Conference tournaments officially get underway today, which means the Win-and-Advance stage of the road to the Final Four has officially begun. 300 of the 341 teams will participate in conference tournaments this year. One way of looking at it is that it's all one big tournament to decide the national championship.CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS
BIG SOUTH QUARTERFINALS
-#8. Charleston Southern @ #1. UNC Asheville
-#5. VMI @ #4. Liberty
-#7. Radford @#2. Winthrop
-#6. Coastal Carolina @ #3. High Point
UNC Asheville will have home court advantage throughout the tournament. They hit a skid a couple of weeks ago where they dropped four straight, but have since rebounded and appear to be playing well again. Theyre coming off a big win on the road against Winthrop that was pretty decisive, so one has to like their chances at winning this tournament on their home floor.
OHIO VALLEY QUARTERFINALS
-#8. Eastern Kentucky @ #1. Austin Peay
-#5. Samford @ #4 Tennessee Martin
-#7. Tennessee Tech @ #2. Murray State
-#6. Tennessee State @ #3. Morehead State
Austin Peay was the first place finisher, and they enter this tournament having won eight of their last nine, but they also showed that they were beatable throughout the season. Samford beat them earlier in the year, and UT Martin took them to overtime, so this wont be a cakewalk by any means. If Austin Peay loses, then theyll be bound for the NIT, but everyone else will likely see their season end. Austin Peay could get a #15 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but that would be the absolute highest. Everyone else is looking at a #16 seed.
HORIZON LEAGUE OPENING ROUND
-#10. Detroit @ #3. Wright State
-#7. Wisconsin Green Bay @ #6. Valparaiso
-#9. Youngstown State @ #4. Illinois Chicago
-#8. Loyola, IL @ #5. Wisconsin Milwaukee
The winners will face each other in the quarterfinals later this week, which will be held at Butlers home court. Cleveland State and Butler received byes into the semifinals, so they get some time off before having to play again. Valpo, UIC, Wisconsin Milwaukee and Wisconsin Green Bay all finished 9-9 in league play, so there is definitely quite a bit of parity and a lot of these early round games could end up going either way. Wright State needed to win just one of their final two games in order to clinch a bye into the semis, but came up just short both times, including an overtime loss at Valparaiso this past weekend. Theyve still had an outstanding year considering how many underclassmen they have, and the league recognized this by awarding head coach Brad Brownell coach of the year honors earlier this week. He shares the honor with Gary Waters of Cleveland State, who tied Wright State for second place in the standings.
-The first part of my conference tournament predictions are posted further below. HIGHLIGHTED MATCH-UPS
-COLORADO AT KANSAS STATE (Big Twelve). Kansas State has lost four in a row, including a decisive road loss to Kansas over the weekend. If they cant rebound and win this game against a poor Colorado team then they really are in trouble. Kansas States final two games are both winnable and the Wildcats need to take care of business in both in order to help out their NCAA Tourney seed.
-MIAMI, OH AT KENT STATE (Mid American). Kent State fell in an upset to Bowling Green over the weekend, which may prove to be a damaging loss. They really need to take care of business at home in this one, but it wont be easy. Miami has been playing some pretty good basketball, and just blew out Ohio, so theyre coming into this game with quite a bit of confidence. The conference tournament is going to be tough to win, so Kent needs to make as strong a case as possible in the event that they need an at-large to make the field. Seeing as how their conference doesnt consist of NCAA Tournament caliber teams, any loss will be damaging.
-FLORIDA GULF COAST AT MARQUETTE. I dont know what Marquette was thinking when they scheduled this game. Florida Gulf Coast is an Atlantic Sun team
sort of. Theyre still on probation from recently making a jump to div1 and are not eligible for the postseason, but they still play an A-Sun schedule. I guess its a chance for Marquette to go through the motions against a very beatable team.
-ARKANSAS AT MISSISSIPPI (SEC). Ole Miss has basically ruined any real shot at getting an at-large bid unless theyre able to win out to the SEC Championship game. Arkansas has been inconsistent, and at times have looked like theyre trying to ruin their own at-large chances. One area where Arkansas has really struggled is on the road, so winning today would really help them out. It wouldnt be a road win against an NCAA Tourney team, but at least itd be a road win against somebody.
