Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 9:54 AM
You know that we’ve been closely monitoring this power conference versus mid-major breakdown for much of this 2011-12 College Basketball season and right now the Associated Press Top 25 lists 19 teams from the so-called six power conferences while there’s six teams that hail from leagues outside the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC.
No doubt that three of the more interesting squads in all the land are “little guys” Murray State, Wichita State and Creighton - all of whom have resided in the Top 25 for much of the hoops season and now the $64,000 question is can any/all wind up playing real deep in next month’s NCAA Tournament that surely had a soft spot for mid-majors last year when Butler made it all the way back to the NCAA Championship Game (again) while Virginia-Commonwealth barreled its way to the Final Four and both Xavier and Richmond gassed up their respective tanks all the way to the Sweet 16 round.
Now, here’s some quick-hitter looks at these three rock-solid mid-major teams that could be making major noise come March:
#12 MURRAY STATE (28-1, 15-1 OVC) - What you need to know is that the Racers won their regular-season race by four full games over Tennessee State and it also snagged “signature wins” this year against the likes of UAB, Southern Miss, Dayton and - of course - Saint Mary’s in that Bracket Buster weekend back in late February and there was never a time when the Dick Vitale’s and/or Jay Bilas’ of the hoops world thought this club was a fake: It possesses Top 25 talent and probably would have finished in the upper crust in the ACC and Pac-12 this season.
For you stat geeks out there, note that Murray State ranked first in its league in points scored (74.8 ppg) and second league-wide in points allowed (61.7 ppg) and those ranks were 31st and 35th, respectively, on a national level. Not too shabby!
What’s Straight Ahead -- The Racers wrapped up their wildly-successful regular season with a 69-64 win/cover at 4-point underdog Tennessee Tech last Saturday night and so Steve Prohm’s club heads into the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament (Feb. 29-through-March 3) riding a five-game winning streak but knowing full well that Tennessee State could possibly be lying in the weeds. Yes, Tennessee State’s the only team to have beaten Murray State year (see 72-68 back on Feb. 9th) and so don’t be so quick to pencil in the Racers at a #5 or #6 NCAA Tournament seed just yet. Note that Murray State gets a double-bye into Friday’s OVC semifinal round.
NCAA Tournament Report -- No doubt you have heard countless commentators singing the praises of Mr. Isaiah Canaan (19.4 ppg) and Company all year long but you can betcha proverbial bottom dollar that other folks have scouted out M-State with all their recent TV appearances/highlights and so this won’t be a case of some mid-major gang sneaking up on the field. In fact, Murray State might not be a large betting favorite in its Round I game against a power conference team - how does a first-round matchup against an 11th-seeded Northwestern sound to you?
#15 WICHITA STATE (26-4, 16-2 MVC) - No surprise here that the Shockers - who won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title by two full games over Creighton - ranked near the top of the key stat categories this season as Gregg Marshall’s gang ranked second in the Valley in scoring (78.3 ppg) and third in the 10-team league in defense (allowing 62.8 ppg) and those have W-State ranking 15th and 45th, respectively, nationally for a unit that’s won its last eight games in a row while heading into the MVC Tournament in St. Louis (begins Thursday with a pair of first-round games).
The Wichita State won/loss record includes a Bracket Buster Weekend win at Davidson and other key out-of-conference triumphs over Colorado, UNLV and Tulsa. Note that only one team (that’s Drake) has beaten the Shockers since the start of the new calendar year.
What’s Straight Ahead -- As per norm, the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champ plays a bottom-feeder team at 12 noon ET come Friday (that will be the winner of Thursday night’s Indiana State versus Southern Illinois game) but Wichita State better strap it up for semifinal/final games in this league hoedown otherwise known as “Arch Madness” - it’s played in St. Louis, get it? - and no one should be surprised if a Sunday showdown with Creighton takes place for all the MVC marbles.
NCAA Tournament Report - The Shockers may be ranked slightly behind OVC kingpin Murray State but we fully expect Wichita State to draw a higher or equal seed come “Big Dance” time based on the tougher sked and so we could see Marshall’s guys go up to as high as a #5 should it run the table this weekend but odds are W-State will be on the #6 seed line. Heck, as long as we’re speculating about first-round NCAA Tournament how about a Wichita State game against potential #11 seed Harvard in Round One?
#25 CREIGHTON (25-5, 14-4 MVC) - Let’s stay in The Valley for these frisky Bluejays who rank first in the league in scoring (79.7 ppg) and note that’s good enough to rank 7th nationally in that key category. The Creighton kids sit snuggly in second place in the MVC standings and way ahead of all those 9-9 squads (see Northern Iowa, Illinois State, Drake, Evansville and Missouri State) and star G Doug McDermott (averaging a haughty 23.1 ppg) makes this club a little sexier squad than some of the other non-power conference clubs out there.
Note that Creighton has gotten its “act together” with four consecutive wins following a three-game losing skid and among the Bluejays’ best non-league victories this 2011-12 season were triumphs over San Diego State, Tulsa and Northwestern with the first two of those away.
What’s Straight Ahead - Creighton swings into MVC Tournament action with the first night game on Friday when the Bluejays will be challenged by the winner of Thursday’s Drake-Bradley affair and than either Evansville or Missouri State lies ahead in the semifinal round.
NCAA Tournament Report - Gut feeling is that Creighton will be on that #8 or #9 seed line and so expect a real competitive first-round NCAA Tourney game. How does a Creighton versus Cincinnati matchup sound to y’all?
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MORE COLLEGE HOOP NEWS/NOTES
Lots of dynamite games on this “Leap Year Day” here - the final Wednesday in February before all heck literally breaks loose and how about a couple of ranked teams looking for bounce-back games?
The 23rd-ranked Temple Owls (22-6, 11-3 Atlantic-10) were squashed 82-72 at 2 ½-point home dog St. Joseph’s last Saturday night and now Fran Dunphy’s gang looks to get things right at home against Massachusetts (7 p.m. ET tip) and did you notice where the Owls - who had won 11 in a row prior to that intra-city loss - shot a wobbly 4-of-15 from three-land (that’s 26.7 percent)? ...
And, of course, #7 Missouri is looking to turn the beat around following that hard-to-stomach 87-86 loss-but-cover at 8½-point fav Kansas last Saturday.
The Tigers (25-4 overall and 12-4 in Big 12 play) host gritty Iowa State here on this Wednesday night and note that in the first meeting between these squads Mizzou won 76-69 at I-State back on January 11th as the Columbia kids shot nearly 52 percent from the floor. One key in this Round II battle is what Iowa State will shoot from the foul line as the Cyclones missed 12-of-25 free throws that first meeting - yes, ouch!
NOTE: Get more College Basketball Updates in the next Jim Sez.