Forde Minutes: Conference tournament predictions for rest of college basketball
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (dancing shoes sold separately at Radford, which had the first buzzer beater of March to win the Big South tournament Sunday):
LITTLE DANCE, CONT.
The Minutes continues breaking down the conference tournaments, including fearless picks to win:
American Athletic Conference
League power rating: Seventh out of 32, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.
League champion: Cincinnati.
Spoiler: Sixth seed Central Florida has been competitive this season and has the tournament in Orlando. Give the Knights an outside shot at busting the bracket, although a game against underrated Houston in the quarterfinals would be difficult.
Who wins: Cincinnati (21). What The Minutes (and all mankind) wants to see is the Bearcats against Wichita State for the third contentious time this season — tough teams, angry coaches, fierce fan bases. Combined score of the first two meetings: Wichita 137, Cincinnati 134. This wins Best New Rivalry of 2018; bring on the rubber match.
League power rating: 11th out of 32.
League champion: Rhode Island.
Spoiler: Fourth seed St. Joseph’s has won six of its last seven games, including a road win over Rhody.
Who wins: St. Bonaventure (22). Bonnies are on the bubble and thus highly motivated to remove any doubt about their tournament status. They’re also on a roll, having won 12 straight. Senior guard Jaylen Adams is underappreciated nationally.
League power rating: 16th out of 32.
League champion: Montana.
Spoiler: Fourth seed Weber State. Wildcats have won two of the last four Big Sky tourneys and made the final in three of the last four. Always a tough out under Randy Rahe.
Who wins: Idaho (23). Second-seeded Vandals have won nine of their last 10, including wins over the other top-four seeds (Montana, Weber and Eastern Washington). Great shooting team that is on a hot streak.
League power rating: 19th out of 32.
League champion: UC Davis.
Spoiler: Hawaii. Sixth-seeded Warriors have at least one victory over each of the top four seeds this season, so they know they can compete. Took the Big West title two years ago.
Who wins: UC Irvine (24). Third-seeded Anteaters have won eight of their last 10, and the two losses were by a point and in double overtime, respectively. League’s best defensive team is well-suited for the grind of tournament play.
League power rating: 12th out of 32.
League champion: Middle Tennessee.
Spoiler: UAB. Sixth-seeded Blazers finished regular season with a flourish, knocking off Marshall and Western Kentucky. They have two seniors (William Lee and Chris Cokley) who were part of an improbable 2015 run to the CUSA title and a first-round NCAA shocker over Iowa State; can they lead a similar charge at the end of their college careers?
Who wins: Middle Tennessee (25). Blue Raiders are by far the league’s best team, and their season-ending pratfall against Marshall might well have turned this tournament into a must-win situation to make the NCAAs. Nick King and Giddy Potts aren’t stopping until they’re in the big bracket.
League power rating: 21st out of 32.
League champion: Harvard and Penn were co-champions.
Spoiler: In a four-team tourney, there aren’t many choices. The Minutes is going with No. 3 seed Yale, which has won seven of its last eight.
Who wins: Penn (26). Quakers lead the league in effective field goal percentage offense and defense. Those are fine places to start in picking a winner. Steve Donahue goes back to the Big Dance for the first time since his Ivy three-peat at Cornell from 2008-10.
League power rating: 14th out of 32.
League champion: Buffalo is the top seed in the last conference that still has divisions.
Spoiler: Fifth seed Kent State flashed some MACtion magic Monday night with a buzzer-beating win over Northern Illinois. Maybe it carries over to the quarterfinals Thursday.
Who wins: Buffalo (27). Bulls have had a great season. All five non-league losses were to teams that could be in the NCAA tournament, and the three MAC losses were all on the road by a combined eight points. They should win this tourney relatively easily — if there’s any such thing as an easy tourney in a one-bid league.
League power rating: 31st out of 32.
League champion: Hampton, Bethune-Cookman and Savannah State all tied for the title.
Spoiler: Fourth seed Norfolk State has only lost twice in the last six weeks, both to Hampton. Spartans are the league’s top defensive team.
Who wins: Hampton (28). Pirates have won eight straight, six of them by 12 points or more, to establish themselves as the team to beat. Coach Edward Joyner knows the way to the Big Dance, having taken Hampton there three times in the previous seven seasons. And if it’s close at the end, Hampton is the best foul-shooting team in the conference and one of the best in the nation at 77.3 percent.
League power rating: Eighth out of 32.
League champion: Nevada.
Spoiler: Fifth seed San Diego State is on a six-game winning streak, including wins over the top two seeds, Nevada and Boise State.
Who wins: New Mexico (29). The Minutes is taking a flyer on the third-seeded Lobos, who have won five straight by shooting the lights out — their effective field goal percentage during the winning streak is 81.6 percent. If that carries over to Las Vegas this week, coach Paul Weir could make consecutive NCAA tournaments with two different teams (New Mexico State last year) in his first two years as a head coach.
League power rating: 28th out of 32.
League champion: Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana tied for the title.
Spoiler: Lamar. The sixth-seeded Cardinals would have to win four games in four days, but they did at least win four straight in 10 days in the latter half of February. They also swept potential quarterfinal opponent Stephen F. Austin.
Who wins: Lamar (30). Why not. This has been a very predictable tournament in years past, so it’s overdue for some tumult. In Tic Price we trust.
League power rating: 32nd out of 32.
League champion: Grambling (who is ineligible for the tournament). Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the No. 1 seed.
Spoiler: Southern. If 6-foot-10 Jared Sam (16.5 points, 9.2 rebounds per game) can put the fourth-seeded Jaguars on his broad back, they could earn their second NCAA bid in three seasons.
