Four of the nation’s top-five teams won this week. No. 1 Ohio St crushed Penn St 82-61 in Happy Valley on Tuesday, earning the Buckeyes at least a share of the Big 10 regular season title. It marks the fourth time Ohio State has earned at least a share of the Big 10 title since Thad Matta took over as head coach for the 2004-05 season, the most by any Big 10 school during that span. Also note that Ohio State’s win was the first road win by a No. 1 ranked team in the coaches' poll since Feb 6, when Ohio State won at Minnesota. Since that game, Ohio State had lost at Wisconsin (Feb 12), Kansas had lost at Kansas State (Feb 14) and Duke had lost at Virginia Tech (Feb 26) while those schools were ranked No. 1. Speaking of Wisconsin, The Buckeyes have a revenge game on tap with the badgers in Columbus on Sunday.
Wednesday saw No. 2 Kansas win 64-51 over Texas A&M, clinching at least a share of the Big 12 title for the Jayhawks, their seventh straight conference title. It breaks a school record set in the 1920s, when Kansas was in the Missouri Valley. Kansas plays at No. 22 Missouri on Saturday and can win the Big 12 outright by winning or with a Texas loss at Baylor (Longhorns have lost three of four since opening 11-0 in Big 12 play). No. 4 Duke won 70-59 over Clemson at Cameron Indoor Stadium, giving the Blue Devils 36 straight home victories, the longest active home winning streak in the nation. Duke plays at No. 13 North Carolina on Saturday with the winner claiming the ACC title (both schools are 13-2). The Blue Devils went 65-2 at Cameron during the careers of seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, with the only losses coming during their freshman and sophomore seasons to hated rival North Carolina. Duke's overall record in games Singler has played is 120-2 and 116-20 with Smith on the court. No. 5 Pitt won 66-50 at USF, clinching at least a share of the Big East title. The Panthers can claim the regular-season crown outright by beating No. 19 Villanova at home Saturday or if Notre Dame loses its finale at Connecticut. The win was No. 214 for head coach Jamie Dixon, which sets a NCAA Division I record for most victories in the first eight seasons of a career (one more than Everett Case had at North Carolina State and Roy Williams had at Kansas in their first eight years).
No. 3 BYU did not fair as well mid-week, as the other members of the top-5. BYU’s best inside player, the 6-9 Brandon Davies (11.1-6.2 on 52.5% shooting), was dismissed from the team for the rest of the season for violating the university's honor code. The Cougars were clearly affected by the course of events, losing 82-64 at home to New Mexico. The loss was the Cougars' largest margin of defeat at home since a 22-point loss to Utah State in December 2004. The Cougars can still claim a share of the MWC regular-season title if they beat Wyoming at home on Saturday but after last Saturday’s impressive 80-67 win at San Diego St, BYU was ‘talking’ No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. That opportunity now seems lost. Speaking of losing, Fordham will get one last chance to avoid its second straight 0-16 A-10 campaign when it hosts UMass on Saturday. The Rams have lost 17 straight overall games this season, are 0-15 in A-10 play and have lost 41 consecutive league games since winning at St. Bonaventure in 2009.
Seven more conference tourneys begin Friday through Sunday but let me first touch on two which have already begun and that I failed to note in my previous article. The Patriot League opened play Wednesday night with the four highest-seeded teams playing at home. Top-seeded Bucknell (13-1), No. 2 seed American (11-3) and No. 4 seed Lehigh (last year’s tourney champ) all won but third-seeded Holy Cross lost to Lafayette. The tourney continues with the semis on Sunday with Lehigh playing at Bucknell and American squaring off vs Lafayette on Bucknell’s home court. The championship game won’t be played until next Friday (Mar 11), contested at the site of the higher seed. Few NCAA fans will forget Bucknell (a No. 14 seed) beating third-seeded Kansas 64-63 in the 2005 NCAA tourney. It marked the first NCAA tournament win in Bucknell’s 110-year history and the first-ever NCAA win by a Patriot League team. Bucknell earned a second NCAA win in 2006, as the 9th-seeded Bison beat 8th-seeded Arkansas. Bucknell hasn’t ‘been dancing’ since. Second-seeded American joined Division I in 1966-67 but hadn’t earned an NCAA bid until back-to-back trips in 2008 and 2009. Lehigh, last year’s tourney winner, has made four NCAA trips (1985, 1988 and 2004 being the others).
The NEC tourney opened Thursday with the top-eight teams in this 12-school conference competing. The four quarterfinal games were hosted by the top-four seeds. Robert Morris (No. 3 seed this year) has won the last two tourneys, last year almost beating Villanova (a No. 2 seed) in the the NCAA’s first round, losing 73-70 in OT. Quinnipiac is the No. 2 seed (13-5) and last year lost in the championship game, falling short of the school’s first-ever NCAA bid (entered Division I in 1998). LIU (16-2) is the No. 1 seed and the Blackbirds are quite a story. This program won the NIT back in 1939 and 1941 (when it bigger than the NCAAs) under the guidance of coach Clair Bee. However, in 1951, the Blackbirds basketball players were involved in the CCNY point-shaving scandal that resulted in the school suspending its athletic program from 1951 to 1957. Basketball resumed in 1957 but LIU didn’t return to Division I until 1969, making three NCAA appearances since (the last in 1997).
