Pins and Needles

By Jeff Lippman - March 17, 2008


It really isn't nice to make the ladies wait like this.

In the small college towns of Auburn, East Lansing, Lincoln and Ames they can only keep themselves busy until tonight at 7 p.m. when they learn their tournament fate.

Until then, we can only speculate. And what is one more day of speculation but another chance to try and predict the unpredictable.

And I'm not the only game in town, either. CSTV.com has employed the services of bracket expert Jerry Palm, as well. Palm gives us his final predictions in the Road to 64, and needless to say, Palm and I don't always agree on our brackets, and this one is no different.

The conference tournament season tore through the bubble hopefuls like pouring water on cheap paper towels.

With conference-leading schools like Ohio State, Green Bay and Utah all losing games, that opened the door for Purdue, Cleveland State and New Mexico to gain automatic bids into the field of 64. Of course, that also slammed the door on the faces of some bubble hopefuls that had their own designs on the spots that these auto bids stole.

For every Cleveland State that makes the tournament, forcing their conference's leader to gain at-large acceptance, it causes a team like Florida State to miss out on a chance to dance.

With that said, let's take a look at who I think gained at-large acceptance, who missed out and some other NCAA Tournament predictions:

Last Four In:
DePaul (20-11, 8-8 Big East)
Temple (21-11, 12-2 A-10)
Minnesota (20-11, 11-7 Big Ten)
Auburn (20-11, 7-7 SEC)

Last Four Out:
Michigan State (19-13, 10-8 Big Ten)
Florida State (18-13, 7-7 ACC)
Boston College (20-11, 7-7 ACC)
Dayton (25-8, 9-5 A-10)

The only controversy between my own picks and those of Mr. Jerry Palm is that Palm has decided that Michigan State, in lieu of Auburn, should make the NCAA Tournament.

It has become painfully clear to me that Mr. Palm has a penchant for the Big Ten. He makes his home in Purdue Boilermaker country. And myself, being a Florida graduate, may pull some strings for the SEC, who knows?

Let's break down the two teams. Auburn vs. Michigan State in the battle for the last spot in the NCAA Tournament

RECORD: Auburn 20-11, MSU 19-13; advantage Tigers
CONF. RECORD: Auburn 7-7, MSU 10-8; tie
AP Votes: Auburn 0, MSU 2; advantage Spartans
ESPN Votes: Both zero; tie
RPI: Auburn 54, MSU 50; advantage Spartans
LAST 10: Auburn 5-5, MSU 7-3; advantage Spartans
TOP 25 WINS: Auburn 3, MSU 1; advantage Tigers
BEST WIN: Auburn in road wins over Ohio State and Arizona State early in the season, MSU at home over Kansas State; advantage Tigers

Whoa these teams look very even. I don't think you can lose with either one. But here is why I chose the Tigers over the Spartans:

First of all, in my opinion, the SEC is a much tougher conference than the Big Ten, especially this season where I don't really feel any Big Ten team separated itself from the pack. While Auburn has to play the likes of LSU, Tennessee, Georgia and Vanderbilt, the Spartans only need deal with Ohio State as far as ranked opponents.

Auburn beat three ranked teams this season while Michigan State could only defeat one. Of course, the Tigers had a lot more opportunity, playing 10 ranked teams to MSU's three. But that shouldn't be a bad thing for Auburn, the fact that their schedule boasted more ranked opponents should show the Tigers played a tougher schedule, and therefore was more impressive in getting to 20 wins.

The major difference between the two, for me, is the absence of a signature win for Michigan State. Sure, the Spartans beat Ohio State at home when they were ranked No. 17, but the Tigers beat the Buckeyes as well. And Auburn did it in Columbus.

Auburn did, however, pick up a major significant and signature victory this season on Jan. 13 at home. After losing by a wide margin in the previous game to Tennessee, the Tigers regrouped and beat Georgia - who would underachieve the rest of the season but was ranked No. 10 for this game - by a whopping 30 points, sending a message to the rest of the SEC.

The Tigers have more star power, as well. Although the Spartans do have 6-foot-9 sophomore center Allyssa DeHaan to make headlines, Auburn junior 6-foot-4 guard DeWanna Bonner is the best player on either team, offensively and defensively.

In my mind, Auburn simply deserves it more. Suzy Merchant will make more than a couple NCAA Tournaments as head coach at Michigan State, and the Spartans had a chance to make a run last year. Injury and graduation hurt them this season, but with DeHaan, they underachieved in my opinion.

Auburn may have not had the season some thought they would. Many thought they'd be a member of the Top 25 all year. But Nell Fortner has put blood, sweat and tears into her four seasons as coach, and she has built a program to once again be proud of at Auburn. Last year they just missed out on the tournament after winning 19 games and going 6-8 in conference. They had to settle for the WNIT. This year, with one more conference victory to their credit and that magical number of 20 wins, the Tigers will be in the field.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 10:33 AM on March 17, 2008
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