Saturday, February 09, 2008


Banana Peel List 2008 - Missouri Valley through WAC

Missouri Valley - Drake has a four game lead on Illinois State and just completed a sweep of the Redbirds. Illinois State still has a shot at an at-large, though I think their failure to beat Drake once and relatively weak non-conference slate hurts them. My feeling is the only chance the Valley gets two teams in this year is if a team other than the Bulldogs takes Arch Madness. My pick is Drake.

Mountain West - This is currently a three-team race between BYU, UNLV, and San Diego State. The Cougars own a game lead on both the Rebels and Aztecs and the best at-large profile of the three. If they claim the regular season title, BYU will have a legit at-large claim. They may need it. Since the conference tourney is on their home court, I'm picking UNLV.

Northeast - Four teams have a legit shot in this ultra-competitive league. Sacred Heart, last season's regular season runner-up is currently at the top of the league, but Wagner and Robert Morris are tied with the Pioneers in the loss column. Quinnipiac is a game behind the three leaders. The Colonials have the best talent in the league and the best non-conference win (at Boston College), while the Seahawks have a coach, Mike Deane, who's looking to take his fourth different school to the tournament. Sacred Heart has the most difficult schedule of the four leaders, as they're the only one who has to play the other three twice. I think this will catch up with them in the end. This is another conference where the regular season winner has home court advantage in the tournament. I think the sole Wagner-Robert Morris matchup on February 23 will be crucial. My pick is Robert Morris based on their talent and home court advantage.

Ohio Valley - Austin Peay has a two game lead on Murray State, Morehead State, and Eastern Kentucky in the loss column. The Governors and Racers split their two meetings, each winning on their home courts. The Govs end the season at Morehead and EKU. Murray State goes to Morehead State today, as they try to rebound from a loss to the EKU Colonels on Thursday. Since they've been the most consistent team this season, I pick Austin Peay to win the auto-bid.

Patriot League- Perennial league power and preseason favorite Holy Cross looked competitive throughout most of their non-conference slate, but now sit in the basement of the Pat League. That's opened things up considerably, as last year's bottom feeder, Lafayette has a game lead in the loss column on American, Bucknell, and Lehigh. This race is far from over. While the Leopards did beat the Bison in their first meeting, they lost to the Eagles and Mountain Hawks. The top two teams in this league host the quarterfinals and semifinals (two four-team pods), with the highest remaining seed getting the final. I pick Bucknell to rise above the rest to re-assert their dominance in the conference.

Southern - There's a nice race brewing in the North Division between 10-4 Chattanooga and 9-4 Appalachian State. The Mountaineers almost got an at-large last year, but their resume is lacking this year. But this may not matter because of what's happening in the South Division. The Davidson Wildcats may not have claimed any big time scalps in the non-conference portion of the season, but they are taking care of business in the league. They're currently 14-0 and own a five-game lead on Georgia Southern in the South Division. They haven't clinched yet, as the SoCon plays 20 league games. There is no team that understands the importance of winning the conference tournament as much as Davidson after not receiving an at-large bid in 2005 after running the table, so they won't disappoint this year.

Southland - Early in the season, there was talk of Stephen F. Austin (winners at Oklahoma) or Sam Houston State (wins at Texas Tech, UW-Milwaukee, and St. Louis and at home to Fresno State and UCF) maybe earning at-large bids. That talk has ended as the conference season has unfolded. The Lumberjacks and Bearkats are both chasing Lamar at the moment. Southeast Louisiana and 2006 champ Northwestern State are also in the hunt. Lamar has already beaten SHS and lost to Stephen F. Austin, while the Lumberjacks were beaten by the Bearkats. While there is still a long way to go in the regular season, Sam Houston State is my pick, as I think their early season successes will translate into wins at the conference tournament.

Southwestern Athletic - Alabama State has a two-game lead on Southern and a three-game cushion on Mississippi Valley State, Jackson State, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. While the Hornets' sole league loss is to Jackson State, they did beat their closest challenger by 15 in their first meeting in Baton Rouge. Since the league is currently the lowest-rated in Division I, the winner is probably destined for the opening round game in Dayton. I pick Alabama State to fill that slot.

Summit League - Oral Roberts is looking to make the tournament for the third-straight year out of the former Mid-Continent Conference. They have a two-game lead on IUPUI (the preseason pick of a few publications). The Eagles have already beaten the Jags in Tulsa. They meet again in Indy a week from today, but I think they'll meet for a third time in the conference tournament in Tulsa (but not on ORU's home court). I think Oral Roberts will use the semi-home court advantage in the third meeting to claim the auto-bid.

Sun Belt - Much like the Southern Conference, one division is more balanced than the other. The Sun Belt West is a five-team race right now. Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas-Little Rock, and Denver are 6-5, with North Texas and New Orleans a game back. The real action is in the East though where South Alabama and Western Kentucky are tied at 11-1, with both harboring realistic at-large chances. The Jags won in Mobile, but they must go to Bowling Green on February 21. USA has a huge advantage in that they host the conference tournament. Well, that would be a huge advantage except that home teams have had difficulty winning the Sun Belt tournament in the recent past. I think that trend continues this year, USA will have a nervous selection Sunday, as Western Kentucky is my pick for the auto bid.

West Coast
- St. Mary's just kept the race going by beating Gonzaga in Moraga on Monday night. I think both teams will be in the field at the end. There is the potential for a third team from the WCC, however, as San Diego is currently tied with the Gaels and the Bulldogs for the league lead. The three-team race should continue for at least a few more games, as Toreros beat the Gaels in San Diego, but lost in Spokane. The Toreros also host the league tournament. In the end, I think this league has a better chance at getting three bids than one. San Diego will pull some upsets and win the tournament at home.

Western Athletic
- This is a conference that's grown accustomed to multiple bids and tournament wins, but may get neither this year. No team has much of a shot at an at-large bid, so the conference tournament in Las Cruces will be crucial. Utah State currently leads Boise State by a game and New Mexico State, Nevada, and Hawai'i by two games in the loss column. The Aggies have already beaten the Broncos and Wolf Pack once, but lost by 30 in Las Cruces. Since NMSU knows how to beat Utah State and hosts the league tournament, they're my pick to steal the auto bid.

In summary, here are my auto bid picks.
AmEast -
Maryland-Baltimore County
A-Sun -
Big Sky -
Portland State
Big South -
Big West -
Colonial -
Virginia Commonwealth
Horizon -
Ivy -
MAAC - Rider
MAC - Ohio
MEAC - Morgan State
Robert Morris
Austin Peay
Pat League -
SoCon -
Southland -
Sam Houston State
Alabama State
Summit -
Oral Roberts
Sun Belt -
Western Kentucky
San Diego
New Mexico State

New bracket tomorrow evening.

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