The Heroes and Villains of Championship Week

by David Mihm | March 1st, 2010

As the calendar turns to March, America tingles with the anticipation of the Cinderella stories sure to emerge over the course of the next four weeks.  Blissfully ignorant of these “inferior leagues” these last four months, all eyes now turn to conferences like the Colonial, Horizon, and WAC.

Especially if you’re a fan of a bubble team.  Your team’s chance for NCAA glory may hinge upon a smaller school taking care of its own business and making the Tournament itself.  As Aesop advised in The Lion and the Mouse, this time of year, “little friends” may indeed prove great friends.

Without further ado, here are the 2010 Bubble‘s Heroes and Villains:


Butler - Everyone loves Butler.  Along with the next team on the list, this school embodies the very essence of the Cinderella.  The Bulldogs are an absolute ironclad lock for the top half of the bracket.  If they lose at any time from here on out, it’s an at-large bid “off the table.”

Gonzaga – The Zags probably garner a bit more ire than the Bulldogs, but bubble teams across the land know they have friends in Spokane for another week.  Despite two bad losses to San Francisco and Loyola Marymount late in the year, the Zags thumped their closest rival, Saint Mary’s, and everyone outside the Bay Area hopes they’ll do it again in the WCC Tournament.

New Mexico – What is a potential #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament doing on this list? Well, the Lobos are the likely draw for bubblicious San Diego State in the Mountain West semifinal. San Diego State has a worthy at-large profile already, and what’s missing is a marquee W away from home.  If the Lobos quell that dream, they almost certainly knock SDSU from serious consideration. Doing so simultaneously hurts Saint Mary’s chances a bit, since the Aztecs are the Gaels’ best victim.

UTEP – The Miners have quietly moved their way into near-lock position in the unheralded CUSA.  They still travel to surprising Marshall and host UAB even before the conference Tournament, though, and a loss to either team in the CUSA Tournament would probably gobble up another at-large bid.

Northern Iowa – Despite a paranoid over-reaction by some Panther fans to an Egleseder-less loss in Evansville, UNI is looking good for a return trip to the NCAAs. The Valley Tournament is notorious for its first-round upsets, though, and Cedar Falls is receiving lots of good karma through Sunday afternoon.

Old Dominion – The Monarchs went 15-3 in a top-heavy but underrated Colonial League this year and have emerged as the only team from the league with a legit at-large profile…mostly by avoiding bad losses. The CAA would be a one-bid league if ODU were able to cut the nets down in Richmond.

California – While I personally don’t believe that Cal has a worthy at-large profile, the fact is that we’ve never seen a team with Cal’s resume. As bad a year as it’s been for the conference, it would certainly be safer for all Bubble parties–and probably the conference itself–to see the Golden Bears emerge victorious at the Pac-10 Tournament.  If the Bears lose, the Pac-10 might still only get one team into the Big Dance, and not its best.

Utah State – The Aggies are clearly the best team in the WAC, and the only one with a reasonable chance at an at-large bid should they fail.  They haven’t lost since the first weekend in January and it’d be tough for the Committee to leave them home even if they fell early in Reno.

Richmond, Temple, and Xavier – If the Atlantic 10 final pits two of these three teams against each other, Bubble teams everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief.


Detroit - The Titans are only 9-9 in the Horizon League, but have lost a TON of close games, including an OT loss at home to Butler and a five point L in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Saint Mary’s – The Gaels are the team with the best chance of knocking the Zags off their perch at the top of the WCC, and although Portland had a chance for an at-large at the start of conference play, the Pilots have fallen off the pace.  SMC can punch its ticket for the NIT if it loses to Portland in the semis.  Reaching the final would be problematic for other bubble teams, and winning would be very problematic.

San Diego State – As mentioned in the section above, SDSU is missing a marquee road win.  Knocking off arguably the hottest team in the country, New Mexico, on a true neutral floor (UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center) would do the trick. Losing that game probably keeps the Aztecs on the outside looking in.

