Posted on: March 6, 2009 11:11 am

Tournament Spotlight: CAA

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The conference championships started this past week, which means the bracket picture is solidifying. We already know one team that will be in the tournament and that is Cornell, thanks to a postseason-free Ivy League where the regular season champ gets the bid. And while the bigger conference tournaments won't start until next week, there is some good action already beginning.

Most people don't care about these tournaments. They want to watch the Big East and the ACC. If you ask me, however, I rather watch the small tournaments; the ones with meaning. Who wants to watch a Big East tourney where every team who makes it to the quarterfinals is probably going dancing anyway. Whereas in the tournaments of the Patriot League and Big South Conference, it's do or die time. The winner goes dancing. The losers gets to sit around during the last days of winter.

One of these do-or-die tournaments will be the CAA. Usually the CAA is solid enough where at least a few times who lose will be on the fence for a conference bid. But with the crowded March Madness picture the way it is, the only team in the CAA with any kind of at-large hopes should they lose the tournament is VCU, and those would be some excruiciatingly long odds. So what do you get when with a conference with three 20-win teams playing for one spot? You get some great basketball.

This year, the CAA tournament has been reshaped. Whereas in years past only the top 8 teams in the regular season standings came to the tournament, this year all 12 teams come to play in Richmond, VA, the state's capital, giving the top 4 teams a first-round bye.

These four teams, the one-seed VCU, two-seed George Mason, three-seed Old Dominion, and four-seed Northeastern, look to be the only four legitimate contenders for the title. Although with dark horse William & Mary advancing to the championship last year and almost stealing the conference's one automatic bid, anything can go.

VCU is the odds-on favorite to win it all. Senior Guard Eric Maynor is named once again the conference's player of the year. Likely NBA-bound after the season, he is easily the most dangerous player in the tournament. However, VCU, the No. 1 seed last year, too, was knocked out in the first round of the tournament last year by William & Mary, leaving the school with something to prove this year. They'll play the winner of the Georgia State-Delaware game. If they draw the Blue Hens on Saturday it could shape up to be a great game as the two teams split wins in the regular season each winning on their homecourt.

George Mason, last year's champion, comes into the tournament as one of the three 20-win teams in the conference. As the two-seed, conventional wisdom would suggest they would meet VCU in the tournament. The Patriots lost their only game to VCU this year in Richmond, and would likely be seeking redemption if they were to be so fortunate as to meet VCU once again for the title.

Northeastern was the suprise of the season. Expected to finish fifth in the conference, the Huskies hovered at or near the top for the majority of the season before a February meltdown, including a head-t-head end-of-season matchup with the Old Dominion essentially for the three-seed in the tournament, had them sliding to fourth. Northeastern won 18 games over the regular season including handing top-seeded VCU their only loss at home in a controversial and close game back in January. If anyone is going to beat the Rams in Richmond, this is the only team who has proven they can.

Old Dominion has quietly slid into the three-seed for the tournament. Without much buzz around the team, most people probably have forgotten about them. But as one of the 20-win teams in the conference, it'd be a huge error in calculation to write them off should you meet them in this year's tournament. At 20-9 the Monarchs proved they can win, but with losses to Northeastern, George Mason, and VCU, they'll have to prove how legitimate those 20 wins are in this tournament.

The lower-seeds begin the first round in a little less than an hour, and when the dust settles Monday night, the number of storylines coming from this tournament should be heavy!

Posted on: February 24, 2009 8:30 am

Apparently it's superstars that make you "super"

Take Oklahoma and Davidson for example. A few days ago Oklahoma was ready to become the number one overall. Then Blake Griffin suffers perhaps the oddest concussion ever scene in sports (with the exception of Gus Frerotte's infamous celebration) and what do you have now? A team that loses to unranked Texas and No. 15 Kansas. We were asking if they would be number one in the country. Now were asking if they'll even get a number one seed.

Then there's Davidson, one of those rare Mid-Majors who cracked the Top 25. They flat out dominated their fellow Mid-Major competition and were even beating teams from the powerhouses of the ACC and Big East. There was nothing that could stop them, except say Stephen Curry's ankle? Two and a half months after being the likes of West Virginia in West Virginia, Davidson lost to the Citadel by nearly 20 and was equally handled by Butler a few days later.

Now the skeptics will say it's just a "few bad games." That's just simply not the case here. You don't snap a 13 game winning streak (and 25 of your 26 games) with back to back losses coincidentally at the same time the favorite for player of the year suffers a concussion. You don't win 12 of your last 13 games and then lose to the Citadel coincidentally at the same time your star player goes down.

So forget all those coaches who lecture "he is only one man." Because while he is only one man, it's clear now he is also the lifeforce of your team. And when he goes down, it seems pretty clear now your just not the same team.

Posted on: February 21, 2009 6:34 pm

Upsets making the bubble picture crowded

"Go home and write down all the teams you think that are on the bubble for the tournament. Then pick 34 to get in. You'll see it's harder than it looks."

Seth Davis says that laughing, almost taunting, neh, daring anyone to try and decide who should go dancing and who shouldn't. The fact of the matter is, he's right.This year's Selection Sunday is almost undoubtedly going to have more heartbreak than normal.

how crowded will it be? Just look at what we learned today.

Stephen Curry and Davidson will most likely have to win their conference tournament in order to get an invite. A month ago, we would've laughed at the fact. But today, as Butler, another team that better win their tournament just to be sure, handedly beat them at home in a game where Curry looked more like an obstacle for Davidson than the phenom he is said to be, all that seems to have changed.

