March 12, 2013
By Bruce Marshall
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As usual, we break down the projected matchups by each region, beginning with the sub-regionals, which this year will begin on Thursday, Mar. 21. The term "protected seed" refers to seeds 1 thru 4 in any region, which is usually accompanied by a geographically-convenient sub-regional assignment.
Straight-up records, RPI, and Strength of Schedule (SOS) ratings are thru Sunday, March 10.
Hang on for the ride!
EAST REGIONAL (Washington, D.C.)
1 Duke (SUR 27-4, RPI-1, SOS-1) vs. 16 James Madison (20-14, 188-276)...Any doubts about Duke landing on the top line were erased with that thumping win at nearby Chapel Hill on Saturday night. Even if the Blue Devils lose in the ACC Tourney at Greensboro this week, we doubt that knocks them from a number one seed. Meanwhile, James Madison makes the Dance for the first time since Lefty Driesell steered the Dukes into the tourney way back in 1994 after Monday's convincing win over Northeastern in the Colonial finale at Richmond. Now we'll see if Matt Brady's team can avoid one of the 16 vs. 16 play-in games at Dayton.
8 Memphis (27-4, 16-76) vs. 9 Oregon (23-8, 54-109)...We've been trying to figure out what to do with Memphis for the last month. While we completely reject the idea of a handful of bracketologists who think the Tigers' at-large candidacy is in some jeopardy should Josh Pastner's team lose in this week's C-USA Tourney in Tulsa, we're also not sure the Selection Committee is going to reward Memphis' unbeaten mark in league play with a more-desirable seed. So, we cut the difference in half on the Tigers and put them at an eight. Dropping like a rock has been Oregon, which even with the recent return from injury of star frosh G Dominic Artis continued to sputter last week in a pair of ugly losses at Colorado and Utah. The Ducks will still make the field of 68 but could drop to a double-digit seed if ousted early in this week's Pac-12 Tourney in Las Vegas.
At Kansas City...
4 Kansas State (25-6, 20-59) vs. 13 Ohio (23-8, 74-165)...K-State could have probably sewn up a protected seed had it won at Oklahoma State last Saturday. But a share of the Big 12 regular-season title (the first such conference honors in Manhattan since Jack Hartman's days as coach in the 1970s) is probably enough to keep the Wildcats in their preferred Kansas City Sprint Center location for the sub-regionals. Meanwhile, the MAC is now a wide-open affair after Akron's pair of losses in the last ten days and suspension of key PG Alex Abreu; if Abreu gets reinstated this week, the Zips might become the favorite in the conference tourney in Cleveland, but we suspect they've blown their at-large candidacy in the process. The MAC is now likely a one-bid league regardless what happens this week in Cleveland, and defending tourney champ and Sweet 16 qualifier Ohio U (with a similar team from last year, save HC John Groce, now at Illinois, with ex-Kent State & TCU mentor Jim Christian now in charge) looks to be the favorite at The "Q" in tourney action.
5 Syracuse (23-8, 17-9) vs. 12 Ole Miss (20-7, 56-129)...We threatened last week to move Syracuse out of protected seed territory if the Orange didn't shape up; a win over DePaul didn't help much, and the optics were very bad in the thumping 61-39 loss at Georgetown, the lowest-scoring Syracuse Big East game under Jim Boeheim. Hardly the au revoir to the league that Orange fans were expecting. Now, barring a deep run in the Cuse's last-ever Big East Tourney at Madison Square Garden, Boeheim is likely in a five slot. We've also put Ole Miss into the field after its rousing road win at LSU over the weekend. Though the Rebs have taken a lot of deserved flak for their recent bad loss at Mississippi State, that's been their only defeat in their last five games, and we don't think the Selection Committee is going to completely shun the SEC. The Rebs, however, will still have to make progress to the later stages of the conference tourney this week in Nashville to further advance their candidacy.
At Auburn Hills...
