College Hoops Saturday: Your Commentary

    
March 5th, 2011
With three NCAA Tournament tickets assured of being punched (that number becomes four if Princeton wins at Harvard in a crucial Ivy League tilt), it makes sense to touch on each of those games as opposed to the usual daily preview. The title game in the Atlantic Sun provides a matchup of the prohibitive favorite taking on the underdog, a storyline that usually doesn't come into play for another two weeks.

Belmont, who wasn't picked to win the conference in the preseason, won 19 of its 20 league games by a margin of nearly 21 points per game and Rick Byrd's team has taken care of business in wins over Kennesaw State and host Mercer thus far. Standing in their way is six-seed North Florida, a program that before this season had never won a single A-Sun Tournament game (they just recently earned full Division I status) before this week. All the Ospreys have done is send home both the three (Jacksonville) and two (East Tennessee State) seeds. Can they do the same to the Bruins?

It will be tough to say the least, as the balanced regular season champions have just two players averaging double figures in scoring (Ian Clark- 12.5, Mick Hedgepeth- 10.3) but five others score at least six points per game. The Bruins have failed to score more than 65 points just twice all season long and both were losses (the second Tennessee loss and at Lipscomb), and UNF did lose by just two points in their meeting on February 5th. But if the Belmont that whipped North Florida 91-59 on January 8th shows up the test becomes that much tougher for the Ospreys. North Florida got the job done defensively in both of their tournament wins, limiting ETSU to 13% from beyond the arc and when Belmont struggles from deep they can be had.

In the Big South regular season champion Coastal Carolina has survived heavy personnel losses, most recently losing leading scorer and rebounder Desmond Holloway, to get back to the championship game. Last year the Chanticleers had their NCAA Tournament hopes ended on their court by Radford, and Saturday presents a challenge in the form of a UNC Asheville team more than a few people liked to win this tournament before it began. Eddie Biedenbach's Bulldogs have won five straight games, with the streak beginning with a 61-58 win at CCU on February 22nd, and they shut down High Point in the semifinals on Thursday night. Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm have led the way for Asheville, and having your stars could make the difference in Myrtle Beach. Chad Gray and Anthony Raffa have been the players Cliff Ellis has needed to step up for the Chanticleers, and they combined for 50 points in the win over VMI on Thursday. But whether or not they can do the same against UNC Asheville is up for debate and will likely determine which team goes dancing.

And in the Ohio Valley there's the contrast of a Morehead State team that's made a habit of contending for conference titles of late and Tennessee Tech, which makes its' first-ever appearance in the conference final. But if Tennessee Tech lacks title experience they've got the college basketball answer to "Mr. Big Shot" (Chauncey Billups) and that would be Zach Swansey, who has made five game-winning baskets this season and dropped an absolute dagger on regular season champ Murray State in the final minute of the Golden Eagles' win on Friday night. TTU has won seven straight games to date but they were swept in the regular season by Donnie Tyndall's Eagles, who have an outstanding tandem in Demonte Harper and Kenneth Faried. Faried grabbed 21 rebounds in their win over Austin Peay in the semifinals while Harper provided 25 points and a few thrilling drives to the rim. Those two will be a handful to say the least, but it was Terrance Hill and Drew Kelly who combined for 38 points in Morehead State's 76-60 win in the last meeting between these two.

Plenty of other conference tournaments will be in session on Saturday, with the Missouri Valley moving on to the semifinals after a quarterfinal Friday that provided three outstanding finishes. Missouri State takes on Creighton in the first semi, and if forwards Kenny Lawson Jr. and Doug McDermott can play as they did in the win over Northern Iowa the Blue Jays definitely have a chance to advance. And Wichita State, the lone team to avoid the craziness, takes on Indiana State in the second game. Jake Odum made the big shot in the final second for Greg Lansing's Sycamores, who have won six of their last seven games but were swept by the Shockers in the regular season. The issues for ISU: turnovers and offensive efficiency, which go hand in hand. If the Sycamores can perform well in those two areas they have a chance. The America East, Big Sky, CAA, MAAC, Southern and WCC all move into the quarters while the Sun Belt tips off its first day of action. And the semifinals in the Horizon League should also be interesting as Butler and Milwaukee take the floor for the first time.

