Ray Floriani is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC conferences.
A year ago the MAAC tournament gave us a surprise with St. Peter’s coming on strong to win the title. This season Iona is the clear-cut choice. Interestingly, if Iona gets upset, the conference will be a two-bid league with the Gaels almost certain to be an at-large entry to the NCAA tournament. As it stands, Iona cutting down the nets virtually guarantees the conference one spot on Selection Sunday. Doesn’t mean there will be a lack of excitement and drama along the way.
Final Regular Season Standings
Team, MAAC record, overall record:
2. Loyola (MD)
9. St. Peter’s
Player of the Year: Scott Machado, Iona
A player that simply has a tremendous impact on the game. Machado scored 13.1 points a game while adding 5 rebounds, but his expertise lies in handing out assists. He led the nation with 10.1 assists an outing. The Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year award finalist is also dangerous in late game situations, hitting 80.5% of his free throw attempts.
Scott Macadho's Ability To Rack Up Assists Made Him An Easy Choice For MAAC Player of the Year (AP)
Rookie of the Year: Juan’ya Green, Niagara
The 6’3″ freshman guard averaged 17.5 points per outing. Green went beyond scoring, handing out 4.4 assists per game. The leading freshman scorer and third overall scorer in the MAAC, Green recorded 27 double figure games this season.
Coach of the Year: Jimmy Patsos, Loyola
The Greyhounds finished conference runner-up and recorded a 20-win season for the first time in school history. Loyola also owns victories over every other school in the conference’s “first division.” They will be a tough out in Springfield.
Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.
Arch Madness Preview
League Play Summary
The Missouri Valley Conference broke out of its shell this season, bringing it back to a multiple-bid-conference even before the MVC Tournament this weekend in St. Louis. For the past four seasons, The Valley has only had the automatic bid advance to the NCAA Tournament and was viewed as a falling league after getting four teams into the tournament in 2006. This year, everything changed. With the breakout play of Creighton’s Doug McDermott and the dominance of Wichita State, the MVC has two teams ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1983 and the first time ever heading into Arch Madness.
Creighton started off strong this season and looked like the team to beat behind McDermott with early non-conference wins against San Diego State, Northwestern and a blowout of Iowa. A stumble against St. Joseph’s derailed the Jays for a bit, but they rebounded and remained a mainstay in the Top 25 until a three-game losing streak, which included a big loss at home against Wichita State. After heart-stopping victories in three of their last four games of the regular season, they are now back into the Top 25 heading into Arch Madness.
Wichita State played even stronger as the season wore on. After struggling a bit in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the Shockers have rolled to win 24 of their final 26 games and have only lost once in 2012 — to Drake in triple-overtime. For the Shockers, it has been a total team effort on the offensive and defensive side of things. Since they did not have a “star” player to add to the hype, it took a while for WSU to break into the rankings.
Teams like Evansville, Missouri State, and Northern Iowa had opportunities this season to make an impact, but came up a little short.
Regular Season Awards
MVC Player of the Year:Doug McDermott, Creighton (23.1 PPG, 47.9% 3FG, 8.1 RPG) —McDermott had some early accolades coming into the season as a third-team preseason All-America by The Sporting News, but blossomed into a National Player of the Year candidate. Although his scoring numbers dropped between non-conference and MVC play, he has still been one of the more dynamic players this season and made Creighton a totally different team. McDermott is still third in the nation in scoring, and once the Bluejays get into the postseason, teams playing against him for the first time could be in for a big surprise. Read the rest of this entry »
Ray Floriani is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC conferences.
The top teams in the Northeast Conference proved to be competitive and battled it against each other all season. Interestingly, the conference postseason shapes up as a very balanced eight team field. LIU Brooklyn is the defending champion and favorite. LIU will face challenges from Wagner, Robert Morris and St. Francis (NY) to name a few. Among the eight teams, even a hot Monmouth team poses a threat. It should make for an interesting tournament and if LIU Brooklyn repeats, they will have truthfully worked and earned it.
