Forde Minutes: Which teams still have something to prove?
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (glass slippers sold separately at a mid-major conference tournament near you):
INTRODUCTIONS ARE IN ORDER
Welcome, North Florida Ospreys (1), to this thing we call the Big Dance. It’s your first visit, and we hope you have the time of your life. Even if it only lasts 40 minutes. That should be long enough for us all to figure out what an Osprey is.
Who is next on the newcomer list? Possibly St. Francis (2) – the New York Northeast Conference member, not the St. Francis Pennsylvania Northeast Conference member – which plays in the final of that league Tuesday. The Terriers are part of the Forgotten Five – the five programs that have been part of NCAA basketball for all 76 years in which the tournament has been in existence, without ever participating.
Heading into Monday there was a chance that the Forgotten Five would be downsized to four – until, alas, William & Mary (3) was walloped by Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic Association final. The wait continues for William. And Mary.
Odds are not good for Forgotten Five member Northwestern (4), which enters the Big Ten tournament as a No. 10 seed. Historic futility seems likely to continue for at least one more year.
Forgotten Fivers Army (5), already eliminated in the Patriot League, and The Citadel (6), eliminated in the Southern Conference, definitely have to wait until next year. And probably well past that.
Just once, across 76 Marches, you’d think they would have lucked into a magic run. Even Springfield College (7), no longer a Division I school, had its shot in 1940. Springfield was nipped 48-24 by eventual champion Indiana, but at least it isn’t on the forgotten list.
LITTLE DANCE, PART II
Last week, The Minutes started previewing the conference tournaments that will help fill the bracket for the NCAA tournament. This week, we finish the job:
American Athletic (8). When: March 12-15. Where: Hartford, Conn.
Top seed: SMU.
Dark horse: Connecticut. Shabazz Napier isn’t walking through that door, but the memory of last year's NCAA tournament is hard to shake. And there are players who had key roles on that team still in uniform. The Huskies haven’t won four straight all season, which is what it would take to win this tourney. But they have won three in a row four times, and each of those streaks featured one big win: Dayton in the first, Cincinnati in the second, Tulsa in the third and SMU in the fourth. Don’t count out the champs yet.
Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Temple. Owls are right on the brink, still trying to ride that 25-point victory over Kansas in December into the Big Dance. Two victories here may put them on the right side of the bubble – but the second one likely would have to be over regular-season champion SMU, and the Mustangs have handled Temple twice already.
Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Memphis (9). There has rarely been anything for Tigers fans to get excited about this season – 13 losses, a No. 5 seed and no shot at an NCAA at-large bid certainly don’t move the needle. It would take a lot to spin this year into a positive, but this is the last chance to do it.
Team most likely to bring fans: UConn. Tournament is in the Huskies’ backyard of Hartford, and they have a large and vocal following.
Team least likely to bring fans: Houston. Cougars can’t get many to come to their home gym, much less make the 1,700-mile trip to the northeast.
Coach who wins tournaments: Kevin Ollie, UConn. Has won his last six postseason games.
Coach who doesn’t: Jeff Lebo, East Carolina. This is his 17th season as a college head coach. Zero NCAA tournament bids.
Minutes pick: UConn. Huskies are the No. 6 seed, but they’ve done more improbable things within the last year, right? They’ll have a homecourt advantage and a player capable of dominating games in point guard Ryan Boatright. In a tournament that looks fairly wide open, those are reasons enough to go with the Huskies.
Atlantic-10 (10). When: March 11-15. Where: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Top seed: Davidson.
Dark horse: Rhode Island. Young Rams won 10 of their last 13 to secure a No. 3 seed and a bye into the quarterfinals. There they could meet a George Washington team going the wrong way. If they get some help from St. Bonaventure vs. Dayton in a potential quarterfinal matchup, Rhode Island could find itself in the final.
Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Richmond (11). The fourth-seeded Spiders have won their last six games to edge into contention for an at-large bid, but work remains to be done. First game in this tournament could be another battle with VCU – last one went double OT a couple weeks ago. If the Spiders can make the tourney final that may be enough, depending what happens elsewhere.
Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: VCU. The injury to defensive mix master Briante Weber has taken the steam out of the Rams, as they’ve faded from first to a tie for fourth in the league. With so much of VCU’s game predicated on pressure defense, can it still make a run – here and in the next tourney?
Team most likely to bring fans: Dayton. Flyers had an impressive turnout in Memphis last year for the NCAA South Regional, and they regularly have strong home crowds. They’ll travel to support an overachieving team that’s capable of winning this tourney.
Team least likely to bring fans: Fordham. It’s not a terribly difficult commute from the Bronx to Brooklyn, but the 9-20 Rams may not be worth the subway fare.
Coach who wins tournaments: Bob McKillop, Davidson. Won seven Southern Conference tourneys; now we’ll see if his March magic translates to the A-10.
Coach who doesn’t: John Giannini, La Salle. Nineteen seasons as a Division I head coach and he’s never won a conference tourney. That includes a 4-8 record at La Salle, with never more than one postseason win in a given season.
Minutes pick: Davidson. Wildcats are red hot, having won nine straight games – the last two by 27 and 29 points. They’re playing with great precision offensively, thriving with guard Jack Gibbs back in the lineup. Good McKillop teams are a joy to watch, and this is a good one.
Atlantic Coast (12). When: March 11-14. Where: Greensboro, N.C.
Top seed: Virginia.
Dark horse: North Carolina State. The Wolfpack have plenty of pieces, and Mark Gottfried has worked some postseason mojo in the past. But are they consistent enough to string together multiple big wins?
Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Miami. The Hurricanes are teetering right on the bubble, which makes their Wednesday game against either Wake Forest or Virginia Tech a must-win affair – and they’ve already lost to the Demon Deacons once this year. They may need another victory after that, against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.
Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: North Carolina. Tar Heels have lost 31 games the last three seasons, and their seven ACC losses are the most since the 2010 rebuilding year after the last national championship. Being swept by Duke and under NCAA investigation adds to the unrest. This hasn’t been a happy time at Carolina.
Team most likely to bring fans: North Carolina. Greensboro is Carolina country, and the Heels need all the fan support they can get in this tourney.
Team least likely to bring fans: Syracuse (13).
Coach who wins tournaments: Rick Pitino, Louisville. Won the American tourney last year. Won the Big East tourney the two years before that. Brings a 10-game conference tournament winning streak into another new league.
Coach who doesn’t: Roy Williams, North Carolina. Last time he won this was 2008. Ol’ Roy has rarely cared about this tourney in the past, but this seems like a good time to put some effort into it.
Minutes pick: Duke. Blue Devils are 5-1 against the prime competition: Virginia, Notre Dame, Louisville and North Carolina. They haven’t lost since late January. They’re playing at a high level and have the best player in Greensboro in Jahlil Okafor. Write it down.
Big 12 (14). When: March 11-14. Where: Kansas City, Mo.
Top seed: Kansas.
Dark horse: Baylor. Fourth-seeded Bears have swept quarterfinal opponent West Virginia, and could flex their offensive rebounding muscles against a depleted Kansas in the semifinals. Wouldn’t be a shock to see them in the final.
Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Texas. Longhorns’ opening-round game against Texas Tech is non-negotiable – a win is mandatory to remain in the hunt for a bid. Depending what’s happening elsewhere, they may need to knock off Iowa State in the quarterfinals, too.
Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Kansas. With Cliff Alexander in NCAA limbo and Perry Ellis’ return from a knee sprain still uncertain, do the Jayhawks have enough interior players to win this tournament?
Team most likely to bring fans: Kansas (15). Proximity plus passion leads to a pro-Jayhawk venue.
Team least likely to bring fans: TCU. A lot of fans unplugged from the team when it moved to an off-campus arena this year while the home gym is being renovated. They’re not going to plug back in now.
