Now that was we have been waiting for! A great finish to a day full of games that would have excited even the most passive of fans. We punched two more tickets to the NCAA Tournament, saw one major conference upset and saw Rick Pitino and his merry bunch of Cardinals have a quick exit from Madison Square Garden. A quick overview:
BIG SKY CONFERENCE FINAL: Montana 66 Weber State 65
The game of Championship Week happened in, of all places, Ogden, Utah where Montana rose from the ashes on the back of the new Harold "The Show" Arceneaux, Anthony Johnson of Montana, who scored a Big Sky Tournament record 42 points, leading the Grizzlies to an unbelievable comeback against Weber State on their home floor. Johnson had eight points at halftime and then exploded for 34 in the second half, causing Bob Valvano to utter so many words of amazement that he forgot to plug his radio show and drop names of his famous friends. The Grizzlies were down 20 points at half and those of us watching at home (at the time me, Seth Davis, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and the old guy who wears sweatpants to all of the high school games in your town), were ready to put the game to rest and go to bed. Johnson however took over, scoring on a variety of circus shots and making himself unstoppable in a 20 minute display that was as good of a performance as you will see in a major college basketball game. The Grizzlies now make their 8th trip to the NCAA Tournament and the boys from Weber State have to deal with the dual heartache of losing a game they should of won AND living in Ogden, Utah. Pray for them.
NORTHEAST CONFERENCE FINAL: Robert Morris 52 Quinniapac 50
Montana was not the only school to win on the road however, as Robert Morris made the trip to Quinniapac University and took out another conference favorite, 52-50. The game was a nailbiter throughout and came down to a late basket by Robert Morris that brought the masses to their feet and made them forget about the fact that they had no idea where they were or what a "Quinniapac" actually is. For Quinniapac, it was their chance to make the first NCAA Tournament in school history, and the loss ends one of the most successful seasons since the school went Division I. True story about Quinniapac. I once bet a girl I was dating in college whether or not "Quinniapac" was a real name of a college in the United States. She insisted it was not, we bet and I won. It was a great prize and one that I still remember fondly....making Quinnipac a secret favorite of mine for years to come. For Robert Morris, a loss to a #2 seed awaits.
TWO MAJOR CONFERENCE UPSETS: Missouri and Louisville
Two of the more perplexing teams in college basketball went down on Wednesday, as #5 seed Missouri was beaten by woeful Nebraska and Louisville lost to Cincinnati. For Missouri, the loss was more embarassing than hurtful, as they are safely in the tournament and Mike Anderson's moustache still has a chance to create postseason havoc. But the Tigers had dreams of making a run in the Big 12 Tournament and improving their seeding in the NCAA, and those dreams have been husked by the fighting Tommie Fraziers. As for Louisville, it was a tale of two halves, mirroring the sporaticness of the season thus far for the Cards. Louisville led by 11 at the half and seemed to have the game under control, when Cincinnati began a second-half offensive board domination that allowed it to take the lead and hold on down the stretch for the three point victory. The Cards only had 2 points scored in the second half from players not named Edgar Sosa or Samardo Samuels, and key missed free throws cost them the game and their pride. For the Bearcats, an NCAA berth likely requires a tournament win and their next task will be a battle against West Virginia and Bob Huggins' tracksuit.
Most of the other games held to form, with the best team winning and setting up a great day of Thursday action. A little peak ahead:
Big Day in the Big East
There are no finals in any conference on Thursday, which means it is all big boys going at each other in the beginnings of major conference tournaments. The biggest of the big will be in New York, where a great day of basketball is headed to the Garden. Georgetown and Syracuse renew their age-old rivalry to start the day, followed by Marquette vs Villanova, Pitt vs Notre Dame and West Virginia vs Cincinnati. If you could be anywhere in America to watch basketball on Thursday, you would choose New York City.
Tournament Play Kicks off in the SEC, ACC and Big Ten
Patiently waiting their turn after the start of all the other conference championships, the last three major conferences tip off on Thursday. Duke and Maryland are the favorites in the ACC Tournament, although teams like Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech need to quietly make a run to ensure their NCAA standing. Kentucky will bring its Big Blue powers to Nashville for a ticket that may be the toughest in the Tournament's recent history. While Ohio State and Michigan State will be attempting to create another rematch in the Finals in Chicago for Big Ten glory.
All told, Thursday will be the busiest of all days of Championship Week, with every major conference in action, and games coming from secondary conferences like the Atlantic Ten, WAC, Mountain West and Conference USA as well. We will have every moment covered here, and after Thursday's action, the entire scene for Selection Sunday will become much clearer.