Reporting Pete Medhurst
Conference tournaments around college basketball get under way this week and now we try to identify NCAA Tournament bid thieves.
Belmont switched leagues this year but produced the same result — a regular season title in the Ohio Valley. But the conference tournament could be stronger, which actually could make Belmont an at-large bid team. SEC teams, Maryland, Villanova and Southern Miss among others are hoping that Belmont wins the Ohio Valley tournament.
Personally, I don’t think we will have the controversy around the last couple selections this year, because there just aren’t that many teams that you say, “Yes they belong.” The tournament has to be filled by someone.
Locally, Maryland and Virginia are hoping late-season marquee wins over Duke without Ryan Kelly can give them some momentum. Maryland gets UNC (No. 20 in RPI) and UVA in the last week of the season. Wins are a must, plus likely two wins in the ACC Tournament to make the NCAA selection heads take a second look.
Arkansas State, who was the last team to beat Middle Tennessee State back on Jan. 3, could upset MTSU in a one-game situation. Murray State has an NCAA pedigree and could throw a banana peel in Belmont’s path.
There are some who discuss whether a 16-seed can beat a 1-seed or which teams could potentially be a higher seeds’ kryptonite in the early rounds.
Georgetown is heading toward a potential top-seed and, ironically, they have prospered with the loss of a starter. Greg Whittington, the local product out of Oakland Mills, is sitting out with academic issues. What’s occurred for Georgetown is more touches for Otto Porter Jr., and they have dug in strongly on the defensive end. It has also allowed for more development for D’vauntes Smith-Rivera. The freshmen guard has been solid in this late season run for the Hoyas.
Nightmare matchup: Bucknell. The Bison are a solid half-court defensive team. They slowed down Missouri in its own building and had a chance to win on the final possession in Columbia.
People can poke holes in Gonzaga. They have 17 wins outside of the top-100 in the RPI. They pass the eye test though. Kelly Olynyk is as athletic a big as there is in the country with a complete skill set. He is a problem for anyone to guard.
Nightmare matchup: Minnesota. The Gophers could cause Gonzaga a problem with an athletic big in Trevor Mbakwe and the Gophers will likely be in that 7-10 seed area and could see Gonzaga in the second round.
Kansas has developed more balance and offensive confidence in the last two weeks, which is scary. Ben McLemore and Elijah Johnson have been big in key moments for the Jayhawks.
Nightmare matchup: I’ll go to the Big Ten here again. Would you want to be a 1- or 2-seed and see Ohio State with a veteran presence and tempo controller in point guard Aaron Craft?
Indiana and Duke are the two teams that I don’t see having early issues with anyone in the second game or third round as the NCAA wants you to believe. However, my lack of trust in Quinn Cook’s consistency and Indiana’s boredom, as I like to call it, can make a second-round game closer. Creighton or the likes of N.C. State, Colorado, Wichita State all are likely to be in position to be in 7-10 area.
Miami has veterans but not lots of NCAA Tournament experience. The Canes haven’t been in the tournament since 2008 and have only played in six NCAA Tournament games this decade. To me, the second-round game is the danger area for Miami, but look at where they were even with Ryan Kelly having a super-human effort for Duke — right there with a chance to tie in Cameron with the last possession. Jim Larranaga is as good at preparing a team as there is in the country and he has tremendous NCAA experience to fall back on.
Sleepers: What constitutes a sleeper? To me, anyone seeded from No. 4 down. Teams I like include Oklahoma State, Kansas State and St. Louis. Marcus Smart and the Cowboys have been in some battle-tested environments and stood tall. Kansas State has been solid against anybody but Kansas, and St. Louis is a veteran team who people will go, “Who?” Jim Crews has done a terrific job taking over on an interim basis.