The top eight in the NEC qualify for postseason conference play. Each individual game is at the higher seed of the two teams. The conference tournament begins on Thursday with all eight teams tipping it off.
Sacred Heart vs. LIU Brooklyn – The Blackbirds were knocked off by Monmouth on Saturday but take a 24-game home winning streak in this meeting. Player of the Year Julian Boyd leads a well balanced and dangerous attack. Sacred Heart lost closes contests to Robert Morris and St. Francis (NY) in the last week. The Pioneers also took LIU Brooklyn to overtime before losing 103-91 back on February 16. Dave Bike’s club will try to become the first #8 seed to knock off the regular season champion in NEC history.
CCSU vs. Wagner – A Wagner-LIU semifinal is highly anticipated. First, the Seahawks have to knock off a dangerous CCSU team. The winningest team in the NY metro area, Wagner split with CCSU this season. The Blue Devils of Howie Dickenman are on a roll, winning three of their last four, included was that victory over Wagner on Saturday. With a versatile veteran and star in Ken Horton plus a backcourt talent in Rookie of the Year Kyle Venales, CCSU will not be an easy out.
Monmouth vs. Robert Morris – The Chuck is not easy on visitors but Monmouth is arguably the NEC’s most dangerous team at this point. The Colonials are on a roll of their own, winning six of their last seven. Monmouth, a preseason number ten pick, captured seven of their final nine under first year mentor King Rice. The ten NEC victories posted by the Hawks is their most since 2006 and includes victories over LIU Brooklyn and St. Francis (NY) the final week of the campaign.
Quinnipiac vs. St. Francis (NY) – A season ending loss at FDU dropped the Terriers to a four seed. Glen Braica’s group, a preseason 11 pick, will host their first NEC postseason conference game since 1997. St. Francis swept the Bobcats this season but Quinnipiac is another team with momentum, entering the NEC tourney winners of eight of their last eleven games. St. Francis will most likely be without two keys players in Travis Nichols and Stefan Perunicic who also missed the FDU contest.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.
Showdown in Las Vegas
So, it’s decided but it’s really not. Saint Mary’s closed out the WCC regular season with a tough 67-60 victory over San Francisco on the road, earning an undisputed conference championship for the first time since the 1989 squad coached by Lynn Nance. The Gaels tied Gonzaga for the regular-season title last year – the Zags’ 11th straight WCC championship – and needed a win over San Francisco to avoid another tie this year. They got it, but not without a dogged fight from the Dons, who closed out the season with home games against the conference’s top three teams – BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. They made them all pay, losing narrowly to BYU (85-84), edging Gonzaga, 66-65, and giving Saint Mary’s all they could handle before a frantic home crowd.
The WCC Tournament beginning Wednesday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas will have a lot to say about how many conference members advance to the NCAA Tournament, and, almost as important, where they will play and how high they are seeded. The tournament champion receives the automatic NCAA bid, but almost all commentators agree that both Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will receive bids no matter what happens in Las Vegas. The same cannot be said for BYU, however, so the Cougars’ need to make a strong showing in Las Vegas – perhaps even win the championship – in one of the compelling stories that will play out over the weekend.
Can Saint Mary's Earn The Automatic Bid Into The Big Dance? Conference POY Matthew Dellavedova Will Have A Huge Say In That (AP)
Others revolve around the conference’s mystery team, Loyola Marymount, and whether San Francisco can maintain the fierce defensive intensity it displayed down the stretch at home with days off between games. The Dons’ road to a high tournament finish requires victories on Thursday against the winner of a play-in game between Portland and Santa Clara, a Friday win against a Loyola team that beat them twice in the regular season, then a semifinal contest on Saturday against the Gaels, who also beat them twice in conference. Not an easy path.
