Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2013 Conference Tournament Preview Part 1

Conference tournament play begins this week and teams will begin their quest to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. Of the leagues that start tournament play, only a few have teams with a chance of an At-Large bid if they fail to win their conference tournament. This means it is do or die time fore pretty much every team. There's nothing more exciting than two desperate teams playing with their season on the line.

America East

March 8-10, 16
Albany, NY

Top Seeds: Stony Brook, Vermont

Sleeper: Albany

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: The America East Tournament has been won by the #2 seed each of the last 3 years.

Preview: Stony Brook won the league by 3 games over Vermont and Boston (who is ineligible for postseason play). This is the third time in the last four seasons that Stony Brook has won the America East regular season title, but the program has never reached the NCAA Tournament since moving up to Division 1 in 1999. The Sea Wolves had the best offense and best defense in the America East and are riding a league-best 6-game winning streak into the tournament. Stony Brook's only losses were on the road to Vermont and Hartford and all signs point to them returning to the America East title game for the third straight year.

Atlantic Sun

March 6-9
Macon, GA

Top Seeds: Mercer, Florida Gulf Coast

Sleeper: Stetson

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: The #1 seed has won the tournament 3 of the last 5 years. The last 7 tournaments have either been won by Belmont (now in the Ohio Valley Conference) or East Tennessee St. Aside from ETSU's wins in 2009 & 2010, no current member of the conference has won the A-Sun Tournament since 1985.

Preview: The Atlantic Sun scored some early-season victories over major conference opponents this season. Regular Season Champion Mercer beat both Florida State and Alabama while Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami. Mercer had the best defense in the conference, holding teams to just 57.4 points per game while Florida Gulf Coast had the best offense, averaging 72.7 points per game. South Carolina Upstate boasts the leading scorer and second leading rebounder in the conference, but was 0-6 against the top 3 teams in the league. Stetson is my sleeper pick because their nickname is the Hatters and their logo is a hat and that's awesome.

Big South

March 5, 7, 9, 10
Conway, SC

Top Seeds: Charleston Southern, High Point

Sleeper: Gardner-Webb

Tournament Format: 12 teams, top 2 in each division receive byes, teams matched up across divisions

Recent History: The Big South Champion has received a #16-seed each of the last 4 years. UNC-Asheville is the two-time defending champion.

Preview: The Big South is headed for another 16-seed this season as it had one of the worst non-conference performances of any league in the nation. Every team in the conference had a losing record in non-conference play except for Gardner-Webb who went 6-6. Conference play was dominated by the South Division, which ended the season with 4 teams with winning records in conference play where the North Division only had one. Gardner-Webb is the hottest team in the conference, riding a 7-game winning streak into the tournament and has two overtime victories over regular season champion Charleston Southern. VMI is once again the highest-scoring team in the conference and 11th in the nation at 78.2 points per game, but the Keydets have the second-worst defense in the league. VMI forward Stan Okoye is 9th in the nation in scoring, averaging 21.5 points per game.


March 9-11
Richmond, VA

Top Seeds: Northeastern, Delaware

Sleeper: George Mason

Tournament Format: 7 teams, top seed gets 1st round bye

Recent History: The CAA tournament has been won by one of the top 3 seeds each of the last 5 years.

Preview: This year's CAA Tournament has lost some of its luster from previous seasons. With the departure of VCU and four of the remaining 11 schools being ineligible for postseason play, only 7 schools will compete in the conference tournament. Northeastern was the regular season champ after reeling off a 13-1 start in conference play, but the Huskies went just 2-3 in their last 5 games. Delaware is the hottest team in the league, going 7-1 down the stretch. The Blue Hens also boast the league's leading scorer in guard Devon Saddler (20.2 PPG, 15th in nation) and second-leading rebounder in forward Jamelle Hagins (10.5 RPG, 9th in nation).


March 5, 8, 9, 12
Highest Seed Hosts Game

Top Seeds: Valparaiso, Detroit

Sleeper: Illinois-Chicago

Tournament Format: 9 teams, double-bye for top 2 seeds, bye for #3 seed

Recent History: The tournament has been won by a team not receiving the double-bye twice in the last 4 years.

