For the first time so far in Champ Week, form held last night in the conference tournaments. The top-seeded Wofford Terriers and Iona Gaels clinched bids from the Southern Conference and the MAAC, respectively. With five more bids on the line tonight, we’re just getting started with a thrilling week of hoops. Really, I (and other college hoops aficinados) will tell you that the conference tournaments are just as exciting as the NCAA tournament.
On that note, let’s talk about Motor City Madness! This was my first live postseason experience, taking in the semifinals last night. The first game, which featured the 1-seed Wright State knocking off the 4-seed Green Bay, featured a 20-point lead by Wright State early in the second half shrinking to 4 points in a matter of minutes. Wright State went on to win by 12, but the next game embodied the chaos and the emotional roller coaster that we love about March.
In the second Horizon League semifinal, the 3-seed Oakland got off to a hot start against the favored 2-seed, Northern Kentucky, jumping out to a 28-11 lead. But, Oakland went ice-cold after that, looking confused by some different defensive looks by NKU. Foul trouble for Oakland’s center, Brad Brechting, didn’t help, as the rim wasn’t sufficiently protected for most of the second half. Next thing you know, that 17-point lead had become an 11-point deficit, as NKU took a 61-50 lead with 4 minutes to go.
But, we were just getting started. Brechting had come back into the game a couple minutes prior, enabling Oakland’s defense to get some desperately needed stops down the stretch. A series of threes from Jaevin Cumberland and Trey Maddox cut the lead to 61-59 with about a minute to go. The excitement was building in the mostly pro-Oakland crowd, spilling over into euphoria when Cumberland calmly sank two free throws to put Oakland ahead 63-61 with 9 seconds left. This seemed unfathomable just a few minutes earlier!
And then, in a familiar scene this time of year, Northern Kentucky’s Drew McDonald was left open behind the long line, and he knocked down a 3 with 1.6 seconds left to give NKU a 64-63 lead. Oakland’s amazing comeback went to waste, as the subsequent desperation shot from three-quarter court was no good. What a game, and what an effort from both squads. I can only hope for another game this good when I attend the final tonight.
As we get into today’s projection, some distinctions between teams are looking clearer. Let’s get to it, and then I’ll offer some thoughts on how I see the field solidifying right now in another post later this afternoon.
Clinched bids yesterday: Wofford, Iona
In since yesterday: Arizona State
Out since yesterday: North Carolina State
I’ve bolded auto-qualifiers, and noted moves up or down in parentheses following the team’s name.
1s: Virginia, Gonzaga, Kentucky, North Carolina
2s: Duke, Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan
3s: LSU, Texas Tech, Houston, Purdue
4s: Kansas, Florida State, Kansas State, Wisconsin
5s: Marquette, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Mississippi State
6s: Villanova, Auburn, Cincinnati, Buffalo (+1)
7s: Wofford, Nevada, Iowa State (-1), Louisville
8s: Oklahoma, Iowa, Ole Miss, UCF (+1)
9s: VCU (-1), Baylor, Syracuse, Washington
10s: Seton Hall, Minnesota, Utah State, St. John’s
11s: Indiana, Ohio State, Florida, TCU (+1)
12s: Temple (-1), Creighton, Clemson, Arizona State (new), Murray State, Liberty
13s: New Mexico State, UC-Irvine, Vermont, Hofstra
14s: Old Dominion, Yale, Georgia State, Northern Kentucky
15s: Montana, Bucknell, Nebraska-Omaha, Gardner-Webb
16s: Bradley, Sam Houston State, Texas Southern, Iona, Norfolk State, St. Francis-PA
Last Four Byes: Indiana, Ohio State, Florida, TCU (+1)
Last Four In: Temple (-1), Creighton, Clemson, Arizona State (new)
First Four Out: Belmont (+1), North Carolina State, Alabama, Furman (+1)
Next Four Out: Georgetown (-1), Lipscomb, UNC-Greensboro (-1), Texas
Still Alive but Hanging by a Thread: Dayton, Memphis, St. Mary’s, Toledo, Oregon, Fresno State, Davidson, Xavier, Providence
Enjoy the games, and look for my detailed breakdown of the teams later today. Check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!