It's day 6 of Conference Tourneys, get your plates!
ITS A CAMELS WORLD, AND WE'RE JUST ALL GETTING TO LIVE IN IT...
A day after announcing to the world he had arrived, Chris Clemons poured in a "ho-hum" 33 points, to go along with 9 boards (reminder: He's 5'9"), and 4 assists to propel Campbell to the Big South championship game tomorrow against tournament host, top seeded, and possessor of their freak athlete under 6', Keon Johnson. The Eagles fell into a common trap of top seeded tournament hosts (See: Belmont below), being on autopilot rather than just taking care of business. Winthrop was down 6 after a low scoring first half, but Keon Johnson and Xavier Cooks' will took over and wouldn't let the Eagles fall into the NIT just yet. Johnson dropped five 3s as part of his game high 33 points, and Cooks added a double-double, 23 points to go with 15 rebounds, and a pair of go ahead free throws to give Winthrop a championship-game advancing win. Tomorrow morning, 10am PT, ESPN.
First NIT Bid is out - we alluded to host teams working on autopilot. And we're not talking to Detroit, hosting the Horizon League putting up an absolute dud, falling by 25 to Milwaukee, a team they had just taken out 85-60 last Friday night, which makes me think of this, so I share it with you:
No, I'm talking Bruins of Belmont. For the 3rd time in 5 years (same amount of seasons they've been in the Ohio Valley Conference), they entered Nashville Municipal Auditorium, a short drive from their campus, as the top seed and left as an NIT team. So, today, at 5pm pacific time, we've got a pair of teams who can't act like they've been there before because they wouldn't know how that goes, because they haven't - in what's hopefully shaping up as the year of the first time bids, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks play the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks.
Behind 21 from Malcolm Drumwright and 18 from Greg Tucker, and a suffocating defense (Belmont was held to 37% shooting), Jacksonville State has forced the team that went 15-1 during the conference regular season will be watching the final (or not) from home.
On the other side of things, after being down at halftime, Matthew Butler, 17 points, was a 1-man scoring run that put Tennessee-Martin up early in the second half, a lead they never relinquished and extended further to 10 points with 5:51 left. They never looked back.
Other happenings from yesterday, saw Micah Seaborn, who has been hampered with a left knee injury since February 3rd (he has struggled to only 7.5ppg and 28from deep -- he had been at 15.7 ppg scorer and 35% three-point shooter), re-aggravated the injury (revealed to be a torn meniscus), went down and was helped off the court, to lockerroom before returning to the bench with crutches, ice on the knee and an uncertain immediate future. Hawks' head coach King Rice expressed optimism about Seaborn MAAC tournament availability, citing Seaborn's toughness and ability to play through it to this point, but then also said, confirming his status as top 5 coolest men coaching college hoops, "We need him, but Micah's going to get to play after college. We can't worry about us and mess his knee up."
The Gonzaga & St Mary's Invitational got started last night. But Gonzaga and St. Mary's did, so we made an editorial call to hold preview until today, and boy did we pay the price. The Portland Pilots, who beat such non-conference luminaries as Lewis & Clark, UT-Rio Grande Valley, Walla Walla and Oregon State (that might sound impressive, but do a quick dive into Oregon State in 2016/17), knocked off Pepperdine and Pacific to go 2-0 in conference play, then scored 75 points total in a pair of losses, and it was off to a different kind of races -- a race to lose 16 straight WCC games. Some of it is tied to the loss of Senior Alec Wintering to a torn ACL, but that devastating injury came once 1/4 of the 16 straight losses had already been tallied. But when you've got a leader named Jazz Johnson, you're never out of it. Although, against St. Mary's today, you might be.
