Saturday, March 9, 2013

NCAA March Madness Update: March 9

With conference tournaments underway and only eight days remaining before Selection Sunday, it's time to talk March Madness.

First Team In: Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) defeated Mercer 88-75 to seal up the Atlantic Sun automatic bid and clinch the first NCAA tournament birth. FGCU won all three of their conference tourney games by double digits and although they will probably be a 16 seed (according to StatSheet projections), it should not be forgotten that FGCU went into Miami (FL) and defeated the Hurricanes 63-51 back on November 13.

Conference Tourneys: Charleston Southern defeated Virginia Military 71-65 to move on to the Big South Conference Championship. The Buccaneers will face off against the winner of Liberty and Gardner-Webb on ESPN2 tomorrow for the opportunity to clinch an automatic bid.

Belmont and Murray State will square off in the Ohio Valley Conference Final tonight (7:00 PM ET) on ESPN2. Oddsmakers currently have Belmont locked in as a 7.5-point favorite over the Racers despite the fact that Murray State won their lone regular season matchup 79-74. The Racers put on an efficiency clinic last night against Eastern Kentucky as they shot 22-31 (71%) from inside the arc and scored 60 of their 81 points off 1's and 2's. Bubble teams are heavily relying on Belmont to win this game considering the Bruins have an outside shot at an at-large even with a loss tonight. 

The semifinal round of the West Coast Conference tournament kicks off tonight in Vegas with Gonzaga facing off against Loyola Marymount followed by a matchup between St. Mary's and San Diego. Linemakers made Gonzaga a 20-point favorite over a Loyola Marymount squad that went 1-15 in conference during the regular season. If the Lions could pull off the unlikely win it would almost certainly be considered the biggest upset of the season. St. Mary's is listed as a 15-point favorite versus San Diego, so unless some sort of miracle occurs tonight, expect to see Gonzaga and St. Mary's face off for the third time this year.

Bubble Talk: Kentucky came up with a huge win over Florida earlier this afternoon which all but solidified their spot in the NCAA tournament. Even if the Wildcats were to lose their lone SEC tournament game, I'm sure the selection committee will give them the nod. As per the Gators, this team just cannot close out tight games. Florida is currently 0-5 in games decided by single digits which is not good when you are trying to go to the Final Four. Fortunately for the Gators, Will Yuguete has returned to the lineup but it is unclear how healthy he actually is. Florida's problem is depth and it will be tough for them to make a Final Four run while solely relying on starters.

La Salle traveled to St. Louis to take on the Billikens in an A-10 regular season showdown but the Explorers came up short. LaSalle needed a win to solidify their NCAA tournament hopes but now they shift their focus towards their conference tournament. Dr. John Giannini's guard-oriented squad is going to have to win at least one game in the A-10 tournament to keep their chances alive in my opinion.

Despite being nationally ranked, UCLA still has work to do if they want to go dancing. The Bruins could have helped their cause with a win at Washington State the other night, but Ben Howland's squad simply did not show up to play. UCLA is going to have to beat Washington today and do some damage in the Pac-12 tournament, but when it's all said and done I believe the committee will put the Bruins in the field of 68. 

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