Marshall – The Thundering Herd have quietly had a surprising year, alone in fourth place in the conference.  They’ve already won at UAB, played West Virginia very tough in their annual rivalry, and are riding a 7-game winning streak. I wouldn’t put it past them to win the CUSA’s automatic bid just yet.

Wichita State – The Shockers haven’t had a great year by any means, but they were the first team to knock off Northern Iowa…

William & Mary, George Mason, Northeastern and VCU – None of these teams has a worthy at-large resume, but they’ve all had very good years in the CAA.  William & Mary is the only one that hasn’t beaten the Monarchs already…but there are obviously plenty of potential pitfalls for ODU regardless.

St John’s – The Johnnies have already played spoiler a number of times in The Garden this year, against Temple, Cincinnati, and Louisville.  I doubt they have what it takes to win FIVE games in a row, but anything’s possible in The Mecca.

Northwestern – The Wildcats’ at-large hopes evaporated with their abysmal showing in State College over the weekend.  But Bill Carmody’s team is always a tough Big Ten Tournament out with its throwback style.

Georgia – UGA has been a very dangerous team at home, and close to home, all year.  Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the SEC Tournament has moved from Atlanta to Nashville in 2010. But Georgia could be on a lot of people’s minds if it adds a couple of big-name SEC schools to its hit list that already includes Illinois, St Louis, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Florida.

North Carolina – Still time for UNC to decide it wants to play like it did against Michigan State at the start of the year. I’m just sayin’…

UCLA – UCLA already beat Cal (in Berkeley) and if anyone is going to send any fans to Staples Center, it’s the Bruins. Side note: what’s the over under on average game attendance this year? 1,800?

Nevada – For some reason, the Wolf Pack get to host the WAC Tournament, which seems hugely unfair, much like San Diego getting to host the WCC Tournament for all those years.  Nevada’s not a bad team, though, and took Utah State to overtime at the Lawlor Events Center earlier this year.

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5 Responses to “The Heroes and Villains of Championship Week”  

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  1. John Says:

    I think Michigan has the capabilities to make the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. They have great player in Manny Harris, a very good big man in DeShawn Sims, and an outstanding coach in John Beilein. They have severly underachieved this season, and will be looking to make up for it in Indianapolis.

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  2. Christopher Mackinder Says:

    @ John: With all of Beilein’s teams, there is always that sense of “if the team only gets hot.” From watching his teams at WVU and comparing them to his recent teams at Michigan, there is one glaring difference: He has phenominal shooters at West Virginia. (I’ll mention this in a Michigan team cap later this week). At Michigan, he has a bunch of guys who probably shoot at a 60% clip alone in a gym but have been shooting well below 30% during the regular season.

    Typically, a GREAT shooting team, especially one who prides itself in making 3 after 3 after 3, has a 40% shooter somewhere in the chamber. Michigan’s best 3-point shooter is – percentage-wise – Matt Vogrich at 36% (9-for-25). The “great” shooters that are counted on to carry this underacheiving team have been terrible all year. Manny Harris (30%), DeShawn Sims (30%), Zack Novak and Stu Douglas (31% each) don’t light it up very often. What Big Ten Network viewers saw last night was Michigan finally making shots against a team that dares its opponent to shoot from outside. It was a great game but something Michigan hasn’t been able to duplicate often.

    TO address the possible run in the BTT, here is Michigan’s likely path as an 8th seed in the BTT is almost a lock: vs. Northwestern in the 8/9 game (NW swept Michigan this season) and then a matchup with No. 1 Ohio State (split season series but Michigan’s win was without Evan Turner). The semifinal game would be against the No. 4/5 game winner (Wisconsin vs. Illinois most likely). CAN Michigan do it? Sure, since this team was, apparently, good enough to be a preseason No. 15 team. Will Michigan? The last time Michigan was desperate at the BTT, it lost an opening round game to Minnesota in the 7-10 game, so I’m not sure exactly how Michigan will respond. But stranger things have happened in the BTT, most notably No. 10 seed Illinois’ miracle run to the championship game a few years back. Stay tuned…

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  3. John Says:

