Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Big XII Tournament Predictions

Figures. I’m running a blog about Big XII sports and have quickly shown my propensity for writing 4,000+ words about benign topics, and for the finale of championship week and the Selection Show, I’ll Vegas with The Beef. Might have some blogging capability, might not. So before we depart, I figured I’d share some thoughts about this weekend, both the Big XII tournament and the NCAA tourney as a whole.

First, the Big XII tourney.

8 Iowa State vs 9 Oklahoma – Just as OU was starting to play pretty good ball earlier this season, they took a trip to Hilton and ended up on their behinds. Iowa State has been pretty inconsistent offensively, and every time it looks like they’re figuring out Greg McDermott’s Missouri Valley style of play, they take a few steps backwards. They’ve got a shot in this game, but this will basically be a home game for OU. OU by 9.

5 Texas Tech vs 12 Colorado – Now that CU has ruined my 6-20 prediction, I hope they go down in flames. Well, there’s almost no question they’ll go down, especially after winning one last game for Patton last weekend...the only question is, how fast will they dive? I say they hang around for about 20-25 minutes. Tech needs this one (no way do they get into the NCAA tourney losing to CU), and they seem to play quite well in “Must Win” games. Tech by 14.

7 Oklahoma State vs 10 Nebraska – Here’s where the homer in me emerges again (just like when you ask The Beef to pick a Penn State football game...the biases come out whether you like it or not). On Monday, Nebraska dominated OSU in every phase of the game, opening up a gigantic lead before OSU made a late run. NU is a fundamentally-sound team that knows how to draw fouls and make its free throws, and OSU has been anything but fundamentally sound lately. But Obi Muonelo made 8 3’s in his return to the court the other night, and OSU could be a different team with 3 scoring threats instead of just 2. Nebraska will have to take some of the focus off of JamesOn Curry to make sure Muonelo won’t go off again, and that could lead to some openings. If OSU can keep NU from making an early run, I say they take this one. Playing in the evening session, this will really almost be like a home game for OSU. OSU by 7.

6 Missouri vs 11 Baylor – Baylor finally got the upset I was looking for from them on Saturday, albeit against a Boggan-less OSU team. Without Aaron Bruce, Baylor matched up pretty well with Mizzou last time, taking advantage of a Mizzou lapse to make a major run in the second half before running out of gas. However, that was at Mizzou Arena. Sadly, Mizzou’s a better team away from home (look at their five home-and-home series against North Division teams...their home result was better than their road result only once), and like Colorado, Baylor got a nice win in their last game...taking their Upset Potential Quotient (yes, I just made that up) down a few notches. Mizzou by 9.

1 Kansas vs 9 Oklahoma – Yes, OU played Kansas very well at Lloyd Noble. However, a) ask Missouri how Kansas played in the rematch after Mizzou almost took them in Lawrence, and b) this game isn’t at Lloyd Noble. OU will have the crowd in its favor, but only by about 60/40. Not nearly enough. KU by 13.

4 Kansas State vs 5 Texas Tech – I’ll get into this more below, but this is almost an NCAA knockout game here, and I really don’t know what to think about it. Tech took K-State in Manhattan, but that was before things really started clicking for Huggy Bear and the Wildcats. However, while they’ve had more slip-ups, Tech has also won more ‘big’ games this year than K-State has. Therefore, Tech by 3.

2 Texas A&M vs 7 Oklahoma State – After losing at home to Mizzou, OSU just went in the tank against ATM at Gallagher-Iba. OSU matches up poorly with ATM for one simple reason—ATM’s strengths are the same as OSU’s strengths, only stronger. Acie Law > JamesOn Curry, and while OSU probably has the single best defender in Marcus Dove, ATM’s team defense > OSU’s team defense. I see OSU showing up and playing pretty well here, but the matchup just doesn’t favor them. ATM by 4.

