A quick rundown of the schedule and odds for tonight’s league tournament action. We have some brief commentary afterwards.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: #1 WILLIAM & MARY VS #3 NORTHEASTERN
LINE: W/M -2; OVER/UNDER 138; ML, W/M, -130; NORTHEASTERN, +110
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: #1 WOFFORD VS #10 FURMAN
LINE: WOFFORD -12; OVER/UNDER 118; ML, WOFFORD, -700; FURMAN, +500
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC CONFERNECE
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: #1 IONA VS #3 MANHATTAN
LINE: IONA -4; OVER/UNDER 149; ML, IONA +180; MANHATTAN, +175
WEST COAST CONFERNECE
#1 GONZAGA VS #5 PEPPERDINE
LINE: ZAGS -15; OVER/UNDER 127
#2 BYU CS #6 PORTLAND
LINE: BYU, -8.5; OVER/UNDER NOT LISTED
SOUTH DAKOTA VS SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
LINE: SDSU, -9
NORTH DAKOTA STATE VS ORAL ROBERTS
LINE: NDSU, -3
MID AMERICAN CONFERENCE
BGSU -11 VS. BALL STATE
AKRON -6 VS. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
EASTERN MICHIGAN -7.5 VS. MIAMI
WESTERN MICHIGAN -9.5 VS. OHIO
ODDS TO WIN THE TOURNAMENT
CENTRAL MICHIGAN, 5/2
WESTERN MICHIGAN, 20/1
EASTERN MICHIGAN, 20/1
NORTHERN ILLINOIS, 75/1
BALL STATE, 500/1
DANCE CARDS: Three automatic bids are on the line tonight with championship games being played in the Southern, Colonial and Metro Atlantic. Most of the teams playing have recent NCAA experience. Wofford and Manhattan were in the Dance last season. Wofford also made appearances in 2010 and 2011. Iona was just there in 2013. Such is not the case in the Colonial Athletic Association finals tonight, where one of two long NCAA Tournament droughts will be quenched this evening when William & Mary and Northeastern hook up for the league crown. This is my favorite part of these smaller league tournaments. I love seeing obscure schools you’ve never thought twice about either make it into the tournament either for the first time or after a long time between trips. For Northeastern, the time in between trips was more than a whole generation. They made the field in 1991, as winners of the American East Conference Tournament, and have never made it back. In fact, they’ve only played in three conference title games since (1995 and 2005 in the American East and 2013 in the CAA) and are just 17-23 in conference tournament games since that appearance. It’s been more than a generation for William & Mary. It’s been forever. They’ve never made the NCAA Tournament. Ever. Tonight is their night to one up Northwestern. The Tribe have typically been a second division team for most of their program’s history. Tony Shaver has had some awful teams in his tenure, but he’s also had some nice seasons of late and has managed to get William & Mary into 4 league title games in the last 8 years. Is this the year that door finally gets knocked down? Adding an extra to element tonight is the fact that both coaches, Shaver at William & Mary and Bill Coen at Northeastern have been at the schools for a long time. They have a combined 21 years on the job at the current schools. At this point, they are probably just going to be the William & Mary and Northeastern coaches for their college head coaching careers. Who knows if a bigger job will ever come calling? At least after tonight, one can finally put an NCAA appearance on their resume.
WILL THE JCB CASH FUTURE BETS: If you been tracking over the weekend, you know we still have future bets alive in each of the three title games tonight. We’ve got -120 on Wofford; +250 on William & Mary; and +500 on Manhattan. We fell pretty good Wofford will take care of business. There will be no hedging there. With several hours before tip yet in the other contests, we might have to ponder something on the other two. We’ll report any goings-on via twitter.
Repeat Titles: Two teams tonight are trying to defend their conference tournament titles from a year ago: Wofford in the Southern and Manhattan in the MAAC. Repeat champs are routine in the Southern. Davidson won three in a row from 2006-08, Wofford went back-to-back in 2010 and 2011 and Davidson repeated again in 2012 and 2013. In the MAAC, Manhattan is trying to be the first repeat champ since Fran McCaffery’s Siena teams, which won three in a row from 2008-10. The Jaspars won back-to-back titles themselves in 2003 and 2004. Their only other league tournament title came in 1993. All three #1 seeds are still in play too with Wofford, Iona and William & Mary. Should either lose tonight, there is at least a spot in the NIT reserved them.
Elite Mid-Major Offenses: Tonight gives us chance to see some high level offense from the mid-major levels. William & Mary is the 29th overall ranked offense in the land. Their 57.4 eFG% in fourth best in the land. They are third in the country at shooting 2s and 22nd at shooting 3s. Over in the MAAC, Iona brings their usual high octane stuff, playing at a pace just below 70 possessions a game, making them one of the fastest teams around. Their offense is ranked 36th in the country and they hit over 40 percent of their 3-point shots. Almost 40% of their points come from the long ball. Then there is Gonzaga and BYU, playing on opposite sides of the bracket in tonight’s WCC semifinals. Both those offenses operate at a high level and both crack the top-10 nationally in efficiency rating. All four of those clubs are favored tonight, mostly on the strength of their offensive acumen.
