The Ghosts of November

Posted: November 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

This is a look at ten potential bubble teams that lost games in the first ten days of the season that may come back to haunt them when it comes time for the Selection Committee to make their choices for at-large bids. To adapt an old adage, “You can’t win a bid in November, but you sure can lose one.” Each of these teams will have some work ahead of them to avoid watching March Madness from the comfort of their respective homes.

(Note: You might notice that none of these teams have ranks assigned to them. This is because the first DPI Rankings will not be released until December 1st in order to avoid outliers in the data. Thanks for understanding.)

Ole Miss – For fans of the SEC clamoring that their conference deserved more preseason love outside of Kentucky and Florida, this one had to hurt. An Ole Miss team that has been dancing recently opened up the season by falling in overtime to Charleston Southern at home, 66-65. The Rebels were outdone by a last-second Cedrick Bowen dunk, but games don’t get to overtime by accident. This was an unimpressive opener, to be sure, and although Mississippi did recover to win its second game, a win over Troy does not make up for much. The Rebs have some considerable work to do to make up for this early-season blemish.

Missouri – Oh, SEC. Losing to UMKC is an upset that is going to make life difficult for the Tigers, as it severely reduces its margin of error from here on out. This is especially considering the relatively weak conference schedule that Missouri will face. Yes, the Kangaroos might be a little better than originally thought (after toppling Mizzou, they went on to give Kansas State a good run for its money), but that hardly forgives the Tigers getting beat on their home court. UMKC took a 7-5 lead with 14:13 left in the first half and never gave the lead back. Eight missed free throws hurt Missouri quite a bit, especially considering they lost by, wait for it, eight points.

St. Joseph’s – Sure, the Hawks were never really a lock to make the tournament, anyway, but this home loss to Fairleigh Dickinson is going to look awfully suspect come March. Even if St. Joe’s is able to put together a nice season in the Atlantic 10, this will be a tough game to live down. Fairleigh Dickinson’s Mustafaa Jones hit a three-pointer with four seconds remaining to put the Knights ahead 58-57. In their next game, the Hawks rebounded by (barely) getting past Philly rival Drexel. Still, it was always going to be an uphill battle for St. Joseph’s to get into the Big Dance – but losing to the Knights, even by a point, certainly made it a steeper climb. A 52-point loss to Gonzaga in Spokane doesn’t help, either.

USC – Led by Tiegbe Bamba’s 19 points, Portland State pulled off an impressive upset of the Trojans in Los Angeles. While the postseason fate of Tim Floyd’s USC squad has always been in question, a loss like this is going to do them exactly zero favors. If you’re a major-conference team and you are going to slip up early in the year, at least try to avoid doing it in your own backyard. The odd thing about this game is that the Trojans shot 53% from the field and outrebounded PSU 43-25; however, a whopping 23 turnovers – yes, 23 turnovers – for USC, compared to Portland State’s four is all you need to see to understand how this loss happened. Combine this misstep with the 20-point drubbing that Akron handed USC and you will understand that the Trojans have to tighten things up on offense if they want to be relevant this season.

Tulsa – In this battle of cross-city rivals, the Golden Hurricanes found themselves wanting when the final buzzer rang against Oral Roberts. It was a sloppy game, with 60 combined fouls, 70 missed shots, and 22 missed free throws. However, it was Tulsa’s futility from downtown, where they shot 2-for-19 (10.5%), that really did them in. They also put ORU on the line for a ridiculous 44 free throw attempts. They will need to shore things up on both sides of the game if they want to challenge for an at-large bid in the American. One positive for Tulsa is that they corralled 19 offensive rebounds against the Eagles, but their lack of discipline and accuracy leave them with a blemish that might come back to bite them four months from now.

Clemson – With losses to two Big South schools in the first week of the season, the Tigers really shot themselves in the foot. They already have the odds stacked against them being in the ridiculously logjammed ACC, so an impressive non-conference record was probably necessary for reaching the NCAA Tournament. Losses to Winthrop (at home) and Gardner-Webb (in Puerto Rico) do not an impressive non-conference campaign make. Sure, they only lost by a combined five points, but these are still games that Clemson needed to win. They are going to have to pull some mighty upsets of their own in conference play to make up for these gaffes.

Florida State – The Seminoles started things out nicely enough with a win over Manhattan, but then inexplicably slipped against Northeastern at home in their next game. Like Clemson, Florida State never had much of a margin of error, so this one hurt quite a bit, especially given Miami’s impressive start to the year. The Hurricanes beat Florida and look like they could be a solid at-large contender. FSU, on the other hand, followed up their loss to the Huskies with an embarrassing 80-54 loss to Providence and a 75-69 loss to Massachusetts at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Leonard Hamilton is going to have some work ahead of him to make up for this early-season stumbling – and he may well need some luck from other teams, as well. As it stands, if the Seminoles don’t clean up their act, they’ll be watching the Big Dance from home this year.

Kansas State – Unlike Missouri, the Wildcats did avoid losing to UMKC; however, they couldn’t make it past Long Beach State. Don’t get me wrong, these 49ers are a really good club and Mike Caffey could take them dancing this year, but if you’re Kansas State, you simply have to win this game. Yes, it was an away game, but again, this Wildcat squad is not a lock for the NCAA Tournament, so losses like this one will not be doing them any favors in March. This loss is not as egregious as most of the others on this list, but it is definitely a bit of a head-scratcher for the folks in Manhattan. They’ll need to bounce back and make some noise in the Big XII to live this one down.

Marquette – Losing to Ohio State on the road is nothing to be ashamed of. Losing to Omaha at home, however, is more worrisome. The Eagles shot well enough, but put Omaha on the line too often. The Mavericks converted 26 of 30 free throws, which is one of the main reasons that they pulled this upset. Now that Marquette plays in a weaker Big East than in years past, they won’t have as many opportunities in conference play to make up for this kind of loss. As noted for some of the other teams on this list, the fact that the loss came at home is going to be especially troublesome come mid-March. Marquette will need to add some good-looking wins to its résumé to cover up this blemish.

Colorado – A loss to Mountain West opponent Wyoming isn’t the worst possible item to put on your resume, but when you lose by 23 points and only score 33… that’s not good. These Buffs did clobber Auburn, but this loss in Laramie was very peculiar. They shot only 28% while turning the ball over 13 times. This is probably the least detrimental loss of the ones mentioned on this list, but it should give fans in Boulder pause. If Colorado ends up on the at-large chopping block, a stinker like this one could be the difference between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT.

Again, all of these teams still have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, but losses like these are the kind that the Selection Committee will point to when they pass over certain teams for at-large bids. Since all of these teams come from major or high mid-major conferences, they will all get a few chances to score big wins that might erase the damage done in the early weeks. For now, though, these teams look to be on the wrong side of fortune.

-AD

First Bracket Prediction!

Posted: November 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

We are still four months away from the start of another March Madness, but it’s never too early to start predicting the bracket! So, that’s exactly what I’ve done here. All of the teams in this bracket were listed as automatic or at-large bids in the Season Preview, and now they’ve been seeded and set up in their respective quadrants. Here are some of the broad-strokes of who got in and who didn’t. The full bracket is below, as well as a list of games to watch on Friday.

#1 Seeds                                            

Kentucky (#1 overall)                       

Arizona

Duke

Wisconsin

#2 Seeds

Kansas

North Carolina

Louisville

Florida

LAST FOUR IN

Boise State

Providence

Massachusetts

LSU

FIRST FOUR OUT

Florida State

Saint Mary’s

Washington

Illinois

NEXT FOUR OUT

Baylor

Indiana

Miami

Tulsa


 

Now, here’s the full bracket! Enjoy! Feel free to comment with all of your love or hate.

(click to enlarge)

Bracket Prediction 11-13-2014


And don’t forget — COLLEGE BASKETBALL RETURNS TOMORROW! Here are some of the best of Friday’s 157 games to keep an eye on:

Louisville vs. Minnesota

VCU vs. Tennessee

Wichita State vs. New Mexico State

Texas vs. North Dakota State

North Carolina vs. North Carolina Central

Stanford vs. Wofford

BYU vs. Long Beach State

Cleveland State vs. Iona

If you’re anything like me, tomorrow is going to feel like Christmas. Or your birthday. Well, better than both. Treat yo’self. Until next time…

-AD

After 216 days of suffering through no college basketball games (ones that matter, anyway), the 2014-15 season finally kicks off on Friday with a slate of over 100 games. If my excitement wasn’t shown by my precise count of the days since the NCAA Championship Game, in which Connecticut knocked off Kentucky, then let me be a bit clearer: COLLEGE BASKETBALL IS BACK!!

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to talk about what this year is going to look like. Of course, this is a fool’s errand, as nobody can really know these things. (Be honest. You surely didn’t foresee the roller-coaster season that Kentucky would have, that Wichita State would go undefeated, or that the National Championship would feature a 7-seed against an 8-seed.) Even so, the job of the Dieckhoff Power Index is to predict things, so that’s exactly what I am setting out to do here.

The Index has gone through a vast overhaul since last season, which will hopefully lead to more consistent updates, more accurate predictions, and just a better experience for all parties. I am excited to bring you the information you desire on the sport you love and want to thank you for your readership. Last season was a difficult one for me, as the pressures of graduate school and other life events forced me to sacrifice my attention to the DPI. This season, I am committed to bringing you the college basketball coverage you deserve. As such, I’ve poured over 9,000 words into this preview as a token of my dedication to this endeavor.

Below is a conference-by-conference preview, heavily informed by the preseason polls released by each league, as voted on by head coaches, sports information directors, and the media. There are links to these polls in each of the previews, so feel free to fact-check as you see fit. Along with more general previews, I also predict the conference champions and at-large bids that each conference will receive. Before the games start on Friday, I will release my preseason Field of 68, complete with predictions regarding every team’s seeding … and even a bracket! (Because it’s never too early to fill out brackets.)

Again, I’m sure that I will be wildly off-base with a few of these predictions, but hey — that’s the nature of the beast.

Without further adieu…

America East

The America East conference could be up for grabs in 2014-15, with a handful of talented teams and players vying for the crown. Perhaps at the top of the pack is Stony Brook, who sport two Preseason All-AEC juniors in Jameel Warney – the league MVP last season – and Carson Puriefoy. The Seawolves will have competition from Albany and Hartford, each of whom boast their own All-AEC players. For Albany, that player is Peter Hooley, an Australian guard who helped lead the Great Danes to the tournament last year. He may find a shortage of help this season, though, as Hooley is one of only two starters who return from last year’s team. Mark Nwakamma is the spark for a Hartford team that was picked to finish second in the league according to the AEC coaches’ poll. The Hawks return all five starters from last season’s squad, including Nwakamma, the conference’s active leading scorer. My feeling is that we will have a rematch of last year’s America East Championship between Albany and Stony Brook, but with a different result. Look for Warney and the Seawolves to be dancing in March.

Automatic Bid: Stony Brook

At-Large Bid(s): none

American Athletic

The AAC is the home of reigning national champions Connecticut, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that coach Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have this conference all wrapped up. Despite the fact that Louisville bolted to the ACC, UConn will face considerable opposition from Larry Brown’s Mustangs of SMU, not to mention a Memphis squad that saw some success last March. One factor working against UConn is the loss of last year’s AAC Player of the Year Shabazz Napier. That said, they do still have the preseason Player of the Year in senior guard Ryan Boatright, as well as preseason Rookie of the Year Daniel Hamilton, a 6-7 swingman who will likely see considerable minutes this season. Down in Dallas, the Mustangs have their own pair of studs in Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, both of whom were unanimous selections to the preseason All-AAC team. In the eyes of many, SMU was snubbed by the NCAA Selection Committee when they weren’t invited to the dance, and they did a lot to prove their worth by reaching the NIT Finals. The Mustangs are well-positioned to make a much stronger case this season – and may even win their league outright. In fact, SMU received only one fewer first-place vote than Connecticut in the AAC’s preseason coaches’ poll. Still, don’t count out a young Memphis team who has a couple All-AACers themselves. Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols return in hopes of duplicating – and building on – the success that Josh Pastner’s Tigers saw last year. One team that remains a bit of an enigma is Cincinnati, who return only two starters, neither of whom is 2013-14 All-America selection Sean Kilpatrick, the Bearcats’ star from last year. Time will tell if Mick Cronin can coach his team back to the tournament for the fifth straight year, but they will have considerable work to do before they can put on their dancing shoes. Cronin is a good coach, though, and I think they can do it. Look for the Huskies to win a contentious AAC race this season, with SMU and Memphis nipping at their heels all the way through.

