NCAA tournament as an at-large team, as they did last year. These two teams split the regular season series, with each team winning in blowout fashion at home--UNLV by 70-41 on January 15, and BYU by 74-48 on February 16. The best offensive or defensive unit on display in this game will be BYU's defense, which is sixth in the nation in raw efficiency, at 0.89 points per possessions allowed, and fourth in both defensive rebounding percentage and eFG% allowed. The Runnin' Rebels defense is also strong, and both defenses hold opponents to under 30 percent shooting from three point range. The Rebels were limited to a season low 0.67 points per possession and 31 eFG% shooting in their loss to BYU, while the Cougars also had a season low with 0.62 points per possession in their loss to UNLV.
Matchup: #4 Seed Jackson St. (14-19, 10-8) vs. #2 Mississippi Valley St. (16-15, 12-6), 7:00, ESPNU
Rankings: Jackson St., #322 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in SWAC); Mississippi Valley St., #321 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Mississippi Valley St., 67-66 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 49%
Prospectus: The first SWAC game to appear in the Prospectus Previews is the conference's last, a championship matchup between the No. 4 seed Jackson St. Tigers, who knocked off top-seeded Alabama St. in overtime yesterday, and the No. 2 seed Mississippi Valley St. Delta Devils, who beat Arkansas Pine Bluff to advance. The Delta Devils swept their two games with the Tigers this season, winning in a blowout at home 81-53 before taking a 74-73 decision on the road March 1. Jackson St.'s offense, the second best in the conference, is keyed by a strong free throw rate, and the Tigers got to the line 26 times in their upset win yesterday over Alabama St., the team that won the regular season SWAC title with a 15-3 record. Mississippi Valley St., which has the distinction of being the most experienced team in Division I, has won eight games in a row. The Delta Devils are looking for their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996, while Jackson St. earned a berth last season by winning the SWAC tourney.
Matchup: #7 Seed Coppin St. (15-20, 8-9) vs. #1 Morgan St. (22-9, 15-2), 8:00, ESPN Classic
Rankings: Coppin St., #314 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 10 in MEAC); Morgan St., #180 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Morgan St., 64-54 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 13%
Prospectus: Baltimore crosstown rivals Coppin and Morgan St. face off in the MEAC final in Raleigh. A Basketball Prospectus favorite, Morgan St. coach Todd Bozeman has the Bears, who won the regular season MEAC title, poised to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history in just his second year since taking over a team that went 4-26 in 2006. Before this year Morgan St. last won the MEAC regular season title in 1977, when the Bears were in Division II. Morgan St. is powered by an excellent defense that ranks in the top 20 nationally in eFG% allowed and which almost completely takes away the three point shot, holding opponents to long range attempts on less than a quarter of their field goal tries. The Bears have won seven straight games and 15 of their last 16, but they suffered a scare last night in the semifinal against Delaware St., as they scored just 14 points in the first half and trailed by five at halftime before recovering for a 61-55 win. In the other semifinal, Coppin St. upset No. 3 seed Norfolk St. 67-63. The Bears beat Coppin St. in both of their regular season games, 78-50 way back on December 1 and then in a much closer 68-64 affair in their final regular season game March 1. Morgan St. played that latter game without senior guard Jamar Smith, who was sitting out his second straight game with a foot injury. Smith was named the 2008 MEAC Player of the Year and is the team's leading scorer, who also ranks first on the Bears in percentage of possessions used and shots taken. His status for tonight's game is something of a concern. Smith returned for the team's win over South Carolina St. in the opening round of the MEAC tournament, scoring 15 points in 29 minutes, but played just 20 minutes and shot just 1-of-5 from the floor for four points in yesterday's defeat of Delaware St.