Preview: Wright St led the league for much of the season but lost 3 of their final 5 games and faded to 3rd in the conference. Detroit won the tournament last year behind the scoring prowess of Ray McCallum. McCallum is 22nd in the nation in scoring this season, averaging 19.2 per game while dishing out 4.7 assists per game and leading Detroit's offense to 78.9 PPG, 5th highest in the nation. Valpo has the best defense in the league, giving up just 62.3 points per game. Detroit and Valpo both enter the Horizon Tournament in the RPI Top 70 but neither has the resume to be an At-Large team.


No Tournament

Preview: Harvard and Princeton have been battling for the top spot in the league over the last three seasons. in 2011 the two teams finished the regular season tied for first and played in a one-game playoff to decide who earned the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Princeton edged Harvard on a last-second shot. In 2012 Harvard clung to a one-game lead over the final weekend to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Last weekend, Harvard had an opportunity to clinch the 2013 league title with a sweep of Princeton and Penn, but the Crimson lost both games and fell a game behind Princeton in the standings. If the Tigers win out this week, they will return to the NCAA Tournament.


March 7-11
Springfield, MA

Top Seeds: Niagara, Rider

Sleeper: Iona

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games

Recent History: Loyola (MD) is the defending champion. The #1 seed has not won the MAAC Tournament since 2010.

Preview: Iona received an At-Large bid last season after being knocked off early in the MAAC Tournament. There will be no such At-Large this year for the MAAC, but Iona remains a dangerous team led by Lamont Jones whose 23.2 points per game is 3rd in the nation. Iona has the 3rd highest scoring offense in the nation but the worst defense in the league, which was the primary cause of the Gaels dropping 6 games between January 31 and February 28. Iona lost those 6 games by a total of 11 points, and remains a dangerous team if they can find a way to stop anyone on defense. Niagara was the regular season champion and boasts a balanced lineup with 3 players averaging in double figures (two of them averaging over 17 PPG). Rider is the hottest team in the league, winning their last 5 games to propel them into the #2 seed in the tournament.

Missouri Valley

March 7-10
St Louis, MO

Top Seeds: Creighton, Wichita St

Sleeper: Anyone

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games

Recent History: Arch Madness has been won by one of the top 3 seeds each of the last 5 years. The MVC Champion has received a single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament in 3 of the last 5 years.

Preview: The Missouri Valley Tournament, commonly known as Arch Madness, has been just that in recent years. This season promises to be more of the same. Creighton and Wichita State have been the top two teams in the conference all year, but it is entirely possible that someone else steals the show. Every team in the conference except Bradley has scored a win over Creighton or Wichita St this season. Creighton is led by Doug McDermott, the second-leading scorer in the nation (23.4 PPG).


March 6, 9, 12
Highest Seed Hosts Game

Top Seeds: Robert Morris, Wagner

Sleeper: Bryant

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: Robert Morris has played in the championship game each of the last 4 years. The NEC Champion has not been seeded higher than 15th in the NCAA Tournament in the last 5 years.

Preview: Bryant dominated the conference in the first half of conference play to the tune of a 9-2 start, but fell apart down the stretch, going just 3-4 and falling to 4th in the bracket. Bryant will meet Mt St Mary's in the first round whose season was the polar opposite: starting 4-7 in conference play then winning their last 7 games entering the tournament. The NEC Tournament is not held at a neutral site, which is a huge advantage for top-seeded Robert Morris who has not lost a home game since January 5.

Ohio Valley

March 6-9
Nashville, TN

Top Seeds: Belmont, Murray St

Sleeper: Morehead St

Tournament Format: 8 teams, top 2 get double-byes, 3 & 4 get byes

Recent History: Murray St and Morehead St have alternated titles each of the last 4 years. The OVC Champion has been seeded 13th or higher in each of the last 3 NCAA Tournaments and have won their first round games each of the last 3 years.

Preview: Belmont joined the OVC this year and ran through the tough East division, winning it by 2 games over Eastern Kentucky. The Ohio Valley is stacked with teams that can score - 6 of the 8 teams average over 70 points pre game, led by Belmont's 77.2 (16th in the nation). Murray State guard Isaiah Canaan is 8th in the nation in scoring with 21.6 PPG while Racers big man Ed Daniel is 13th in the nation in rebounding with 10.2 RPG. However, unlike last year when the Racers ran through the OVC, they have been plagued by poor free-throw shooting just 69% as a team. Belmont is a team of sharpshooters led by Ian Clark (46.2% 3P%) and Trevor Noack (45.7% 3P%). If the Bruins fail to win the OVC tournament, they do have a chance at an At-Large bid.

