State Wide Round Ball Round Up
The month where college basketball becomes king is here. March not only marks the beginning of the end for the season, but it is also gives us some of the game’s most lasting memories. Everything is on the line in March. Where players and coaches can put themselves into the fabric of hard court greatness. As we prepare ourselves for the best of all months, we will take a look at where each of the state schools sit with just a few games remaining.
The Hoosiers are currently ranked #1 in the country- at least until the new polls come out tomorrow. IU has been one of the top teams in the country the entire season. They are an impressive 25-4 overall and sit atop the Big Ten with a 13-3 conference mark. IU had a five game winning streak snapped this week with a four point loss at Minnesota. The loss brings up a stat that some would say is a source of pride while others may give it concern. The Hoosiers are 6-0 against teams in the AP top 25, which means all four of their losses have come to unranked teams. It shows they are capable of winning big games, but could be susceptible to let downs. Although in an effort of fairness, all four of these teams have spent time in the polls at some point this season.
Moving forward IU has just two regular season games left. They host Ohio State on Tuesday for Senior Night then travel to Michigan next Sunday. If IU wins out, they will claim their first outright conference championship since 1993 and first overall since 2002. Bigger goals still are out there for this team. A #1 seed in the NCAA tournament is nearly a certainty and this team has all the tools needed to win the title. IU’s big three (Zeller, Oladipo, and Watford) when they play well together can carry this team on a deep run. After a 26 year drought, could this be the team Hoosier faithful have been waiting for to put six consecutive wins together and hang the sixth banner? Just one story that makes March great.
The Irish have been a little up and down in Big East play but sit firmly in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame is 22-7 overall and 10-6 in the conference which is good for a third place tie. The Big East has proved to be a tough conference to get through this season with the top teams all going through a tough stretch. The Irish have had their difficulty on the road but the best part of the NCAA Tournament is that all games are played at neutral sites. Coach Brey has them playing a balanced brand of basketball right now. Inside Jack Cooley and Tom Knight have played well and control the boards. The perimeter is controlled by Eric Atkins at the point. Atkins runs the show for ND and has a 2.7 assists to turnover ratio for them.
The difference in the tournament for them may be Jerian Grant though. Grant is an athletic scorer and one of the few guys that can create his own shot. ND should fit somewhere around a six or seven seed when the brackets are revealed. Getting out of the first weekend and advancing past the Round of 16 is a possibility for this team. Coach Brey has not had a lot of success in the Big Dance but this team has enough scoring and rebounding to make a run.
The Bulldogs spent a long time in the top fifteen in the country this season but have come across some rough times over the past few weeks. They have lost five of their last eleven games. The move to the Atlantic 10 has proved to be a step up in competition as BU thought it would be. Their overall record is still good at 22-7, but their conference record of 9-5 is only good for a fourth place tie. Butler has suffered back-to-back losses to the top two teams in the conference- St. Louis and VCU. The VCU was an embarrassing 32 point beat down on national TV.
The good news for Butler is that there are a few games left to get this straightened out. Two regular season games remain plus the conference tournament in Brooklyn. Right now Butler is still going to be in the NCAA Tournament but the question for them is where will they be seeded. A few weeks ago they were solidly a top four seed, but now are probably looking more at a seven seed depending on how the next two weeks go.
Bryce Drew has now won back-to-back conference championships in his first two seasons in charge of the Crusaders. Valpo beat UW-Green Bay yesterday 75-56 to clinch the Horizon League title. They are 24-7 overall and won the Horizon with a 13-3 mark. Winning the conference is even more important in the Horizon League as now Valpo will host the conference tournament throughout their run. This was the same scenario last season, but they lost at home to Detroit in the championship game.