Big Sky: The 2011 Big Sky tourney opens on Saturday with No. 3 Weber St hosting No. 6 Eastern Washington and No. 4 seed Northern Arizona hosting No. 5 seed Montana St. The winners advance to play on Tuesday at Greeley, Colorado, the home of No. 1 seed Northern Colorado. The Bears will host the lowest remaining seed while second-seeded Montana plays the highest remaining seed. The championship game will be played at the same site on Wednesday. March 5, and March 8-9. Montana won the tourney last year, the school’s eighth NCAA appearance. No. 1 seed Northern Colorado just moved up to Division I in 2007-08 and is looking for its first-ever NCAA bid while No. 3 seed Weber St has been to 14 NCAA tournaments.
CAA: The CAA conference tournament begins on Friday. The top-four schools in the league get a bye into Saturday’s quarterfinals, as teams five through 12 square off on Friday. Regular-season champion George Mason (14-2) owns the nation’s longest-active winning streak at 15. The Patriots are likely assured of an NCAA bid regardless of what happens in Richmond while defending champion Old Dominion, the No. 2 seed at 14-4, may also be an at-large ‘lock.’ The Monarchs are the last team to defeat George Mason, winning 69-65 on January 8. The other teams to watch are No. 3 seed Hofstra (also 14-4) and No. 4 seed VCU. The Pride own the likely CAA player of the year in Charles Jenkins (23.2-3.4-4.8) and could be a ‘tough out.’ The Rams have made nine previous NCAA appearances and while this tourney isn’t played on their home court, it is being contested in their home city of Richmond.
MAAC: The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tourney opens on Friday in Bridgeport, Conn. The first round features the bottom four teams with the winners advancing to Saturday’s quarters. No. 1 seed Fairfield (15-3) meets the 8 vs 9 winner and No. 2 seed Iona (13-5) meets the 7 vs 10 winner. No. 3 Rider (13-5) takes on No. 6 Canisius while No. 4 seed St Peter’s (11-7) meets Loyola-Md. The semis are Sunday and the championship game is set for Monday. Siena is the three-time defending tourney champs but head coach Fran McCaffrey left for Iowa (greener pasture?) and the Saints fell to 12-17 this year (8-10 in the MAAC). Fairfield has been to three previous NCAAs but none since 1997. Iona’s made eight NCAA trips, the last being in 2006. Rider’s been to three previous tourneys, the last being back-to-back appearances in ‘93 and ‘94. As for St Peter’s, the Peacocks have made two NCAA appearances, the last in 1995.
Southern: This 12-team league opens its tourney with four first round games on Friday with the top-four schools getting byes into Saturday’s quarterfinals. The semis are Sunday and the championship game is on Monday. All games are being played at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Wofford won the tourney last year and made its first-ever NCAA trip. The Terriers finished 14-4 this year, as did Charleston in the South while Western Carolina and Chattanooga finished at 12-2 in the North. All four schools get a bye into Saturday’s quarters. Charleston last made the “Big Dance” in 1999 (four all-time appearances). Western Carolina owns just one previous NCAA trip (1996) and the host team, Chattanooga, owns 10 all-time NCAA appearances (most recently in 2009).
Summit League: The top-eight teams in this 12-school conference play in the tourney at Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The quarterfinals are held over two days, Friday and Saturday. The semis are Sunday and the championship game on Monday. Oakland went 17-1 in conference play last year and won the conference tourney, advancing to the school’s second NCAA appearance. The Golden Grizzlies again went 17-1 this year, earning the No. 1 seed. Oral Roberts (13-5) is the No. 2 seed and had won the previous three tourney titles prior to Oakland winning last year, giving them five all-time NCAA trips.
Sun Belt: THE SBC tourney opens on Saturday in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The top-four seeds get byes into Sunday’s quarterfinals with the four winners of Saturday’s first round also advancing. Florida Atlantic is the No. 1 seed (13-3) and looks for its second-ever NCAA bid (1st was in 2002). North Texas won the tourney last year, the school’s third NCAA appearance. Louisiana-Lafayette enters this year’s tourney with the nation’s second-lonest active winning streak (11 in a row). The Rajin’ Cajuns have made nine previous NCAA appearances but none since 2005. Western Kentucky (14-15 / 8-8) hardly seems like a contender this year but the Hilltoppers are the most decorated team in the conference, with 21 all-time NCAA appearances, including seven as representatives of the Sun Belt (most recently in both ‘08 and ‘09)
WCC: This tourney opens Saturday in Las Vegas (Orleans Arena). The top-two seeds, Gonzaga and St Mary’s (both 11-3 but the Bulldogs won the tie-breaker) get byes into Sunday’s semifinals. The bottom four teams play on Saturday with the winners advancing to meet No. 3 seed San Francisco (10-4) and No. 4 seed Santa Clara (8-6). St Mary’s won this tourney last year (school’s sixth NCAA trip) and advanced to the Sweet 16. However, the “800-pound gorilla” in this conference is Gonzaga, which has made the last 12 NCAA tournaments. If the Bulldogs and Gaels meet in Monday’s championship game, both schools are likely to be ‘dancing’ in 2011, regardless of the outcome.
I’ll return Tuesday with my next CBB update.