Automatic Bid: Connecticut

At-Large Bid(s): SMU, Memphis, Cincinnati

Atlantic 10

In what should come as no surprise to anyone, VCU was unanimously selected to win the A10 this year in the preseason coaches’ poll. It seems like Shaka Smart always has a young, hungry team at his reins and the 2014-15 iteration of the Rams should be no different. Led by preseason All-A10 selections Briante Weber (also a two-time A10 Defensive Player of the Year) and Treveon Graham, the Commonwealth should run away with the conference this season. After the Rams, though, the picture gets a little murkier. Despite the loss of big man Isaiah Armstead, the Colonials of George Washington look to be in a good position to return to the Big Dance this year. GWU will be led by Patricio Garino, a preseason All-A10 First-Team and Defensive selection. The junior will be joined by Kevin Larsen and Kethan Savage, all three of whom averaged over 11 points per game a year ago. After the Colonials, look for Dayton – led by preseason Player of the Year Jordan Sibert – and Massachusetts to make some noise. Besides Sibert, the Flyers will look to junior Dyshawn Pierre for some scoring punch in order to return to the tournament. The Minutemen lost Chaz Williams, a Naismith finalist last year, but do still have senior big man Cady Lalanne to lean on. Lalanne averaged 11.3 PPG and 7.9 RPG on last year’s tournament squad. While a 6-seed may not be in the cards again for UMass, this is a likely bubble team. For now, I say they’ll slip in with one of the final bids.

Automatic Bid: VCU

At-Large Bid(s): George Washington, Dayton, Massachusetts

Atlantic Coast

Just when it looked like the super-conference that is the ACC couldn’t get any stronger, the Louisville Cardinals have joined the fray and are poised to contend for a conference title. Standing in their way, however, are the stalwart titans of the league, Duke and North Carolina. These two squads boast the league’s top two vote-getters for preseason Player of the Year honors, with the Tar Heels’ Marcus Paige beating Blue Devils newcomer Jahlil Okafor for that distinction. Okafor, for his part, did receive acclaim as the league’s preseason Rookie of the Year. Perhaps more importantly, Duke was selected by ACC coaches as the top dog in the conference, followed by UNC and Louisville. The upstart Cavaliers of Virginia, led by preseason All-ACC guard Malcolm Brogdon, look to pick up where they left off a year ago, when they won the league and received a top seed in the tournament. Syracuse will also be contending for the ACC crown this season, as Jim Boeheim’s teams often do. This is a conference that has no fewer than nine candidates for the NCAA Tournament in March, with talented squads like Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Florida State, and North Carolina State in the fold. As strong as this conference is – Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski thinks it may be “the best” in basketball – I have trouble seeing them getting all nine of those bids, especially when you consider the tough schedules that lay ahead of them all. Based on a slightly easier non-conference slate, I give the nod to the Wolfpack of NCSU to make the tournament, while Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles will likely watch from the sidelines. In terms of crowning a champion, I think that Duke and North Carolina will trade haymakers all season long, with a slight advantage to the Blue Devils, who have Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Amile Jefferson all returning to a squad that lost Jabari Parker to the NBA, but gained a new freshman stud in Okafor, who could be just as good.

Automatic Bid: Duke

At-Large Bid(s): North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, NC State

Atlantic Sun

Two years removed from their magical Sweet 16 run, Florida Gulf Coast is still a stacked team that should find themselves back in the Dance this year. Led by seniors Bernard Thompson, the conference’s preseason Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, and Brett Comer, a unanimous all-conference selection, the Eagles are primed to run away with the A-Sun crown. Jamail Jones, another senior for FGCU, was also selected to the All-Atlantic Sun team. The only other team with as many all-conference selections was North Florida. (Note: the A-Sun names ten players to its preseason list.) The Ospreys of UNF finished second in the preseason coaches’ poll, followed by Lipscomb. Still, even with talented players at both of those universities, I would bet the farm that Florida Gulf Coast wins the conference outright this season. However, as last year’s Eagles know all too well, if you don’t win the A-Sun conference tournament, you won’t be dancing in March. I won’t bet on the upset this year, though, as Mercer – the team that beat FGCU in the A-Sun finals and Duke in the NCAA Tournament – has moved to the Southern Conference. With their departure, this league is Florida Gulf Coast’s to lose.

Automatic Bid: Florida Gulf Coast

At-Large Bid(s): none

Big XII

Yes, Kansas lost Andrew Wiggins – the top pick in April’s NBA Draft – and Joel Embiid. But trust that this Jayhawks team is bringing back a strong cast and is bringing in a top recruiting class. Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden, Jr. highlight the returning starters, while newcomers Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre will flash their talents in Lawrence for the first time. Alexander, a 6-8, 240-pound brick house, is poised to handle the paint duties for KU this year and could be a top pick himself in 2015. Speaking of top recruits, highly-acclaimed freshman Myles Turner joins a Texas squad that may have the depth and experience to supplant the Jayhawks as Big XII champions. The Longhorns return all five starters, including Isaiah Taylor, whose ability to pass and score were on display during a solid freshman campaign. Kansas and Texas were picked by the Big XII coaches to finish 1-2 in the league, with Oklahoma not far behind. Led by Buddy Hield, the Sooners will look to build on a second-place finish a year ago when they finished with 23 wins. Unfortunately for OU, they were upset by 12-seeded North Dakota State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Rounding out the potential tournament teams from this league are Iowa State and Kansas State, both of whom finished in the top 5 of the league last season. The Cyclones lose top scorers Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, but forwards Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue are back (28.3 PPG, 12.9 RPG combined). K-State, looking for their ninth straight 20-win season, bring back standout Marcus Foster and big man Thomas Gipson to aid in the effort. The Big XII should be strong once again – I think they will put at least five teams in, if not more.

Automatic Bid: Kansas

At-Large Bid(s): Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Kansas State

Big East

A season removed from securing a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, only to lose to former Big East rivals and eventual champions UConn, Villanova is in a good position to repeat its regular season success. The Wildcats return JayVaughn Pinkston, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Darrun Hilliard from a ‘Nova team that went 28-4 in the regular season and won the Big East conference title. The Big East coaches believe unanimously that the Wildcats will repeat as champions again this season. The real debate among the coaches was how to rank the rest of the teams. Georgetown, led by preseason Player of the Year D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, narrowly edged St. John’s for second-place in the poll. The Red Storm are helmed by senior guard D’Angelo Harrison, a first-teamer on the preseason All-Big East team. Both teams have dangerous backcourts, considerable size in the post, and a great chance to return to the tournament after notable absences a season ago. St. John’s was widely considered a snub for the NCAAs, while Georgetown simply underperformed and cost themselves a chance to dance. One Big East team that did make the tourney last year and should do it once more is Xavier. The Musketeers were one of the final at-large selections, losing to NC State in a First Four game. Matt Stainbrook, the 6-10 center who made the preseason All-Big East First Team, will be a big factor in whether Xavier can do better this year. Providence had a magical run in the Big East tournament last year, winning the title and a bid into the tournament – perhaps costing St. John’s their spot. The Friars, however, will have a lot of work to do if they want to earn an at-large selection this year. At the moment, they look like they could be one of the last teams in.

Automatic Bid: Villanova

At-Large Bid(s): Georgetown, St. John’s, Xavier, Providence

Big Sky

A season ago, the Weber State Wildcats rode a 14-6 Big Sky record to a conference championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. This year, they look to head back to the Dance again, but will need to replace three starters from last season, including Davion Berry, the team’s leading scorer and top assist man (by quite a wide margin on both accounts). The returning starters are Jeremy Senglin, a sophomore looking to build on a solid freshman season, and Joel Bolomboy, a big man who was sixth in the nation in rebounding (10.8 RPG) a year ago. Nipping at the Wildcats’ heels this year, according to the Big Sky coaches’ preseason poll, will be Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington. NAU is led by senior guard Quinton Upshur, a Big Sky First-Teamer and the league’s Newcomer of the Year in 2013-14. Upshur is joined in the backcourt by fellow senior Aaseem Dixon and Kris Yanku, who led the Lumberjacks in assists as a freshman. Up north, the Eagles of EWU return their top five scorers from last year, four of whom averaged over 30 minutes per game. Led by Tyler Harvey, Venky Jois, and Drew Brandon, this is a talented and experienced team that could make some noise coming off a 10-10 Big Sky mark last season. Which team will come away with the Big Sky crown still remains to be seen, but for now, it seems that Weber State is the team to beat.

Automatic Bid: Weber State

At-Large Bid(s): none

Big South

The Big South looks to be a two-team race between Coastal Carolina, the league’s representative in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and High Point, the defending regular-season conference champions. The Chanticleers were narrowly predicted as the preseason favorites by the league’s head coaches and the media. The Panthers, however, feature reigning Big South player of the year – and this year’s preseason pick for the same honor – John Brown. Brown was the league’s preseason favorite a year ago, as well, and lived up to the hype, so there is no reason to believe he can’t reprise the role this year. The 6-8 junior forward averaged 19.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game a season ago, with higher marks in both categories during conference play. Coastal Carolina has their own acclaimed player in Warren Gillis, a fellow preseason First-Team selection who was also the MVP of the Big South tournament last season. Gillis, a senior guard for the Chanticleers, averaged 17.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.7 assists a year ago. While these two players duke it out for Player of the Year honors, their respective teams will also be trading punches until the very end. Look for both of these teams to show up in the Big South tournament final this season. Despite what the coaches and media say, my gut tells me that Brown and High Point will playing in their third consecutive postseason this year, after making the NCAAs in 2013 and the NIT in 2014.

Automatic Bid: High Point

At-Large Bid(s): none

Big Ten

It seems that everywhere you look in the college basketball world these days, you see Frank Kaminsky’s goofy grin. Part of that is because the 7-footer teems with likability and seems like a “normal guy”. The other reason is because his Wisconsin Badgers made the Final Four a year ago and could be poised to make the trip back again this season. Coach Bo Ryan has always fielded good teams, but with Kaminsky and Sam Dekker – both of whom were chosen to the preseason All-Big Ten team – this team has a legitimate shot at a national title. The Big Ten coaches and media members seem to agree that they are the cream of the crop in the league, having unanimously voted for the Badgers to win the conference this season. After Wisconsin, there is a logjam of great teams that will likely be in the tournament. As is typical of Tom Izzo’s teams, Michigan State could compete for a Big Ten title, as well as Thad Matta’s Ohio State Buckeyes. OSU lost a great deal of talent in the offseason – names like Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. – but bring back Sam Thompson and Amir Williams. Freshman guard D’Angelo Russell could be a star for Buckeyes as they look to head back to the tournament. The Spartans similarly lost some talented players (Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling are gone), but Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine should shine this year. MSU has a freshman guard of their own who they hope will produce this year in Lourawls Nairn, Jr. Past these three teams, the picture gets even blurrier. Michigan has All-Big Ten selection Caris Levert and a pretty good recruiting class, but lost four key players to pro ball. Nebraska could be a dark horse in the conference behind the play of junior forward Terran Petteway, another preseason all-conference selection. Minnesota brings back the core of a 25-win team, including the dangerous backcourt duo of DeAndre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. Iowa could be heading back to the Big Dance if big man Aaron White picks up where he left off a year ago. And it’s hard to completely count out teams like Indiana, led by Yogi Ferrell, and Illinois, but for now, I don’t see the Big Ten getting more than seven teams into the Dance.

Automatic Bid: Wisconsin

At-Large Bid(s): Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa

Big West

The Big West provided one of the better stories of last year’s NCAA Tournament when Cal Poly, the 7th-best team in its league, won the conference tournament and booked a trip to the Big Dance with a 13-19 record. The Mustangs didn’t stop there, either, beating Texas Southern in its First Four matchup, before falling to Wichita State. Cal Poly’s run sends chills down the spines of those like me, the good kind and the bad. While it’s always wonderful to see a team embark on a magical run like theirs, it also provides a painstaking reminder to those in this line of work that all of our predictions and best guesses are waiting to be debunked. Still, they were picked to finish third in the league last year, so maybe Cal Poly was just an underachieving team. Maybe there’s still hope for the prognosticators after all. With that, I hesitantly endorse a new league champion and tournament representative from the Big West: UC Irvine. The Anteaters were picked in a landslide by the media to win their conference, and it’s hard to argue. Irvine returns Big West Defensive POY Mamadou N’Diaye, a shot-blocking machine, and Freshman of the Year Luke Nelson, a long-distance threat. Add in the experience of Will Davis II and Alex Young, and you have a dangerous team. UC Santa Barbara may pose the most real threat to the Anteaters, led by reigning Big West Player of the Year Alan Williams. Williams averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, the latter being tops in the country. The Gauchos have a good backcourt, as well, and could give Irvine a serious run for its money. Long Beach State was dethroned last year after three consecutive conference championships, but will look to get back on top with the help of Mike Caffey, a preseason all-conference selection, and Tyler Lamb. Forward Eric McKnight, a transfer from Florida Gulf Coast and a member of their Sweet 16 run two years back, joins the 49ers’ squad this year. There are some talented teams in this conference, and if last year taught us anything, it’s that no one should be counted out. But, as this is a prediction piece, I’ve got to stake my claim somewhere. And for now, that somewhere is in Irvine, CA.