3 Texas vs 6 Missouri – Speaking of bad matchups...even though ATM just thumped us in College Station, I was still really hoping we’d end up matched up with them in the second round instead of Texas. The matchups just do not favor Mizzou in any way, shape, or form. Texas has a great ballhandler in Augustin, and needless to say they’ve got just a smidge of a scoring and rebounding presence inside. Mizzou would have remained competitive in Austin in January had Matt Lawrence and Stefhon Hannah been able to make the open looks they got in the first half, and since then Keon Lawrence has emerged as a scoring threat as well. IF those three are able to create some offense early, AND Stefhon Hannah is able to avoid foul trouble, Mizzou has a fighting chance. But as they’ve proven this year, they had lots of “fighting chances” and were rarely able to close. I love Mike Anderson, but I don’t think Mizzou is ready to win this game yet unless Texas is very much looking ahead to ATM on Saturday. Texas by 8.

1 Kansas vs 5 Texas Tech – So the only upsets I’ve picked so far are a 9 over an 8 and a 5 over a 4. I’m one brave prognosticator. I’m torn with this one. On one hand, a) Tech beat up on Kansas earlier this year...KU made it a game late, but Tech dictated the pace all game, and b) the last couple of years, Bobby Knight’s teams have overachieved in the postseason while Bill Self’s teams have not. However, on the other hand, c) see what I said above regarding Kansas’ level of play in rematches, and d) this isn’t the normal Bill Self team. Sherron Collins is making sure of that. I really really really want to pick Tech here, but I can’t. I’m too much of a weenie. KU by 5.

2 Texas A&M vs 3 Texas – BLOODBATH. I haven’t picked too many tight games so far, but if this game is half of what last week’s game in Austin was, then it will reverse that trend. Great matchups, and lots of explosiveness on both sides. ATM is about as mentally strong as a team can be at this point, but it seems like they’re only about 90-95% of where they were at about a month ago. At some point, having to prove your mental strength too many times wears you down—just ask Oklahoma State. However, ATM is infinitely deeper than OSU, and at this point, Billy Gillispie is a better coach than Sean Sutton. So I think ATM has more in the tank. ATM by 1.

1 Kansas vs 2 Texas A&M – I don’t know what to think about this game either, and it really will be relatively meaningless for both sides (by this point, KU will have locked up a 1-seed and ATM will have locked up a 2), so I’m simply going to attempt to jinx the Jayhawks. KU by 5.

Man, for somebody who loves upsets, I sure did wuss out on that one.

Now, for other NCAA thoughts...

The Bubble

We’ve got ourselves a pretty unique bubble this year. Near as I can tell, there are basically 18 teams battling for 8 tourney bids:

ACC – Clemson, Florida State
Atlantic 10 – Xavier, UMass
Big XII – Kansas State, Texas Tech
Big East – Syracuse, West Virginia
Big Ten – Illinois, Purdue, Michigan
Colonial – Old Dominion, Drexel
Missouri Valley – Missouri State (who will, from this point onward, always be referred to as SMS on this blog)
Mountain West – Air Force, San Diego State
Pac 10 – USC, Stanford

Now, some of these teams (everyone but SMS, ODU, and Drexel, actually) still have an opportunity to play their way into an automatic bid. But right now, about 8 (depending on conference tourney upset bids like Wright State) of them will get in. Looking at basic rules of thumb, most of these teams have a pretty strong case, so it will be interesting to see where they stand with the selection committee.

* Clemson and Florida State both had strong non-conference records, are in the RPI Top 50, and went at least 7-9 in the ACC.

* Xavier’s 13-3 in the A-10 and is up to 32 in the RPI (UMass also went 13-3, but their RPI is only 55).

* Kansas State has Bob Huggins and a winning Big XII record. Their RPI (60) hurts them, but 10-6 in the Big XII and 21-10 overall is usually enough to get in, especially for teams not
named Colorado.

* Texas Tech has Bob Knight and 3 wins against Top 10 teams. Nobody else can say that. Plus, their peripherals (9-7 / 20-11 / RPI #43) are strong.

* Syracuse went 10-6 in the Big East. That’s usually enough. West Virginia went 9-7 in the Big East, which is usually enough as well. However, the fact that the Big East has about 32 teams now means that teams’ conference schedules can vary wildly in toughness.

* Illinois’ peripherals (9-7 / 21-10 / #35) almost make them a shoo-in in some years. Same with Purdue’s (9-7 / 20-10 / #46). Michigan’s been playing good ball lately, but 8-8 in a weak Big Ten hurts their case considerably.