2 Michigan State (23-7, 5-3) vs. 15 Vermont (21-10, 124-227)... No doubt that Michigan State lands in protected seed territory, which in the Spartans' case also means that they will get to play their sub-regionals nearby in the NBA Piston's Palace of Auburn Hills. Where, with Michigan also likely landing next week, means that a 15-seed such as Vermont can be expected to have a lot more throaty crowd support (from Wolverines' backers; as Michigan's foe will have from Spartan fans) than it would at other venues. Speaking of the Catamounts, they are poised for yet another visit to the Dance after America East Tourney results over the weekend have landed them in the title game at home against Albany, which knocked off tourney favorite Stony Brook on Sunday. The Great Danes, however, won't have the benefit of home court (which they had in the earlier rounds of the AE Tourney) in the title game, to be played Saturday morning in Burlington at Vermont's Patrick Gym.
7 Butler (24-7, 21-40) vs. 10 San Diego State (21-9, 32-25)...Butler had been sliding down the seeding scale in recent weeks, although Saturday's narrow win at Hinkle Fieldhouse over a dangerous Xavier side likely means Brad Stevens' Bulldogs can at least take their home white unis to wear in the first round of the sub-regional. Wearing their red or black road outfits will likely be Steve Fisher's SDSU, which has been losing all of its Mountain West showdown games on the road over the last month. The Aztecs, once a threat for a protected seed, have been relying too much on the talents of sr. G Jamaal Franklin and have probably slid all of the way to double-digit seed range. This SDSU edition is not as dangerous as some of Fisher's recent versions.
3 Ohio State (22-7, 14-13) vs. 14 Harvard (19-9, 93-178)...Okay, Thad Matta's Buckeyes responded to our challenge last week to play their way back into a protected seed slot; a win at Indiana and a convincing home win over Illinois in the past week should be enough to put OSU into convenient Dayton (just 70 or so miles from campus in Columbus) for the sub-regionals. And just when we thought Princeton had control of the Ivy race, then thinking we might have another playoff game to look forward to vs. Harvard, as we did two years ago, the Tigers fell flat last weekend and lost at both Yale and Brown to gift the Ivy crown to Tommy Amaker's Crimson, now making a return appearance to the Dance.
6 Notre Dame (23-8, 43-67) vs. 11 Virginia (21-10, 73-125)/La Salle (21-8, 41-75)...We've projected Notre Dame outside of a protected seed for a couple of weeks, and the Irish did nothing to change our minds when hardly putting up a fight last Saturday at Louisville. We think the sixth line is a proper landing spot for Mike "Count Dracula" Brey and his troops. Meanwhile, in the mix of the at-large play-in candidates, which feature teams at the very edge of the cut line, we opt for Virginia, which kept its candidacy alive (barely so) with that gutty OT win over Maryland on Sunday, and La Salle, which is in a precarious position after getting smoked by Saint Louis over the weekend. Short of winning the A-10 Tourney, the Explorers are going to have to hope the Selection Committee really wants to dig five-deep into the A-10. As for Virginia, the Cavs are going to be touch-and-go all of the way; how much does a 4th-place finish in the ACC overcome three losses to Colonial foes (including woeful 5-25 Old Dominion) before New Year's? Regardless, La Salle and Virginia would gladly take spots in the First Four in Dayton.
SOUTH REGIONAL (Arlington, TX)
1 Louisville (26-5, 3-6) vs. 16 Liberty (15-20, 204-312)/Western Kentucky (19-15, 174-166)...After Kansas was knocked silly at Baylor over the weekend, we decided to temporarily move the Jayhawks off the top line and replace them with Louisville. There's a proviso for the Cards, however; they'll probably have to win the Big East Tourney to stay a number-one seed, which they would probably not keep if they lose at MSG and Georgetown wins the event, or if they lose in New York City and Kansas rebounds to win the Big 12 Tourney in Kansas City. Regardless, expect the Cards to land in a sub-regional at Lexington, where the odd sight of the 'Ville wearing home white and having lots of crowd support in usually-hostile enemy territory will require a temporary suspension of reality. What's this? Western Kentucky back in the field? Apparently, HC Ray Harper can wave the magic wand in the Sun Belt tourney, the finals in which WKU has advanced for the second straight year on his watch. Where the opponent will be Richard Pitino's Florida International, which pulled the shocker over the weekend when KO'ing heavy favorite Middle Tennessee. If the Golden Panthers are riding on cloud nine Monday in Hot Springs, they could be in trouble. So the Belt is likely involved again in a 16 vs. 16 play-in game, as will be Liberty. The 15-20 Flames, surprise winners of the Big South Tourney, enter the Dance as only the second 20-loss team to ever qualify for the NCAAs, joining Ron "Fang" Mitchell's 2007-08 Coppin State Eagles.
