Posted on: March 7, 2012 2:00 pm
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NEC title game preview: Colonials vs. Blackbirds

We've got a repeat of the 2011 title game. Same teams, same location. Same result? If Long Island-Brooklyn wins, then yes. The Blackbirds ended a nearly 20-year NCAA tournament drought last season in a dramatic 85-82 overtime win. But Robert Morris has become the class of this league in the past half-decade.

Under Mike Rice, and now Andy Toole, the team is consistently in the top three of the NEC and always a threat to go to the NCAAs. It won the league in 2008, 2009 and 2010, going to the NCAA tournament those latter two years. The fact RMU is back again is a surprise for only this reason -- it's playing without its best player. Toole suspended Karon Abraham before the season started for violating team rules. It wasn't a five- or 10-game suspension. No, Toole told his guy he had to miss an entire year. And Abraham's taken it in stride. The team -- even more so. The team is 24-9; last year, it was 18-14.

Long Island-Brooklyn was the league's best this season, though. It is the No. 1, through and through, even if No. 2 Wagner wasn't far behind, the Blackbirds have the most talent. It went 16-2 in the league (Wagner was 15-3, RMU 13-5) and has the Player of the Year in Julian Boyd. Boyd's a joy to watch, as he's really versatile and could end up getting a shot in the NBA. What you'll want to watch: the tempo battle. LIU-Brooklyn averages 75 possessions per game, which is extremely high. It's third in the nation, in fact. RMU averages a full 10 possessions fewer per game.

The Colonials will want to drain the clock and keep it conversational in the half-court. Last year, it lost that battle for most of the game, and thus ended up losing. The teams met once this season, a 75-66 RMU win. If Boyd and Jamal Olasewere and LIU-Brooklyn point guard Jason Brickman play to their ceiling, the Blackbirds should somewhat comfortably win the rematch. If it's close, the Colonials' Verdell Jones will be the one involved. He leads the team in scoring (16.6 points per game) and is multi-dimensional on the offensive end.

-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:25 pm
 

Championship game preview: Patriot

Despite so many upsets in conference tournaments this year, the Patriot League has remained immune to the Cinderella bug. The two best teams during the regular season – Bucknell and Lehigh – will meet in the championship game on Wednesday night, and rightfully so.

The two teams have represented the league the past two seasons in the NCAA tournament, with Lehigh getting a bid in 2010 and Bucknell winning the championship last year. The two best players in the league – and the last three Patriot League Players of the Years – will also battle it out, in Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala.

It gets more intense. Bucknell and Lehigh split the two regular-season contests, with each winning on the opponent’s home floor. The title game will take place at Sojka Pavilion, on Bucknell’s campus.

The game will be a contrast of styles, as Lehigh would prefer to push the ball and get points in transition, while Bucknell bogs you down and plays a halfcourt contest. Lehigh gets a lot of its points by attacking the basket and getting fouled, so Bucknell needs to limit fouls and keep Muscala on the floor. The Bison also need to get out on Lehigh’s shooters. On the other side, Lehigh has to slow down Muscala on the inside, while also keeping an eye on Bucknell’s secondary options. It’s not all Muscala.

It could come down to whether Cameron Ayers can stifle McCollum. In the second meeting, McCollum beat him off the dribble and knocked down a game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds. What will happen in round three?

-- Jeff Borzello

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:00 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 1:23 pm
 

Podcast: Selection Sunday draws near

This is where I am right now. Good things are happening. Basketball is fun! (AP)

By Matt Norlander


No time to do a formal timestamping of topics today. Just know that I had to record this podcast with Goodman in his hotel room, and that Parrish still killed me over the Power Pyramid. We largely keep it to conference tournaments and Selection Sunday prognostication. Enjoy!

And again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast -- whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. 