Minutes pick: Iowa State. This tourney may be the biggest crapshoot in the nation, especially with Kansas’ roster in flux. Cyclones have superior firepower to anyone else, and if they can get enough stops they can repeat as champions.
Big East (16). When: March 11-14. Where: New York.
Top seed: Villanova.
Dark horse: Xavier. Musketeers split with quarterfinal opponent Butler and swept potential semifinal opponent Georgetown. Not a stretch to envision them playing Saturday night.
Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: No true white-knuckle bubble teams in this league, so The Minutes will say Villanova has the most to prove in making its point for a No. 1 seed.
Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Georgetown. Actually, next week is when the Hoyas need to prove it, when they’re usually being upset in horrific fashion.
Team most likely to bring fans: Villanova. The businessmen who come to the Garden will jump on the St. John’s bandwagon if the Red Storm gets on a run, but mostly they’re just there for the beer. The Wildcats will have an actual fan following.
Team least likely to bring fans: DePaul (17). Would you pay to make that trip to see that team? No, you would not.
Coach who wins tournaments: There aren’t many. Ed Cooley of Providence won this tourney last year, and Greg McDermott won the Missouri Valley in 2012 and ’13. Prior to that, you have to go back to John Thompson III at Georgetown in 2007.
Coach who doesn’t: Jay Wright, Villanova. The last time Wright’s team played in a conference tournament final was 2001, at Hofstra. Villanova hasn’t been to the Big East final since 1997.
Minutes pick: Butler. Villanova is the top-heavy favorite for good reason, but as the above shows they don’t have a great conference tournament history. On the off chance 'Nova gets knocked out before the final, it could open the way for the Bulldogs.
Big Sky (18). When: March 12-14. Where: Campus sites.
Top seed: Montana.
Dark horse: Northern Arizona. Lumberjacks come in having won six of their last seven games.
Minutes pick: Eastern Washington. The Eagles won in Assembly Hall early. They also won 10 of their last 13 games, with the three losses by a combined seven points. Efficient offensive team that can blister an opponent from the 3-point line.
Big Ten (19). When: March 11-15. Where: Chicago.
Top seed: Wisconsin.
Dark horse: Michigan State. The Spartans should get Branden Dawson back from a concussion by the time they play Friday. They were swept this year by potential semifinal opponent Maryland, but it’s hard to see Michigan State losing three times to the Terrapins.
Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Indiana (20). Hoosiers have four quality wins: SMU, Butler, Maryland and Ohio State. They also have just four victories in their last 12 games, and half of those are against Rutgers. With losses to Eastern Washington and Northwestern, Indiana is in a must-win situation in its first game.
Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Indiana. Hoosiers need to do something to stop the howling about their head coach. Beating Northwestern would be a start. Losing to Northwestern (again) might spark a mutiny.
Team most likely to bring fans: Wisconsin. Plenty of Badgers backers live in Chicago, and plenty more can make the short drive south.
Team least likely to bring fans: Rutgers. When the Scarlet Knights take the court Wednesday, it will be exactly two months since their last victory. The losing streak will carry over into 2015-16.
Coach who wins tournaments: Thad Matta, Ohio State. He’s won four of these things, and three of the last five. Matta and Tom Izzo have divvied up the last five.
Coach who doesn’t: Mark Turgeon, Maryland. Not only has he never won a conference tourney in 15 previous seasons as a head coach, he’s never been to the finals.
Minutes pick: Wisconsin. Badgers looked locked in to end the regular season at Ohio State, and if that carries over to Chicago this tournament could be a walkover.
Big West (21). When: March 12-14. Where: Anaheim, Calif.
Top seed: UC-Davis.
Dark horse: Hawaii. Rainbow Warriors beat Pittsburgh, Colorado and Nebraska early – all on the island, of course – but it shows they can compete with quality opponents.
Minutes pick: UC-Santa Barbara. Gauchos have won eight of their last nine and earned a split with UC-Davis. Coach Bob Williams has won this league tourney a few times.
