Monday, March 7, 2011

CAA, WCC among the four bids on the line tonight

Championship Week is officially here.

How do we know?

Because I am currently sitting on a Bolt Bus, making my way to New York City to cover the Big East Tournament at the basketball mecca, putting together previews for the four automatic bids that will be earned tonight.

It doesn't get much better than this.

On the line tonight? Four automatic berths and, depending on how things shake out, two bubbles bursting for the teams on the cut line. Giddyup.

CAA, 7:00 pm, ESPN2: #2 Old Dominion vs. #4 VCU

There may be more than just one bid on the line in Richmond, VA, tonight. You see, Old Dominion looks like they will be in pretty good shape to earn an at-large bid should they lose tonight, which means that a VCU win steals a bid give the CAA three teams in the tournament and pops the bubble for a team like Alabama or Boston College. Personally, I would rather see VCU go dancing instead of a mediocre power conference team, so you know who I am rooting for tonight.

VCU and ODU are fairly different teams. The Rams are perimeter oriented, loaded with a number of quality shooters and scorers surrounding Jamie Skeen, a 6'9" Wake Forest transfer who has developed into arguably the best big man in the CAA. ODU will remind a lot of folks of a Baylor a West Virginia from last season. They are big, they are physical, they are tough defensively, and they crash the glass as hard as anyone in the country. If VCU is going to have a chance to win tonight, they have to rebound the ball. If they do, and if their threes are falling, the CAA will be sending three teams to the dance.

WCC, 9:00 pm, ESPN: #1 St. Mary's vs. #2 Gonzaga

Believe it or not, neither the Gaels nor the Zags are anything close to an at-large lock heading into tonight's final. Depending on who you ask and where you look, St. Mary's is in better shape than Gonzaga, Gonzaga is in better shape than St. Mary's, or both are in very big trouble. Its very possible that the loser of this game will be headed to the NIT.

That kind of pressure only makes this matchup that much more intense. This is already one of the best small conference rivalries in the country. They've played twice this season, with St. Mary's winning on a last-second jumper from Mickey McConnell in Spokane and Gonzaga winning in overtime in Moraga. The Gaels thrive on the play of back court stars McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova, while the Zags have a much better front court. The x-factor in this game might end up being Marquise Carter, a JuCo transfer that has excelled in the back court late in the season.

SoCon, 9:00 pm, ESPN2: #1S Charleston vs. #2S Wofford

Everyone loves the sleeper and cheers for the underdog, but sometimes its only right for the two best teams to square off for a title. That is precisely the case with Charleston and Wofford, who ended up sharing the SoCon's regular season title despite playing in the same division.

Charleston is led by sharpshooting Andrew Goudelock, a senior playmaker that is capable of going for 30 on any given night. The Cougars also have a couple of other weapons in their back court, but they will be missing Jeremy Simmons, who is still recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot. Simmons is a major loss for the Cougars, because Wofford has a strong front court, anchored by Noah Dahlman, a 6'6" workhorse on the block that averages 20.0 ppg.

MAAC, 7:00 pm, ESPNU: #2 Iona vs. #4 St. Peter's

This is quite an interesting matchup for the MAAC's automatic bid. Iona has the best offense in the conference, ranking 21st nationally in offensive efficiency. They are led by Mike Glover, a 6'6" combo-forward skilled enough to be given the nickname Optimus Prime on the streetball courts of NYC. But St. Peter's is a stingy defense team, one that was good enough to open up a 40-15 lead on the MAAC's runaway regular season winner Fairfield.

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