Let's look deeper at St. Mary's, currently slotted on the 6-line, and 22nd overall, the Gaels ride into the tournament having won 26 of 29 games (otherwise known as "their season"), and I bet you can guess who 2 of those losses are to (the 3rd is to fringe at-large hopeful Texas-Arlington). Like every year, St. Mary's resume won't stack favorably with most major conference #2 teams -- but it does have a little more positive than in Waiting Line years past. There's an impressive win at A10 champ Dayton, a win over WAC co-leader Nevada (who plays Colorado State today in a regular season title championship game), they swept conference mates San Francisco & BYU (conference 3/4 seeds, and only teams that help not hurt your numbers in the WCC & won at Stanford, before we realized Stanford was not very good. Despite losing twice to Gonzaga, game 2 had a tinge of doubt to it, as St Mary's kept cutting the lead to 5, but couldn't get closer, foul trouble to Jock Landale and poor perimeter shooting (4/15 from 3) was the culprit here, as after Landale's 24 points, no other Gael could reach double figures. What St Mary's could really use is it's supporting cast to step up. The NCAA tournament is likely to feature the Gonzaga blueprint -- ok, Jock Landale, you of the cool name, baller Australian accent and over 100% increase in PPG, you can get yours, but no one else gets to. Either one of their two sharpshooters, Calvin Hermanson or Emmett Naar, or even BC transfer Joe Rahon (you might remember his brother James Rahon, as the sharpshooter off the bench for the Kawhi Leonard Sweet 16 SD State team in 2011) must rise above their current levels of contribution if any sort of WCC upset from SMC or even 2nd weekend tournament run is going to take place.
We'll get to Gonzaga in a moment. First, let's discuss the 3 and 4 seeds - San Francisco had quietly put together a resurgent season for themselves. Punctuated by a pair of quality wins in Honolulu in December over Pac12's Utah and Waiting Line hopeful, Illinois State. But, WCC play didn't go exactly according to plan, ending up with a disappointing 10-8 record, 6 of those losses at the sweeping hands of Gonzaga, SMC and BYU - by an average of ~18 points. But capable is capable, and with a trio of double-digit scorers, Ronnie Boyce, Chase Foster and Charles Mineland, plus Frankie Ferrari and his 40% 3pt shooting off the bench, a San Fran surprise would be shocking but not super left field...
Speaking of surprises, anyone catch a game played in Spokane on February 25? Despite being down 58-46 midway through the second half, a Mark Few technical, and endless work in the paint by Eric Mika propelled BYU to spoil Gonzaga's undefeated season. In the non-conference season BYU proved a maddening team - beating Princeton and Colorado but losing to Valpo, USC, Illinois and inexplicably Utah Valley. Their conference play was spotty, finishing 12-6, but anytime you knock off the #1 and undefeated team at the Kennel, the world is going to take notice. So we are - With a tough inside (Eric Mika 20.2 ppg/9.4)/outside (Nick Emery & TJ Haws) combination, with Elijah Bryant chipping in 11 points, Yoeli Childs adding 8 rebounds, and L.J. Rose giving them 4 assists and 5 rebounds per game - this is a young team (only Rose and the injured Kyle Davis are seniors) that can attack you from all fronts, that they haven't figured out how all their pieces work together is a testament to their youth. Did they get it figured out on Feb 25?
Now Gonzaga. West Coast Conference player of the year, Washington transfer Nigel-Williams Goss, who showed what being freed from the poor coaching tentacles of Lorenzo Romar can do for a man. Mountain of a man Przemek Karnowski (7'1/300), glue guy Johnathan Williams, and a pair of effective distance shooters - Jordan Matthews and Josh Perkins -- stop me if you've heard this one before, this could be Gonzaga's most complete team. Neutral court wins over Arizona & Florida suggest there's most than just a lot of wins to this team. Now, the key to their depth could be a player the Buffet previously though was intra-roster replacable, volley ball leaper Killian Tillie. A deeper dive shows that Gonzaga's frontcourt is most efficient with Tillie on the floor, especially defensively, as was evidenced in the BYU loss and win over SMC as Eric Mika (29) and Jock Landale (24, even with foul trouble), had their way inside with Gonzaga. Let's make the assumption Gonzaga carries themselves to the WCC tournament title - still waiting in the wings will be Kentucky, Baylor and possibly Oregon to snatch that 1-seed from them. Don't believe Arizona can do it, even with a P12 double (season/tournament) because of the neutral court win Gonzaga holds over them. Staying out West, don't know if UCLA can bounce all the way from 3-seed (projected) to 1-seed by winning the P12 tournament, though they boast what could be considered the two best road wins of any resume (Kentucky at Rupp, Arizona at McKale).
