Championship Week is upon us, one of the best weeks of the year. For some, it’s more entertaining than the actual NCAA tournament because everyone is involved.
Disappointing teams can reverse their season. Bubble teams can clear doubts. Quality teams can expect a big march. And all this leads to the selection Sunday.
With that in mind, here are four teams to keep an eye on:
State of Arizona: One of the country’s most disappointing teams has shown life of late, entering the Pac-12 tournament with seven wins in their last eight games. It’s beaten tournament teams UCLA and Creighton, and with five players averaging double figures, it has the scoring depth needed to make noise in Las Vegas. Remember, last year’s Pac-12 tournament was won by Oregon State, who came out of nowhere as a fifth seed and made a wild run to the Elite Eight. A quarter-final encounter with second-placed Arizona should be interesting. The two regular-season games between the state rivals, both won by the Wildcats, were contested.
Davidson: Bubble teams beware. No, not about the Wildcats stealing a bid, but about losing the Atlantic 10 tournament and taking away a tournament seat. Davidson is most likely safe given his 5-4 record in quad 1 and 2 games, highlighted by a win at No. 25 Alabama and a 47 NET rating. But no one else in the league would be without winning the conference tournament. Bob McKillop’s team suffered a loss at Dayton, and the league’s other top schools — VCU, St. Bonaventure, St. Louis and the aforementioned Flyers — are poised to knock them out. VCU and St. Bonaventure in particular are dangerous as they have both won eight of their last nine games but don’t have the summaries to go dancing without an autobid.
Memphis: Suddenly, Penny Hardaway’s Tigers look like the best team in the AAC, worthy not just of a tournament bid, but of a scary double-digit starting number. Ask No. 14 Houston, which was swept by Memphis with double-digit losses. It has won 10 of its last 11 games and could work its way into a single-digit set by winning the AAC tournament. Hardaway lets this group defend, share the ball and live up to the sky-high expectations of preseason national ranking No. 12. Coincidence or not, this run took place without esteemed rookie Emoni Bates, who has been out since January 27 with a back injury.
Michigan: Between Juwan Howard’s return from suspension and Michigan’s on-the-bubble status even after Sunday’s win at state No. 23 Ohio, the Wolverines will be an intriguing team to follow this week. They probably can’t afford a setback in the early round of the Big Ten tournament to contribute to four sub-quad 1 losses, but this has what it takes for a team with recent wins over Iowa, Rutgers, Michigan State and the Buckeyes. It also raises questions about how Howard’s return will affect Michigan after missing the last five games after the Feb. 20 incident in Wisconsin and responding so well under caretaker coach Phil Martelli.
Traditionally, Monday night at MAAC was the night of the year. The mid-major conference took center stage with their championship game before the big conferences began on one of ESPN’s major networks. But in recent years the tournament has been postponed because the new host, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, had a pre-existing contract to host the New Jersey State Wrestling Championships.
With the tournament being canceled two years ago due to COVID-19, last March was the first year the league held the tournament in this new slot, with the title game the day before Selection Sunday on ESPNU. Commissioner Rich Ensor recently said the conference is in talks with Boardwalk Hall to extend the deal, which would be a huge mistake, and has already agreed to host the tournament there next year, in part because the past two years have been either limited had visitor numbers or were cancelled.
The MAAC only harms itself. It loses eyeballs and cover. His tournament is lost among the big boys that way. It has better options. Find another side or play the games in the higher seed house like the Northeast Conference does. The status quo cannot be in the best interests of the league.
game of the week
Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, Dec. 9-12 March
Beginning Wednesday night, the Garden rocks for the first real Big East tournament in three years. Two years ago it was canceled on the second day due to COVID-19. Last year it was played in a mostly empty arena. Not only is it going back this week, but this is the best the league has had since the realignment. There are seven planned NCAA tournament teams and two potential sleepers — No. 7 St. John’s and No. 10 DePaul — in the bottom of the bracket looking to make a big run. With the ACC tournament being held at the Barclays Center at the same time and serving as a prelude to the main event, this is a week in heaven for local basketball junkies.
1: Gonzaga, Baylor, Ariz., Auburn
2: Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, Purdue
3: Villanova, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Texas Tech
4: Arkansas, Illinois, Providence, UCLA
Above: North Carolina
This isn’t just about the big fuss on Saturday night, although the tar heels that ruined Mike Krzyzewski’s big night were obviously unexpected. This team rose off the mat after a mostly underwhelming regular season and is playing its best basketball, a credit to first-year coach Hubert Davis and his players. North Carolina has now won 11 of their last 13 games after beating Duke by 13 points. Not only is it safe to make the NCAA tournament, but it appears capable of progressing.
Above: The RAC (Jersey Mikes Arena)
Rutgers improved to 14-3 in his own building on Sunday, likely securing an NCAA tournament bid with a last-second win over Penn State on an emotional Seniors Day. In the last three years, the Scarlet Knights are 42-8 there, with nine wins over ranked opponents. In a 12-day span this year, they have consecutively defeated Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois State. There’s no better college basketball atmosphere in the area. There isn’t even a close second. Rutgers house now passes Jersey Mike’s Arena but I will always consider it RAC. Either way, opponents must hate the location.
Bottom: George Town
The Hoyas made history on Saturday, and not in a way that anyone associated with this program can be proud of. Georgetown ended a winless league season with their loss to Xavier, fell to staggering lows under Patrick Ewing less than a year after winning the Big East tournament, and became the first Big East program to go winless in league play since DePaul’s 2008-09. Last week, athletic director Lee Reed Ewing offered a vote of confidence, and on Friday the Hall of Famer tweeted that he plans to hold out on The Hilltop. It’s becoming abundantly clear that this isn’t working, but Georgetown and Ewing aren’t ready to admit it just yet. Even a 6:24 regular season and a league record of 0:19 isn’t enough.
Below: Frank Martin
Barring an unlikely SEC tournament title, South Carolina will miss its fourth straight NCAA tournament. In the COVID-19 year, the Gamecocks didn’t go dancing either. They have as many Quad 1 wins (two) as Quad 3 losses (two) and have not been ranked nationally since reaching the 2017 Final Four. And the notoriously intense Martin has taken some of his frustration out on his big men. He benched top striker Wildens Leveque in Saturday’s loss to fifth-placed Auburn and said when asked by reporters about the move: “It hurt my eyes to see him play. So you can say the injury is my eyesight.” He has described his frontcourt’s game as “embarrassing”. Tearing up his players publicly seems to be Martin’s last hope to jump-start his volatile team.
https://nypost.com/2022/03/07/championship-week-4-college-hoops-teams-to-keep-an-eye-on/ 4 college hoop teams to keep an eye on