Conference Tournament Previews: Week 1

Conference Tournament Previews: Week 1


Conference Tournament Previews: Week 1

While the major conferences are wrapping up their regular seasons this week, some of the smaller conferences tip off their Conference Tournaments and the quest to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament begins. Of the conferences starting tournaments this week, the MAAC (with Monmouth), Missouri Valley (with Wichita St) and the West Coast Conference (with St Mary’s and Gonzaga) have the opportunity to be multi-bid leagues if the favorites do not win the tournament. That being said, none of those 4 teams have outstanding resumes and could all find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble if they fail to win their respective tournaments.

America East


March 1, 6, 11
Higher seed hosts game

Top Seeds: Vermont, Stony Brook

Sleeper: UMBC

Tournament Format: 8 teams in a normal bracket

Recent History: Stony Brook is the defending champions, topping Vermont last year to earn their first NCAA Tournament bid in school history. The Sea Wolves had been knocking on the door, losing in the Championship Game 4 of the prior 5 years. Before Stony Brook won, Albany had won the prior 3 titles. The last time a team other than Stony Brook, Albany, or Vermont appeared in the Championship Game was 2011.

Preview: Vermont went 16-0 in league play and is the clear favorite entering the America East Tournament. The Catamounts have the league’s best defense (63.2 PAPG). Vermont was so dominant that only 4 of their league games were within 10 points and their only game within 2 possessions was a 3-point win at UMBC. Hartford’s Jalen Ross led the league in scoring at 19.8 PPG with UMBC’s Jarius Lyles coming in a close second at 19.1. UMBC could be a dangerous team as they feature two of the top 3-point shooters in the league and average 82 points per game but have struggled to defend and have the second-worst defense in the conference. Stony Brook is the defending champions while New Hampshire has won 5 in a row heading into the tournament.

Atlantic Sun


Feb 27, March 2, 5
Higher seed hosts game

Top Seeds: Florida Gulf Coast, Lipscomb

Sleeper: Kennesaw St

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: Last year’s title game was filled with drama. Stetson was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament but was allowed to play in the A-Sun Tournament and made a run to the Championship Game where they took Florida Gulf Coast to overtime. The A-Sun rules stated that if Stetson had won, regular season champion North Florida would have received the automatic bid. Florida Gulf Coast prevailed in overtime and returned to the Big Dance for the second time in 4 years.

Preview: Florida Gulf Coast and Lipscomb were the best two teams in the conference all season and finished 3 games clear of the next closest team. Florida Gulf Coast is the defending champions and will have home court advantage throughout the tournament. Both the Eagles and the Bison are high-scoring teams who average over 80 points per game. They split their two meetings this season and seem destined for a rematch in the A-Sun final. Lipscomb is 12th in the nation in scoring at nearly 85 points per game and 4th in the nation in assists at 18 per game. Lipscomb has won the Atlantic Sun regular season title twice in their history but have never reached the NCAA Tournament. North Florida’s Dallas Moore leads the league (and ranks 3rd in the nation) in scoring with 23.8 PPG. Kennesaw St features one of the top 3-point shooters in the nation in Nick Masterson (52.9%) along with the conference’s leading rebounder (Aubrey Williams) and second-leading scorer (Kendrick Ray).

Big South


Feb 28, March 2, 3, 5
Higher seed hosts game

Top Seeds: Winthrop, UNC-Asheville

Sleeper: Gardner-Webb

Tournament Format: 10 teams, two play-in games then normal bracket

Recent History: UNC-Asheville is the defending champions. Winthrop has lost in the Championship Game each of the last 3 years. The top seed has not won the Big South Tournament since 2012.

Preview: Winthrop and Asheville tied for the conference title with Winthrop getting the top seed thanks to a better record against fourth-place Garder-Webb. This gives Winthrop home court advantage throughout the tournament. Winthrop has the best offense in the league at 79.4 PPG and feature the league’s second-leading scorer in Keon Johnson (21.8 PPG). Campbell G Chris Clemons leads the conference in scoring (and is 6th in the nation) with 23.1 PPG. Winthrop is a fun team that plays fast in transition while Asheville will bombard opponents with 3-pointers, featuring 3 players averaging over 45% from beyond the arc. Gardner-Webb is one of the hottest teams in the league, carrying a 4-game winning streak into the postseason.



March 3-6

Top Seeds: UNC-Wilmington, Charleston

Sleeper: William & Mary

Tournament Format: 10 teams, two play-in games then normal bracket

Recent History: UNC-Wilmington is the defending champions but a different team has won the CAA tournament in each of the last 6 years. In that time, the top seed has only won the tournament once. One of the top three seeds has won each of the last 16 CAA Tournaments

Preview: Wilmington nearly pulled the upset on Duke last year in the NCAA Tournament and has battled back and forth with Charleston atop the league this season. The teams represent a complete contrast of styles as Charleston plays slow and averaged holding their opponents under 64 points per game. Meanwhile, Wilmington was the 12th highest scoring team in the nation, averaging nearly 85 points per game. Wilmington F Devontae Cacok leads the nation in field goal percentage and is nearly a walking double-double (12.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG). William and Mary has never made the NCAA Tournament but features two of the top 3-point shooters in the conference and averages over 81 points per game.



March 3-7

Top Seeds: Valparaiso, Oakland

Sleeper: Green Bay

Tournament Format: 10 teams, two play-in games then normal bracket. The Horizon League previously gave a double bye to the top two seeds but switched to a normal bracket this season.

