Sunday, March 07, 2010

2010 Conference Tournament Previews: Part III

For the complete list of conference tournament previews, as well as a schedule of when all of these games will be played, please click here.

Atlantic Ten:
There will be plenty of at-large implications in this tournament. Temple, Xavier and Richmond are all safely in the Field of 65, but the A-10 would only be a three bid conference if the season ended now. Dayton and Rhode Island both are on the bubble and will need to get to at least the A-10 semifinals to have a shot at an at-large bid. Charlotte will need to get to the A-10 finals to have a shot. And while Saint Louis is still alive for an at-large, their odds are particularly long, and they almost surely need the auto bid.

The opening round will be on Tuesday, with Rhode Island, Charlotte and Dayton all in action, and all needing wins to stay alive. The second round games will be on Friday, and assuming that the favorites take care of business in the first round then the key Friday games will be Saint Louis vs Rhode Island, Richmond vs Charlotte and Xavier vs Dayton. That SLU/Rhody game will be an elimination game. The favorite to win the conference, in my opinion, is clearly Xavier, although Temple and Richmond have to be taken seriously as well. A sleeper team is a Dayton squad that is better than their record, and has just been in a funk that has caused them to lose close game after close game (they're 0-8 in their last eight games decided by five points or less). If they can get some confidence about their chances in close games then they can beat any team in this conference.

Big West:
Pacific and UC Santa Barbara tied atop the Big West with 12-4 records, with no other team finishing better than .500 in conference play. Pacific has been the best team in the conference this season, in my opinion, with wins over the likes of San Diego State and Nevada out of conference. So Pacific is the favorite, and Long Beach State is a sleeper team. Pacific has the potential to get as high as a 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but no other team in the conference will get higher than a 14.

Conference USA:
This is the best that Conference USA has been since the Big East stole away teams like Marquette and Louisville, but even so there is still a chance that it will be a one-bid league again. Heading into the C-USA tournament they've only got one team clearly in the Field of 65 (UTEP). Memphis and UAB would both be seriously considered as at-large teams if the season ended now, but I think both teams would be out. If both teams win their quarterfinal game then they will play in the C-USA semifinals, which will probably be an elimination game. It's worth noting that both Tulsa and Marshall still have a small chance at an at-large bid, and could play what would be an elimination game against each other in the quarterfinals, but both of those teams probably need the automatic bid to make the Tournament. UTEP is the favorite of just about every analyst to win the conference, but I've been picking Memphis for about a month now and I'm going to stick with them. They've played as well as red hot UTEP has played over the past two or three weeks, they have the best player, they have the experience of dominating the conference over the past few seasons, and their depth is much better now with the return of Angel Garcia. Tulsa, UAB and Marshall are the other teams with a chance of winning the tournament. There's a huge ability gap between the top five teams in the conference and the rest of the pack, and I'd be shocked if any of the bottom seven teams make any kind of run.

Mountain West:
New Mexico and BYU ran away with this conference, with New Mexico ending up with the regular season title by one game. Although a healthy Jimmer Fredette last weekend probably would have caused that title to switch hands. Both UNLV and San Diego State would also be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, but both are still on the bubble and will need to play well here to avoid the NIT. There's a huge gap between the fourth and fifth teams in the Mountain West, so I'd expect the top four teams to be the four semifinalists. The favorite to win the tournament is New Mexico because they swept BYU, but both Pomeroy and Sagarin actually think BYU is the better team. And with the bad blood between those two teams right now, it should be a very fun championship game if they meet again. The quarterfinal games will be broadcast on the MountainWest Sports Network, the semifinals on CBS College Sports Network, and the final on Versus, in the Mountain West's ongoing quest to keep casual fans around the nation from watching their games. I think that the lack of hype for New Mexico and BYU nationally has entirely to do with the idiotic television contracts that the conference is stuck in. I've been pretty mad that I've been able to see almost none of their games, although thankfully I'm one of about 1% of the country that gets both Versus and CBS College Sports. I'm convinced that MountainWest Sports Network is some closed circuit thing, though, as I don't know anybody that gets it.

Sam Houston State ran away with this conference fairly convincingly, with a 14-2 record. Stephen F Austin was second, with an 11-5 record. Sam Houston State is the clear favorite, although you can't discount Stephen F Austin, with their slow-it-down style that has frustrated teams all season (they're one of 11 teams in the nation allowing 60 points or less per game). UT-San Antonio, Texas A&M-CC and SE Louisiana are the other key challengers. Sam Houston State would be a 14 or 15 seed if they win the conference tournament, and Stephen F Austin would also have an outside shot at a 14 seed. If any other team wins this tournament there will be a real risk of a 16 seed.

Utah State was far and away the best team in the WAC this season, and will be a bubble team if they fall in this tournament, meaning that every other bubble team in the nation will be rooting for the Aggies to win. They won't have a walk-over, though, as Louisiana Tech, Nevada and New Mexico State all had good seasons. I consider Nevada and Louisiana Tech to be the only teams with a truly realistic shot of knocking off the favorites, but that means that Utah State will likely have two tough games, with the bracket putting them on pace to see Louisiana Tech in the semifinals, and Nevada in the finals. The other five teams in the conference are pretty mediocre, and should not be serious factors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In order to get The Mtn. you have to be a DirectTV subscriber. However, DirectTV subscribers don't get Versus, so you're pretty much screwed either way when it comes to the tournament.