Automatic Bid: UC Irvine

At-Large Bid(s): none

Colonial

To quote Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Families are always rising and falling in America.” That was true of colonial America, and it is still true today of the Colonial Athletic Association. Delaware was a 25-win team and the league champion a season ago, while Northeastern went 11-21 and finished fifth in the conference. One year later, the CAA coaches and media have predicted that the fates of both teams will change this time around, picking the Blue Hens to finish eighth, while the Huskies have been tabbed to win the Colonial. Northeastern is led by forward Scott Eatherton, who averaged a double-double last season on his way to an All-CAA Second-Team nod. William & Mary looks to build on the success of a 20-win season, and preseason Player of the Year Marcus Thornton is the lynchpin to that plan. The senior guard is a deep threat who averaged 18.7 points per contest in 2013-14 and Omar Prewitt’s freshman campaign with the Tribe earned him Freshman of the Year accolades. Another team predicted to rebound from a tough season is Hofstra, who sputtered to a 10-23 mark a year ago. The Pride will field a decent cast of returnees, headlined by Dion Nesmith, and transfers like Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley. While the Pride should be much better than last year, I don’t uite see them entering into the dogfight for top billing in the CAA. William & Mary and Northeastern will be going head-to-head all year, and in the end, I think that Marcus Thornton’s ability to score at will is going to give the edge to the Tribe.

Automatic Bid: William & Mary

At-Large Bid(s): none

Conference USA

Yet again, this conference looks a little different from one year to the next. This season, Western Kentucky joins the fray, partially filling the void left by East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa. The Hilltoppers come to the C-USA after years of finishing at or near the top of the Sun Belt Conference, but they may have to adjust to a higher level of play. Last year, four teams finished with 13-3 records in conference play, including Tulsa, who won the conference tournament, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, and Southern Miss. With Tulsa out of the way, not to mention USM an MTSU being decimated by graduations and transfers, this conference looks to be Tech’s to lose – and the CUSA coaches agree. The Bulldogs return CUSA Defensive POY Speedy Smith, as well as getting back scoring threat Raheem Appleby, who went down to an ankle injury late in the season. Tech was arguably a snub when they missed the tournament a year ago, so there might be a little chip on their shoulder this time around. Nipping at their heels will be UTEP, who return Julian Washburn and standout freshman Vince Hunter. The Tim Floyd-led Miners won 23 games last season and will look to stay near the top of the CUSA again, after winning 12 league games last year. Don’t count WKU out, though. Led by seniors George Fant and T.J. Price, who have seemingly been at Western Kentucky for a decade, the Hilltoppers are a seriously talented club and could surprise some folks. While I still don’t think that Conference USA is back to being a multi-bid league, I do think it will be an entertaining one to watch this season. I expect Louisiana Tech to make good on the promise they showed last year.

Automatic Bid: Louisiana Tech

At-Large Bid(s): none

Horizon

When the Horizon League lost Butler a few years ago, it was unclear who would take over as the league’s dominant program. For now, at least, that program is Green Bay. The Phoenix went 14-2 in conference last year, on its way to a 24-win season. They have won at least ten conference games in each of the last three years, and with Horizon League POY Keifer Sykes returning – and earning the preseason nod to take home that trophy again – it is no wonder that the coaches and media have pegged Green Bay to win the league once more. Sykes, who averaged over 20 points per contest last season, will be joined by Greg Mays and Jordan Fouse, two returning players who can rebound, block shots, and take up some space. Cleveland State has been tabbed as the top challenger for Green Bay’s throne, with Trey Lewis and Anton Grady returning to lead a very experienced Vikings team back to prominence – remember, this is the same program that made four postseasons in five years and upset Wake Forest in the tournament in 2009. After Green Bay and Cleveland State, the best chance to win the league may rest with Detroit, led by Juwan Howard, Jr. The Titans struggled last year, but return an experienced cast and could find more success this time around. Really, though, this will be a two-team dogfight for the league crown. With a player like Keifer Sykes, it’s hard to bet on anyone besides Green Bay – but expect the Vikings to fight tooth and nail until the very end.

Automatic Bid: Green Bay

At-Large Bid(s): none

Ivy League

Don’t look now, but the Harvard Crimson are a Top 25 team. Coach Tommy Amaker has turned this program into a force to be reckoned with. Led by Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers, Harvard is poised to win the Ivy League and head back to the NCAA Tournament. After pulling an upset on Cincinnati, the 12th-seeded Crimson gave Michigan State a run for its money. This season, they may not have the chance to pull off an upset in the first weekend – because they might be seeded quite a bit higher this year. There’s really no team that should threaten Harvard for its fifth-straight Ivy League crown, as evidenced by their unanimous selection as preseason favorites, but Yale is a solid squad. The Elis went to the CIT championship game last season, making the postseason after a 19-win campaign. Led by Justin Sears, Javier Duren, and Armani Cotton, Yale could be poised to make a postseason again. The Ivy produced two 21-win teams in Columbia and Princeton, and each of those teams should be good again. But honestly, this conference belongs to Harvard. The only question left is just how good this Crimson team will be. I think they could end up with something as high as a 5-seed in the Big Dance.

Automatic Bid: Harvard

At-Large Bid(s): none

Metro Atlantic

The MAAC is going to be a tight race once again, with a few teams crowded at the top. Iona, Siena, and Manhattan, three of the stalwarts of this conference, have been picked by the Metro coaches to finish 1-2-3 in the league this season. The Gaels return David Laury, pegged as the preseason MAAC Player of the Year, and A.J. English, who combined to average over 31 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists in 2013-14. Iona went 17-3 in the conference to win the outright crown, but lost to Manhattan in the conference tournament finals. The Jaspers won 25 games on their way to the NCAA Tournament and kept it close against Louisville in the second round. They return Emmy Andujar, a senior forward, but lost their top three scorers. Siena, a 20-win team last season, brings back their six-man core, headlined by Rob Poole and Brett Bisping. The Saints are experienced, talented, and hungry to make it back to the NCAA Tournament – and, necessarily, the MAAC Tournament final – after making three straight Dances from 2008-2010. Siena will have its hands full trying to supplant Iona and Manhattan as league champions, but are loaded enough to do it. This one is going to be interesting from start to finish, but I think the Gaels have edge with the duo of Laury and English – although the MAAC Tournament has supplied some fun and interesting upsets in years past.

Automatic Bid: Iona

At-Large Bid(s): none

Mid-American

Last season, Western Michigan toppled Toledo in the MAC Tournament championship to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament after the two teams tied atop the Western division with dueling 14-4 conference records. This season, the Rockets will lean on seniors Juice Brown and Justin Drummond to lead them back to their first NCAA Tournament since 1980. After consecutive 4-28 seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11, the Rockets have enjoyed a renaissance under head coach Tod Kowalczyk, who has led them to three straight winning seasons, including a 27-win campaign which earned Toledo a share of the MAC crown last year. WMU returns guard David Brown from last year’s tournament team. Brown, a graduate student, led the Broncos in scoring with over 19 points per game. A big loss for Western Michigan is Shayne Whittington, who averaged 16 and nine rebounds a season ago. This likely gives the Rockets the edge in the West division. On the other side, the East division should be dominated by Akron, who made the Big Dance in 2013. Demetrius Treadwell headlines the Zips’ cast of returning players from last year’s 21-win squad. Akron suffered big losses in Quincy Diggs and Nick Harney and will have some tough competition for the East’s top spot in Ohio. The Bobcats won 25 games last season, but lost top scorer Nick Kellog. They do bring back seniors Maurice Daly Ndour and Stevie Taylor, though. The MAC preseason pollsters predicted Toledo and Akron to win their respective divisions, with the Rockets being chosen overwhelmingly as the favorites to win the conference tournament. While Treadwell and the Zips will make some noise, the combo of Brown and Drummond should be enough to get Toledo its first Dance ticket in 34 years – and who doesn’t love a good storyline like that?

Automatic Bid: Toledo

At-Large Bid(s): none

Mid-Eastern

Despite only joining the ranks of Division I basketball a few years ago, North Carolina Central have already enjoyed some great success, including their first MEAC regular season and tournament titles, as well as their first trip to the NCAA Tournament. The MEAC coaches and sports information directors have predicted that the Eagles will repeat as conference champions this season. NCC is led by senior forward Jordan Parks, a preseason All-MEAC first-team selection. The toughest competition for the Eagles will be Hampton, who finished second in the league last season. The Pirates have their own preseason first-teamer in Deron Powers, a 5-11 sophomore guard. While Howard guard James Daniel did enough as the league’s Rookie of the Year a season ago to earn preseason Player of the Year honors – leading the MEAC with 21 points per game as a freshman – his team was predicted to finish eighth in the league. Look for Daniel to put up eye-popping individual numbers, but watch the real story unfold as NC Central and Hampton battle for MEAC supremacy (a relative term, as MEAC teams are invariably very low seeds in the Big Dance). At this point, I have no reason to believe that Central won’t repeat as league champs.

Automatic Bid: North Carolina Central

At-Large Bid(s): none

Missouri Valley

In a not-so-Shocking turn, Wichita State was almost unanimously chosen to repeat as kings of the Missouri Valley again this year. The Shockers are a top team nationally, feature an AP preseason All-American in Fred VanVleet, and showcase three talents on the All-MVC preseason team (VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton). Since Creighton left the conference, this league has been a one-man show, with Wichita State headlining. Don’t expect that to change this year, although they might not be quite as dominant as they were when they went undefeated in the regular season in 2013-14. The loss of Cleanthony Early to the NBA was unfortunate, but the Shockers will still be great. Looking to make up ground on them will be Northern Iowa. The Panthers return all five starters, including Seth Tuttle, another preseason first-team selection. This team has drawn comparisons to the Sweet 16 squad from 2010, a team that won the Missouri Valley and disrupted Creighton’s stretch of prominence. After the Shockers and Panthers, Evansville and Missouri State could make some noise. D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius lead the Purple Aces, the former being a preseason All-MVC selection and the latter being an honorable mention. For the Bears, Marcus Marshall is an honorable mention and the junior guard will look to lead Missouri State back to the Big Dance. Unfortunately for everyone else in this conference, there is a long line of eager teams waiting for Wichita State to slip up – and much to the chagrin of all of them, they aren’t expected to do so very often. Look for the Shockers to cruise to an MVC crown again this season, but don’t be surprised if they drop a game or two in conference.

Automatic Bid: Wichita State

At-Large Bid(s): none

Mountain West

It should come as no surprise to anyone, at this point, that Steve Fisher and San Diego State will field yet another solid team. The big surprise this season for the rest of the Mountain West is that the Aztecs may be the only Tournament-caliber team in the league. Whereas this conference has pumped out multiple bids in past years, with stalwart programs like UNLV and New Mexico perennially in the mix, the outlook for the MWC is a little bleaker this time around. With J.J. O’Brien, Winston Shepard, and Skylar Spencer back in the fray, SDSU is the one known quantity in the conference, which is why they were chosen overwhelmingly to win the league. After the Aztecs, Boise State, with a talented, experienced core of returning starters, have been chosen to finish second. Anthony Drmic, Derrick Marks, and Igor Hadziomerovic look to get the Broncos back to the NCAA Tournament after their last appearance in 2013. While UNLV or UNM shouldn’t be completely counted out, the talent levels just aren’t as high as they were in years past and these teams do not look like locks for the Big Dance. The loss of Cameron Bairstow and company is a big blow to the Lobos, while the Runnin’ Rebels must overcome the departure of their top five scorers. Of course, time will tell how those teams bounce back, but for the moment, this conference looks like it will max out at two bids to the tournament… and even that might be an overestimate. Boise looks good enough to warrant an out-on-a-limb prediction, though, so I’m saying they’ll get in with one of the final at-large bids.

