Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Knight Ridder - Dick Jerardi Picks 8 Big East Teams for the NCAAs
Knight Ridder is a wire service so this story will be picked up by papers across the country. Dick Jerardi is picking 8 teams from the Big East.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
February 8, 2006, Wednesday
Sizing up the NCAA Tournament - conference by conference
PHILADELPHIA - Don't ask me how it happened, but Selection Sunday really is March 12, 32 days from Wednesday. The selection committee will have many questions to ask and answer as it gathers in Indianapolis the second weekend of March.
Will it take every team from the Big East? Will it take a team that finished ninth in its own conference? Will it really give a mid-major league like the Missouri Valley the three at-large bids it appears to deserve?
For years, committee members have said that conference affiliation is irrelevant, that all prospective at-large teams are judged on their own merits. Which is as it should be. Taking the committee at its word and having crunched the relevant early-February data, here is my annual conference-by-conference look as it stands today:
AMERICA EAST (1):
ALBANY is the only team with a winning record. And Saratoga is only a short drive up the Northway. That's sufficient.
ATLANTIC 10 (1):
The league definitely is better than last season, but other than GEORGE WASHINGTON, nobody has been terribly consistent. There is still time for Charlotte, Xavier, Temple or somebody to get hot, but it is getting late.
ATLANTIC COAST (6):
DUKE is 8-1 against top 50 teams, but the Blue Devils won't get to take the ACC refs with them to the NCAA. When the league has to suspend a crew because of a blatantly wrong call in Duke's favor, the conspiracy theorists can have a field day. Regardless, Duke can score with anybody. I wonder about its ability to stop the ball. NORTH CAROLINA STATE made the Sweet 16 last season with its open, Princeton-style offense. NORTH CAROLINA had to replace everybody and has been a revelation. And the recruits are better than the guys there now. BOSTON COLLEGE has found its legs. If the ACC refs ever let Craig Smith stay on the floor, the Eagles can beat anybody in the league. MARYLAND is only 1-6 against the top 50, but still has time for some signature wins. MIAMI started slowly, because so many key players were hurt.
ATLANTIC SUN (1):
EAST TENNESSEE STATE point guard Timmy Smith might be the fastest player in college hoops, faster even than Dee Brown, of Illinois.
BIG EAST (8):
That is half the teams. Seems about right. CONNECTICUT has, by far, the most NBA players on its roster. VILLANOVA has played some close games, which might not be such a bad thing when everything tightens up in March. WEST VIRGINIA just missed the Final Four last season; give it the right matchups and it will be very difficult to beat. GEORGETOWN is another team with a unique style, and the Hoyas might have the most versatile big man in America in Jeff Green. PITTSBURGH won't dazzle you with offense, but the Panthers are fundamentally perfect on defense. SETON HALL was dead a month ago, but has strung together enough big road wins to get involved. SYRACUSE is just 1-6 against the top 25, which means a few big wins would help. MARQUETTE is the only new member that is any kind of factor.
BIG SKY (1):
Really, what is an NCAA without the Lumberjacks? NORTHERN ARIZONA is in.
BIG SOUTH (1):
If you know anything about BIRMINGHAM SOUTHERN, send me an e-mail. Meanwhile, put 'em in.
BIG TEN (7):
Last season, the league had three in the Elite 8 and two in the Final Four. Might not be that good, but still very solid. IOWA starts all juniors and seniors. ILLINOIS is 6-2 against the top 50. OHIO STATE can beat you inside or out. MICHIGAN STATE is great from the foul line and always dangerous in March. MICHIGAN might have the league's most talent. INDIANA really misses D.J. White, and coach Mike Davis is fighting for his job. WISCONSIN has really hit the wall lately.
BIG 12 (5):
Whatever bothered TEXAS in December is clearly gone. The Longhorns are one of the teams that could win six. KANSAS was lost in December. The young Jayhawks have played really well for a month. COLORADO has been under the radar all season, as has its star, Richard Roby. OKLAHOMA started slowly and still has trouble scoring. But the Sooners have enough to win some March games. IOWA STATE just smashed Colorado, but definitely is no NCAA lock.
BIG WEST (1):
Can there be a tournament without the UC IRVINE Anteaters?
GEORGE MASON has been the best team, but the tournament is wide open.
CONFERENCE USA (2):
MEMPHIS is 7-2 against the top 50 and 8-0 on the road. Love Rodney Carney's game. ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM is the old "Forty Minutes of Hell" that former Nolan Richardson assistant Mike Anderson brought with him from Arkansas.
Don't know whether WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE is hitting the Sweet 16 again, but, assuming it gets in, it must be considered dangerous.
PENN looks light years better than the opposition. If the Quakers win the next three (at Dartmouth, at Harvard, Princeton), the race is over.
METRO ATLANTIC (1):
Jeff Ruland's IONA team has been solid all season. Matt Brady's Marist team has played very well for a month.
Does anybody know what IUPUI stands for?
KENT STATE is doing it without Antonio Gates.
DELAWARE STATE beat Kent State in November and was very competitive against a brutal early road schedule.
MISSOURI VALLEY (4):
NORTHERN IOWA and CREIGHTON are 10-3 against the top 50. WICHITA STATE and SOUTHERN ILLINOIS are good enough to give the MVC four teams.
MOUNTAIN WEST (1):
Yes, Steve Fisher is alive and pretty well at SAN DIEGO STATE.
FAIRLEIGH-DICKINSON is one of those 15 or 16 seeds that won't get blown out.
OHIO VALLEY (1):
There should always be a spot for the MURRAY STATE Racers.
UCLA is Pittsburgh West - not pretty, but very effective. CALIFORNIA and STANFORD have surprised. So has ARIZONA, but in the wrong way. It is 0-5 against the top 50 and in danger of missing the tournament for the first time since being granted statehood. WASHINGTON had better start winning some road games.
The question is: Will BUCKNELL (18-3) get an at-large if it does not win the tournament? I say yes.
TENNESSEE football was awful. Hoops has been great. FLORIDA is very young and very talented. LSU does not have Pete Maravich, but does have a lot. KENTUCKY is in, but the Wildcats just don't have typical UK talent.
ELON is in front. That's all I know.
NORTHWESTERN STATE is in. Northwestern (the only team from a BCS conference never in the NCAA) is out again.
SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC (1):
SOUTHERN was overmatched early in its guarantee road games.
SUN BELT (1):
WESTERN KENTUCKY is solid. Anybody seen Clem Haskins lately?
WEST COAST (1):
GONZAGA is very good, but I still wonder about its defense.
WESTERN ATHLETIC (2):
NEVADA has a terrific talent in Nick Fezekas. Stew Morrill at UTAH STATE, new to the WAC, is one of the nation's best coaches.