Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Day Two: Zags Win and the Big East Starts

Last night began a daily look at how the NCAA Tournament field was taking shape. There was a clear omission by me in yesterday's post: the Sun Belt championship was last night. Congratulations to Western Kentucky for knocking off Florida International and clinch an auto bid. What's unfortunate is now Middle Tennessee State, who went 19-1 in the Sun Belt (and won the league by FIVE games) and 28-5 overall, now must see on that bubble and pray that the number of bid thieves are minimal. They're ranked 28th in RPI, yet they have a 135th ranked schedule and their best wins are UCF and Ole Miss. Everyone seems to think of them as this year's Drexel, who missed the tourney with a similar profile.

If Middle Tennessee State is now on the wrong side of the bubble, St. Mary's, who I thought were more in regardless of result yesterday, should be thought of being at least squarely on the bubble. Gonzaga's win over St. Mary's clinches a top seed for the Zags, yet might have put only one team in the West Coast Conference into the NCAA's. At least the Gaels beat Creighton. As for other action on Monday, James Madison, Davidson and Iona locked in auto bids as they won their conference tourneys. The James Madision Dukes in particular are heading back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1994, which is always good to see when a team returns to glory. Now let's look at Tuesday's slate, which has three more bids on the line and the start of the Big East tournament.

Autobids: Liberty, Florida Gulf Coast, Creighton, Belmont, Harvard, Western Kentucky, James Madison, Davidson, Iona, Gonzaga

Northeast: Mount St. Mary's have won their last nine games enroute to the Final in the Northeast conference. Now they get a chance to finish the job in Brooklyn as they take on LIU. My Brooklyn roots won't allow me to root against the Blackbirds, but the Mountaineers look to be destined to win this one.

Summit: It's going to be a battle of the Dakotas, as North Dakota State and South Dakota State will face off for the autobid. I still remember Ben Woodside from 2009 helped the Bison put a scare into then-defending champion Kansas. However, the SD State nickname is the Jackrabbits, so I'm rooting for the Jackrabbits to make it to two straight NCAA berths.

Horizon: With Butler joining the Atlantic 10, the Horizon is open for a bid and it's Valparaiso going against Wright State. Can you believe the last tourney appearance for Valpo was back in 2004? For Homer and Bryce Drew (who happens to be the current coach), for their Sweet 16 run in 1998, let's hope the Crusaders head back to March Madness.

Big East: For the final time, the Big East will begin it's tournament on a Tuesday as the league will officially split. I will have more of a preview on Wednesday, but the two games are Seton Hall going up against South Florida and DePaul-Rutgers in the nightcap. Of these four teams, I guess only Seton Hall could reach Thursday, simply because they love to shoot three's and if they're falling, an upset can occur.

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