We notched a winner last night with the Iona Gaels taking down Monmouth in the MAAC Final in a game most casual fans are calling an upset. However, if you read the column yesterday and saw the line, you know it was simply a good team beating another good team with a slightly higher profile. The real question now becomes HOW the Committee will look at these excellent mid majors who failed to seal the deal with the automatic bid.
I am going to assume Wichita State is safe; they have built up some equity over the years and took several of their losses without their multiple-time All Conference player and All American consideree, Fred Van Vleet. But what about Monmouth? They certainly have the high profile wins most mid-majors lack: UCLA, Georgetown, USC and Notre Dame, but the first two lost some luster during their respective underachieving seasons and the Hawks tote three sub-RPI 200 losses. Ouch. And what about Valpo? The Crusaders LOOK like an NCAA Tournament team, they have the RECORD of an NCAA Tournament team, but will their Horizon League schedule be enough to get them over the hunt?
Suffice it to say, the first day of major conference tournaments just got a LOT more interesting for a lot of fan bases across the country as the pool of available bids and potential ‘dancers’ just got more competitive…
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Today’s Free Pick:
Green Bay Phoenix -1 at Wright State Raiders
Let’s start by saying, this wasn’t the game anyone expected in the Horizon Final. Green Bay are surprise entrants thanks to yesterday’s overtime win over Valpo. Wright State rode a late season surge to the #3 seed and knocked off Oakland and dynamite Kay Felder to set up a true underdog matchup pair today.
Wright State may not be the team that knocked Valpo officially out of the tournament (assuming they get left on the sidelines, that would be Green Bay), but they may have delivered the more fatal blow. The Raiders swept the season series with the Crusaders, who otherwise would have a nearly unassailable tournament resume. They won their final six games and nine of their last eleven, and won many of them in dominating fashion.
The two teams split in the regular season with Green Bay winning at home by 12 and Wright State spanking the Phoenix on the return trip to Wright State. I expect a meld of the two today on a neural floor, but the most recent dominating Wright State performance lingers in my mind. I think they are the slightly better team and have some really excellent momentum.
Both teams are 8-2 in their last ten games and both teams own a roughly +6 ppg differential. The difference is Green Bay scores 82.1 and Wright averages 69.6. This game will come down to tempo, and I like Wright State to be able to better manage it tonight on a neutral floor. They don’t get sped up too often, so if they can avoid it tonight, I’ll take them to better execute in the half court and get the win. The absolutely dominated Green Bay, holding them to 60 points last month. Look for them to do likewise tonight and punch their ticket for the Big Dance.