Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Conference Tournament Preview Part 2

Regular season play has concluded and we're heading into the thick of Championship Week. The major conferences and a handful of mid-majors hold their Conference Tournaments this week to determine the rest of the 31 automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.


March 14-17
Greensboro, NC

Top Seeds: Miami, Duke

Sleeper: NC State

Tournament Format: 12 teams, top 4 get byes

Recent History: One of the top 3 seeds has won the tournament each of the last 5 years, but the #1 seed has only won twice in that span. Duke has won 3 of the last 4 ACC Tournaments.

Preview: Miami cruised through the first half of the ACC schedule, ringing up huge victories over traditional powers Duke and North Carolina. However, the Hurricanes dropped 3 of their last 5, including losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, both of whom finished in the bottom 4 of the league. Duke has been absolutely on fire since the return of Ryan Kelly and are 18-0 this season with Kelly in the lineup. North Carolina should be in the Tournament, barring an upset in the ACC Tournament and could be in line for another shot at Duke in the semi-finals. Virginia is the enigma of the conference and is hovering right on the cut line for the Big Dance. The Cavaliers are 4-2 against the Top 50 and 7-3 against the Top 100, but just 7-6 against teams ranked 100-200 and have an additional loss to Old Dominion (RPI 316). That utterly bizzarre resume puts Virginia right on the bubble and they will need a deep run in the ACC Tournament to prove they belong in the Big Dance.

Atlantic 10

March 14-17
Brooklyn, NY

Top Seeds: 
St Louis, VCU

Sleeper: Xavier

Tournament Format: Top 12 teams qualify, top 4 get byes

Recent History: One of the top 4 seeds has won the tournament each of the last 5 years.

Preview: While newcomers Butler and VCU dominated the conversation in the Atlantic 10 this season, it was St Louis that put together a monster 11-game winning streak that lasted from the last week of January to the first week of March to seal the conference title. The Billikens are a deep team with 4 players averaging in double figures and 9 players averaging over 12 minutes per game.  VCU's havoc defense can be troublesome for any team on this stage. All things told, the A-10 could wind up with 5 or 6 teams in the NCAA Tournament. St Louis, VCU, Butler and Temple all should be in with La Salle hanging right on the bubble. Xavier and UMass have caused the top teams some troubles this season and could make a run for the automatic bid.


March 13-16
Kansas City, MO

Top Seeds: 
Kansas, Kansas St

Sleeper: Iowa St

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games

Recent History: The last 7 tournaments have been won by either Kansas or Missouri. Seven of the last nine tournaments have been won by one of the top 2 seeds.

Preview: The Jayhawks were the best team in the conference when they were on, but a 3-game losing streak in early February forced them to battle down the stretch to secure the league crown once again. Freshman guard Ben McLemore was the second-leading scorer in the conference and had a knack for knocking down clutch shots. Kansas State boasted the best defense in the conference, allowing just 60.5 PAPG. Oklahoma State boasts a trio of electric scorers in Markel Brown (15.6 PPG), Marcus Smart (15.1 PPG) and Le'Bryan Nash (14.2 PPG). The top 3 teams are in the NCAA Tournament for sure, but the next tier of teams are all fighting for their bubble lives. Oklahoma dropped onto the bubble from the "should be in" category after falling to TCU in their season finale. Iowa State was the highest scoring team in the league (and 4th highest in the nation), averaging over 80 points per game. Baylor seemed to be dead in the water before beating Kansas in the regular season finale and resurrecting their bubble hopes.

Big East

March 12-16
New York, NY

Top Seeds: 
Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette

Sleeper: Villanova

Tournament Format: 14 teams, top 4 get bye to Quarter-Finals, 2 play-in games

Recent History: A team getting the "double-bye" to the Quarter-Finals has only won the tournament twice in the last 5 years. Three of the last five champions have been seeded 7th or lower.