MP3: click here to download the episode
Popout player: to pop out this podcast in a separate window

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:27 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 12:41 pm
 

Wednesday Big East lookahead

Wednesday feels the like real start of the Big East tournament. Before the league went to allowing 16 teams into the field a few years ago, the league championship always began on Wednesday. Now the better teams are playing and subsequently the matchups are more enticing/watchable. After a brutal Tuesday that featured four blowouts, here's what Wednesday's table setting looks like.

TOURNAMENT BRACKET

Connecticut (8) vs. West Virgina (9): Who needs it more? Since the Huskies have been inconsistent and unable to win three games in a row in 2012, Wednesday's game presents that opportunity. Many believe UConn's sputtered its way into the NCAAs regardless, but this victory would lock it up. And if that happened, how do we evaluate WVU? The Mountaineers don't have a lot of good wins on their schedule. If they lost here, are they in trouble? When you look at WVU, you see the microcosm of this year's Big East. Decent team, but nothing too amazing, and overall you're left questioning just how legitimate it is.

Georgetown (5) vs. Pittsburgh (13): Anyone else thinking Pittsburgh takes this? Georgetown's a good team, a sturdy team, but also a very beatable team. The Hoyas have been under the radar for most of the year after getting in that massive brawl in China last August. If the Hoyas win, you might see another story or two about that crop up and how it "brought the team closer together." Could be true, but playing in March has little residual effect from something in August, right? Pitt looked very good Tuesday night in its no-bones-about-it win over St. John's. Wouldn't it be so Big East tournament-like if the Panthers not only won this game, but made a run to the semis? I could see it happening.

Louisville (7) vs. Seton Hall (10): The 7 p.m. Wednesday night tip has a lot of drama behind it. Rick Pitino was Kevin Willard's mentor/boss for a decade. Now Willard and his team needs a clinching win over Louisville to ensure itself of a bid. Getting it in this spot will be tough -- but maybe not as tough as it seems, purely from a basketball standpoint. The Pirates' Jordan Theodore is the best guard on the floor, and Louisville has dropped three of its past five. Earlier this season, the Cardinals beat the Pirates, 60-51.

South Florida (6) vs. Villanova (14): Now this is interesting if you consider: What if South Florida loses? It won 12 Big East games, but it did it against the statistically weakest schedule in the league. It lacks a lot of good wins. If it loses its first Big East tournament game? We'll have a very interesting test case on our hands. No Big East team with 12 wins has ever been left out of the NCAAs. And even though Villanova is down this season, I still trust Jay Wright's team to handle itself and give full effort at this time of the year.

-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 8:59 am
 

Wakeup Call: Other tournament fields released

The leaders of the Big East ring in the Tuesday bell at the NYSE. (Big East)

By Matt Norlander
and Jeff Borzello

★ Parrish's Knucklehead Rule wins again. Jelan Kendrick is suspended for the SEC tournament.

★ Virginia freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon is out for the rest of the season with a broken bone in his foot.

★ Duke announced forward Ryan Kelly would miss the ACC tournament after suffering a right foot sprain.

★ The much-anticipated annual Glue Guy Team from Seth Davis.

★ This high school buzzer-beater video of Bullitt East High School in Kentucky has EVERYTHING. I've watched it five times.

★ We will see this debate more this season, with several favorites bowing out early. But do we really need conference tournaments?

★ Damn. That's a good job, Andy Katz. Checking in with one of the surviving members of Harvard's 1946 NCAA tournament team.

★ And Jeff Eisenberg got the Western Kentucky coach on the horn Tuesday night after the team amazingly earned its auto bid.

★ According to reports, the Pac-12 is likely moving its conference tournament to Las Vegas next season. The Mountain West, WCC and WAC are already there.

★ Want to know how your school can improve its APR? Here are a few ideas.

★ In case you missed it, the NCAA will reveal its official 1-68 S-Curve after the selections are announced.

★ USA Basketball announced the 10 players that will represent it in the Nike Hoop Summit.

★ The NCAA is still deciding between four venues for the next year’s East Regional.

