After watching scores and scores and scores and scores of college basketball games -- total tally thus far, 258 teams observed, with a full media timeout of uninterrupted watching counting as an "observation" -- I'm finally headed to my first one of the year today. Errr, first four of the year -- I'll be posting up at Barclays Center for the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Why did I choose the A-10, when I could've gone to the more prestigious New Big East, with Doug McDermott and Creighton and an elite Villanova team? Here are three reasons:
1. Chaz Williams. Chaz Williams!
2. Dammit, I live in Brooklyn and the commute is quicker.
3. Tourney teams. The Atlantic 10 has six teams that could dance, more than just about any conference in college hoops. And today is Poppin' Thursday
Poppin' Thursday is not a real term. I invented it 18 minutes ago while eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But it's REAL.
At this point in the year, teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble have made the vast majority of their argument for why they should be in the field. However, they can still go one of three ways:
1. Seal their deal with a surprisingly good tournament run.
2. Perform about as well as they had during the year, and leave it up to the committee.
3. Lose early, and give the committee no additional reasons to consider you.
One game shouldn't mean a whole ton, but so many teams have such similar resumes that the tourney committee is splitting hairs. Any loss accrued early in conference tourney play is most likely a bad one. When Georgetown, a fringe bubble team, dropped one to DePaul -- Kenpom ranking 184, or about 50 spots worse than FGCU was last year when they beat Georgetown -- they were in essence writing a note to the selection committee: we know your job is hard, and we'd like to make it a tad easier.
Of course, the scenarios differ team-by-team: if bubble squad Cal lost today, the committee would know the loss came to a slightly-more-solid bubble team in Colorado, whereas if bubble squad Dayton -- who I'll watch in Brooklyn -- loses to Fordham, the committee will know its a terrible loss.
But a loss Thursday will be the end of the NCAA dream for some teams, and although they'll have the opportunity to wait and hear what the committee says Sunday, they won't have the opportunity to help themselves further.
They're going daaaaaancingggg YEAHHHHHH
American University Eagles
American won the Patriot League Wednesday night with a suffocating defensive performance at Boston University, getting the auto-bid with a 55-36 win, and afterwards, a crew of American fans -- on the road, at BU -- stormed the court, proudly waving an American flag. I'm not a fan of "American University," but I am American, and a group of flag-totin' court-stormers might've brought a tear into my eye. We're the United States of America, and we don't care about private property or propriety, just dominating and living large with the stars and stripes at our back.
Mike Brennan might've done the best single-season coaching job in college basketball. The cupboard was absolutely bare: somehow, Jeff Jones turned his 10-20 season at AU into a job at Old Dominion, and the top two scorers from his team graduated. The Eagles were picked to finish ninth in the Pat League.
Instead, they won the damn thing. The former Georgetown assistant given the reins of a program for the first time turned a dismal offense and a dismal defense into an efficient, if turnover-prone offense and a LOCKDOWN defense. The Eagles assist on a higher percentage of their field goals than any team in the country and have the 49th best adjusted defense in hoops after being 270th last year, both figures that speak more to Brennan's coaching rather than a treasure trove of talent.
Let's take a quick spin around the leagues yesterday:
Basically, we laugh at Georgetown, because DEPAUL WON. The DePaul tracker has been updated. In the 8-9 game, Eugene Teague battled the flu and scored the last six points for Seton Hall as they held off a furious Butler comeback, 51-50.
There was double-digit drama as Georgia Tech outlasted BC in overtime thanks to 20 and 13 from Robert Carter, Jr.. Also, today in PRESEASON RANKINGS DON'T MEAN ANYTHING, Notre Dame lost the 12-13 matchup to Wake Forest.
Did you miss the double-overtime thriller between UCF and Temple? THANK GOODNESS. It was really spectacular: Doris Burke kept on talking about how bad both teams were, and in arguably the worst coaching decision I've ever seen, UCF coach Donnie Jones left Isaiah Sykes -- the senior who had 34 points and led the team this year in scoring... and rebounding... and assists -- on the bench for large swaths of both overtime sessions in a game that would've been his last if they'd lost. The Golden Knights would get the W, tho. Rutgers also won. #B1G #B1G #B1G.
The 5-8 seeds beat the 9-12 seeds. Colorado tried to make their bubble status interesting with a close game against 12th-seeded USC, but for the most part, nothing interesting happened.
Oklahoma State and Baylor beat Texas Tech and TCU, making themselves slightly less disappointing than they were previously. Those were probably the last hurdles these guys needed to clear to dance, although they were incredibly low hurdles.
