Friday, March 13, 2009

Free Kicks: College Basketball Edition!

These last few days have been great for college basketball, it is only appropriate we devote a free kicks to it. Let’s line up for the tipoff…

Early Exits for Many Bubble Teams
Providence, Miami, Arizona, Kansas State, Northwestern, Rhode Island, and UNLV all went down yesterday, all but ending their hopes for a bid to the NCAA Tournament. This should be good news for any bubble team still hoping to make a run (Maryland, anyone?), as this year appears to be historically weak as far as teams stepping up and making a case. So many bubble teams appear to be fading down the stretch, and very few mid-majors appear ready to take an at-large bid away from the major conference teams. Only Cleveland State, with its win over Butler, was able to “steal a bid” and put more pressure on the bubble teams from major conferences. Sure, Penn State, Temple, and Oklahoma State won, and Baylor’s run in the Big 12 tournament is cause for concern, but I would’ve bet that the Nittany Lions and Cowboys already had bids before their conference tournaments.

Of course, this all comes back to Maryland. Maryland has to win today to have any chance at a bid, but the rest of the country appears to be doing them a lot of favors.

Big East Tournament Living Up to Hype
Maybe the Big East really is the best conference. First DePaul, who had no wins in all of conference play, takes out the bubble hopes of Cincinnati and played Providence down to the wire. Then West Virginia pastes Notre Dame to the floor and puts a stake in their at large hopes. What is their encore? A dominating win over Pitt, arguably the best team in the nation. I may hate the Mountaineers, but they are recovering quickly from their regular season finale against Louisville.

And that of course leads us to last night’s SIX overtime thriller between Syracuse and Connecticut. I will spare the recap, but last night’s performance was inspiring to me for one critical reason. These teams were not battling for a bid, and not even (really) for seeding. Syracuse has a slightly better seed to gain from a win, but UConn may get a #1 seed regardless- they were playing for pride. It was almost 1:30 in the morning before all was said and done, and these teams were exhausted. I don’t see how they can get up for the physical play of West Virginia, but I will be watching to see whether Syracuse has anything left in the tank.

So… What Does This Mean for Maryland?

Well, as I said before, Maryland hasn’t been hurt by so many bubbles being popped in the conference tournaments, and while some teams may solidify their resume a great deal of damage has already been done. Some of these teams would already be placed ahead of Maryland even with a loss in the first round- Miami, for one, so Maryland will still need to do a lot more than scoreboard watching to go to the tournament this season.

It starts today against a rested and rejuvenated Wake. Maryland had far too much trouble with NC State last night, doing nothing to assuage my worries about their performance outside of the friendly confines of the Comcast Center. The Terps gave Wake everything they could handle and couldn’t pull together a win at home, so I have to question their chances tonight. Eric Hayes will need to be a consistent 3 point threat; he has disappeared far too often for stretches of the game and left the pressure entirely on the shoulders of Greivis Vasquez. When Vasquez has all the pressure on his shoulders he tries to do more than he can pull off and commits puzzling turnovers and falling away shots that are incredible when they hit… but rarely do. Mosley will have to take a more aggressive role offensively to complement his solid defensive play.

In the end, I can’t discount Wake’s size or desire in this one- they will be able to massively outrebound Maryland and they want to prove to the selection committee that they are in fact deserving of a #2 seed. I can’t give the win to the Terps; the -6.5 line in favor of Wake sounds conservative to me. I hope I am wrong, and luckily I usually am.

No comments: