AMERICA EAST: Albany was by far the most dominant team in the league this season. The Great Danes didn’t lose their first conference game until Feb. 17. With all games being at campus sites its going to take a lot to keep Albany from repeating.
MISSOURI VALLEY: This certainly was a top heavy league this year as Wichita St and Northern Iowa ran away and hid from the rest of the conference. That’s why it is expected that those will be the two teams playing for the championship on Sunday. In the rubber match, expect Wichita St, the team with the superior experience and talent, to cut down the nets.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: A loss on the last day of the regular season is the only thing that kept Iona from winning the league by three games. The Gaels’ misstep doesn’t scare me too much as they’ve been to the tournament recently and will be tough prep on short rest. The tournament will be competitive as always, but expect Iona to go dancing.
SOUTHERN: As good as Wofford has been over the course of the year, Chattanooga has been right there all along. The two squads were far and away the class of this conference and appear to be on a collision course for a Monday night showdown. The teams won on each other’s home floor so this creates a bit of intrigue. Wofford is the favorite here, but not by much.
COLONIAL: The regular season in the CAA finished in a four-way tie for first place. If there’s anyone out there who’ll tell you they have this league pegged than than call that person’s bluff. On a true neutral court in Baltimore anything can happen. Given the disappointment from last season and performing well against the other top teams in the league, I’m going with William & Mary.
WEST COAST: There may be many people wondering if there’s a major kink in the armor of Gonzaga after losing to BYU in it’s last regular season home game. I am not one of those people. BYU played fantastic and could very well be a tournament team itself, but Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country and it’ll have motivation. The Zags will win in Vegas.
SUMMIT: South Dakota St and North Dakota St went back and forth this season vying for the Summit League’s No. 1 spot. At the end of the day, both teams finished with 12-4 records with South Dakota St winning the tiebreaker. Playing the tournament in the state of South Dakota gives the Jackrabbits a bit of a chance. Despite that, there’s a team on their side of bracket who’s beaten them and is even closer to the site where the tournament will be played. That’s the South Dakota Coyotes and they’re my upset pick to win the Summit League.
MISSOURI VALLEY: Who are we fooling here? There’s only one real choice and that’s Wichita St. The Shockers are the nation’s lone undefeated team and there’s nothing that says they’ll lose in St. Louis this week. Out of 18 conference games, only three were decided by single-digits. On a neutral floor, this is the Shockers’ tournament to lose.
WEST COAST: This should be one of the more intriguing tournaments early in championship week. The WCC has gone back to a traditional bracket and away from a system that protected the top two seeds until the semifinals. That evens the playing field with no one team having a real advantage in Vegas. With four teams in the top-70 of the RPI, this will be a fun tournament to watch. I expect BYU to be up to the challenge and go to the Big Dance.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: This should be another barnburner of a tournament. The CAA has held its tournament in Richmond since the beginning of time, but since many of it’s heavy-hitting Virginia teams have left the league, the conference decided to move the tournament to Baltimore. At one point it looked like Delaware would run the table, but they’ve lost a couple down the stretch. One of those losses was to Towson – a team that finished a game behind Delaware and should have plenty of fans in attendance. I expect the Tigers to ride that advantage and Jerrelle Benimon to the NCAA tournament.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: This is a league filled with teams that are fun to watch. However there is one team that seems to stay in the upper echelon of the league year after year. Iona won the regular season title outright this year and seems poised to return to the Big Dance. It would be their third consecutive trip. The Gaels will get strong challenges from Manhattan, Quinnipiac, and Canisius, but they’re up-and-down style of play should propel them this week.
SOUTHERN: On it’s way out of the conference, Davidson decided to let the SoCon know just what it’ll be missing next season. The Wildcats ran away with the regular season title with a 15-1 record. They are the class of league and it’ll be sad to see them in the Atlantic 10 next season. For this season though, the Wildcats will remind everyone why they were the dominant team in the league.
It’s going to be a long agonizing week for the Middle Tennessee St Blue Raiders after their upset loss at the hands of Florida International in the Sun Belt Conference semi-finals (more on this later). They were dominant in the regular season winning all but one conference games, but March is cruel as the Blue Raiders know all too well.
