Never Too Early for Tournament Talk
Dee Bost and the Mississippi State Bulldogs earned two huge victories in New York at the 2K Sports Classic. (Icon SMI)
By Ryan Feldman
Monday, November 21, 2011
With preseason tournaments kicking in, we saw a ton of exciting matchups in college basketball over the last few days. Even though it's only November, a handful of teams really helped their profiles going forward for the NCAA tournament.
The Billikens are 3-0 after a 77-64 home win over Washington. The win on Sunday showed this team will be a major factor in the Atlantic 10. If they can get at least two wins in Anaheim at the 76 Classic and avoid upsets in their following seven games, the Billikens will be in great shape for an at-large bid with a solid performance in conference play. If they follow that exact path and even lose at New Mexico on New Year's Eve, they'll have just two losses entering conference play. That will put them in prime position to reach their first NCAA tournament since 2000.
While the Gaels didn't pick up any major upset victories in Puerto Rico, they did meet their quota by winning two of three and they proved that they are legit. After a heartbreaking 91-90 loss to Purdue, Iona didn't get frustrated and fold. The Gaels came back with consecutive wins over Western Michigan and Maryland. They are averaging 91 points per game. This team can run and flat-out score. As far as their at-large hopes, the Gaels still have a long way to go. They play eight straight road games in December and they're going to have to probably win at least five of them to stay within the bubble.
The Hawks face a fairly tough schedule to start their season, and they've met the challenge thus far. After winning at Western Kentucky, a team they were blown out by at home last year, the Hawks took two of three in Charleston, including nice wins over Georgia Tech and Tulsa. The schedule continues to test their mettle when they face off with Iona, Penn State and Drexel in the next week. A sweep of those three games would really start to open eyes about SJU's chances going forward. After the upcoming stretch, Villanova and Harvard will be the Hawks' toughest challengers before A-10 play begins.
The Crimson Tide had high expectations coming into the season, after not even reaching the NCAA tournament last year, and they've lived up to those expectations in the first two weeks of the season. They are now 5-0 after winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with three straight wins over Maryland, Wichita State and Purdue. This team looks like the real deal. The SEC will be super-tough this season, so racking up as many non-conference wins as possible is essential to make sure they're not left out once again on Selection Sunday. The Tide will have a brutal stretch of six non-conference games beginning next Sunday that could really define their season: VCU, Georgetown, at Dayton, Detroit, Kansas State (in Kansas City) and Oklahoma State.
NEW MEXICO STATE
It's usually the other team in New Mexico that we're talking about, but the Aggies proved last Wednesday that they're the top togs in the state this year. They went into The Pit and won 62-53 over the Lobos. The Aggies then followed that up with a home win over UTEP to improve to 3-0. A home game against Arizona next Tuesday could potentially define whether or not the Aggies become a serious team in the at-large conversation. A win over Arizona and NMSU could be a first-place finish in the WAC away from strong at-large consideration in March.
Really? The Beavers? Yes, they are 4-0 after an OT home win over Texas. Craig Robinson has struggled during his time at Oregon State but his team is looking pretty solid right now. The Beavers' big test is Monday night at home against Vanderbilt. A win tonight, followed by wins over Towson and Montana, and the Beavers would even get some top-25 votes in next week's polls.
LONG BEACH STATE
Everyone knows about LBSU's road win at Pitt last Wednesday. It was monumental. But the 49ers then turned around and lost at San Diego State on Saturday. With their brutal upcoming schedule, that's a win they had to have. With road wins coming up at Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina and Xavier, the 49ers will have to steal at least one of them and avoid too many bad losses in their remaining schedule to get serious at-large consideration when March rolls around.
The Bulldogs helped themselves perhaps more than any other team in the country over the past few days. After a bad early-season loss to Akron, the Bulldogs recovered and more than made up for it by winning the 2K Sports Classic. They went into Madison Square Garden and earned back-to-back neutral court victories over Texas A&M and Arizona. With a soft non-conference schedule upcoming over the next month, they needed those wins. As long as the Bulldogs can avoid anymore bad losses before SEC play, hold off Detroit and Utah State, and get a win over either West Virginia or Baylor, then they will be in good shape heading into conference play. The SEC won't be easy, though. It's going to be a difficult road ahead for the Bulldogs, but at least they got the two wins they desperately needed in New York.
Could this finally be the year? That's the same question we hear every year. But Northwestern is off to a great start after winning the Charleston Classic with three wins over LSU, Tulsa and Seton Hall. Neither of those wins will stand out enough to get Northwestern over the hump, but the good news is that the Wildcats didn't lose any of those games. Their biggest test before conference play will be a home matchup with Baylor on December 4.