Preview: The theme song for this tournament should be REM's "It's The End of the World As We Know It." This will be the last Big East Tournament before the massive breakup of the conference takes place. Georgetown and Louisville put together seasons that are worthy of placing them on the top line on Selection Sunday should they also win the Big East Tournament. Marquette came out of nowhere and shocked everyone to finish in a 3-way tie for first. Pitt won their last 4 and snuck into the #4 seed and got the coveted double-bye thanks to one of the best defenses in the nation (55.2 PAPG). Syracuse started the season hot but stumbled at the end of the year, dropping 4 of their last 5. Big East teams were great at defending their home courts this season, as only 3 of 15 teams finished the season with winning road records. The Big East Tournament will once again be wide open and could easily be won by any of the top 10 teams.

Big Sky

March 14-16
Regular Season Champion (Montana) Hosts Tournament

Top Seeds: 
Montana, Weber St


Tournament Format: Top 7 qualify, #1 seed gets bye

Recent History: The top seed has won the tournament 3 of the last 5 years. The Big Sky Champion has been seeded between 13th and 15th each of the last 4 seasons.

Preview: The Big Sky's decision to only allow 7 of the 11 teams into the conference tournaments made for one of the most exciting final weekends in the nation. Sacramento State lost to Montana State, elevating Montana St to 4th and knocking Sacramento St out. Despite losing 7 of their last 8 games, Southern Utah won the 3-way tiebreaker with Sacramento St and Northern Arizona. Northern Arizona lost 6 of their last 8 but edged Sacramento State for the last spot in the field on two head-to-head wins. But this tournament is really about two teams: Montana and Weber State. The two schools have dominated the conference over the last 11 years, winning 7 of the 11 titles. In the last 8 years they have met in the championship game 3 times with Montana taking the title each time. The Grizzlies are the #1 seed this season, but suffered their only conference loss at Weber State (by an astounding 24 points). After splitting the season series, the two seemed destined for a rubber match in the championship.

Big Ten

March 14-17
Chicago, IL

Top Seeds:
 Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State

Sleeper: Iowa

Tournament Format: 12 teams, top 4 get byes

Recent History: The #1 seed has won the tournament 4 of the last 5 years.

Preview: In one of the craziest moments of the season, Indiana clinched the regular season title when Michigan failed to convert a put-back attempt in the final seconds of the season finale. If that ball rolls over the rim, Michigan finishes tied for the conference title, but the loss dropped the Wolverines all the way to fifth. The Big Ten was crazy all season, with upsets galore across the board. The Big Ten has 7 teams ranked in the Top 50 of the RPI, including 5 in the Top 25. This has been the best conference all season and will be a wide open tournament. The loser of the Illinois-Minnesota first round game might be sweating on Selection Sunday, but should still make it in. 

Big West

March 14-16
Anaheim, CA

Top Seeds:
 Long Beach St, Pacific

Sleeper: Cal Poly

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: The top seed has won the tournament in 3 of the last 4 years. Defending champion Long Beach State received a 12-seed last year, the highest for the Big West Conference Champion since 2007.

Preview: The Big West had one of the most bizarre standings inversions in recent memory. At the beginning of conference play, Cal St Northridge (9-4) and Cal St Fullerton (8-5) led the way with Long Beach St (4-8) in the basement of the league. However, LBSU put together a 14-4 conference campaign to win the regular season title while CS Northridge and CS Fullerton went 5-13 and 6-12 respectively to finish at the bottom of the league. Cal Poly scored the conference's biggest win of the season when they upset UCLA at the Pauley Pavilion in December. Cal Poly and Pacific are the hottest teams entering the tournament, neither having lost since the third week of February. UC Davis sophomore guard Corey Hawkins led the conference in scoring, averaging 20.9 PPG (11th in the nation). Santa Barbara's Alan Williams averaged a double-double (17.6 PPG and 10.7 RPG) and was 5th in the nation in rebounding. 

Conference USA

March 13-16
Tulsa, OK

Top Seeds: 
Memphis, Southern Miss, UTEP

Sleeper: Houston

Tournament Format: 11 teams, 3 play-in games

Recent History: Memphis has won 6 of the last 7 Conference USA Tournaments.

