NCAA tourney builders and blunders, post-marathon style


With the 24-hour ESPN College Basketball Tip-Off Marathon complete,  here are a few post-marathon resume notes from the season’s opening 10 days …

RESUME BUILDERS:  Akron, Cleveland State and Kent State all compiled impressive road wins.  It’s been a while since the Mid-American Conference put two teams in the NCAA Tournament, so the fact that Akron and Kent State both have strong out-of-conference wins this early is significant.  Akron won at Mississippi State (SEC) and Kent State at West Virginia (Big East).  Cleveland State owns the biggest upset to date – taking down Vanderbilt in Nashville.  In other Horizon League action, Detroit missed an opportunity at Notre Dame.  The good news is the Titans still have multiple chances to still make non-conference statements (@Alabama, Mississppi State most notably). CSU’s schedule doesn’t provide the same BCS resume-building opportunities, so beating Vandy was huge.  On a side note: Cleveland State plays both Akron and Kent State.

In the Missouri Valley, Evansville rallied to beat Butler.  If the Aces can back it up with a win over Indiana (tonight), that’s even better.  Northern Iowa traveled over 3,000 miles in 60 hours – winning a big road game at Old Dominion before falling at St. Mary’s.  A 50-50 split is pretty solid.  MVC favorites Creighton and Wichita State haven’t been tested yet.  But that changes soon – as Creighton plays UAB, Iowa, and San Diego State in its next four games. Wichita State has chances in Puerto Rico this week.

Drexel posted a solid victory (with a 6:00 a.m. tip) at Rider on Tuesday.

Belmont looked and played like an NCAA team during a brutal two-game road swing.  That’s why we’ll consider the Bruins’ two losses as resume builders.  One would think a single-point loss at Duke and a solid showing at Memphis would hold some weight if the Bruins falter in the Atlantic Sun Tournament.  That said, Belmont’s toughest remaining non-conference opponent is probably Marshall.  Beating the Herd, a potential NCAA team, would certainly be helpful.

St. Mary’s protected its home court vs. the aforementioned Panthers of Northern Iowa.  And Gonzaga handled Washington State. Not necessarily difference-making wins, but worth mentioning.

Not that Duke and Kentucky will have at-large concerns.  But neutral-court wins against quality teams are still valuable and help with seeding decisions (region and s-curve ranking).  Duke surged past Michigan State in Madison Square Garden Tuesday and Kentucky took out Kansas. Ohio State’s win over Florida was important for the Buckeyes because it was a home game.  North Carolina beat the same Spartans in the inaugural Carrier Classic.  When it comes to strength of schedule, Michigan State will benefit from its Tobacco Road beginning. A strong SOS helped MSU earn a bid last year.

RESUME BLUNDERS: No BCS team has had a worse start than UCLA.  The Bruins opened the season ranked in the Top 25 and proceeded to lose home games to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State.  The Bruins have also suspended Reeves Nelson for conduct unbecoming a member of the basketball team.

LSU and South Carolina weren’t really NCAA contenders this season but both suffered surprising road  losses.  South Carolina fell to Elon and LSU to Coastal Carolina.  It should be interesting when Kentucky, Florida, and Vanderbilt visit Columbia and Baton Rouge.

Speaking of Vanderbilt, the Commodores’ home loss to Cleveland State was a head-scratcher.  Not because CSU is a bad team – they aren’t.  Rather, it’s that a superior Vanderbilt team should win this type of matchup on its home floor.  For an experienced team with aspirations of a two or three seed in March, these types of outcomes remain surprising.

Dave Ommen runs the site Bracketville, where he has been among the most NCAA tournament predictors for the last three years. Follow him on Twitter @BracketguyDave.