With the major conference tourneys underway, the focus shifts to Madison Square Garden, site of the Big East games, LA's Staples Center for the PAC-10, the Georgia Dome for the SEC, Chicago's United Center (Big 10), the Ford Center in Oklahoma City (Big 12) and the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa for the ACC tourney. But first, two more teams snatched up automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament last night:
Central Connecticut State 74 Sacred Heart 70 - The Blue Devils of Central Connecticut got big games from their upperclassmen guards, junior Tristan Blackwood and senior Javier Mojica, who combined to hit 9 of 16 3-pointers and tally 46 points overall. Those efforts led to a win over Sacred Heart in the finals of the Northeast Conference tournament and the right to play on in March. Central Connecticut was easily the class of the conference at 16-2, with a 22-11 record overall.
The Blue Devils look very much like a one-and-done kind of team, as their record prior to conference play was an underassuming 3-9, with losses to such stellar powerhouses as St. Bonaventure, Lehigh and Harvard (you really have to work to lose to an Ivy League team). Wherever these guys get seeded, they should at least be able to generate some offense. They scored 70 or more points in 11 of their last 13 games.
Weber St. 88 Northern Arizona 80 - Out in the Big Sky, a trio of scorers -
Dezmon Harris (20 points), Juan Pablo Silviera (21) and David Patten (22) - led the Wildcats to victory in the championship game. Weber St. and No. Arizona had tied for first place in the regular season at 11-5, but the Wildcats shot a blistering 66% (29-44) from the field, opened up a 16-point halftime lead and coasted home.
The Wildcats had already beaten the Lumberjacks twice during conference play, so completing the trifecta was a crowing achievement. They finish up at 20-11 and played just one then-ranked team, losing to Washington in December, 80-51.
Conference Tourney Scores -
Syracuse 78 Connecticut 65
#18 Marquette 76 St. John's 67
Villanova 75 DePaul 67
West Virginia 92 Providence 79
Washington 59 Arizona St. 51
California 70 Oregon St. 51
Today's Tourney Picks
12:00 pm Florida St. vs. Clemson (-1.5) - Take the Seminoles to move on. Al Thornton scored a career high 45 points in the season finale over Miami. The senior forward is a big time scorer and leader. Clemson won their regular season tilts, 68-66, and 71-58 at Clemson, but Florida St. will have home fans on hand in Tampa. Look for Toney Douglas to add some spark for Florida State.
12:00 pm Georgetown (-5) vs. Villanova - End of the line for the Wildcats. If they lose, their 23-10 record could still be good enough to get a bid. The Hoyas are too big up front and should blow 'Nova away.
1:00 pm Kentucky (-4) vs. Alabama - The Wildcats are no great shakes and Alabama's late season woes are also well-documented. Both teams collapsed late in the season, losing 5 of their final 7 games. The only meeting this season was at Alabama, where the Tide prevailed, 72-61. There's a good chance that neither of these teams will make the field of 65. In what should be an ugly (but close) game, you must take the points.
2:00 pm Notre Dame (-1.5) vs. Syracuse - The Orangemen got hot at the right time, winning 5 straight before dropping their season finale at Villanova. Their win yesterday over UConn was a nice start and they're fully loaded for this one. The Irish beat them 103-91 at the Carrier Dome earlier in the season, one of only three Notre Dame Big East road wins. The Irish ride a 5-game win streak and look good off the first round bye. Tough call, as the Irish don't generally play well at the Garden, but they have the firepower to prevail. Syracuse should get a bid even if they lose here.
3:00 pm Arizona (-2) vs. Oregon - Arizona struggled through the PAC-10 schedule, but won 5 of their last 7 to finish 10-8. One of those wins was a 77-74 win on February 10 at Oregon. Following that game, the Wildcats lost at home to USC and UCLA, but finished up with three straight road wins. Oregon also lost their first meeting, 79-77 at Arizona, so they really are up against it. I'm taking the Ducks to pull off the upset. They can't be too happy losing two close games to the Wildcats.
7:00 pm Duke (-9.5) vs. North Carolina State - The Blue Devils have struggled all season mostly because they don't have a third scoring threat after DeMarcus Nelson and Greg Paulus. Duke finished with losses to Maryland and at North Carolina and are really not on the bubble, though they should be. They crushed NC State back in January, 79-56, and the Wolfpack has been a blowout victim to most of the better teams in the ACC. Duke should handle this one with ease.
9:45 pm Tennessee (-2) vs. LSU - LSU has Big Baby Glen Davis in the middle, but the Vols have Chris Lofton on the perimeter and he should prove to be the decisive factor. Tennessee closed out the regular season with four straight wins including triumphs over Alabama and Florida, so they are rarin' to go and should seal a tourney bid with a win here. The last meeting between these two resulted in a 70-67 Volunteer win. At 16-14, LSU must win the tournament to get an NCAA bid, but dreams die hard this time of year.