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Get your dancing shoes ready. With just two weeks to go until the start of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, teams sitting on the outside looking in are now – more than ever – sweating their bubbles off.
For the legitimate teams who find themselves sitting ‘on the tournament bubble’, it’s now crunch time. And with it the pressure peaks. As Elvis so succinctly put it, “It’s now or never.”
With postseason conference tournaments now underway it’s truly last-gasp time for these teams to make one final impression on the NCAA tournament committee.
However, the truth of the matter is most teams’ fates are virtually sealed well before these conference tourneys tip off. Let me explain.
Unless teams own both a winning overall and winning conference record for the season the chance of being invited to the ‘dance’ is slim and remote. Teams who post 20 wins for the season often times find that unless they were a ‘double-winner’, the NCAA is likely to kick them to the curb.
The brain trust recognizes the fact that 20-win teams who ended the season non-winners in conference play likely picked up the bulk of the victories against inferior, non-conference competition and it just doesn’t cut the mustard in the panels’ eyes.
Witness Ole Miss and Mississippi State last season. Each 20-win teams at regular season’s end last year, it didn’t matter as they were left at the altar when the committee decided that 8-8 marks in SEC conference play was not a part of the Big Dance formula. FYI: just to prove the committee’s worth, both disappointed teams came up empty in opening round NIT home games when the Rebels laid 7 points and the Bulldogs 5.5 points, each losing the game straight-up on the scoreboard.
With this thought in mind, I present of group of six teams winding down the regular season from lined major conferences that currently have or maintain a mathematical shot at 20 wins this season, all of whom are all currently .500 or worse in conference play in games through March 7. They are:
ON THE BUBBLE
Atlantic 10: Charlotte
Big East: Cincinnati
BIG 10: Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota
Notice that any of the half-dozen teams outlined above could catch fire and win their conference tourney, thus automatically gaining a ticket to the Big Dance.
Their performance to date, however, says otherwise. Collectively, this unit has posted a sterling 75-10 SU and 34-25 ATS mark outside the conference this season. In conference play, though, they are just a combined 44-51 SU and 41-53-1 ATS. Worse, as a pick or favorite in conference games these wannabes are just 20-32-1 ATS this season, including 4-12 ATS versus a greater than .700 opponent.
Unless they suddenly change their ways – and I can't recall the last time a leopard changed its spots – it’s likely this six-pack will likely wilt under the pressure of having to win games from this point forward.
Illinois State at Northern Iowa: The only way either of these teams are playing in the Big Dance is to win the MVC, which means beating Creighton and/or Witchita State. Odds are that's not going to happen. I do think one of those two teams gets beat, but not both. The fact of the matter is that Northern Iowa beat these guys twice this season, the last one being as recently as a week ago, and both teams come in on psuedo losing streaks. Illinois State's losses, although more, are a bit more tolerable since Northern Iowa lost a bracketbuster game at home to Denver and then lost to Southern Illinois. With that in mind, I'd have to think that Illinois State is in a better "place" here. NI certainly played the much stronger SOS pre-conference, but what this will be is a case of who's tempo gets played here on a neutral court. NI wants to walk and Illinois State wants to run. I don't like that NI is going to have to rely on three's not on their own floor, and they've been, at times, sloppy with the ball. Illinois State's defense is good enough to keep them in this game, and we love backing defensive teams that can shoot free throws, so I'd have to say that NI doesn't beat them a third time. The teams split last season and it was indeed Illinois State that knocked out NI in the first round, and my guess is that they do it again.
Rutgers at Seton Hall: This game means little or nothing to anyone other than the teams involved. Obviously Seton's last home game for it's Seniors, and what I did see that they played Rutgers in the season finale last season and Rutgers won the game in OT.That's some motivation for the home team, but without Mobley they are just not a good basketball team. They're simply going to rely on either Edwin or Cosby to make three's. Then we have Rutgers without their star, Eli Carter, so they're simply going to ask Myles Mack to take, and make, all the jump shots. But, for the most part, Rutgers is going to want to pound the ball inside and without Mobley, Seton really doesn't have enough length or depth to stop them. I hate to think of Seton Hall as a favorite, and that their win over Villanova was as much as 'Nova looking ahead (and of course being on the road) as it was a good effort by the Pirates. Rutgers did beat St. Johns on the road, but I'm not sure that we're going to get enough points here, and I just can't lay points with Seton Hall, although if you made me I'd have to go that way. I do think that the total might be a tad high, given that both teams tend to turn the ball over.
Kent State at Akron: Akron playing for the Tournament win and the auto-bid, and the last game at home. I would hope they aren't thinking TOO much about a potential game with Ohio, because Kent doesn't suck and we'll be catching a fair amount of points, and I'm sure Kent thinks they have a shot to win the MAC Tournament, and that might not be a bad bet. Surely you could find some reasonable odds on that. One thing that can't be overlooked here is that they lost to Akron three times last year, so the question becomes is it in Kent's heads, or can they look at this as one game. Kent's going to want to run and shoot, and I do like the fact that they don't turn it over a ton, and we love the fact that they get to the line much more than Akron. They did play Akron tough at home this year, losing by four, but I just don't see where they've got the horses for a road win in THIS game. However, not sure I can lay all those points. I could very easily use Akron in a ML parlay, and think that a total of about 140 might be a tad high, since Akron will do all they can to slow this game down.