And let's not forget about Maryland. They were already on the bubble and just knocked off #3 UNC. And they're probably still on the outside looking in. They'll most likely need to be Duke in their upcoming game and give a solid performance in the tournament just to have a fair shot. Who wouldathunkit?

But perhaps the craziest part of it all is the Big East, a conference that will likely send 8, possibly 9 teams to the tournament. You'd think with such a crowded load of temas already going the picture in the Big East would be pretty much set, right? Far from. Suppose the top 8 in the standings right now are good to get the nod. Then factor in Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Providence are still on the bubble. Then factor in that there are only 5 other teams in the 16-team conference. Then factor in that only one of those remaining 5 teams has an overall winning record.

Just step back and look at that as a bigger picture. 11 teams in one conference are still fighting to get into the tournament. There are 19 conferences in the NCAA with 11 teams or fewer!

But don't just blame the Big East for the crowded picture. Okay, do, but shake your fingers at these other guys. The ACC will most likely also send 8 and break some hearts in the process. The Pac-10 (named so for its 10 teams, if you didn't know) will send at least half of their teams. The Big 12 may only send somewhere between 3 and 5, they'll burst at least that many bubbles if not more.

It's crazy I know. And the worst part is, those who'll be the most upset come Selection Sunday will almost undoubtedly be the fans of Mid-Major schools. Just do the math, with three major conferences alone putting up 30 teams to contest for a total of 34 at-large seats, how can there be room for any Mid-Major team that is anything but spectacular this year?

To use a downright terrible metaphor, if the NCAA were a soft drink, this year it would be particularly fizzy going into selection sunday. And with only 34 bubbles able to stay afloat, the attrition rate looks to be painful.

Posted on: February 18, 2009 10:18 pm

Mid-Major Manifest: VMI (Back From Hiatus!)

That's right, SportsHead is back! And not a moment too soon. The big dance is less than a month away, racing is under a green flag, and it turns out that all this excitement has A-Rod pumped in more ways than one!

We come back from hiatus with a spotlight on the Keydets of the Virginia Military Institute. In recent history, when it comes to talking about dangerous Mid-Major teams, it's not unusual to pay a visit to Virginia. Remember way back when George Mason made it to the final four? They're housed out of Fairfax, VA. And the next year when CAA rival, Virginia Commonwealth sent Duke packing early in the first round then took Pittspurgh into overtime in the second round? They're from the state's capital.

This year, both of those programs are having very strong seasons again, which was manifested in their January 24th meeting in Richmond where VCU squeaked by 5 in a great game. However, like their in-state friends, Virginia Military Institute's basketball program has developed a bite of their own, beating the likes of Army and Richmond (another strong Virginia mid-major school). And let's not forget they started their 20-6 record off with a win at a small school called Kentucky!

VMI is in the Big South, a conference that has delivered dangerous dancers come tournament time in years past (i.e. UNC-Asheville, Winthrop, Gardner-Webb), and is a shoe-in to win the conference and nab the automatic bid. If that happens, it's likely VMI will see a seed somewhere between 15 and 13. And if you're a 2, 3, or 4 seed assigned to play them, you may not want to take them likely. Just ask the Wildcats, who will likely be a bubble team in the SEC thanks in no small part to their loss to the Keydets at the very beginning of the season.

Posted on: March 15, 2008 1:24 pm

Drinkin' the Mid-Major Hatorade

There's a sour taste in my mouth...and it's not the milk that's been sitting on my desk for the past two days. Believe me, it's disgusting. No, it's the taste of Mid-Major Hatorade, and the pundits are gulping it down.

Just a week ago, the buble teams in question were teams like New Mexico and Massachusetts. Now it's Arizona State, Kentucky, and Villanova. I mean seriously, who wants to see 8 teams from the Big East?! Even as the bubble teams lose, it's other Major teams taking their place. And I know a lot of the Mid-Major teams did themselves in. But look at people's bracket projections. 11 and 12 seeds look to be from the Pac-10 and SEC. I don't want to hear about the big upset of Kentucky over UCLA. I want to hear about Western Central Texas State Tech (please if there's anything I can add on to that, let me know), or any other ridiculously named school take down a two seed.

One of the cases is VCU. Yeah, I know I'm bias...but a week ago guys like Gary Parrish had them on the Last Four out. Well, logically speaking, if then a team of loses and their stock drops, shouldn't the team behind them then move up? I think they should. But it's not just's Dayton and Massachusetts that people want to see knock off the top teams. It's just not the same if David and Goliath are from the same conference.

Even on SportsCenter today, the bubble teams they talked about were Arizona State and Kentucky. Give me a break, I don't want to see you in the tournament if you finished sixth in your conference. I want to see the ones and twos and threes play each other. Otherwise it takes away the spirit of the NCAA, where literally any team has a shot at winning. Where else can a team like Cornell be put in a spot where they are just a handful of wins away from the championship. That's what it's about. Because I can guaruntee you, it doesn't matter if they're Kentucky or if their Western Kentucky; if they're Virginia Teach or Virginia Commonwealth; or even if they're Memphis or Middle Tennessee State. You put a team in that position and they will play like there's no tomorrow.

In just about 28 and a half hours the selection committee will announce their results. And I, for one, hope they haven't been drinking the same Hatorade the pundits have so far.
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