8 Virginia Commonwealth (24-7, 26-80) vs. 9 Oklahoma (20-10, 34-18)...After blowing a chance to tie Saint Louis for the A-10 regular-season crown when losing at Temple on Sunday, we're not compelled to move VCU any higher than the eighth line. Although "Shaka Ball" could still prove a pretty unnerving matchup for many teams. Lon Kruger's Oklahoma has had an 8 or 9 seed written on it for the last month, although last Saturday's bad loss at TCU could drop the Sooners a line or two. Still, OU appears safely into the field, which should mark a record fifth different school taken to the Dance by Kruger (alma mater Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, and UNLV prior).
4 Florida (24-6, 6-24) vs. 13 Valparaiso (25-7, 60-179)...Here's a chilling thought for Florida backers; the Gators are 0-5 this season in contests decided by single-digit margins, with late-game meltdowns in most of those losses similar to the cave-in at the end of last season's Elite Eight loss to Louisville. How many foes in March can Billy Donovan's team bully, anyway? Maybe in the first sub-regional game, where a likely foe is Valparasio, which is favored at home in Tuesday night's Horizon title game vs. Wright State after a wild and very narrow escape vs. UW-Green Bay in the semifinals on Saturday, courtesy Ryan Broekhoff's off-balance triple at the buzzer. Coach Bryce Drew's backslide on the sidelines was a different variation of his front-slide when beating Ole Miss with a buzzer-beater in the 1998 Dance. The Crusaders are likely very happy that Billy Donlon's Raiders took care of Detroit in the Horizon semis; the Titans beat Valpo in the title game last season and won again on the Crusader's' home floor on February 16.
5 UCLA (23-8, 31-32) vs. 12 Boise State (21-9, 38-51)...After the smoke finally cleared in the pile-up of a conference race that was the Pac-12, it was UCLA emerging from the rubble on the top spot and the pole position in this week's conference tourney in Las Vegas. Which has temporarily quieted Ben Howland's critics, who were thinking the coach's job ought to be on the line. Howland can really shut them up if the Bruins win the event this week in Las Vegas, which would give UCLA a chance at a protected seed as well. Speaking of Las Vegas, that's where Boise State will be this week in the Mountain West Tourney, where a first-round game on Thursday vs. San Diego State doesn't have quite the urgency it might have had if the Broncos lost at home in Taco Bell Arena vs. the Aztecs last Saturday. With the Mountain West jockeying for top conference RPI with the Big Ten all season, we suspect the Selection Committee will have no problem going five deep in the league. The Broncos' early-season win at Creighton is also going to be a nice chip to cash on Selection Sunday.
2 Miami-Florida (24-6, 4-5) vs. 15 Iona (18-13, 109-136)...Jim Larranaga's Miami was looking at a top regional seed a few weeks ago, but that was before losses at Wake Forest and Duke and a bad home loss vs. Georgia Tech. Now a 2 or even a 3 seed appears likely. More importantly, did the Canes peak too early? Meanwhile, the Metro-Atlantic demolition derby in Springfield has two cars left running, as Iona faces Manhattan in Monday's finale. The Gaels, of course, reached the Dance as an at-large last season, and played in the finals of the CIT two years ago, so they have lots of postseason experience. But give Jaspers' HC Stave Masiello a lot of credit for keeping his troops afloat after the season-ending injury to the likely best player in the MAAC, G George Beamon. Some Manhattan trivia: the school isn't even located in the borough of its name, situated in The Bronx instead; and the nickname "Jaspers" was inspired by its own Brother Jasper, who served at the college in the late 19th century and was also the school's baseball coach, not to mention being credited by many for originating the seventh-inning stretch!
