Conference Tourney Primers: West Coast

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 6th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

West Coast Tournament

Dates: March 6-7, 9-10

Site: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, NV)

wccWhat to expect: Gonzaga looked well on its way to in-conference perfection and possibly a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before BYU spoiled things last Saturday. That should only make the Bulldogs angry this weekend in Las Vegas. Expect the league champs to reach their 18th-straight West Coast Conference title game – where they will probably meet the Cougars for a third time – and make a statement heading into Selection Sunday. As for that BYU team… with numerous outlets projecting it among the ‘last four in’ and ‘last four out’, the Cougars can ill afford to stumble prior to the championship game. Their postseason hopes could come down to a semifinal tilt with Saint Mary’s on Monday – not an easy task, considering the teams’ regular season split.

Favorite: Gonzaga. The Zags went 29-2 during the regular season, rank among the top 10 nationally by most polls and metrics, and largely breezed through their WCC schedule. On a neutral floor, this is a no-brainer.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Southern

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 6th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Southern Tournament

Dates: March 6-9

Site: U.S. Cellular Center (Asheville, NC)

socon

What to expect: Wofford has the conference’s best player – guard Karl Cochran – and lost just twice in league play, but watch out for Chattanooga. The Mocs exploited the Terriers’ lack of interior size in their first two meetings, including a 10-point road victory in February. If those two meet up in the title game, the regular season champs could have their hands full. Mercer is capable of emerging from the bottom half of the bracket and East Tennessee State can be dangerous if outside shots are falling (the Bucs attempt 25 three-pointers per game), but it’s hard to envision anyone besides Wofford or Chattanooga winning this event.

Favorite: Wofford. With Davidson no longer around, Wofford is in excellent position to reach its third NCAA Tournament since 2011 and establish itself as the conference’s premier program (if it hasn’t already). This year’s team – while undersized – locks down defensively and features good balance, with five players averaging between 7.7 and 15.0 points per game. In their upset victory at North Carolina State in December, the Terriers held the Wolfpack (a top-40 offense) to just 54 points on 0.90 points per possession.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Colonial

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 6th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

CAA Tournament

Dates: March 6-9

Site: Royal Farms Arena (Baltimore, MD)

(cbssports.com)

(cbssports.com)

What to expect: Could this be William & Mary’s year? The Tribe, one of only five original Division I programs to never make the NCAA Tournament, heads to Baltimore with the Colonial’s top seed and most dangerous offensive attack. Senior Marcus Thornton and his sharpshooting teammates boast the 5th-best effective field goal percentage in college hoops and 30th-most efficient offense. But they also give up a lot of points and the separation between the Tribe and their three co-champs – UNC-Wilmington, Northeastern and James Madison – seems minimal. To complicate matters further, all four teams lost one of their final two regular season games, so it’s hard to attribute ‘momentum’ to any one contender. After a season defined by parity, expect a tournament defined by parity. This one is up for grabs.

Favorite: William & Mary. This team is not balanced – its defense can be downright awful at times – but when everything is clicking offensively, William & Mary is hard to stop. Not only is Thornton the most dynamic scorer in the conference (19.4 PPG), but his frontcourt running-mate, 6’5” Terry Tarpey, might be one of the most underrated forwards in America. The junior leads his team in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Plus, the Tribe will avoid facing Northeastern, Delaware and Drexel – teams which accounted for two-thirds of its CAA losses – until the title game (if then).

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Conference Tourney Primers: Missouri Valley

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 5th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Missouri Valley Tournament

Dates: March 5-8

Site: Scottrade Center (St. Louis, MO)

mvccbs

(cbssports.com)

What to expect: Northern Iowa versus Wichita State: Round Three. After they split a pair of games in the regular season, Arch Madness now serves as the backdrop for what should be an epic title game between the Missouri Valley’s two most dominant teams. Any other match-up would be a surprise. The Shockers probably have the slight edge because of their considerable experience in pressure-packed, neutral-court games, but look for both clubs to receive single-digit seeds on Selection Sunday. Evansville is the only other conference opponent to beat one of them – narrowly edging the Panthers on New Year’s Day – while the advanced metrics like Illinois State as the third-best team. Still, neither the Aces nor the Redbirds are likely to threaten here.

Favorite: Wichita State. Could go either way here considering the regular season split, but let’s call Wichita State the favorite since it’s been in this position before.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Metro Atlantic

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 5th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

MAAC Tournament

Dates: March 5, 7-9

Site: Times Union Center (Albany, NY)

maac

What to expect: Iona will be heavy favorites in the MAAC Tournament this week after going 24-7 and controlling the regular season from start to finish. The uptempo Gaels are an exceptionally efficient offensive unit, led by one of the country’s best scoring duos – guard A.J. English and big man David Laury – who account for nearly 40 points per game. But beware: Monmouth, Canisius and crosstown rival Manhattan each gave Iona trouble this winter and the top seed has not won the event since 2010. Rider, the second-place finisher, would be more of a threat if seven-footer Matt Lopez hadn’t torn his ACL in late February. Count on the regular season champs to clinch another NCAA Tournament appearance – its third since 2011 – but don’t expect a cakewalk.