In regular season action there's the matter of Princeton and Harvard, with the Tigers looking to complete the season sweep that would also net them a return to the NCAA Tournament. Missouri hosts Kansas in a big game for both, as the Jayhawks look to lock up the outright Big 12 title and the Tigers look to remain undefeated at home. Duke at North Carolina is always huge and Saturday night's matchup will also be for the outright ACC title. Xavier (Atlantic 10), Pittsburgh (Big East), Arizona (Pac-10) and Florida (SEC) will all look to join the party in locking up outright conference titles, with the Gators having the stiffest test as they visit Vanderbilt. Pitt hosts a reeling Villanova squad that's running out of time to find answers.

San Diego State and BYU will wrap up their seasons in hopes of clinching at least a share of the Mountain West title, but the Aztecs will have to contend with a Colorado State team that could most certainly use a big win for their NCAA Tournament resume. The same goes for Baylor, who's done more to hurt their chances of dancing this season but they have a shot to pick off Texas and the Longhorns haven't played as well as they're capable of the last two weeks. And Michigan State visiting Michigan and Virginia Tech at Clemson are both immensely important games when it comes to the field of 68. Saturday may still be the regular season for a number of teams, but it certainly doesn't feel like it.

Top 25
12:00 PM (2) Kansas at (24) Missouri (CBS)
3:30 PM Wyoming at (3) BYU (The Mtn.)
8:00 PM (4) Duke at (13) North Carolina (CBS)
4:00 PM (19) Villanova at (5) Pittsburgh (CBS)
4:00 PM (6) Purdue at Iowa (ESPN)
2:00 PM (7) Notre Dame at (16) Connecticut (ESPN)
9:00 PM (8) Texas at Baylor (ESPN)
10:00 PM Colorado State at (9) San Diego State (The Mtn.)
12:00 PM (11) Louisville at West Virginia (ESPN)
4:00 PM DePaul at (12) Syracuse (ESPN3)
6:00 PM (14) Florida at (20) Vanderbilt (ESPN)
8:00 PM South Florida at (15) St. John's (ESPN3)
2:00 PM (17) Georgetown at Cincinnati (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Oregon at (18) Arizona (CBS)
7:00 PM (21) Utah State at Louisiana Tech (ESPN3)
1:30 PM Texas Tech at (22) Texas A&M (ESPN3)

NCAA Division I Games
12:00 PM Virginia Tech at Clemson (ESPN2)
12:00 PM Duquesne at Richmond
12:00 PM Indiana at Illinois (BTN)
1:00 PM Buffalo at Bowling Green
1:00 PM Massachusetts at Fordham
1:00 PM Nicholls State at Southeastern Louisiana
1:30 PM Georgia at Alabama (ESPN3)
1:30 PM Iowa State at Kansas State (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Dayton at George Washington
2:00 PM Virginia at Maryland (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Michigan State at Michigan (CBS)
2:00 PM Xavier at Saint Louis (CBS College)
2:00 PM Rhode Island at St. Bonaventure
2:00 PM South Carolina at Mississippi State (ESPN2)
2:00 PM Northern Illinois at Ball State
2:00 PM Western Michigan at Central Michigan
2:00 PM Toledo at Eastern Michigan
2:00 PM Saint Joseph's at Charlotte
3:00 PM La Salle at Temple
3:00 PM Stephen F. Austin at Northwestern State
3:00 PM UTEP at SMU
4:00 PM Oregon State at Arizona State
4:00 PM Arkansas at Mississippi (ESPN3)
4:00 PM Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (ESPN3)
4:00 PM Tulane at Memphis
4:00 PM UNLV at Utah (The Mtn.)
4:00 PM Chicago State at N.J.I.T.
4:30 PM Lamar at McNeese State
5:00 PM Texas A&M-CC at Central Arkansas
5:30 PM UCLA at Washington State
5:30 PM Alcorn State at Texas Southern
6:00 PM Air Force at New Mexico (The Mtn.)
6:00 PM Rice at Houston
6:00 PM Marquette at Seton Hall (ESPN3)
6:30 PM Alabama A&M at Jackson State
7:00 PM Stanford at California
7:00 PM Auburn at LSU (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Princeton at Harvard (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Pennsylvania at Dartmouth
7:00 PM Brown at Columbia
7:00 PM Yale at Cornell
7:00 PM UCF at Marshall
7:00 PM Rutgers at Providence (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Alabama State at Grambling State
8:00 PM East Carolina at UAB
8:00 PM Southern Miss at Tulsa
8:00 PM Texas-San Antonio at Texas-Arlington
8:00 PM Texas State at Sam Houston State
8:45 PM South Dakota at Houston Baptist
9:00 PM Nebraska at Colorado
9:00 PM San Jose State at Boise State
9:00 PM Nevada at New Mexico State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM North Dakota at Texas-Pan American
9:00 PM Southern University at Prairie View A&M
10:00 PM UC Irvine at UC Riverside
10:00 PM Seattle at Idaho
10:00 PM Cal State Northridge at Pacific
10:00 PM Cal State Fullerton at UC Davis
10:05 PM Cal Poly at UC Santa Barbara
10:30 PM USC at Washington
11:30 PM Hawaii at Fresno State