Will The Slipper Fit? Can any of the teams vying for an automatic bid spring any upsets once in the NCAA Tournament? Iona certainly has the offense, but they sturggule defending the post. I’d be worried about a possible mismatch in the interior with certain #4 or # 3 seeds come next week. Conventional wisdom says Wofford has a chance, and I’d tend to agree with that. Defense, slow pace and go-to guy who does everything on the court. All three of those factors pile up on this possible Cinderella resume. Their D checks in at 59th nationally, pretty heady for a Southern Conference team. They force a lot of steals, make you take 3-point shots out of your comfort zone and love closing out on the defensive glass. Another element that I like regarding their future upset hopes is the fact that they’re one of the hardest teams to make 3-pointers against, all the while hitting on almost 38% of their own long ball attempts. The program has also been here before, nearly pulling off upsets over Wisconsin in 2010 and BYU in 2011. Last year, they had a terrible draw with Michigan and even though they closed to within 7 points midway through the second half, they eventually were run out the building. That was an elite offense they took on last year. And a #2 seed. Should Wofford advance tonight, they might grab a 12 seed. There will be nothing elite about the 5-seed they take on and Wofford wont need to play above their heads to win.
Cinderella’s Cinderella: Let us introduce you to the Furman Paladins. In order for Wofford to become the national Cinderella, they first need to beat the Cinderella from their own conference in the form of the Paladins. Furman entered the Southern Conference Tournament with an 8-21, 5-13 record. They were the last seed in this tournament. But if they can manage to win their fourth game in as many days in this Sectional, then they would qualify for the NCAAs and send Wofford packing to the NIT. How bad were they this year? Furman never won back-to-back games against Division One competition all year until this event. Their KenPom page is covered in pink. They were such a longshot, there weren’t any future odds on a Furman win in this sectional. If you wanted to bet them, you had to play The Field bet at 15/1. But after beating Citadel in the opening round, they upset the #2 seed Tennessee-Chatanooga in the quarterfinals. Yesterday in the semifinals, they overcame an 11-point deficit midway through the second half and outlasted Mercer, last year’s March darling after upsetting Duke in the NCAAs. In each of their last two wins, sophomore Kris Acox has been dubbed the KenPom MVP. He has 27 points on 19 shots in the tournament and is averaging 8.33 boards a game. Their best player is junior Stephen Croone, but one of the narratives this weekend has been Furman’s freshmen class, dubbed by most Southern observers as the best group in the league, coming of age over the weekend. Now they advance to play their arch rival Wofford. The school’s are separated by only 25 miles in northwest South Carolina. They met in the regular season finale, a game Wofford only won by two points and Furman played without Croone. So maybe there is a chance tonight. One thing Furman fans. Hold your ‘We Want Kentucky’ signs. If you win, you might get them eventually. But you’re probably going to have to play a 16 vs. 16 First Four game in Dayton before you get your shot in the ring with mighty Kentucky.
Bubble Impact In The WCC: The West Coast Conference picks back up tonight with its semifinal round. Powerful Gonzaga takes on Pepperdine in the opener with BYU-Portland in the night cap. All bubble eyes will be on the Cougars. They currently sit as the last team in the current Bracket Matrix as a 12 seed. Despite such a precarious spot, they’re getting a ton of the most recent support. Forty-two mock brackets in the Matrix updated yesterday and 35 of 42 seeded the Cougars. Funny thing is, I don’t know if they can clinch an at-large bid by getting wins in this field. I doubt a win tonight gets them any farther away from the cutline. A win tomorrow against Gonzaga would do wonders for their at-large profile, but it wouldn’t matter since beating the Zags in a potential WCC final tomorrow would net them the league’s automatic bid. A win tonight and a loss tomorrow won’t kill BYU, but it would open the door for teams like Illinois, UCLA, Miami to pass them with more impressive runs in their respective league tournaments, not to mention leave their spot vulnerable to one of the many bid thieves that may step up during the next week. A loss tonight to the Pilots would probably turn the lights out on their at-large hopes. Those lights almost dimmed on Saturday night in the quarterfinals against Santa Clara. They needed all of Tyler Haws 30 points, including his 17-foot jumper to win it in the closing seconds. Will they need similar dramatics tonight. KenPom doesn’t think so, giving the Cougars a 78% chance of winning, projecting an 83-75 score. The game wont tip until close to midnight on the east, so if you’re planning on watching it, brew some coffee or stock up on Red Bull.
GO DAKOTAS: Lastly, a quick word about the Summit Conference. One of the best things about the NCAA Tournament is that it is a national event, including schools from all over the country of all of shapes and sizes. With South Dakota, South Dakota St and North Dakota St all still alive in this sectional’s semifinals, we have a pretty decent chance of having the Dakotas represented in the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in the last eight years. I think that is pretty cool. Sorry, Oral Roberts. Nobody is cheering for you. Besides, Oklahoma already has 2-3 teams that will make the field.