It's Monday and "The Stack" is back with plenty of college basketball thoughts as four teams have punched their tickets to the Big Dance. Plus we'll react to some of the bigger stories outside of college basketball that happened over the weekend, so let's get right to it and see what made "the stack" for today, Monday, March 5:
1. UNC-Ashville, Belmont, Murray State and Creighton are dancing.
Time for some rapid reaction to each of the conference championship games from over the weekend...
First to the Big South. Close at halftime, UNC-Ashville was able to pull away from VMI and win 80-64. This is the second consecutive trip to the Big Dance for UNC-Ashville. They won their play-in game last year against Arkansas Little-Rock, but lost in the first round. The folks at UNC-Ashville should just enjoy making it to the Big Dance, because they are not going to be winning a game outside of the play-in game in the tournament.
Belmont is back after winning the Atlantic Sun conference tournament 83-69 over Florida Gulf Coast. Belmont was easily considered one of, if not thee best mid-major last year and ripe to pull off an upset. I picked them and it bit me. They lost to Wisconsin in the first round. There just hasn't been a lot of talk surrounding the Bruins even though they do pose a threat in the tournament because of their style of play. I don't think they can win a game though. They just don't have what they had last year, or at least haven't shown it to this point.
Murray State was going to be in the tournament regardless, but they had to sweat it out Saturday against Tennessee State. The Tigers gave Murray State all they could handle and looked poised to win the Ohio Valley and steal a bid from a bubble team. They were up seven with 5:30 to play, but Murray State rallied back, ending the game on a 11-2 run to thwart the upset bid and win the Ohio Valley conference tournament. This game may scare people from picking Murray State to go very far, if at all in their brackets. I know it does to me. Then again, Tennessee State did give Murray State their only loss of the year, so maybe the Tigers just match up well with Murray State. Murray State showed great toughness mentally and physically in coming back to win and bubble teams like Northwestern and Texas should send Murray State a fruit basket, thanking them for winning and not allowing Tennessee State to steal a bid.
And perhaps another fruit basketba should be sent to Creighton, who avoided Illinois State's quest for an upset bid with a 83-79 overtime victory over the Redbirds to win the Missouri Valley. Potential player of the year Doug McDermott was his normal wonderful self, scoring 33 points and grabbing six rebounds in the win. I'm struggling to determine just how good Creighton is, but anytime you have a player with the caliber of play like the Jays have with McDermott, you're never out of a game. They'll win a game or two in the tournament.
2. More dance tickets to be punched tonight.
Four bids have already been claimed and we have four more tonight. The CAA title game (7:00 ET ESPN) features the top seed Drexel against the two seed VCU. VCU is on the bubble and still not in according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, but I think VCU is in. Still they don't want to take any chances and will be ready against Drexel team. I like VCU and Shaka Smart to win the CAA.
The MAAC championship is tonight (7:00 ET ESPN2) and do I dare take the Stags of Fairfield who knocked off the team I thought would win and who I thought was a danger to pull off an upset or two in the tournament Iona? They take on the two seed Loyola (MD). I want to take Fairfield, I really do, but just don't have it in me. I'll take Loyola to win the game, but will not be shocked if Fairfield wins, and wins the MAAC running away.
The SoCon championship tonight (9:00 ET ESPN2) features Western Carolina against Davidson. Davidson has been by far and away the best team in the conference and they will roll in this one.
Finally, what a game tonight in the WCC championship between one seed St. Mary's and two seed Gonzaga. The two split the regular season series, each winning on their home court. On a neutral site it's a toss-up as far as I'm concerned. Both teams are good, but St. Mary's has just been a little better this year as evidenced by their one seed. In a close game, I'll take St. Mary's to win, but Gonzaga won't have to sweat on Selection Sunday. They'll be in the tournament.
3. Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament preview.
The MAC tournament gets underway today and the top two teams are in the same divsion. Akron and Buffalo are the top two seeds and will get a double bye in the tournament. Only having to win a couple of games is not a whole lot to ask. I'm sure there will be an upset or two in this conference tournament. Seems like every conference tournament going on so far has seen an upset or two. Having said that, I like Akron, the top seed to win the tournament. I think the Zips will play Buffalo in the championship game and finally come through against the Bulls having lost twice to them already this season. The MAC tournament is always wild. I expect nothing less.
4. MEAC tounrament preview.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament gets underway today and newcomer Savannah State is the newcomer and is the top seed in the tournament, riding a thirteen game winning streak. But the team that I have my eye on is Norfolk State. They lost to Marquette in the Paradise Jam back in early November and that is where the confidence for them began. They played Savannah State and won, but that was back at the beginning of December. Despite winning six of seven, Savannah State is the hotter team right now and against my better judgement, I'll take Savannah State to win the MEAC tournament.
5. Top headlines from the weekend.
What a day for big games in the NBA Sunday. Rajon Rondo became just the fourth player in NBA history to record a triple double consisting of at least 15 points, 15 rebounds and 20 assists with his 18 point, 17 rebound and 20 assist effort in the Celtics 115-111 overtime victory over the New York Knicks. Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd have done it in the last 25 years and Wilt Chamberlain did it before that. Rondo was absolutely sensational and a performance like his may not come for a long time. And to think the Celtics were thinking about trading him...
Speaking of epic performances, what about New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams, who tallied 57 points last night in a 104-101 over the Charlotte Bobcats? Dude dropped 40 of them after halftime. Unreal. He also had six rebounds and seven assists. Did none of the other Nets decide to show up? The 57 points scored is a franchse record, and some people will say, "well he was playing the Bobcats," but still, this is a remarkable game. Now you know why the Nets traded for Williams and want to bring in talent to surround him like Dwight Howard. He's a pretty special player and very determined...
The NFL will meet with St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams today regarding the bounties he has or has not been using in New Orleans and Washington. If the league finds out it is true, there will be a very stiff punishment levied down against not only Williams, but his previous two organizations that may mean loss of draft picks. This is a serious matter and just the fact that someone would actually set bounties to hurt players is a sad and sorry state of affairs. I have a feeling that Williams did put bounties out, but the NFL has to have definitive proof and I don't know if they have enough. More on this to come...
And finally, Rory McIlroy was able to outlast Tiger Woods' big at a stunning comeback in the Honda Classic. McIlroy won shooting a final round one under (-1) on his way to shooting twelve under (-11) for the tournament. He also claimed top golfer in the world with the win. Woods tried to not let that happen shooting an eight under 62 for the day to get to second place and put pressure on McIlroy, but the kid was cool and calm under pressure. I think this is a good sign for Tiger that he was able to shoot lights out Sunday, but he needs to start playing with that tenacity consistently before he's back to winning tournaments. For McIlroy, he is a very special player and has a lot to learn still and we, at least I, expect him to win to start winning majors consistently now, but for time being, he is going to enjoy being the number golfer in the world and rightfully so.
Coming up Tuesday: Conference championship game reactions, conference tournament previews and championship game previews.
Comments and suggestions on what to write about are always welcomed and appreciated.