Friday, March 12, 2010
Saddle Up: Five about Friday
By Eamonn Brennan
Saddle Up is our daily preview of the day's best basketball action. We're officially into that oh-so-awesome part of the season when a healthy portion of your daily hoops regimen will be happening, you know, during the day, necessitating Saddle Up's move to the morning. So let's do this.
Just like Wednesday and Thursday, let's open Friday with five themes to watch for as the conference tournaments heat up.
1. The Patriot League -- the L-ingest league in the world. Apparently, a precursor for success in the 2009-2010 Patriot League conference tournament involves a name that starts with the letter "L." Hey, I don't make the rules. I merely report them. But is there any other conclusion to draw from the Patriot League final, a matchup of No. 3 seed Lafayette and No. 1 seed Lehigh? With the exception of the various at-large bids being traded back and forth by sundry bubble teams, the Patriot League final is today's only surefire tournament bid producer, the lone automatic qualifier decided Friday. Thus far, this week's automatic qualifiers have almost uniformly survived down-to-the-wire games to get to the tournament. Let's hope the Patriot League finale is no different.
2. Don't know what I want, but I know how to get it. Anarchy in the Big East! Every top seed in the Big East tournament but West Virginia lost Thursday, which leaves us with the rather random pairings of Marquette-Georgetown and Notre Dame-West Virginia, and it's officially anyone's tournament. It's hard not to like West Virginia, which stumbled late against Cincinnati but hit a last-second Da'Sean Butler three to get past a suddenly pesky Cincinnati team. West Virginia is the most athletic team left in the bracket, and now has a clear opportunity to do what Butler said they were planning on doing when the Mountaineers finished their season-closing win at Villanova last Saturday -- win the Big East tournament and get a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. Notre Dame is no simple matchup though; it will be interesting to see if West Virginia's length can disrupt a suddenly potent Irish offense.
3. Quick: Give me two words you hate to hear if you're either Ole Miss or a Wall Street banker. SEC and bubble. See what I did there? Really, though, the Ole Miss Fighting Admiral Ackbars had the best day of their season in a while yesterday. While other SEC teams (better ones, like Tennessee) duked it out in the first round of the tournament, geographically fortuitous Ole Miss sat back and watched the action unfold. By the end of the day, thanks to teams like Memphis and UAB helpfully losing, Mississippi was promoted into the NCAA tournament by one Mr. Joe Lunardi. Now comes the real work: Actually winning a game in the SEC tournament and holding on to that spot. The Rebels will face Tennessee today, and a win would bolster what to me looks like a pretty shaky tournament case. A loss? Say bye-bye.
4. Three cheers for chalk! Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy a good conference tournament upset as much as the next person who loves college basketball with a deep, burning, passionate, unquenchable love. But it's also nice to see the de facto best teams in a conference duke it out in that conference tournament's semifinals. That's what we've got in the Big 12 today, where No. 1 seed Kansas will take on No. 4 seed Texas A&M and No. 2 seed Kansas State gets No. 3 seed Baylor. Look out for the Bears here -- no team has inspired quite so many "I think this team is dangerous!" comments in our last two days of live-chatting, and the Bears' late-night win over Texas proved why. Baylor is deep, athletic, balanced and smart. They score. This tournament is still Kansas' to win, and unlike its Big East counterpart, there is no parity to discuss here. Just dominance at the top. Refreshing, huh?
5. You're watching the Mountain West tournament, right? Because you should be watching the Mountain West tournament. Unfortunately for those of us who don't live in America's most beautiful 1,000 square miles or so and thus don't get The Mtn., the Mountain West's take on the Big Ten Network, watching the early rounds of the Mountain West tournament has been a challenge. HOWEVA, if you have CBS College Sports -- which comes on a sports tier package with cable providers and DirecTV -- you can watch the rest of the tournament, as Mountain West games have switched over to the more available network. This is a good thing. Why? Because Jimmer Fredette is doing ridiculous things with the ball in his hand, for one. He scored 45 points in Thursday night's win over TCU. (That's almost half of his team's 95, by the way.) On the other side of the bracket, New Mexico and San Diego State will duke it out, the Aztecs with an NCAA tournament bid on the line. So, yeah, find a TV, and make sure that TV has plenty of channels.