The greatest month of the year is finally here! After a really sweet regular season it is time for conference tourneys to get underway tonight. CHD’s Jon Teitel shares Part 1 of his preview predicting who will win and why they will do so. Feel free to leave your comments below, and check back next week for Part 2.
1. America East tourney predicted champ: Albany
Last year’s tourney champ: Albany (#4-seed)
The Great Danes have won this tourney each of the past two years and were only a 3-point loss away from going undefeated in conference play this season. Since the higher-seeded school hosts each game, Albany will have the home-court advantage for as long as they keep winning. Their top-4 scorers are all juniors or seniors and they are one of the top-20 free throw shooting teams in the country at 75.6%.
2. Atlantic Sun tourney predicted champ: North Florida
Last year’s tourney champ: Mercer (#2-seed)
This tourney has been held since 1979, yet Florida Gulf Coast is the only team left in the league among the 17 who have ever won it. Last year’s champ was Mercer, but they left for the SoCon last summer. The Ospreys finished with the best record in the conference and swept the Eagles this year by an average of 15 points. As regular season champ they get to host each tourney game in which they play while featuring one of the top-5 long-range shooting offenses you will see all year (283 three pointers made).
3. Big South tourney predicted champ: Charleston Southern
Last year’s tourney champ: Coastal Carolina (#1-seed)
Talk about a title that is up for grabs: there were a whopping five teams who finished with 12-13 conference wins. This tourney has featured five different champs over the past six years, and since the Buccaneers are not one of them I think this might be their year to make it 6-of-7. They were 7-7 through early January before winning 12 of their final 15. They had a season split with each of Coastal Carolina/High Point/Radford, but lost their only meeting with Winthrop by 22 points, so they better hope that their fans can make the 100-mile drive to Conway to give them a bit of a home-court advantage.
4. CAA tourney predicted champ: UNC-Wilmington
Last year’s tourney champ: Delaware (#1-seed)
This is another one that is up for grabs with four teams sharing the regular season title with a 12-6 conference record. The heartwarming pick would be William & Mary because they are 1 of only 5 schools to have never made the NCAA tourney, but history is not on the Tribe’s side. The tourney remains in Baltimore for the 2nd straight year, but even that will not be enough to give Towson the hometown edge. This tourney has been won by a different school in each of the past 4 years, and the Seahawks are poised to make it 5-for-5. After starting the season 5-7 they have won 12 of 17 to get back in the hunt. Their offense is guard-heavy with each of their top-4 scorers standing 6’4” or shorter, but they have the size to play with anyone on defense due to five players standing 6’8” or taller.
5. Horizon tourney predicted champ: Valparaiso
Last year’s tourney champ: Milwaukee (#5-seed)
If there is anyone who knows what it takes to win games in March it is Valpo head coach Bryce Drew, the author of 1 of the most famous buzzer-beaters in history back in the 1998 NCAA tourney. This tourney has been won by a different school in each of the past four years, but the Crusaders are ready to break that streak as the regular season champ. They get to host the semifinals and finals due to finishing number one, and their only home loss all year came way back on December 6th. Valpo is one of the 10-best rebounding teams in the nation, and 6’10” center Vashil Fernandez is averaging nearly three blocks per contest on defense.
6. MAAC tourney predicted champ: Iona
Last year’s tourney champ: Manhattan (#2-seed)
The top-2 teams in the conference played each other in December and January, and Iona swept Rider via a pair of double-digit wins. The Gaels are trying to become the first team to win multiple tourney titles since Siena won their third straight title in 2010. The good news is that their 79.6 PPG is among the top-10 in the country, but the bad news is that their 72.5 points allowed is among the bottom-40 in the country. Iona has won 16 of 18 since New Year’s Eve and is one of the hottest teams in the nation, so if you want to beat them you will probably have to score at least 85 points.
