Sunday, March 15, 2009

Championship Week diaries, Wednesday-Saturday

These are going to be a little quicker than usual, sadly.

Big Sky: Portland St. 79, Montana St. 77

--Watching this game--in which both teams finished at 1.3 points a possession or above--the thought crossed my mind over and over again: How the hell did these two teams lose a combined 15 games in this conference? Both of them have athletic guards, bigs who can shoot, play some wonderfully unselfish offense ... and Montana St. went 6-10? Man, I don't get it. In any case, good for the neutral: this was one of the best games of Championship Week, and if I'm going to stay up crazy late to watch a game, I'd way rather watch two teams combine to shoot an eFG over 60 percent than under 43 percent, no matter how many overtimes they go into.

--Jeremiah Dominguez: 8-of-13, 22 points, 5 assists, 3 steals, one turnover, 5-foot-6. He's as good as it gets and even better than that to watch.

--The Vikings have that Gonzaga win under their belt, came within a point of scalping Washington, and I really wouldn't put it past them to add another one next week. It'll help if they avoid the 16 line (not a guarantee) and get an opponent who won't utterly annihilate them inside--their frontcourt is nearly all Dirk Nowitzki types who shoot like crazy and only rebound or defend because no one else is there to do it--but if they get hot, they can rain enough 3's down to hang with anyone, and having Dominguez at the point is massive. They'll be one of the more dangerous 15 or 16 seeds.

Northeast: Robert Morris 48, Mount St. Mary's 46

--I'll admit that part of why I was so deliriously happy about the offensive precision in the Big Sky final was having watched these two teams lay bricks for 40 minutes solid. No often you see a winner who shoots 34 percent from the field and an eFG of 37 percent. It was only too perfect the game ended on a shoulda-been turnover that just happened to fall into the hands of someone who was able to sort of shotput the ball into the net from six feet. That's how this one went.

--Still, you have to be happy for RMU: getting eliminated on your home court by the same team who you'd swept during the regular season for three straight years would be a little too much pain for me to wish on any team, fanbase, program, etc.

--The game's billing was as a battle of Jeremies: RMU's Chappell vs. the Mount's Goode. Too bad they went a combined 8-of-20 with 6 turnovers.

--Watching RMU flounder around on offense and looking over their full schedule doesn't really fill one with confidence for their NCAA hopes--Miami was the only power-conference team they even stayed competitive with--but they do have two things in their favor: 1. Their Pomeroy rating isn't great, but it's not all that bad, either 2. the least I've ever been impressed with a victorious team during Championship Week was George Mason in 2001, when the Patriots beat UNC-Wilmington by the epic score of 35-33. (I'm not making it up.) Those same Patriots then turned around and came within a possession of beating the same Maryland team that would go to the Final Four. So impressions made in a bitterly defensive mid-major final aren't necessarily always accurate.

Patriot: American 73, Holy Cross 57

--Not much to say about this one. American was just miles and miles better. Better shooters, better post play, better defense, better home court, better everything. It was never in doubt.

--Hey, speaking of unimpressive Championship Week teams, last year I was convinced the Eagles had no prayer against a live-wire team like Tennessee. Then they went on to scare the pants off of the Vols. This year the same team is back, pretty much, though unlike last year's team instead of beating Maryland they lost to the Terps pretty badly ... and got crushed by Oklahoma and Georgetown. But it's easy to see this team pulling something major off--Carr can shoot the lights-out, Mercer is the senior point guard, and if their size isn't exactly of the "Bruising" variety, they're not tiny, either. I'm no sleeping on them this year, especially if they draw a team that won't bully them down low.

--Man, the Patriot's not really one for variety, is it? We had the Holy Cross dynasty early this decade, the Bucknell one in the middle of the Aughts, and now American's gone back-to-back. 9 titles and eight of them have gone to three teams (with Lehigh the only interloper, back in 2004).

America East: Binghamton 61, UMBC 51

--Another case of one team being just far, far more athletic and better than its opponent and getting the benefit of home court. In Rivera, Fuller, and Alvin, the Bearcats had three players UMBC didn't have an answer for.