Last year they bowed out of the conference tournament in the quarterfinals after being the No. 1 seed as they lost to Arkansas St. They didn’t get in last season and their prospects are grim for this season. While they played a top-20 non-conference schedule they only have two top-100 wins and no top-50. The committee may reward them for challenging themselves out of conference, but it’s unlikely.
You feel bad for the Blue Raiders, but March is cruel and unusual punishment for a team of their kind. The punishment this week will be waiting.
We have some conference tournament finals that I didn’t get a chance to preview so here’s some predictions for some of tonight’s finals.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: Sundays two semi-finals had fantastic finishes so both teams may be spent emotionally. Northeastern came from 24 down to beat George Mason while James Madison had some fortunate calls to preserve victory over Delaware. It’s going to be hard for the Huskies to beat a Virginia school in Richmond though and I expect the Dukes to go dancing for the first time since 1994.
SUN BELT: Neither Florida International nor Western Kentucky is supposed to be here. It’s the second year in a row the Hilltoppers shocked the world to reach the final while Richard Pitino has turned around Florida International in one year after Isaiah Thomas screwed that job up too. The Golden Panthers are a nice story, but the Hilltoppers are used to this and will go dancing again.
SOUTHERN: I watched Davidson go to Charleston earlier this season and put a beat down on the Cougars earlier this season. The margin may be closer, but the result will be the same. The gold standard of SoCon basketball is going dancing again.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: Here is another tournament where the teams playing weren’t expected to be here. Iona is a solid program and has proven it can hang with good competition this season. Manhattan, on the other hand, is the beneficiary of getting to play the No. 7 seed in the semifinals. Iona has endured its share of heartbreak in this tournament the past few years, the Gaels will get the job done this time around.
We all so have some other tournaments getting started today.
MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: It’s been an unusual year in the MEAC where two teams have been way ahead of the pack. Last year’s NCAA tournament darling Norfolk St finished undefeated in league play and North Carolina Central finished with only one loss. That loss didn’t come at the hands of the Spartans because the two didn’t play. They will in the title game and the Spartans will repeat.
MID-AMERICAN: Akron was threatening to run away with this league and was possibly heading towards locking up an at-large bid. Then came a surprising loss at Buffalo and the suspension of point guard Alex Abreu. Those unfortunate series of events leave the Ohio Bobcats as the clear favorites to repeat as MAC champions and go to the big dance.
On to the Bracket:
Good for Games played thru 3/10
Last Four In: Virginia, Boise St, Tennessee, La Salle
Last Four Out: Kentucky, Mississippi, Iowa, Middle Tennessee St
1.Indiana16.Florida International/Long Island Dayton, OH
8.Wichita St9.San Diego St
4.Oklahoma St13.Louisiana Tech
7.Memphis10.Colorado St Philadelphia
2.Georgetown15.Florida Gulf Coast(ASun)
1.Louisville16.Southern/Liberty(BSouth) Lexington, KY
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: Iona has been on my radar since I watch it go blow-for-blow with Purdue in November. This team can flatout score. This is one of the most dangerous mid-majors in the country as it has three pros on the roster. That being said, the Gaels don’t really care to much to play defense and that’s why a team like Loyola is a real threat. Despite that, I don’t think Iona will be denied this year.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: Up until mid-February, people were talking about the down year in the CAA. Then came Bracketbusters where the CAA once again flexed its mid-major muscle. Drexel, Virginia Commonwealth, George Mason and Old Dominion all scored big wins leading many pundits to say this is a multi-bid league again. I’m not so sure of that but I do know that Drexel and VCU will play a classic championship game. That game will be won by Drexel.
SOUTHERN: Davidson served notice to the nation earlier this season when it beat Kansas. It followed that impressive win up with a 16-2 league record. The Wildcats have a solid RPI and is far and away the best team in this league, but I don’t have a good feeling about them winning the conference championship. There’s one team though, which has been knocking on the door and that’s the College of Charleston. The Cougars have won six of their last seven and they’ll carry that momentum into a SoCon championship.
SUN BELT: Middle Tennessee St put the nation on notice when it took UCLA apart in November. With only five losses, the Blue Raiders have done that to most of their opponents this season. This team is the class of the Sun Belt and, with the exception of Denver, has no peer. The Blue Raiders are going dancing.
