Friday, February 08, 2008


Banana Peel List 2008 - America East through MEAC

The NCAA Tournament's format is pretty simple, really. 65 teams make the field. 34 of these are at-large qualifiers. 31 reach the field by winning their conference's automatic bid. In 30 of these leagues, the conference tournament winner qualifies. (The Ivy League is still the only hideout.) In a few of these leagues, the winner of the automatic bid is usually a team that's going to get into the field with an at-large bid, with a few notable exceptions through the years. But the vast majority of automatic qualifiers are the only representative from their conference.

Since most teams have reached the halfway point of their conference schedule, it's time to bring back an annual tradition. In the Banana Peel List, I take a look at the races in the leagues that may only get one bid to see who has the best shot at winning the conference's regular season title. I also take a stab at predicting who will end up with the auto bid. This year, I'm going to ignore these conferences since they should undoubtedly get more than 1 bid: ACC, A-10, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10, SEC. That means a few conferences who normally wouldn't be here are covered this year: C-USA, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, West Coast, WAC.

As always, during Championship Days, I'll come back and check my picks against what actually goes down.

Today, I'll review 12 leagues, tomorrow the remaining 12.

America East - Maryland-Baltimore County has a game lead on Vermont. More importantly, the Retrievers own a season sweep of the Catamounts. If they can survive the opening rounds in Binghamton, the conference final will be at UMBC. My pick is UMBC.

Atlantic Sun - Belmont defeated league leader Jacksonville in their only regular season meeting last night to move to the top of the table. Watch out for East Tennessee State though, even if they lost at Belmont earlier. The Bucs have beaten the Dolphins and host the Bruins on Valentine's Day. They don't have the advantage of hosting the conference tournament in Johnson City this year though. That's in Nashville, home of Belmont (even if it is in archrival Lipscomb's gym). My pick is Belmont.

Big Sky - Portland State won at Northern Arizona last night to take sole possession of the league lead. Weber State is currently a game back. The Wildcats beat the Vikings in Ogden, with a return scheduled for next Saturday. The regular season champ hosts the conference tournament, so the winner on the 16th has the inside track to making the Dance. My pick is Portland State thanks to the rematch factor.

Big South - Winthrop's reign may be over. 7-7 Kenny George and his UNC-Asheville Bulldogs have a 3-game lead on the Eagles and High Point. This is another league where the winner has home court advantage in the conference tournament, so my pick is UNCA, even if they lose at Winthrop on March 1.

Big West - This race is starting to get very interesting. Pacific, Cal State-Northridge, Cal State-Fullerton, and UC Santa Barbara are beating each other up. The Tigers and Matadors are currently tied atop the league at 7-2, with a split in the season series. Fullerton and Santa Barbara are a game back in the loss column, with the Gauchos owning a sweep of the Titans. The Gauchos have lost to both Pacific and Northridge on the road, however. This one will go down to the conference tourney in Anaheim, where I think Pacific will prevail.

Colonial - In the end, I think this league gets both George Mason and VCU in. The Patriots won the only regular season meeting between the two, but the conference tournament is at VCU's former home court. I pick Mason to win the regular season and get an at-large on the strength of their non-conference schedule and VCU to get the auto bid.

Conference USA - Memphis and the 11 dwarves. That's all you need to know. Sure the Tigers have to host Houston and play UAB twice, but despite what John Calipari says, they aren't losing in this league. Plus, they host the conference tournament. Memphis gets the only Conference USA bid for this year.

Horizon League - Cleveland State caused an early sensation in this league by opening up a 2-game lead on both Butler and Wright State. Now, well, order has been restored. Butler has a two-game lead on Wright State and the Vikings are three games back. After surviving a scare at league newcomer Valpo on Tuesday, the Bulldogs stay on the road to take on the league's two Wisconsin members, who are currently tied with Cleveland State for third. Butler is my pick for the auto bid this season. Of course, if they lose to Wright State again this year, we may see the same two-bid scenario from last year.

Ivy League - The Ancient Eight is still in the early stages of the conference season. Going into the season, there was talk that this would be the end of Penn/Princeton dominance. Right now, Cornell leads the league at 4-0, but guess who's behind them at 2-0... I'm not rocking the boat, my pick is the Penn Quakers.

Metro Atlantic - It's a five team free-for-all in the MAAC. Rider (and Jason Thompson, the best player you've never heard of) has a game lead on Siena. Loyola, Marist, and Niagara are all two games back in the loss column. (The Saints may even join them as they take on Marist tonight.) With as close as these five teams are, it's going to be a fun four days in Albany. My pick is Rider. Thompson is very good and this is a team that's improved since I saw them at the Old Spice Classic, where they had their moments.

- This is a league that may get an at-large after several years of going without. Kent State leads Ohio and Akron by a game in the East. The Bobcats have beaten the Flashes this year, while the Zips have beaten Ohio and lost to the Flashes. Western Michigan leads Central Michigan by two games in the West. I think both the auto bid and any potential at-large will come from the East, however. My pick is Ohio University.

Mid-Eastern - Morgan State beat Hampton last night to force a tie at the top of the league. They meet again on February 25 on the Bears' home court. Watch out for Norfolk State. Even though the Spartans lost to Hampton at home, they still play them in Hampton and they also own a win over Morgan State in their only meeting. My pick is Morgan State. Todd Bozeman's coaching experience will be the difference.

I'll start off with the Missouri Valley tomorrow.

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