Mid-Major Morning Mashups: March 8, 2011

The dynamic of Championship Week through the scope of the mid-major collective is a funny thing. A win for one can be a loss for many, and sometimes vice versa, or even both. Old Dominion's second consecutive CAA Championship was a statement of the loudest kind for those that follow the good ole' Colonial Dozen. It was the Monarch's third tournament title in six years and the first time a school has repeated as champion since UNC Wilmington did it in 2002 and 2003. 

Of course the conference as a whole loses out. ODU didn't need a win last night to crack the NCAA Tournament, their resume was strong enough on it's own sans championship to earn a spot in the field of 68. VCU on the other hand doesn't have that luxury. As it stands, the Rams will likely come close, see their bubble burst and plop them right smack into a juicy NIT seed. So rather than capping a banner year with three bids for the Dance, the CAA will have to settle for a very respectable two. 

The Big Six Conferences are the ones left smiling in conjunction with Old Dominion's win. While the Monarchs were celebrating on the floor of the Richmond Coliseum, so too were the Michigan State's and the Clemson's of the world as one more spot remains open for them to potentially fill come Selection Sunday. Thus one of the ultimate ironies of Championship Week, the motivation of every team to excel ultimately leads to mid-majors as a whole seeing their presence on the national scale diminish. 

On to the goods.

Ed Miller of the Virginian-Pilot: "Old Dominion was not going to get out of here this easily. "Not in a place like this," guard Kent Bazemore said. "Against a team like that." In Monday night's Colonial Athletic Association men's basketball tournament championship, the Monarchs were threatening to run archrival Virginia Commonwealth out of its home-away-from-home, the Richmond Coliseum. The Monarchs stretched a 13-point halftime lead to 18 and quieted a sellout crowd of 11,200 that was about 70 percent VCU black and gold. But before the ladders and scissors came out and the nets came down, the Monarchs had to sustain a furious Rams comeback that cut the margin to one, before hanging on for a 70-65 win. It was a case of a veteran team finding a way to win its second straight CAA tournament and secure a bid to the NCAA tournament. "Back to back," forward Keyon Carter yelled, amid a throng of Monarch fans who rushed the court in post-game celebration."

Tim Pearrell of the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "Virginia Commonwealth University was down, bloodied and just about out of the Colonial Athletic Association championship game when coach Shaka Smart was forced to call a timeout with 17½ minutes left. Old Dominion was up by 18, its fans were celebrating, and you could sense that just about everybody in the sold-out Coliseum thought the game was over. Except VCU. The Rams nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback. They closed the gap to one with 4:26 remaining and had the VCU crowd standing before a game-long trend bit them again. Two crucial tip-ins by ODU's Chris Cooper and Kent Bazemore - part of the Monarchs' 38-23 rebounding advantage - stopped VCU's momentum, and ODU went on to claim its second consecutive title with a 70-65 victory that earned the Monarchs the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. VCU (23-11), which saw its RPI climb to 49 after its tournament victories over Drexel and George Mason, was left to ponder its postseason fate and a comeback that would have been talked about for a while."

Jim Meehan of the Spokesman-Review: "The Gonzaga Bulldogs have seemingly faced elimination games for the last month so when they followed up their improbable run to a WCC regular-season title with a pair of gritty victories and a conference tournament championship, they'd certainly earned the right to celebrate. They didn't hold back. Steven Gray, with a bandage covering a cut over his left eye that required four stitches, hopped up and down as the final seconds ticked away, waving his arms to exhort a pro-Gonzaga crowd. Robert Sacre was exhausted but sported a wide grin. Near the bench, head coach Mark Few playfully put David Stockton in a head lock. Gonzaga's latest victory was like many that preceded it over the last five weeks, delivered with defense and determination as the No. 2 Bulldogs knocked off top-seeded Saint Mary's 75-63 in front of 7,186 Monday at the Orleans Arena to earn their 13th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament."

Ben Enos of the Contra Costa Times: "Selection Sunday won't be as relaxed as the Saint Mary's College men's basketball team had hoped. That's because Gonzaga claimed the West Coast Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by beating the Gaels 75-63 in the championship game Monday at the Orleans Arena. Saint Mary's (24-8) still has a good chance to earn an at-large bid, but a win over the Bulldogs would have eliminated any trepidation the Gaels might have had. "It is what it is. You can't control it," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "The only thing we can control is how we play Friday (against Weber State), so that's what the only thing I'm worried about."

Mark Viera of the New York Times: "St. Peter's was a founding member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in 1981, but history never equated with tradition. The program had only two conference championships despite six appearances in the tournament's title game. That was before the current group upset its way into St. Peter's annals by winning the MAAC championship with a tense 62-57 victory over Iona on Monday night at Arena at Harbor Yard. After knocking off top-seeded Fairfield on Sunday, St. Peter's slowed the second-seeded Gaels' up-tempo offense to earn its first N.C.A.A. tournament berth since 1995, its third over all. The fourth-seeded Peacocks had lost their two most recent appearances in the conference title game, including a loss to Iona in 2006. "Nobody respects us," said Jeron Belin, who led St. Peter's with 17 points. "Nobody in the MAAC respects us as a team, as a school. And now they've got to respect us. We just won the championship.'"

Teresa M. Walker of the Washington Post: "The Wofford Terriers have a confidence born in the crunch of March. With a Southern Conference tournament title to defend and a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament on the line, they refused to let it slip out of their hands. Cameron Rundles scored 21 points to send Wofford to a second straight NCAA tournament berth with a 77-67 victory over College of Charleston in the league championship Monday night. "We are tickled to death to go back to back in this league, any league, is beyond difficult, and we did it and we are beyond excited," Wofford coach Mike Young said. Wofford (21-12) lost both regular season games to the Cougars. But the Terriers won their eighth straight game in part because they were perfect at the free throw line until the final minute, hitting their first 20 shots."

