NEWS AND NOTES
-North Dakota State is NOT eligible for the NCAA Tournament this year, even as an at large bid. They are in the second year of their four year probation period and will not be eligible for the NCAA Tournament until 2009. Gary Johnson
, who is in charge of records and statistics for the NCAA League Office, was kind enough to respond to an email confirming this fact. It was an error to put them into my projections last week and they wont be appearing in them from here on out.
-Notre Dame won their sixth straight game since losing to Butler in the opening round of the NIT. They defeated Alabama 99-85, which is their second double digit win over a ranked opponent in less than a week. Their next five games are against cupcakes and all are at home, so chances are theyll be headed into their Big East Opener against Louisville with a 12-1 record. None of the wins between now and then will do much for them as far as their NCAA Tournament resume is concerned, but with two quality wins under their belts already theyre in pretty good shape.
-A large part of what I do here involves forecasting the way things currently are in the world of college hoops and talk about the probable short term and long term effects of today's events. For this segment, Im going to do some PREDICTING rather than PROJECTING. If you dont think Ive paid the proper attention to your team, take comfort in the fact that at least I didnt jinx them.
MY #1 SEEDS FOR MARCH
Those predictions may not seem all that bold, but generally the #1 seeds have to be the best teams all year because if they lose more than four games its rare that theyll still be in the picture. Ohio State has a loss, but it was a road loss to North Carolina (another one of my #1s) and it happened when they werent at full strength. Greg Oden
has joined their lineup since that loss.
Florida has two losses, but again both were away from home, one was to a very good Kansas teams, and they were without Corey Brewer
, which will deemphasize the loss to Florida State. With teams like LSU and Tennessee in conference, theyll get the chances at big time wins that they need to end up a #1
North Carolina is not only the best team in the country, but they are in the best conference. That is usually a good combination when it comes to building a #1 seed caliber resume.
UCLA is unbeaten, they have some big wins already, and is good enough to win nearly all of the rest of their games, which is what it would take to end up a #1. They are a terrific defensive team and are very hard to beat, especially when they can slow the tempo and force a half court game.
TIDBITS ON OTHER TEAMS
-LOUISVILLE. Theyve lost to Dayton and Arizona this season, but they werent at full strength in their loss to Dayton and shot more than thirty fewer freethrows against Arizona. They also missed more layups and close range shots than Ive seen any other div1 team miss in some time. Now that theyre at full strength and that they appear to be getting better, I believe theyll end up being dangerous down the stretch. Expect them to make the pod system and possibly be placed in either Lexington or Columbus.
-BUTLER. No one remaining on their schedule is ranked in the top 25, and other than the Bracket Buster game they arent likely to face another quality opponent all year. They are definitely good enough to win out, but I dont see that happening. They are liable to drop at least two or three games between now and the end, but should remain in the rankings most of the year and end up with a fairly decent seed, but not in the pod system. The thing about Butler is that they arent all that athletic and could end up being very vulnerable against transition type teams. They did manage to beat Tennessee, who plays a transition game, but doing it in the NCAA Tournament against a team with a full seasons experience under their belts wont be as easy. Loyola, IL is a team in their conference that could give them some matchup trouble.
-WICHITA STATE. Collectively they have the two best wins of anyone this season against LSU and Syracuse on the road. They dont have a very big front court, but that didnt keep them from beating LSU at LSU. They are ranked very high in both polls right now and have done more than anyone else to deserve their ranking, but theyll probably drop some games in league play as well. Like all leagues, teams play each other at least once a year and usually more. That familiarity can level the playing field somewhat and the MVC is going to be next to impossible for them to run through. Also, their lack of a post game could catch up with them in the NCAA Tournament. This is a definite NCAA Tournament team and is likely at worst a second round caliber team, but after that it may get a little difficult. Teams tend to have their weaknesses exposed later in the season more often than at the beginning of the season.
-WINTHROP. They nearly knocked off Wisconsin at Wisconsin the other night, but fell in overtime. They also gave North Carolina a pretty good game on the road. The recurring theme of this team appears to be one that dominates their conference, but when it comes to playing a ranked team they cant ever seem to get over the hump. Despite the fact that theyve put up some good fights, they are running out of opportunities at a statement win and might have to once again rely on the automatic bid to get them into the dance. That isnt too bad considering that a first place finish guarantees them home court advantage throughout the conference tournament, but it doesnt necessarily give them a favorable seed, which makes it harder to advance. Im really pulling for this team, but for the most part I see it being another case of close but no cigar. They actually need to win a big game during the regular season to avoid having to play a top ten caliber team in the first round, assuming they get the automatic bid to even get them to the first round.
-OKLAHOMA STATE. This team is unbeaten and has passed two major tests in the fact that theyve beaten both Syracuse and Missouri State on neutral floors. This team is next to impossible to beat at home, and I dont see them losing too many games even against Big Twelve competition. Expect them to enter the NCAA Tournament with several statement wins, which should get them a good seed. They are definitely good enough to make the Sweet Sixteen and could end up going a round or two further than that. They began the season unranked, but I see them ending up with a very good seed and advancing at least to the Sweet Sixteen.
-XAVIER. Id like to think of them as a dark horse. They have a very tough game against Creighton coming up this weekend, but other than that they are pretty much either equally or undermatched in all of their remaining games. Still, they dont have much of a frontcourt and that could prevent them from advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament. They also dont have an opponent remaining on their schedule that is currently ranked. Illinois and Creighton are certainly good enough to end up in the rankings, but a lack of quality wins could hurt their seed. They should have a big year and end up ranked rather high, but I dont see them advancing that far into the dance due to a small frontcourt.
-GONZAGA. Theyve already shown their ability to be great and have a huge win against North Carolina, but they have also shown signs of an inexperienced team with a decisive loss to Butler and an upset loss to Washington State. They should grow out of that and once again dominate the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga is notorious for early NCAA Tournament exits, but I believe theyll get back to the Sweet Sixteen this year and could even go beyond that. A lot of the guys on the team this year are playing bigger roles than they did in previous years, and that alone can give them a different mindset in the month of March.
-IOWA STATE AT IOWA. Iowa State is 5-2, and they are facing an Iowa team that appears to be going nowhere fast. They looked pretty good against Northern Iowa for the first 30 minutes, but blew it in the final ten. Iowa State is still on the outside looking in, but up to this point theyve shown more promise than Iowa has.
-CHICAGO STATE AT CALIFORNIA. Chicago State has some pretty good guard play, but are way overmatched in this game. A win gets Cal to 7-2.
-OHIO AT LOUISVILLE. Ohio has a very talented team and can beat Louisville if the Cardinals overlook them. Ohio U only has one loss, but hasnt looked impressive in many of their wins. Still, they may have been sleepwalking a little bit and it is unlikely theyll sleepwalk through this. This is part of the Billy Munardi Classic, which is a four team round robin tournament. Louisville really needs to win all three games because although they have a ton of potential, they really havent kicked their season into gear yet. For Ohio, it would be a huge statement win that would go a long way as far as making a case that theyre an at-large caliber team.