Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 Conference Tournament Preview Part 2

The second week of Conference Tournament action is upon us. With the first set of tournament drawing to a close, stay up to date on who has locked up their place in the field with our Conference Tournament Tracker page. Also, if you're so inclined, check out my projected NCAA Tournament Bracket.


March 12-15
Memphis, TN

Top Seeds: Cincinnati, Louisville

Sleeper: Memphis

Tournament Format: All 10 teams make the tournament, bottom 4 play in 2 play-in games

Recent History: This is the first year of the AAC's existence, but many of these teams have history with each other dating back to the Big East and/or Conference USA.

Preview: Cincinnati and Louisville have been the dominant teams this year, tying for the conference title. Cincinnati got the top seed thanks to a coin flip. UConn, Memphis and SMU all finished 3 games back and all 5 are locks for the NCAA Tournament and no one in the bottom half of the league is in contention for an At-Large bid. Cincinnati has the best defense in the league and features one of the best clutch players in the nation in Sean Kilpatrick (20.9 PPG). Louisville has one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, averaging nearly 82 points per game. Memphis has only lost twice at home all season and should be able to get a boost from the home crowd to carry them through the tournament.


March 12-16
Greensboro, NC

Top Seeds: Virginia, Syracuse

Sleeper: NC State

Tournament Format: All 15 teams qualify, top 4 get double-byes to quarterfinals, teams 5-8 get byes to second round

Recent History: The ACC Tournament has been won by one of the top 3 seeds each of the last 6 years. The last time an ACC Championship did not feature either Duke or North Carolina was 1996. Since 1975, Duke and UNC have faced each other in more Championship Games (9) than games which did not feature either team (3).

Preview: The ACC is a strange disparity of styles this season. According to, 7 ACC teams rank in the bottom 51 in the nation in Offensive Tempo while 7 rank in the top 51 in Offensive Efficiency. The ACC features some of the best scorers in the nation in NC State's TJ Warren (24.8 PPG), Clemson's KJ McDaniels (17.2 PPG), UNC's Marcus Paige (17.1 PPG), Duke's Jabari Parker (19.2 PPG) and Rodney Hood (16.9 PPG), and Syracuse's CJ Fair (16.9 PPG). Virginia played one of the easiest conference schedules and won the conference by two games, losing only to Duke and Maryland. Syracuse ran off 25 straight wins to start the season but hit a bit of a roadbump when forward Jerami Grant was injured, but looked dominant when he returned this weekend against Florida State. The Cuse zone presents an incredibly difficult matchup for teams in a conference tournament format where there is limited time to prepare. Duke has the most offensively explosive team in the league but has suffered some bizarre road losses (Wake Forest, Clemson) when their offense went cold. Until their loss at Duke, UNC was the hottest team in the conference. Don't count out NC State and sensational sophomore TJ Warren who went for 41 and 42 this past week.

Atlantic 10

March 12-16
Brooklyn, NY

Top Seeds: St Louis, VCU

Sleeper: Dayton

Tournament Format: All 13 teams qualify, Top 4 get byes to the quarterfinals while the bottom 2 teams play-in.

Recent History: A team receiving a bye (Top 4 seed) has won the A-10 tournament each of the last 6 years.

Preview: St Louis started conference play with 12 straight wins, but dropped 3 of their last 4 to barely hang on to the conference title. The Billikens were not dominant in their victories - only 3 of their 13 conference wins were by more than 8  points. VCU and their HAVOC defense will create problems in the loaded bottom half of the bracket, which will likely feature 3 NCAA Tournament teams. George Washington has had a surprisingly solid season and is essentially a lock for the NCAA Tournament, along with 6th-seeded UMass, who features the league's best offense. Dayton has won 9 of their last 10 and is one of the hottest teams in the league heading into tournament play. The Flyers are sitting right on the bubble and could be the A-10's 6th team in the Big Dance, which would give them more than the SEC, Big East and AAC. The winner of the Dayton-St Joe's quarterfinal will essentially lock up a spot in the field while the loser will be sweating out a spot on Selection Sunday.

Big East

March 12-15
New York, NY

Top Seeds: Villanova, Creighton

Sleeper: Georgetown

Tournament Format: All 10 teams qualify, 2 play-in games

Recent History: This is the first year of the "New Big East" so any previous history can mostly be thrown out the window.

