Sunday, March 02, 2014

2014 Conference Tournament Previews: Part I

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 Sun
Our #DunkCity friends at Florida Gulf Coast are the 1 seed in the bracket, but they won't be the favorite in the Atlantic Sun tournament. Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer ended up tied at 14-4 and split their regular season series, and the tiebreaker was record vs the third placed team, which gave FGCU the tiebreaker. But FGCU was lucky to get to 14-4 (5-0 in games decided by five points or less), and their +0.09 PPP in conference play was well behind Mercer's +0.20 PPP. In fact, Florida Gulf Coast was actually third in efficiency margin in conference play, narrowly behind USC Upstate (+0.11 PPP).

The computers basically agree with what I said in the last paragraph. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy have Mercer far and away the best team in the conference, with USC Upstate narrowly ahead of Florida Gulf Coast for second best. But surely the fact that FGCU got the 1 seed helps? Absolutely. Mercer may have to face USC Upstate in the semifinals, while Florida Gulf Coast will basically get a free pass to the title game (more on that in a second). But Mercer still has to be the favorite.

If there is a dark horse, I think it has to be Lipscomb. They've won 8 of 10 down the stretch, including a 21 point home thumping of Florida Gulf Coast on Thursday. If Florida Gulf Coast somehow fails to make the title game, Lipscomb (the 5 seed) is the most likely reason why. The favorite for the whole tournament, however, has to be Mercer.

Big South:
The Big South has, without question, been the toughest league in the nation to figure out all season. I haven't seen any Log5 analyses of conference tournaments yet, but this league might have a "favorite" with only a 20% or so probability of winning the league. It's wildly balanced. To give you some stats, the top seven teams in the league all have an efficiency margin in conference play between +0.04 and +0.09 PPP. The top eight teams in the Pomeroy ratings are all ranked between 225th and 251st.

So who is the "favorite"? I've been sticking with VMI the past few weeks because they have the (ever so slightly) best computer numbers. But the top teams have all beat each other up relatively evenly, and you can easily make a case for any of the four teams that got byes to the quarterfinals (High Point, UNC-Asheville and Coastal Carolina being the other three).

If there's a dark horse out of the teams playing in the opening round, I'd pick Charleston Southern. They're better than their record (1-6 in conference play in games decided by six points or less) and they have proven that they can beat Coastal Carolina, their quarterfinal opponent if they get there. They split their two games against Coastal Carolina this season, outscoring them on net by ten points. But really, it's hard to fathom how anybody thinks there's a clear favorite in this league. I'll stick with VMI, but don't feel great about it.

The Horizon League wasn't much of a competition this season. Green Bay has a premier inside-outside duo of Keifer Sykes and Alec Brown, and they made their intentions known early by beating Virginia and Tulsa, and nearly taking out Wisconsin. They were never seriously challenged in conference play, running away with the league with a 14-2 record, and they'll be the favorites in the Horizon League tournament.

That said, don't view Green Bay's victory as a formality. Cleveland State got swept by Green Bay during the regular season, but otherwise played a fairly similar level of basketball. In fact, their +0.13 PPP in conference play is nearly identical to Green Bay's +0.14. Those are also the two teams with byes to the tournament semis, so if any team takes out Green Bay it's most likely going to be Cleveland State.

The Horizon League bracket is very orderly in that the third best team in the computers and in efficiency margin is also the 3 seed: Wright State. The Raiders also won at Cleveland State and nearly won at Green Bay this season, so they won't be a pushover. And if I had to pick a fourth contender? Well, I'd have to take the 4 seed: Valparaiso. Valpo has beaten Green Bay already this season and they have the type of high-usage star (LaVonte Dority) who can take over games in a one-in-done situation. But realistically, Green Bay has to be viewed as the favorite.