-PURDUE AT OHIO STATE (Big Ten). I thought about putting this in the Bubble Watch, but seeing as how Ohio State has lost four straight games I dont even think theyre on the bubble anymore. Purdue, on the other hand, is competing for a first place finish in the Big Ten, which would almost assure them a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. Theyre 13-1 in their last 14 games and their remaining two regular season games are both winnable, so there is a good chance theyll get at least a share of the title. They should be able to make quite a bit of noise in the conference tournament next week as well.
-NEBRASKA AT TEXAS (Big Twelve). Texas fell to Texas Tech over the weekend, but can still finish in a tie for first place with Kansas, and since they won head-to-head during the regular season they would own the tiebreaker. Both of their remaining games, including this one, are games the Longhorns should win. If they finish first and avoid an early loss in the conference tournament I still like their chances for a #1 seed. Even though they have five losses, they have wins away from home against both Tennessee and UCLA, which counts for quite a bit considering those teams are in the hunt for #1 seeds as well. BUBBLE WATCH
-UNLV AT NEW MEXICO (Mountain West). New Mexico has just one RPI top 50 win, and that was at home against Texas Tech, so their credentials arent all that solid. However, seeing as how much the teams on the bubble are struggling, they still may have a chance to play their way in, but winning this game is an absolute must. UNLV appears to be solidly in the field and should remain that way even if they lose, but it would still knock them back closer to the bubble than theyd like to be. New Mexico, on the other hand, needs to win just so theyll have something of substance on their profile. It looked like they were going to beat BYU over the weekend, but they came up just short. That would have been huge. They still have a chance, though, if they can win this and make some noise in the conference tournament.
-FLORIDA STATE AT NORTH CAROLINA (ACC). Florida State appears to be a team thats squarely on the bubble, and a win in this game would probably put them in my next projections. They fell to the Tarheels in overtime the last time these two met, which would have been a huge win had they been able to pull it off. Now, they need to either win this or beat Miami in their next game and make some noise in the conference tournament in order to get the attention of the selection committee. With Ty Lawson
back, and with the fact that this game is in Chapel Hill, it wont be easy for the Tarheels to pull it off. North Carolina is competing for a #1 seed, so this is big for them as well if they want to end up being placed in Charlotte.
-WAKE FOREST AT VIRGINIA TECH (ACC). Wake Forest was making some noise, but then they lost three straight games and have fallen back outside the bubble. As poorly as a lot of the bubble teams have been playing they still have a chance, but they need to finish strong and then do some damage in the conference tournament. Virginia Tech is also in a position to possibly play their way in, but theyre in the same boat that Wake Forest is in. They also need to win their final two regular season games and then make some noise in the conference tournament on top of that. CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT PREDICTIONS: Part One
Because some of the leagues are still playing regular season games, this will have to be done in two parts. Last year, I was 18-12 in picking conference tournament champions. Of the 12 that I missed, six lost in the championship game.
-AMERICA EAST (pick UMBC). They lost their final regular season game on the road to Hartford, but theyd won nine a row prior to that and finished three games in front of second place Albany. There is some reason for alarm, though. The quarterfinals and semifinals are at Binghamton, and Binghamton is one of the teams that managed to beat UMBC this year. UMBC could be matched up with them in the semifinals, and winning on their home floor wont be easy.
-ATLANTIC SUN (pick Belmont). The Bruins have beaten virtually everyone in the conference. In fact the only two games theyve lost were to teams who finished in the bottom half of the league, so they can handle the top teams. The tournament isnt on their home floor, but its in their home city. They could potentially face Lipscomb in the semifinals, which would be a wild game, but other than that I dont think theyll have too much trouble defending their title.
-BIG SKY (pick Portland State). Portland State didnt lose a single conference game at home, and since theyll have home court advantage throughout I like their chances. Weber State gave them some trouble a few weeks back, but most of their recent conference games havent been close. They close out their regular season tonight against Eastern Washington in what is for the most part a meaningless game. Portland State has already clinched first place.
-BIG SOUTH (pick UNC Asheville). They have home court advantage throughout. Winthrop is another team that could be dangerous, but UNCA beat them without too much trouble on the road this past weekend. They went through a slump where they lost four straight games to some of the poorer teams in the league, but they appear to have come out of it now.
-COLONIAL ATHLETIC (pick VCU). George Mason is a team that could give VCU trouble. They actually beat VCU earlier this year and they appear to have a talented team, but for whatever reason GMU has struggled quite a bit against teams youd expect them to beat. The tournament is in VCUs home city, and the only CAA Team to beat them at home was Old Dominion, who is their biggest rival in the conference. It's possible that the two could meet in the semifinals, so it's by no means a guarantee, but I like VCUs chances.
