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CINDERELLA HOPEFULS LOOK TO LOCK UP BIDS
March 10, 2008

SCS.comWith the regular season over, it’s time to look ahead to conference tournaments. Over the weekend, several automatic bids were decided, and Monday through Wednesday, nine bids will be handed out to conference tournament winners. Some conferences, such as the West Coast Conference, feature teams familiar to hoops’ fans, but part of the fun of Championship Week is watching the little guys from a conference like the Big Sky claim an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. A St. Mary’s/Gonzaga title game may feature better basketball, but the sense of urgency in a smaller title game will undoubtedly be more intense. Consider this week a precursor to March Madness. People won’t be filling out their brackets and making pools, but the excitement that will begin after Selection Sunday is already here.

A LOOK AT THIS WEEK’S CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

Big Sky Semi-Finals and Championship Game
Wednesday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

With no upsets in the quarterfinal rounds, the top four seeds in the Big Sky tournament advanced to the semi-finals, setting up a 1 vs. 4 match-up and a 2 vs. 3 game. Portland State, the conference’s regular season champ, should have no problem beating 4th seeded Idaho State, who finished 12-18 and just 8-8 in the Big Sky and lost to the Vikings earlier this year by 23 points. The other game between Northern Arizona and Weber State should be more interesting. NAU had a relatively impressive non-conference performance for a Big Sky school, playing Arizona and UNLV tough and beating Western Kentucky. Weber State had no such success and actually lost a game to Division II Cal St-San Bernardino. NAU will have the best player on the floor in forward Kyle Landry and I expect to see the two top seeds in the tournament face off in the finals. As far as the title game goes, Portland State has won 14 of 16 games heading into the Big Sky tournament and the Vikings have proven they are the conference’s best team. Northern Arizona has won five in a row as well, but Portland State dominated the conference with a 14-2 record.

CAA Championship Game
Monday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

William & Mary’s upset of Virginia Commonwealth yesterday has to excite George Mason. The Tribe’s 16-15 overall record indicates the Patriots certainly had the better season, and George Mason even beat William & Mary by six points in the teams’ only meeting this season. Will Thomas had a dominant season under Jim Larranaga, and the Tribe will have trouble containing him. Besides Thomas, George Mason does not have much size, but the Patriots are clearly the favorites in this game.

Horizon Championship Game
Tuesday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

Thankfully for Butler, third seeded Wright State was eliminated from the tournament in the second round, meaning the Bulldogs’ nemesis will not pose a threat on Tuesday. Wright State beat Butler twice last year, including once in the Horizon League finals. Cleveland State will instead face Butler in the title game, and while this is a team that has won seven of eight games, this is also a team that lost six games in the Horizon League. There’s a reason Butler went 16-2, because the Bulldogs simply are too good for that conference.

MAAC Championship Game
Monday 6:00 PM CST ESPN2

When you think of some of the middle-tier conferences in the nation, the West Coast Conference or the Colonial Athletic Association may come to mind. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference probably doesn’t, but it should. You’ll never hear anybody talk about the MAAC, but the conference features five teams with at least 18 wins. The bottom of the conference is weak, but you won’t find any small conferences with much depth. Top seeded Rider will play second seeded Siena in the title game, and the game will feature one of the nation’s most underrated big men in Jason Thompson. The only time I had a chance to see Thompson this year was in the Old Spice Classic, and he did not disappoint, scoring at least 20 points in every game with an average of more than 10 rebounds per game. Thompson can definitely play at the next level, and if his team can get by Siena, he may lead his team to an NCAA tournament win, although that would be a longshot.

Northeast Chamionship Game
Wednesday 6:00 PM CST ESPN2

With two semi-final upsets, the Northeast Conference’s automatic bid will not go to either Robert Morris or Wagner, which battled all season for the regular season crown. Instead, Mount St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart will have a chance to advance to the NCAA tournament. Both teams had solid seasons, but the winner of this game will be seeded 16th and most likely lose by 50 (or more) to the top seed in the region. Still, both teams desperately want to make it into the Dance, even if they know they stand no chance once they get there.

Southern Chamionship Game
Monday 8:00 PM CST ESPN2

Can Davidson do it again? Can the Wildcats win their 24th straight game and gain the Southern Conference’s automatic bid? Their shouldn’t be any problems in the title game, but if Davidson were to slip-up against Elon tonight, the Wildcats would be right on the bubble since they missed so many chances for marquee wins in the non-conference.

Summit Semi-Finals and Championship Game
Tuesday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

The two top seeds in the Summit League, Oral Roberts and IUPUI, both won 20 games this season and have easily ripped through the conference. I don’t foresee either team suffering an upset, and the two teams should meet in the championship game on Tuesday. If they do, IUPUI has been insanely hot down the stretch, having won 14 of 15 games, and the Jaguars benefit from the production of do-it-all guard George Hill, who can shoot, score, pass, rebound and basically do everything on a basketball court.

Sun Belt Semi-Finals and Championship Game
Tuesday 8:00 PM CST ESPN2

Most likely, we’ll be seeing a South Alabama/Western Kentucky final. If that happens, I believe WKU can only get in with an automatic bid. South Alabama is in good shape, with a very strong RPI and a few solid wins, but the Hilltoppers resume is very weak at this point. Let’s not forget that a USA/WKU final might not even happen, though, because the Jaguars have to play Middle Tennessee State in the semi-finals and WKU has to play Arkansas Little Rock. Both the Jaguars and Hilltoppers should get past their opponents, but remember, this is Championship Week.

West Coast Championship
Monday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

So here we are again. A showdown between St. Mary’s and Gonzaga. The two teams split the season series, with the home team winning each game. In the last meeting between the two, the Gaels’ Diamon Simpson dominated the game, scoring 25 points and pulling down nine rebounds, but even his performance could not get St. Mary’s a road victory. This game may not mean anything for the NCAA tournament (besides some minor changes in seeding), but this game means everything for West Coast Conference bragging rights and pride. Once again, viewers should be treated to a fantastic game on Monday night, because the past two games have been a blast to watch.

Daniel’s final prediction record: 155-72
Last week: 5-4

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