Tuesday, March 10, 2009

You can’t spell Mason Nation without N-I-T

This is the theme to Larry’s show, the opening theme to Larry’s show, this is the music George Mason won’t hear at all this month...

The wife and I ordered some takeout food in advance of last night’s CAA final. It was quite a fine meal: Pizza, a small dish of baked ziti, some garlic knots. Yet the best part was free and wasn’t even delivered by the restaurant: A heaping, filling, diet-busting dose of Schadenfreude. Mmmmmm.

Yeah, I know: The Flying Dutchmen’s CAA season ended two games earlier than George Mason’s and yeah, I know, you probably won’t be able to spell Flying Dutchmen without C-I-T. And yeah, I know, when a mostly grown man cackles with glee over a team losing a sporting event, he reveals himself to be shallow and immature.

I don’t care. VCU’s wire-to-wire 71-50 thrashing of Mason—the most lopsided CAA title game ever, by the way—was so very tasty, I must rely on a fictitious character to properly summarize my feelings (starts around the 14-second mark, but if you stick around for the whole thing, you can see the easy-on-the-eyes Sarah Chalke as well as a pivotal moment in Scrubs history).

It was just about a perfect game for VCU, right down to Anthony Grant pulling Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders with 1:49 left. Brilliant move. You never know what could happen in the waning seconds of a game in which Mason is getting smoked, after all.

This is two straight duds for Mason on the national stage. First the 18-point loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament and now this. Might be time for a new bag of tricks for Jim Larranaga. Tom Pecora has never lost a postseason game by 21 points, and the only one he lost by 18 points or more was at the end of a season in which Hofstra went 8-21. Just saying.

Anyway, never would have guessed Sanders (with a man-among-boys line of 18 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks) would outshine Maynor. Can someone get in his ear and tell him to follow Maynor to the NBA…or at least Grant to whatever BCS school he ends up coaching next year?

Nice job, Rams, and it’ll be nice to have a team to root for next Thursday or Friday (and hopefully beyond). And now Tom O’Connor has five days to come up with a way for the Selection Committee to award Mason an at-large bid while he’s “not in the room.”

Mason’s loss wasn’t the only good thing to happen to Dutch Nation (snort) last night. The Dutchmen’s slim hopes of earning an NIT bid were boosted when Siena won the MAAC. Tonight, root for the chalk to come out on top tonight in the championship games of the Summit (North Dakota State) and Sun Belt (Western Kentucky) as well as for the top seed to escape a semifinal game in the Big Sky (Weber State).

And maybe you should root for Cleveland State against Butler in the Horizon final. Butler, a top 20 team, should be headed for the NCAA regardless of how it fares, but Cleveland State moving up to the NCAA opens up an NIT spot…that will probably be filled by a Big Six school anyway.

Below is the entire list of the regular season mid-major conference champions. I didn’t include the Horizon, West Coast, Conference USA or Atlantic-10 because the regular season champions of those leagues are almost surely going dancing even if they lose in their conference tourneys (and Gonzaga won the WCC last night anyway).

Those in italics have won their conference tourney and the NCAA automatic bid while those in bold lost in their conference tourney and are bound for the NIT. I’ll update this every day through Sunday.

A-East: Binghamton
Atlantic Sun: Jacksonville
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Radford
Big West: CSU-Northridge
MAAC: Siena
Mid-American: Bowling Green
MEAC: Morgan State
Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Tennessee-Martin
Patriot: American
Southern: Davidson
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
SWAC: Alabama State
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky
WAC: Utah State

Expect another handful of regular season champs to fall in their tourneys and into the NIT. Eight spots in the NIT have gone to mid-major regular season champs in each of the last two years.

All this being said, I think the NIT is a real long shot. The RPI (106, according to Jerry Palm as of Monday morning—down seven spots from last week) just isn’t high enough and there’s too many 20-win teams outside the Big Six conferences (26, as of this morning) and too many BS schools (hey, I like that) with less than 20 wins all fighting for too few spots.

The Dutchmen have the strongest NIT case of any area school (barring a run by Seton Hall in the Big East tournament), so I’m tempted to harbor some hope that the NIT will still want New York representation, despite its proclamations that the NCAA-run tournament will not allow regional bias to slip into the selection process (yeah, because the NCAA Tournament is such a paragon of freaking virtue). But how much media buzz can a team create when it’s not even covered on the road by its hometown newspaper? Nor are the Dutchmen likely to run off three straight wins on the road to get to Madison Square Garden for the Final Four.

In addition, the guy behind the awesome site NITology.com only has the Dutchmen listed among 32 bubble teams, which, you know, is not real encouraging given his pretty impressive track record picking the NIT. The good news is the Dutchmen were one of his three misses in ’07, so keep your fingers crossed…and keep rooting for the chalk. Or the Chalke, if you prefer.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com. And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

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