Preview: Memphis has once again rolled through Conference USA, posting a 16-0 record en route to yet another league title. The Tigers won the league by 4 games over Southern Miss. Memphis ranks in the top 50 in the nation in points, rebounds and assists and should be the clear favorites in the Conference USA tournament. Southern Miss is hovering around the fringe of the bubble thanks in large part to good computer numbers, but the Golden Eagles have no wins over teams in the RPI Top 60 and are a long shot for an at-large bid. Memphis is good enough to get an at-large bid if they should be upset in the tournament, but that seems unlikely after the way they dominated the regular season.


March 11, 13-16
Cleveland, OH

Top Seeds: 
Akron, Ohio

Sleeper: Western Michigan

Tournament Format: 11 teams, Top 2 get byes to Semi-Finals, 3 & 4 get byes to Quarter-Finals, 5 gets bye to Second Round

Recent History: Akron has played in the last 6 MAC Championship Games. Akron and Ohio have split the last 4 titles. The #1 seed has not won the tournament since 2008.

Preview: After completing the season sweep of Ohio at the end of February, Akron seemed to be lining themselves up for an at-large bid should they fail to win the MAC Tournament. However, the Zips dropped 2 of their last 3, taking themselves out of the at-large picture. The MAC will be a one-bid league once again but Akron and Ohio are two talented teams that seemed destined to meet again in the MAC Championship. Akron forward Zeke Marshall is a dominant inside player that averages 13 points and 7 rebounds per game. Ohio guard DJ Cooper made a name for himself in the NCAA Tournament last season, carrying the Bobcats to the Sweet 16 and a near upset of #1 seed North Carolina. Cooper is averaging 14 points and 7 assists per game this season, and led Ohio to a 14-2 conference record with their only losses to Akron.


March 11-16
Norfolk, VA

Top Seeds:
 Norfolk St, NC Central, Hampton

Sleeper: Savannah St

Tournament Format: 13 teams, Top 3 get byes

Recent History: The MEAC Champion has received a 15-seed 3 of the last 5 years. While never a highly-rated conference, the MEAC has produced 3 of the 6 #15 seeds that have toppled #2 seeds, including defending champion Norfolk State.

Preview: In one of the strangest scheduling quirks you will see, Norfolk St and North Carolina Central finished at the top of the MEAC but did not play each other this season. Defending champion Norfolk St finished perfect in MEAC play and NC Central's only blemish was a loss to Savannah St. Only 3 teams (Norfolk St, NC Central, Savannah St) enter the MEAC Tournament with winning records on the season, which likely means the champion is heading for a 16-seed. Watch out for Savannah State, whose slow tempo and league-best defense (55.3 PAPG) could cause problems for teams. 

Mountain West

March 12-16
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds: 
New Mexico, Colorado St

Sleeper: Air Force (but really anyone)

Tournament Format: 9 teams, 1 play-in game

Recent History: The top seed has not won the Mountain West Tournament since 2006. Over the last 5 years, the Mountain West has averaged 2 At-Large bids per year.

Preview: In a year with the news dominated by the depth of the Big Ten, the Mountain West is actually the highest rated conference in the nation. Five teams enter the tournament with 20+ wins and less than 10 losses. New Mexico was the regular season champion and was the only team in the league to post a winning record away from home. That was a factor of all but one team in the league posting winning records on their home courts, with 6 of the 8 teams losing only once or twice at home. On a neutral floor, this is a wide open field and anyone could come away with the automatic bid. Heading into the tournament, 4 teams (New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado St, San Diego St) are solidly in the NCAA Tournament field with Boise State hanging on the bubble. Air Force has too many bad losses for bubble consideration, but the Falcons gave some teams troubles this season and could make noise in the tournament.

Pac 12

March 13-16
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds: 
UCLA, California

Sleeper: USC

Tournament Format: 12 teams, top 4 get byes

Recent History: The winner of the 3-6 Quarterfinal matchup has won the last 4 Pac-12 Tournaments. 