★ Villanova, Purdue, Alabama and Oregon State will headline next season's 2K Sports Classic in New York City.

CBE Classic announced its four host schools for next season would be Kansas, Saint Louis, Texas A&M and Washington State. Those four will meet Nov. 19-20 in Kansas City.

★ West Virginia vs. Michigan will headline the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center next December.
► Didn't you hear? Naters gonna Nate, so Wolters and the Jackrabbits are in the NCAAs. Here's how he does.



♬ I'll be listening to this on my way subway ride over to Madison Square Garden this morning.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:42 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 12:54 am
 

What-to-know conference previews: Big West

The Big West is always one of the more intriguing conferences in the country. It normally produces a high-scoring, up-tempo outfit that plenty of people pick as an upset special in the NCAA tournament. This season, Long Beach State is that team – but the 49ers are legitimate.

Long Beach State received publicity throughout the preseason and non-conference season for its schedule. The 49ers played North Carolina, Kansas, Kansas State Louisville, San Diego State and others, getting wins over Pittsburgh and Xavier. They are battle-tested, despite coming up one win short of an undefeated regular-season campaign, losing to Cal State Fullerton in the season finale.

The 49ers have myriad weapons, led by Player of the Year Casper Ware. He’s one of the most explosive guards in the country. Head coach Dan Monson also has Defensive Player of the Year Larry Anderson and double-double lock T.J. Robinson at his disposal. Eugene Phelps and James Ennis are also threats.

This isn’t a lock for Long Beach State, though. UC Santa Barbara has a high-scoring duo in Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally, and the Gauchos slow the game down and contest shots on the defensive end. Cal State Fullerton can really fill it up, and the Titans have won 11 of their last 13 games. Kwame Vaughn and D.J. Seeley can really stroke it from deep, and Omondi Amoke is consistent inside.

If you’re looking for a sleeper, UC-Riverside could be an option. The Highlanders play really stiff defense, contesting shots both inside and outside the arc. They have won three of their last four, and knocked off UC Santa Barbara and Washington State earlier this season.

Long Beach State wouldn’t be a lock for the NCAA tournament if the season ended today; the 49ers need the automatic bid as much as the rest of the Big West.

Dan Monson and Long Beach State might need to win the automatic bid to get into the NCAA tournament. (US Presswire)

****

TOURNAMENT BRACKET

Title game: Saturday, March 10 on ESPN2 (10:00 p.m., ET)

BEST PLAYERS

  1. Casper Ware, Long Beach State
  2. Orlando Johnson, UC Santa Barbara
  3. Larry Anderson, Long Beach State
  4. D.J. Seeley, Cal State Fullerton
  5. Phil Martin, UC Riverside

Conference RPI: 24

KenPom.com rating: 21

Sagarin rating: 21

NCAA Tournament Locks: None

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: Long Beach State

Last NCAA Tournament Appearances

  • Cal Poly Mustangs: Zero appearances.
  • Cal State Fullerton Titans: 2008, No. 14 seed, lost to Wisconsin 71-56 in the first round.
  • Long Beach State 49ers: 2007, No. 12 seed, lost to Tennessee 121-86 in the first round.
  • Pacific Tigers: 2006, No. 13 seed, lost to Boston College 88-76 in the first round.
  • UC Davis Aggies: Zero appearances.
  • UC Irvine Anteaters: Zero appearances.
  • UC Riverside Highlanders: Zero appearances.
  • UC Santa Barbara Gauchos: 2011, No. 15 seed, lost to Florida 79-51 in the first round.

- Jeff Borzello

Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:33 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 12:47 am
 

What-to-know conference previews: Big Ten

They played 18 league games and couldn't settle it.

So let's settle it in Indianapolis.

The Big Ten Tournament starts there Thursday -- Will the city be over Peyton Manning by then? -- with four games that do not feature one of the three co-champions -- namely Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan. The Buckeyes' victory at Michigan State on Sunday created the three-way tie for first. It also probably cost the Spartans a shot at a No. 1 seed, but they'll still get a two seed as long as they don't do something stupid in Indianapolis (like lose Friday to Illinois or Iowa).