Preview: Villanova and Creighton dominated the league this season and are the only surefire locks to make the NCAA Tournament. Providence, Xavier, St John's and Georgetown have all flirted with the bubble but all of them need to do work in the Big East Tournament to state their case. Villanova is in contention for the 4th #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but will likely have to get through their nemesis - Creighton - in order to get there. The Blue Jays, led by National Player of the Year Candidate (though who am I kidding, he's going to win it) Doug McDermott absolutely blew Villanova out by 28 in Philadelphia and by 21 in Omaha. The Big East Tournament will essentially be a series of bubble knockout games as everyone's resume needs help.

Big Sky

March 13-15
Ogden, UT

Top Seeds: Weber St, North Dakota

Sleeper: Montana

Tournament Format: 7 of the 11 conference teams make the tournament and the top seed receives the only bye. The Regular Season Champion hosts the tournament. Teams are re-seeded after the first round so that the #1 seed plays the lowest advancing seed.

Recent History: Montana has won 3 of the last 4 Big Sky Tournaments and has appeared in 4 straight championship games.

Preview: Weber St and Montana have represented the Big Sky in 8 of the last 12 NCAA Tournaments and is one of the best small conference rivalries going. This is helped in large part by Montana defeating Weber St in 4 of the last 9 Championship Games. Two time defending tournament MVP Kareem Jamar leads Montana into the Big Sky Tournament, which will be hosted by Weber St, the regular season champs. Because Montana dropped their last game, they are seeded 4th in the conference tournament and could wind up facing their rivals in the semi-finals rather than facing off in the championship game for the 3rd straight year. Montana will have to deal with Portland State in the first round, who has taken them to overtime in both meetings this season, including a Triple-Overtime affair in mid-January. Weber St no slouch either, led by Davion Berry (19.2 PPG, 4.0 APG). The Big Sky is always a wide open tournament after a tight regular season where only 2 games separated 2nd place North Dakota from 8th place Eastern Washington (who lost out on a tiebreaker and did not make the Big Sky Tournament).

Big Ten

March 13-16
Indianapolis, IN

Top Seeds: Michigan, Wisconsin

Sleeper: Iowa

Tournament Format: All 12 teams qualify, top 4 receive byes

Recent History: The last 12 Big Ten tournaments have been won by a team receiving a bye and all but 1 of those 12 was won by one of the top 2 seeds.

Preview: The Big 10 tournament has produced some incredible runs to the conference championship games, including 6th seeded Penn St (2011) and Minnesota (2010), 8th seeded Ohio State (2003), 9th seeded Iowa (2002), and 10th seeded Illinois (2008), but these teams have always fallen in the title game to one of the top two seeds. This year's best "surprise" candidate for a deep run is likely Iowa whose 82.6 PPG is 6th best in the nation. The most surprising team might be Nebraska, whose upset win over Wisconsin propelled the Huskers to the 4th bye in the Big 10 Tournament. Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan St, Ohio St and Iowa should be safely in the field heading into Indianapolis while Nebraska likely needs to avoid an upset and Minnesota needs a deep run as the Gophers are sitting right in the middle of the bubble. Michigan might be the quietest conference champion the Big 10 despite winning the league by 3 games. Michigan State looked like one of the best teams in the nation before a rash of injuries and Sparty stumbled to a 4-6 finish.


March 12-15
Kansas City, MO

Top Seeds: Kansas, Oklahoma

Sleeper: Baylor

Tournament Format: All 10 teams qualify, 2 play-in games

Recent History: Kansas has won 6 of the last 8 Big XII Tournaments. Since the inception of the Big XII in 1997, no one seeded lower than 3rd in the conference tournament has won the title.

Preview: There should be no doubt that the Big XII is one of the best conferences in the nation. Seven of the 10 teams rank in the Top 50 in the RPI and only 3 games separated 2nd place from 7th place. Kansas is in the conversation for a #1 seed in the Big Dance thanks to their best-in-the-nation 12 Top 50 wins and 16 Top 100 wins. The biggest question for the Jayhawks will be the health of Joel Ebiid, who gives them a commanding presence on the inside. Freshman sensation Andrew Wiggins is one of the most explosive players in the country and could state his case as the potential #1 pick in the NBA Draft. Iowa State is an incredibly talented team that could go deep in the NCAA Tournament and Baylor is probably the hottest team in the league right now, winning 7 of their last 8. Oklahoma State is a bit of an enigma as to where they will land in the Big Dance because it is unknown how the Committee will treat the 3 games they lost without star guard Marcus Smart. Since Smart's return, the Cowboys won 4 of 5 with a win over Kansas and the only loss coming in overtime to Iowa State. It is only fitting that the Cowboys draw Texas Tech in the Big XII Tournament as an ultimate stage for Marcus Smart to enact his revenge.