Big East Championship
Matchup: #7 Seed Pittsburgh (25-9, 10-8) vs. #1 Georgetown (27-4, 15-3), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Pittsburgh, #28 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 16 in Big East); Georgetown, #7 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgetown, 65-60 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The Panthers extended their extraordinary run of success at Madison Square Garden last night with a 68-61 victory over Marquette, which sent Pittsburgh into the Big East tournament championship game for the seventh time in the past eight seasons. However, Pittsburgh has won just one championship in those six trips to the finals, beating UConn in 2003. The Panthers lost last season's title game to Georgetown 65-42, so they will be looking to pay the Hoyas back tonight. Pittsburgh won the only meeting between the two teams this year, 69-60 at home on January 14, doing so without point guard Levance Fields, who was out with a broken foot. Offensive leader Sam Young had a down game in that one, with just nine points on 3-of-13 shooting, but guards Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin picked up the slack. Ramon and Benjamin each scored 18 points on a combined 74 eFG% shooting to provide the offense Pittsburgh needed, and the Panthers' perimeter defense finished the job by holding the Hoyas to 3-of-20 from long range. Fields is now back in the fold, and, while he has struggled badly with his shooting in the 10 games since he returned from a 12-game absence, Fields has helped the offense with his ball-handling and play-making abilities, as in the team's three tournament wins he has 16 assists against just three turnovers in 36 minutes per game.
Georgetown won the other semifinal yesterday handily over West Virginia, 72-55. Senior center Roy Hibbert scored a season high 25 points on career highs of 17 field goal attempts and 12 made field goals, while also grabbing a season high 13 boards. All of this came a game after he fouled out after 14 scoreless minutes in the Hoyas' quarterfinal win over Villanova. Hibbert, Georgetown's second best defensive rebounder, will try to slow down Pittsburgh's offensive rebounding attack, which ranks ninth in the nation. Despite its extreme size on the frontline (first in Effective Height), the Hoyas are not a good defensive rebounding team.
Western Athletic Championship
Matchup: #4 Seed Boise St. (24-8, 12-4) at #3 New
Mexico St. (21-13, 12-4), 9:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Boise St., #140 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 9 in WAC), New Mexico St., #91 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: New Mexico St., 87-76 in 78 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 18%
Prospectus: Boise St. lost to Utah St. twice during the regular season, but the Broncos topped the Aggies when it counted last night in the WAC semifinals, 88-78, to advance to the championship game for the first time since 2005. Boise St. will next try to defeat a different version of Aggies when they face New Mexico St., winners against Utah last night, for the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. New Mexico St. won the WAC tournament last year, while the Broncos have not been to the big dance since 1994. The Aggies beat Boise St. twice during the regular season, 76-73 on the road and 99-80 in Las Cruces at the Pan American Center, where tonight's game will be played. New Mexico St., which has won five in a row and 10 of its past 11 games, ranks fourth in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, due primarily to the good work of freshman Wendell McKines (eighth in the country with a 16.2 offensive rebounding percentage) and senior Hatila Passos (26th with a 14.4). McKines stands just 6'5, and all of the seven players ahead of him on the offensive rebounding percentage list are at least two inches taller. McKines, Passos, and the rest of the Aggies completely controlled the boards in their two games with the Broncos this season. They collected 55 percent of their misses in the home blowout February 9, and in the previous three-point road win held Boise St. to only one offensive rebound in the entire game.
Big West Championship
Matchup: #5 Seed UC Irvine (18-15, 9-7) vs. #3 Cal St. Fullerton (23-8, 12-4), 11:00, ESPN2
Rankings: UC Irvine, #162 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 9 in Big West), Cal St. Fullerton, #120 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Cal St. Fullerton, 78-74 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 33%
Prospectus: The Big West, like the WAC and the MAAC, had a very crowded top of the standings, with three teams tied for first and a fourth one game behind. Only one of those four teams survived until today's championship game--Cal St. Fullerton, which beat one of its co-inhabitants in first place last night, Cal St. Northridge, by a final of 83-68. UC Irvine knocked off the other, UC Santa Barbara, with a 55-50 win. Fullerton has not won the Big West tournament since 1978, the year the Titans made their only trip to the NCAA tournament, while Irvine has never won the Big West tourney, and never been to the NCAA's. The Titans, the nation's fourth most experienced team with a weighted average of 2.5 years experience, beat the Anteaters twice this season, 93-83 at home and 74-66 on the road. Fullerton is one of the shortest teams in the country, playing nobody over 6'6, but despite that is first in the Big West in offensive rebounding percentage. Perhaps not unrelated to their lack of height, the Titans play at a very fast pace, averaging 72.7 possessions per 40 minutes.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.