Loyola is in a better position to wreak havoc than San Francisco. Earning a first-round tournament bye with its fourth-place conference finish, the Lions play first on Friday against the winner of the San Francisco/play-in winner game. If it’s a rematch with the Dons, tournament fans will see San Francisco take a third shot at a win that eluded them in two excruciatingly close conference games – a 77-76 overtime loss at home that saw LMU erase a 17-point second-half deficit, and a 90-88 loss in Los Angeles in which LMU had to come from 16 points down. The Dons desperately want another shot at the Lions, and feel they finished stronger than LMU because of their tough battles with the league leaders and LMU’s less-than-overwhelming finish: an inexplicable 60-57 loss to San Diego and a 68-65 nail-biter win against Santa Clara, which was winless in conference play.
Figuring out the psyche of Max Good’s squad would challenge a team of Freuds, however, as the Lions bounced back and forth between helpless – a 76-63 home loss to North Texas – and sublime – a 75-60 upset of Saint Mary’s in Moraga, the Gaels’ only home loss all season. One of the Lions’ quirks is they play better on the road than at home, so maybe a trip to Las Vegas is just what Dr. Freud would order. If they do, indeed, meet and beat San Francisco in the quarterfinals, they will move on to another encounter with Saint Mary’s in Saturday’s first semifinal game (6:00 PM PT, ESPN2). That the Gaels would like another shot at LMU goes without saying, as that loss cost them both a lofty national ranking and injuries to guard StephenHolt, whose return from a torn meniscus is still undecided, center Brad Waldow, who re-injured a bruised rib and had to sit out much of the action, and even indestructible guard MatthewDellavedova, who turned an ankle and left the game for several minutes in the second half.
Who Us? Rex Walters and USF Are Playing Great Basketball (Comcast Sports Net)
BYU’s path to a possible tournament championship takes them through a quarterfinal match with the winner of a San Diego-Pepperdine contest and a semifinal rematch with Gonzaga, with whom they split regular-season games. BYU was without outstanding forward Noah Hartsock (knee injury) for all but the first seven minutes of the second Gonzaga game on Feb. 23, a 74-63 loss. Hartsock also sat out BYU’s final conference game, a 76-66 win over Portland, and his status for Las Vegas has not been announced. With Hartsock in the lineup, a BYU-Gonzaga rematch in Saturday’s second semifinal match (ESPN2, 8:oo PM PT) could be a classic, but we’ll have to wait to see whether Hartsock can go.
As for the championship game on Monday night (6:00 PM PT, ESPN), it has featured Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s for the last three years (Gonzaga won two of the three), and a similar match-up would surprise no one. It would be a rubber game, as the teams split in conference play, and could determine whether either team receives a favorable or dicey NCAA seeding.
Here’s how the 2011-12 WCC season ended up:
Saint Mary’s (25-5, 14-2).
Gonzaga (23-5, 13-3).
BYU (24-7, 12-4)
Loyola Marymount (19-11, 11-5)
San Francisco (18-12, 8-8)
San Diego (12-1, 7-9)
Pepperdine (10-18, 4-12)
Portland (6-23, 3-13)
Santa Clara (8-21, 0-16)
For the second year in a row a Saint Mary’s guard is the West Coast Conference Player of the Year. This time it is Matthew Dellavedova, the 6’4″ junior from Maryborough, Victoria, Australia, who led the conference in assists (6.6 per game) and was third in scoring (16.4 PPG). The Gaels’ Mickey McConnell rated the POY nod last year, and not many observers of the conference would bet against Dellavedova repeating in 2013. In addition to his conference honors, Dellavedova is a finalist in the Bob Cousy Award competition for the nation’s best point guard. Last week, he was named a Capital One Academic All-American, the first Saint Mary’s player to be so honored.
While the choice of Dellavedova raised no eyebrows, selecting Max Good of Loyola Marymount as coach of the year might – even among Loyola fans and alumni. Good has been on the hot seat at LMU ever since last year’s team – picked to compete for conference honors – finished in last place at 2-12. While not ducking his share of blame for the team’s collapse, Good insisted that without crippling injuries his team would have been much better. The Lions weathered some early-season injuries – most notably to All-Conference Forward Drew Viney and his front court mate Ashley Hamilton – and, indeed, did do better this year, finishing fourth in the conference with an 11-5 mark. Along the way, LMU posted wins over UCLA, St. Louis and Valparaiso in non-conference play and over BYU and Saint Mary’s in conference. Good’s fellow coaches – who make the conference honors selections – evidently believe in redemption.
