College Hoops Monday Recap: Four More Tickets Punched

    
March 8th, 2011
The NCAA Tournament field is now up to seven confirmed members thanks to Monday's results. The two games with the bigger impact on who fills out the field from an at-large standpoint were the CAA and West Coast title games. Out in Las Vegas, Gonzaga regained the crown by beating Saint Mary's behind a balanced effort that saw four players score in double figures. Steven Gray, who had to leave the game in the first half to receive stitches for a cut above his left eye, scored 15 and Robert Sacre added 12 points and eight rebounds (knocking down some crucial free throws late as well).

Mickey McConnell (24 points) and Matthew Dellavedova (21) led the way for the Gaels, but the inability of the supporting cast to provide at least one more solid scoring effort combined with foul trouble in the frontcourt did them in. The Gaels will now have to sit and watch other teams play their games throughout the week, and despite the hope being that other bubble teams falter who really knows what Randy Bennett's team needs to happen.

The CAA final offered up suspense as well, with Old Dominion imposing their will early only to have to hang on for dear life late in beating VCU 70-65 in Richmond. Tournament MOP Frank Hassell scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds as the Monarchs won their second straight CAA Tournament title. Leading by as many as 18 points early in the second half, Blaine Taylor's team was in complete control of the game and looked to be a solid bet to win by a comfortable margin.

Then the sometimes chaotic nature of VCU's pressure took hold, turning the Monarchs over and closing to within one on a Bradford Burgess three-pointer with 4:27 left in the game. But that would be as close as the Rams would get, as ODU scored on consecutive possessions with offensive rebounds to keep their edge. Kent Bazemore added 14 points and six assists, but the Monarchs' 10 turnovers in the second half very nearly did them in.

So where does this leave VCU? By many accounts the Rams needed to win due in large part to a non-conference strength of schedule of 110 according to rpiforecast.com. How much will the SOS matter, and would playing in a league that ranks eighth in the RPI help their case? Saint Mary's, according to some, is in a better position at this stage but the lesson here is a simple one. Win. That's the best way for any team on the bubble to seal their fate, because all control is forfeited upon losing. So for all the bubble teams out there rejoicing that VCU didn't win the CAA, no one will show pity if you fail to take care of business this week.

Other Notable Happenings

1. John Dunne and his seniors complete an amazing turnaround at Saint Peter's.
When John Dunne took over in Jersey City there wasn't much left in the cupboard following the Peacocks' run to the 2006 MAAC title game. All-time leading scorer Keydren Clark was gone, and outside of Raul Orta and Todd Sowell the Peacocks were looking like a team destined to linger at the bottom of the league standings. But Coach Dunne and his staff brought in a freshman class that believed in the vision. Ryan Bacon, Jeron Belin, Wesley Jenkins and Nick Leon took their lumps, as they learned not only what it took to win but what it took to make Dunne's system work. If you defend you've got a good chance to win, and as they improved so did the win total. It all came to a head on Monday night as they cooled down a red-hot Iona team 62-57 in Bridgeport to grab their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1995. Belin scored 17 points off the bench, Jenkins and Leon combined to score 29 points and Bacon grabbed nine rebounds to go with eight points . They had to survive some hairy moments due to the many turnovers late, but they got it done.

2. The "Minnesota Mafia" leads Wofford back to the NCAA Tournament.
Mike Young's Wofford Terriers were the hottest team in the Southern Conference going into the conference tournament in Chattanooga, but more than a few people expected regular season champion Charleston to grab the automatic bid regardless. Andrew Goudelock scored 25 points but his having to leave the game due to foul trouble in the second half opened the door for the Terriers, and they took full advantage of the situation. Cameron Rundles scored a team-best 21 points and Noah Dahlman added 20 to go along with nine rebounds in the 77-67 victory. Dahlman, Rundles and Jamar Diggs make up the "Minnesota Mafia" with all three hailing from the state and it would be an understatement to say the recruiting haul has paid dividends. Next up is the NCAA Tournament, and the hope is that the Terriers get a better draw than Wisconsin a season ago. If it happens, Wofford is more than capable of sending someone home.

3. Chalk prevails in the Summit while the Sun Belt continues down the unpredictable path.
If there's a conference tournament that symbolizes the chaos that fans love come March it would be the Sun Belt, where it's been anything but chalk in Hot Springs. The two teams who will face off in tonight's final: North Texas and Arkansas-Little Rock, the four and five seeds out of the West Division. Just one of the four teams who received a first round bye (Middle Tennessee) won their first game, and UALR sent them home by the final score of 65-56 last night. Tristan Thompson led North Texas in an 81-62 whipping of Western Kentucky to grab their spot in the title game, and Johnny Jones' team is rounding into form at just the right time.

The Summit League tournament's gone according to form outside of South Dakota State beating IPFW, resulting in a final matching the top two seeds in the field (Oakland and Oral Roberts). The Golden Grizzlies whipped South Dakota State 110-90 in the first semifinal, shooting 57.7% from the field and all five scorers reaching double figures for Greg Kampe's team. Oral Roberts beat IUPUI 83-77 behind 26 points from Dominique Morrison and 20 from Warren Niles. The biggest stat for the Golden Eagles: 33 free throw attempts, and despite making just 63.6% of those shots the sheer volume was enough to seal their trip to the title game. Oakland's been the class of the league all season long and with Keith Benson leading the way they've got a good chance to get to the NCAA Tournament, but they'll have quite the challenge on their hands tonight.

Top Three Games

1. Old Dominion 70, VCU 65

2. Gonzaga 75, Saint Mary's 63

3. Saint Peter's 62, Iona 57

Three Notable Performances

1. G Tristan Thompson (North Texas)
There's more than one important Tristan Thompson plying his trade in the Lone Star State. The Mean Green's version scored 28 points and grabbed four rebounds in their 81-62 win over Western Kentucky to clinch a spot in the Sun Belt title game.

2. F Drew Valentine (Oakland)
Valentine scored 24 points (10-13 FG) and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Golden Grizzlies' 110-90 win over South Dakota State in a Summit League semifinal.

3. F Mike Glover (Iona)
Glover scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Gaels' 62-57 loss to Saint Peter's in the MAAC title game.