Youngstown v/ Wright State: The Horizon league tournament is actually held at Valpo, so I'd look and see if either of these teams did anything special, good, bad, or indifferent, when they played there this season (or last). Wright just kicked the shit out of Youngstown at home to end the regular season last weekend, and actually didn't play that badly in a loss at Valpo, and does have some decent road wins, including at Detroit. Since Youngstown ended the season badly and really struggled to beat Loyola Chicgao at home the other night, I'd have to admit that given Wright's rest that they win this game. Surely all that will be factored into the line, which may be enough for me to CONSIDER the dog, if for no other reason than the fact that this should be a slow-paced and low scoring game. I know Wright's got a terrific defense, but it's been my experience that they are a much better team in their own gym. The fact that Youngstown can protect the ball gives me reason to think they can cover and/or win the game. I suppose if history repeats itself the lose, because last year they won the first round game and then got whacked by Detroit. Wright lost in the prelim to Butler, so I wonder if they have the experience of this environment, meaning I'd have to go with the not-so-popular underdog here.
Illinois-Chicago v.Wisconsin GB: UIC kicked the shit out of Cleveland State to get here, and perhaps the big take-away from that is that they're more rested than they might otherwise be. The teams split and played two close games this season, so UIC is not going to roll over here. GB played MW and handled them with relative ease, as you'd expect, to get this far. GB had been a play-on team for us and were when Valpo murdered them the last game of the season, and at home, so I'm just not sure they can be trusted here. UIC doesn't have nearly the size GB does, but most teams don't. However, they do have "enough" and have the more experienced team as well. On paper, this is GB's game to lose, but the game's not played on paper and they just have turned the ball over too much (23% of the time in Conference Play) for me to really like them here. UIC has a "reasonable" defense, and could stay in and/or actually win this game. They get to the FT line an absolute ton, and shoot well from it, so if they get the GB bigs in any sort of foul trouble, they can win. Alec Brown has not committed more than three personal fouls in a given game for about three weeks, which tells me he's perhaps a bit soft. The last time he DID have four, GB lost to Wright State. Crittle, the transfer from Central Florida via Oregon, is not soft. Whoever wins that battle wins the game, and whoever stays on the court longer wins the game. I do like Sykes a little better than Talton as a setup man, but probably not enough to make me lay those points. They played two close and very low scoring games, and in games that may not see 115-120 points, I just won't give possessions away.
-- Seton Hall lost 14 of last 16 games, losing 57-55 (+4) at Rutgers Feb 12, in brickfest that Pirates never led. Scarlet Knights won four of last six series, all decided by 6 or less points; they won last two visits here, by 6-5 points; they're 5-3 as Big East road underdogs. Seton Hall is 2-6 at home in conference, 1-1 vs spread as Big East favorite. Big East home favorites of 5 or less points are 9-19 against the spread.
-- Akron's star PG Abreu is in jail (multilple drug charges) huge blow for 24-5 Zips, who beat Kent State 71-67 (-3.5) Jan 19, game they trailed in second half by 10. Akron won last five series games, won last three here by 14-3-9 points- they lost first MAC game last week, are 3-4 as home favorites, winning five of seven home wins by 12+. Kent won six of last seven games, covered two of three tries as a MAC road underdog.
-- Home side won both Indiana State-Evansville games this year, with Aces' 84-68 win six days ago their first in last five series games. ISU hit 52%+ inside arc in both games; they're 9-7 in this event last eight years, winning at least one game all eight years. Aces won their last four games overall, are 1-5 in last five MVC tourneys. Sycamores lost five of last six games, with only win by point over Iona in Bracket Busters.
-- Streaky Illinois State went 0-6/7-1/1-4 in its last 19 games; they lost twice to Northern Iowa this year, by 10-8 points, despite making 60%+ inside arc in both games- Redbirds lost 10 of last 12 series games- they're 7-5 in this event last five years, but lost in finals three times. UNI is 7-2 in last nine games; they were 17-40 from arc vs ISU this year, but lost in first MVC tourney game the last two years.
-- Home side won last four Wright State-Youngstown games; Raiders are 17-3 in last 20 series games after winning 72-45 at home six nights ago in Dayton. Winning team shot 60%+ in both meetings, with YSU blocking 14 shots in two games. Penguins are 2-8 in this event last nine years; Wright is 7-5 last six years. YSU is 3-6 in last nine games, Wright 2-3 in last five- they're 4-5 vs spread as a Horizon favorite this season.
-- Home side won both UIC-Green Bay games this year, with losing side holding lead in last 5:00 both games; Phoenix won 11 of last 15 in series, winning three of last four- they're 4-2 in last six games, winning three of last four on road. Green Bay is 1-5 in this event last five years, Flames 0-4 in last four. UIC lost six of last eight games, scoring 60.4 ppg in last five. Green Bay is 6-4 vs spread as a Horizon favorite this season.