Other individual honors announced by the WCC on Tuesday were Defensive Player of the Year to Gonzaga’s 7’0” senior center Robert Sacre, whose 25 blocks led the league; and WCC Newcomer of the Year to Gonzaga freshman guard Kevin Pangos, whose deadly three-point shooting accounted for 12.8 PPG and 36 three-point field goals. The WCC All-conference team is composed of:
Angelo Caloiaro, San Francisco
Brandon Davies, BYU
Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s
Elias Harris, Gonzaga
Noah Hartsock, BYU
Anthony Ireland, Loyola
Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Robert Sacre, Gonzaga
Drew Viney, Loyola
The conference all-freshman team:
Gary Bell, Jr, Gonzaga
Matt Carlino, BYU
Johnny Dee, San Diego
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s
Honorable mention was accorded to Perris Blackwell, center, San Francisco; Carlino and Dee; Rashad Green, guard, San Francisco; Stephen Holt, guard, Saint Mary’s; and Corbin Moore, center, Pepperdine.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. The PL is among the first of this season’s conference tournaments to tip, with action set to start tonight.You can find him on Twitter@KLDoyle11.
The Favorite: Despite losing back-to-back games against Lehigh and Holy Cross down the stretch, and a less than stellar performance against bottom-dweller Navy, Bucknell remains the favorite to win the Patriot League. The Patriot League Tournament—like many of the smaller conference tournaments around the country—has its championship game located at the highest remaining seed. Playing in the friendly confines of Sojka Pavilion has treated the Bison quite well over the past two seasons as they are a combined 26-3 there. The last road team to win the PLT was, ironically enough, Bucknell back in the 2004-05 season in Worcester against Holy Cross. Home court does have its perks, and Bucknell can rest easy knowing that if they take care of business all three tournament games will be played in Lewisburg. Semantics and seeding aside though, it also doesn’t hurt that Bucknell has far and away the league’s best big man in Mike Muscala. Steady guard Cameron Ayers, sharpshooter Bryson Johnson, and a lunch pail kind of player in Joe Willman make the Bison a formidable group. More on the Muscala—or, as the Bison faithful like to call him, “Moose”—later.
Dark Horse: Back in early February, the Holy Cross Crusaders looked as if they had mailed it in. Poor efforts on the defensive end, not playing as a cohesive unit, and questionable game preparation all contributed, among other things, to a 3-5 start in league play. After being on the wrong end of a 75-51 drubbing at Lehigh, something clearly happened inside the Holy Cross locker room and during practice sessions; the Crusaders’ six game winning streak, their longest since the beginning of the 2007-08 season, did not happen by chance. While the offense is still inconsistent and stalls during inopportune times, the defense has spearheaded the late charge. During the first eight games of league play, Holy Cross gave up an average of 69 points per game. Since then, they are giving up a remarkable 54.7 points. All that being said, the Crusaders have greatly struggled on the road (4-11) and the road to the Patriot League Championship in all likelihood runs through either Bucknell or Lehigh. A tall task for the Crusaders no doubt, but they are peaking at the right time.
Who’s Hot: Hide the women and children, C.J. McCollum is playing his best basketball of the season and the vaunted Lehigh offense is clicking on all cylinders as the Mountain Hawks enter the tournament. Over the course of their last 10 games—nine of them wins—McCollum is averaging 23.4 points. His lowest output during this run was 15 points against Bucknell, but his final three points of this contest came just before the buzzer as he connected on a triple from the top of the key to propel Lehigh to a comeback victory.
Some may call McCollum cocky and arrogant—especially in the preceding clip as he stares down the Bucknell student section—but his play certainly backs it up.
