O26 Primers: Atlantic 10, MAC and MEAC TourneysPosted by KDoyle on March 8th, 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.
With the completion of several conference tournaments over the weekend, the field of 68 is slowly beginning to take shape, but there is still much to be determined. The kicking off of the Atlantic 10, MAC and MEAC conference tournaments later today will weed out even more teams as we approach Selection Sunday. The Atlantic 10 is definitely a multi-bid league—it is just a matter if two or three teams make the field—while the other two conferences will only have one representative in this Tournament.
The Favorite: There was little doubt heading into the season that Xavier would be a formidable team in the Atlantic 10 and one that could do some damage throughout the season. They advanced to the Sweet 16 last year and returned do-it-all player in Tu Holloway, but after a rollercoaster non-conference performance that saw the Musketeers go 8-5 questions were raised. All these questions were answered and more as they went 15-1 in the A10. Although Temple and Richmond are right on their heels, Xavier is the team to beat heading into the tournament.
Dark Horse: Richmond concluded their season with four straight wins—all coming by double digits—and Chris Mooney has the Spiders playing some great ball. The dynamic and versatile Justin Harper is capable of taking over a game, and Kevin Anderson is a steady point guard that has the scoring ability of a shooting guard. Currently, Richmond is on the outside looking in of the NCAA Tournament and a strong run in the A10 tournament will be needed to earn an invitation to the Dance.
Who’s Hot: Aside from a fluke four point loss to Charlotte in the middle of their A10 slate, Xavier went perfect in the conference and has only two losses in 2011.
Player to Watch: If there was a player in the A10 capable of putting a team on his back and carrying them to a few wins in the tournament, it is St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson. The senior from Ontario has scored more than 30 points on four occasions this year and hit buzzer beaters in consecutive games against Buffalo and St. John’s. Nicholson is a scorer and is clutch: watch out for him.
First-Round Upset: St. Joseph’s over George Washington. It took a while for one of the youngest teams in the nation to become acclimated to the college game, but St. Joseph’s youngsters are starting to come around. The Hawks began their A10 schedule with an 0-8 record, but went 4-4 the rest of the way.
How’d They Fare? The Atlantic 10 had a very successful regular season as they placed three teams in the Tournament, but two of them struggled and were unable to get out of the first round. Temple, the highest seed of the three at #5, lost to Cornell in the first round. #7 Richmond struggled to keep up with Omar Samhan and St. Mary’s losing 80-71. The saving grace was #6 Xavier who defeated Minnesota and then upset Pittsburgh in the second round. The Musketeers were very close to defeating Kansas State and advancing to the Elite Eight, but fell 101-96 in double overtime.
Interesting Fact: The A10 has been a multi-bid conference ever since 2005, and that looks to continue this year with Xavier and Temple being safe bets to earn a bid to the Tournament regardless of what happens in the conference tournament.
The Favorite: There are about four or five different teams that have realistic chances to win the MAC, but Kent State is the favorite as they had the best conference record (12-4) and performed the best in the non-conference (9-6).
Dark Horse: Could it be déjà vu all over again for Ohio? Last season, Ohio went 7-9 in the MAC, but went onto win the conference tournament. This year, they went 9-7 in the conference and boast arguably the best player in D.J. Cooper. The Bobcats played well in their last six games going 5-1 to conclude their MAC schedule; one of these wins came against Kent State.
Who’s Hot: Aside from a two point loss to Kent State at the buzzer, Western Michigan concluded the season on a tear. The Broncos won seven of their last eight games and are peaking at just the right time as they enter postseason play.
Player to Watch: D.J. Cooper fills up the stat sheet like no other player in the MAC as he averages 16.5 points, just over five rebounds a game, and 7.4 assists a night; his ability to tear apart opposing defenses is fantastic to watch. The scary thing is that Cooper is only a sophomore.
First-Round Upset: Eastern Michigan over Akron. The Eagles have struggled for much of the season compiling a 9-21 record, but they ended their regular season on a high note with a 19 point win against Toledo. Plus, EMU also has one of the best players in the MAC in Brandon Bowdry who averages 20 points and a shade below 10 rebounds a game. Their four point victory over Akron earlier in the year should give them added confidence heading into their first round game with the Zips.
How’d They Fare? After an up and down regular season that saw Ohio go 17-14 and 7-9 in the MAC, the Bobcats got hot at the right time by winning four straight games to win the conference tournament. As a #14 seed, they then went onto defeat Georgetown with ease by a score of 97-83.
Interesting Fact: The last team to win back-to-back MAC Championships was Kent State as they won the league in 2001 and 2002. In order for the MAC to have a back-to-back champion, the fifth seeded Ohio Bobcats would have to win four straight games to capture the crown. Hey, they did it last year.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
The Favorite: After beginning the season with a 6-8 record with four of these wins coming against sub-D1 teams, things looked bleak for Bethune-Cookman. The Wildcats would right the ship by going 14-3 to end the season and in doing so are the favorite to win the MEAC.
Dark Horse: Hampton appeared to be the class of the league in the non-conference as they picked up impressive wins over Boston University, George Washington, and Colorado State, but stumbled in mid-February as they lost three straight conference games. Even still, the scoring ability of Darrion Pellum coupled with a split in the season series with Bethune-Cookman makes them a contender to win the tournament.
Who’s Hot: Winning seven straight games in the MEAC makes Bethune-Cookman clearly the hottest team entering the tournament.
Player to Watch: There are several players one can focus on, but I am most intrigued by North Carolina A&T senior forward Thomas Coleman. Coleman is one of only two players to average a double-double—the other being Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn. His 62% shooting on field goals is first in the MEAC and 20th nationally.
First-Round Upset: Maryland Eastern Shore over Florida A&M. UMES struggled for much of the year garnering an 8-21 record, but they enter the MEAC tournament having won their last two games and split with Florid A&M this year winning the first game in overtime and losing the second by eight points. They have demonstrated they can be competitive with the Rattlers and with FAMU entering the tournament having lost five of six games, this has upset written all over it.
How’d They Fare? As a #15 seed, Morgan State was unable to keep it close as they lost 77-50 to West Virginia.
Interesting Fact: Bethune-Cookman, who was the regular season champion with a 13-3 record and is the favorite to win the conference tournament, has never made the NCAA Tournament in their program’s history.
Many more Other 26 conferences begin their tournaments tomorrow. There are a total of five, to be exact: Conference USA, the Mountain West Conference, the Southland Conference, the SWAC, and the Western Athletic Conference.