Today is such a bananas Waiting Line day, the last Saturday of regular season action - so let's skip to the head of the line, as they say, and give a glimpse of today and bring you back an afternoon Buffet previewing the Summit...
- Indiana @ Ohio State - Numbers 58 & 59 on the latest BOOP, both are likely gone, but with a quality win haven that is the Big10 tournament, the winner won't be vanquished completely from discussion. The loser will be, from the Buffet's that is. Others can discuss whatever they want.
- Kentucky @ Texas A&M - Kentucky looks to add another road win to their ledge in their last season quest for a #1 seed.
- Providence @ St. John's - Providence is a little above teetering, but they are teetering-adjacent, losing at St. John's is ill-advised.
- Illinois @ Rutgers -- Illinois snuck in as a last four in in the latest Buffetology, losing at Rutgers will have the opposite effect.
- Texas Tech @ Kansas State -- your prototypical Waiting Line elimination, Kansas St is much closer to an invite than Tech, so they're more advised to protect their home court here.
- California @ Colorado - California might have doomed themselves with their massive due at Utah on Thursday, but a road win is a road win, and with some damage in the P12 tournament, perhaps they can vault themselves in the thick of Waiting Line thoughts and prayers...
- Michigan State @ Maryland - Both these teams are in, but would like to see Maryland beat a quality team at home to close the season given their recent struggles in this regard
- Xavier @ DePaul - Buffet is more down on Xavier than it seems other prognosticators, but it is really difficult to ignore 6 straight losses - even if they are all to likely tournament teams. At some point you have to beat a tourney team or two to prove you are a tourney team. DePaul is not a tournament team, which means losing to them, and pushing the streak to 7, might edge Xavier out of the next Buffetology (which will come tomorrow evening)
- Florida @ Vanderbilt - Vanderbilt's 19 point lead evaporation to Kentucky knocked them out of brackets, but can't be lost that Vandy built a 19 point lead on Kentucky in Rupp on 1 and Done Night (Senior Night can't be a thing there) - a signature home win to close to the season would likely get them right back in.
- Georgia @ Arkansas - Georgia stays relevant somehow, a road win over a likely tournament would end the "somehow" of that statement.
- Creighton @ Marquette - Marquette's road win at Xavier wasn't quite the statement you'd think - given Xavier's collapse, but it was likely enough to get them in. Winning this one would seal it. Creighton could still really use to keep proving the loss of Mo Watson isn't as crippling as the Buffet thinks it is, road win here stamps that proof.
- Seton Hall @ Butler - Seton Hall is pretty safe to not see their place in the tournament disappear with a loss here, but a road win at one of the hottest teams in the nation? That'd be an invite sealant.
- TCU @ Oklahoma -- TCU, your chances are slim, lose to Oklahoma and they become none.
- Southern Illinois vs Illinois, MVC semifinal - As previously stated, Illinois St, you will not get in without 1 of 2 outcomes: win the tournament or lose the final to Wichita St.
- Loyola Mary vs BYU, WCC Quarters -- I don't know if it's accurate to launch BYU into consideration off a road win at Gonzaga, but it's my writing space, so I will. Lose to Loyola here, and I won.t
- Boston College @ Clemson - Lose to BC and #Clemsoning, which is a thing, look it up will be over.
- Georgia Tech @ Syracuse - Set me free why don't cha babe. Get out my life why don't cha babe. 'Cause you don't really love me. You just keep me hangin' on - that's how I feel about Georgia Tech's place on the Waiting Line. But if they win at Syracuse, keep me hangin on is how it'll be. Waiting Line Elimination feel to this one. But with the ACC having 3247 tournament caliber teams, nothing can be over until the ACC tournament plays out.
- Wake Forest @ Virginia Tech - Wake snuck into the last Buffetology as well - a win over Virginia Tech would cement their place (not for good, but for one more Buffet, at least). A loss probably tips them out, due to the thin line of the Waiting Line, not bc a loss at Va Tech is a "bad' loss or unexpected.
We will reconvene with the 2pm PT and onward later today. For now, enjoy your breakfast.