Preview: The Pac 12 absolutely collapsed in on itself down the stretch in February and March. UCLA won the regular season title after winning 4 of their last 5 but their loss was to last place Washington State. Arizona was 12-0 in non-conference play but dropped 6 Pac 12 games, including an 0-for trip to Los Angeles at the end of the season where they lost to USC and UCLA, which cost them the regular season title. Oregon started the year 7-0 in conference play, but went just 5-6 in the second half, including closing the season with a 23-point loss to Colorado and a 10-point loss to bottom-feeder Utah. The way everyone is playing right now, this is a tournament ripe for an upset. The USC Trojans could be just that team, with wins over UCLA and Arizona and a 2-point loss to Oregon.


March 13-17
Nashville, TN

Top Seeds: 
Florida, Kentucky

Sleeper: Arkansas

Tournament Format: 14 teams, top 4 get byes to Semi-Finals, 2 play-in games

Recent History: The top seed has only won the SEC Tournament once in the last 5 years.

Preview: It was a crazy season in the SEC. Florida looked to be the runaway conference champion before dropping 4 of their last 10 games. Missouri is the only other team at this point that looks like a lock for an at-large bid, with Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama hovering around the bubble. SEC teams were brutally bad on the road this year with only Florida (7-5) and Ole Miss (6-6) finishing over .500 on the road. In fact, SEC teams were so bad on the road that the next best road record was 4-7 (Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt). The flip side of that was the utter dominance on their home courts with Florida and Missouri finishing unblemished at home and Arkansas and Ole Miss with just one home loss. Only one team (last place Auburn) finished sub-.500 on their home court. Kentucky has been up-and-down since the loss of Nerlens Noel, but seems to be hitting a stride heading into the SEC Tournament. Arkansas beat everyone on their home court but was awful on the road.


March 13-16
Katy, TX

Top Seeds: 
Stephen F Austin, Northwestern State

Sleeper: Oral Roberts

Tournament Format: 8 teams, top 2 get byes to Semi-Finals, 3 & 4 get byes to Quarterfinals

Recent History: Five different teams have won the Southland tournament in the last 5 years. The top seed has won as many tournaments (2) as the #7 seed during that span.

Preview: Stephen F Austin and Northwestern State battled it out all season atop the Southland, splitting their head-to-head matchups. The two teams represent a contrast in styles between Northwestern State's wide open approach which has them first in the nation in scoring at 82.4 points per game and Stephen F Austin's shut down defense which has held opponents to just 50.2 points per game. With the top two teams getting byes to the semi-finals, it would be surprising to see anyone other than these two teams meet up again in the championship game. 


March 12-16
Garland, TX

Top Seeds: 

Sleeper: Grambling St (just kidding)

Tournament Format: 7 teams, top seed gets bye

Recent History: The last time the SWAC Champion was seeded higher than 16 was 1999.

Preview: The SWAC was decimated by ineligibility this season with 3 teams unable to take part in the conference tournament. Two of those three finished at the top of the standings with Texas Southern finishing with a league-best 16-2 conference record and Arkansas-Pine Bluff just a game behind them. However, due to their ineligibility, Southern (15-3 in SWAC) gets the #1 seed in the tournament and is the only team in the conference tournament with a winning record. Grambling State is one loss away from history after posting an 0-27 regular season.


March 12, 14-16
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds:
 Louisiana Tech, Denver

Sleeper: New Mexico St

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games

Recent History: New Mexico St and Utah St have split the last 4 titles. One of the two have appeared in the last 7 WAC Championship games.

Preview: Last week, Louisiana Tech looked like they were in position to secure an at-large bid if they failed to win the WAC Tournament, but back-to-back losses to New Mexico St and Denver turned a 16-0 conference record into a 16-2 mark, leaving the Bulldogs tied with Denver for the regular season title. New Mexico St always seems to perform well in the WAC Tournament, but watch out for Denver. The Pioneers carry a 10-game winning streak into the WAC Tournament and have the best defense in the conference, giving up just 55.2 points per game. 

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