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MAC championship has BCS implications

MAC championship has BCS implications

Time to put the BCS puzzle together.

There's not a lot of mystery going into championship weekend. Mostly, everything should simply fall into place.

The spot opposite Notre Dame in the championship game will go to Alabama or Georgia, whichever one takes the SEC title. The winners of the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC championship games will each advance to a big game, as will the team that comes out on top in the Big East matchup between Louisville and Rutgers on Thursday night.

Florida and Oregon aren't playing this weekend, but both are safe bets to land at-large bids to BCS games. Pencil in the Gators for the Sugar Bowl and the Ducks for the Fiesta.

The real BCS intrigue this weekend will happen at a most unlikely place: Detroit, where No. 18 Kent State and No. 19 Northern Illinois will be playing for the Mid-American Conference title Friday.

The MAC has never sent a team to the BCS, but it could benefit from the Big East's struggles this season.

BCS rules state that if a champion from a conference without an automatic bid, such as the MAC, ranks in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and is ranked higher than a champion from one of the AQ leagues, such as the Big East, that non-AQ champ is guaranteed a spot in the BCS.

Neither Rutgers nor Louisville was ranked in last week's BCS standings, so that opens the back door to a bid for the MAC champ.

Kent State was 17th and stands a good chance to move up one spot with a victory. UCLA is in 16th place and has to play at Stanford in the Pac-12 title game on Friday night.

``I won't talk about that at all,'' MAC coach of the year Darrell Hazell said about Kent State's BCS prospects. ``I'll talk about Northern Illinois. If our guys don't focus on this Friday we won't have the opportunity to play in some of those big games.

``This is huge, huge game for this university.''

Northern Illinois is 21st in the BCS standings and could also get into the top 16, but would need a little extra help. It's just as likely an NIU victory in the MAC title game will eliminate both the Huskies and the Golden Flashes.

Boise State, 20th in the standings, plays at Nevada on Saturday and can win a share of the Mountain West title. The Broncos also have a long shot chance at getting into the top 16, but it'd be tough for them to jump the MAC champion.

If a BCS buster does emerge, the biggest loser could be the Big 12.

No. 12 Oklahoma plays TCU on Saturday with a chance to close its season 10-2 (losses against Notre Dame and Kansas State) and earn a share of the conference title.

The Sooners can still win the Big 12 if they win and Kansas State loses to Texas. Still, there's room for both in the BCS unless space needs to be created for Kent State or one of the other potential BCS busters.

If the Golden Flashes (11-1), who lost to Kentucky by 33 early in the season and later won at Rutgers, do find their way into the BCS, expect it to be in the Orange Bowl.

The Orange Bowl has the last selection among the BCS bowls and it's not likely any other game will be rushing to take Kent State, or Northern Illinois (11-1) for that matter.

But rest assured those teams won't be picky.

The picks:

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FRIDAY

No. 17 UCLA (plus 8 1/2) at No. 8 Stanford, Pac-12 championship

Rematch for the Rose Bowl ... STANFORD 31-21.

No. 18 Kent State (plus 6) vs. No. 19 Northern Illinois, MAC championship at Detroit

KSU RB Dri Archer and NIU QB Jordan Lynch are MACtion stars ... NORTHERN ILLINOIS 35-28.

SATURDAY

No. 2 Alabama (minus 7) vs. No. 3 Georgia, SEC championship at Atlanta

Winner gets the Irish in Miami ... ALABAMA 28-24.

No. 23 Texas (plus 11 1/2) at No. 7 Kansas State

Wildcats get Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl bid with victory ... KANSAS STATE 38-24.

UPSET SPECIAL

No. 12 Oklahoma (minus 6 1/2) at TCU

Sooners need to bounce back quickly from Bedlam ... TCU 34-31.

BEST BET

No. 13 Florida State (minus 14) vs. Georgia Tech, ACC championship at Charlotte

Seminoles looking for first ACC title since 2005, and Orange Bowl bid ... FLORIDA STATE 44-21.

No. 14 Nebraska (minus 3) vs. Wisconsin, Big Ten championship at Indianapolis

Winner goes to Rose Bowl because Ohio State can't ... NEBRASKA 24-17.

Nicholls State (no line) at No. 16 Oregon State

Postponed by Hurricane Isaac earlier in season ... OREGON STATE 48-14.

No. 24 Oklahoma State (minus 4) at Baylor

Cowboys and Bears combine to average 1,122 yards per game ... OKLAHOMA STATE 51-45.

No. 25 Boise State (minus 9 1/2) at Nevada

Last time Broncos visited Reno, an OT loss kept them out of BCS ... BOISE STATE 31-24.

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Last week's record: 14-5 (straight); 12-7 (vs. points)

Season record: 211-48 (straight); 122-111 (vs. points)

Best bets: 5-8.

