Strongmen of the Southland

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Stephen F. Austin’s Jacob Parker

Wichita St is rolling.  So is Florida and Arizona. However, there is one team that hasn’t got a whiff of the publicity of those teams.  That team plays in the Southland Conference and it hasn’t lost since Nov. 23.

The Stephen F. Austin (SFA) Lumberjacks sport a gaudy 27-2 as they steamroll toward the finish in conference play.  While the Southland isn’t one of the best mid-major leagues in the country, SFA’s accomplishment should be celebrated.

It’s hard to go through any conference unscathed and the Lumberjacks are two games away from completing that.  This team ranks No. 21 nationally in offensive efficiency and averages over 76 points per game.  It has veterans and will be hell to beat if it earns a bid.

It’s March.  Time for conference tournament previews.

PATRIOT LEAGUE: For much of the season, people raved at the turnaround being made at American under new coach Mike Brennan.  However, the conference figured out how to play against his Princeton-style system during the second half of the season leaving the experienced Boston Terriers as the regular season champs.  The only problem with either one of those squads winning is Bucknell, who’s been to two of the last three NCAA tournaments is the hottest team in the conference and won at American and Boston over the past eight days. That’s why the Bison will be going dancing.

ATLANTIC SUN: Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer finished tied for the regular season title in the Atlantic Sun with 14-4 record conference records. They split the regular season match-ups with Mercer winning by 13 on its home court and Florida Gulf Coast winning by 14 on its home court.  The two teams are evenly matched, but the conference’s decision to play the tournament at campus sites and Florida Gulf Coast winning the tiebreaker has me picking the Eagles to return to the dance.

HORIZON LEAGUE: This is a league that’s seen two programs leave recently in Butler and Loyola-Chicago, but really skipped a beat.  That’s because the Green Bay Phoenix staked it’s claim early this season as a team to be reckoned with.  The tournament will be played on Green Bay’s home court and it will be protected to the semifinals.  Expect this fringe at-large candidate to capture an automatic bid.

OHIO VALLEY: Is there any surprise who the two best teams in the conference are.  Perennial NCAA tournament contenders Belmont and Murray St continue to dominate the OVC.  College basketball fans should expect this to happen for the foreseeable future.  I expect to see the two teams in the finals with Belmont going back to the tournament.

BIG SOUTH: The Big South Conference was one of the more competitive leagues all year long with seven teams with 10-6 or better conference records.  That will make for a lot of fun this week in Myrtle Beach.  What won’t be fun for most of the conference is having to play the tournament on Coastal Carolina’s home court.  That hasn’t always guaranteed a win for the Chanticleers, but it will this year.

NORTHEAST: Last season, in the postseason NIT, seeds were planted that have carried over to this year.  Robert Morris upset Kentucky at home.  This year, the Colonials continued their winning ways winning the league outright for the second season in a row.  There’s no team like Long Island in their way this year though.  Robert Morris is going dancing.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: Nebraska, Dayton, Florida St, Colorado

Last Four Out: Tennessee, Minnesota, Providence, Missouri

SOUTH

1.Florida16.Florida Gulf Coast                     Orlando

8.Iowa9.Gonzaga

5.Cincinnati12.Toledo                                     San Antonio

4.Saint Louis13.Belmont

6.Ohio St11.BYU                                               Orlando

3.North Carolina14.NC-Central

7.UConn10.George Washington                                St. Louis

2.Kansas15.UC-Irvine

EAST

1.Wichita St16.Davidson/Alabama St       St. Louis

8.Arizona St9.Pittsburgh

5.Oklahoma12.Harvard                                 San Antonio

4.Creighton13.Louisiana Tech

6.Kentucky11.California                                                Milwaukee

3.Michigan14.Boston

7.SMU10.Oklahoma St                                   Raleigh

2.Duke15.Delaware

MIDWEST

1.Wisconsin16.Weber St/High Point        Milwaukee

8.Kansas St9.Saint Joseph’s

5.New Mexico12.Green Bay                       San Diego

4.Iowa St13.Stephen F. Austin

6.UCLA11.Baylor                                               Spokane

3.San Diego St14.Georgia St

7.Memphis10.Stanford                                 Buffalo

2.Syracuse15.Robert Morris

WEST

1.Arizona16.Utah Valley                                                San Diego

8.VCU9.Xavier

5.Michigan St12.Florida St/Dayton            Spokane

4.Louisville13.North Dakota St

6.Texas11.Colorado/Nebraska                   Raleigh

3.Virginia14.Iona

7.UMass10.Arkansas                                      Buffalo

2.Villanova15.Vermont

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