Player to Watch: All eyes will be on C.J. McCollum, but it behooves you to overlook the Patriot League’s best forward in several year: Mike Muscala. The junior from Minnesota is one of the most efficient players on the offensive end you will see this year as he shoots better than 50% from the field and close to 90% from the charity stripe—not too shabby for a 6’11 guy. On the defensive end, Muscala is on the verge of cracking the Top 10 in the Patriot League for blocks all time. What goes unnoticed is how intelligent he is on the floor with his exceptional positioning and court awareness. Muscala has not fouled out of a game this season, and has only picked up four fouls once. Staying out of foul trouble has enabled him to earn 30 minutes a night and really increased his production. While much of the talk from the media and those outside of Patriot League circles will be of McCollum, don’t forget the “Moose” at Bucknell.
Game to Watch: Lafayette @ Holy Cross—After having their season ended by Lafayette the past two years, Holy Cross will look to return the favor this time around. In the regular season, the teams split the season series with each team winning on the opponent’s home floor. The last time the teams met in Worcester, Holy Cross jumped out to a 24-14 halftime lead only to be outscored by 21 points in the second half. Lafayette will be at a major disadvantage in the third meeting though as Second-Team All-League performer Tony Johnson is out for the rest of the year with an ankle injury.
How’d They Fare: Bucknell was trounced by eventual National Champions Connecticut 81-52. It may be hard to believe, but this score doesn’t reflect how lopsided the game actually was. Bucknell looked to push the tempo and played exclusively man-to-man throughout the game, but simply did not have the horses that Connecticut had. Sometimes, the brains can outplay the talent, but very rarely are they able to outrun them.
A Look Back
How’d I Do? – Prior to the season beginning, here is how I saw things shaking out (preseason on the left, final standings on the right):
Bucknell (11-3) 1. Bucknell (12-2)
Lehigh (9-5) 2. Lehigh (11-3)
Holy Cross (7-7) 3. American (10-4)
Colgate (7-7) 4. Holy Cross (9-5)
American (6-8) 5. Lafayette (7-7)
Navy (6-8) 6. Army (5-9)
Lafayette (6-8) 7. Colgate (2-12)
Army (4-10) 8. Navy (0-14)
I was right on the mark in predicting that Bucknell and Lehigh would finish one/two, and that Holy Cross would finish in the top four, but believed in Colgate and Navy more than I should have and undersold American. (Just as an aside, Jeff Jones has never finished in the bottom four of the Patriot League and American has advanced to the semifinals in every year they have been in the league. Clearly, I have learned to no longer bet against coach Jones.)
As for Colgate, the Raiders performed up to many expectations in the non-conference, but struggled in the Patriot League against all teams not named Navy. Given that the Raiders are a senior laden team who finished last season going 6-8 down the stretch, I believed Matt Langel would have that moderate success carry over—it did not. Although, it should be known that their star forward Yaw Gyawu has been hindered by injuries for much of the year—Gyawu was pegged as a member of my All-League Team in the preseason.
All-League Team(statistics from conference games only)
G Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette (7.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 50.0 3PT%)
G Maxwell Lenox, Army (7.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.4 SPG)
F Worth Smith, Navy (6.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG)
F Dan Trist, Lafayette (6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG)
Player of the Year: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh—This has been a two player race for much of the season, even though American fans would like to think that Charles Hinkle was in the discussion, but, in the end, the Player of the Year debate was going to come between C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala. Arguments can easily be made for both players. Each is the focal point of their team and have experienced a good deal of success as individual players. However, it was McCollum’s dominance and ability to take over a game makes him the Player of the Year. Not a shot against Muscala at all, but it is easier for a 6’3 guard to take over a basketball game than a 6’11 forward. McCollum ranks sixth nationally in points per game at 21.7, but is more than just a scorer—the rest of his stat line reflects that. By many accounts, he has become more of a complete player, but certainly understands when he needs to carry Lehigh.
