WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Greetings from the NCAA Tournament's West Regional. All four games that will be played here at the Verizon Center on Thursday are part of the West bracket. That's us down in the right-hand corner of your bracket sheet. You'll also find two programs that have bounced back from major NCAA violations in 2003: Georgia and Baylor. There was a third program that got into hot water that year and shared the national shame spotlight: St. Bonaventure.
Anyway, Baylor is a very talented team and can easily knock off Purdue. I think all the Big Ten teams are vulnerable this year. That conference simply isn't that good. Purdue is another surprise team, but they're not a worthy sixth seed. Scott Drew, who took over at Baylor after the scandal, has put together a deep and talented roster in a short period of time.
Six players average between 8.7 and 14.9 points a game, led by 6-1 junior Curtis Jerrells. The Bears have another terrific little man in 5-10 Tweety Carter (love that name!). Carter averages 9.6 points a game, but he's averaging 13.3 in his last nine. Carter was the first McDonald's all-American brought in by Drew, who you'll remember as an assistant under his dad, Homer, at Valparaiso.
The Bears have added so much talent that Aaron Bruce, who led them in scoring as a freshman three years ago, is now coming off the bench.
I'll have more on the Baylor story in tomorrow's column, along with my annual bracket opus in the News' special NCAA Tournament section. I'll be reporting on the games in Washington, D.C. through Saturday. I'll be monitoring Duke's 7 p.m. game with Belmont, just in case a No. 2 seed goes down for the first time in seven years. Surely, you recall Duke going down in the opening game last year in Buffalo.
I'm currently in Albany for the MAAC Tournament. I'll be weighing in on the developments on our college blog -- Campus Watch -- as long as one or more of our teams is still alive for an NCAA Tournament berth. In an hour or so, the Canisius women will take on Marist, the nation's 24th ranked women's team, in the quarterfinals. Marist went to the Sweet 16 last year, so it would be major upset if they won.
January 19, 2008 - 1:49 PM
Niagara's Charron Fisher is the nation's leading scorer, and a top candidate for MAAC player of the year. But the player who really caught my eye in Friday night's game was Canisius freshman Tomas Vazquez-Simmons. Vazquez-Simmons, a 6-7 forward, was all over the floor. He's the most athletic big man the Griffs have had since the Barley-Wise-Meeks days. He fouled out with 10 minutes left, but still had a huge impact on the game. He's smooth for his size. He handles the ball and is a decent passer for a big man. He's also the team's best foul shooter. Vazquez-Simmons is a true freshman who only turned 18 a few months ago. So he has big upside. I think he'll be an all-league caliber player next year if he continues to improve.
January 11, 2008 - 2:53 PM
The UB men's basketball team will play its first home game in six weeks Saturday night against Akron, one of the top contenders in the MAC. Akron is 11-3, including an 83-81 loss in double overtime last week at Dayton, which is ranked 17th in the nation by the AP and is 6th in the RPI rankings.
Akron went 26-7 a year ago, although the Zips were snubbed by both the NCAA and NIT selection commitees. They're always a good measuring stick for Reggie Witherspoon's team, which is 6-7 and 0-1 in the MAC. The Bulls need to be competitive at home against the league's top teams. UB's talent level has slipped considerably since the 2005-06 class departed. It's time for the current group to start showing progress. Witherspoon is a good teacher, but you can do only so much with inferior talent. If the Bulls have another subpar year in the MAC, it'll be time to ask some serious questions about his ability as a recruiter.
December 24, 2007 - 3:25 PM
You can be sure that Niagara won't be relegated to a play-in if the Purple Eagles get to the NCAA Tournament this year. The Metro Atlantic is currently ranked 15th in the RPIs, so there's virtually no chance the league's representative will be shipped to the play-in game, as Niagara was a year ago.
The MAAC was 25th among the leagues last year because the league had so few quality wins in non-conference play. This year, there have been several significant wins, including Niagara's win at St. John's. Siena beat Stanford and played Syracuse close. Rider beat Penn State and Rutgers. Manhattan beat Pepperdine and Iona beat Western Michigan.
All three of our men's Division I leagues have higher RPIs than they finished with a year ago. The Atlantic 10 is eighth. They were 10th last season. Rhode Island is ranked 25th in the AP poll this week, the first time a Jim Baron-coached team has been nationally ranked. URI beat Providence and Syracuse of the Big East. Dayton beat Louisville and could strike a big blow for the league when it plays unbeaten Pittsburgh on Saturday. Xavier, which is 18th in the RPIs, has beaten Cincinnati and Indiana. UMass has wins over Boston College and Syracuse.
The Mid-American is 12th in the RPIs, up two spots from last year. Ohio has wins over Maryland and St. John's. Miami of Ohio beat Illinois. Central Michigan beat Michigan (and John Beilein). Bowling Green beat Cincinnati. Looks like another challenging year for UB in the MAC.