Automatic Bid: San Diego State

At-Large Bid(s): Boise State

Northeast

The Northeast has been somewhat dominated by a handful of teams of late, with at least one of the trio of Mount Saint Mary’s, Robert Morris, and Long Island appearing the NEC Tournament final in each of the last seven years. However, this year, there may be a new team atop the standings: Saint Francis (NY). The Terriers, for the first time ever, have been selected as the preseason favorite to win the conference. Led by Jalen Cannon, a preseason All-NEC selection, the Terriers look to make their first NCAA Tournament in the school’s history. Following an 18-win season, the Brooklyn school garnered six of ten first-place votes from the conference’s head coaches, as compared to three for Central Connecticut. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, struggled quite a bit last season, stumbling to an 11-19 record. However, Kyle Vinales is the feather in CCSU’s cap, a senior guard who is the league’s active scoring leader with over 1,500 career points. But Vinales and Co. wil have to deal with Cannon and point guard Brent Jones if they wish to streak past St. Francis for a Dance bid. Robert Morris may have a chance to return to the Tournament this season, but the loss of 2013-14 NEC Player of the Year Karvel Anderson will really hurt the Colonials. Lucky Jones will try to make up for the loss, but he alone may not be enough. As a fan of the underdog, I will certainly be rooting for the Terriers to put on their Dancing shoes for the first time – and I think Cannon and Jones are good enough to help them do it.

Automatic Bid: St. Francis (NY)

At-Large Bid(s): none

Ohio Valley

Since joining the OVC after bolting the Atlantic Sun, Belmont has had a great conference rivalry with Murray State. Well, buckle up, because these two are going to go at it again, according to a preseason poll of OVC coaches and SIDs. The Racers were given a slight edge to take home the title, perhaps owing to their preseason Player of the Year Cameron Payne. Coming off a CIT Championship title, Murray State will be looking to get back to the main event of the postseason. Also missing out on the Big Dance last year were the Bruins, who were the regular-season champions last year. Despite the loss of OVC Player of the Year J.J. Mann, guards Craig Bradshaw and Reece Chamberlain will be aiming to build on a 26-win season, the fourth straight time they’ve won as many games. But Murray State may have the better returning cast, with Payne, Jarvis Williams, and T.J. Sapp – a trio of preseason All-OVC selections. Last year’s league representative, Eastern Kentucky, should contend in the Ohio Valley behind the efforts of last season’s OVC Defensive POY Corey Walden, but barring another great run in the Tournament – which should not be discounted, of course – they will not win the league. This conference should come down to Belmont and Murray State. Sadly for the Bruins, it looks like another NIT bid is in the works. My vote goes to the Bruins.

Automatic Bid: Murray State

At-Large Bid(s): none

Pacific 12

Though the amazing tenure of Lute Olson is long distant in the rearview mirror, the Arizona Wildcats have reestablished themselves as the preeminent program in the Pac-12. The Cats, under the guidance of Sean Miller, enter the season as one of the nation’s top teams. Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, T.J. McConnell, and the rest of the boys in Tucson will take on the task of defending their crown against the likes of Utah, Colorado, and UCLA. While the Pac-12 media panel thinks that they will do it, this will be no easy task. At the helm of the Utes is Delon Wright, a dynamic guard who has Utah in the preseason Top 25. This is one of the best teams to come out of Salt Lake City since Rick Majerus was roaming the sidelines. Josh Scott and Askia Booker and the Buffs in Boulder could also crack the national polls, coming off a 23-win year and a trip to the Big Dance. UCLA lost its top two scorers, but will turn to Norman Powell to lead them to the postseason once more. Also likely to vie for an NCAA berth is Stanford, who bring back Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown from last year’s Sweet 16 team. There’s a bit of paucity of solid teams after that, though. Look for Arizona – and big-time freshman Stanley Johnson – to run through this conference, but don’t be surprised if Utah and Colorado make quite a bit of noise as well. (Hometown shoutout: Oregon State is going to be bad this year. They were picked dead last by the media after losing their top five scorers and fielding no seniors on this year’s squad. But at least they have a new coach in Wayne Tinkle. The days of Thanksgiving dinners at the White House are probably gone now that the President’s brother-in-law has been shown the door.)

Automatic Bid: Arizona

At-Large Bid(s): Utah, Colorado, UCLA, Stanford

Patriot

The Patriot League’s newest member, Boston University, won the league title in its first season last year; however, the Terriers are tasked with replacing a trio of talented players who helped earn BU that crown. The team that beat them in the conference tournament final, American University, looks to step into the potential void left by Boston U. With senior guard Pee Wee Gardner, the Eagles will try to head back to the NCAA Tournament after last year’s berth. Fast at their heels will be Army, led by preseason Patriot League POY Kyle Wilson, a junior swingman who averaged 18.4 points per game a year ago. Along with another talented trio of juniors – Tanner Plomb, Dylan Cox, and Kyle Ferguson – the Black Knights have an experienced team that will try to build on a 10-8 conference mark. Malcolm Miller will try to lead Holy Cross to another 20-win year, having helped the Crusaders to a third-place league finish and a postseason appearance in the CIT last season. While nobody is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack, American was chosen to win the conference; however, they were picked to finish ninth last year on their way to the NCAA Tournament, so who knows what might happen. This is a bit of a shot in the dark, but I’m going to follow the Black Knights into battle and pick Army to make it to the Big Dance.

Automatic Bid: Army

At-Large Bid(s): none

Southeastern

As you may have heard, Kentucky is supposed to be pretty good this year. To be fair, the same was said of last year’s team, which futzed its way to a 7-seed – a decent mark for any program not residing in Lexington, KY – but got its act together at the right time, eventually losing to Connecticut in the National Title game. With the backcourt brothers Andrew and Aaron Harrison back, as well as junior big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, the Wildcats are going to be a force to be reckoned with. Add in freshman Karl-Anthony Towns, a 6-11, 250-pound mountain, and you have the makings of a team ready to return to the Final Four. It should be noted that all of the aforementioned players made the All-SEC preseason First- or Second-Team. (Oh, and in case you weren’t sure, UK was unanimously predicted to win the conference.) So, that’s Kentucky. Let’s talk about the other SEC teams, shall we? Michael Frazier II leads a Florida team that went 18-0 in conference play last year, but graduated some key contributors. Still, never go in against Billy Donovan when an SEC title is on the line. [Note: This classic blunder is only slightly lesser known than getting involved in a land war in Asia.] Freshmen Kasey Hill and Chris Walker are two McDonald’s All-Americans who will look for playing time for the Gators. There is a considerable drop-off in talent after Kentucky and Florida, but Bobby Portis and Arkansas could be noise-makers this year. The Razorbacks were picked to finish third in the conference, just ahead of LSU, who are led by Jordan Mickey. There is a chance that the SEC only gets two teams into the tournament, but let’s be honest: it’s the SEC, so it will probably get at least three. I’m not convinced that both LSU and Arkansas will make it, as both were NIT teams a year ago. Arkansas plays the tougher non-conference schedule, so if the Razorbacks can steal wins against SMU or Iowa State, they could have a nice resume. For now, though, I have the Tigers penned in for one of the final at-large spots, but it’s a shaky pick at best.

Automatic Bid: Kentucky

At-Large Bid(s): Florida, Arkansas, LSU

Southern

It’s a good time to be a Wofford fan. The Terriers were pegged as the likely conference champions and their best player, Karl Cochran, was chosen as the SoCon Preseason Player of the Year, and perennial rivals Davidson left the Southern Conference for the Atlantic 10.  Wofford aims to return to the NCAA tournament after making three trips in the last five years, propelled by Cochran, Spencer Collins, and Lee Skinner. The Terriers were a 15-seed last March, losing to 2-seed Michigan. Predicted to compete for the top spot are the Mocs of Chattanooga. The Tennessee school finished second to Davidson in regular season play a year ago and return almost everyone from an 18-win team, including Preseason All-SoCon selection Casey Jones. Another top-four finisher in last year’s SoCon race, Elon, also left the conference (for the Colonial), but newcomer East Tennessee State could be a surprise. The Buccaneers managed to get a preseason All-SoCon selection in Rashawn Rembert and were picked to finish third in the preseason poll. Be that as it may, this Wofford team is primed to make a run through the conference and head back to the Big Dance again this season.

Automatic Bid: Wofford

At-Large Bid(s): none

Southland

After running through the Southland with an unblemished 18-0 record, Stephen F. Austin upset VCU in the NCAA Tournament for its 32nd win in a glorious season. The Lumberjacks are poised to be just as good this time around, with last year’s Southland Player of the Year (as well as preseason POY) Jacob Parker and all-conference second-teamer Thomas Walkup leading the way. SFA was chosen to win the league again this season by the conference’s coaches and SIDs. The stiffest competition facing Stephen F. Austin comes from Northwestern State. The Demons, led by preseason All-Southland guard Jalan West and Zeek Woodley, the reigning Freshman of the Year, will look to supplant the Jacks as league champions this season. Sam Houston State, who feature all-conference picks Jabari Peters and Kaheem Ransom, were picked to finish third, while Texas A&M Corpus Christi, who have their own all-Southland players in John Jordan and Rashawn Thomas came in fourth. But make no mistake, Stephen F. Austin should have another great season, though another 12-seed and NCAA Tournament win may be a bit much to ask. Regardless, the Lumberjacks will be looking to fall some big trees come March.

Automatic Bid: Stephen F. Austin

At-Large Bid(s): none

Southwestern

Even though it’s usually a foregone conclusion that the SWAC Champion ends up in a First Four game, playing for the honor of meeting one of college basketball’s titans, this conference can provide a bounty of entertainment if you’re watching. Last year, this conference produced three 19-win teams atop the league. While Southern won the SWAC title in the regular season, going 15-3 in league play, they were upset by Prairie View A&M in the first round of the conference tournament. The Jaguars were ineligible for postseason play – as were three other teams in the SWAC – due to APR penalties. The other top teams, Texas Southern and Alabama State, met in the semifinals, where TSU advanced and eventually beat Prairie View to head to the tournament. The Tigers lost to Cal Poly in the opening round of the Big Dance. They have a good chance to get back, but will have to go through the Hornets of ASU, as they were picked by SWAC coaches and SIDs to win the league. Alabama State has preseason Defensive POY Luther Page in its midst, as well as Bobby Brown and Jamel Waters – all three of whom were chosen as All-SWAC First-Teamers. Texas Southern managed to get one second-teamer, Jose Rodriguez, while Southern, despite being picked to finish second, has no players on either team. It will be interesting to see this one play out, but for now, the Hornets look to be the class of the conference. They should go Dancing for the first time since 2011.

Automatic Bid: Alabama State

At-Large Bid(s): none

Summit

This year’s Summit League looks like it will be a wide-open race between as many as five squads. While the coaches and media think that IPFW will take home the crown, there at least four other suitors for the throne. The Mastodons of Fort Wayne come into the season on the heels of a 25-win season in which they finished second in the conference. They lose leading scorer Luis Jacobo, but return preseason All-Summit first-team selection Steve Forbes, as well as key contributor Mo Evans. Last season’s Summit champions, North Dakota State, will try to repeat as champions and get back to the NCAA Tournament, where they upset Oklahoma as a 12-seed. The Bison return senior guard Lawrence Alexander, a preseason All-Summit selection, as well as second-teamer Kory Brown. NDSU will have its hands full, however replacing Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund, and TrayVonn Wright, who all graduated after last season. Picked second in the Summit is Denver, who feature preseason Player of the Year Brett Olson. The Pioneers are coming off a 16-15 season, but return five of its six-man rotation from last season. They will draw on that experience to take them to the promised land. South Dakota State and Oral Roberts will also challenge for the Summit League title, with each getting a player on the All-Summit First Team – the Jackrabbits’ Cody Larson and the Golden Eagles’ Obi Emegano. This is going to be an entertaining race to the finish line, but indications are that the Mastodons will stampede their way into their first NCAA Tournament.

Automatic Bid: IPFW

At-Large Bid(s): none

Sun Belt

After a 17-1 conference record and 25 wins over, the Georgia State Panthers have been unanimously selected as this year’s choice to win the Sun Belt Conference. The Panthers return leading scorers R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow. Hunter, last season’s Sun Belt Player of the Year, was tabbed as the preseason POY this year as well. Harrow joins him on the All-Sun Belt First Team. Their top competition a year ago, Western Kentucky, left for Conference USA, so Georgia State may not have too tough a time repeating this year. Louisiana-Lafayette was chosen as the second-place team, led by senior forward Shawn Long, another preseason First-Team selection. The Ragin’ Cajuns were a 23-win team last year, but lose three starters from the team that upset GSU in the Sun Belt Tournament final. This time around, it should be a pretty open-and-shut case for Georgia State, as long as Hunter and Harrow keep doing what they do best: putting the ball in the net… but, as we’ve seen time and time again, conference tournaments can yield unexpected results for these one-bid conferences. Still, don’t be surprised to see the Panthers dancing again this March.

