Friday's Conference Tournament Primer

March 9th, 2012

ACC - Quarterfinals
#1 North Carolina vs. #8 Maryland, Noon (ESPN2/ACC Network)
#4 Virginia vs. #5 NC State, 2:00 p.m. (ESPN2/ACC Network)
#2 Duke vs. #10 Virginia Tech, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2/ACC Network)
#3 Florida State vs. #6 Miami, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2/ACC Network)

After wins on Thursday both NC State and Miami have shots at quality wins on Friday, and should both accomplish that the ACC may be able to grab six NCAA tournament bids. The Wolfpack take on Virginia, and with the lone regular season meeting decided by a single point (61-60 Virginia win on January 28th) this should be a close contest.

Tony Bennett's team has been banged up for much of the season and with freshman Malcolm Brogdon being ruled out for the season the Cavaliers are essentially down to six players in their rotation. But the most important one is still on the floor, as Mike Scott has been one of the best players in the ACC all season long. 

The key for Virginia is getting consistent production from guard Sammy Zeglinski, because when he's shooting it well the Cavaliers are tougher to slow down. Tony Bennett's pack line defense can frustrate teams, so the Pack have to be smart in not settling for too many perimeter shots. C.J. Leslie scored 17 points in the first meeting and Richard Howell put up 11 and 18 rebounds, and as a team NC State out-rebounded Virginia 42-25 in Raleigh.

But they shot 2-for-15 from three and just 12-for-21 from the foul line, thus negating that edge on the glass. The Wolfpack may average 15 three-point attempts per game and if a decent chunk of those are taken by Scott Wood that's fine. But they can't fall in love with the shot as that's what Virginia wants teams to do. Work the ball inside and take advantage of their depth, and NC State likely wins. 

As for Miami, the Hurricanes and Seminoles split the regular season series with the home team winning both meetings. Jim Larranaga's team won in Coral Gables with Reggie Johnson sitting due to an NCAA issue, with Miami shooting 61% from the field and scoring 54 points in the second half of the 78-62 win. And the Hurricanes got it done with offensive balance, as four players finished in double figures.

If they can be balanced, with Johnson and Kenny Kadji inside and guards Malcolm Grant, Shane Larkin and Durand Scott producing on the perimeter, Miami can pose problems for one of the ACC's best defensive teams. Florida State has to take care of the basketball, not just for tonight but also for the remainder of the season if they're to make any kind of noise.

Leonard Hamilton's team turns the ball over on 24% of their possessions, which is not part of the formula for winning in March. Luke Loucks and Ian Miller have to perform better in this area if the Seminoles are to hang around, because despite FSU's ability on the defensive end that can be nullified if they're giving away too many possessions.    

Of course North Carolina and Duke can't be forgotten but both take on teams who aren't going to the Big Dance unless they win the ACC tournament. Maryland's a young team led by Terrell Stoglin, whose shot selection at times leaves much to be desired, and if the Terps are hot they can hang around with UNC. But don't expect that to happen, and while Virginia Tech tends to play Duke tough they likely don't have the horses even with Duke's Ryan Kelly missing the tournament with a foot injury.

Atlantic 10 - Quarterfinals
#1 Temple vs. #8 Massachusetts, 12:00pm (CBS SN syndicated)
#4 St. Bonaventure vs. #5 Saint Joseph's, 2:30pm (CBS SN syndicated)
#2 Saint Louis vs. #7 La Salle, 6:30pm (CBS SN syndicated)
#3 Xavier vs. #6 Dayton, 9:00pm (CBS SN syndicated)  

In the final game of the night in Atlantic City, Xavier and Dayton are essentially playing for a trip to the NCAA tournament. Not sure if there's any other way to describe the game between the two rivals, which should make for a heated battle at Boardwalk Hall. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons still haven't played their best basketball, and what better time to get going than right now? Dayton's led by point guard Kevin Dillard and they've got some good players on the wings, led by senior Chris Johnson.

Saint Joseph's can also work their way into the bubble chatter, and clearly getting to the semis with a win over St. Bonaventure would be a good start. The battle between C.J. Aiken and A-10 Player of the Year Andrew Nicholson will have a lot to say about the outcome, but the Bonnies will need to slow down guard Carl Jones as well. Temple and Saint Louis are well on their way to the Big Dance, but a loss today could have a negative impact from a seeding standpoint.