7. MVC tourney predicted champ: Northern Iowa
Last year’s tourney champ: Wichita State (#1-seed)
It is hard to pick against Wichita State, who are the defending tourney champs and only 1 year removed from an undefeated regular season. However, the Panthers are on pace to finish with their highest ranking/best record in school history before celebrating the 5th anniversary of their greatest win ever: a 2-point upset of #1-seed Kansas in the 2010 NCAA tourney. They destroyed the Shockers by 16 points on January 31st before the defending champs got their revenge at the Roundhouse on February 28th, so if they each make the title game then round three should be a classic. Senior forward Seth Tuttle leads them in almost every single offensive category, and their dominant defense is #4 in the nation by allowing only 54.6 points per game.
8. NEC predicted champ: St. Francis NY
Last year’s tourney champ: Mt. St. Mary’s (#4-seed)
The Terriers men’s basketball program is the oldest collegiate program in New York City, yet is one of five schools to have never made the NCAA tourney. However, they have a good chance of breaking that streak this month due to the mediocrity surrounding them throughout their league. They have great senior leadership in power forward Jalen Cannon and point guard Brent Jones, and even though the team makes less than 30% of its 3-point shots, they are one of the five best rebounding teams in the nation. The higher seed in this tourney will host every game, so no sleep til Brooklyn!
9. OVC predicted champ: Murray State
Last year’s tourney champ: Eastern Kentucky (#3-seed)
The Racers have dominated this league in the regular season for the past six years, yet have only won two tourney titles during that time. This tourney has been won by a different school in each of the past four years, but Murray State has owned this league all year long. You can never count out Belmont when the tourney is played in Nashville, but the Racers have gone 24-0 since late-November due to an unstoppable inside-outside combination of point guard Cameron Payne and power forward Jarvis Williams. The Racers 78.8 point per game is top-15 in the nation but they might have problems against a big team because their tallest player is 6’8”.
10. Patriot predicted champ: Colgate
Last year’s tourney champ: American (#2-seed)
This conference is a hot mess, with nobody winning 20 regular season games and over half the league finishing with a losing record. The Raiders are the cream of this crappy crop due to their success against the top of the league: they swept BU/Bucknell/Lehigh, and had a season split with Lafayette. Bucknell won three straight regular season titles from 2011-2013 and made three tourney title game appearances, but had their streak broken with a 1-point loss to Army in last year’s quarterfinals. Colgate is not great at rebounding or stealing the ball, but they shoot over 40% from behind the arc and have five different players who averaged over one three point show made per game this season.
11. Southern predicted champ: Chattanooga
Last year’s tourney champ: Wofford (#3-seed)
Now that Davidson has moved on to the A-10 you would think this tourney is the Terriers for the taking. The defending champ was a #3 seed in last year’s tourney, but thanks to only 2 losses in conference play they were able to secure the #1 seed this year. However, each of the Mocs’ three losses in conference play were by 3-4 points, so they have proven that they can play with anyone in the leauge. Chattanooga beat regular season champ Wofford by 10 points on February 12th, and 6’10” Justin Tuoyo should add to his total of 102 blocks so far this year because the Terriers do not have a single player on their roster over 6’7”.
12. Summit predicted champ: South Dakota State
Last year’s tourney champ: North Dakota State (#1-seed)
South Dakota State won this tourney in 2012 and 2013 before the Bison broke through in Sioux Falls last year, but I think the Jackrabbits will bring the trophy back across the border this year. Their loss to North Dakota State on January 4th left them with a record of 9-7, but they have won 12 of 14 since then including a double-digit win over the Bison on Valentine’s Day. It is always a little risky to go with a rookie coach like David Richman, so the edge goes to 20-year-veteran coach Scott Nagy. South Dakota State might be one year away as none of their top-5 scorers are seniors, but they have size in Cody Larson and a trio of shooters who make over 40% of their 3-point shots.
13. WCC predicted champ: Gonzaga
Last year’s tourney champ: Gonzaga (#1-seed)
The Bulldogs have appeared in the tourney title game every single year since 1998, winning 12 and losing five. They almost went undefeated this year, with only a pair of 3-point losses to Arizona and BYU keeping them from perfection. Both the Cougars and St. Mary’s will put up a fight, but you should bet against a coach like Mark Few who has made the NCAA tourney every single year that he has been on the sideline. Gonzaga is in the top-30 in the nation in both offense and defense, three of their top-5 scorers are 6’10” or taller, and nobody can top their team’s 52.4 FG%.