Tuesday, March 02, 2010

2010 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:
There was a huge logjam atop the conference this season, with five teams finishing within one game of each other: Belmont, Campbell, East Tennessee State, Jacksonville and Lipscomb. Due to a variety of tiebreakers it is Lipscomb with the #1 seed, but they are not the favorites. In my opinion it's Belmont, a team that plays uptempo and aggressive defense. They're very sloppy on offense, but every team has flaws in this conference. A sleeper is East Tennessee State, a team that finished fifth in the standings but which is viewed by both Sagarin and Pomeroy as the second best team in the conference. They are by far the best team in the conference at forcing turnovers, and Belmont is one of the worst at committing them. I wouldn't be surprised to see East Tennessee State force 20-25 turnovers to win a sloppy game.

Big South:
Coastal Carolina ran away with this conference and will be the top seed. They are solid in all aspects of the game, although they'll have to navigate many different types of teams. They survived VMI in their first round game a couple of hours ago, a team that for years now has been the highest tempo team in the nation, but which this season also has the single worst defense in the nation. And they might have to face Winthrop in the tournament finals, a team that loves to slow things down and drag them out, with stifling defense. But Coastal Carolina is the clear favorite no matter what. No real sleeper teams, but either Radford or Winthrop will give them a battle in the tournament finals.

Horizon League:
Butler has locked up an at-large bid, so the Horizon League can become a two-bid league if Butler gets knocked off. Butler is by far the best team in the conference and it would be a big upset if they lost, but it's not impossible. Wright State is a very good team yet again. And UW-Green Bay has proved that they can slay big teams by beating Wisconsin earlier this season. Butler should cruise to the Horizon League finals, but whoever they face in the finals (be it Wright State, UW-GB or Detroit) should give them a fight.

Siena ran away with the conference again, and they will be the heavy favorites to win the MAAC tournament as well. They could earn an at-large bid, but I think it's somewhat unlikely, so they'll be motivated to get that automatic bid. Their two chief challengers will be Fairfield and Iona, who are on pace to play in the MAAC semifinals. A sleeper team is Niagara, a team that was very good last season and has been disappointing this year, but they still have a ton of talent from last year's team. All three of those teams are on the bottom side of the draw, however, so I'd expect Siena to cruise into the MAAC finals.

Missouri Valley:
There will be a lot of at-large implications during Arch Madness games. Northern Iowa should be safe for an at-large bid, but Illinois State and Wichita State are both fighting for an at-large bid for themselves. Wichita State has the better resume at the moment, but neither team would be in the Field of 65 if the season ended now. Those two teams are on pace to play in the MVC semifinals on Saturday, March 6th, which I expect will be an elimination game. It's hard to see either team losing that game and still getting into the bracket. Northern Iowa won't have a walk to the finals, either. Southern Illinois is a sleeper that will play UNI in the quarterfinals if they can get past an opening round game against Drake. And if UNI can get through that game, they will play either Bradley or Creighton in the semifinals, both of which are capable of pulling the upset. If UNI can win the tournament then they'll be in the discussion for a 5-6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Quinnipiac and Robert Morris tied atop the conference with 15-3 records. Quinnipiac is the better team and is the favorite. They won their one game of the season against Robert Morris, and it came on the road. A sleeper team is Mt. Saint Mary's. The NEC has a weird process of re-seeding teams after the quarterfinals, so it's impossible to project future match-ups. But I'd be pretty shocked if Quinnipiac lost to any team other than Robert Morris or Mt. Saint Mary's.

Ohio Valley:
Murray State ran away with the Ohio Valley, racking up a 17-1 record. There probably isn't another team in the country that is as superior compared to every other team in the conference as Murray State, and it would be a shocker if they lost. And if they do win the conference tournament then they'll get either a 12 or a 13 seed, and they'll be a very dangerous first round opponent. Depending on their opponent they could be a good first round upset pick.

Patriot League:
Lehigh narrowly won the conference's regular season title over Bucknell and Lafayette, but there were no dominant teams in this conference. Lehigh is probably the best team, but it's close. Against both Bucknell and Lafayette this season they won their home match-up, and lost the road match-up. The Patriot League plays all games on campus sites, so Lehigh will have homecourt advantage throughout the tournament, and that makes them the favorite, but don't count out any of the other top teams. A sleeper pick is Holy Cross, a team that is much, much better than their 8-21 record.

Southern Conference:
Things opened up in this conference now that Davidson is no longer a power. Wofford won the conference regular season title with a 15-3 record, but Appalachian State was right behind at 13-5, and College of Charleston has a win over North Carolina to go with their own 14-4 record. While College of Charleston has the better conference record, the more famous coach and the more prominent resume, I view Appalachian State as the better hope at knocking off Wofford. They already beat Wofford on Wofford's home floor this season. Western Carolina and Davidson are sleeper teams that can make some noise. But Wofford is the favorite.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate the previews, but I have no idea why you think Murray State losing in the Ohio Valley tournament would be a huge surprise. Defending champion Morehead State went 15-3 in conference and just a week ago beat Murray State. The Racers may have more balance, but Kenneth Faried is a better player than anyone in Murray State's lineup. Please don't bring up computer numbers, because the Eagles have big game experience, something Murray State lacks and a computer cannot quantify. It should be one of the better conference finals when these two meet up, and I don't think Murray State is a guarantee at all to win that game.

Jeff said...

Morehead State did beat them by 5 points at home, but they lost by 30 on the road.

And I like Murray State's style of play: uptempo, tough defense. It's the perfect style of play for teams that don't get high-major skill players. It makes them tough to beat in the OVC, and a pest once they make the NCAA Tournament.