Auburn lost to South Carolina, with the Gamecocks drilling 11 of 15 threes in a 74-56 rout. And before the Tigers could even get out of Atlanta, Tony Barbee had been fired as head coach. But when was the last time a first-year head coach did anything good for Auburn sports? Last place Mississippi State snapped a 13-game losing streak by beating Vanderbilt 82-68 behind 20 points from Craig Sword -- CRAIG SWORD -- and now have the basketball Egg Bowl on their hands.
Photo: Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports
A moment of silence for San Jose State, who allowed Boise State to go on a 25-0 run... to start the game. The score was 25-0. Boise State had 25 points. San Jose State had zero. Suffice it to say, Boise State won.
That technical foul was probably a pretty bad idea, Mr. Bejerano.
But, yeah, all top seeds won.
Charlotte beat eighth-seeded UAB, and. we'll pick better teams to profile next year. Tulane had to overcome a 13-point deficit to beat North Texas, proving a Green Wave can overcome the Mean Green.
Fordham beat George Mason in the 13-12 game, and I was not interested.
College basketball's worst conference has its most confusing tournament: Top-seeded Southern lost to Prairie View A&M -- more accurately, they were blown the hell out by Prairie View A&M, 64-46, after beating them by 32 on March 6 -- but the Jaguars were already ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, so, this means nothing. Second-seeded Texas Southern is still the presumptive favorite to dance amongst eligible teams, having blown Grambling out 79-54, ending the Tigers' miracle tourney run.
The top six seeds are still alive. There. That was easy.
We hyped up North Carolina Central, and so far, they're living up to it. They blew out Howard 96-42, and Coppin State did them a favor by pulling a 7-2 upset over Hampton, with bench player Taariq Cephas drilling all four threes en route to a game-high 24 in an 83-77 win for the Eagles. (We wanted to keep talking about the Hampton Pirates, but, alas.)
Chalk in the 8-5 and 7-6 games, with Nicholls State and Oral Roberts winning. Still another round of play before major favorite Stephen F. Austin enters the ring.
Onions! Consumption guide
Focusing on POPPIN' THURSDAY action -- apologies to one-bid leagues starting off their brackets and guys who have their stuff locked up. There's a lot of great basketball, but let's take a look at what's bubbly.
We'd keep an eye on the 4-5 matchup between Providence and St. John's (2:30 p.m., FS1). There's no guarantee either team will dance, but whichever loses certainly won't. This might be the most Poppin' Thursday Game.
Xavier's on the right side of the bubble for now, but a loss in the 3-6 game to Marquette (9:30, FS1) would not help.
Not interested by the 5-8 taking on the 9-12, although I want to point out that Northwestern will win the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota cannot afford to lose the 7-10 game against Penn State (6:30 p.m., ESPN2) but it really shouldn't.
There are three Very Good Basketball Games today (Kansas State-Iowa State at 12:30 on ESPN2, Oklahoma State-Kansas at 3 on ESPN2, Baylor-Oklahoma at 7 on ESPN3) and that's probably more than any other league in the country can say. But all six teams we just talked about are going dancing, so there's no intrigue. Watch if you like basketball, though.
Road to the Title
Road to the Title
Florida State needs an ACC tourney run to dance, and that starts with beating Maryland (12 p.m., ESPN). Pittsburgh is probably safe, but a loss to Wake Forest (2 p.m., ESPN) might put them in question. And the Deacs are hot after beating Duke last week and Notre Dame in the first round!
Memphis-UConn (9 p.m., ESPNU) is some serious AIRHORN / AIRHORN / AIRHORN WATCH THIS GAME stuff, but the other three games are tourney teams competing against the dregs of a league with five tourney teams.
We already talked about Cal-Colorado (5:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) which is probably a tad more important to a teetering team like Cal than a safe-for-now team like Colorado. Utah's a longshot right now -- maybe if they beat top-seeded Arizona (3 p.m. PAC-12 Networks) they can dance?
Arkansas is on the brink, probably headed to Dayton. loss to South Carolina (3:25 p.m., ESPN3) in a 5-13 matchup would push them off it and into a ravine. But they just lost by 25 to Alabama, so anything can happen. Missouri somehow still has tourney hopes, so their 8-9 first-rounder against Texas A&M (1 p.m., ESPN3) is key. Alabama-LSU and Ole Miss-Mississippi State are awesome football rivalries.
Like we said, Dayton needs a W vs. Fordham (2:30 p.m., NBCSN), but they should get it. UMass plays at 9 p.m. against Rhode Island and we'll be hype.