Sun Belt: The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers enters the conference tournament winners of 12 of their last 14. They’ve been solid all year, which included a win over Louisville. Orlando Mendez-Valdez leads the Hilltoppers who are trying to repat as Sun Belt Conference champions for the first time since the 2002 and 2003 seasons. In their way will be the Trojans of Troy and Arkansas-Little Rock (Yes, they’re Trojans too). Troy can boast wins over both the WKU and UALR while the other Trojans has an 0-3 record against both squads. I expect UALR to make a run at it, but look for WKU and Troy in the finals and the Hilltoppers will repeat.
Patriot League: The American Eagles enter this year’s Patriot League tournament looking to continue its two-year dominance over the conference. Seniors Derrick Mercer and Garrison Carr lead an experienced group who gave Tennessee all it can handle in last year’s tournament. Lying in wait to upset American is Holy Cross. The Crusaders are responsible for the lone blemish on the Eagles conference record and have been gone to the tournament 4 times already in this decade. It’s going to be a raucous atmosphere in Bender Arena next Friday. An atmosphere that will be too much for the Crusaders to handle and American will make a return trip to NCAA tournament.
Missouri Valley: There may not be another team in the country playing the kind of basketball the Creighton Blue Jays are playing right now. They’ve won 10 in-a-row and have firmly implanted themselves in the at-large discussion. For a time this season, Illinois St was in the at-large discussion itself. However, the Redbirds struggled down the stretch against some pretty stiff competition and closed the season on a three-game losing streak. I believe the team that’s going to win in St. Louis will be Northern Iowa. They finished the season on an uptic and can claim victories over the Blue Jays and a season sweep of the Redbirds. Expect the Panthers to cut the nets down.
And before we continue the predictions, let’s take a moment of silence for Cincinnati’s at-large hopes. South Florida just killed them.
Northeast Conference: This may be a crazy tournament. Mount St. Mary’s, Long Island, and Sacred Heart all finished with identical 12-6 conference records. None of them are responsible for the regular-season champion’s, Robert Morris, three conference losses. History tells me it is going to be difficult for Robert Morris to be two good teams three times in the regular season. Given this league’s history for conference tournament upsets, it only strengthens that theory. In a situation like this, take the team playing the best basketball. Sacred Heart will navigate through a very competitive conference tournament and will be #16 seed.