SUMMIT LEAGUE: You’re 17-1 in league play and one of the best mid-majors in the nation. How are you rewarded – by playing the conference tournament on the homecourt of the second place team in the conference. That’s what Oral Roberts’ dilemma is as it prepares for the conference tournament hosted by South Dakota St. That South Dakota St team is responsible for Oral Roberts lone conference loss. On March 6, it’ll be responsible for Oral Roberts’ second conference loss.
BIG SKY: Weber St and Montana went toe-to-toe all season long in a conference race that wasn’t decided until the last game of the regular season. That game determined where the conference tournament would be played. Unfortunately for Weber St, they’re going to have to go through the regular season champion Montana on its home court. Not likely. The Grizzlies are going to the NCAA tournament.
PATRIOT LEAGUE: Bucknell and American are way ahead of the pack in this league. Bucknell ran through Patriot League competition with only one loss and American only three. Too bad for the Eagles, two of those losses came from the Bison. Nothing really to say here, but to expect part three with Bucknell winning again.
MISSOURI VALLEY: I’m used to seeing multiple bids come from this league, but the trend of it being one-bid the past few seasons has to be troubling for commissioner Doug Elgin. Despite this, there are still teams in this conference who can win a game in the NCAA tournament. The Missouri St. Bears finished in first with the Wichita St. Shockers one game behind. The two teams were the most consistent all year and appear to be on a collision course. In round three, expect the Shockers to come out on top.
NORTHEAST: Long Island’s uptempo style has led it to an impressive 16-2 league record. In fact, the Blackbirds have only loss once in the 2011 calendar year. Given the fact that this tournament is played entirely on home courts give them an extra advantage. The Blackbirds should expect a challenge from the tournament-tested Robert Morris Colonials, but this team is head and shoulders above the rest of the league and will make their way to the NCAA tournament.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: This one should be interesting. After back-to-back losses to Hofstra and Old Dominion, George Mason ran off 15 wins in-a-row to put a stamp on an at-large bid. Old Dominion, by virtue of stellar play in the non-conference did the same. The question right now goes to the hunger of both teams and I believe both may already know they’re dancing. One team however, isn’t going to be dancing without an automatic bid and I expect it to come out firing on all cylinders. Virginia Commonwealth, at home in Richmond, will “steal” a bid and punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: After its impressive showing in BracketBusters, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) became one of the most intriguing leagues in the country. The conference tournament is usually entertaining and this year should be no different. Fairfield finished in first in the regular season, but show kinks in the armor in losses to Rider and Iona, the two teams that tied for second. Iona, by virtue of being hot at the right time seems to be surging towards a NCAA bid, which it’ll get.
SOUTHERN: College of Charleston was cruising through league play until the last week of the regular season where it lost its final two games. That brought into a tie for the South Division and league title with defending champion Wofford. Although Charleston has a win over Tennessee and an almost win at Maryland, I think its going to be tough for it to navigate through this tournament. Chattanooga and Wofford will meet for round 3 with Wofford making a repeat trip to the NCAA tournament.
WEST COAST: St. Mary’s and Gonzaga both have at-large hopes with Gonzaga’s chances being a tad bit better at the moment. Given that the tournament is set up to give top two teams an advantage expect to see the two class programs in the conference go at it one more time. It will be a heavyweight slugfest in Vegas with St. Mary’s getting an automatic bid ensuring two WCC teams go dancing.
AMERICA EAST: Vermont and Boston University have been the two best teams in league play, but neither is perfect. Maine had a run at the both of them and should be in the mix this weekend in Hartford. However, I still believe that Vermont and Boston will get through a tough tournament to meet for all the marbles once again. Boston will not be able to finish Vermont for a third time and the Vermont Catamounts will go dancing.
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: For the past three years, Siena has been rolling through the MAAC like a warm knife through hot butter. The Saints once again coasted to the regular season title with a 17-1 record. They have shown vulnerabilities though. Not all of the Saints wins have been dominant and some have been downright close. Fairfield has a legitimate shot at pulling off the upset, but I don’t see it. The Saints seem to be extremely focused in their last two games and playing on their home floor will be a huge advantage. I expect Siena to go dancing again.