7 North Carolina (22-9, 19-7) vs. 10 Cincinnati (21-10, 48-30)...Roy Williams had steered the Tar Heels safely away from the bubble in recent weeks after his switch to a 4-G lineup, and we doubt the Chapel Hill bunch is docked for Saturday's home loss vs. Duke. As for Cincy, it has been sliding in the wrong direction since late January, and the Bearcats dodged a bullet on Saturday when escaping in OT vs. South Florida. A loss to the lowly Bulls could have put Mick "The Ghost" Cronin's team into some bubble trouble, but we think Cincy is on pretty safe ground heading into the Big East Tourney.
At Auburn Hills...
3 Michigan (25-6, 8-29) vs. 14 Davidson (24-87, 72-109)...With a chance to grab a share of the Big Ten's regular-season crown on Sunday vs. Indiana, Justin Morgan's last-second tip-in try instead rolled agonizingly around the rim and then out, condemning the Wolverines to 5th place in the loop and duties on first day conference tourney action Thursday in Chicago. Do we need to provide any more evidence how rugged the Big Ten is at the top this season? The SoCon determines its champ on Monday night, when Bob McKillop's Davidson seeks yet another Big Dance trip and is favored in the conference tourney finale at Asheville against Doug Wojcik's College of Charleston Cougars.
6 UNLV (23-8, 23-27) vs. 11 Belmont (26-6, 18-84)...So much for thinking that UNLV was going to swoop into the Dance on the wings of a 9-game win streak; another bad loss on Saturday to Fresno State (the Rebs' second of the season vs. the Bulldogs) has pretty much scotched the idea of a protected seed for the Rebs, even if they win the Mountain West Tourney (which they enter as the third seed) on their home court at the Thomas & Mack Center later this week. As for Belmont, Rick Byrd's Bruins spared the Selection Committee some angst on Saturday by avoiding an upset bid by Isaiah Canaan and Murray State in a pulsating overtime OVC Tourney finale at the old Nashville Auditorium. To the relief of bubble teams across the country, the OVC will only be a one-bid league in the Dance.
MIDWEST REGIONAL (Indianapolis)
1 Indiana (26-5, 9-11) vs. 16 Texas Southern (17-14, 183-269)/Long Island (19-13, 185-285)...After winning the Big Ten title outright thanks to that white knuckler vs. Michigan on Sunday, Indiana looks a good bet for a top seed and a sub-regional assignment to Dayton, an easy drive for most Hoosier followers, but also the scene of some bad memories for IU old-timers who might recall Bob Knight's great and then-unbeaten 1974-75 team losing 92-90 in the regional finals at a then-new UD Arena against Joe B. Hall's Kentucky Wildcats. Despite their likely top seed, these Hoosiers don't look unbeatable. They'll likely face a winner of the other 16 vs. 16 play-in; we're projecting one of those to be the champ of the SWAC, which conducts its tourney in Garland, TX this week. Houston-based Texas Southern closed with a rush to nip Baton Rouge-based Southern U at the wire to win the regular-season crown, but note several upsets in past SWAC shindigs. As for Long Island, the Claire Bees...er, Blackbirds, have qualified for the NEC finale against upstart Mount Saint Mary's, alma mater of Fred "Mad Dog" Carter. LIU hosts the finale on Tuesday night, but whoever wins is likely ticketed for a play-in game.
8 Cal (20-10, 49-33) vs. 9 Missouri (22-9, 32-49)...Cal's seven-game win streak ended with a thud last Wednesday vs. Stanford, but the Golden Bears had done more than enough in the previous month (including wins vs. all of the other Pac-12 top contenders) to safely qualify for the Dance. So has Missouri, although the Tigers' profile has taken some hits due to several losses on the SEC trail, including last Saturday at Tennessee. No matter, Mizzou looks to be a pretty menacing nine seed that will not be outclassed should it advance and have to face a one seed.
