Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Butler's can earn an automatic bid tonight, while Oakland looks to finish a dominating season

Horizon, 10:00 pm, ESPNU: #2 Butler @ #1 Milwaukee

As anyone that reads this website should already be fully aware of, Butler is the reigning national runner-up. But with the loss of Gordon Hayward and Willie Veasley, this team simply is not as good defensively as they were last season. That said, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard provide Brad Stevens with the best inside-outside combination in the conference. The Bulldogs started league play 6-5, but they rallied late, winning their last seven games to earn the two seed before knocking off Cleveland State in the semifinals to advance and face Milwaukee in the Horizon title game.

Ironically, Milwaukee has beaten Butler twice this season. Since the Bulldogs still have a chance to earn an at-large bid with a loss, that would have to make them the only NCAA Tournament team that ever lost to Milwaukee three times in one season. The fact that the Panthers are playing for a trip to the NCAA Tournament is surprising in and of itself. They started the season 5-7 in non-conference play and then 4-5 in the Horizon, but they won their last nine games in conference play, which was enough to earn them the No. 1 overall seed. Will the Horizon once again be a two-bid league?

Summit, 9:00 pm, ESPN2: #1 Oakland vs. #2 Oral Roberts

Oakland is legit. Keith Benson is an NBA center. Reggie Hamilton is a terrific playmaker on the perimeter. Will Hudson and Larry Wright are both excellent role layers. Tennessee may have collapsed this season, but the fact that the Golden Grizzlies beat the Vols in Nashville was not a fluke. If Oakland makes the NCAA Tournament, they have a real shot at springing an upset in the first round.

They haven't made the tournament yet, however, as Oakland still has to beat a tough Oral Roberts team tonight. The Golden Eagles won their last eight games of the regular season, and have extended that streak to ten games in making the Summit final. Oral Roberts has a balanced attack (four players average double figures) and a star in Dominique Morrison.

Sun Belt, 7:00 pm:, ESPN2: #4W North Texas vs. #5W Arkansas-Little Rock

During the preseason, many believed that North Texas was one of the favorites to win the Sub Belt's auto bid, and while they had a bit of a disappointing season, the Mean Green are right there at the end of the season, with a chance to play their way into an auto-bid. Keep an eye on (the other) Tristan Thompson, an 18.1 ppg scorer. UALR finished the season under .500 in league play, but thanks to a big week from Solomon Bozeman (he's averaging 22.7 ppg in three Sun Belt tourney games), the Trojans rallied to advance to the title game.

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