by Robert Ferringo - 02/28/2006<
"With war nerves tense, the final defense Is the courage, strength and will In a million lives where freedom thrives And liberty lingers still.
Now eagles fly and heroes die
Beneath some foreign arch
Let their sons tread where hate is dead
In a happy Madness of March."
- Henry Porter, 1939
Long before college or professional basketball had earned the national recognition and acclaim that it currently entertains, there was the Illinois High School Boys' Basketball Tournament. That event, which began as an invitation-only affair in 1908, featured more than 900 teams by the 1930s and was the source of a riotous, cultish following.
Henry V. Porter, an assistant executive secretary for the Illinois High School Association, coined the term "March Madness" in response to the hysterical fervor that washed over the state during the tournament. The phrase first appeared in the IHSA's magazine in 1939. It has since been absorbed into the national lexicon to characterize the passion and fury surrounding the NCAA men's college basketball tournament.
I just happen to be one of those rabid, overzealous basketball junkies that Porter was referring to. In my humble opinion, the NCAA Tournament is by far, bar none, the greatest single event on the sports calendar.
It's a four-week orgy of buzzer beaters, bracket busters, and beastiality (OK, maybe that's just at my house). The annual free-for-all represents All That Is Holy in the world of Sport, and the excess of drinking and gambling that accompanies it is a fantastic contradiction to the temperance preached by Christians during Lent.
Here's how this is going to go: today I'm going to give you an outline of the second-tier conference tournaments that will kickoff Championship Week. By early next week I'll have previews for each of the Big Six conference tourneys. Also, you'll get a couple of bonus articles that contain alternate perspectives and critical information that will help you wade through this miasma of mayhem.
Good luck. Enjoy the Madness.
Missouri Valley - March 2-5 in St. Louis
I'm deadly serious when I say that this conference has more teams with NCAA Tournament resumes than the ACC or the Big 12. The mutants from The Valley feature six clubs with more than 10 conference wins and all six are in the top 56 of the RPI.
Despite the statistical success, at this point I think that only Wichita State and Creighton are locks. I believe Northern Iowa is actually the best team in the league, but they've lost five of their last eight and need a deep run in the conference tourney to erase any doubt. Another loaded round in the chamber is Missouri State, which actually has the best RPI (29) of the group despite no marquee wins.
Colonial Athletic Association - March 3-6 in Richmond
Who would have thought that the CAA was going to be a two-bid league? However if someone not named George Mason wins this tournament that's what we're looking at.
The CAA has a ridiculous six teams with more than 10 league wins. Old Dominion was the preseason favorite and has the most talent. Hofstra is tough, but doesn't play well on the road. Northeastern and Virginia Commonwealth are both feisty and could trip someone up, but they don't have the depth to win it.
That leaves my pick to win the title, UNC Wilmington. Call it a hunch, but I see the Seahawks beating the Monarchs in overtime of the championship game.
Patriot League - March 3-10
This is another example of a league where if the No. 1 seed loses, a bid will be pilfered from the Major Conferences. Bucknell (23-4, 14-0) is already in, but Holy Cross and Lehigh each finished 11-3 in conference play and could steal a bid by upsetting the Bison.
That's a tall task given the Patriot League format. They play on March 3, 5, and 10 instead of on back-to-back nights - giving Bucknell a chance to rest. Also, the higher seed gets the advantage of hosting the championship game.
Mountain West - March 7-11 in Denver
I think the Mountain West deserves two bids, but only the automatic is guaranteed. San Diego State was the regular season champ, and barring an upset on the way to the tourney finals the Aztecs should be secure in their date to the Dance.
Atlantic 10 - March 8-11 in Cincinnati
So far George Washington has run the A-10 table at 14-0, but now finds itself vulnerable after second-leading scorer Pops Mensah-Bonsu went down with a severely twisted knee last week.
The Colonials' misfortune opens the door to several other also-rans to slide into the automatic bid. Charlotte is tied for second in the standings, St. Joe's has played well of late (three straight wins), and Xavier has some talent. But the dark horse is Temple. The Owls have beaten Alabama, Maryland, Miami and South Carolina this season, and are led by scoring machine Mardy Collins.
Big West - March 8-11 in Anaheim
This is pretty much the same situation as the Patriot League.
Pacific has flirted with the Top 25 all season and is generally regarded as one of the best mid-majors in the country. However, UC Irvine has some talent and already has claimed a win against Pacific this year (70-61). I expect around an eight-point line if these two meet, with Irvine covering in a nail-biter.
Conference USA - March 8-11 in Memphis
After last-year's gut-wrenching loss in the CUSA final (Darius Washington's missed free throws), Memphis is ready to exercise those demons and claim a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
The Tigers have dominated their backyard this year, and will have the advantage of playing on their home turf. But Memphis will be running up against the sheer desperation of teams vying for their postseason lives. I believe UAB is already in, but they don't want to leave it to chance. Houston and UTEP have some work to do, and would like nothing more than to add an upset of Memphis to their resume.
Western Athletic Conference - March 9-12 in Reno
Nevada is already in the Big Dance. They have won at least one game in each of the last two tournaments and sport an impressive 9-3 record against the RPI Top 100 this season.
Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State are both plucky foes, but I think if there's a sleeper that could unseat Nevada it's Utah State. If the current seeds hold, those crazy Mormons would meet the Wolfpack in the semifinals. The schools split in their season series, with Utah State's Jan. 23 victory in Nevada serving as the Wolfpack's last loss. Nevada demolished Utah State last weekend to run their winning streak to nine, but the Aggies will be tough if they can set up a rubber match.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's college basketball picks service.