What about Wisconsin and Indiana?

It honestly won't surprise me if either wins this event because both are legitimate Top 20 teams, too. That's why Friday's quarterfinals should be great and Saturday's semifinals greater. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Thursday's first-round games provide some nice storylines, too.



TOURNAMENT BRACKET

Iowa (8) vs. Illinois (9): Each time I talk to somebody in basketball they ask me who's gonna get the Illinois job, which suggests nobody thinks Bruce Weber will coach in the Big Ten next season. And that's too bad. Weber is a good coach and a good man. But he stayed in one place too long, and now he's on his way out. He might beat Iowa on Thursday but he won't beat Michigan State on Friday.

Indiana (5) vs. Penn State (12): Indiana started the regular season as a borderline NCAA Tournament team and ended the regular season as a No. 4 seed, according to my colleague Jerry Palm. So that's a good season. It'll get better when the Hoosiers handle Penn State on Thursday. It'll get a lot better if the Hoosiers handle Wisconsin on Friday.

Northwestern (7) vs. Minnesota (10): A win here might be enough for Northwestern to secure its first trip to the NCAA Tournament. So win here, Northwestern. Just win here and make everybody (outside of Minnesota) happy. Tubby's been to enough NCAA Tournaments. It's your time, Wildcats. Don't screw this up.

Purdue (6) vs. Nebraska (11): The Boilermakers are in a strange spot. They could win this game and probably get off the 8-9 line for the NCAA Tournament or lose this game and definitely get off the 8-9 line for the NCAA Tournament. So what should they do? They should try to win, obviously. But a loss wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. An eight seed or a nine seed would be the worst thing in the world. That's all I'm saying.

-- By Gary Parrish
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:36 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 11:40 pm
 

Tiny Dancers: South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Just five seasons into their Division I existence, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits have made their first NCAA tournament.

Oh, it is glorious. How do you not love a name like Jackrabbits? College basketball is better because one day long ago a bunch of men and women came together and agreed upon such a moniker.

South Dakota State fought to an ugly overtime win in the Summit final Tuesday night over Western Illinois, another program that was trying to get into its first NCAA tournament. But South Dakota State gets there, and if they're rewarded with a decent seed and a shaky major-conference team, this could be an under-the-radar upset pick. The Jackrabbits went into Washington a week before Christmas and killed the Huskies, 92-73. Nate Wolters is a big point guard with a varied, reliable skill set -- that faulted him in the title game -- is capable of jacking up 35 like it's his business. He was just 5-of-22 for 14 points in the Summit final, though, and a repeat performance of that in the NCAAs means SDSU will be one and done.

And how about this: The appearance for South Dakota State means there is only state, Maine, that is yet to have a school be repped in the NCAA tournament at some point during the history of the event.


Player to know: Nate Wolters. And after I was roundly mocked by my colleagues at CBSSports.com for wanting to include Jackrabbits junior guard Nate Wolters on our Top 100 Players list in October, I have been avenged! And they are ruing that day! Rue it, Jeff Goodman! Wolters is exactly the kind of player who can make a nation fall in love with one performance. He's the team's point guard, but he accounts for so much of the offense.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 27-7 overall, 15-3 in Summit League
  • Most recent tournament appearance: N/A
  • We’re thinking: 14 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 49
  • Sagarin ranking: 59
  • RPI: 50
  • Best wins: at Washington, vs. Oral Roberts
  • Worst losses: at North Dakota, at South Dakota
  • Notable stat: The Jackrabbits aren't that fast (in fact, at 66 possessions per game, they're about average), but they do take care of the ball very well, and that's because of Wolters. Turning it over at a 15.7 percent rate, SDSU is No. 4 in the nation in protecting itself from offensive mistakes. 

-- Matt Norlander

Category: NCAAB
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com