4 Oklahoma State (23-7, 22-45) vs. 13 Stephen F. Austin (26-3, 63-309)...Ok State's protected seed candidacy received a huge boost in Saturday's home win over Kansas State in a Big 12 showdown; now we think the Cowboys are a very good bet to land in Austin, their desired sub-regional location. As it would be for Nacogdoches-based Stephen F. Austin and its mustachioed coach, Danny Kapar, whose Lumberjacks rank first nationally in scoring defense at 50.1 ppg and will be favored in this week's Southland Tourney in the Houston suburb of Katy. Don't sleep on SFA, which won at Oklahoma in December and impressively at Big West leader Long Beach State in the BracketBusters a few weeks ago, and might even have a longshot at-large chance should it lose in the finale of the Southland event.
5 Saint Louis (24-6, 27-68) vs. 12 Tennessee (19-11, 55-41)... Interestingly, we weren't even putting the Billikens into our field of 68 until mid-February. But a recent 11-game SU win streak and an A-10 regular-season crown have SLU on the cusp of a protected seed. We're also in support of Jim Crews for national Coach of the Year. Another stretch-runner, Tennessee, has done enough in our book to qualify as an at-large, especially after Saturday's rousing home win over Missouri. But, then again, we seem to have a bit more respect for the SEC than do Andy Katz and other "insiders" who tend to view the field through Big Ten and Big East-tinted glasses. Would anyone take Minnesota or Cincinnati against the red-hot Vols right now? To be safe, Cuonzo Martin's side should avoid an early exit in this week's SEC Tourney at Nashville, where UT will be well-supported.
2 Georgetown (24-5, 9-20) vs. 15 Florida Gulf Coast (24-10, 91-201)...Last Wednesday's loss at Villanova would eventually cost the Hoyas the outright Big East regular-season crown, but JT III's troops nonetheless enter conference tourney week as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 12 of their last 13. Winning the Big East Tourney would also give G'town a legit shot at a top regional seed. Expect to hear some chatter regarding Fort Meyers-based Florida Gulf Coast, which has qualified for the Dance from the Atlantic Sun in just the school's second year of eligibility. A lot of analysts are scurrying for info on the Eagles' November upset over Jim Larranaga's Miami Hurricanes, which suggests that no one should sleep on the A-Sun champs, who also beat favored Mercer on the Bears' home floor in the conference tourney title game.
7 Wisconsin (21-10, 42-16) vs. 10 Saint Mary's (27-5, 38-113)...We invoked a "procedural one-line bump" in the Midwest after originally seeding the Badgers as a six, but we've flip-flopped Wiscy and Creighton in order to avoid a rematch of a regular-season game (of which the Selection Committee frowns upon in opening sub-regional action) in the BracketBusters between the Bluejays and Saint Mary's. The Gaels spared themselves some aggravation on Selection Sunday by avoiding a serious upset bid on Saturday night by the San Diego Toreros in the WCC Tourney semifinals at the Orleans Hotel Arena in Las Vegas. But having dodged that bullet, the Gaels can now take a swing at Gonzaga in Monday's final, knowing that their ticket to the Dance is almost assuredly punched. Whatever happens on Monday, the Zags will still be the only team to have beaten SMC since before Christmas (that Gaels' loss was against Northern Iowa on Dec. 23).
At Salt Lake City...
3 New Mexico (26-5, 2-4) vs. 14 Montana (23-6, 89-266)...Despite Saturday's wild one-point loss at Air Force, New Mexico looks in solid protected seed territory with those single-digit RPI and SOS numbers. And, as the regular-season champ of the well-regarded Mountain West this season, we think the Lobos are safe and probably bound for preferred Salt Lake City (or perhaps San Jose) for sub-regional action no matter what happens in the MW Tourney this week in Las Vegas. The Huntsman Center would also be the preferred destination for Montana, which will host the Big Sky Tourney this week. The Grizzlies got some good news when star G Will Cherry returned to active duty last weekend (and scored 14 points) vs. Northern Arizona, but they're still minus key F Mathias Ward, out with a foot injury. A rubber match vs. dangerous Sky runner-up Weber State in the conference title game on Saturday appears very likely.
