Saturday, March 03, 2007

Madness Begins: Conference Tourneys Underway

Some of the lesser conferences already have tournaments underway, vying for the right to represent in the NCAA Tournament. Major conferences still have regular season games going this weekend, some of which will determine titles.

With a full slate on tap for today, I'll be giving some picks and pointers, plus recaps from Friday night.

Most eyes are focused on the Missouri Valley, where the Salukis of Southern Illinois are expected to get to the title game and win it. But the MVC may be sending 3 or 4 teams to the Big Dance, so whichever team comes out on top, it will be battle-tested.

Quarterfinal action from the MVC:

Bradley 51 Northern Iowa 48 - Bradley moved on to play Southern Illinois on Saturday in the semifinals.

#11 Southern Illinois 71 Drake 59 - The Salukis won their 12th straight game, propelled by Matt Shaw and Jamaal Tatum. Each scored 19 points to move Southern Ill. into the semis against Bradley.

Creighton 59 Indiana St. 38 - Creighton's defense did the trick, holding the Sycamores to just 23% shooting. The #2 seed in the MVC tourney will play Missouri St. on Saturday in one semifinal.

Missouri St. 67 Wichita St. 64 - Last season, the Shockers made an impressive run in the NCAA tourney. This year, they couldn't even get through their own conference. The Missouri St. Bears pulled out a close win to advance to Saturday's semifinal game against Creighton.

Saturday's Picks (all times Eastern):

12:00 pm - #15 Texas 22-7 at #3 Kansas (-9.5) - Texas can tie the Jayhawks (and possibly Texas A&M if they win at Missouri) for first in the Big 12 and a share of the conference championship with a win, but the linesmakers don't foresee a close game. I beg to differ. KU is riding a 7-game win streak, but the Longhorns have won 6 straight. Kansas plays tough defense and have only lost twice at home. The Longhorns aren't the greatest on the road, but they've developed as the season progressed and are a legitimate threat to win this. Take the points and enjoy what may be a classic.

1:00 pm - Virginia (-4) at Wake Forest - The Cavaliers can wrap up the ACC championship with a win and Wake Forest hasn't put up much resistance this season, winning only 4 times in the ACC and tied for last place with Miami. Though the Demon Deacons have won their last 2 home games, they were against Clemson and Miami. Virginia should roll to an easy win.

2:00 pm - Syracuse at Villanova (-6) - A sucker line if there ever was one. The Orange are seeking higher NCAA seeding and already beat the Wildcats at the Dome earlier this year. Villanova is in a must-win situation, but they haven't been competitive lately against the top teams in the Big East. Syracuse knows what's riding here and should win this one.

2:30 pm - Bradley vs. Southern Illinois (no line) - I'd make Southern Ill. a 3 to 5 point favorite here and take them over Bradley, though it will be a close game. These two met twice already this season. Bradley won at home, 48-46, but the Salukis were on the tail end of a three-game road trip back then in January. Southern Ill. returned the favor, 60-50 on their home hardwood on Feb. 7. The Salukis should handle them.

4:00 pm - #1 Ohio St. (-4.5) at Michigan - Ohio State can wrap up the Big 10 championship with a win here, but the Wolverines are 6-1 at home in the Big 10 this season. The Buckeyes are riding a 13-game win streak and have had nearly a week off since their big win over Wisconsin. This one is not likely to be close as the Buckeyes roll towards a #1 seeding in the NCAA tourney.Sports Training Products

5:00 pm - Loyola Chicago vs. #18 Butler (no line) - If they make Butler a favorite of 5 or more, take the points. Loyola beat them less than two weeks ago and even though the Bulldogs are ranked and shared the Horizon League title with Wright St., they may be a bit overrated. We're going to find out.

7:00 pm - #23 USC at #13 Washington St. (-5) - The Cougars should handle the Trojans here. USC was dumped badly at Washington on Thursday and don't do well on the road. They've lost 3 off their last 4 road games while Washington St. is 6-2 at home in PAC-10 play. The Cougars may run the Trojans right off the court.

9:00 pm - #12) Pittsburgh at #20 Marquette (-2) - A loss by the Panthers could cost them the Big East championship if Georgetown beats UConn today. Don't count on it. Marquette has lost 4 of their last 5 and look mighty vulnerable even at home.

10:00 pm - New Mexico St. at #10 Nevada (-10) - Nevada has already wrapped up the WAC title, so this game has less meaning for them and the Aggies will want to make a statement to the selection committee. New Mexico St. beat the Wolf pack back on Jan. 20, 73-80, but this will be on the Wolf Pack's home court. Nevada should win this, but it could be an upset and will likely be close. It is, after all, March 3rd, and the madness has begun.

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