Robert Morris won the regular season title relatively easily in the NEC, finishing two games clear of Wagner and four full games clear of third place. But they were by no means dominant. They went 7-1 in games decided by six points or less in conference play, and they ended up with the same efficiency margin in conference play (+0.12 PPP) as Wagner. And if you go to computer ratings like Pomeroy or Sagarin you'll see Robert Morris as the top team in the league... but only barely. Wagner, Bryant, St. Francis (NY) and even Mt. St. Mary's are all very close. Considering the margin of error on computer ratings, you can easily make a solid case that Wagner or Bryant is the best team in the NEC. Head-to-head doesn't really illuminate things much either. Robert Morris split with Wagner, and while they swept Bryant the games were won by an average of 3.5 points.

Robert Morris is still the favorite, for two big reasons. First, they have home court advantage the whole way. Second, they have the most explosive scorer in the league in senior guard Karvel Anderson, who takes 31.9% of his team's shots while on the floor with an absurd 63.6 eFG% (including 46% behind the arc).

Are there any dark horses? Well there is no team drastically under-seeded, so I wouldn't expect a big shocker. Central Connecticut State would probably be my selection, simply because they've played their best basketball of the season over the last month, winning five of their last seven games after starting conference play 2-7. They also beat Robert Morris, so they obviously have the ability to do it again. But realistically, Robert Morris has to be the NEC tourney favorite.

In the second season of Belmont in the Ohio Valley, we once again saw Belmont and Murray State dominate the league. Neither was quite as good as they've been for the most part over the past few seasons, but Belmont still went 14-2 in the OVC East while Murray State finished five games clear (with a 13-3 record) in the OVC West. With those two teams getting a free pass to the OVC semifinals, we appear to again be setting up for those two to play for the auto bid.

Who's the favorite if Belmont and Murray State play? It probably has to be Belmont. The game will be a quasi-home game (Belmont actually briefly used the Nashville Municipal Auditorium as their home court while their current arena was being constructed), and Belmont is rated a bit better by the computers. But that said, their head-to-head match-up a few weeks ago wasn't really proof of anything, as Belmont won by three points at home. But if there's a tiebreaker here, it's that Belmont will likely have the easier semifinal match-up. The third best team in the league is Eastern Kentucky, and they're on track to see Murray State in the semifinals.

What about a dark horse? There isn't really one, though if I'm forced to choose I'll take Southeast Missouri State. The Redhawks have finished strong, winning their final four games, including an upset of Murray State. But most likely we're heading to another Belmont/Murray State title game. It's hard to feel too strongly about a favorite in that game, but the edge has to go to Belmont.

The Patriot League has the honor of being the first conference tournament to begin, with Navy and Colgate tipping off at 7pm eastern time tomorrow. Who's ready for March!?

Anyway, this league seemed like a battle between Boston University and American University all season long. American started out 10-0 in league play, including a 30 point home victory over BU, but they fell apart down the stretch. American finished with the best efficiency margin in league play (+0.13 PPP), but they lost five of their final eight games, including a loss at BU. By dropping to the 2 seed, they have two big problems. First, the third best team in the league is Holy Cross, and they'll likely be American's semifinal opponent. Also, if BU and AU play in the title game, Boston University will get the home court advantage.

Aside from the top three teams, the top contender has to be Bucknell. Bucknell had a very disappointing start to the season, and at one point were only 5-7 in conference play. But they've pulled things together late, winning their final six games, including road wins at Boston University and American University.

If there's a dark horse team outside the Top 4 it has to be Colgate, who are third in the nation at 40.3% behind the arc, have a win at American, and nearly took out BU as well. If they can get past Navy, they'll be a tough test for American in the quarterfinals.

Considering their collapse down the stretch, American University might not even be the top challenger to Boston University any longer. It might be Holy Cross. Certainly Bucknell is a real contender as well. But Boston University enters the Patriot League tournament as the favorite.


Anonymous said...

This site provides log5 for conference tournaments based on projected seedings:

For the Big South, they have Charleston Southern as the favorite with a 28.5% chance.

Jeff said...

Cool, thanks.

Beau...theBCI said...

Or Ken Pomeroy's are here