Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Marching Orders

This blog figured it would bring up some of its "Teams to watch" for the NCAA Tournament. This site realizes it's 2 months before March Madness, but as far as this blog's concerned, it's never too early to think about the NCAA tournament. Obviously there's quite a few front-runners out there, but this blog figured it would focus on low majors, mid-majors, and some high-majors that aren't on most casual fans' radar. Also a couple teams that this blog likes to watch.

Montana: (10-2, RPI 100th) The Grizzlies' losses have come against UW-Milwaukee in Missoula and against Boise State in Boise. ESPN's Bracketology has Montana listed as a 15 seed, mainly because their biggest win to date was against Drake. Montana will potentially get a shot at a quality win on February 18th when they host their Bracket Buster opponent, but that might be their only shot to move up from a 15 seed. If Montana does receive a 15 seed, there would be some decent potential for the 5th-ever 15-2 upset. Because Montana is unlikely to be tested during the regular season, and also given the Grizzlies' near-miss 88-77 1st round loss last year to Washington (in a 3-14 game); Montana would have a good chance of bear-ly making the 2nd round of the NCAAs. An added bonus for Montana is Monte, named 2005 National Mascot of the Year by Capital One.

Air Force: (12-1, RPI 43rd) This is a very dangerous team. Their only loss was at Washington, not an easy place to play. Won on neutral courts vs. Miami and Georgia Tech, also knocked out the WCC's Saint Mary's on base. The loss of center Nick Welch (medical redshirt), once thought to be a death blow to the Falcons' tournament hopes, has actually given opportunities for multiple players to fill the scoring vacuum. Four Falcons average over 10 points per game this season, compared with three from last season, led by Welch's 12. A huge edge for AFA is their style of play, which grinds out victories while using Princeton's style of offense and a stifling defense that allows only 53.8 points per game. This edge could lead to an upset come tourney time. Perhaps not too huge of an upset though, AFA is now projected as a 9 seed in the Bracketology (although, a 1 seed that likes to run like Connecticut, Villanova, or Gonzaga might be in for a rude awakening in a possible 2nd round matchup).

Houston: (8-3, RPI 40th) Losses have come at home against Virginia Commonwealth, on the road against both South Alabama and UNLV. The Cougars did pick up wins against Arizona and at LSU though, so you never know which team's going to show up with UH. However, this type of unpredictability can work to the advantage of low seeds come March, and Houston's currently projected as an 11 seed. The Cougars could very possibly deny Memphis of the Conference USA automatic bid if UH catches fire like against Arizona.

Missouri State: (10-3, RPI 21st) This team is completely out of nowhere. Expected to be a middle-of-the-road (at best) Missouri Valley Conference team, the team formerly known as Southwest Missouri State has grabbed ahold of junior Blake Ahearn's 18.7 ppg-cape and beaten the likes of Northern Illinois (57), Drake (105), and Indiana State (115). While not household names, those wins will go a long way toward keeping "the third MSU" very high in the RPI all season. Bracketology doesn't even have Missouri State making the field, which this blog thinks is a mistake. Granted, the MVC is going to be a major battle this season, and Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, and Creighton will most likely make the tournament (again); but Missouri State has a favorably comparable RPI, which will not be likely to fall given the MVC's high standing this season (5th in the Conference RPI).

Washington State: (9-3, RPI 27th) This blog is admittedly a huge fan of WSU's head coach Dick Bennett. Bennett led this blog's alma mater back to College Basketball's upper echelon, and did so with an unorthodox style that focused almost wholly on defense. That same system is alive and well in Pullman, and the Cougars have been able to knock off Kansas State and Washington. If the Cougars are able to finish near .500 in the Pac-10, or somehow win the conference title, there's bound to be a first-round opponent pulling its hair out trying to decypher the "pack line" defense that limits opponents to only 55.5 points a game. Washington State is now projected as one of the last 4 at-large bids, enough for an 11 seed.

So there you have it, some teams to keep an eye on. This blog's probably going to keep an eye on them simply because it's seeing 2 conference tournaments involving the above listed teams, and the other 3 are pretty interesting teams in their own respect. This blog thinks CSTV put it best when its ad campaign proclaimed: March Begins Today.


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