Final Forum (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday January 30, 2007 9:15AM; Updated: Tuesday January 30, 2007 1:29PM
Who is this year's Florida?
Many people forget that when the NCAA tournament began last season, the Gators were ranked 11th in the AP poll. If you're looking for a modestly ranked team that has the chops to make a similar surge to the crown, you could do worse than No. 14 Marquette. The Golden Eagles dropped their first two Big East games to Providence and Syracuse, but they have since rebounded with six straight wins, including a 77-74 overtime victory at then No. 6 Pittsburgh on Jan. 21. With a trio of speedy guards, led by dynamic 5'11" sophomore point guard Dominic James, Marquette has the ability to create mismatches regardless of whom it plays.
Can another George Mason make a miracle run to the Final Four?
Virginia Commonwealth, which sits atop George Mason's conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, with a 10-0 record (18-3 overall), has Cinderella potential. First-year coach Anthony Grant has brought the same up-tempo, pass-happy system to VCU that he learned from Billy Donovan as a Florida assistant for the last 10 seasons. The Rams are smallish up front (none of their top seven scorers are taller than 6'7"), but they can spread the floor and give opponents fits with a three-guard offense that features 6'2" senior B.A. Walker (15.9 points per game), 6'4" senior Jesse Pellot-Rosa (14.4) and 6'2" sophomore Eric Maynor (14.3). That formula worked well for the Patriots, who nearly went all the way with a similarly strong backcourt trio of Lamar Butler, Tony Skinn and Folarin Campbell.
Will other mid-majors make another strong showing in the NCAA tournament?
If anything, the pool of talented mid-majors is even deeper this year. Butler, Air Force (19-3) and Nevada (19-2) have spent most of this season ranked in the Top 25, while Oral Roberts (which shocked No. 3 Kansas), Gonzaga (which beat No. 2 North Carolina), Missouri State (which stunned No. 7 Wisconsin) and Wichita State (which outlasted sixth-ranked LSU) have all shown that they can sting a heavy favorite. The Missouri Valley Conference, which last year sent Wichita State and Bradley to the Sweet 16, again may be difficult to reckon with. The league has five teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, led by No. 10 Southern Illinois (17-5).
Just how bad is the Big Ten?
Only once in the last 23 years has the Big Ten sent fewer than five teams to the NCAA tournament. That was in 2004, when it got three bids. With only Wisconsin (21-1), Ohio State (18-3) and Indiana (15-5) assured of berths this year, it's possible the conference could repeat that dubious feat this year.
1. The national coach of the year will come from the Pac-10. A case can be made for UCLA's Ben Howland, Washington State's Tony Bennett and USC's Tim Floyd, but the choice here is Oregon's Ernie Kent, who had led the Ducks to second place in the league.
2. Give Drew Neitzel his due. Michigan State's junior guard -- who scored 24 second-half points in a 66-64 loss at Ohio State last Saturday -- may not be the best player in the Big Ten, but he is the most valuable.
3. Alabama and LSU are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. Losses last weekend to Arkansas and Georgia, respectively, dropped both teams to 2-4 in the SEC.