Conference Tournaments

America East Quarterfinals (at Hartford)
12:05 PM Stony Brook vs. Albany (America East TV)
2:15 PM Binghamton vs. Vermont (America East TV)
6:05 PM New Hampshire vs. Boston University (America East TV)
8:15 PM Hartford vs. Maine (America East TV)

Atlantic Sun Final (at Mercer)
6:00 PM North Florida vs. Belmont (ESPN2)

Big Sky Quarterfinals (at higher seeded team)
8:35 PM Montana State at Northern Arizona (FCS)
9:30 PM Eastern Washington at Weber State

Big South Final (at Coastal Carolina)
4:00 PM UNC Asheville at Coastal Carolina (ESPN2)

CAA Quarterfinals
12:00 PM Georgia State vs. (25) George Mason (ESPN3)
2:30 PM Drexel vs. VCU (ESPN3)
6:00 PM Delaware vs. Old Dominion (ESPN Full Court)
8:30 PM William & Mary vs. Hofstra (ESPN Full Court)

Horizon Semifinals (at Milwaukee)
6:00 PM Cleveland State vs. Butler (HLN)
8:30 PM Valparaiso vs. Milwaukee (HLN)

MAAC Quarterfinals (at Fairfield)
2:30 PM Saint Peter's vs. Loyola (MD) (MSG/ESPN3)
4:30 PM Fairfield vs. Marist (MSG2/ESPN3)
7:30 PM Iona vs. Siena (MSG+/ESPN3)
10:00 PM Rider vs. Canisius (MSG/MASN/ESPN3)

Missouri Valley Semifinals (in St. Louis)
2:35 PM Missouri State vs. Creighton (FSN Midwest)
5:05 PM Wichita State vs. Indiana State (FSN MIdwest)

OVC Final (in Nashville)
8:00 PM Morehead State vs. Tennessee Tech (ESPN2)

SoCon Quarterfinals (at Chattanooga)
2:00 PM Western Carolina vs. UNC Greensboro (SoConTV)
4:30 PM Wofford vs. Appalachian State (SoConTV)
7:00 PM Chattanooga vs. Furman (SoConTV)
9:30 PM Elon vs. College of Charleston (SoConTV)

Summit Quarterfinals (in Sioux Falls, SD)
7:00 PM Oakland vs. Southern Utah (Midco Sports Net)
9:30 PM Oral Roberts vs. North Dakota State (Midco Sports Net)

Sun Belt First Round (in Hot Springs, AR)
7:30 PM North Texas vs. Troy (Summit Arena)
7:45 PM Western Kentucky vs. ULM (Conv. Center Court)
9:45 PM Denver vs. FIU (Summit Arena)
10:00 PM South Alabama vs. Arkansas-Little Rock (Conv. Center Court)

WCC Quarterfinals (in Las Vegas)
9:00 PM Santa Clara vs. Loyola Marymount (BYU TV)
11:30 PM San Francisco vs. Pepperdine (BYU TV)

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