Coach of the Year: Jeff Jones, American—Losing virtually his entire frontcourt with Vlad Moldoveanu graduating and Stephen Lumpkins pursuing a career in baseball, Jeff Jones’ outlook for the year was bleak. Relying on transfers who had only been with the program for a year and two forwards who seldom saw the floor a year before, Jones had his work cut out for him. Fortunately for him, Charles Hinkle—one of the transfers from Vanderbilt—emerged early in the season as a reliable scorer, and sophomore Tony Wroblicky proved to be a serviceable big man. Even still, Jones turned a team that seemed destined for the middle-of-the-pack into a title contender.
Rookie of the Year: Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette—The 6’7 guard from Minnesota is a pure shooter in every sense of the word, and fits perfectly into Fran O’Hanlon’s jump shot friendly offense. Although Hinrichs has the height that would suggest he is a forward in the Patriot League, he lacks the bulk and size to work in the paint, and with a shot like his it would be foolish to put him down there. Hinrichs shot an impressive 50% from three, 54.8% from the field, and averaged 7.4 points all in Patriot League play. With Ryan Willen and Jim Mower graduating, Hinrichs will become a primary option next year for Lafayette.
Defensive Player of the Year: Bryan Cohen, Bucknell—Rather than bore you with analysis on Cohen’s ability to shut down an opponent’s top scoring threat, I’ll let the following numbers do the talking:
Lehigh, American, and Holy Cross were three of the top four teams in the Patriot League. Against these teams, Cohen has done a remarkable job limiting the scoring production of C.J. McCollum, Charles Hinkle, and Devin Brown.
Average points against all PL teams other than Bucknell
Average points scored against Bucknell
One can attribute the disparity in scoring to a poor shooting night, but such a pattern suggests that Cohen is a significant part of the lower scoring output. Dave Paulsen has a real luxury in matching him up with the opposition’s top scorer and knowing life will be made very difficult for him. Cohen was recently tabbed as the Patriot League’s Defensive Player of the Year; this is the third time he has received the honor. I’d like to see any other player garner such an award three times in their career—quite the feat.
6th Man of the Year: Mike Cavataio, Holy Cross—It has been quite the journey for Holy Cross senior swingman Mike Cavataio, just take a gander at his lengthy college basketball timeline:
2007-08: Played under Norm Roberts at St. John’s where he saw six minutes of action per game and made one start during Big East play against Marquette
2008-09: Transferred to Holy Cross to play under Ralph Willard, but had to sit out the entire season
2009-10: In his first season of eligibility, he played under first year coach Sean Kearney and averaged 11.3 points in 31 games
2010-11: After Sean Kearney was fired after one year, he played under Milan Brown and averaged 8.9 points in 29 games
2011-12: He was injured in the first game of the season against the College of Charleston and missed every game in the non-conference. He returned January 7th against Lehigh
Suffice it to say, this is not how Mike Cavataio drew up his college basketball career. Coming out of St. Francis Prep in New York, Cavataio had aspirations of lighting up Madison Square Garden playing for St. John’s. He soon realized that he could earn more minutes and play a significant role at a smaller school, and Holy Cross seemed like the perfect fit—a successful mid-major program under the tutelage of Ralph Willard. After sitting out a year, experiencing five different coaches between high school and college ball, and suffering through an injury—something he is accustomed to after breaking the same ankle twice during his sophomore year in high school—Cavataio has developed into the prototypical sixth man. He provides an instant spark off the bench with his defense—the Crusaders best on-ball defender—and mid-range and slashing ability on offense. Although he averages a mere 5.4 points, many of his contributions do not show up in the box score, something that his teammates and keen observes would tell you.
