Well, today's the day. Several months of hard work for many teams comes down to today. Selection Sunday. And it has been in this tumultuous, wacky season, some things are still not settled.
First, in the Big Ten, the Fighting Illini have continued their amazing run and knocked off fellow upstart Minnesota yesterday 54-50. Bruce Weber's team now faces #1 seed Wisconsin in the final. If the Illini win, they will knock a bubble team out of the tournament, quite possibly their fellow Big Ten 10 Ohio State, who stands precariously on the bubble.
Second, there is a more amazing run in the SEC. The last seeded Georgia Bulldogs have run through an amazing gauntlet, which included winning two games in the span of basically eight hours. First, the Bulldogs ended the remaining hopes of Mississippi in the first round. Next, after a tornado forced their quarterfinal game vs. Kentucky and the rest of the SEC tournament to Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs won the rescheduled game vs. the Wildcats 60-56. Then, only several hours later, the Bulldogs knocked out Mississippi State 64-60. The Bulldogs, last in the SEC in scoring offense and next to last in Field Goal percentage have won the old fashioned way..through tough defense. In their win over Kentucky, Georgia held the Wildcats to 35 percent from the field. In their win over Mississippi State, Georgia held the other Bulldogs to 32.8 percent shooting from the field. Georgia faces Arkansas in the final. The Razorbacks have clinched at least an at large berth with wins over #16 ranked Vanderbilt and beat #4 Tennessee on Steven Hill's only basket in the game with five seconds left. With the loss, the Volunteers probably lost any chance of a #1 seed.
Congratulations to UNLV who made sure that their fate was kept out of the NCAA Selection Committee’s hands and knocked off the regular season MVC champions #23 ranked BYU 76-61. The Cougars will definitely make the tournament after their strong regular season. The Runnin Rebels were somewhat on the bubble before the championship win on their home court.
Congratulations to Boise State who somehow survived triple overtime on the home court the Aggies of New Mexico State and won 107-102. Reggie Larry had 31 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Broncos. Congratulations to UMBC, who had a much easier time than Boise State, who at home trounced Hartford 82-65 to win the America East championship. It’s the first time ever to the dance for the Retrievers (their fans apparently have “Retriever Fever” - great slogan). Meanwhile, in the MEAC, Coppin State became the first team to make the NCAA tournament this year with a losing record, knocking off #1 seed Morgan State 62-60. The Eagles may very well play SWAC champion Mississippi Valley State in the play in game. The Delta Devils (what a name) needed two free throws from Carl Lucas with .4 seconds left to play and beat upstart Jackson State 59-58 (is there anything more pressure mounting then having to hit two free throws with basically no time left to take your team to the NCAA tournament...pretty hard to top that). Finally, kudos to the Titans of Cal State Fullerton who made the tournament for the first time in 30 years, knocking off Cinderella wannabe UC Irvine 81-66.
And also, congrats to the big boys Memphis and Pitt who won their conference tournaments. Pitt did it in style, knocking off #8 Georgetown in the final of the Big East Tournament and basically ended any remote hope Georgetown had of a number one seed. Today also, Kansas and Texas play for what I think is a #1 seed in the championship of the Big 12.
But the most impressive performance yesterday came out of the MAC. Congratulations to Tom Kemp’s favorite team (that’s not Miami of Ohio his alma mater), the Kent State Golden Flashes, who were really really impressive in dismantling Akron 74-55 in the MAC championship game. The Golden Flashes were also the regular season MAC champs and as they did all season, they won with smothering defense. The Golden Flashes shot 51 percent from the field while holding the Zips to 30 percent from the field. The “Q”, Haminn Quaintance led four Kent State scorers in double figures with 16 points.
Finally, yesterday in the A10, the championship game had major at large bid implications yesterday. Temple came back from a ten point first half deficit and defeated St Joseph's 69-64 to win the wild A-10 Tourney in Atlantic City yesterday. The Owls used a 16-2 run to start the second half to go up 41-34 and never looked back. Temple makes the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001. The loss puts the Hawks squarely on the bubble. Its been a crazy A10 tournament, which has been typical of the A10 the past two months. First, it appeared that there would be four guaranteed teams making the NCAAs from the A10; Xavier, Dayton, Rhode Island and UMass. Then Dayton lost a couple of key players and starting spiraling downward. Rhode Island forgot how to play defense and shoot free throws, and as a result, basically imploded. UMass slipped up mid season, looked out of the tournament frey, then made a late run to finish third in the conference, looked like they were in and then killed themselves by losing to Charlotte in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile St Joseph’s staggered along, managed one win vs. Xavier in the regular season, then got hot in the tourney and knocked off Xavier again, to put themselves on the precipice....only to get knocked out in the final by the stealthy Temple Owls who quietly finished second in the A10 regular season and just kept winning convincingly including in the final. Temple and Xavier are in. St Joseph’s can only hope their two wins over Xavier plus a win over Villanova gets them in.
I’ll be back later with who I think should be..and who should be out when the committee announces the 34 at large teams along with the other 31 tonight.