Big 12 - Semifinals
#4 Baylor vs. #1 Kansas, 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
#2 Missouri vs. #6 Texas, 10:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

While the buzz may be the fact that we're one win apiece away from a third meeting between Missouri and Kansas, the truth of the matter is that both have business to attend to tonight. The Jayhawks take on a Baylor team they beat decisively in both regular season meetings, with Thomas Robinson doing what he does and Jeff Withey absolutely killing the Bears inside. Baylor will need Perry Jones III to come out with the same aggression he did in Thursday's win over Kansas State, putting up 31 points and 11 boards. 

The second game matches Missouri and six-seed Texas, who played well in the second half of their win over Iowa State on Thursday. It will be important for J'Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo to play well for the Longhorns, but if anything they're going to need Clint Chapman and the rest of their big men to go to work on the glass. It won't hurt to get Ricardo Ratliffe in foul trouble either but that can be easier said than done. Marcus Denmon, Phil Pressey and Kim English lead the way for the Tigers, who could still be in the discussion for a one-seed.

Big East - Semifinals
#1 Syracuse vs. #4 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
#7 Louisville vs. #3 Notre Dame, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)  

Louisville is the lone team not in the top four to reach the Big East semifinals, as they jumped Marquette early and hung on to beat the Golden Eagles on Thursday night. They take on Notre Dame, who survived a comedy of errors down the stretch in their overtime win over USF. The key for the Cardinals will be to achieve a near-chaotic tempo within possessions against the Irish, who are extemely difficult to speed up. That game follows Syracuse and Cincinnati, with the Bearcats in position to help themselves out in the seeding department with a win. But beating the Orange is tough anywhere, much less in the Garden. Who steps up for Syracuse tonight? To have as many answers as they do is a nice luxury to have, but if Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright play well the Bearcats can win.

Big Ten - Quarterfinals
#1 Michigan State vs. #8 Iowa, Noon (ESPN)
#4 Wisconsin vs. #5 Indiana, 2:25 p.m. (ESPN)
#2 Michigan vs. #10 Minnesota, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)
#3 Ohio State vs. #6 Purdue, 8:55 p.m. (BTN)  

With Northwestern going down the bubble suspense has likely left the Big Ten tournament, unless either Iowa or Minnesota can get hot and get to Sunday's final. They take on the top two seeds in the event, and while Michigan State and Michigan won shares of the regular season title (along with Ohio State) they can be beat. The 4/5 matchup is the one to watch, not only because of how evenly matched Wisconsin and Indiana are but also because of the fact that this will be the first game for IU without Verdell Jones III, who tore his ACL on Thursday. This will be a good test for Tom Crean's team in that regard, because while they're deep enough rotation-wise to lose an important senior at this point in the year does require some adjusting.

Big West - Semifinals
#1 Long Beach State vs. #7 UC Irvine, 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
#3 UCSB vs. #4 Cal Poly, Midnight (ESPNU)  

Top-seed Long Beach State, who is without their best defender (Larry Anderson) this weekend due to injury, received a nice break as UC Irvine knocked off two-seed Cal State Fullerton on Thursday night. With the Big West re-seeding its teams after the quarterfinals the 49ers take on the Anteaters, and while Russell Turner's team isn't to be underestimated this is a better semifinal matchup for Casper Ware and company than a battle with Cal Poly would have been. The Mustangs take on UCSB, who has won the last two conference tournament titles and with Orlando Johnson leading the way a third is not out of the realm of possibility. If the Gauchos have James Nunnally going as well look out.

Conference USA - Semifinals
#2 Southern Miss vs. #6 Marshall, 4:00 p.m. (CBS SN)
#1 Memphis vs. #4 UCF, 6:30 p.m. (CBS SN)

With Memphis safely in the NCAA tournament field the question for Conference USA is whether or not another team can pop up and earn a bid. That chatter focuses on Southern Miss, who likely wrapped up a spot with their escape against ECU. Larry Eustachy's team has an impressive set of computer numbers, so that likely means two bids for C-USA, but if DeAndre Kane can go off for 40 as he did in Marshall's win over Tulsa the Thundering Herd can earn a trip to the title game. Opposing Memphis is UCF, who likely needs to win the tournament if they're to go dancing, but with Keith Clanton leading the way they don't lack for talent either.