    @ Chris. I cannot argue with anything you said, and I have only seen the Wolverines at the Old Spice Classic, at home against BC, and maybe one other time all season(I do not get the Big Ten Network). However, I do know their personnel. I think the Northwestern game would be their toughest matchup, as their style of play can be frustrating to play against. If they get by that, I have a hunch Ohio State might take it easy, similar to North Carolina a couple of years back. As good as Evan Turner has looked, I suspect Thad Matta might want to get him extra rest. After that type of injury, and with their seed pretty much determined, it would probably benefit the Buckeyes if is the way they went. I think Wisconsin would definitely beat them. I like their chances in a more even matchup against Illinois. Here are some other teams to look out for:

    ACC: North Carolina. I tried to find another ACC team to come up with, but all signs point to the defending National Champions. How much have the Tar Heels grown up? We’ll find out come ACC Tournament time.

    SEC: South Carolina. After a big non-conference season, the Gamecocks severly tapered off once conference season began, with the exception being a win at home against then-#1 Kentucky. Should Darrin Horn’s team get by Auburn in the opening round of the SEC Tournament, they would once again meet Kentucky. A win there would put South Carolina in position to repeat the surprise runs of Georgia and Mississippi State in the last two SEC Tournaments.

    Pac-10: Arizona. A team with loads of young talent, that knows it needs to win the Pac-10 tournament. Could cause trouble for Cal, Washington and Arizona State.

    Big East: Seton Hall. A premier scorer in Jeremy Hazell, and nice complimentary parts make the Pirates a serious threat at MSG. Fatigue would be the concern, as they will try to win five games in five nights.

    Other teams off the radar that are not on the bubble, or a threat to ruin someone’s season. Rather, they face their own pressure:

    Jacksonville. After getting pasted in the last 2 Atlantic Sun finals, Cliff Warren’s Dolphins come in with more pressure than any team early in Championship Week. After Lipscombs shocking defeat to Kennesaw State earlier today in the A-Sun quarterfinals, Jacksonville is now the favorite, adding even more pressure.

    Illinois State. Similarly to Jacksonville, they have reached consecutive Missouri Valley finals. What’s different about the Redbirds is that they only got blown out two years ago by Drake, costing Tim Jankovic’s team an at-large bid. Last year, they had Northern Iowa beat in regulation, only to see the Panthers rally, and take the MVC crown in overtime, leaving them on Selection Sunday again. Such a physically gifted team, can they finally put it all together, and end a dozen years of NCAA frustration?

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  4. John Says:

    Let me amend something from my last post. South Carolina would face Mississippi State if they beat Auburn, not Kentucky.

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  5. Christopher Mackinder Says:

    Made a little mistake in my Michigan post. Most likely the No. 8 seeded Wolverines would face No. 9 Iowa (Northwestern would be the No. 7 seed).

    @ John: Knowing Matta’s personality, Ohio State will play to win every game from here on out. While Ohio State might be getting a little overhyped at the moment, there is still an outside chance the Buckeyes get that 4th No. 1 seed. Granted, it would take an other slip-up by Duke in the ACC Tourney, ‘Nova or West Virginia NOT winning the Big East Tourney and K-State not beating Kansas en route to the Big 12 Tourney title. I think a 27-7 Ohio State team that is really 24-4 with Evan Turner and would be Big Ten regular season and conference tournament champs COULD definitely get that No. 1 seed. That is why I don’t believe Matta will lay down in the BTT.

    As for teams to watch for, I really don’t see any “villians” winning any of the big time tournaments. I think it’ll be either Maryland or Duke winning the ACC, one of the Big 4 (MSU, Purdue, OSU, Wisconsin) winning the Big Ten, Kentucky or Vandy winning the SEC, Kansas or K-State winning the Big 12 (if not one of the Kansas schools, teams that are already pretty much in the field like Missouri, Baylor, Texas), and one of the big players in the Big East (‘Cuse, ‘Nova, WVU, Pitt). The Pac-10 is really the only wild card. I’m hoping Cal wins because I think they’re most deserving of a bid in the conference while NO other Pac-10 team is really worthy. Seriously, Arizona or Washington getting in would just be sad, especially when a team like Utah State or Saint Mary’s is left out…

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