Most Improved Player: Charles Hinkle, American—Whatever Charles Hinkle did during the summer months and offseason, it worked. After averaging 11.6 points last year, many assumed that Troy Brewer would have to carry the load this season. And Brewer has been no slouch averaging 12 points a night, but the emergence of Hinkle as the go-to guy has alleviated the pressure Brewer and others may have felt. In his first three seasons, Hinkle rarely shot from behind the arc, and when he did he shot just 25%. This year, he is almost 20 percentage points better at 43.4%. His scoring average by year: 2.0, 1.4, 4.4, 18.8. A 14.4 point increase from his junior to senior season—unheard of. Jones told the Washington Post earlier this month: “We knew he was a good player, we knew he could help us. How much and in what role, that was up in the air. He was playing a role of working hard, good defense, as opposed to what he does best: shooting the ball in the basket.” I’d say that Hinkle has found is role just fine for Jeff Jones.
Game of the Year: Lehigh 56 Bucknell 53 (February 16th at Sojka Pavilion)—It was far from the prettiest game: more turnovers than assists, a combined 9-39 shooting from behind the arc, both teams shooting below 37%, and neither team cracking the 60 point mark, but the Lehigh-Bucknell tilt in Lewisburg was a dandy. In what may be a prelude to the championship game, a C.J. McCollum three pointer—this shot alone may have earned him the Patriot League Player of the Year award—won the game for Lehigh and ended Bucknell’s Patriot League winning streak at an impressive 20 games.
Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and Southern Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.
Belmont returns as the top seed for the third time in five years. As the top seed, the Bruins won the title in both 2008 and 2011.
Belmont’s two wins as the top seed account for the only two times in the last 10 A-Sun Tournaments that the top seed has emerged as the victor.
Belmont Can Break A Tie With UCF For The Most A-Sun Tournament Titles (AP)
Belmont can break a tie with UCF for the most A-Sun Tournament titles. The Bruins and Golden Knights each own four titles. The Golden Knights won their fourth title in 2005, their last year in the A-Sun. This year is Belmont’s last in the conference.
Belmont can join Louisiana-Monroe (1982), Georgia Southern (1992), College of Charleston (1998) and UCF (2005) as schools to win the A-Sun title in their last year in the league.
For the third year in a row, Mercer and the University Center will serve as the tournament host. The Bears will look to end an 11-year drought for the host winning on its home floor. Georgia State (2001) was the last host to win the title. From 1979 to 2001, 11 of the 22 A-Sun Championships went to the host school.
Mercer will hope the trend of #2 seeds winning the A-Sun Championship continues. Five of the last eight A-Sun Championships have been won by the #2 seed.
Mercer’s Langston Hall paces the Bears in scoring at 11.3 points per game. No A-Sun champion since 1997 has featured a leading scorer averaging fewer than 12.2 points per game.
In Belmont (24 wins), Mercer (21 wins) and USC Upstate (20 wins), this year’s A-Sun Championship is the first to feature three 20-win teams since 2003-04.
Langston Hall and Mercer Will Hope The Trend Of #2 Seeds Winning The A-Sun Championship Continues (Mercer Athletics)
USC Upstate’s breakthrough season resulted in Torrey Craig earning the league’s Player of the Year award. He will have to buck the trend of Players of the Year leading his team to the title. Only one A-Sun Player of the Year has led his team to A-Sun Tournament title since 2000 – Georgia State’s Shernard Long (2001).
Both USC Upstate and FGCU will be making their first appearance in the A-Sun Tournament. None of the current A-Sun school won the tournament in its first appearance and only three (Kennesaw State, Mercer and Stetson) even won a game in its first appearance.
ETSU owns the longest active streak of semifinal appearances (five). The Buccaneers last failed to make the A-Sun’s final four in 2006. Mercer (2010-2011) is the only other school with a streak greater than one.
Buoyed by his 46-point effort on Feb. 20, North Florida’s Parker Smith finished the conference’s top scorer in February. He averaged 21.3 points and 4.9 3’s in seven games.
Since the dismissal of Jordan Burgason in early February, new players have emerged for Lipscomb. Junior Deonte Alexander upped his scoring from 7.6 per game to 12.5 per game. Freshman Malcolm Smith increased his scoring from 9.3 points per game to 12.2 in his final six games.
After five straight years as a top-3 seed, Jacksonville was able to secure its sixth-straight appearance only after Stetson lost on the final day of the regular season. The Dolphins have never beaten a higher seed in 12 prior appearances.