Patriot League

March 6, 9, 13
Highest Seed Hosts Game

Top Seeds: Bucknell, Lafayette

Sleeper: Lehigh

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: The top seed has won the Patriot League Tournament in 4 of the last 5 years.

Preview: Defending champion Lehigh took a huge hit when leading scorer CJ McCollum was lost for the season, but the Mountain Hawks battled through conference play to a 3rd place finish and remain a dangerous team that has won their last 3 games at Bucknell (including the Tournament Championship last year). Bucknell was clearly the best team in the league this year, led by senior center Mike Muscala who averages 19.1 PPG (25th in the nation) and 11 RPG (4th in the nation). Lafayette swept Lehigh this season, beat Bucknell, and carries a 5-game winning streak into the conference tournament.


March 8-11
Asheville, NC

Top Seeds: Davidson, Elon

Sleeper: Charleston

Tournament Format: 12 teams, top 4 get byes

Recent History: The SoCon Tournament has been won by one of the top 3 seeds each of the last 5 years.

Preview: Davidson is the defending champions and returned most of their team that went to the Big Dance last year. The Wildcats stormed through league play with a 17-1 record, their only loss coming on the road to Georgia Southern. Davidson is a deep team with 8 players averaging over 19 minutes per game. Only Davidson, Elon and Charleston enter the tournament with winning records overall. Elon is a scrappy team with 3 players averaging over 11 points per game. It's hard to bet against Davidson as they are a senior-led team with NCAA Tournament experience and haven't lost since mid-January.


March 9-12
Sioux Falls, SD

Top Seeds: South Dakota St, Western Illinois

Sleeper: North Dakota St

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: The Summit League has been won by one of the top two seeds each of the last five years. The Summit Champion has received a 13 or 14 seed every year during that span.

Preview: The top two teams in the Summit League are a remarkable contrast of styles. South Dakota St, the defending tournament champions, lead the league in scoring (74.2 PPG) behind Nate Wolters (4th highest scorer in the nation at 22.8 PPG). On the other hand, Western Illinois wins with stifling defense, allowing only 52.6 points per game and posted a 13-3 conference record despite having the worst offense in the league. Third-seeded North Dakota State is actually the highest-ranked team in KenPom's efficiency ratings and fourth-seeded Oakland boasts the 5th-leading scorer in the nation, Travis Bader (22 PPG). The Summit League was a 3-team race for most of the season with SDSU and Western Illinois finishing tied atop the league standings and North Dakota State just a game behind. It would be a shock to see someone outside of the top 3 win this tournament.

Sun Belt

March 8-11
Hot Springs, AR

Top Seeds: Middle Tennessee, Arkansas St, South Alabama

Sleeper: Western Kentucky

Tournament Format: 11 teams, 3 play-in games

Recent History: The Sun Belt has been upset central the last two years with the tournament champion coming out of the play-in games both times. The #1 seed has only won the tournament once in the last 5 years.

Preview: Middle Tennessee dominated league play all season to the tune of a 19-1 conference record. The Blue Raiders have won 16 straight games entering the tournament and have not lost since January 3. However, their overall resume might not be good enough to get them in the tournament if they fail to win the Sun Belt title. Middle Tennessee has the best offense (71.4 PPG) and best defense (57.4 PAPG) but if the Sun Belt has taught us anything, it's that upsets can come from anywhere. Western Kentucky is the defending champion and has won more Sun Belt titles than any team in the 36-year history of the league (8, all since 1993). Middle Tennessee has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1989.

West Coast

March 6-11
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds: Gonzaga, St Mary's

Sleeper: Santa Clara

Tournament Format: 9 teams, 8-9 play-in game, 3 & 4 seeds get bye to quarterfinals, 1 & 2 seeds get bye to semi-finals

Recent History: Gonzaga and St Mary's have dominated the tournament, winning 12 of the last 14 tournaments. San Diego in 2003 and 2008 was the only other team to win the title, beating Gonzaga both times. Gonzaga and St Mary's have played in the last 4 championship games.

Preview: Gonzaga has been one of the best teams in the nation this season, posting a perfect 16-0 record in conference play and 29-2 mark overall. The Zags are riding a 12-game winning streak and have the best offense (78.4 PPG) and best defense (60.1 PPG) in the WCC. St Mary's has beaten everyone not named Gonzaga in conference play and is fighting on the bubble-for an At-Large bid. The Gaels get a bye to the semi-finals and need just one win to put them in the championship game.

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