Seahawks, Crusaders, Jaspers all move to finals
as top seeds
primed for another NCAA appearance and a chance to reprise their
first-round win last year. As they have many times this year, the
Seahawks pulled away in the second half to defeat Hofstra and Delaware
on their way to the CAA championship game. Theyíll face #3 seed Drexel
in the final. Bruiser Flintís Dragons posted a surprising semifinal
win over #2 Virginia Commonwealth. Now, Drexel has the daunting task
of trying to unseat a team that has established itself as the dominant
program in the CAA.
Holy Cross breezed through its quarterfinal and
semifinal games in the Patriot League. The top seed Crusaders disposed
of Army and Bucknell, and now face #2 seed American in the final.
Should Holy Cross lose on its homecourt to American in the Patriot
final, the Crusaders deserve serious consideration for an at-large
NCAA berth. They wonít get it, but they are 25-4, and did beat Boston
College. It would be a joke if an up-and-down BC team was rewarded
when a Holy Cross team has had a consistently brilliant year.
Bucknell ended Lehighís renaissance season on a
sour note, defeating the Mountain Hawks Saturday. Billy Taylor had an
incredible turnaround year with Lehigh, but the team struggled down
the stretch and will have to learn to finish a season in the future.
#6 seed Lafayette pulled a good-sized surprise Saturday, beating #3
Colgate. The Red Raiders had been red-hot coming into the tourney.
However, American made short work of the Leopards Sunday night in a
semifinal, and AU still looks capable of upsetting Holy Cross; the
Eagles donít match up with the Crusaders particularly well on paper,
but blew HC out once and lost by only a bucket in their second
Prosper Karangwaís personal playpen that is the
MAAC Tournament has finally barred the Siena guard from the premises.
Karangwa dominated the MAAC tourney last year with brilliant
performances in leading Siena as a #7 seed into the championship, and
this year he was at it again Saturday when he ended Maristís season in
a quarterfinal with a 16-footer at the buzzer for a 70-68 win.
However, his Saints were knocked out in the semis by Fairfield, 67-63,
as the Stags put on a dominating defensive performance but still had
to hold on as Karangwa led the Saints on a late rally.
With cousins Ajou Deng and Deng Gai, as well as
Oscar Garcia and Rob Thomson, Fairfield has exceptional size and depth
up front, and should pose serious problems for smallish Manhattan
Monday night. The top-seeded Jaspers barely squeaked by #4 Niagara
Sunday night in double overtime, winning 82-81. The Purple Eagles had
a chance to tie, and deserve serious credit for the way they turned
around their season. Niagara was a scaled-down version of Michigan,
rebounding from an ugly 1-5 start to go 17-12, and with Juan Mendez
and most of the rest of the team back, the Purple Eagles will be in
contention for the MAAC next year for sure.
Manhattan has come down to earth some after its
long midseason win streak, but the Jaspers still will be a tough out
for Fairfield. This should be another of the better title games this
week, a classic matchup of size versus quickness that is definitely
worth checking out. Only wish the crowds at Sovereign Bank Arena in
Trenton, N.J., were equal to the level of play in this conference.
Denver pulls shocker in Sun Belt; Austin Peay
and East Tennessee State dancing
How about the Denver Pioneers in the Sun Belt
Conference? Maybe the team thatís been thoroughly ignored in its
hometown will start getting some attention, after the West #5 seed
Pioneers defeated West Division top seed Louisiana-Lafayette, 72-68,
in a Sun Belt quarterfinal Saturday night. Excellent work by coach
Terry Carroll this year, as he has made some serious headway with the
DU program this season, and now gets to face Middle Tennessee State
and Tommy Gunn in a semifinal tonight. Also winning Saturday was East
#1 seed Western Kentucky. With the fact WKU is hosting the tourney and
the Raginí Cajuns are now out, the Hilltoppers are only looking even
more formidable now. However, West #2 New Mexico State will be a tough
out tonight, and the winner of this game will be a heavy favorite to
win the championship game Tuesday night.