Big West

March 13-15
Anaheim, CA

Top Seeds: UC-Irvine, UC-Santa Barbara

Sleeper: Hawaii

Tournament Format: Top 8 teams qualify, normal bracket

Recent History: 4 of the last 5 Big West Tournament Champions have received a #15 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Preview: If there is one thing the Big West should be known for, it is having some of the bests nicknames in the country. The top-seeded UC-Irvine Anteaters (yes, Anteaters) have never made the NCAA Tournament since joining Division 1 in 1977. They have been neck-in-neck with the UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos (ohh yeah) all season. Perennial powerhouse Long Beach State is hovering in third after a 4-10 start to the season, they went 10-6 in conference play. The Gauchos have one of the most dominant players in the conference in forward Alan Williams (21.6 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 2.4 BPG). Williams is second in the nation in rebounds per game. The Gauchos and Anteaters split their regular season meetings and we can only hope, just for the sake of hearing those nicknames some more, that we get a rubber match in the conference championship.

Conference USA

March 11-15
El Paso, TX

Top Seeds: Louisiana Tech, Tulsa

Sleeper: UTEP

Tournament Format: 15 teams qualify (FIU ineligible). Top 4 teams get byes to quarterfinals and there are 3 play-in games.

Recent History: Memphis won 7 of the last 8 tournaments but they have moved on to the AAC. The only current member to win a C-USA conference tournament was Charlotte (1999, 2001).

Preview: It has been a wild year at the top of Conference USA. Four teams tied atop the conference standings with 13-3 records while UTEP finished just 1 game back. Louisiana Tech got the top seed thanks to their head-to-head records against Tulsa, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss. Southern Miss is the only team in the league with a chance for an At-Large bid, and they got the short end of the stick with the #4 seed in the tournament which likely means they will have to play UTEP and Louisiana Tech just to get to the Championship.


March 10, 12-15
Cleveland, OH

Top Seeds: Western Michigan, Toledo

Sleeper: Akron

Tournament Format: All 12 teams qualify, top 2 get triple-byes to semi-finals, 3rd & 4th seeds get double-bye to the quarterfinals

Recent History: Ohio and Akron have alternated winning the last 5 MAC Tournaments. Akron's championship last year was the first time a top seed had won the MAC Tournament since 2008.

Preview: Toledo has looked like the team to beat for most of the season, but a head-to-head split with Western Michigan gave the Broncos the top seed in the conference tournament. Toledo has one of the best offenses in the nation, averaging over 80 points per game thanks to a triumverate of scorers that all average over 14 PPG. The Rockets have lost only 4 times all season which could make them a candidate for an At-Large bid if they fall in the MAC Tournament, but they have only played 1 team ranked in the Top 80 this season (Kansas), which makes for a hard case to include them in the field. The MAC has been highly competitve at the top this year with 6 teams winning more than 10 conference games. Toledo is in search of their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1980 and could meet 3rd-seeded Buffalo (who has never appeared in the NCAA Tournament) in the semi-finals. Fourth-seeded Akron returns the reigning MAC Tournament MVP in Demetrius Treadwell (14.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG). Fifth seeded Ohio has the hardest road as they have to play in the first round and will have to win 4 games just to get to the Championship Game while the top seeds only have to win once and Buffalo and Akron only need to win twice.


March 10-15
Norfolk, VA

Top Seeds: NC Central, Hampton

Sleeper: Florida A&M

Tournament Format: All 13 teams qualify, top 3 receive byes

Recent History: Morgan St has appeared in 5 of the last 6 MEAC Championship Games. The MEAC has produced 3 of the 7 #15 seeds that have toppled #2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Preview: North Carolina Central has been an absolute force in conference play, posting a 15-1 record and carrying a 17-game winning streak into the MEAC Tournament. The Eagles started playing D1 Basketball in 2007 and are looking for their first ever apperance in the Big Dance. If they are going to successfully navigate the MEAC Tournament, they will need big performances from Jeremy Ingram (20.2 PPG). Second place Hampton has won 7 in a row and 9 of their last 10 but was swept this season by Morgan State, the #3 seed in the tournament who has a history of Championship Game appearances.

Mountain West

March 12-15
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds: San Diego St, New Mexico

Sleeper: Boise St

Tournament Format: All 11 teams qualify, 3 play-in games

Recent History: San Diego St and New Mexico have won the last 4 Mountain West Tournaments

Preview: San Diego St and New Mexico dominated the conference all season and are the only two teams with At-Large potential. Both teams are essentially locks for the NCAA Tournament and with no other Mountain West teams even in the bubble conversation, this tournament is really only about whether or not a bid will be stolen by another team or if we will get a rubber match between the Aztecs and the Lobos. The first two games were defensive struggles with the home team winning both times.

Pac 12

March 12-15
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds: Arizona, UCLA

Sleeper: Oregon

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

Recent History: The winner of the 3-6 quarterfinal has won the Pac-12 Tournament each of the past 5 years.

Preview: Arizona has been one of the most dominant teams in the nation this year and is almost a lock for a #1 seed in the Big Dance and possibly in contention for the #1 overall seed if they win the Pac-12 tournament and Florida falls in the SEC Tournament. Outside of Arizona and UCLA, no one else is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. Arizona State, California, Colorado, Stanford and Oregon are all hovering around the bubble which will set up some big quarterfinal matchups in the Pac-12 tournament. All 5 of those teams finished at 10-8 in conference play and the seeding was broken by tiebreakers, causing Oregon to fall all the way to the #7 seed. The Ducks are the hottest team in the conference, winners of their last 7 games (including wins over UCLA and Arizona) and boast the league's best offense (82.3 PPG, 9th in nation). Colorado needs to avoid being upset in the tournament and continues to battle to prove they are an NCAA-caliber team without Spencer Dinwiddle. Cal, Stanford and Arizona State are all hovering around the right side of the bubble but none of them have a fool-proof resume.


March 12-16
Atlanta, GA

Top Seeds: Florida, Kentucky

Sleeper: LSU

Tournament Format: All 14 teams qualify, top 4 get byes and bottom 4 play in 2 play-in games

Recent History: The #3 seed has won the SEC Tournament each of the last 3 years.

Preview: It has been a crazy year in the SEC. Florida ran away from the pack with a perfect 18-0 conference record and will be the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament if they cut down the nets in Atlanta. Kentucky has dropped a number of games to inferior opponents but is still the second best team in the league and the only other team that is a sure lock for the NCAA Tournament. Outside of those two, the SEC Standings are a who's who of who is on the bubble. Third-seeded Georgia lacks the resume to be considered an At-Large team (no Top 50 wins, 5 losses outside the Top 100). Fourth-seeded Tennessee has the computer numbers of an At-Large team (RPI 44, SOS 25, NCSOS 43) but has just 2 Top 50 wins and has lost 4 games outside the Top 100. Arkansas has a sweep of Kentucky on their resume, but also has their share of bad losses, including a 25-point loss to Alabama in the season finale, which dropped them back onto the bubble. Missouri and LSU also spent time in the bubble conversation this year, but their inability to win games away from home (a problem persistent across the entire SEC) put a big hole in their chances. Every SEC team was at least 3 games below .500 on the road except for Florida (10-2 on the road) and Kentucky (5-5 on the road).


March 12-15
Katy, TX

Top Seeds: Stephen F Austin, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Sleeper: Northwestern State

Tournament Format: 8 of 11 eligible teams qualify (3 were inelligible). Top 2 seeds receive double-byes to semi-finals, 3rd & 4th seeds receive bye to quarterfinals.

Recent History: 6 different teams have won the Southland Tournament in the last 6 years. Interestingly the #1 seed has won as many tournaments as the #7 seed (2) over that timespan.

Preview: Stephen F Austin is one of only 3 teams in the nation with less than 3 losses entering conference tournament play. The Lumberjacks were a perfect 18-0 against the Southland Conference this year, riding a defense that surrendered just 62.6 PPG. Unfortunately for the Lumberjacks, their strength of schedule ranks 324th out of 351 Division 1 teams, which is not good enough for them to qualify as an At-Large team should they fall in the Southland Tournament. The team to watch is Northwestern State, who started the season 2-7 in non-conference play. The defending tournament champions rebounded to win 11 of their last 13 games and finish 4th in the conference, which puts them on track for a semi-final showdown with Stephen F Austin. There is no bigger contrast in styles between these two. Northwestern State ranks 2nd in the nation in scoring (86.9 PPG) and 1st in Tempo while Stephen F Austin ranks 293rd in Tempo


