O26 Primers: America East, Missouri Valley, and Northeast Conference TourneysPosted by KDoyle on March 3rd, 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 underway this evening with teams in the America East and NEC all gunning for the coveted automatic-bid to the Tournament, while the Missouri Valley is vying to send two teams to the Dance. Boston University is all of a sudden the favorite to win the America East with the uncertainty of Evan Fjeld‘s ankle, while Missouri State and Long Island are the favorites in their respective leagues. Something tells me though that the Wichita State Shockers will be looking for vengeance following their two losses to the Bears earlier this year.
The Favorite: Vermont appears to be the favorite, but a lot depends on the status of Evan Fjeld’s ankle that he injured in UVM’s final regular season game against Boston University. In what very well could be the America East championship game, BU went on to defeat the Catamounts in overtime. Allison Shepherd told John Fantino of the Burlington Free Press Blog that: “[Fjeld] is receiving daily care and treatment for the injury. We will have a better idea regarding his playing status for the upcoming America East tournament as the weekend approaches.” Something tells me that even if Fjeld and his ‘Stache are able to go, he will not be at 100%. I like Boston University.
Dark Horse: Behind senior Tim Ambrose, Albany is a team that has come on strong as of late and is capable of making a run in the A-East tournament. The Great Danes have won four straight to end the regular season, but getting by Stony Brook will be no easy task in the first round.
Who’s Hot: Boston University has not lost in February and is 8-0 during the month. They defeated Vermont to conclude the regular season and are flying high with John Holland—arguably the league’s best player—leading the way.
Player to Watch: John Holland has been a staple in BU’s rotation since the day he stepped on campus. The senior has averaged double-figures in scoring for all four years, and his 19.2 points a game this year is tops in the league.
First-Round Upset: Hartford over Maine. The Black Bears were an intriguing team and story to follow early on in the season. They beat a solid Penn State team and began league play with an 8-1 record, but since then they have fallen flat on their faces. Although their date with Hartford is technically not in the first round—the America East essentially has a play-in game between the #8 and #9 seeds to begin the tournament—fourth seeded Maine will have their hands full with Hartford who has already beaten them twice.
How’d They Fare? As a 16 seed last year, Vermont could not handle the athleticism or shooting ability of Syracuse as they lost 79-56.
Interesting Fact: Not an interesting fact, but simply one of my favorite NCAA Tournament highlights of all-time:
Easily the best part of the clip is Tom Brennan’s reaction after T.J. Sorrentine swishes home the three from about 35 feet away, and if you look even further past Brennan the reaction of the guys sitting on press row are priceless too. This is what makes March so Mad!
Missouri Valley Conference
The Favorite: Aside from a slight bump in the road during the middle of conference play that saw Missouri State drop three of five games, the Bears have been the class of the Missouri Valley garnering a 15-3 conference record and the #1 seed in the tournament. Their prime contender is Wichita State, but the Bears have already beaten them twice this year.
Dark Horse: The impressive play of freshman Doug McDermott has made Creighton a formidable opponent in the Valley. Although they sport just a 10-8 record in the MVC, the Blue Jays have been very competitive with Wichita State (lost 67-65) and Missouri State (lost 67-66) in their last two games against the #1 and #2 seeds.
Who’s Hot: Missouri State has won six straight games in the Valley and has been the hottest team lately with Indiana State closely behind having won five straight.
Player to Watch: Kyle Weems is the total package for Missouri State. Standing at 6’6, Weems can bang inside with the big boys which is exhibited by averaging seven rebounds a game (third in the conference), but is also a deadly outside shooter as he is hitting nearly 41% of his three-point shots.
First-Round Upset: Bradley over Drake. Although the Braves finished last in the 10 team conference with a 4-14 record, Bradley’s last win of the regular season was a blowout victory over Drake (90-64). They also boast the Valley’s top scorer in Andrew Warren who is averaging just shy of 20 points a game.
How’d They Fare? Northern Iowa knocked off UNLV as a #9 seed in a drama-filled game, and then in the following game against #1 seed Kansas, Ali Farokhmanesh sealed the victory over the Jayhawks by hitting a three-pointer from the wing. Farokhmanesh’s shot will go down as one of the gutsiest shots in Tournament history.
Interesting Fact: For a true Mid-Major conference, the Missouri Valley had one of the most successful seasons for a conference of their stature when four teams made the NCAA Tournament in 2006.
The Favorite: Long Island is one of two teams in the country to have lost one game dating back to early December—the other team is, of course, Utah State. Subsequently, the Blackbirds are the clear favorite to win the NEC and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. There may be some uneasiness in their first round game against St. Francis (PA) though as their lone loss during this stretch came against the Red Flash in mid-January.
Dark Horse: Calling Quinnipiac a “dark horse” in the NEC tournament is probably not the right expression, but the Bobcats are LIU’s top challenger for the coveted league crown. Quinnipiac has won nine of 10 games with their only loss during this stretch coming against LIU. With James Johnson and Justin Rutty playing well, QU has the ability to upset LIU’s special season.
Who’s Hot: Clearly it is Long Island. Winning 18 of 19 games makes Long Island one of the hottest teams in the country.
Player to Watch: Central Connecticut’s junior forward Ken Horton has been a handful for NEC teams to deal with as he is averaging an even 20 points and 9 rebounds a game in the conference—both are league highs.
First-Round Upset: St. Francis (NY) over Central Connecticut State. CCSU is reeling having lost three straight games entering the tournament—one of these losses against St. Francis (NY)—and the Terriers are peaking at just the right time having won four straight. If St. Francis (NY) can keep Ken Horton at bay, I like their chances.
How’d They Fare? As a 15 seed, Robert Morris was narrowly defeated by Villanova. Following the game, Bill Raftery stated: “They only lost on the scoreboard.” A very appropriate sentiment from Raftery as the Colonials played their hearts out and appeared to be the more deserving team on that afternoon in Providence.
Interesting Fact: Aside from coming out on top in the Play-in game, the last time a team from the NEC won a game in the NCAA Tournament was in 1983 when Robert Morris defeated Georgia Southern.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, the following conferences will begin their tournaments: the CAA, the MAAC, the Southern Conference, and the WCC.