Upset specials: 8-5.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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USA TODAY Sports

Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

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“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

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2018 Big South Tournament Bracket, How to watch, Dates, Preview, Location

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USA Today Sports Images

2018 Big South Tournament Bracket, How to watch, Dates, Preview, Location

The Big South conference had a surprising start to their league play this year with preseason favorites UNC-Asheville and Winthrop losing two of their first three games.  Since, things have settled down in the Big South with those two squads separating themselves from the pack late in the season.

This 2017-18 season, the Big South is a single bid conference but does have opportunities to get a couple of teams into the NIT. Depending on how this tournament plays out, there may be two or three teams in the second biggest tournament in the country.

READ MORE: NCAA TOURNAMENT BUBBLE WATCH

Like always the tournament will be hosted at multiple sites. The first round will be on campus-sites with the No.7 and No. 8 teams hosting their respective games. From there, the remaining teams will head to Asheville, NC for two rounds as the Bulldogs earned the No. 1 seed. The highest remaining team will then host the championship game.

Home-court advantage will clearly be a factor for which ever team hosts, but it has also been a theme of the Big South. Combined, the entire conference is 88-38 at their home court. Only Liberty has a winning record on the road at 5-4. The host of the quarterfinals and semifinals, UNC-Asheville, is 13-1 at Kimmel Arena. The lone loss being against Liberty.

Only one year in this format, Winthrop won the championship in 2016-17 as the hosts.

TOURNAMENT INFORMATION:

When is the Big South Tournament?

The Big South Tournament will be Tues. Feb 27, March 1-2, and the Big South championship is on March 4.

Where is the Big South Tournament?
The Big South tournament will primarily be hosted at Kimmel Arena in Asheville, North Carolina. The higher seeds will host the first round match-ups. The Big South Championship will also be at the highest seed’s home court.

How to watch the Big South Tournament?

The Big South Tournament will be televised as a part of ESPN’s family of networks, excluding the first round. The first round can be seen on the Big South Network, the quarterfinals and semifinals will be streamed on ESPN3, and ESPN will televise the Big South Championship.

Who is the defending Big South Champion?

The Winthrop Eagles won the 2016-17 Big South Championship after hosting the main portion of the tournament. It was the Eagles 11th Big South Championship in their history, the most ever in the Big South.

2018 BIG SOUTH TOURNAMENT BRACKET:

First Round – Tuesday, Feb. 27

No. 9 Presbyterian at No. 8 Charleston Southern 7:00 pm (Big South Network/ Roku)
No. 10 Longwood at No. 7 High Point                     7:00 pm (Big South Network/ Roku)

Quarterfinals - Thursday, March 1

7/10 Winner vs. No. 2 Radford                     1:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
No. 6 Gardner-Webb vs. No. 3 Winthrop   3:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
8/9 Winner at No. 1 UNC Asheville              7:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
No. 5 Liberty vs. No. 4 Campbell                  9:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)

Semifinals - Friday, March 2

TBD vs. TBD                          6:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
TBD vs. TBD                          8:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)

Big South Championship - Sunday, March 4

TBD vs. TBD                          1:00pm, higher seed host (ESPN)

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PREVIEW:

Even as the No. 3 seed and losers of their last two games, Winthrop is probably still the favorite heading into the tournament. Their offense is one of the highest scoring in all of college basketball (80.7 ppg), with Xavier Cooks scoring 17.6 ppg (3rd in Big South). However, the Eagles’ offense is not powered entirely behind three-point shooting, it is done with balance on both sides of the ball. They have the best two-point shooting percentage in the league (47.3 percent), lead the Big South in rebounding averages, blocks, and field goal defense. In addition, their guards’ three point shooting ability is pretty good too at 37.5 percent and making 9.5 deep balls a game.

However, when they go quiet from long range or another team matches their three-point shooting for a contest, they are susceptible. Also as defending champs, they have been here before and are motivated to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

As the Big South tournament hosts, UNC Asheville will have a leg up on the competition, but they have not been as dominant as a top seed should be. The Bulldogs are one of the most consistent teams in the conference with all five starters scoring in double figures each game. If one is betting, they are the safe bet to win it all based on what is mentioned above.

While Radford was a pleasant surprise throughout league play, do not anticipate that they will be a contender. They are eighth in scoring in the conference (68.2) and around the same mark when it comes to shooting. Their defense has bailed them out as probably one of the top defensive units in the league, but their leading scorer is a post player, Ed Polite Jr.  (13.6 ppg) and if shut down in the paint, there is no offense.

Liberty is the darkhorse in the Big South Tournament. The do boast the best defensive numbers in the conference (64.0 points against per game) and have a high-powered offense, although it is spotty.  Two players are shooting well above 40 percent or better from behind the arc. Dominating the boards, they limit other team’s second chance opportunities. Do not bet against the Flames in a one-on-one contest.

PICK: No. 3 Winthrop