Great West - Semifinals
#4 NJIT vs. #1 Utah Valley, 1:00 p.m.
#3 Texas-Pan American vs. #2 North Dakota, 3:30 p.m. 

MAC - Semifinals
#4 Kent State vs. # 1 Akron, 7:00 p.m. (STO)
#3 Ohio vs. # 2 Buffalo, 9:30 p.m. (STO) 

The top four seeds in the MAC all hail from the East Division, and it should come as no surprise that these four meet in the semis. The question now is who has enough left to grab two wins and the league's automatic bid. The conversation has to start with regular season champion Akron, who won the tournament last season and in Zeke Marshall have a big man who can change games with his shot-blocking ability. Two-seed Buffalo counters with forwards Javon McCrea and Mitchell Watt, two very good players who will be a handful for Ohio tonight. The Bobcats have the league's best point guard in D.J. Cooper, and Kent State has three players averaging double figures with forward Justin Greene leading the way. Thursday may have gone according to plan with Ohio and Kent State moving on, and it wouldn't be a surprise if those two won again tonight.

MEAC - Semifinals
#8 Hampton vs. #4 Bethune-Cookman, 6:00 p.m.
#2 Norfolk State vs. #11 Florida A&M, 8:00 p.m. 

Mountain West - Semifinals
#1 San Diego State vs. #4 Colorado State, 9:00 p.m. (CBS SN)
#2 New Mexico vs. #3 UNLV, 11:30 p.m. (CBS SN) 

The two semifinals in Las Vegas promise to be entertaining affairs with both being regular season splits. San Diego State didn't look their best against a young Boise State team that's going to be good in years to come, and Jamaal Franklin and the rest of the Aztecs have to sharpen things up if they're to beat the Rams. Colorado State looked impressive in their win over TCU, and with Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green leading the way Tim Miles' crew definitely has a shot at the tournament crown. In game two how UNLV defends Drew Gordon will go a long way in determining the outcome, as they were unable to slow him down in the second half of their loss in Albuquerque last month. Mike Moser also struggled in that game, and if he can get going early the Runnin' Rebels can take advantage of their home floor. 

Pac-12 - Semifinals
#9 Oregon State vs. #4 Arizona, 9:10 p.m. (FSN)
#2 California vs. #6 Colorado, 11:40 p.m. (FSN) 

Who wants an NCAA tournament bid? That's the question in Los Angeles as California is likely the only team secure with their prospects. Arizona has to beat Oregon State if they're to go dancing, but the same could have been true even if Washington were their opposition since the Huskies swept the regular season series from the Wildcats. Colorado and Oregon State know at this point that they'll have to win the automatic bid, and both are capable of doing just that. There's an awful lot on the line at Staples Center, truthfully more than many would expect to be in the semifinals of a BCS AQ conference tournament.

SEC - Quarterfinals
#8 LSU vs. #1 Kentucky, 1:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
#5 Alabama vs. #4 Florida, 3:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
#7 Ole Miss vs. #2 Tennessee, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
#11 Georgia vs. #3 Vanderbilt, 10:00 p.m. (SEC Network) 

Ole Miss/Tennessee is the game to watch from a bubble standpoint as both teams need wins, and with a number of bubble team across the country faltering of late either one can step up and earn a bid. Jarnell Stokes has helped change the prospects for the Volunteers, who with his addition had two tough players inside who give opponents fits (Jeronne Maymon). The Rebels will need Terrence Henry to play well again if they're to advance, and Murphy Holloway has played well for much of the season too. The other three games seem to be straightforward with Kentucky already having a one-seed in the NCAA tournament and Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama all headed to the Big Dance as well.

SWAC- Semifinals
#2 Texas Southern vs. #6 Alcorn State, 1:30 p.m. (SWAC TV)
#1 Mississippi Valley State vs. #5 UAPB, 9:00 p.m. (SWAC TV) 

WAC - Semifinals
#6 Hawai'i vs. #2 New Mexico State, 9:00 p.m. (WSN)
#5 Louisiana Tech vs. #1 Nevada, 11:30 p.m. (WSN)