-HORIZON LEAGUE (pick Butler). Butler has lost two conference games, and both were close losses on the road. They have a bye into the semifinals, and since theyve won the right to host the tournament they are the hands down favorite to win the league. If Butler wins their semifinal game, their opponents in the championship game will catch a small break. Most of the students will be away on Spring Break, so that may make pulling the upset a little more doable. Butler had a few close calls, so its not a guarantee by any means even though Butler is ranked so far ahead of everyone else.
-METRO ATLANTIC (pick Siena). This is one of the harder leagues to predict. Just one game separates the top four teams, and it seems like so many of the head-to-head match-ups have been so close that its anyones tournament to win. Siena does have a slight advantage because theyre hosting, but I wouldnt be betting too much money on them. Marist, Loyola MD and Rider are all capable of winning it. In fact that Rider beat Siena rather handily at Siena the last time these two met. Marist, who is a big rival of Siena, lost two them twice, but both games were close. They are definitely capable of beating the Saints and will likely bring everything they have if given a third chance to do so.
-MISSOURI VALLEY (pick Illinois State). Drake has played extremely well, and has actually beaten Illinois State twice, but I love the way the Redbirds have been playing lately. They just picked up a big win at Southern Illinois, which is one of the toughest courts to win on in the conference. Theyre 6-1 in their last seven and their one loss was a close one at Indiana State, which is another very tough place to win. Drake is also already in the NCAA Tournament, so Illinois State will likely show up with a little more motivation. They also played Drake very tough in both previous meetings. Although they didnt beat them, they came close twice.
-NORTHEAST (pick Robert Morris). Robert Morris has won 13 in a row and is 17-1 in their last 18 games. They did lose at home to Sacred Heart, but recently avenged that loss with a rather convincing win on the road. Theyve also won home court advantage throughout the tournament, which gives them a big advantage. Wagner is another tough team, but Robert Morris blew them out the last time they faced each other, so one has to like their chances at home.
-OHIO VALLEY (pick Austin Peay). I thought Austin Peay would run away with this league back in March, and they did finish three games ahead of the second place team, but they also racked up four losses. However, they come into this tournament with the most momentum having won eight of their last nine, and two of their four league losses were close games, so they still appear to be the best team.
-PATRIOT (pick Navy). This may not sound like the smartest pick because American has home court advantage throughout the conference tournament. However, Americans first game is against Holy Cross, who beat them on their home floor. Navy has also beaten American twice this year, and beat them rather handily. I wouldnt be surprised to see the Midshipmen make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
-SOUTHERN (pick Davidson). Davidson is a perfect 20-0 in the league. Not only that, but its been a rarity that anyone else in the conference has even stepped up enough on them to give them a game. Davidson has to be feeling a sense of desperation because although they appear to be good enough to advance in the NCAA Tournament, chances are they need to win this in order to get there. If they dont win it, itll be a fluke. Theyre clearly the best team.
-SUMMIT (pick IUPUI). Oral Roberts has the advantage because they were the first place team and the tournament is in their home city, but IUPUI is a team to be reckoned with. They split the regular season series with Oral Roberts and theyre 11-1 in their last twelve games. They also played well against some pretty tough competition out of conference where they hung tough with Marquette and managed an upset win over Massachusetts. Their loss to Oral Roberts on the road earlier this season was by just one point, so theyre definitely good enough to get it done and win this tournament.
-SUN BELT (pick Western Kentucky). South Alabama is the favorites to win, especially considering the fact that the tournament is in Mobile. They also beat Western Kentucky twice, but both games were close. I really like both teams, and I think South Alabama would be deserving of a bid if the two met in the championship game and Western Kentucky won. I dont know why but I just have a feeling about WKU. Theyre a talented team, and if they play up to their potential (which they admittedly dont always do) then they should be able to win this thing.
-WEST COAST (pick Gonzaga). Saint Marys is a very good team, and one has to really like San Diegos chances as well since theyre hosting the tournament. San Diego had a great year, and came very close to beating Gonzaga the last time they played. Ive picked against Gonzaga before in this tournament, but they always seem to step up and win it. They did lose to Saint Marys during the year, but the Zags still appear to be the better team and would probably win if the two faced each other on a neutral floor. In fact, Saint Marys could have quite a bit of trouble getting past San Diego in the semifinals. The Toreros beat them at home earlier this season.