6 Creighton (27-7, 29-89) vs. 11 Villanova (19-12, 52-23)...If Top-15 wins count for anything (and all indications are that they indeed count a lot) with the Selection Committee, then Villanova is safely into the field of 68 regardless what happens in this week's Big East Tourney. Jay Wright might not believe as much, but the list of Wildcats' victims (Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown) is long and distinguished, and last Wednesday's win over the Hoyas should have sealed the invitation for ‘Nova. Creighton's seeding prospects were strengthened by last weekend's exciting win in Arch Madness to claim the Missouri Valley Tourney crown in St. Louis.
WEST REGIONAL (Phoenix)
At San Jose...
1 Gonzaga (30-2, 11-87) vs. 16 Norfolk State (21-10, 166-331)...We can't be sure about stuffiness (which has surfaced in the past) on the Selection Committee regarding possible disrespect for the WCC that might deny Gonzaga a top regional seed as long as the Zags stay atop the polls and, of course, beat Saint Mary's in the conference tourney finale on Monday night in Las Vegas. But the WCC isn't looked down upon as much as some analysts believe, and if the Zags hold serve, we expect they're on the top line in the West. Results elsewhere in conference tourney action might be enough to allow Norfolk State, which was unbeaten in the MEAC during the regular season, to escape a 16 vs. 16 play-in game in Dayton. Remember, these guys KO'd Missouri in a memorable 2 vs. 15 sub-regional upset last season. First of all, however, the Spartans need to take care of business in the conference tourney this week at the hometown Norfolk Scope, once upon a time one of the Commonwealth home courts of the old ABA Virginia Squires and Julius Erving in the early '70s.
8 Wichita State (26-8, 36-95) vs. 9 Illinois (21-11, 40-12)...We really think there was a time last month when Illinois would probably have been out of the tournament. But the Illini recovered with some big wins down the stretch, and even road losses last week vs. Iowa and Ohio State are not going to be enough to put the Fighting Illini in danger. Wichita could have probably escaped the 8-9 whirlpool had it managed to beat Creighton in an exciting Arch Madness MVC Tourney finale on Sunday in St. Louis, but as mentioned at the outset of this preview, we don't think the 8-9 is likely to be as dreaded this season as in years past. As an aside, a lot of bubble teams around the country were thrilled that the Arch Madness finale came down to Wichita and Creighton, whose tickets to the Dance were already punched; a lot of insiders expected a "bubble thief" like Northern Iowa or Illinois State to emerge in St. Louis.
At Salt Lake City...
4 Arizona (24-6, 13-28) vs. 13 Denver (21-8, 58-130)...We reluctantly put the Wildcats back into protected seed territory, with this caveat; U of A must advance to at least the Pac-12 title game this week in Las Vegas to stay on the fourth line. Otherwise, if UCLA or another top contender wins at the MGM Grand Garden, the Cats likely drop to a five seed. Meanwhile, look out for Denver, the hottest team west of the Mississippi and which collared La Tech atop the WAC standings with a brutal beatdown of the Bulldogs last Saturday at Magness Arena. Joe Scott's Pioneers, who also opened some eyes with a BracketBuster win at Northern Iowa a few weeks ago, are now the likely favorite in this week's WAC Tourney at the Orleans Hotel Arena in Las Vegas. We can also forget the WAC as a possible two-bid league after top at-large candidate La Tech lost at both Denver and at New Mexico State in Las Cruces last week.
5 Pittsburgh (24-7, 39-70) vs. 12 Minnesota (20-11, 24-2)/Middle Tennessee (28-5, 25-128)...Pitt has been lurking on the edge of protected seed territory for the last two months. But we think the Panthers instead land on the five line unless they win the Big East Tourney, while the rumor mill begins to whirr regarding HC Jamie Dixon's possible interest in the opening at Southern Cal. Stay tuned. We keep Minnesota in the field on strictly procedural grounds because of the Gophers' solid RPI and SOS numbers, but we're also doing so because we believe the Selection Committee will do, too. We're not sure Minny deserves it, not with a 5-10 record its last 15 games (heck, that's half the season), and now eight straight losses on the road, capped by setbacks at second-division Big Ten sides Nebraska and Purdue last week. Apparently the Gophers are getting a lot of credit for their non-conference schedule and facing Duke and losing to the Blue Devils in the Bahamas back in Thanksgiving week. As for Kermit Davis' MTSU, it has flopped in the Sun Belt Tourney for the second straight year, though this time the Blue Raiders have a more-substantial at-large case partly due to their mid twenties RPI. For the moment, we have them in our field, but expect MTSU to be a hot topic of discussion all of the way through Selection Sunday.