March 8-11
Sioux Falls, SD

Top Seeds: North Dakota St, IPFW

Sleeper: Denver

Tournament Format: All 7 eligible teams qualify, Nebraska-Omaha is ineligible due to Division 1 transition

Recent History: The top seed has won 5 of the last 6 Summit League Tournaments

Preview: The Summit League has produced Champions that have been seeded at the higher end of one-bid league teams. The Summit Champion has received a 13th or 14th seed each of the last 6 seasons. This year, North Dakota State has the profile to be seeded in that range again should they emerge from Sioux Falls victorious. This tournament actually started over the weekend, so I'm a little late in including it in my previews. The first round games have already happened so only the top 4 teams remain. The IPFW Mastadons (what a nickname!) are the #2 seed and in search of their first NCAA Tournament bid in school history while third-seeded South Dakota State is looking for their third straight Summit League title. North Dakota State has the computer profile (RPI 38, SOS 125, NCSOS 17) that could garner them At-Large consideration should they fall in the Summit Tournament, though they lack a win against a team in the Top 75 and have 3 losses to Sub-100 teams.

Sun Belt

March 13-16
New Orleans, LA

Top Seeds: Georgia State, Western Kentucky

Sleeper: Arkansas St

Tournament Format: Top 8 qualify, top 2 seeds get double-bye to semi-finals, #3 and #4 seeds get byes to quarterfinals

Recent History: Western Kentucky has won 4 of the last 6 Sun Belt Tournaments. The #1 seed has only won the Sun Belt once in the last 6 years.

Preview: The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have absolutely owned the Sun Belt Tournament, regardless of their regular season success. In the last two seasons, the Hilltoppers won the Sun Belt after finishing 7th and 6th in the conference. This has made for great fun in the Mascot Bracket but also caused some sweaty Selection Sundays. Last year, regular season champion Middle Tennessee was lucky enough to get one of the last 4 At-Large spots in the NCAA field, but Georgia State lacks the resume to get the same benefit this season. The Panthers only lost once in conference play this year, but had two close calls against #4 seed Arkansas State (a 1-point win at home and an OT win on the road), who they will likely face in the semi-finals. Georgia State has two of the best scorers in the conference in RJ Hunter (18.5 PPG) and Ryan Harrow (17.2 PPG).


March 11-15
Houston, TX

Top Seeds: Southern, Texas Southern

Sleeper: Everyone in the SWAC, through their classes, apparently

Tournament Format: All 10 teams will play, despite 4 teams being ineligible for post-season play. If an ineligible team wins the tournament, the furthest-advancing eligible team will earn the automatic bid.

Recent History: The SWAC Champion has been a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament ever year since 2000. Considering all Tournament-eligible SWAC teams are ranked in the bottom 100 of the RPI, this will be the 15th straight year the SWAC Champion was given a 16-seed.

Preview: What a mess. Four SWAC teams are ineligible for postseason play because of academic penalties, including regular season champion Southern. Rather than hold a tournament with just 6 teams, the SWAC received special exemption from the NCAA to allow their ineligible teams to participate in the conference tournament. Three of the four are in the top half of the bracket which puts Alabama A&M in the difficult position of likely having to beat two ineligibles just to get to the conference championship game and have a shot at the bid. On the other side, the semi-final will likely feature two eligible teams (as long as Grambling doesn't advance from the Play-In Game) and could be the deciding game for the NCAA Tournament bid if Southern and/or Arkansas-Pine Bluff reach the finals from the top half of the bracket.


March 13-15
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds: Utah Valley, New Mexico St

Sleeper: Idaho

Tournament Format: 8 eligible teams qualify, normal bracket. Grand Canyon is ineligible because of transitional period into Division 1.

Recent History: New Mexico State has won 3 of the last 4 WAC Tournaments

Preview: How far the WAC has fallen after being devastated by conference re-alignment. New Mexico State is still the highest ranked team from the conference, while top-seeded Utah Valley has an RPI in the 130s. The shame of this tournament is that the nation's leading rebounder, Grand Canyon's Killian Larson, will not participate because of the school's D1 Transition Probation. All signs point to a rubber match between Utah Valley and New Mexico State, which would certainly be a story in and of itself after the last game ended with New Mexico State players throwing punches at Utah Valley fans that stormed the court.

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