* The Colonial is riding an all-time high after George Mason’s run last year, and that could help Old Dominion (24-8, #40) and Drexel (22-8, #39). However, neither made the conference tourney finals (ODU was upset by, of all teams, George Mason), and that could hurt them. It’s damn near impossible to figure out how the committee will view these two teams.

* Missouri State, I mean, SMS (21-10, #38) might be viewed positively simply because they were just about the last team left out last year. However, they didn’t finish strong after a great non-conference showing (beat Wisconsin, almost beat Oklahoma State back when OSU was a good team), and getting whooped by Creighton in the MVC semis took them down quite a few notches. Can’t say I’d cry if they were left out again.

* Air Force (22-7, #25) is probably safe, especially after spending much of the season highly ranked, but they fell to a 4-seed in the Mountain West tourney, which doesn’t look good, and they’ll likely have a tough semifinal matchup against BYU. Lose badly in the semis (or in the quarters to Wyoming), and suddenly they’re on shaky ground.

* San Diego State, on the other hand, has come out of nowhere to post a 19-9 record, #54 RPI, and 3-seed in the MWC tourney. They probably haven’t gotten enough attention to warrant a bid, but their résumé stacks up surprisingly well.

* USC, like K-State, seems like they’ve accomplished more this year than they actually have. They have some good wins and bad losses, but 21-10 with a #53 RPI isn’t amazingly impressive. An 11-7 Pac 10 record probably gets them in, but I don’t think they’re as safe as some think they are. It would behoove them greatly not to lose tomorrow to Stanford (18-11, #56), who is on the outside looking in right now, in my eyes anyway. A lot of people have them safely in, but I just don't see it.

My pecking order at this exact moment is as follows:

Probably In
Air Force
Old Dominion

Probably Out
Kansas State
Texas Tech
San Diego State
Florida State
West Virginia

Looking at the schedule, only two of these teams had games today—Syracuse beat Uconn this afternoon and West Virginia vs Providence (if WV loses, they’re toast) tonight. Tomorrow, however, is huge.

* Clemson vs Florida State. Basically an elimination game. Whoever loses will have a lot of trouble making a case for themselves.

* Michigan vs Minnesota. If Michigan (or scUM, as my Mich State buddy calls them) beats Minnesota, then beats Ohio State on Friday, they’re in. Anything less, and they’re probably out.
Illinois vs Penn State. Obviously, if Illinois loses, they don’t deserve to be a tourney team. Beat Penn State, then Indiana, and they’re probably in. Lose to Indiana...yeah, I have no idea where they stand then.

* Texas Tech vs Colorado. Replace “Illinois” with “Texas Tech,” “Penn State” with “Colorado,” and “Indiana” with “Kansas State,” and there you have it.

* Xavier vs Dayton. If Xavier wins the A10 tourney, that opens up another at-large bid for somebody else. If they lose to somebody other than UMass along the way, they’re suddenly pretty shaky.

* UMass vs St. Louis/Duquesne. Same with Xavier, only shakier. They have a lot of ground to make up.

* Air Force vs Wyoming. For strange reasons, The Beef and I will be pulling HARD for Wyoming tonight. Back in 2002, when we drove to Albuquerque for the Ohio State/Mizzou game, the second game of that session was Wyoming/Arizona. Wyoming fans were the best combination of drunk and excited (but not too scary) I’d ever seen, and after Rickey Paulding’s dunk in the second half, the Wyoming fans were cheering for Mizzou every bit as loudly as the Mizzou fans. If Wyoming beats AFA tomorrow, we’ll have our chance to pay Wyoming fans back by attending the Mountain West semis in Vegas Friday night, cheering every bit as loud (and drunk) for them as they did for us.

* San Diego State vs Colorado State. If they beat CSU, then UNLV on Friday, suddenly they might have a strong chance of making the NCAAs (aside from the fact that they could win the auto bid). Until then, they’re still on the outside looking in.

* USC vs Stanford. Not quite an elimination game, at least not for USC, but close. Stanford needs to make the finals to have a strong chance, and USC just needs to win this one to feel safe.

And yes, I plan on watching ALL of these games in Vegas tomorrow. I rule.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to do a little typing in Vegas (that’s what people do in Vegas, right?). If not, I’ll post some thoughts upon arrival on Monday.

I know you’re a-twitter just thinking about it.