Tom Markowski the Detroit News: "Oakland coach Greg Kampe said he was concerned playing a team in its home state in front of 6,000 fans mostly cheering against his Golden Grizzlies. Kampe said playing a nonleague schedule at Tennessee, at Ohio State and at West Virginia helped on this night. "This isn't 22,000 at Tennessee or 16,000 at the Breslin Center," Kampe said. "We've been playing in this (league tournament) 10 years and this is the fifth time we've made it to the finals. My first three years we got beat in the first round. It's hard. You have to have patience. Nothing is easy." Monday's victory was about as easy as it gets. Oakland's point total is a season high and marks the eighth time it's reached 100 points. Twice, Oakland scored 105, including a 105-96 victory over SDSU on Feb. 19."

Brett Vito of the Dallas Morning News: "North Texas finally solved the Western Kentucky puzzle. UNT entered the Sun Belt Conference tournament having won two of the last four championships. Its only losses in that span came in 2008 and 2009, when the Hilltoppers knocked the Mean Green out. UNT avenged those losses Monday with a resounding 81-62 semifinal victory over WKU, which had beaten the Mean Green in five of their last six meetings. The Hilltoppers defeated UNT, 87-76, less than a month ago. "It feels good," UNT guard Tristan Thompson said. "Being a senior and struggling against them, to knock them out is a great feeling."...Thompson broke Cedric Maxwell's Sun Belt record for free throws made in a season by making six of nine against WKU to push his total to 206. Thompson has a tournament-record 31 free throws made heading into the final."

Tom Enlund of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The countdown continues for the UW-Milwaukee "minute-men" in their quest for the Horizon League basketball tournament championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. As they've wound down the regular season and moved into the tournament, it wasn't so much a game-to-game approach that the Panthers have taken as a minute-by-minute mind-set. UWM junior point guard Kaylon Williams recalled Monday the reminder the team had received from assistant Brian Bidlingmyer before the second-to-last regular-season game at Cleveland State. "Coach Bid told us before the Cleveland State game that we're 80 minutes away from being conference regular-season champs," said Williams. "Then he told us going into the Valpo (tournament) game...80 minutes. Well, now we're 40 minutes away. So, 40 minutes of everything you've got and we're in the NCAA Tournament."...It's a matchup of two proud programs and two sizzling teams that expressed great respect for each other at Monday's press conference. Coach Rob Jeter's Panthers, who have won 10 straight league games, are playing in the league title game for the fifth time and are seeking their fourth NCAA Tournament berth. Butler, which put the Horizon League on the map by advancing to the national championship game last season, takes a season-high eight-game winning streak into the game. Butler is going after its seventh tournament championship and has advanced to the championship game for a league-record sixth consecutive year."

Ron Chimelis of The Republican: "For men's college basketball teams throughout America, the real "March Madness'' comes during conference tournament play, when in theory at least, every qualifying team starts fresh. The University of Massachusetts hopes that opportunity translates into success, beginning with Tuesday night's Atlantic 10 tournament first-round game against Dayton at the Mullins Center...A UMass defeat would end its season unless the Minutemen accept a bid to one of two lower-tier postseason tournaments. Right now, neither the College Basketball Invitational nor CollegeInsider.com Tournament are on their minds. They enter the A-10 tournament with a 15-14 overall record, a 7-9 Atlantic 10 mark and the No. 8 seed. This is their chance chance to refreshen their outlook after a 2-7 slump ended the regular season. Recent history points to some reasons for optimism."

Martin Renzhofer of the Salt Lake Tribune:"In the winding journey that is the college basketball season, Weber State has had its fair share of mishaps. Yet, the team that was picked way back in October to win a third straight Big Sky Conference regular-season championship is more than happy with its No. 3 seed and visitor's status in Tuesday's semifinal league tournament game against second-seeded Montana. "Two months ago, if you told me [WSU would be in the league semifinals] I would have said you were nuts," Wildcats coach Randy Rahe said. "We're going to take a swing and see what happens." Weber State's season took a couple of big hits two months ago with the loss of a key player for the season and injuries to several others. Scott Bamforth, the nation's No. 1 3-point shooter by percentage, was one of those hurt. He dislocated a shoulder, an injury that has never healed, despite a brace. The team, however, regrouped behind its veterans to reel off eight consecutive BSC victories. Although Bamforth tweaked his shoulder again during Saturday's 79-70 quarterfinal win against Eastern Washington, his two 3-pointers late in the game, along with Kyle Bullinger's career-high 26 points, helped WSU overcame a 15-point deficit."

Mike Lopresti of USA Today: "It's not like Harvard hasn't had time to get through any to-do list. The place was founded in 1636. But not until the past weekend could the men's basketball team win at least a share of the Ivy League title. "Walking around campus," coach Tommy Amaker said over the phone Monday, "I don't think you can find many things that haven't been done before." When you're talking Harvard, you're not talking just any ol' alumni/potential booster club. So to honor the barrier-shattering Crimson, let's have some famous Harvard folks sponsor portions of the tribute. Courtesy of former vice president Al Gore, freshman team of 1965-66: Harvard lists 34 Ivy League conference-competing sports on its website. It is An Inconvenient Truth that 33 of them had won an Ivy League title before Saturday night. Now, all 34. "I don't have the answer," Amaker answered on why it took until this season, which is the 100th year of Harvard men's basketball. "It doesn't make a lot of sense, when you stop and think about it. But the neat thing is, we don't have to think about it anymore.'"

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