Automatic Bid: Georgia State

At-Large Bid(s): none

West Coast

Surprise, surprise… Mark Few and the Zags are predicted to win the West Coast Conference again. Gonzaga shows no signs of letting up as they endeavor on their path for an 16th WCC title in the last 18 years. With All-WCC First-Teamers Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski in the fold, the Bulldogs should have no problems getting back to the NCAA Tournament. The question, as it has been for the last few years, is whether BYU and Saint Mary’s will challenge Gonzaga for the regular-season title. The Cougars are led by reigning Player of the Year Taylor Haws, who scored over 23 points per game last year, and Kyle Collinsworth, a preseason All-WCC selection in his own right. In Moraga, CA, the Gaels’ senior center Brad Waldow made the preseason list after ending up as an All-WCC selection a year ago. They also bring back Kerry Carter, but lost three of their starters from last year’s 23-win team. The Dons of San Francisco actually finished ahead of Saint Mary’s a year ago, but lose top scorers Cole Dickerson and Avry Holmes. The Dons will struggle to do as well as they did last year, but shouldn’t lose too much momentum. Both the Gaels and Dons were NIT teams a year ago and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them both return there this year. Unfortunately for both of them, I don’t see a Big Dance in the cards. Look for Gonzaga and BYU to be there in March, though.

Automatic Bid: Gonzaga

At-Large Bid(s): BYU

Western

In an unsurprising turn, New Mexico State has been unanimously selected to be the champions of the WAC. The Aggies return reigning WAC Player of the Year Daniel Mullings, who is joined by teammate Tshilidzi Nephawe on the All-WAC preseason First-Team. In the NCAA Tournament last year, by way of the WAC Tournament, the 26-win team lost to fourth-seeded San Diego State in overtime. You can bet that this sort of gutsy play will be on display all season long as New Mexico State looks to win its first WAC title since 2008. Last year’s regular-season champions, Utah Valley, has been predicted to take a step back, chosen to finish fourth in the league. Filling the void left by their vacancy are Seattle U. and Grand Canyon. Unfortunately for Dan Majerle’s crew at GCU, the Antelopes are not eligible for the postseason due to their recent reclassification to Division I ball. The Redhawks of Seattle, though, are eligible, and will try to challenge the Aggies to make their first NCAA Tournament. Despite a 5-11 conference mark and a 13-17 record overall, Seattle has been tabbed to finish second in the league behind the play of all-WAC First-Teamer Isaiah Umipig. We’ll see if such a big turnaround takes place in the Northwest, but for the time being, this much is clear: New Mexico State is the cream of the crop in this league and should be going Dancing again this March.

Automatic Bid: New Mexico State

At-Large Bid(s): none

So, there you have it. Thirty-two conferences, sixty-eight teams predicted to make the tournament, and a whole lot of words. Hopefully this shines some light on the season to come. If you have arguments, concerns, disagreements, squabbles, bones to pick, or hate mail that you want to send me, please feel free to comment. (Oh, and I guess if you have praise, you can send that along, too.) I hope that this was as fun for you to read as it was for me to write. I look forward to covering the NCAA season all year long. Again, come back on Friday for the Preseason Field of 68 and Bracket Predictions!

Take heart, you die-hards. College basketball is only a couple days away.

-AD

Friday’s Picks

Posted: March 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

Sorry this isn’t more in-depth, but it is what it is. This is really all you were after, anyway. Not that my picks yesterday were all that great. Without further adieu:

QUICK HITS FOR FRIDAY

Duke over Mercer

Baylor over Nebraska

New Mexico over Stanford

Arizona over Weber State

Tennessee over Massachusetts

Creighton over Louisiana-Lafayette

Kansas over Eastern Kentucky

Oklahoma State over Gonzaga

Memphis over George Washington

Wichita Sate over Cal Poly

Providence over North Carolina

VCU over Stephen F. Austin

Virginia over Coastal Carolina

Kentucky over Kansas State

Iowa State over North Carolina Central

UCLA over Tulsa

 

See you in the Second Round, folks. Good luck to you and yours.

-AD

Now that the Opening Round is behind us and the March Madness has officially set in, it is time to go through each game with a fine-tooth comb to try to tease out a winner. This is always a fool’s errand, so instead of some long and mostly useless set of predictions, I will just be providing them for each day’s games. So, with tip-off less than three hours away, you can use this guide to help make any last minute bracket changes you need, but remember that this is March and nothing is given. Take these picks with a shaker of salt.

FIRST ROUND

Thursday’s Games

SOUTH REGION: (6) Ohio State vs. (11) Dayton

This intrastate rivalry will bring the Big Ten’s Buckeyes and the A-10’s Flyers together in Buffalo for the first matchup of the Round of 64. Dayton was one of the final at-large teams selected for the tournament, finishing with a 10-6 conference record from a league that sent six teams to the Big Dance – the same amount as the powerhouse Big Ten. Ohio State finished fifth in their league, sporting a 10-8 record. Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. highlight a six-man rotation comprised entirely of upperclassmen for OSU. Seniors Devin Oliver and Vee Sanders provide leadership for Dayton, as well as junior leading scorer Jordan Sibert. Dayton outrebounds Ohio State, has more assists per game, and scores more. Ohio State turns the ball over fewer times per outing, and takes it away from their opponent more often than the Flyers do. In the end, the Buckeyes’ defense will be the deciding factor in this game. Though Thad Matta’s crew have been slightly underwhelming, I look for them to move past Dayton and onto the Round of 32.

PREDICTION: (6) Ohio State over (11) Dayton, 77-65

WEST REGION: (2) Wisconsin vs. (15) American

The Badgers of UW had a great February, going 6-1 in the month and losing only to Ohio State on February 1. March has been somewhat trickier for Wisconsin, as they ended an eight-game winning streak in a loss to Nebraska ten days ago. After demolishing Minnesota – dashing all the hopes the Gophers had to be in the field of 68 – Bo Ryan’s club fell to Michigan State. Still, the Badgers earned their #2 seed by virtue of a 16-0 run to start the year, as well as the aforementioned eight-game tear. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker will look to start a new streak against the Eagles of American, who crushed regular season league champs Boston University in the Patriot League final to reach the Tournament. A trip to Milwaukee to face Wisconsin hardly seems like a fitting prize for Jesse Reed, Tony Wroblicky, and the rest of the Eagles. It should be noted that Badgers received a huge advantage for their first two matchups by being sent so close to home. The winner of the Oregon-BYU game will have to overcome this as well, barring a miracle upset from American. I wouldn’t bet on that, though.

PREDICTION: (2) Wisconsin beats (15) American, 84-55

SOUTH REGION: (8) Colorado vs. (9) Pittsburgh

This is an intriguing matchup to see who will get Florida in the second round (more on the Gators below). The Buffaloes raced to a 14-2 start, notching victories over Kansas and Oregon, but lost top player Spencer Dinwiddie in a January 12loss to Washington and were never the same. Colorado went 9-9 in their remaining games, being swept UCLA and Arizona on their way to 23 wins, a 10-8 conference record, and a trip to the Pac-12 semifinals. Pittsburgh had an even hotter start, gliding to an 18-2 mark before their own cold spell, a span in which they lost five of seven. They’ve reversed course again, winning five of their last seven games to finish 25-9. A three-point loss to 1-seed Virginia knocked the Panthers out of the ACC Tournament, but their worst loss of the season was to Florida State. Don’t forget that the Seminoles are a top seed in the NIT. All of Pittsburgh’s other losses came to teams in the NCAA Tournament field. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna ought to bring their toughness to the table against the Buffs, while Askia Booker and Josh Scott will try to fend Pitt off. I think the Panthers, who are playing better ball at the moment, will have too much for Colorado to handle without Dinwiddie.

PREDICTION: (9) Pittsburgh over (8) Colorado, 77-70

EAST REGION: (5) Cincinnati vs. (12) Harvard

This seems to be one of the more popular upset picks out there this season, with folks eager to jump on the perennial 12-seed upstart. While Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers make for a formidable duo, the Bearcats’ Sean Kilpatrick has the skills to take over the entire game. Justin Jackson has been a huge help for Cincy as well, leading the team in rebounding. The Bearcats don’t have a lot of depth, don’t shoot very well (from anywhere), but they do outrebound the Ivy League champions. This game will likely turn on whether Kilpatrick can turn on the jets and have a solid outing. If he falters, Cincinnati may be in big trouble. The Crimson have six players averaging more than nine points (compared to the Bearcats’ two), and wins over Green Bay and Vermont are nothing to sneeze at, but in the end, I think that Harvard will have trouble adjusting from having played exclusively Ivy League teams since January 11th. There is every indication that it will be close, though.

PREDICTION: (5) Cincinnati over (12) Harvard, 59-54

SOUTH REGION: (3) Syracuse vs. (14) Western Michigan

Jim Boeheim coached his team to a 25-0 start, finally losing at home to the lowly Eagles of Boston College on February 19. After some Tyler Ennis heroics saved Syracuse from defeat in the two games prior to the BC upset, the Orange have run into some trouble, dropping five of seven to end the season. The last loss came to North Carolina State in the ACC quarterfinals, which is one reason why this team who once looked like a dead lock for a #1 seed has fallen to the 3 line. The Broncos from Kalamazoo, MI stayed neck and neck with Toledo all season long, eventually toppling the Rockets to secure the Mid-American’s automatic bid. Led by seniors David Brown and Shayne Whittington, Western Michigan could be a dangerous matchup for the Orange, who are no strangers to early exits. C.J. Fair needs to be on point, as do Ennis and Jerami Grant, because if they stumble out of the blocks, the Broncos could run over them. Look for one more close win for Syracuse. Will Tyler Ennis have to hit another last second shot?

PREDICTION: (3) Syracuse over (14) Western Michigan, 74-73

WEST REGION: (7) Oregon vs. (10) Brigham Young

Leading scorer Joseph Young and transfer Mike Moser have the Ducks positioned to make a little noise in this tournament. The Cougars have the nation’s sixth-leading scorer in Tyler Haws, who has seven 30-point games on the year, including one in the first meeting of Oregon and BYU back in December. Dana Altman’s Ducks waked away winners that day, outlasting the Cougars in a 100-96 overtime game in Eugene. Sophomore Kyle Collinsworth is in the top three in rebounds, assists, and steals in the West Coast Conference. Brigham Young matches up with Oregon very well, and this could be another barnburner like the one from their first matchup. If Haws can find his shooting touch and the Cougars pull down rebounds like they have all season (sixth in the nation at 41.2 per game), then I believe BYU can pull the upset over the Ducks. However, the Ducks have returned to their form from the start of the year, when they jumped out to a 13-0 start. They had won eight straight prior to falling to Arizona in the Pac-12 semifinals, but that 19-point margin of victory probably says more about Arizona than Oregon. All of that said, this could be the most exciting game of the first round. I’m feeling an upset here.

PREDICTION: (10) Brigham Young over (7) Oregon, 86-81

SOUTH REGION: (1) Florida vs. (16) Albany

The Gators are the top overall seed in the Big Dance, looking poised to bring home a third national championship for head coach Billy Donovan. Florida hasn’t lost since December 2, a streak of 26 games that includes a perfect 18-0 mark in the SEC and the conference tournament title. Perhaps it is fair to note that the SEC was relatively weak this season, with only Kentucky and Tennessee joining UF in the field – and with the Volunteers featured in the First Four round, there’s a chance that only two SEC teams will make the Round of 64. Speaking of the First Four, D.J. Evans and the Great Danes won the first game of the tournament, holding on against Mount St. Mary’s after squandering a huge lead. Don’t expect that the festivities will continue for Albany, though. The Gators are talented, deep, and consistent. With four seniors in their rotation – Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, and Will Yeguete – these guys are poised to go deep into the Tournament. This one shouldn’t cause them any issue.