SOUTHERN: This will be one of the more competitive conference tournaments in the country. The SoCon has wins over schools from the Big East, ACC, SEC, and Atlantic 10 this season. Those wins came from Appalachian St., Western Carolina, College of Charleston and Wofford. Throw in Davidson and there will be some high-quality hoops in Charlotte this weekend. In the end, you have to go with the team that’s lost only one game this calendar year. I expect Wofford to make its first trip to the Big Dance.
WEST COAST: Once again, Gonzaga has proven to be the class of this league. It’s amazing to see the Bulldogs have the success they’ve had given the losses they sustain in the offseason. Despite that, Gonzaga has proven to be beatable this season and, over its record 11-year run, in the WCC tournament. Saint Mary’s and Portland are extremely capable of winning this tournament. There is a high probability of the two meeting in the semi-finals, a game in which Portland will win on their way to the WCC tournament title.
AMERICA EAST: The top four teams in the America East are separated by two games. Stony Brook, Vermont, Maine and Boston University are all capable of going dancing. However, there’s one team who clearly has the number of the other three. In its six meetings with Vermont, Maine and BU; Stony Brook has a 5-1 record. They’ve won 10 out of 11 and are looking very strong. The loss to New Hampshire is a bit alarming, but it was the last game of the season and Stony Brook had nothing left to play for. The Seawolves do now and they’ll be going dancing.
I put these together for thehoopsreport.com so they’re a little long-winded
The Favorite: The Binghamton Bearcats are in a position they’ve never been in before. They enter the America East tournament as the hunted. America East Player of the Year D.J. Rivera leads a club that has won 10 out of its last 11 games. The Bearcats have gone on the road and won on the home courts of Big East and Conference USA schools. They’ve prepared for this time of year and look to be ready for any and all comers in Albany this weekend.
The Challenger: The Catamounts of Vermont would be the kings in the America East if it weren’t for Binghamton. They’d be the No. 1 seed this weekend had the Bearcats not swept them. Despite that, this is a team with 23 wins and has been playing at a high level the entire year. They’ve won 14 of 15 and are on a serious roll entering the postseason. Although they face the unenviable task of having to face Albany on its home court in the quarterfinals, junior Marquis Blakely and the rest of the Catamounts will be a tough out.
The Darkhorse: The UMBC Retrievers enter the postseason losing three of their last four. However, this team is confident and experienced. Seniors Darryl Proctor and Jay Greene played integral roles in UMBC’s run to last year’s NCAA tournament and are fully capable of putting three solid games together. The Retrievers are responsible for one of Binghampton’s conference losses. This is one scary No. 6 seed.
When it’s all said and done, the cream will rise to the top in the America East. Vermont and Binghamton have been the teams to beat all season and nothing will change this weekend. The championship game will be in Binghamton, but Vermont will avenge the two earlier losses and return to the tournament for the first time since 2005.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION
The Favorite: Two years ago, Eric Maynor put his name on the map with a game-winning shot against Duke. He’s still at Virginia Commonwealth and he’s one of the best guards in the country. The Rams always seem to be at the top of the CAA and this year was no different. They’ve had mixed results coming down the stretch with a 5-3 record in their last eight. However, the Rams have Eric Maynor and he makes them the most dangerous team in the CAA.
The Challenger: Jim Larranaga has his Patriots in this position again. George Mason has been lurking the entire season and are in their relished position of the being the hunter. The names have changed from their Final Four run three years ago, but this is still an experienced basketball team. Seniors Dre Smith and John Vaughn are still at Mason and they have seen everything. They’ll expect to be in the Big Dance and that’s not something many mid-majors share with them.
The Darkhorse: Old Dominion quietly went about its business all year. Head coach Blaine Taylor’s Monarchs traditionally have talent, but seem to be overlooked in the CAA. After winning their last five, no one in the CAA is going to take them lightly. They’re as hot as any team in the conference and are the last team anyone wants to face in Richmond this weekend.
The CAA Tournament is always a very competitive tournament and this year will be no different. There are six teams capable of cutting the nets down in Richmond and that makes for great basketball. Old Dominion will meet George Mason in a classic Monday night and the Patriots will take their rightful place back in the field of 65.
