Let me first say - categorically - I am rooting for the Nederlands. I made a comment in yesterday's UCB thread about how Americans love an underdog, well, you can't get much more underdog than a country with only two major leaguers on the roster (and those being Sidney Ponson and Randall Simon). Wow. Beat the mighty Dominican Republic team twice.
So yesterday kicked off the Big East tournament. This is the first year all 16 teams made the post-season tournament. Since the league expanded to 16 teams, the bottom 4 had been ineligible for the post-season event at Madison Square Garden. To accomodate those other 4 teams, the tourney format now includes a first round bye for the top 8 seeds, and a second round bye for the top 4 seeds.
Not that it helps Cincinnati at all. They faced less-than-mighty DePaul, who had finished the season with a league worst 0-18 record. Yes, that's not a typo - the Blue Deamons lost every single conference game. I'm quite sure this morning Cincinnati wishes the format hadn't changed, for DePaul won their first (and likely only) conference game against Cincinnati 67-57 in the tourney's opening round (and opening game). How much does that sting the Bearcat faithful? As a guy with an Xavier alum in the family, I can't help but laaaaaaauuuuuugh at the Bearcat misfortune. Lovely, lovely.
Another team not digging the new format is Georgetown. Remember two years ago they were a Final Four team? Ranked as high as #9 this year? Nothing like the conference season to separate the wheat from the chaff. The Hoyas would have squeaked into this tourney anyway as the #12 seed, but they probably would have gotten exactly as far as they will this year. St John's, making their first appearance at this event since 2003, dropped G'Town 64-59. Georgetown can kiss whatever slim hopes they had of making the NCAA's goodbye. I doubt they'll be invited to the NIT, but you never know - they are above .500 overall, although well under that mark in the conference.
Notre Dame kept their very slim NCAA hopes alive with an 11 point win over Rutgers. The Irish didn't have a good shooting night, but played suffocating defense to get the job done. They face West Virginia today in what very well might be a 'win and you're in' game for the NCAA. The Mountaineers beat Notre Dame at Morgantown, 67-58, in their 18 Feb conference matchup.
Most prognosticators put seven Big East teams in the NCAA tourney. That list does not include either Seton Hall or South Florida. In the final first round game, the Pirates beat S. Florida 68-54. As a reward, they get Syracuse today.
So your second round matchups are:
DePaul vs Providence, St. John's vs Marquette, Notre Dame vs. West Virginia, and Seton Hall vs Syracuse.
I would put these 6 teams as locks for the NCAA field: Louisville, UCONN, Pitt, Villanova, Marquette, Syracuse. I think if Providence beats DePaul, and they should be thanking the big Friar in the sky they don't have to play Cincinnati, they get in. I also think, as mentioned above, the Notre Dame/West Virginia winner will get in as well. I think 8 teams from the toughest conference in the country is about right. This league has had 4 or 5 teams in the top 10 rankings all season long.
We'll talk a little more about Villanova in tomorrow's post. The Cardinals have a bunch of off-days this week, so a bit of a hiatus there.
Is it too late to ask MLB to swap the teams around, so the USA and Dutch squads play here next week? I really don't care to see Japan/Korea/Cuba and whoever (Mexico or Australia) again at Petco. 3 of those 4 teams played here in 2006 (the other being the Dominican, whose players are returning to their MLB spring training complexes as we speak. Ha Ha Ha).
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