PREDICTION: (1) Florida over (16) Albany, 77-54

EAST REGION: (4) Michigan State vs. (13) Delaware

As of January 21, the Spartans had an 18-1 overall record and had coasted to a 7-0 Big Ten mark. Michigan State lost six of 11 down the stretch, including being swept by Michigan in their first two meetings. Tom Izzo and Co. got the last laugh, however, subduing the Wolverines on Sunday to win the Big Ten Tournament. Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, and Branden Dawson lead Sparty, a team with some depth and a penchant for passing the ball (their 17.1 assists per game rank sixth in the nation). The Fightin’ Blue Hens of Delaware survived the Colonial Athletic to reach the Field of 68, edging William & Mary by a point in the CAA final. They have a trio of real scoring threats in Devon Saddler, Davon Usher, and Jarvis Threatt, not to mention that their other two starters average in double figures, too. Threatt is an all-around player, averaging 18.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. While Delaware did play Villanova closely earlier this year, Michigan State seems to be regaining their early form at the right time.

PREDICTION: (4) Michigan State over (13) Delaware, 79-65

EAST REGION: (7) Connecticut vs. (10) Saint Joseph’s

Despite being ineligible for the postseason a year ago, Kevin Ollie took every opportunity to impress last season, securing a contract for the 2014-15 year. His Huskies haven’t lost a step, led by Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels, and Ryan Boatright. This is a UConn team that sports three wins over Memphis on its résumé, but also a total of five losses combined to Louisville and Tourney snub Southern Methodist. St. Joe’s, on the other hand, has a few more glaring dings on their body of work. Losses to Philly rivals Temple and LaSalle don’t look great – and the Hawks benefitted from only playing Saint Louis once – but they did beat VCU in both meetings this year. Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts Jr., and Halil Kanacevic provide the motor for St. Joseph’s, a team that has five players averaging upwards of 32 minutes per game. The relative depth of Connecticut could end up being a big factor in this game, but Napier and Boatright have both been streaky (combining to shoot just over 40% from the floor all year). This should be an interesting matchup, but I think UConn pulls away late.

PREDICTION: (7) Connecticut over (10) Saint Joseph’s, 71-61

MIDWEST REGION: (2) Michigan vs. (15) Wofford

Already dealing with the loss of NBAers Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., the Wolverines could have done without losing big man Mitch McGary eight games into the season. However, in his absence, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III have stepped up in big ways. Big Blue is a deep squad this year, with eight players in the rotation averaging over 14 minutes per game. They had a streak of seven straight wins before stumbling against Michigan State on Sunday in the Big Ten Championship. This is a team that sports a few big wins – four total over Michigan State and Ohio State – but also some perplexing losses (Charlotte, anyone?). Wofford, on the other hand, won 13 of 15 to end the year, but lucked out when Western Carolina upset Davidson in the SoCon semis – the same Davidson team that swept Wofford in the regular season. In fact, Karl Cochran and the Terriers have no big wins and got smashed by the quality foes they did face. They dropped four games versus teams from the major conferences by a combined margin of 71 points (17.8 PPG). That won’t get it done against the Wolverines. Even with their handful of losses, Michigan is a very strong team with a lot of experience from last year’s deep run. Look for Stauskas to pick up where he left off last season.

PREDICTION: (2) Michigan over (15) Wofford, 86-64

MIDWEST REGION: (5) Saint Louis vs. (12) North Carolina State

North Carolina State was one of the last teams to make the tournament, but they did not disappoint in their matchup on Tuesday against Xavier, riding T.J. Warren’s 25-point performance to a 74-59 victory in Dayton. Despite questionable losses to Clemson on the road by 17 and Miami (FL) at home by 15, the Wolfpack seem to be playing quality basketball at the moment. Saint Louis, on the other hand, has been faltering of late, dropping four of their last five games, including a home loss to Duquesne and an opening round upset at the hands of St. Bonaventure. Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett led the Billikens to a regular season A-10 crown, but that might not be enough to fend off N.C. State. Big man Rob Loe provides extra size for Saint Louis, but NCSU’s Jordan Vandenberg, a 7-foot Aussie, may have enough size of his own to cancel things out. The way the Wolfpack are playing right now, as well as SLU’s rough recent run, it is hard for me to pick anything but the 12-5 upset here.

PREDICTION: (12) North Carolina State over (5) Saint Louis, 74-69

WEST REGION: (5) Oklahoma vs. (12) North Dakota State

In yet another intriguing 5-12 matchup, the Sooners from Norman, OK will meet the Summit League champions, North Dakota State, in the Round of 64. Despite a second-place regular season finish in the Big 12, Oklahoma stumbled a little bit down the stretch, dropping games to West Virginia and Texas Tech in February. Outside of those two games, though, OU has beaten who they should have beaten, with the exception of an overtime loss to Louisiana Tech at home. Tech is a 27-win team, though, so don’t put too much stock in that loss, which came all the way back on December 30. The Bison, led by seniors Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund, and TrayVonn Wright, have every right to be seeded where they are. This team beat Notre Dame in South Bend, as well as two other Tourney teams in Western Michigan and Delaware. Braun is a threat from all over the floor, while the big man Bjorklund could provide the size needed to counter Oklahoma’s frontcourt of Ryan Spangler and Cameron Clark. This game will likely turn on what kind of game Buddy Hield has for the Sooners, who leads Oklahoma’s scoring charge. I think the Sooners escape the Bison, but just barely.

PREDICTION: (5) Oklahoma over (12) North Dakota State, 76-72

EAST REGION: (2) Villanova vs. (15) Milwaukee

The Wildcats of Villanova are 28-4, with a Creighton providing two of the losses. Before the pair of defeats from the Blue Jays, Villanova had lost only to former Big East rival Syracuse, another top seed from this year’s bracket. Unfortunately for Jay Wright and his club, a one-point ouster in their Big East tournament opener is likely what kept the Cats from the 1-line. Going 16-2 in this new Big East is not quite as impressive as it used to be, especially when you consider that Villanova was swept by the only other team in the conference who was a lock for the tournament when March began. Milwaukee did not dominate their conference. In fact, they finished 7-9 in the Horizon League. This is still a 21-win team, though, with a solid starting five led by Jordan Aaron. Depth is going to be the big issue for the Panthers, as Ryan Arcidiacono, James Bell, and Jayvaugh Pinkston will be too much for UWM.

PREDICTION: (2) Villanova over (15) Milwaukee, 83-60

MIDWEST REGION: (7) Texas vs. (10) Arizona State

Neither one of these team is playing their best basketball at the moment, but this should be one heck of a game regardless. The Longhorns have a deep cast, headlined by Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley in the frontcourt. Behind Holmes and Ridley, Texas is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. Jordan Bachysnki and the Sun Devils will certainly have their hands full trying to keep the Longhorns from getting too many second chance points. Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall must make up for the rebounding differential with controlled and effective play in the backcourt. Texas lost five of eight to end the year, while ASU dropped their last three and five of seven to wrap things up. This should be an exciting game to see who takes on Michigan in the next round. I see the Longhorns’ size and rebounding as the deciding factor here, with Holmes and Ridley giving Bachynski fits inside.

PREDICTION: (7) Texas over (10) Arizona State, 76-69

MIDWEST REGION: (4) Louisville vs. (13) Manhattan

I’m not sure that anyone can quite explain how Louisville ended up as a 4-seed in this tournament. While there could be worse draws – yes, I’m talking about sharing a pod with Wichita State and Saint Louis – but the Cardinals deserved better for their season. They have a 29-5 record, won 12 of their last 13 to end the season, and have wins over Connecticut and Cincinnati. Perhaps the reason for the fall from grace (remember, these are your defending champions) is that they were swept by Memphis in conference and beaten by North Carolina and Kentucky in the only two true tests of the nonconference schedule. Add in the dismissal of Chane Behanan and the loss of Kevin Ware, and Russ Smith’s Cardinals suddenly look a lot less like the team that cut down the nets a year ago. Manhattan, led by George Beamon (19.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG), has also only lost once since the beginning of February. The Jaspers are a fine team, but they got the short end of the seeding stick on this one. Louisville struggles out of the gate, but coasts to a comfortable win.

PREDICTION: (4) Louisville over (13) Manhattan, 81-68

WEST REGION: (4) San Diego State vs. (13) New Mexico State

The last of Thursday’s games comes out west in Spokane, as the Aztecs and Aggies face off. Xavier Thames has been the catalystfor much of SDSU’s success this season, receiving quiet but consistent support from a long list of contributors, including Winston Shepard and Josh Davis. New Mexico State may actually have the deeper squad, though, with a rotation of no less than seven or eight talented players. Daniel Mullings and Tshilidzi Nephawe will try to pull off the upset of the Mountain West’s regular season champs. San Diego State may become disenchanted with the Land of Enchantment, as the Lobos of UNM outlasted the Aztecs in the Mountain West finals just five days ago. In fact, both the Aggies and SDSU have wins (and losses) against New Mexico this year. While NMSU does have a lot of skill, I think Steve Fisher’s boys will be moving on in this one.

PREDICTION: (4) San Diego State over (13) New Mexico State, 78-71

Well, there you have it, folks. Enjoy today’s games and look back for Friday predictions later!

-AD

IT’S BRACKET DAY!

Posted: March 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

The day has come, folks. We are mere hours away from finding out the field. While this clearly wasn’t the best year for the DPI, in terms of constant and comprehensive updates, this has certainly been an entertaining season in college basketball. What may be most striking is the parity across the nation. There is no clear-cut favorite to win it all, in my opinion, but instead a lengthy litany of teams who are capable of making deep runs and cutting down nets in Dallas.

UPDATE: With Duke’s loss to Virginia in the ACC Championship game, the Blue Devils have fallen off of the 1-line. This is great news for the Wildcats of Villanova, who have taken their place at the top of the East bracket. In other news, the Ragin’ Cajuns of UL-Lafayette have upset the Georgia State Panthers to take the Sun Belt title. They will replace GSU as the South’s 15 seed, up against Louisville in the First Round.

Below that is a breakdown of who is getting in from each conference, according to the DPI. Thanks for another great season, y’all! I’ll have a Tournament Predictions special once the real brackets are released. In the meantime, feast your eyes:

ncaa_finalfour_bracket_blank

(Note: bracket template taken from BannersOnTheParkway.com)

 

JUST MADE THE CUT: Dayton, Kansas State, St. John’s, California

JUST MISSED THE CUT: Southern Mississippi, Arizona State, Nebraska, Florida State

 

THE QUICK AND DIRTY CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

America East – Albany

American Athletic – Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU

Atlantic 10 – VCU, Saint Louis, George Washington, St. Joseph’s, Massachusetts, Dayton

Atlantic Coast – Duke, Virginia, Syracuse, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State

Atlantic Sun – Mercer Big 12 – Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State

Big East – Villanova, Creighton, Providence, St. John’s

Big Sky – Weber State

Big South – Coastal Carolina

Big Ten – Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa

Big West – Cal Poly

Colonial – Delaware

Conference USA – Tulsa

Horizon – Milwaukee

Ivy – Harvard

Metro – Manhattan

Mid-American – Western Michigan

Mid-Eastern – North Carolina Central

Missouri Valley – Wichita State

Mountain West – New Mexico, San Diego State

Northeast – Mount St. Mary’s

Ohio Valley – Eastern Kentucky

Pacific 12 – Arizona, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, California

Patriot – American

Southeastern – Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee

Southern – Wofford

Southland – Stephen F. Austin

Southwestern – Texas Southern

Summit – North Dakota State

Sun Belt – Georgia State

West Coast – Gonzaga, BYU

Western – New Mexico State

-AD

Hey, folks! Good to see you again. Obviously, it has been a little while. While I am still working on a conference-by-conference rundown of the season and how many each league will send to the Tournament, I want to provide you with the first look at the 2013-2014 Dieckhoff Power Index rankings! Click here to see them!

Coming next week:

-Conference-by-conference breakdown

-Updated rankings through the weekend’s games

-First bracket prediction

Keep your eyes peeled for more updates from the DPI. In the meantime, go watch ANY of the score of great college basketball games taking place this weekend! Congratulations are in order to (#28) Harvard, who secured the Ivy League title last night and punched this season’s first Dance ticket. Also, the Ohio Valley Conference championship game is taking place, with (#42) Belmont looking to defeat (#82) Eastern Kentucky.

As always, thanks for reading, folks. We will be in touch soon.

-AD

The Beavers will add three new signees to the roster in the fall, all of whom received three-star ratings from Rivals.com. The Beavers have had a bit of a bumpy offseason so far, losing career three-point leader Ahmad Starks, who transferred to Illinois to be closer to his family, as well as recruit L.J. Westbrook, who de-committed from OSU in March.