Conference USA (22). When: March 11-14. Where: Birmingham, Ala.
Top seed: Louisiana Tech.
Dark horse: UAB. Blazers didn’t finish regular season well but get the tournament in their hometown. Should catch Louisiana Tech in the semifinals, and UAB beat the Bulldogs by 20 in Birmingham last month.
Minutes pick: Old Dominion. Jeff Jones took Virginia and American to the NCAA tournament; time to add a third school to that list. Monarchs play the best defense in the league and finished the season well.
Mid-American (23). When: March 9-14. Where: Cleveland.
Top seed: Central Michigan.
Dark horse: Kent State. Eight of the Golden Flashes’ last 10 games have been decided by six points or less, and they’re 5-3 in those games. If the ball bounces right, maybe they win a few more nailbiters.
Minutes pick: Buffalo. Bobby Hurley’s team takes a six-game winning streak into this tourney and it should be eight coming out. Double-bye doesn’t hurt.
Mid-Eastern Athletic (24). When: March 9-14. Where: Norfolk, Va.
Top seed: North Carolina Central.
Dark horse: Delaware State. The last MEAC team to seriously threaten to beat the Eagles was the Hornets, who went down by a point in a wild game on the road in late January.
Minutes pick: North Carolina Central. Thirty-four straight MEAC victories and counting for LeVelle Moton’s program. One of the great runs in league history.
Mountain West (25). When: March 11-14. Where: Las Vegas.
Top seed: Boise State.
Dark horse: Colorado State. Efficient offensive team that could (and has) beat anyone in the league. Getting stops will be the challenge.
Minutes pick: Boise State (26). Broncos are an improved defensive team this season, and correspondingly could be the best team in school history. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 and swept San Diego State, both wins by double digits.
Pac-12 (27). When: March 11-14. Where: Las Vegas.
Top seed: Arizona.
Dark horse: Arizona State. It’s been a while since the Sun Devils have done anything in this tournament, but they beat first-round opponent USC and potential quarterfinal opponent UCLA in their only meetings this year, and split with potential semifinal opponent Arizona.
Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: UCLA. Bruins have won seven of their last 10 to improve their bubble standing, but may need multiple wins in Vegas to secure a bid. A potential semifinal matchup with Arizona could be huge. Bruins have beaten the Wildcats each of the last two Pac-12 tourneys.
Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Washington (28). Huskies showed a glimmer of promise in upsetting Utah to end the regular season, but their 5-13 Pac-12 record, and 1-3 mark in the last three league tourneys, doesn’t inspire confidence.
Team most likely to bring fans: Arizona. Good basketball fans backing the best team. They’ll paint the Strip red and blue.
Team least likely to bring fans: USC. Not many basketball fans even when the team is good. And at 11-19, this team is not good.
Coach who wins tournaments: Dana Altman, Oregon. Won six Missouri Valley Conference tournaments at Creighton, and a Pac-12 title in 2013 as a No. 3 seed.
Coach who doesn’t: Herb Sendek, Arizona State, and Sean Miller, Arizona. Sendek is 3-8 in the Pac-12 tourney and has lost five of his last six. Miller, despite having the best program in the league for years, has never won the tourney title.
Minutes pick: Arizona. Wildcats somehow have avoided winning this thing since 2002. That mystifying drought will end this week.
Southeastern (29). When: March 11-15. Where: Nashville.
Top seed: Kentucky.
Dark horse: Vanderbilt. Young team with some firepower has pieced it together over the last month, winning eight of its last 10.
Team that needs to prove something to the selection committee: Texas A&M. Losses in the last week to Florida and Alabama have put the Aggies in jeopardy of missing the tournament.
Team that needs to prove something to its own fans: Arkansas. Razorbacks have lost their first SEC tournament game each of the last six years.
Team most likely to bring fans: Kentucky (30). They’ll have 80 percent of the fans in Nashville. At least.
Team least likely to bring fans: Missouri. They don’t go to the home games, so don’t expect many to show up in Nashville to watch the school’s worst team in nearly half a century play out the string.