At Kansas City...
2 Kansas (26-5, 7-20) vs. 15 Long Beach State (18-12, 111-137)...It probably matters little to Kansas if it enters the Dance as a 1 or 2 seed; what concerns HC Bill Self more than anything was its sloppy play last Saturday at Baylor that has prompted us to demote the Jayhawks a line. But KU is still almost assuredly bound for the Kansas City sub-regional, which has been its target all season. Time for the Jayhawks to play their way back onto the top line by winning the Big 12 Tourney this week at the same Sprint Center venue. Big West leader Long Beach State is hardly going to be a convincing favorite in the conference tourney this week at the Anaheim Honda Center, especially after recent losses at nearby UC Irvine and last Saturday at Stockton vs. UOP, sandwiched around a skin-of-the-teeth one-point escape at UC Davis. The Beach or any winner of the Big West Tourney could easily slide to the 16 line as well.
7 NC State (22-9, 28-35) vs. 10 Colorado (20-10, 37-18)...After advancing to the Sweet 16 last season, returning much of the same team and adding some high-profile freshmen, Mark Gottfried's NC State has had more flat spots (such as last Saturday at Florida State) than most would have expected this term. But the Wolfpack, VCU, and perhaps Missouri would seem to be the 7 to 9-seeded teams that most of the big boys are going to want to avoid if at all possible. Colorado has not demonstrated enough consistency to suggest it is capable of a deep run in March, especially since it has managed to split most of its weekend sets in the Pac-12 over the last half of the season. Solid RPI and SOS numbers also indicate that the Buffs aren't going to have to do much sweating on Selection Sunday. Check status of rebound machine F Andre Roberson.
At San Jose...
3 Marquette (23-7, 12-10) vs. 14 South Dakota State (23-9, 76-195)...Although flying under the national radar for much of the season, Buzz Williams has piloted Marquette to the same altitude it reached a year ago when the graduated Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom were the stars of the team. No surprise if the Buzz-ster gets the Golden Eagles back to the Sweet 16, which they also reached a year ago. Although an opening matchup vs. Nate "53-point" Wolters and South Dakota State, looking for a return trip to the Dance, could be a bit tricky. The Jackrabbits continue to advance in the Summit League Tourney, which runs through Tuesday in Sioux Falls.
6 Colorado State (24-7, 15-31) vs. 11 Temple (23-8, 44-71)...Results over the weekend landed CSU alone in second place in the well-regarded Mountain West, and the Rams could make a case for a protected seed by winning the conference tourney in Las Vegas this weekend. Of more immediate concern to HC Larry Eustachy, however, is getting key sr. G Dorian Green healthy after he twisted his ankle on Saturday vs. Nevada; the Rams' offense slowed to a crawl vs. the Wolf Pack with Green sidelined. Getting Green healthy for the Dance is more important than having him on the court in Las Vegas later this week. As for Temple, we think Fran Dunphy's side might have punched its ticket with Sunday's rousing home win over VCU. Along with December victories over Villanova and Syracuse, the Owls' at-large case is strong enough to make Dunphy 6-for-6 in qualifying for the Dance since moving from Penn and taking over the Temple operation from John Chaney in the 2007-08 season.
Top four seeds: Duke, Indiana, Louisville, Gonzaga.
Last four in: La Salle, Virginia, Minnesota, Middle Tennessee.
Last four out: Kentucky, Iowa State, Alabama, Baylor.
Next four out: Iowa, Southern Miss, Akron, Maryland.