College Basketball Nation: Denver

Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Embrace the conference tournament fever! Here's Monday night's rundown.

William & Mary vs. Old Dominion, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Who's ready for their close up? William & Mary and Old Dominion will play for the CAA Championship in Richmond, Va., tonight, a game that will be broadcast is as primetime a college hoops spot as possible. For many of you, it will be your first glimpse of two CAA teams on the court at the same time all year. What better time to study up than now? In that spirit, here's three important things to know about tonight's game. Impress your friends, or something:

  1. William & Mary has beaten every CAA team at least once in 2009-10 ... except for Old Dominion. The Monarchs beat the Tribe (let's take a second and appreciate just how awesome each of these teams' nicknames are, because they are awesome) twice this year, the first a three-point squeaker at William & Mary, the second a 19-point blowout at ODU.
  2. Old Dominion is far and away the more efficient team: The Monarchs are ranked No. 34 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rating, a full 80 spots ahead of William & Mary. Besides being the best offensive rebounding team per possession in the country (eat your heart out, West Virginia), the Monarchs make their bones on defense, where they're No. 18 in the nation, and where they hold opponents to 30.1 percent shooting from three. This is bad news for William & Mary, who rank fourth in the country in their ratio of 3-point attempts to field goal attempts; the Tribe shoot a tremendous amount of 3-point attempts, and if ODU can close out on shooters well, it could be a tough offensive night for the underdog.
  3. And what underdogs they are. Per ESPN researcher Jeremy Lundblad: "Since the advent of major college basketball -- or what we now call Division I -- in 1947-48, many teams have come and some have left D-I. However, only five have been playing major college basketball that whole time and never made the NCAA tournament. Northwestern, Army, William & Mary, Saint Francis (NY) and The Citadel were all part of the original 160 teams in D-I, but they were a collective 0-310 in trying to make the NCAA tournament entering this season." That number is now 0-313, as the Citadel, Army, and St. Francis have all bowed out of their respective conference tournaments. That leaves William & Mary fighting for their first NCAA tournament bid in history, a record that spans not only their own misfortunes but the misfortunes of several other clubs. Can the streak be broken? It'll be fun to find out.

St. Mary's vs. No. 14 Gonzaga, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The more things change, the more Gonzaga beats St. Mary's to win the WCC conference tournament outright. I'm pretty sure that's how that saying goes. OK, maybe not, but it certainly applies: The Gaels are in the exact same position they were last year -- stuck on the bubble and needing a win over the hated Bulldogs to ensure an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. The Gaels are in better shape than in 2009, though: Joe Lunardi has St. Mary's in as a No. 11 seed already. Last year required a hurried return from injury from star player Patty Mills, and it didn't matter. Gonzaga rolled over St. Mary's in the conference title game, ending the Gaels' long-shot hopes of sneaking into the tournament with one dominant 40-minute stretch of basketball. This year is a slightly different story -- St. Mary's is looking like an at-large team with or without tonight's win. But don't for a second think St. Mary's doesn't want to improve their seed, not to mention dish out a little bit of revenge for years of Bulldog dominance out west.

Everywhere else: Siena's at-large chances died with their BracketBusters loss to Butler, but if the Saints can complete their run through the MAAC tournament with a win over Fairfield in tonight's championship game, it won't matter ... When I think Appalachian State, I think "upset"; the Wofford Terriers would very much like to avoid any such thing in the SoCon title game ... the 16-14 IPFW Mastodons will face Oakland in one of the Summit League semifinals, while Oral Roberts and IUPUI do battle in the other ... Western Kentucky will look to get one step closer to going back to the NCAA tournament in its Sun Belt semifinal match up with Troy ... and Denver will face North Texas in the other half of Hot Springs's bracket.

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