Old School – Mini-Madness, Conference Tournaments, and UCLA’s fall from greatness

Duke and North Carolina will play the return match at Cameron Indoor this Saturday, and while that will get plenty of attention, this weekend will see many teams punch their ticket into the NCAA tournament. Conference tournaments are already underway, as the Horizon League began their tournament Tuesday night (Make sure you read our special sneak peek article from the spring issue on Butler’s Ronald Nored), and the madness is starting to pick up some steam.

Sports Spectrum will be holding another NCAA bracket challenge this year, with the winner receiving a special Sports Spectrum prize package. Details coming soon!

The week that was

- Indiana notched their third top 5 win of the season, beating #5 Michigan State 70-55 Tuesday night. Considering Indiana has beaten the first, second, and fifth ranked teams this season, it would not be a surprise to see IU in the Final Four.

- Vanderbilt played one of their best games of the season Tuesday night, dropping Florida 77-67. Vanderbilt is a dangerous tournament team that could make a deep run. Florida (22-8 overall) on the other hand, has been very Jekyll and Hyde this season. When they shoot well from outside they are good, but when they don’t, they can lose to anybody (Rutgers, Tennessee twice, Georgia). In fact, there aren’t really many big wins on their resume, they’ve lost the big games against UK, Ohio State and Syracuse and really just have good wins against Vanderbilt and Florida State. It will be interesting to see how the selection committee seeds the Gators.

- Wisconsin downed Ohio State in Columbus Saturday, 63-60, and Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan had an interesting post game speech:

- Xavier blew another opportunity to solidify its tournament resume by losing to Saint Louis Tuesday night, 70-59. It’s hard to fathom that they were once undefeated and ranked eighth until the brawl with Cincinnati. Right now, they might need to win the Atlantic 10 conference tournament in order to make it to the NCAAs. So much for my preseason Final Four pick…

March Madness Word of the Week

Mini-Madness (noun)

  • 1. A miniature version of the big NCAA tournament. Also known as: Conference Tournaments.
  • 2. The condition Super Mario gets when he runs into a Gumba and becomes regular Mario.

Conference Tournaments

This weekend and next will be the appetizer to the main course. The bigger conference tourneys mean more for seeding and positioning in the NCAA tournament, but for most teams across the land, the conference tournament championship is the only ticket into the big dance. With so much on the line with dreams simultaneously shattering and coming true, any conference tournament is a good watch. But in case you can’t watch every single minute of the action, here are the tournaments you should make a point to watch this weekend:

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament (March 1-4)

Dubbed as “Arch Madness,” the MVC tournament takes place in St. Louis. Due to the strong season the Missouri Valley had, it’s a must watch. Creighton and Wichita State have led the pack, but there are five teams that tied for third place with a 9-9 conference record. A third bid will come out of the MVC if Creighton or Wichita State (both locks for the NCAAs) do not win the conference tournament. This tournament should produce the highest quality basketball of the weekend.

Favorite(s): Wichita State, Creighton

Contenders: Indiana State, Northern Iowa, Illinois State, Drake, Evansville, Missouri State

Horizon League Tournament (Feb. 28 – March 6)

Can Butler can defend it’s crown? Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs have had trouble scoring all season long, but won five of their last six in the regular season and won their first round game against Wright State Tuesday night. Winning the tournament is Butler’s only hope of getting back to the NCAA’s for another miracle run. Bryce Drew led Valparaiso to the Horizon League regular season title in his first year as head coach. Drew’s shot from his 90’s Valpo team gets replayed every year, can he create new March memories as head coach?

Favorite: Valparaiso

Contenders: Cleveland State, Butler, Milwaukee, Detroit

Southern Conference Tournament (March 2-5)

The story of this conference tournament is whether or not Davidson can win it. The Wildcats have lost a few games in conference play, so they are vulnerable, but have big time potential in the NCAA tournament, as they knocked off probable number one seed Kansas early this season. No one else in this conference has that kind of potential and unfortunately, Davidson will not be an at-large team if they lose.

