O26 Primers: Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley & Patriot League TourneysPosted by KDoyle on March 2nd, 2011
RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.
Three more conferences get their tournaments underway tonight which means that several more teams will have their dreams of advancing to the greatest Dance in the world dashed, while others will inch one step closer to winning their conference championship. Tonight the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Patriot League tournaments all get underway. Belmont and Bucknell are the obvious favorites to win their respective conferences, but the Ohio Valley is a little unclear with Morehead State and Murray State butting heads at the top, and Austin Peay not too far behind.
The Favorite: Belmont is the clear-cut favorite to win the league this year and advance to the Tournament for the first time since 2008 when they nearly upset Duke. A surprising setback at Lipscomb is the only loss that prevented the Bruins from going a perfect 20-0 in league play.
Dark Horse: Not surprisingly, Lipscomb is the dark horse to win the A-Sun. Although they have a rather pedestrian 12-8 record within the league, they were the only team to knock off Belmont. Plus, they boast one of the best players in the league with Adnan Hodzic as the senior forward from Bosnia is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds a night. In their victory over Belmont, Hodzic tore up the Bruins going off for 26 points.
Who’s Hot: Winning 19 games in conference and not losing to a team located outside the state of Tennessee makes Belmont the hottest team in the Atlantic Sun. To be honest, it would be a real shock if the Bruins were not the last team standing come March 5.
Player to Watch: With Mike Smith—the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year from ETSU—sidelined with an injury, there is no clear player to keep an eye on during the tournament. Lipscomb’s Josh Slater, however, is someone to definitely keep tabs on. Most of the attention is focused on Adnan Hodzic, but no one in the A-Sun can fill up the stat sheet quite like Slater who averages 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.
First-Round Upset: Campbell over East Tennessee State. ETSU looked to be one of Belmont’s biggest threats in the conference tournament, but the Buccaneers have been decimated by injuries to two of their top players: Mike Smith (ankle) and Micah Williams (shoulder); their status for ETSU’s first game is uncertain. Campbell is one of the coldest teams around having lost eight of their last nine games, but lost by just seven points to ETSU in their last meeting.
How’d They Fare? ETSU was a 16 seed and was ripped apart by Kentucky 100-71 in last year’s Tournament.
Interesting Fact: Dating back to the 2005 Tournament, the highest seed the Atlantic Sun team has received in the NCAA Tournament has been a 15. Assuming Belmont wins the league this year, that will all change.
Ohio Valley Conference
The Favorite: Take your pick: Murray State or Morehead State. The two teams seemed destined to meet in the OVC championship game as they receive double-byes into the semifinals. I have been a big fan of Kenneth Faried’s play all year and believe he can carry Morehead State back to the Tournament for the first time since 2009.
Dark Horse: Austin Peay has the conference’s top scorer in TyShawn Edmondson as well as one of the best point guards in Caleb Brown; having such a dominant backcourt makes them a threat to do some serious damage. The Governors will certainly have a good deal of confidence and won’t be daunted to play either Murray State or Morehead State as they split the season series with both teams.
Who’s Hot: Aside from an inexplicable seven point loss to Southeast Missouri State, Murray State has been playing the best ball in the OVC dating back to mid-January. Although Morehead State has won 10 of 11 games and are playing quite well too, the Racers victory over the Eagles on February 24 certainly carries a good deal of weight.
Player to Watch: How a 6-8 forward can average over 14 rebounds a game and be the nation’s leading rebounder still perplexes me, but Kenneth Faried has an uncanny ability to track down the ball and gain great position on the opposition in order to put up such a gaudy number; Faried is a true force underneath the basket.
First-Round Upset: Tennessee-Martin over Tennessee State. It is an in-state rivalry game, and the Skyhawks have played Tennessee State close in both of their prior meetings.
How’d They Fare? As a 13 seed, Murray State upset Vanderbilt in the first round and then narrowly lost to Butler in the second.
Interesting Fact: The Ohio Valley has won a game in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons. Of course we all remember Murray State’s dramatic victory over Vanderbilt last season, but what gets lost in the shuffle is Morehead State’s win over Alabama State in the Play-in Game two years ago. I don’t believe that this is a “true” win in the NCAA Tournament, but it still counts as a “W” in the record books nevertheless.
The Favorite: The Patriot League has not witnessed a team sprint through the conference with a 13-1 record since the 2008-09 season when American went 13-1 and garnered a 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Bucknell is clearly the class of the league, but that does not mean they are immune from an upset as their lone loss in league play came against last place Army. Even still, it is hard to bet against Bucknell as they have home-court advantage throughout the tournament along with the Player of the Year (Mike Muscala) and Coach of the Year (Dave Paulsen) on their side.
Dark Horse: According to KenPom, the Holy Cross Crusaders are the unluckiest team in America. They went 7-7 in conference this season, and each of these losses came by an average of only 4.3 points. Against first place Bucknell, HC lost 74-72 in the first meeting and 64-60 in the second. The Crusaders are right on the cusp, and with a little bit of luck they may be able to shock the world and win the conference championship. (In the “For What It’s Worth” category, if Holy Cross goes onto the NCAA Tournament, they would have an 11-20 overall record which would be the worst winning percentage all-time for a Tournament team.)
Who’s Hot: Bucknell has won 20 of 22 games with one of the two losses coming against Boston College as they fell 84-80.
Player to Watch: Going purely by statistics, Bucknell senior point guard Darryl Shazier is not a player one would think to keenly follow. After watching Shazier play just a few possessions in Bucknell’s offense, however, may drastically change that opinion. Averaging just 8.4 points a game, Shazier was still voted onto the All-League First Team due to his near flawless play at the point guard position. His assist to turnover ratio is nearly 4:1 which is good for first in the conference and third nationally. Without Shazier continually finding sharpshooter Bryson Johnson behind the arc and making perfect entry passes into big man Mike Muscala, Bucknell is probably not in the position they currently find themselves in.
First-Round Upset: Colgate over American. The return of senior guard Mike Venezia has invigorated Colgate and the improvement the Raiders have made since his return is quite noticeable. Although they have lost five of their last six games, Colgate’s competitive nature and renewed sense of confidence has no longer made them the easy win they once were for the opposition. Colgate has lost both games to American by nine points this year and if the Eagles are looking ahead to a semifinals date with either Holy Cross or Lafayette, Emmett Davis’ bunch can pull off the upset.
How’d They Fare? As a 16 seed, Lehigh gave Kansas a much better game than many expected as they lost 90-74. At the half, Lehigh trailed by only six points.
Interesting Fact: The average margin of defeat dating back to the 2001 NCAA Tournament for teams representing the Patriot League is a respectable 11 points. In two of these years, Bucknell upset Kansas and Arkansas to give the PL its only two wins in the Dance.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, the following conferences will begin their tournaments: the Missouri Valley Conference, the Northeast Conference, and the America East.