The loss of Starks opens up a gaping hole at point guard for Craig Robinson, who was counting on Westbrook to step into that role after the former North Salem guard committed verbally to the team back in 2011. Unfortunately for Oregon State, Westbrook transferred to Lee Academy in Maine following a suspension from North Salem High School, which resulted from an investigation of drug use by players at the school. In March, he backed away from his verbal, telling John Hunt of the Oregonian, “I feel like I committed way too early.”

While the Beavers lost out on their top option for point guard next year, they did add Hallice Cooke, a 6-3 combo guard out of New Jersey. ESPN’s profile of Cooke describe a “versatile offensive player … with very dependable three-point range … [who] seems to have good composure and decision making ability”. His skills seem to be more suited for the two-guard, and my guess is that is likely where the Second Team All-Hudson player will be asked to help the most. He’ll have some competition in the backcourt, which is discussed further down in the piece. In the meantime, here’s some tape on Cooke, who has a pretty nice looking game, but probably needs to get a little bigger, and you can bet the coaching staff will be focusing on that with him.

Aside from Cooke, the Beavers also landed big man Cheikh N’diaye from Carlsbad, Calif. An All-CIF First Team selection, N’Diaye averaged 13.3 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in his senior season, adding 4.5 blocks, and recorded a triple-double (22 points, 25 rebounds, 10 blocks) against Cathedral Catholic earlier this year. The 7-1 center told the San Diego Reader, “I just say no one is going to score on me. That’s my first job when I play basketball – defense is the first thing I do. Offense is the second thing.” Here’s a look at N’Diaye… it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which one he is at any given moment… he’s a giant.

Perhaps the biggest boon of all for the Beavers, however, came at the eleventh hour, when Canadian guard Malcolm Duvivier decided to reassign himself from the class of 2014 to this year’s crop, and signed a letter of intent with Oregon State right before the deadline. According to Elias Sbiet at North Pole Hoops, Duvivier is “a steal out of Toronto … a work horse with a relentless work ethic”. Craig Robinson may well have landed the Beavers’ new primary ball-handler in Duvivier, who has played for the Canadian National team in the FIBA Americas, won an MVP in one Canadian league, led his team to a championship in another, and was once a Rivals Top 100 recruit in the 2014 class. Here’s a clip of Duvivier hitting a game winner. “We don’t lose.” Now that’s the attitude. Another, longer video shows off some more of his skills.

For a look at the rest of the Beavers’ roster, head over to OSUBeavers.com for the current list. It can be assumed that, as long as everyone is healthy, seniors Angus Brandt, Devon Collier, and Roberto Nelson will be starting alongside potential NBA prospect Eric Moreland, a junior big man who came into his own last season as a dominant defender and rebounder. The question remains, who will take over the point guard role? Junior Challe Barton is an option, and he played a lot of the minutes when Starks struggled last season, but he may run into some stiff competition from Duvivier going forward.

It will be interesting to see how Craig Robinson blends this new talent with the carryovers from last year’s squad. Coming into the season with a 78-89 record, Robinson must show that he has more to offer this team than an annual trip to the White House. While the Beavers may be lightyears away from earning a trip there (for, say, a National Championship), they have the pieces in place to compete in the Pac-12.

Welcome back, folks! This is the first post looking ahead toward next year, and I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who stopped by and read even one word last season. It was an amazing ride and I look forward to doing it again this year. Before I start previewing which teams should be watched in the upcoming season, though, I think it would be a service to everyone to take a moment to look at the drastic conference realignments that are taking place this summer.

The 2013-14 season will provide us our first glimpse of a world of college basketball that has just seen the Big East – arguably the highest-profile conference in the nation – undergo a complete overhaul and has profoundly changed the landscape of the sport for years to come. Classic rivalries have been split apart, and while these new pairings will undoubtedly forge new ones, getting used to this unfamiliar look of college basketball will take some time, to be sure.

The demise of the old Big East affects more than just that one conference, of course. First and foremost, the creation of the new American Athletic Conference will be the new home for many of the dislocated schools. The AAC features many of the Conference USA constituents of the early 2000s – national champions Louisville, Memphis, and Cincinnati, notably – as well as household names from the northeast in Connecticut, Rutgers, and Temple. The AAC will be rounded out by Houston, SMU, South Florida, and Central Florida.

Staying behind with the Big East moniker are many of the conference’s old standby Catholic programs, such as Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, St. John’s, Seton Hall, DePaul, and Providence. Joining these schools are a few of the most well-known (formerly) mid-major programs in America: Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. The Bulldogs – who just lost head coach Brad Stevens to the NBA’s Boston Celtics – are not strangers to relocation, switching affiliations for the second time in as many years, after spending one season in the Atlantic Ten. The Musketeers and Blue Jays will also have to make the adjustment to playing in a much deeper league.

Three former Big East programs will be a part of neither that conference nor the new AAC, but instead will head to the Atlantic Coast Conference, joining the likes of Duke, North Carolina, and may other prominent schools. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse will all begin next season playing in the ACC. With the Orange signing on here, we will get a chance to see two of the game’s 700 Club, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, coach against each other on a yearly basis. One can hardly argue the downside in that proposition; however, it should be noted that Syracuse’s presence in Madison Square Garden will be sorely missed come Big East tournament time. The addition of these three programs has to launch the ACC to the top of the ladder in terms of the top shops in the country, and they seem to be the clear-cut winners of the realignment shuffle.

While the Big East and ACC made huge changes in the offseason, the Big Ten, Big XII, Pacific 12, and SEC all sat out this round of musical chairs. A few of the more prominent mid-major conferences got in the mix, however, with the Conference USA taking on a slew of new programs. The C-USA will expand to a staggering 16 squads, but they lost their marquee team in Memphis, the one program that was keeping the conference even remotely relevant on the national scale. That having been said, they cherry-picked a handful of the country’s rising names from the smaller conferences, including Middle Tennessee, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, and North Texas. It remains to be seen how all of these teams will fair when they all get thrown in the deep end together, but the C-USA could provide some great competition. This will, in turn, give some of these smaller programs a better shot at picking up decent, if not spectacular victories. Still, it’s hard seeing them as more than a one-bid conference at this point, but they could provide a lot of entrants to the other tournaments.

If some of the other mid-major conferences look a little different, it may be due to contraction rather than expansion. The Atlantic Ten, for instance, lost a great deal of panache when Temple, Xavier, and newcomer Butler all walked out the door this offseason. The conference will add the George Mason Patriots for next season, one of the top programs in the Colonial over the past decade. The A-10 still has a solid core of teams in VCU, Saint Louis, La Salle, Dayton, St. Joseph’s, and Richmond to make this one of the more solid mid-major conferences.

The Mountain West, on the other hand, was busy picking up a couple new teams to round out their ranks at 11 members. Following Boise State’s move from the Western Athletic Conference in years past – which is a natural move, considering this conference was born of the breakup of the WAC – are Utah State and San Jose State. The Aggies from USU have had a lot of success in the past few years, and will look to try to make the transition to the bigger leagues when they join what was one of the strongest conferences in the nation last season, regardless of any “mid-major” moniker which might be assigned to it.

Speaking of the WAC, a mass exodus has taken place, but the conference added half a dozen new teams at the start of this month. The conference is a shadow of itself, absorbing some scattered remnants in Cal State Bakersfield, Texas Pan-American, Utah Valley, Chicago State, and Missouri-Kansas City, as well as Division I newcomer Grand Canyon University. In fact, all of the turmoil in the WAC has forced the conference to stop sponsoring football due to the departures of some of its key constituents. The adoption of four of the Great West’s member schools also spelled the demise of that conference entirely, now defunct after only a short time operating at the D-I level. The Great West’s final team, N.J.I.T., will compete as the nation’s lone independent squad next season.

In addition to Grand Canyon, three other schools are making the jump to D-I this year as well, including a pair from the Southland Conference. Both Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian will be a part of the league this year, which also added former D-I Independent (and Sun Belt) program, New Orleans. The final newcomers are Massachusetts-Lowell, and the River Hawks will compete in the America East Conference.

There were a few other small moves that almost flew under the radar for me. The Missouri Valley Conference replaced Creighton – clearly no easy task – with Loyola of Chicago, and the Ramblers have to know that they aren’t going to be expected to fill the Blue Jays’ giant void. The rest of the teams in the MVC might be breathing a sigh of relief and rubbing their hands together at the prospect of a life without two yearly matchups against one of the better programs in the country. Taking Loyola’s place in the Horizon League will be Michigan’s Oakland University.

Other moves include Charleston heading to the Colonial, Boston University and Loyola of Maryland joining the Patriot League, and Denver moving to the Summit League. The Metro Athletic took on two squads from the Northeast Conference in Monmouth and Quinnipiac. The Sun Belt likewise went through some changes, adding Georgia State, Texas State, and Texas-Arlington.

It seems that realignment has affected about half of the nation’s conferences in one way or another, and it has completely changed the dynamic of college basketball as we will know it from here on out. The new rivalries that will form out of all of this chaos should be the focus of the discussion on the matter, rather than lamenting over the fact that we won’t be seeing any more of those ridiculous Syracuse-Connecticut or Louisville-Notre Dame multi-overtime games.

Yes, it will take some getting used to the new American Athletic Conference. Yes, the surface tension on the Big Dance bubble just got a lot tighter, with one more automatic qualifier bid going to the AAC, leaving one fewer at-large bid. No, this is not the last time we are going to see realignment, with various contracts already in place which will affect many of the nation’s biggest leagues.

All things considered, in a world of constant change and uncertainty, one thing is for sure: there will be a new tournament in March, and a new champion in April. And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters?

Are you kidding me? This tournament has been one of the most exciting to watch that I can ever remember. Between the upsets, the buzzer-beaters, the star performances, and the charismatic teams that have taken America by storm on college basketball’s biggest stage, this year’s iteration of the Big Dance has had it all.

Florida Gulf Coast? Really? I knew the team had some talent, but these guys have dispatched two good teams with relative ease. Meanwhile, another group of Eagles – Marquette – have survived in the most dire of situations on big-time plays late in their first two games. Speaking of clutch baskets, look at La Salle, the newest poster-child for the play-in game. The Explorers took care of Marshall Henderson and a fiery Ole Miss team by punching back during the Rebels’ late push and scoring a game-winner with three seconds to play. Out in San Jose, Oregon eschewed any notion of being at a disadvantage due to their 12-seed, which was given to them because the NCAA couldn’t reckon a way to render a bracket otherwise. In turn, the Ducks clobbered Oklahoma State and Saint Louis, two very talented teams, and now have a date with Louisville for a trip to the Elite Eight. Oh, and there’s a team from Wichita who had a pretty good weekend, too, if memory serves. The one in Spokane? Not so much.

I’ll get into all of these teams in a little more depth below, but just take a moment to soak in this year’s tournament. If the first couple rounds are any indication, we are in for another wild weekend. Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty on the Sweet 16.

MIDWEST REGION

(#1) Louisville vs. (#12) Oregon

Man, the Ducks have really looked good in their first two games. I completely wrote them off, falling under the spell of Marcus Smart and the highlight-reel Cowboys of Oklahoma State. After watching Arsalan Kazemi and Carlos Emory destroy OSU on the boards, I predicted a similar fate for the Saint Louis Billikens and was right. Oregon has brought a great mix of bullying their opponents down low while also getting big-time shots from their outside threats. Dominic Artis and Daymean Dotson have played with a lot of gusto and senior E.J. Singler has made big plays for the Ducks. While all of this is true, they now run into what is probably the best team in the country. My opinion of Louisville remains the same as before the tournament started – I think this team is going to win the national championship. Louisville did get a break in a walkover against North Carolina A&T, but the Colorado State team that they obliterated is no joke. They handled their business like the nation’s best team, though, never looking like they were in trouble. Russ Smith has been playing like a man possessed, and I don’t think the Ducks have an answer for him defensively. Also, I don’t think Gorgui Dieng and the other Cardinal big men will get pushed around by Kazemi and Emory like we saw in the Ducks’ first two games. The experience of Peyton Siva and Smith is going to be hard for the Ducks to account for in the backcourt, and that’s probably the turning point for this game. It’s been a magical run, but if a double-digit seed is going to make it to the Elite Eight, it’s not going to be Oregon. The luck of the draw is just not on their side, and the country’s best squad is going to move on.

