Over the weekend there were some tournament-like games between low-profile, but high-powered teams from non-power conferences.
The matchups actually kicked off last Friday with Akron taking on Nevada – a game the Wolf Pack won with surprising ease, 88-61. They held the Zips to 32 percent shooting and made a season-best 12 of 19 threes and are definitely a tournament team (Akron is on the verge of trying to become one).
- On Saturday, a pair of Bracket Busters got top billing. George Mason was impressive in winning a close one at Wichita State. The Patriots displayed solid defense, balanced offense and poise in the clutch. Tony Skinn led four players in double figures with a game-high 23 points, including a three-pointer with 11 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner. Overall, the Patriots made 11 of 23 threes and shot 52 percent from the field while holding Wichita State to just 41 percent. Both of these teams are tournament worthy.
- Earlier in the day, Bucknell contributed to its double-overtime loss at Northern Iowa by committing costly turnovers at the end of regulation, and the end of the first overtime period. Nonetheless, I think the Bison have the "look" and resume of an NCAA tournament team. Experienced, tough on defense and efficient on offense, the Bison have the right ingredient, including effective low-post scorer Chris McNaughton.
Matchups are always important in the tournament, but if the field were selected today, I would consider Bucknell in – and a tough opponent.
Other Bracket Busters of note
- Missouri State won at Wisconsin-Milwaukee (the Panthers were without starting forward Adrian Tigert – out with a back injury).
- Kent State got an overtime win at home over Butler.
- Winthrop needed double-overtime to hold off Northern Illinois.
- Iona got its 20th win of the season by beating Buffalo 93-75.
- J.J. Redick. With a 30-point effort in the Blue Devils' victory over Miami on Sunday, Redick passed Johnny Dawkins (by one point) on the career list with 2,557 points and became Duke's all-time leading scorer.
- Michael Neal. Neal posted back-to-back career highs last week, scoring 26 points in Oklahoma's loss to Colorado, and 29 points in a win over Iowa State.
- Adam Morrison. The Gonzaga scoring machine got a career-high 44 points (37 in the second half) in Saturday's victory over Loyola Marymount.
- Adrian Uter. In games on Saturday and Monday, Uter set a Hofstra record by making 18 consecutive field goals – hitting his final 12 shots in Saturday's win over Siena, then nailing his first six in the victory over William and Mary.
- Alabama and Mark Gottfried. The Crimson Tide ended Tennessee's eight-game winning streak Saturday, and Gottfried has kept his team together nicely after the season-ending knee injury to top scorer Chuck Davis.
- Syracuse. Just when most folks had the Orange penciled into the NIT, they go out and get two big home wins over Louisville and West Virginia.
For the first time since joining the Yahoo! Sports team, I will comment of some of the emails. Due to space limitations I will only be able to address a few, but keep em coming – I welcome your thoughts and comments.
- A few of you have taken me to task for my preseason picks of Indiana and Michigan State to win the Big Ten. The Indiana pick was based on a healthy D.J. White returning for conference play; and Michigan State still has an outside shot at a piece of the title. Nonetheless, being wrong is part of the territory as an analyst – and I just have to accept that fact.
- Some of you wondered what I think of the Memphis Tigers. I think they are terrific. In Rodney Carney, Darrius Washington Jr. and Shawne Williams, the Tigers boast three outstanding players.
In addition to those three, the Tigers have seven other players that help keep the pace fast and heated. With excellent athleticism, the defensive pressure is constant and fast-break points come in bunches. But I think it's a mistake to overlook how Memphis has grown as a team that can play good halfcourt basketball, too. With good perimeter shooting and low-post scoring, the Tigers have what it takes to be effective in slower-paced games.
Conference USA might not offer the challenges that some other conferences do, but remember, you play other teams in the tournament, not other conferences. The Tigers can play with (and beat) anybody.
Where might they be seeded? It's too early to tell. Are they over or under-ranked? To me, it's immaterial. The playing rotation is primarily freshmen and sophomores, so inexperience is a bit of a concern, but I don't think it will prevent a strong tournament run.
- The Missouri Valley Conference was a hot topic in some emails, so here are my thoughts. It is clearly one of the top conferences in the country this season, and really has a terrific history as a quality basketball league. When you look at its success in non-conference games, the quality of the teams at the top of the league and the competitive balance within the league, I expect the MVC to be well represented in the tournament.
While it is still too early to guess how many teams will receive at-large bids from the power conferences, it's not too early to anticipate that teams from the MVC will merit at-large bids over middle of the pack teams from power conferences.
Without looking at any team comparison sheets or RPI numbers, I think strong cases could be made for Creighton, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, and Wichita State as at-large teams. And Bradley could join that group with a strong finish.
But until conference tournaments start, it's a meaningless exercise trying to compare teams that look very much alike. I'll begin doing that about a week before Selection Sunday.