Favorite: Davidson

Contenders: Wofford, Charleston

Ohio Valley Conference Tournament (February 29 – March 3)

Will Murray State win?. If they don’t, they will still make the NCAA tournament based on their very strong record and resume, which will burst the bubble of some team out there and make the Ohio Valley a two-bid conference.

Favorite: Murray State

Contenders: Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, Morehead State

Colonial Athletic Conference Tournament (March 2-5)

Three teams have been the first class of the CAA this year: Drexel, VCU, and George Mason. It’s hard to say if any of these teams will make it as an at-large, as VCU did last year, so to erase any doubt, these teams will be gunning hard for the tournament crown. Drexel has won 17 games in a row, and VCU is coming off of a big win against George Mason at home. This will be a fun one.

Favorites: Drexel, VCU, George Mason

Contenders: Old Dominion, Delaware, Georgia State

West Coast Conference Tournament (February 29 – March 5)

The West Coast Conference has been dominated by Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga, and BYU all season long. These three teams have all locked up NCAA at-large bids for the most part, with only BYU on somewhat shaky ground. If Loyola Marymount or San Francisco can upset the field and BYU doesn’t flop in the first round, we could see a four-bid West Coast Conference, which would probably be a first.

Favorites: Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga, BYU

Contenders: Loyola Marymount, San Francisco

The end for Ben Howland?

UCLA has had it rough lately, going just 53-42 in the past 3 seasons. A recent report in Sports Illustrated suggests that head coach Ben Howland has lost control of the team. The report talks about immaturity amongst its players, using drugs and alcohol before practice, fighting between teammates and many other discipline issues that have been attributed to the downfall of the program. Many feel that Howland has not been proactive enough in trying to rectify these problems. Considering that UCLA will most likely miss the NCAA tournament again and this highly publicized SI article breaking, it’s hard to imagine Howland remaining the coach of the Bruins. It hard to fathom that it’s fallen apart so fast, considering Howland led UCLA to three straight Final Four appearances in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

The week that will be

Wednesday

Iowa State at #8 Missouri - Missouri has lost two games in a row, and this one won’t be easy against a very game Iowa State team.

Northwestern at #11 Ohio State – Northwestern fans are looking for their first NCAA tournament bid ever. Ohio State has been vulnerable of late, it may be the perfect time for Northwestern to get the marquee win that they need.

#17 UNLV at Colorado State – Colorado State is on the bubble and a big win against UNLV may be the final bullet they need to add to their resume.

Miami at NC State – Miami is on the right side of the bubble for now, NC State is on the wrong side. Sounds like a recipe for a good game.

Thursday

#22 Florida State at Virginia – Both teams have been sliding of late and could use a win against a good team.

New Mexico State at Nevada - Nevada and New Mexico State are one and two in the WAC. This could be a preview of the WAC tournament championship.

Saturday

#18 Louisville at #2 Syracuse – The first game in this series came down to a Louisville turnover in the final moments. I would expect another close one in the Carrier Dome.

#6 North Carolina at #3 Duke – Revenge should be on the minds of the Tar Heels after losing in dramatic fashion at home in the Dean Dome.

#12 Georgetown at #7 Marquette – Buzz Williams dancing everyone:

#10 Baylor at Iowa State - Iowa State head coach “The Mayor” Fred Hoiberg has done an outstanding job molding a bunch of transfer players into a tournament bound team. A home win against Baylor would be a good send off into the Big 12 tournament.

Wyoming at #17 UNLV – Multiple bids will come out of the Mountain West. How many could depend on the result of this game.

#23 San Diego State at TCU – See above.

Sunday

#1 Kentucky at #13 Florida - Florida could erase all of their disappointing losses by giving Kentucky their first conference loss.

#11 Ohio State at #5 Michigan State – Ohio State fans will feel better about the postseason if they can get some revenge and beat Tom Izzo’s squad.

Purdue at #20 Indiana - Purdue is likely in the tournament, but it couldn’t hurt to beat in-state rival Indiana.