There's something so magical and sublime about conference tournament time in college basketball. It's the perfect prelude to the madness because it's maddening how many games there are being played and at all hours of the day. The fastest way to decrease the nation's productivity is to throw on some basketball or baseball in the afternoon. It's hard to resist even for me who already works in this business. How can you turn away from the first round of the Big East tournament which will go on all day.
There's something great about giving every team in the country one more shot. The slate is clean for most teams in most conferences as even the squads with hopeless records get one more chance. There will be that eighth seed that we all will be rooting for despite not being able to pick them out on a map or naming a player who ever played there too. Oakland went 6-10 in their conference in 2005, but they won their tourney AND beat Alabama A&M in the play-in game before losing to North Carolina. The Grizzlies were 12-18 that season. How about Florida A&M in 1999 also made the field of 64 with a 12-18 record before they got blown out by Duke. The worst team was 1961 George Washington who went 9-16, but got to dance.
Some will argue that the conference tournaments are bad because they make the regular season worthless. These people don't get the essence of March Madness. These are the same people who want to get rid of the auto bids for the smaller conferences saying that they aren't one of the best teams in the nation. Those people would be wrong because the mid majors are what makes the tournament so magical. It's been a broken record in this column for me so I won't bore you with the Cinderella's who have captured the hearts and imaginations of us all.
Charlie Sheen mentioned that he keeps winning. Well the readers have been winning too if they followed my picks. Let's keep the good times going.
Utah State/New Mexico State Over 133.5 -- The battle of Aggies heats up in New Mexico as New Mexico State hopes to snap their three game losing streak. NM State has scored at least 70 points in seven of their last eight games. The team has scored less then 70 at home just three times this season. The two teams met January 22nd in Utah with USU winning 59-49. New Mexico State may score a lot, but they also play faulty defense allowing over 70 points too. Troy Gillenwater (19.3 ppg) and Hernst Laroche (11.7 ppg) lead the way for the home team. Utah State has a more balanced attack with five players scoring at least eight points per contest. This balance has helped them average 73 points per contest. They play tremendous defense at home and specialize in low scoring games there. On the road, they have been prone to higher scoring affairs putting up over 80 points at Nevada, San Jose State and Hawaii. The total is low enough that a scoring explosion by either team should help this go over.
Northwestern -3.5 -- Minnesota has been in a tailspin since their win over Northwestern on January 26th. The two teams renew acquaintances, this time, in the Wildcats' building. The Golden Gophers have lost three straight each by less then 10 points. The team's depth has been ravaged by injuries and off the court issues. Blake Hoffarber (13.9 ppg) and Trevor Mbakwe (13.9 ppg) are the main threats for Minnesota's offense which scores just under 70 points per game. Northwestern averages 72 per game and has three main scorers led by John Shurna's 16.8 points per game and Michael Thompson's 15.2 ppg. The Wildcats have hit the skids a bit, but for the most part they've taken care of business at home knocking off Iowa, Illinois and Michigan there.