That’s Debatable: Small Conference TourneysPosted by rtmsf on March 4th, 2011
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Week’s Topic: Many of the small conferences are starting their tournaments this week. Which one do you find the most compelling in terms of the possibility of upsets and/or creating chaos for the NCAA Selection Committee in a little over a week? Also, pick a relatively unknown team that you’d like to see make a run through their conference tourney so that America will get to watch them play on the big stage in March Madness.
Walker Carey, RTC contributor.
I think the Horizon League Tournament is the small conference tournament that is the most compelling in terms of creating chaos for the NCAA Selection Committee. In my mind, Butler, Cleveland State, and Milwaukee are the only teams that have the capability of winning the tournament. If Butler loses (which is very possible), it will be very interesting to see how the committee will view the Bulldogs’ resume. I tend to believe that Cleveland State will win the Horizon League championship because they have the best player in the league on their team in senior guard Norris Cole. I would enjoy to see the Vikings make a run to the Horizon League championship and shake things up in the tournament like they did when they were a #13 seed and upset #4 seed Wake Forest two seasons ago. With Cole, I think this is very possible for Gary Waters’ Cleveland State squad.
John Stevens, RTC editor.
I’ll take the Colonial. You’ve got six 20-win teams out of twelve, and you’ve got to figure George Mason has a bid locked up with Old Dominion looking good, as well. Let’s say someone like Drexel (a 20-9 team with a resume that includes a win at Louisville, mind you) gets hot and wins this thing. Could we be looking at a four-bid year for the Colonial, with James Madison or VCU sneaking in as a function of the soft bubble this year? And how can you not root for William & Mary, a team that’s never been to the NCAA Tournament, after the fantastic case they made for at-large inclusion last year? As far as a team I’d like to see make a run, I’ll go with Morehead State. It wouldn’t be much of a run, of course, since as a 2-seed they earned that weird double-bye in the OVC Tournament and only need to win two games (same situation as 1-seed Murray State) to claim the title. But the world needs to see Kenneth Faried play at this level one more time. He and the Eagles won a preliminary round game in 2009 before getting cooked by 1-seed Louisville, and two NCAA Tournament games for the Fabulous Faried just doesn’t seem like enough.
Danny Spewak, RTC contributor.
Vermont won the America East Conference by one game and rightfully earned the top seed in the tournament by avoiding slip-ups against the league’s lower-tier teams. You’ll want to keep an eye on this tourney, though, because Vermont hasn’t exactly faired well against the top of the AE. Second-seeded Boston University swept Vermont this year, including an overtime win Sunday. And the third seed, Maine, routed the Catamounts on their home floor back in January. The Black Bears, a preseason favorite, have since collapsed and lost seven of eight games to finish the season. Regardless, either team could still pose a threat to Vermont’s NCAA tourney hopes at some point during the next week. For sympathy’s sake, I’d like to see Weber State win the Big Sky this March and pluck a spot in the Big Dance. How can you not feel bad for this program? Two years ago, the Wildcats ripped through the league with a 15-1 record but slipped to the NIT. Last year, Anthony Johnson’s legendary performance helped Montana stun the regular season champs again. Finally, 2010-11 appeared to be “The Year,” with two-time POY Damian Lillard returning for his senior year. Naturally, he broke his foot and played just 10 games this year, and he’ll now wait on the status of a medical redshirt. It’d be nice to see the third-seeded Wildcats win three games for their tragic hero.
Dave Zeitlin, RTC contributor.
I know I haven’t been around these parts in a while but it’s March, so I figured it’s about time I come out of retirement. And answer to this question is easy – you’ve gotta watch the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. How good is the Colonial this season? Consider: two teams – George Mason and Old Dominion – are in the top 30 of the RPI and virtual locks to make the NCAA tournament. Six teams – GMU, ODU, Hofstra, VCU, Drexel and James Madison – have won 20 games or more. And most of the league’s top-tier squads have some serious non-conference wins to boast about (ODU topped Clemson, VCU beat UCLA, Drexel won at Louisville, etc.). While the tourney championship is Mason’s or ODU’s to lose, Hofstra, Drexel, VCU or JMU certainly have a shot to take home the crown and become the third CAA team to earn an NCAA bid. I’d say to especially keep an eye on the team from my home city, Drexel. The Dragons have struggled in the CAA tourney the last few years and they sometimes have trouble scoring. But this team is young, big and fierce – and one of the best in the country at defense and rebounding. They can make a run in Richmond.
Tom Wolfmeyer, RTC contributor.
Of course, it’s the SEC — kidding, kidding. The small conference tournament I’m most excited about is the WCC, actually. The first round isn’t very exciting because only the bottom four teams play each other, but once we get to the semifinals round, there’s no guarantee that either of the two favorites — Gonzaga and St. Mary’s — will move on. The league has been as wide open as it has been in years, with the aforementioned Zags and Gaels getting pressured by San Francisco and Santa Clara throughout the year. The x-factor here is that, while both GU and SMC probably believe they’re already a member of the field of 68, neither is actually a lock. Both teams need to win more games to ensure their position, so that adds an additional element of pressure versus some of the previous seasons where these guys were already dancing. As for a team I’d like to see make a run, it’s gotta be Vermont with Evan Fjeld if for no other reason so America can warm up to the renaissance of the ‘stache.
Brian Otskey, RTC contributor.
The Colonial Athletic Association tournament is the most compelling to me because it features five teams capable of winning, three of which won’t be receiving at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. George Mason and Old Dominion will likely get in even if they don’t win, but Hofstra, VCU and Drexel are all capable of winning this tournament. Hofstra has star guard Charles Jenkins and another pretty good shooter in Mike Moore, VCU won nine straight games in this league before fading late but is playing locally in Richmond, while Drexel has a terrific rebounder in 6’5 Samme Givens. The Dragons also knocked off Old Dominion and won at Louisville out of conference. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these teams won this tournament. There are two teams I’d like to see get hot and win their conference tournaments. The first is Morehead State in the Ohio Valley so Kenneth Faried, the nation’s best rebounder, can finally be seen by the entire country on the big stage. The other is Iona out of the MAAC, a team that features another double-double machine in Michael Glover. Both of these clubs have the potential to win a first round game, in my opinion.
Kevin Doyle, RTC contributor.
Being a keen follower of the CAA throughout the year, I found this conference to be easily the most compelling with regard to creating chaos for the Committee. Currently, George Mason is hands down the favorite with Old Dominion looming close behind. If GMU does what many prognosticators believe they will do, ODU will most likely receive and at-large bid to the Tournament. But, what happens if Charles Jenkins and Hofstra crash the party and win the CAA? Could the Selection Committee award two at-large bids to the CAA? If this scenario played out, it would make for a very difficult decision for the Committee come that fateful Sunday. As for a team that does not receive much coverage on the big stage, I would love to see Morehead State come out on top in the Ohio Valley for the sole reason that Kenneth Faried would be able to display his talents and unbelievable rebounding abilities to the rest of the country.