Congratulations are also in order to Austin Peay
and East Tennessee State for winning conference tournaments. The
top-seeded Governors robbed us of the usual last-second thrills of
normal OVC finals in defeating a hungry Tennessee Tech. Judging from
watching them, it sure looks like few teams in the country have better
chemistry than the Govs. When watching them, you really wonder how
APSU wins so much. They donít impress with incredible athleticism or
flashy play, but Austin Peay always plays sound defense, makes the
extra pass, and just makes shots, simple as that.
East Tennessee State is making the tourney for
the first time since 1992, when the Buccaneers knocked out Arizona in
the first round. This yearís team has some similarities to those late
80s-early 90s ETSU juggernauts-both could get up and down the floor,
and both had sensational point guards. Tim Smith is the Bucsí freshman
leader, and a guy you will hear more from in the coming years. Heís
just going to have to live with all the Keith (Mr.) Jennings
comparisons for awhile, because he could be every bit as good as East
Tennesseeís point man on those older teams. The Buccaneers are one of
the most fun teams to watch anywhere, and itíll be interesting to see
how their running game works in the NCAA Tournament.
Wagner, St. Francis move on; BU in A-East semis
Donít let that 1 vs. 6 matchup fool you, the
Northeast Conference final isnít a surprise at all. #1 Wagner is in
the NEC title game after beating a dangerous Quinnipiac team in the
semifinals, and now faces #6 St. Francis NY in the championship
Tuesday night. The Seahawks got payback for a disappointing NEC
tourney loss last year to Quinnipiac, and now Jermaine Hall and
company will try to finish the deal. It would be a treat to see Hall
in the tourney.
Wagner is hoping to earn the schoolís first NCAA
bid ever. Also looking for its first bid, though, is St. Francis. The
Terriers were the hottest team in the NEC coming down the stretch,
coming on strong after going to a run-and-press game rivaled by few in
the country. St. Francis NY has averaged 89 points a game over their
last nine games, which included a quarterfinal win over #3 seed and
defending NEC champion Central Connecticut State. The Terriers path to
the final was partly paved by another upset. #7 Fairleigh Dickinson
pulled off a real surprise, beating #2 Monmouth, 63-51, in the
quarterfinals. However, the Knights were no match for the Terriers in
the semis, falling 88-62. This should be a blast, and it will be great
to see another first-timer in the NCAAs.
Boston University is in the semis in the America
East after beating New Hampshire in the quarterfinals. The #1 seed
Terriers next get #5 Northeastern in a game that promises to be a war.
BUís a team that has had that NCAA look all season, though, and the
homecourt edge should help, even if it is the Walter Brown Arena and
not the Case Gym, a.k.a. the Roof. Also moving on are #3 Hartford and
#2 Vermont. Both are looking for their first NCAA Tournament
Gonzaga and USD face off in the Slim Gym;
Mid-Continent field wide open
So far, the West Coast Conference tourney has
been rather uneventful, so apparently the newer, high-seed friendly
tournament has accomplished what itís supposed to. #1 Gonzaga and #2
San Diego are in the final, but now the fun begins. The Toreros are
hosting the Bulldogs Monday night. USD is very capable of beating GU,
but the Zags looked in a class of their own Sunday night against St.
Maryís. Gonzaga plays like it did against the Gaels and San Diego will
need a masterpiece. WCC should have two teams in the NCAAs, though, if
San Diego wins, and it would be the Toreros first NCAA since 1987,
when USD made it as an at-large team and lost in the first round to
Auburn by a point.
Valparaiso and IUPUI are on a collision course
in the Mid-Continent. The #1 seed Crusaders wasted Chicago State, and
now get #5 Missouri-Kansas City, not #4 Oral Roberts in the semis. The
Kangaroos upset the Golden Eagles, putting the cap on a disappointing
season for ORU. Oral Roberts came into the year as a popular pick to
win the Mid-Con, but this talented team had trouble playing as a
favorite and clearly has some steps to take to get by Valpo as well as
improving programs Oakland and IUPUI. Speaking of Oakland, the #3 seed
Golden Grizzlies were shocked by #6 Southern Utah, a real stunner
considering Oakland was flying down the stretch and the Thunderbirds
sputtering. SUU, the 2001 MCC Tournament winner, now plays #2 IUPUI in
the semis. The Jaguars have also come on late in the year. Provided
both teams make it to the championship, IUPUI should provide Valpo a
much stiffer challenge in the final this year than last year, when the
Crusaders rolled by 20.
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