Favorite: Iona. Along with its stellar inside-out duo, Iona boasts the conference’s premier freshman in 5’10” guard Schadrac Casimir. His shooting prowess (44% 3FG on 203 attempts) combined with English, Laury, wing Isaiah Williams (45% 3FG) and athletic transfer Kelvin Amayo makes the Gaels incredibly difficult to stop.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

Team of the Week

Boise State – I just wrote a couple thousand words about the Broncos, so go read that piece if you want any longwinded explanations of why they’re the obvious pick here. In breaking San Diego State’s 29-game home winning streak, the Broncos put themselves in the driver’s seat for the conference championship and the #1 seed in the conference tournament. There was no other reasonable option.

Those Around The Boise State Basketball Program Have Plenty of Reason To Smile (Matt Cilley, AP Photo)

Those Around The Boise State Basketball Program Have Plenty of Reason To Smile. (Matt Cilley, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – I thought for a second about getting creative and going with Marvelle Harris, and Utah State put together a couple good wins. But let’s not be crazy here. While Marks’ performance against San Diego State was a little rugged offensively, that’s to be expected against such a fearsome defense. And still, check out these numbers for the week: 24.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, and a 50% eFG. All told, this week was about Marks getting his team over the hump and into position to win a conference title. Along the way, he probably sewed up the Player of the Year award, although odds are good that wasn’t his main goal.

 

Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – I thought for a second about getting creative and going with Marvelle Harris. Utah State put together a couple good wins and I thought about going with an Aggie, but picking one meant ignoring the others. And really, let’s not be crazy here. While Marks’ performance against San Diego State was a little rugged offensively, such is to be expected against such a fearsome defense. And still, for the week, check out these numbers: 24 PPG, 5 RPG, 3 APG, 2 SPG, and a 50 eFG%. All told, this week was about Marks getting his team over the hump and into position to win a conference title. Along the way, he probably sewed up the Player of the Year. But odds are good, that wasn’t his main goal.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Ohio Valley

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Ohio Valley Tournament

Dates: March 4-7

Site: Nashville Memorial Auditorium (Nashville, TN)

ovc

What to expect: What do Kentucky and Murray State have in common other than inhabiting the Bluegrass State? The answer is that they own the nation’s two longest active winning streaks. The Racers reeled off 24 straight victories to end the season and breezed through their Ohio Valley schedule – a run of dominance that should continue in Nashville. Still, Eastern Kentucky took them to overtime in January and Belmont gets the benefit of playing in its own backyard, so nothing is guaranteed. Even the #8 seed, Southeast Missouri State, came close to beating the champs a few weeks ago. Both the Racers and Colonels receive byes to semifinals, so look for Jeff Neubauer’s club – last season’s NCAA Tournament representative – to emerge if Murray State falters. Third-seeded Belmont could also be a factor because, well, it’s Belmont.

Favorite: Murray State. The Racers are equipped with the conference’s best backcourt player (Cameron Payne) and frontcourt player (Jarvis Williams); their offense ranks 36th nationally in adjusted efficiency; and they have not lost since way back on November 29. They are the team to beat.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Big South

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Big South Tournament

Dates: March 4, 6-8

Site: HTC Center (Conway, SC)

bigsouth

What to expect: Charleston Southern and High Point claimed the top two seeds but positioning probably won’t matter all that much this week. As recently as early February, seven of the Big South’s 11 teams were tied for first place, each showing an ability to defeat (and be defeated by) any other team in the conference. In fact, only once since 2010 has the top overall seed in this tournament actually reached the NCAA Tournament – a testament to the league’s remarkable parity. Both the Bucs and Panthers, along with Winthrop, Radford, Coastal Carolina and perhaps others are good enough to claim the automatic bid. Count on several close games, a few sizable comebacks and maybe even a buzzer-beater, but don’t count on any one team.

Favorite: High Point. High Point is the Big South’s highest-rated team in KenPom and has its best and most athletic player in 6’8’’ forward John Brown. Before losing in triple-overtime at Charleston Southern on Saturday, the Panthers were also the league’s hottest team, having won five games in a row.

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Conference Tourney Primers: America East

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

America East Tournament

Dates: March 4, 8, 14

Site: Campus sites (higher-seeded teams host)

ameast

What to expect: Albany looks to go dancing for a third straight year after pulling off conference tournament upsets in back-to-back seasons. The only difference this time around is that the Great Danes enter as the top seed, while Vermont and Stony Brook – favorites of seasons past – attempt to play spoiler. The Catamounts are the America East’s best defensive unit and the Seawolves boast its most dominant player, 6’8’’ forward Jameel Warney. Both teams are good enough to threaten for the title. Still, Albany went 8-1 against league opponents in SEFCU Arena this season and won’t have to leave its friendly confines during this event. The regular season champs are in a good spot.