The Favorite: The Siena Saints began the season with at-large aspirations after their impressive showing in last year’s tournament. They played a difficult non-conference schedule and got off to a slow start. Once conference play started, the Saints showed their mettle and rolled to a 16-2 conference record to save their at-large hopes. The experienced club led by senior Kenny Hasbrouck and junior Edwin Ubiles; Siena will be a tough out this weekend and, possibly, in two weeks as well.
The Challenger: Niagara has been consistent all year long. The Purple Eagles hit the road in their non-conference schedule and are as prepared for this time of year as any team in the MAAC. First-team All-MAAC and the conference’s defensive player of the year, junior Tyrone Lewis controls this club which closed the season with victories over Siena and Missouri Valley contender, Illinois St. They are fully capable of keeping up with the Saints.
The Darkhorse: The only MAAC team to defeat both Siena and Niagara was the Rider Broncs. They closed the season winning 7 of their last 9 and believe they can win the automatic bid. Junior Ryan Thompson is one of the most explosive players in the MAAC and will be able to get any shot he wants this weekend. The Broncs believe they should be mentioned with the Saints and Purple Eagles and are ready to prove why.
The bracket sets up well for Siena, who should cruise into the finals. The other half of the bracket will be much more difficult with Niagara and Rider vying for the opportunity to face Siena. In the end, Niagara will navigate its way to the finals to set up one of the best championship games of any conference tournament. The homecourt advantage will not help the Saints this year though and Niagara will go dancing.
The Favorite: Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three seasons, you know Stephen Curry is and you know who the Davidson Wildcats are. This edition of the Wildcats isn’t as potent as last year’s, but they are still dangerous. They’ve beaten West Virginia and NC State on neutral courts and have breezed through the SoCon regular season once again. While they actually lost a league game this year, something they hadn’t done in two seasons, the Wildcats are still the team to beat as long as Curry puts on a Davidson jersey.
The Challenger: There’s only one team who can claim to beat Davidson at full strength during conference play and that’s the College of Charleston. Head Coach Bobby Cremins has turned around the program which was a perennial NCAA tournament team in the late 90’s. All-Conference guard Andrew Goudelock and the Cougars have wins over TCU and South Carolina so they’re a tested group. They’ve proven they can beat the Wildcats now it’s time to see if they can do it again.
The Darkhorse: When the Citadel Bulldogs upset Davidson on February 18, the Wildcats were without Stephen Curry. That doesn’t matter to the Bulldogs though. They’re the playing their best basketball right now as winners of 12 of their last 13 and finished in a tie for second in the South Division. In a season where they’ve won 18 games against Division-I opponents and 15 conference games for the first time, is an initial trip to the NCAA tournament in the offering for the Bulldogs as well?
The worst thing the College of Charleston and Citadel could’ve done was make Davidson see its own blood. Now the Wildcats have their antennas up and will be ready in Chattanooga this weekend. While it won’t be easy, Davidson will make four consecutive trips to the Big Dance.
The Favorite: Anyone who finishes with an undefeated conference record is going to be the favorite and this situation is no different. Gonzaga is back in its usual spot with an NCAA tournament bid all but sewn up. This could be the most talented team in Bulldogs’ history with seniors Jeremy Pargo, Josh Heytvelt, and Micah Downs leading the way. Head Coach Mark Few always plays a tough non-conference schedule to prepare his team for this time of year. They fell victim to the upset in last year’s WCC tourney. They’ll be out to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
The Challenger: The Saint Mary’s Gaels captured an at-large bid last season and may be in position to do the same this year. Sophomore Patrick Mills, possibly the best guard in the country, is back from injury and ready to pick up where he left off. When healthy, this Gaels team can play with anyone in the country. They’ve won five in-a-row including a huge win over Utah State in “Bracket Busters.” This is a confident team going in to Las Vegas this weekend.
The Darkhorse: There was a buzz in the preseason that the San Diego Toreros may be able to capture an at-large bid after their upset of UConn in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Toreros have struggled this season, but this is still a team that can jump up and bite you. Brandon Johnson is gone for the season, but any team with Gyno Pomare and Rob Jones is capable of doing damage.
When all is said and done, this is a two-horse race. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are on a collision course and it’s going to be a special basketball game. The Gaels played one and half games against the Bulldogs without Patrick Mills and now that he’s back, they’re chomping at the bit. Saint Mary’s will take its NCAA Tournament fate out of the committee’s hands and win the WCC tournament.