College Hoops Monday: Your Commentary

    
March 7th, 2011
After Indiana State became the fourth team to punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 60-56 win over Missouri State in the MVC final, the pace begins to pick up with four more bids on the line tonight. The two biggest games with regards to the field of 68 are likely the CAA and WCC finals, with the possibility of a bid "thief" lurking in the former and a little confusion in terms of whether or not the two finalists have done enough to merit at-large bids in the latter. Old Dominion has the profile of a solid at-large choice and so does regular season champion George Mason, who VCU knocked out in Sunday's semifinals. But what about Shaka Smart's Rams? They need to grab the automatic bid because despite the impressive nature of their run to the Preseason NIT semifinals in November there really weren't any wins that stand out.

Their win over George Mason featured a 21-3 run late in the first half to take control of the game, quite the turnaround from two weeks ago when the Patriots blew them out in Richmond. Jamie Skeen scored 21 points to lead the way and Bradford Burgess added 16 and 13 rebounds. When the Rams are running effectively, as they did in assisting on 17 of their 24 made baskets against George Mason, they're a tough team to knock off. The challenge for VCU is to impose their style upon Blaine Taylor's Monarchs, something they were unable to do on February 12th in a 70-59 ODU win. VCU turned the ball over just nine times in that loss but ODU rendered them ineffective offensively by challenging every shot (37.3%) and out-rebounding the Rams 40-21.

ODU has won eight straight games, knocking off Hofstra on Sunday by shooting 57.1% and limiting CAA Player of the Year Charles Jenkins to 6-for-16 shooting and 16 points. The Monarchs aren't particularly adept defensively at turning opponents over but their half court defense can lock down, making it particularly difficult to find good looks. Guard Kent Bazemore is a very good perimeter defender and forwards Keyon Carter, Ben Finney and Frank Hassell are all good rebounders who can also defend and score. Three bids for the CAA? A VCU win would make that a near certainty.

As for the West Coast Conference, how many bids the league gets (one or two) varies based on who's offering the opinion. So it would be wise for both Gonzaga and Saint Mary's to win tonight's final in Las Vegas, because while both have solid records their resumes could leave either one up to debate should either need an at-large bid. This will be the third straight season these two have met in the title game, and just like the two regular season meetings the Bulldogs and Gaels have split the meetings. Gonzaga was able to hold on late last night thanks in large part to a technical foul assessed to San Francisco for calling a timeout they didn't have. Foul trouble made things interesting for the Bulldogs, and Mark Few will need his guys to avoid silly fouls tonight against Saint Mary's (a poor whistle on both sides didn't help matters).

Randy Bennett will lean on WCC Player of the Year Mickey McConnell and sophomore Matthew Dellavedova on the perimeter to get things going offensively, but the more important players could end up being forwards Rob Jones and Mitchell Young. If they have issues keeping Sam Dower, Robert Sacre and company off of the boards it could be a long night for the Gaels. Steven Gray and Elias Harris lead the way offensively for Gonzaga, and David Stockton has come into his own in recent weeks. The winner will sleep well until Selection Sunday while the loser may have to root for other bubblers to falter in the days that lie ahead, a situation no one wants to be in this time of the year.

The other two title games are in one-bid leagues, and the most dangerous team should they get to next week could be Iona in the Metro Atlantic. Tim Cluess' team has been on fire of late with nine straight wins, seven of which have been by double figures. Mike Glover has been outstanding inside and with the many other offensive options at Iona's disposal the presence of a point guard Scott Machado makes the Gaels an extremely difficult team to slow down. That's the task for Saint Peter's, who took out top-seed Fairfield on Sunday. John Dunne's team has the ability to lock down on opponents defensively and Monday will mark the ultimate moment for a senior class that's grown with the program. But they've also lost to the Gaels by double figures in both meetings, and the Gaels' firepower isn't the best matchup for the Peacocks.

The Southern Conference final matches the defending champion (Wofford) and this year's regular season champ in Charleston, as the Cougars also boast the Player of the Year in senior guard Andrew Goudelock. Goudelock can knock down any shot on the floor but still shoots at a solid percentage for a player entrusted with so much responsibility. The Terriers counter with forward Noah Dahlman, who was last season's Player of the Year in their run to the NCAA Tournament. If Wofford can slow down Goudelock and forward Antwaine Wiggins (Charleston has other solid offensive options to go along with these two) they're more than capable of making a return to the NCAA Tournament. Semifinals in the Summit and Sun Belt are also on tap tonight, with the latter providing a bracket that's seen three of the four teams with first round byes leave Hot Springs after their first game.

CAA Final (Richmond, VA)
7:00 PM VCU vs. Old Dominion (ESPN)

MAAC Final (Bridgeport, CT)
7:00 PM Saint Peter's vs. Iona (ESPN2)

Southern Final (Chattanooga, TN)
9:00 PM Wofford vs. Charleston (ESPN2)

Summit Semifinals (Sioux Falls, SD)
7:00 PM South Dakota State vs. Oakland
9:30 PM IUPUI vs. Oral Roberts

Sun Belt Semifinals (Hot Springs, AR)
7:00 PM North Texas vs. Western Kentucky
9:30 PM Arkansas-Little Rock vs. Middle Tennessee

West Coast Final (Las Vegas)
9:00 PM Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary's (ESPN)