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March 7, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Friday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Games of Friday, March 7

Missouri Valley Tournament

Matchup: #5 Seed Bradley (17-13, 9-9) vs. #4 Creighton (19-9, 10-8), 3:35 p.m. EST
Rankings: Bradley, #82 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 10 in MVC); Creighton, #67 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Creighton, 73-71 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 58%
Prospectus: The Arch Madness quarterfinals get under way from St. Louis, with a battle that will decide who gets to advance to Saturday's semifinal, which will likely be against the top seed, Drake. These two teams split their two games in the regular season, with Bradley winning 87-59 at home and then falling 111-110 in double overtime at Creighton last Saturday in the last game of the regular season. The Bluejays were paced in that last game by sophomore guard Cavell Witter, who scored 42 points on 75 eFG% shooting from the floor and 12-of-13 from the line. It is Bradley that has the slightly better offense, which ranks second in the Valley in adjusted efficiency and is built around the three-point shot. Creighton has the stronger defense, which is ranked third in the conference, and holds opponents to 44.5 percent shooting on twos. The Bluejays will be looking for their second straight Missouri Valley Tournament championship, and seventh in the past 10 years, while Bradley is seeking its first since 1988.

Matchup: #7 Seed Missouri St. (16-15, 8-10) vs. #2 Illinois St. (21-8, 13-5), 7:05
Rankings: Missouri St., #88 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 10 in MVC); Illinois St., #52 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Illinois St., 66-63 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 35%
Prospectus: The Bears beat Evansville last night to advance to the quarterfinals, and although playing on back-to-back days makes for a decided disadvantage, Missouri St. is a dangerous seven seed. The Bears have now won four straight games, including a win over conference leader Drake at home. Missouri St. has been unlucky this year, ranking in the bottom 40 teams in the nation at 2.0 wins less than expected from its points scored and allowed. Some of that bad luck came on February 2, when the Bears lost to the Redbirds at home 64-63. Illinois St. took the second meeting of the year as well, a 69-57 decision in Normal. The Redbirds have also won four in a row, picking up crucial wins over Creighton at home and Southern Illinois on the road to finish second in the Missouri Valley and bolster their case for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament should they fail to win the conference this weekend. Illinois St. last won the Valley tourney in 1998, while the Bears have not taken it since 1992. Missouri St. lost in the championship game to Southern Illinois two years ago, and the Redbirds to Creighton in 2005. Whoever wins tonight will play the winner of the Southern Illinois/Northern Iowa matchup that tips off right after this game.

Horizon League Tournament

Matchup: #6 Seed Valparaiso (19-12, 9-9) vs. #3 Wright St. (21-8, 12-6), 6:00
Rankings: Valparaiso, #126 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 10 in Horizon); Wright St., #115 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wright St., 61-60 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 46%
Prospectus: Valparaiso beat Wisconsin Green Bay on Tuesday to advance, while Wright St. knocked off Detroit, setting up a rematch of the final regular season game of the year last Saturday, when the Crusaders beat the Raiders 75-73 in overtime at home. Valparaiso took the first meeting as well, 71-66 in Dayton. Now the two will play on a neutral floor, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. This is the Crusaders' first season in the Horizon League after moving over from the Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League), and thus their first crack at taking the Horizon Tournament title. Valparaiso won six Mid-Continent Tournaments in a row between 1995 and 2000, and eight out of 10 between 1995 and 2004. Wright St. won the Horizon League tourney last year for the first time, knocking off #1 seed Butler in the championship game, but then fell to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Matchup: #8 Seed Loyola Chicago (12-17, 6-12) vs. #3 Illinois Chicago (16-14, 9-9), 8:00
Rankings: Loyola Chicago, #184 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 10 in Horizon); Illinois Chicago, #123 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Illinois Chicago, 65-60 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 26%
Prospectus: The Ramblers of Loyola Chicago upset five seed Wisconsin Milwaukee on Tuesday, while the Flames beat Youngstown St., setting up this second round matchup. These two teams played each other very close in the regular season, as the Flames won at Loyola 78-68 in double OT and 60-55 at home. The winner of this game will face top seed Butler in one of the semifinals tomorrow. Loyola has won the Horizon tourney once, in 1985, which also marked the last year that the Ramblers made the NCAA Tournament, while the Flames won in both 2002 and 2004. Illinois Chicago is led by 5'10 junior Josh Mayo, who is one of the best players in the Horizon League. Mayo has notched a 60.6 eFG% in 26.1 percent of possessions while taking 26.2 percent of the shots, and also leads his team in assist rate. The Ramblers' best player is likely junior forward Leon Young, but Young missed the team's win over Wisconsin Milwaukee and has played just 14 minutes in the past five games due to injury. Young sports the Loyola Chicago's best offensive rating in the second highest percentage of possessions used, and is also the top Rambler on the offensive glass.