Prediction: Louisville 77, Oregon 66

(#3) Michigan State vs. (#2) Duke

Okay, so I was wrong about Duke. As an admitted fan of Coach K and his team, I can’t say I’m too disappointed. I didn’t think Doug McDermott would struggle so much, and the performance of Amile Jefferson off the bench got the Blue Devils out a jam when Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee started picking up fouls. But where McDermott is more of a finesse player who is best served away from the basket, Duke may have its hands full with a player like Michigan State’s Derrick Nix. The big, bruising forward has certainly been a handful for the first two opponents that the Spartans have demolished. They have amassed an 85-45 rebounding advantage through two games, thanks in no small part to Nix’s efforts. One worry for the Spartans is the health of Keith Appling, who suffered an injury in the win over Memphis, but Appling says he is okay and will play in the Sweet 16. Denzel Valentine filled in admirably off the bench, though, tallying nine points, six rebounds, and six assists. Duke has turned the ball over 20 times in two games, while Michigan State has committed 35 errors. Duke’s rebounding advantage is not nearly as dominant as the Spartans’. The coaching matchup is a complete push – Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski are two of the game’s most experienced and proven coaches, absolute legends in the sport. This is going to a be a slow-paced, physical, Big Ten style game, but Duke is built to be able to withstand that. They need Kelly and Quinn Cook to return to form quickly, though. Whichever tandem produces more out of the backcourt – Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon or Appling and Gary Harris – may indeed decide this game. This is a tough one to call. In a very closely contested game, Duke pulls out the victory.

Prediction: Duke 62, Michigan State 58

WEST REGION

(#9) Wichita State vs. (#13) La Salle

The poise that Wichita State showed in weathering Gonzaga’s best efforts to spoil Saturday’s upsets was a very telling character trait for Gregg Marshall’s team. These Shockers have the exuberant look of a potential Final Four team, and they remind me a lot of the George Mason and VCU teams that made their runs earlier in the 2000s. A slew of shooters, a forceful big man, staunch defense – this squad has it all. They also play a kind of undefinable intensity, and you can tell they absolutely love playing together. All of that showed as they demolished a really good Pittsburgh team in their first game and, of course, when they beat Mark Few’s Bulldogs. La Salle has had to work their way past three capable teams in Boise State, Kansas State, and Ole Miss. Despite being one of the final teams selected for the tournament, the Explorers stand alone as the Atlantic 10’s sole representative in the Sweet 16. Popular picks like Saint Louis, VCU, and Butler have fallen by the wayside, while Temple put up a great fight in their upset bid against Indiana. Still, Ramon Galloway has led La Salle to where no other A-10 team could make it this season. Jerrell Wright, Tyreek Duren, and Tyrone Garland have all turned in big scoring performances in the various games, with Garland’s layup in the final seconds sending La Salle into this game. The Explorers have survived being outrebounded in all three games, just as Wichita survived being out-boarded by the Zags. The Shockers have held their opponents to 35% shooting in the first two rounds, and they have the look of a team who is not yet done making noise in March. Cleanthony Early has provided a good scoring punch in their contests thus far, and as long as at least one of the other Wichita players gets hot – it was Malcolm Armstead against Pitt and Ron Baker against Gonzaga – they should win this ballgame.

Prediction: Wichita State 66, La Salle 59

(#6) Arizona vs. (#2) Ohio State

Now that Arizona has made it to the Sweet 16, it’s time to stop feeling stupid over messing up that entire portion of the bracket and start previewing Sean Miller’s team. In two games, Arizona has grabbed 81 rebounds to their opponent’s 46, with a 42-15 advantage spelling the demise of Belmont. The Cats have also shot very well from beyond the arc, making nine 3-pointers in each of their games at about a 56% clip. Mark Lyons has been the big scorer for Arizona, dropping 23 and 27 in the opening rounds. Lyons has received backup from Solomon Hill, Kaleb Tarczewski, and the rest of the cast. Brandon Ashley has been an important big body off the bench, grabbing 15 rebounds so far in 40 total minutes of work. Ohio State survived an upset attempt from Iowa State, leaning on their junior leader Aaron Craft in the final seconds with the game on the line. Craft surely did not disappoint, burying the game-winner with less than a second on the clock, sending the Buckeyes to Los Angeles. While the location of this game could cause Buckeye fans some concern, keep in mind that Thad Matta’s boys are 7-0 in neutral site games this year, including the last five games of their current 10-game streak. Deshaun Thomas has been a beast on the scoreboard for Ohio State, but hasn’t been as effective a rebounder as the team needs. In fact, Iowa State absolutely crushed OSU on the boards. While Arizona is equipped to do the same, Ohio State obviously lived through it once – I don’t see why they can’t do it again. Aaron Craft has stepped up in his leadership role so far, and in a newly wide-open West, this will likely be the Buckeyes’ biggest test on their way to Atlanta. I think Ohio State advances, extending their winning streak with yet another big play late in the game from Craft.

Prediction: Ohio State 72, Arizona 70

SOUTH REGION

(#1) Kansas vs. (#4) Michigan

Michigan is led by Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke, but they get a lot of great support from the rest of the six-man rotation. Despite the youth of this team – the Wolverines start three freshmen, a sophomore, and a junior – they have played beyond their years in the tournament thus far. They were slow out of the gates against a good South Dakota State team, but recovered to win decisively. Against VCU, they made shots, dominated the boards, hit their free throws, and shut down Shaka Smart’s Havoc style with efficient and generally careful play. The Wolverines’ Mitch McGary was 10 for 11, scoring 21 points and pulling down 14 rebounds against an undersized Rams squad. McGary also put in 13 and 9 against South Dakota St. If he can continue this type of play inside, he could be a big factor in handling Jeff Withey in a Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas. Speaking of Withey, the guy has been a monster through two games. He has Tim Duncan’s Big Dance blocks record in his sights after recording 12 swats leading up to the Sweet 16. He has also poured in 33 points and 22 rebounds, fulfilling all the expectations I had for the Jayhawks’ big man. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Kansas’ wins is the ineffectiveness of the backcourt outside of Travis Releford. Ben McLemore had only two points against the Tar Heels, while Elijah Johnson has had five in each game. Michigan has one of the nation’s best backcourts, and I think this might be what tips the scales for the Wolverines. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been solid through the first couple games, while Trey Burke found his form against VCU – although his seven turnovers were worrisome. Still, the way Michigan is playing – especially their decimation of Shaka Smart and the Rams – gives me the idea that this team is well on their way to Atlanta.

Prediction: Michigan 73, Kansas 67

(#3) Florida vs. (#15) Florida Gulf Coast

I don’t mean to take anything away from Steve Fisher’s ability to coach or prepare for a basketball game – but I’ve got to believe that he and the rest of the San Diego State team were not really expecting to play Florida Gulf Coast. The Aztecs hung with the Eagles for much of the game, but FGCU’s late run proved to be the difference. Brett Comer, Sherwood Brown, Bernard Thompson, Chase Fieler, and the rest of the Eagles have captured the spotlight as America’s Cinderella du jour, becoming the first 15-seed to ever advance this far in the tournament. These guys can certainly play, but I’m a little worried that this cooling-off period may be their worst enemy, as it gives Billy Donovan a chance to develop a gameplan for Florida Gulf Coast. It would be easy to say that the Gators have had it easy in the first two rounds, facing a 14- and an 11-seed, but Northwestern State was the country’s top-scoring team this year and Minnesota is certainly no slouch. Florida held the Demons to just 47 points – a full 34 below their season average – and were never seriously threatened by the mercurial Gophers. Erik Murphy has been very effective for the Gators, and Mike Rosario really took over Sunday’s game against Minnesota. Just like Billy Donovan was unfazed by the magical run of George Mason in 2006, he will have his team ready for this game against their in-state neighbors. The presence of Murphy and Patric Young inside will be a little more than the Eagles will be able to handle, and unless Florida Gulf Coast pulls out a 21-2 run like the one they had against San Diego State, I’m afraid their glorious story ends here. I’d be lying, though, if I said I won’t be rooting wholeheartedly for the Eagles in this one.

Prediction: Florida 74, Florida Gulf Coast 61

EAST REGION

(#1) Indiana vs. (#4) Syracuse

In a rematch of the 1987 NCAA Championship game, Jim Boeheim will look to end up on the right side of this matchup. His team looked amazing in the obliteration of Montana, holding the Big Sky champs to just 34 points on 20% shooting, while also forcing 17 turnovers. The Orange struggled only slightly to close out a feisty Cal team that had eyes on an upset. This game could’ve been a bigger win for Syracuse had they not missed 15 free throws, lowering their tournament percentage to 66.7%. That being said, they still have gotten to the line 81 times in two games, but they come up against an Indiana team that is extremely disciplined when it comes to fouling. James Madison and Temple combined to shoot 12 total free throws against the Hoosiers. Despite the same six-point margin of victory, Indiana had a much tougher time getting to the Sweet 16 than Syracuse. Khalif Wyatt and Temple had them within an inch of their life before Victor Oladipo’s cold-blooded three saved the Hoosiers’ season. I can’t be the only one who has been underwhelmed by the performances of Cody Zeller. He struggled to find his groove so far and the Orange’s stable of big men could prove a problem. The matchup of the backcourts will be the big determiner of how this game goes. While I love Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, they might be in some trouble against the disciplined group of Oladipo, Jordan Hulls, and Yogi Ferrell. Syracuse has been fortunate to capitalize on a lot of mistakes from their opponents, but I don’t see the Hoosiers giving them the same kinds of opportunities. In what could be one of the best games of the tournament, I foresee Indiana playing up to their midseason form and taking out the Orange in the nation’s capital.

Prediction: Indiana 69, Syracuse 62

(#3) Marquette vs. (#2) Miami (FL)

Well, it’s fitting to save the Marquette game for the very end, since they’ve likewise been leaving things to the last second in their first couple games. Vander Blue saved them from early elimination at the hands of Davidson, hitting a game-winning layup with one second remaining. After trailing for much of their next game against Butler, Buzz Williams’ team finally turned the corner and got the edge on the Bulldogs, thanks to Blue’s 29-point outburst and his three-pointer with 90 seconds left which tied the game. After taking the lead, Blue’s turnover with seconds remaining opened the door for another memorable Butler buzzer-beater, but the end result was pretty anti-climactic for Brad Stevens’ squad. Miami, on the other hand, kept their matchup with Illinois a little more exciting than they would have liked. The Illini held the lead with as little as 1:24 left, but Shane Larkin hit a huge three that gave the Canes the lead back with a minute to play. After a controversial call that gave Miami the ball after a missed D.J. Richardson three-point attempt, the Hurricanes closed out the game and advanced to the Sweet 16. While winning in any fashion is nice, the Hurricanes were not nearly as dominant against Illinois as I expected, due in large part to the shooting struggles of Larkin and Durand Scott. Luckily for them, Rion Brown came off the bench to lead Miami with 21 points and Larkin stepped up in the clutch when his team needed him. I am very much looking forward to The Shane Larkin-Vander Blue Show in this round – these two guys could easily trade 30-point games. I give Miami the edge in this matchup due to a size advantage inside, although the Canes’ big men have been far from dominant so far. Both teams have proved to have the poise to survive in the late going, but I think Marquette may have used up all of their magic in staving off Davidson and Butler, so I’m sticking with Miami here.

Prediction: Miami (FL) 81, Marquette 79

LOOKING PAST THE SWEET 16

(#1) Louisville vs. (#2) Duke – Now that Gorgui Dieng is back in the fold, will the Cardinals avenge their first loss of the season against Coach K and the Blue Devils?

(#9) Wichita State vs. (#2) Ohio State – The Shockers knocked off top-seeded Gonzaga, but will they have what it takes to keep the magic alive against Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes?

(#4) Michigan vs. (#3) Florida – Can these young Wolverines outplay the experienced Gators and earn a trip to Atlanta, or will Billy Donovan’s boys cut down the nets?

(#1) Indiana vs. (#2) Miami (FL) – Who prevails in this clash of old-school and new-school: one of the country’s most storied programs or Jim Larranaga’s upstart Hurricanes?

The way this tournament has been going, it seems like a waste of effort to continue to predict past the Sweet 16, since I’ll probably end up having to do a rewrite on just about every matchup. But hey, at least my national championship of Louisville and Miami is still in play, and I think Louisville tops Ohio State and Miami bests Michigan in the Final Four to get there.

While some might find such blood-boiling, bracket-busting, bad behavior to be downright offensive this time of year, I revel in it. That’s the joy of the tournament. That’s what makes these Cinderella runs so meaningful – the fact that people “in the know”, or so they think, completely write them off. So, as one of those clueless voices contributing to the din, let me extend a thankful hand to these 16 teams. I’ve never enjoyed being so wrong so much.

-AD