Who wins: Texas Southern (31). Saddled with the worst schedule in the country, the Tigers started the season 0-13 with every game on the road. Since then they’re 12-6 and finished on a four-game winning streak. Mike Davis has made eight NCAA appearances at Indiana, UAB and here; time for a ninth.
League power rating: 15th out of 32.
League champion: Louisiana-Lafayette.
Spoiler: Fourth seed Texas Arlington. Mavericks have won six of their last eight and will be hungry after being upset in last year’s tourney as the top seed.
Who wins: Louisiana-Lafayette (32). Ragin’ Cajuns have had a sensational season until an inexplicable loss Saturday (see below for more on that). Still, this is a team with multiple transfers from power conferences that has dominated the league. Cajuns could be a difficult matchup for a power school in the next tournament.
League power rating: 18th out of 32.
League champion: New Mexico State.
Spoiler: Third seed Grand Canyon. There is a clear delineation between the top three in the WAC and the rest, and the Antelopes are a program on the rise. But they’re also far better at home than on the road, and this tournament is in Vegas, not Phoenix.
Who wins: Utah Valley (33). This is a team that actually led Kentucky by a dozen points early in the second half in Rupp Arena to open the season. The Wolverines have made strides under third-year head coach Mark Pope and are ready to earn the first NCAA bid in school history.
LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE GRINDERS
Not every successful coach at the mid-major level is a 30-something branch off a famous coaching tree rushing through on his way to something bigger. Sometimes you just have to keep fighting the good fight until the pieces come together, the fates shine on you, and the best team of your life gets it done in a one-bid tournament. The Minutes salutes three guys with a combined 28 years of head-coaching experience who are headed to the Big Dance for the first time as the men in charge:
Porter Moser (34), Loyola Chicago. Fourteenth season as a head coach — seventh at Loyola, after four at Illinois State and three at Arkansas-Little Rock. He also spent four seasons as an assistant to Rick Majerus at Saint Louis between Illinois State and Loyola. Before this breakthrough season, Moser’s last 10 seasons as a head coach ended with losing conference records. This year, the Ramblers went 15-3 in the Missouri Valley, 28-5 overall and will be a dangerous No. 11 or 12 seed next week.
Mike Jones (35), Radford. Seventh season as head coach at Radford. Before that, he was a Division I assistant from 1994-2011 at six different programs. For a guy who had never taken a team to the Dance until freshman Carlik Jones hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the Big South final, Mike Jones’ preternaturally calm walk down the sideline to shake hands with losing coach Ritchie McKay of Liberty was something to see as a wild celebration erupted around him.
Casey Alexander (36), Lipscomb. Seventh season as a head coach, the first two at Stetson and the last five at Lipscomb. Before that, Alexander was a 16-year assistant at his alma mater, Belmont, working for legendary Rick Byrd. Alexander and the rest of the Bisons had some white-knuckle moments watching a 32-point Atlantic Sun championship lead melt to five against Florida Gulf Coast, but they hung on for the first NCAA bid in school history. More on that remarkable performance directly below.
DASH STAT OF THE WEEK
Lipscomb (37) scored 60 points in the first half of the A-Sun title contest and 108 in the game. The Bisons did it with an absurd marksmanship display, both inside and outside.
Their 46 percent from 3-point range, making 12 3s, was good. But making 87.0 percent of their two-point shots (20 of 23) was crazy. Per Ken Pomeroy, only one team shot a higher percentage all season inside the arc — New Mexico was 27 of 31 against Colorado State (87.1 percent).
Lipscomb’s effective field percentage (giving added weight to made 3-pointers) was 77.6 percent, which is in the neighborhood of the gold standard of shooting in NCAA history: Villanova vs. Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game. The Wildcats were 22-28 that night, or 78.6 percent. (There was no 3-point line at the time.)
Of course, Florida Gulf Coast’s defense is not exactly Georgetown ’85, with Patrick Ewing anchoring the middle. And this was not the national championship game. But for Lipscomb, it might as well have been the national title game. It certainly was the biggest victory in school history.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Wes Flanigan (38), Little Rock. His team was 6-24. Its final regular-season game was on the road against league-leading Louisiana-Lafayette, which was 26-4 and had not lost at home in more than a year. The Trojans started the game with just a 2.5 percent chance of winning, according to Ken Pomeroy, and that slim chance shrank to one percent with 10 minutes left and Little Rock trailing by 10. But then a team that had done pretty much everything wrong all season rallied, the game went into overtime, and the Trojans dominated the extra period for what surely was one of the most unlikely victories of the entire season in the entire sport.
COACH WHO SHOULD RIDE THE BUS TO WORK
David Padgett (39), Louisville. He’s done a good job in a thankless spot as the interim coach trying to keep the program from cratering after the abrupt firing of Rick Pitino. But the utter meltdown at the end last Thursday against Virginia could haunt the Cardinals if they don’t make the NCAA tournament.
Specifically, Padgett walked out of the building with an unused timeout that could have been crucial.
Yes, he should have been be able to count on anyone older than fifth grade being wise enough not to foul a 3-point shooter up four with less than a second to play, as freshman Darius Perry did. And yes, he should have been able to count on a junior who had played 83 games and started 66 in his college career to not travel while inbounding the ball after being told explicitly by the official not to travel when inbounding the ball, as Deng Adel did.
But just in case he needed to reinforce those extremely key points — because the season might be riding on them — a timeout can come in handy. Padgett had one and didn’t use it, and Louisville suffered one of the worst losses anyone has ever seen.
For once there was no men’s basketball in Indianapolis last week, but there was the NFL scouting combine and that provided an excuse for The Minutes to visit old favorite St. Elmo (40). The Indy institution was teeming with NFL types, college types and anyone else searching for a quality steak. Get the filet medium rare, eat the shrimp cocktail and feel the burn from the horseradish, drink a beer and thank The Minutes later.
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