Ohio Valley Tournament

Matchup: #4 Seed Tennessee Martin (17-14, 11-9) vs. #1 Austin Peay (21-10, 16-4), 6:30, ESPNU
Rankings: Tennessee Martin, #244 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 11 in Ohio Valley); Austin Peay, #176 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Austin Peay, 80-75 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: The Ohio Valley semifinals begin with this matchup between the best team in the conference, Austin Peay, and four seed Tennessee Martin, which takes place at Nashville Municipal Auditorium. Tennessee Martin advanced to the semis by winning a triple-overtime game at home against #5 seed Samford, 101-94, while Austin Peay cruised against Eastern Kentucky, 76-51. As a team Peay ranks first in steal percentage (14.6), led by 5'9 senior guard Derek Wright, who is 18th in the country with a 4.8 steal percentage. The team's offense is powered by an excellent ability to get to the line (32.4 free throw rate) and a low turnover percentage (18.3). Tennessee Martin has maybe the most dominant player that few have heard of in 6'3 junior Lester Hudson, who was recently named the Ohio Valley Player of the Year. Hudson has an excellent 116.1 offensive rating, which is especially impressive considering how heavily he is involved in the team's offense--Hudson uses 32.5 percent of possessions, the eighth-highest rate in the country, and ranks in the top 20 in shot percentage, taking 34.3 percent of his team's attempts while on the floor. Hudson also leads Tennessee Martin in assist rate and steal percentage, and is a strong defensive rebounder. The Skyhawks' star, however, could not prevent Austin Peay from sweeping the season series with Tennessee Martin this year, as the Governors won 90-85 on the road in OT and 86-71 at home.

Matchup: #6 Seed Tennessee St. (13-16, 10-10) vs. #2 Murray St. (17-12, 13-7), 8:30, ESPNU
Rankings: Tennessee St., #247 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 11 in Ohio Valley); Murray St., #212 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Murray St., 74-73 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 50%
Prospectus: Tennessee St. is located in Nashville, where this game is being played, although it is at Nashville Municipal Auditorium and not Tennessee St.'s home gym. If you count this as a "semi-home" game for the Tigers--giving them an advantage over a neutral court game, but not quite a full home-court edge--then Murray's St.'s slight superiority as a team is basically wiped out and the game becomes a toss-up. Tennessee St. knocked off the three seed Morehead St. on Tuesday to reach the semis, while Murray St. pulled out a three-point win over Tennessee Tech. These two teams split the season series, with each winning at home: Murray St. 92-88 and Tennessee St. 75-70. The Tigers have a weak defense which has allowed opponents to shoot 54.9 eFG% from the floor, while the Racers have posted a collective 53.8 eFG% on the season, thanks partially to the long range acumen of sophomore Tyler Holloway, who has knocked down 50 of his 106 three-point attempts (47 percent). The winner of this game advances to play the winner of the earlier semifinal, either Austin Peay or Tennessee Martin, in the championship tomorrow night. According to Ken Pomeroy's log5 analysis of the tournament, Murray St. has a 32.1 percent chance to win the championship, while Tennessee St. has a 9.6 percent chance.

Atlantic Sun Tournament

Matchup: #6 Seed Gardner-Webb (16-14, 9-7) vs. #2 Jacksonville (17-11, 12-4), 7:00
Rankings: Gardner-Webb, #206 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in A-Sun); Jacksonville, #223 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Gardner-Webb, 76-74 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 45%
Prospectus: Gardner-Webb, notable for knocking off Kentucky early in the season, is just the sixth seed in the A-Sun tournament, but is slightly underrated by that positioning and thus a favorite to beat two-seed Jacksonville on the neutral court at Lipscomb. Gardner-Webb, however, will be playing for the second straight night after beating three-seed Stetson Thursday, something that no college basketball teams besides the Ivy League squads are used to. That potential fatigue factor is not built into the Pomeroy predictive algorithm, so the chances of the Runnin' Bulldogs probably should be a little lower than what you see above. The Dolphins also beat Gardner-Webb in the only meeting of the season between these two in a 75-62 decision at home. Gardner-Webb ranks 15th in the country in raw tempo, averaging 73.5 possessions per 40 minutes, and the Dolphins also play speedily, so this one should be a fast-paced tight battle throughout. One of these teams will survive to play tomorrow night versus the winner of tonight's second game, between Belmont and East Tennessee St., with the championship winner advancing to the NCAA Tournament. Whoever comes out of the A-Sun, however, might well have to win again in the play-in game to make it into the field of 64 because of the Atlantic Sun's position amongst the weakest Division I conferences in the country. If the league's strongest team, Belmont, wins the tournament, it could be placed directly into the Big Dance as a #16 seed, but if any other team other than the Bruins advances, it will likely have to win that extra game to have a shot at making tournament history.

Matchup: #1 Seed Belmont (22-8, 14-2) at #4 East Tennessee St. (19-12, 11-5), 9:15
Rankings: Belmont, #161 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in A-Sun); East Tennessee St., #204 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Belmont, 86-82 in 78 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 38%
Prospectus: The No. 1 seed Bruins were helped out last night by East Tennessee St.'s 81-74 defeat of Lipscomb on its own floor (the five seed Lipscomb is hosting the Atlantic Sun tourney), which eliminated the main competitor to Belmont for the tournament title. Belmont would have been an underdog playing a true road game against Lipscomb, and now gets an easier matchup against the Bucs on a neutral floor, especially considering that East Tennessee St. will be playing for the second straight night and might well have an issue with fatigue. Belmont had last night to rest after beating Campbell by nine on Wednesday. The Bruins swept the Bucs this season, winning at home 86-83 and on the road 87-75. Belmont has a raw offensive efficiency of 1.10 points per possession, the best in the conference, and shoots a greater proportion of its field goal attempts from three-point range than all but six other Division I teams (47.1 percent). The Bucs, meanwhile, have given up the ninth highest 3PA/FGA ratio in the country, with 42.6 percent of their opponents' field goal attempts coming from deep, so this game is sure to feature a plethora of deep shots by the Bruins. Belmont should rack up plenty of trips down the court during which it can fire up those threes--the Atlantic Sun is one of the fastest-paced conferences in the country this season, averaging 70.7 possessions per 40 minutes (the national average is 67.1), and both these teams are above the A-Sun mean.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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