Favorite: Albany. After hosting the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds in both 2013 and 2014 – and taking full advantage – the Great Danes find themselves in similar position this year despite the conference’s format change. The road to Selection Sunday likely travels through Albany, one way or another. That leg-up, along with their veteran head coach and Australian inside-out duo (big man Sam Rowley and guard Peter Hooley) that combines for 28.0 PPG, is enough to make them favorites.

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Conference Tourney Primers: NEC

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

NEC Tournament

Dates: March 4, 7, 10

Site: Campus sites (higher-seeded teams host)

nec

What to expect: St. Francis-Brooklyn is the team to beat after winning nine of its last 10 games and clinching the NEC title with ease. The Terriers boast the league’s best home record and its most dominant player, double-double machine Jalen Cannon. But they don’t exactly come in ‘hot,’ either, fresh off losing to Bryant on Saturday and squeaking by LIU-Brooklyn two days before that. Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s also gave them problems this season, and the conference tournament’s top seed has not advanced to the NCAA Tournament since 2012. If St. Francis-Brooklyn stumbles, there are probably five different teams capable of winning this event, the Colonials best among them.

Favorite: St. Francis-Brooklyn. Since the dawn of KenPom rankings, there has never been a larger chasm between the NEC’s best and second-best teams; St. Francis-Brooklyn ranks 145th while Robert Morris comes in at 204th. Throw in home court advantage and the conference’s top player and you understand why the Terriers are the favorites.

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Boise State’s Big Win Proves This Team Is Different

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 3rd, 2015

It’s Saturday night, 30 minutes after Boise State put the finishing touches on a road win at San Diego State, breaking the Aztecs’ 29-game home winning streak. Broncos’ head coach Leon Rice is in the tunnel at Viejas Arena talking about his team’s accomplishments for the day, the month, the season. And he’s looking around at the empty red seats in Viejas, his face a mixture of amazement and accomplishment. “My guys are deserving of respect,” said Rice. “They’ve won, what, 12 of their last 13 games now? In this league, that’s tough to do because of the places you have to go. Nobody beats these guys [San Diego State] here. What was it, 29 games in a row here? I mean, nobody wins here.”

Derrick Marks and Kevin Allen Celebrate The Broncos Win At San Diego State (Lenny Ignelzi, AP Photo)

Derrick Marks and Kevin Allen Celebrate The Broncos Win At San Diego State (Lenny Ignelzi, AP Photo)

And yet, that’s exactly what the Broncos did, even after getting off to a dreadfully slow start, scoring just eight points on their first 19 possessions (13:30 game time). Part of the slow start could certainly be chalked up to the length, athleticism, activity and intelligence of the San Diego State defense, but you can bet the intimidation factor in playing in Viejas was also a part of it. After a pregame routine featuring The Show professing its belief that its team would win; after lineup introductions that would make many NBA teams blush; after the Aztecs came out with the swagger of having played in and won countless meaningful Mountain West games in this very venue; a little nervousness was expected, especially for a team without that same prior history of success. But this Broncos team has proven themselves to be very different from their predecessors. “It’s funny, this is a team of new accomplishments,” Rice bragged, while making sure to give full credit to his players and his staff. “I mean, before this year, we’d never won at New Mexico; we’d never won at Utah State. We’d never won here. And I know how tough this place is. We have a ton of respect for this team and these fans. I mean, I come out before the game and get goosebumps looking around this place. For me to come in here and see this place and see what Coach Fisher has done here, it’s pretty fantastic. And we have so much respect for San Diego State, the win here means a lot to us.”

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Conference Tourney Primers: Horizon League

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way – starting with tonight’s action.

Horizon League Tournament

Dates: March 3, 6, 7, 10

Site: First round is at campus sites; quarterfinals and semifinals are at Athletics Recreation Center (Valparaiso, IN); championship is at a campus site (seeded team hosts)

horizonleague

What to expect: Valparaiso came up big at Cleveland State last Friday, clinching the outright conference title and earning the right to play in its own gym. That’s good news for the Crusaders, which rolled to a 26-5 record and went undefeated at home in conference play. The bad news? There are several strong challengers – Green Bay, Cleveland State and Oakland – each good enough to make a run at Bryce Drew’s club, even on the road. The senior-laden Phoenix, led by Keifer Sykes, will be an especially tough out.

Favorite: Valparaiso. The Crusaders are an exceptional defensive unit, only once surrendering more than a point per possession at home during league play. They boast the 14th-best interior defense in college hoops, thanks largely to the presence of 6’10” center Vashil Fernandez – the conference’s best shot-blocker. And if Sykes is the Horizon League’s best overall player, then forward Alec Peters (16.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG) can’t be far behind. Throw in home court advantage and you see why Valparaiso is the team to beat.

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