Coach who wins tournaments: Billy Donovan, Florida. Has won this four times overall, but only once (last year) since 2007. John Calipari hasn’t won it since 2011.
Coach who doesn’t: Anybody at Tennessee. Volunteers last won the SEC tourney in 1979.
Minutes pick: Um, Kentucky?
Southland (31). When: March 11-14. Where: Katy, Texas.
Top seed: Stephen F. Austin.
Dark horse: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Islanders are 1-1 this year against the two teams that have dominated the league, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State.
Minutes pick: Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks are 86-12 over the past three seasons, dominating the league. Last year they were 20-0 through the conference tournament, and this year would be 19-1 with two wins in Katy this week. SFA won a game in the NCAAs last year and is capable of doing it again.
Southwestern Athletic (32). When: March 10-14. Where: Houston.
Top seed: Texas Southern.
Dark horse: Prairie View. The Panthers have won eight of their last nine, and split the season series with Texas Southern in a pair of close games.
Minutes pick: Prairie View. Last year Texas Southern won the rubber match in the SWAC tournament to earn the league’s bid. This year the rubber match goes the other way.
Sun Belt (33). When: March 12-15. Where: New Orleans.
Top seed: Georgia State.
Dark horse: Louisiana Lafayette. Closed regular season on a six-game winning streak, and if the basketball team performs in the Big Easy as well as the football team does each New Orleans Bowl, there could be another Ragin’ Cajuns party in the French Quarter.
Minutes pick: Georgia State. Last year the Panthers dominated the league but were shocked by one point by Louisiana Lafayette in the tourney. This year the separation from the rest of the league is smaller, but Georgia State once again is a solid favorite.
Western Athletic (34). When: March 11-14. Where: Las Vegas.
Top seed: New Mexico State.
Dark horse: Seattle. The only WAC team to beat New Mexico State this season.
Minutes pick: New Mexico State. The Aggies are No. 93 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. Nobody else in the league is in the top 250. In other words, it would be a colossal shock if anyone else won this tourney.
AND THE LEAGUE THAT HAS NO TOURNAMENT ...
... But does have a one-game playoff Saturday at the storied Palestra to decide its NCAA representative: the Ivy League (35). This should be good: Yale vs. Harvard, a pair of No. 1 seeds academically who split their two meetings during the regular season. The Bulldogs all but had their first NCAA bid since 1962 locked up before Dartmouth’s Gabas Maldunas beat the buzzer Saturday. Now Yale has to beat preseason favorite and defending Ivy champion Harvard for the second time in eight days to advance to the Dance.
UNDER THE RADAR LOVE
Demarcus Daniels (36), North Florida. He’s a junior who has started just one of the 93 games he’s played in college. Sunday he picked an ideal time to score a career-high 22 points – 35 percent of his team’s total – in leading the Ospreys past USC Upstate and into the NCAA tournament for the first time.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Rick Byrd (37), Belmont. Earlier this year, Byrd won his 700th career game. Saturday, Byrd guided the Bruins to their seventh NCAA appearance, shocking heavy favorite Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference championship game by a point on a late 3-pointer by Taylor Barnette. The night before, Belmont beat Eastern Kentucky by a point. With only one senior starter, this Belmont team is a year (or two) ahead of schedule.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Jim Boeheim (38), Syracuse. No-showing the postgame press conference at North Carolina State the day after his program was hit with major NCAA sanctions made this a rather easy call.
When hungry and thirsty in Columbus – as many college basketball fans will be next week, when that city plays host as one of the NCAA sites – The Minutes heartily recommends a visit to Tip Top Kitchen & Cocktails (39). The pot roast sandwich – with swiss and mustard on a pretzel roll – is so good that Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton assuredly would approve (and eat six). Accompany it with a Bell’s Hopslam (40) – in a 10-ounce glass, because the ABV is serious – and thank The Minutes later. (Special commendation to the heroic Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated for the original tip.)