--So why was this game still close down into the final minutes? Because Binghamton wasn't just poor against the Retrivers' half-court zones, they were utterly hapless. Rivera and Co. were incredible in transition--2-on-3, 1-on-2, it didn't matter, if Binghamton could get out in the open court, they were scoring. But in the halfcourt? Nothin', not even an idea of how to attack the zone. Sorry, but I don't see an NCAA surprise in their future, and the Pomeroy numbers agree with me. It's kind of too bad the RPI is going to give the Bearcats a 14ish seed when much better teams like Cal St. Northridge and Portland St. take on the true heavyweights.

--One thing Binghamton does have going for them: no one has a scarier or more intimidating logo. No one.

MAC: Akron 65, Buffalo 53

--Poor, poor Buffalo. They just never figured out what was wrong on offense, did they? The only answer they've ever really found this year (aside from the occasional outburst from center Max Boudreau, who comes off the bench and plays less than 15 minutes a game for reasons I don't understand) was "let Rodney Pierce do his thing." When Pierce is enduring a 1-for-9 nightmare, they're not going to have a chance. And so against Akron they didn't.

--To be fair, facing Akron didn't do them any favors--the Zips had the league's best D all year. Combine that D with an outside shooting game that's been crap throughout the season and suddenly went 8-of-14 from 3 in this game ... and, well, you get a stunningly comfy 12-point win in the MAC title game. The Zips were the best team in the conference according to Pomeroy entering the tournament--maybe it's not so much a surprise they played like it.

--I'm not sure I'd like taking on Akron if I were a 3 or 4 seed--if the Zips are hot from outside the way they were last night, they've got the D to make things very, very interesting. One problem is the point--sophomore Steve McNees's assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5-1) and 3-point percentage (36) isn't bad, but he's not the kind of guy that screams "lead his team to victory over Syracuse," either.

WAC: Utah St. 72, Nevada 62

--Thank goodness. Watching the Aggies get unfairly snubbed today was something I was not looking forward to.

--So that's what this team is supposed to look like on offense (Well, except for the six minute FG drought in the first half that let Nevada back into the game after the 21-4 start). Watching them vs. St. Mary's on BracketBusters didn't give us a lot of help on that front. Man, is Wilkinson crafty on the block--there aren't a lot of guys I've seen who keep their pivot foot in the face of doubles the way he does. (Tai Wesley is a hell of a Robin to Wilkinson's Batman down there, too.)

--Yes, I like USU's chances in the NCAAs. Their defense needs work--even when Nevada was ice-cold, they weren't a complete disaster because USU was so poor on the defensive glass--but NCAA games are reliably slow and halfcourt, and the Aggies are so good in the halfcourt offense I have to think it's the kind of setting they'd thrive in. We'll see.

--Nevada: the nervy, flatlined first 10 minutes I can forgive. The no-show after the half, on their own homecourt with an NCAA bid on the line? Man, that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Guess that's the price you pay for having a team made up of freshmen, I guess.

Big West: Cal St. Northridge 71, Pacific 66, OT

--Dude ... how was this Northridge team 15-13 entering the tournament? They've got a quality 6-8, 6-9 frontcourt, a junior point guard in Mark Hill who seemed well in charge of the offense, a sharp little gunner in Rodrigue Mels (how did this guy average only 17 minutes and 8.8 points a game?) ... and they've lost two of their best players to off-court stuff and an injury! They looked nothing like a team that could draw a 16-seed last night, especially for long stretches on the defensive end, where they totally blanketed a clearly talented offensive team from Pacific.

--Particular kudos to the Matadors for pulling out a game in overtime after two players had already fouled out. Money.

--So, yeah, if you're asking me what the best possible match-up for the 16-over-1 upset might be, give me Northridge vs. Louisville. Yes, the Cards looked great in New York, but they also played three games up there, went through a big emotional high, and coughed one up to a Western Kentucky team that's not way better than this Matador squad. If CSN forced the Cards into lazily bombing away from outside and the shots aren't dropping ... why not? Make it happen, Committee.

Up next: Bracketology!

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