Saturday, February 27, 2010

Last Full Weekend Of The Regular Season

Believe it or not, this is the last full slate of regular season games on a weekend this season. The first conference tournaments commence on Tuesday, and by next weekend we'll be playing important games in important conferences (obviously the first round of the Big South tournament is important to Charleston Southern fans, but most casual fans couldn't really care less).

I'll have a full rundown soon with the dates of every conference tournament, as well as a preview of what to look for in each tournament: which team is the favorite, which team is the sleeper, and which teams will be fighting for bubble spots. I haven't done a full preview like that for conference tournaments in the past, but I think it will be fun. And you all can tell me if you think it was worthwhile.

But just quickly, there will be some important conference tournament games next week that I'll just touch on very briefly:

Friday, March 5th:

Missouri Valley quarterfinals: Every year I question why the Missouri Valley plays their tournament so early. It might increase their tv audience, but it also really damages the at-large chances of their teams, who will be sitting at home while other bubble teams collect wins in the days before Selection Sunday. It's not rational, but it's human nature to give more weight to games that are fresh in your mind, and by Selection Sunday it always feels like those MVC tournament games took place a month before. But that said, Arch Madness is always fun, and while the opening round is on Thursday, March 4th, the fun begins on Friday. Wichita State and Illinois State remain legitimate at-large contenders, and both must win their games on this day to stay alive. Northern Iowa will probably be assured an at-large bid by the time March 5th rolls around, but if not then a win here to avoid a total washout in the MVC tournament should assure them of a Tournament appearance.

Saturday, March 6th:

Colonial Athletic Association quarterfinals: The CAA tournament actually begins on Friday, but the top four teams get byes. It is possible that VCU or William & Mary could end up with a 5 seed and could have to play on Friday, but they should win that game easily, and the important action will begin on Saturday. Old Dominion, Northeastern, VCU and William & Mary all still have some chance at an at-large bid, and I don't need to tell you that none of them can afford a loss in their first CAA tournament game. That 4/5 game, if it's between VCU and William & Mary (the 4th and 5th placed teams right now), will be an elimination game. Probably the first at-large "elimination game" of the season. The semifinal will be Sunday the 7th of March, and the final will be Monday the 8th.

Horizon League semifinals: Butler will get a bye into the semifinals of the Horizon tournament, and their games will be the only ones that matter since no other teams have a chance at an at-large. And Butler wouldn't ever lose to the bottom teams in the conference anyway. But in the semifinals and finals there will be opponents that have the ability to knock out Butler and make the Horizon League a two-bid league again.

Missouri Valley semifinals: Northern Iowa will likely be assured of an at-large bid by this point, although they'll be playing for NCAA Tournament seeding of course. But the real game to watch here will be Wichita State vs Illinois State, assuming that both take care of business in their quarterfinal games. Assuming those two teams play then the winner will have a great shot at an at-large bid even if they lose the MVC tournament finals, while the loser is probably going to the NIT. It's too early to definitely call that game an elimination game, but it very well might be.

WCC quarterfinals: Assuming Saint Mary's doesn't fall on their face tonight against Loyola-Marymount they will get a bye to the semifinals along with Gonzaga, and so will not play until Sunday, March 7th. But Portland will be playing in the quarterfinals, and while their at-large chances have gotten long they are still not entirely extinguished. Needless to say, their game here will be an absolutely must-win. They'll also need to win their semifinal match, presumably against Saint Mary's. Should they do that and play Gonzaga close in the WCC finals then they'll get the chance to spend the rest of Championship Week at home rooting against all of the other bubble teams. Of course, they could also knock off Gonzaga and get the automatic bid to make things easy. San Diego proved a couple of years ago that it's not impossible.

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