This Valparaiso team is constructed of the same players as last year, but as the saying goes they are another year older and another year wiser. If this team makes the NCAA Tournament, they have all the ingredients for a lower seeded squad that could pull off a major upset. Their top six players are seniors, they have a stud go-to scorer (Ryan Broekhoff 15.9 ppg and probably conference POY), and a very good big guy most “mid-majors” don’t have (Kevin Van Wijk 12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
The Purple Aces are doing just want they want to be doing heading into March. They are playing their best at just the right time. UE is on a four game winning streak and finished the Missouri Valley regular season in fourth place at 10-8 (18-13 overall). Colt Ryan is their senior scoring machine. He surpassed 2,000 points in his career just a few weeks ago and is averaging 20.0 ppg. The key to their offense is sharing the basketball as they rank 15th nationally in assists per game with 16.1 per.
As we enter March, Evansville’s only chance of making the Big Dance is running the gauntlet at Arch Madness. The Missouri Valley Conference tournament has been one of the most exciting and competitive tournaments throughout the years. This year should be the same. The Aces are playing well going into St. Louis with Colt Ryan leading the way. Three wins in three days has been done before.
Along the same lines as Evansville, the IPFW Mastodons are entering their conference tournament on a hot streak. The Dons have won five straight down the stretch to finish fifth in the Summit League. After a rough start to the season, they finished the regular season 15-16 and 7-9 in the conference. Frank Gaines is the go-to guy. He is averaging 19.5 ppg this season and is one of the top scorers in the conference. As IPFW has gotten hot so has Gaines.
Traveling to the cold weather of South Dakota they will look to stay hot. Gaines will need to lead the way with the help of Luis Jacobo (11.3 ppg) for them to advance deep into the Summit League tournament. Without a tournament championship, the Mastodons could possibly get a CBI bid or may get shut out of postseason play.
Faltering a bit down the stretch the Sycamores lost five of their final six games. They still finished with a 17-13 record and 9-9 in the conference, but finishing in fifth after being tied for first late in the conference schedule is disappointing. Jake Odum has lead this inexperienced team all season. Odum is nearly a lock for MVC first team honors with 14.4 ppg and 4.7 apg.
The best news for ISU might be the new life Arch Madness can give them. Putting together three good games in St. Louis can erase the feeling of these final few weeks. Although they are mostly inexperienced, Coach Greg Lansing and Odum have been there and done this before. Just two years ago they ran through the conference tourney on their way to the NCAA.
This has been a very up and down season for Matt Painter and the Boilermakers. With one week remaining in the regular season they sit one game under .500 at 14-15. Purdue’s conference mark is 7-9 with few good wins and some head scratchers. The Boilermakers are coming off possibly their best win of the season over #17 Wisconsin in Madison. A huge second half effort by D.J. Byrd, Terone Johnson, and Sandi Marcius got PU that victory and even caused Coach Painter to crack a smile.
Now the Boilers role will be of spoiler. Two tournament bound teams (Michigan and Minnesota) are left plus the conference tournament. An unbelievable run in Chicago is their only shot at the NCAA tournament. It will take four wins in four games which will be tough for a team that has been so streaky.
After a rough start to the season, Ball State has played much better the last month. They have won five out of six to get out of the basement of the MAC West. The Cardinals are 13-14 overall, but now are 6-8 in the conference good for fourth in the division. Billy Taylor has found some consistency and hope to keep this going for two more weeks.
Jauwan Scaife has upped his play and is scoring at a high rate right now. Scaife leads the team with 16.0 ppg. With some help from Jesse Berry and Majok Majok, the Cards could make some noise in the MAC tourney. The CBI could be a possibility with a good final two weeks which would be big for Coach Taylor building for next year.
This season has been incredibly tough for the Jaguars. Coach Todd Howard’s squad has struggled with injuries all season long which has resulted in a 6-25 record and just 1-15 in the Summit League. The Jags are mired in a fifteen game losing streak and haven’t won since the calendar turned to 2013. Their last win came December 27th against in-state foe IPFW. The conference tournament is the last hope for IUPUI this season. They are matched up with conference co-champion South Dakota St. in the opener who beat the Jags twice this season.
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