Team Tournament Capsules
#1 Belmont: Championship Appearances: 11; Record 15-6; Best Finish: Champion – 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011; Last Season: Champion
#2 Mercer: Championship Appearances: 28; Record 23-25; Best Finish: Champion – 1981, 1985; Last Season: L, Semifinals
#3 USC Upstate: First Appearance
#4 ETSU: Championship Appearances: 7; Record 10-4; Best Finish: Champion – 2009, 2010; Last Season: L, Semifinals
#5 North Florida: Championship Appearances: 3; Record 2-2; Best Finish: Runner-up – 2011; Last Season: L, Final
#6 FGCU: First Appearance
#7 Lipscomb: Championship Appearances: 8; Record 4-7; Best Finish: Runner-up – 2006; Last Season: L, Quarterfinals
#8 Jacksonville: Championship Appearances: 13; Record 5-12; Best Finish: Runner-up – 2008, 2009; Last Season: L, Quarterfinals
What Is The Best Matchup Of The Opening Round? It Could Very Well Be Torrey Craig and USC Upstate Against FGCU
Tournament Schedule (All games played at University Center, Macon, GA)
Wednesday, February 29, 2:30 ET: #1 Belmont vs #8 Jacksonville (ESPN3); Season Results: Jan. 4 (Belmont 75, at Jacksonville 63), Jan. 28 (at Belmont 85, Jacksonville 71); Series Record: Belmont, 15-6; Tournament Series Belmont, 1-0; #1 vs #8: 20-5
Wednesday, February 29, 8:30 ET: #2 Mercer vs #7 Lipscomb (ESPN3); Season Results: Dec. 1 (Mercer 79, at Lipscomb 72), Feb. 23 (at Mercer 63, Lipscomb 54); Series Record: Lipscomb, 12-8; Tournament Series Lipscomb, 2-1; #2 vs #7: 24-4
Thursday, March 1, 2:30 ET: #4 ETSU vs #5 North Florida (ESPN3); Season Results: Jan. 16 (ETSU 64, at North Florida 63), Feb. 11(at ETSU 65, North Florida 50); Series Record: Lipscomb, 12-8; Tournament Series Lipscomb, 2-1; #5 vs #4: 16-14
Thursday, March 1, 8:30 ET: #3 USC Upstate vs #6 FGCU (ESPN3); Season Results: Dec. 19 (USC Upstate 80, at FGCU 75), Feb. 23 (at USC Upstate 87, FGCU 74); Series Record: ETSU, 13-1; Tournament Series: North Florida 1-0; #3 vs #6: 19-11
Friday, March 2, 6:00 ET: #1/#8 Winner vs #4/#5Winner (ESPN3)
Friday, March 2, 8:30 ET: #2/#7 Winner vs #3/#6 Winner (ESPN3)
Saturday, March 3, 7:00 ET: Semifinal Winners (ESPN2)
Unbelievably, even though the calendar reads February 27 and March is still a full 60 hours away, Championship Fortnight begins tonight in Lexington, Virginia, and High Point, North Carolina. The Big South Tournament opening round tips off this evening with two games hosted at VMI and High Point versus Radford and Gardner-Webb, respectively. Tomorrow night the Horizon League Tournament will tip off with games at Butler, Detroit, Youngstown State, and Milwaukee. In all, 16 different conferences will begin their tournaments this week, but only four will crown their champions by next Sunday — the Big South, the OVC, the Atlantic Sun, and the Missouri Valley. The full schedule of each round through next Sunday is below.
If you buy into the theory that (almost) every team has a shot to win it all through its conference tournament’s automatic bid, over the next 14 days we’ll whittle down roughly 321 contenders to the ballyhooed 31 AQs along with the chosen 37 at-larges. Even if you don’t care about that, it’s still worth noting that we start elimination-style, win-or-g0-home basketball as of tonight. No matter the month, that’s always a good thing.