-- Florida Atlantic beat Troy twice this year, by 7-21 points; they're 5-1 in last six series games, Owls won last two games, by 14-17, after losing eight of previous 10 games; they're 3-3 as Sun Belt favorites. Trojans lost last five games, covering one of last five as a dog after going 8-2 in first 10 tries as Sun Belt dog. Troy is 2-6 in this event last six years (lost in '10 final), FAU is 0-4 in Sun Belt tourney last four years.
-- UL-Lafayette beat North Texas twice this year, 80-76 (+8.5) on road, then 105-74 (-1.5) Jan 31, outscoring UNT 37-17 in last 10:00 of game. Cajuns won five of last six series games, with 65-62 loss to Mean Green in this event LY- they're 0-5 in Sun Belt tourney last six years. UNT has won this tourney twice in last six years (10-4)- they're 4-2 last six games overall, 4-5 vs spread as favorite. ULL is 2-8 as a Sun Belt underdog.
-- Wofford beat Georgia Southern twice this year, 71-53 (-9.5) at home Jan 12, 53-47 (even) on road Feb 21; Terriers won SoCon tourney twice in last three years, but lost in first round five of last six years, other than those two years. GSU is 1-5 in this event last five years. Wofford won three of last four games after 4-10 start in SoCon; they're 4-7 as favorite in league. Eagles covered six of last eight games as an underdog.
-- Samford is 14-1-1 vs spread in last 16 games, covering last three tries as a favorite. Furman lost its last ten games, going 0-6 vs spread in last six, with all six losses by 11+ points; Paladins (-1) lost 64-53 to Samford at home on Feb 16, but they've beaten Bulldogs in last two years in this tourney, as Samford lost in first round last three years. Furman is 6-8 against the spread as a SoCon underdog (0-5 in last five tries).
-- NC-Greensboro beat Chattanooga twice this year, 77-69 (-5.5) Jan 27 at home, then 94-68 (+2.5) Feb 21; Spartans lost six of last seven games, are 1-5 vs spread in last six games as favorite. UNCG won first game in this event six of last eight years; Mocs lost first game last two tourneys, after going 9-7 in previous nine tourneys, winning it twice. UTC is 5-6 as a SoCon underdog- they're 4-3 SU in their last seven games.
-- Road team won both Siena-Marist games this year; Saints (+4) won by 4 in McCann Center Jan 27, then lost 76-74 at home to Red Foxes a week ago tonight (-7). Siena won 11 of last 13 games vs Marist, but they lost last seven games overall (0-4-1 vs spread last five). Saints won first tourney game last six years, Marist six of last seven years. Foxes are 4-2 in last six games (5-0-1 vs spread); they're 1-1-1 as MAAC favorites.
-- St Peter's lost last four games, scoring 60.5 ppg; they covered four of last 14 tries as an underdog. Fairfield is 2-3 in last five games; they beat Peacocks twice this season, 61-54 (-7.5) on road Jan 27, 61-44 (-13) at home eight nites later; Stags are 6-4 in this event last four years, but have not won it; Peacocks won tourney two years ago, lost in first round last five times otherwise. Fairfield lost a hideous 34-31 game last week.
Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament
Semifinals at University Center, Macon, GA
Florida Gulf Coast 74, Stetson 71
MERCER 72, USC Upstate 56
Horizon League Tournament
2nd Round at Athletics-Recreation Center, Valparaiso, IN
Green Bay 63, Uic 58
Wright State 65, Youngstown State 59
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament
1st Round at MassMutual Center, Springfield, MA
Fairfield 59, Saint Peter's 51
Marist 72, Siena 65
Missouri Valley Conference Tournament
Quarterfinals at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO
Creighton 78, Drake 70
Evansville 70, Indiana State 63
Northern Iowa vs. Illinois State: TOO CLOSE TO CALL
Wichita State 65, Missouri State 58
Ohio Valley Conference Tournament
Semifinals at Nashville Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, TN
Belmont 81, Tennessee State 71
Eastern Kentucky 74, Murray State 70
Southern Conference Tournament
1st Round at U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, NC
Chattanooga 77, UNC Greensboro 74
Samford 68, Furman 56
Western Carolina 73, The Citadel 67
Wofford 59, Georgia Southern 53
Sun Belt Conference Tournament
1st Round at Convention Center Court, Hot Springs, AR
North Texas 73, UL Lafayette 70
1st Round at Summit Arena, Hot Springs, AR
Florida Atlantic 64, Troy 61
Western Kentucky 75, Ulm 61
West Coast Conference Tournament
3rd Round at Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV
Byu 77, San Diego 66
Santa Clara 71, Loyola Marymount 64
Big East Conference
SETON HALL 65, Rutgers 61
BROWN 63, Penn 58
Cornell vs. DARTMOUTH: TOO CLOSE TO CALL
HARVARD 68, Columbia 52
Princeton 63, YALE 58
AKRON 75, Kent State 65
BALL STATE 69, Northern Illinois 50
BOWLING GREEN 66, Buffalo 64
EASTERN MICHIGAN 59, Toledo 55
OHIO 78, Miami (Ohio) 59
WESTERN MICHIGAN 74, Central Michigan 63