Recent History: Valparaiso has entered as the top seed in 4 of the last 5 tournaments but has only won the tournament twice. Green Bay is the defending champions.

Preview: For just the second time in the last 6 years, Valparaiso is not the top seed in the tournament. The Crusaders enter as the second seed after losing in the season finale to Oakland which gave the Golden Grizzlies the head-to-head tiebreaker. This figures to be a fun tournament filled with high-scoring affairs as the top 8 teams in the league all average over 76 points per game. Defending champions Green Bay have the highest-scoring offense at over 80 points per game with Oakland a close second at just over 79 per game. Oakland has won 9 in a row entering the tournament and is the league’s hottest team. Valparaiso features the league’s leading scorer and rebounder in Alec Peters whose 23 PPG and 10.1 RPG both rank in the top 16 in the nation.



March 2-6

Top Seeds: Monmouth, St Peter’s

Sleeper: Iona

Tournament Format: 11 teams, three play-in games then a normal bracket

Recent History: Iona is the defending champions. The Gaels and Manhattan have split the last four MAAC Championships. The top seed has not won the MAAC Tournament since Siena in 2010.

Preview: Many felt that Monmouth was overlooked by the Selection Committee last year after they were toppled by Iona in the MAAC Championship. This year, the MAAC will certainly be a one-bid league again with a similar cast of contenders. After a 2-2 start to league play, Monmouth has won 16 in a row thanks to a fast-paced offense that averages over 80 points per game and the league’s leading scorer Justin Robinson (19.7 PPG). Iona also likes to run at a high tempo and averages over 80 points per game while second place St Peter’s is one of the slowest teams in the nation. The Peacocks are the lowest-scoring team in the conference but also have the best defense, holding opponents under 62 points per game. St Peter’s enters tournament play as the second-hottest team, winners of their last 6, and is one of 2 MAAC teams to beat Monmouth this year.

Missouri Valley


March 2-5
St Louis

Top Seeds: Illinois St, Wichita St

Sleeper: Loyola-Chicago

Tournament Format: 10 teams, two play-in games then normal bracket.

Recent History: Wichita St won the last 3 regular season titles, but Northern Iowa is the two-time defending Arch Madness champion.

Preview: Wichita St and Illinois St absolutely dominated the Missouri Valley Conference this season. The two split their head-to-head meetings which were their only losses in league play and they finished 8 games ahead of third place Northern Iowa. Due to their head-to-head tie, the top seed was awarded based on the RPI rankings which put Illinois St at the top of the bracket. Both teams have questionable tournament resumes as Wichita St does not have a loss outside the Top 50 but only has 1 Top 50 victory. Illinois St also has only 1 Top 50 victory and has 2 sub-100 losses on their resume. The teams play a contrast of styles with Illinois St playing a slow methodical game and Wichita State attacking with tempo. The Shockers average over 82 points per game while the Redbirds are 6th in the nation in defense, holding opponents to just over 60 points per game.



March 1, 4, 7
Higher seed hosts game

Top Seeds: Mount Saint Mary’s, LIU-Brooklyn

Sleeper: St Francis (PA)

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket.

Recent History: A different team has won each of the last four tournaments. Despite having home court advantage throughout the tournament, the #1 seed has not won the NEC Tournament since 2012.

Preview: Only 3 teams enter the NEC Tournament with winning records, an almost sure sign that the NEC Champion will receive a 16-seed for the 6th straight year. Mount Saint Mary’s won the regular season title but lost 2 of their last 4 games. LIU-Brooklyn finished just a game back and closed the season on a 6-game winning streak. St Francis (PA) has never made the NCAA Tournament but features the highest-scoring offense in the league (75.4 PPG) while Wagner had the best defense at 65.4 PPG.

Ohio Valley


March 1-4

Top Seeds: Belmont, UT-Martin

Sleeper: Morehead St

Tournament Format: Top 8 teams qualify. Two Division Champions receive double-byes to the Semifinals and the #3 and #4 seeds receive byes to the Quarterfinals.

Recent History: Austin Peay made an incredible run from the #8 seed to beat the 5, 4, 1, and 2 seeds and win the OVC Tournament. Over the last three tournaments, none of the teams receiving a double-bye have won the league’s bid.

Preview: Austin Peay just missed the OVC Tournament this year, but the field is once again wide open. The Ohio Valley Tournament is always one of the best small conference tournaments and this year should be no different. Belmont won the league with a 15-1 record, marking the Bruins fourth OVC regular season title in the 5 years since joining the league. They have only converted 2 of those into NCAA Tournament appearances. This tournament figures to be heavy on scoring as 5 of the 8 teams average over 75 points per game. Murray St guard Jonathan Stark (21.1 PPG) and Belmont forward Evan Bradds (20.8 PPG) both rank in the Top 25 in the nation in scoring while Belmont point guard Austin Lake is 2nd in the nation in assists (7.2 APG). UT-Martin and Morehead St are both dangerous teams averaging over 78 points per game while Murray St leads the league in scoring at over 80 points per game.



March 2, 5, 8
Higher seed hosts game

Top Seeds: Bucknell, Boston U

Sleeper: Lehigh

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games then normal bracket

Recent History: Bucknell has won 5 of the last 6 regular season titles but has only reached the Big Dance twice in that time. Last year, Holy Cross came from the 9 seed to win four straight games on the road to win the Patriot League Tournament. Prior to the conference tournament, Holy Cross had a 2-13 road record (0-9 in League play) and had not won more than 3 games in a row all season.

Preview: The Patriot League features a stark contrast of styles and the season has been defined by head-to-head sweeps. Bucknell won the regular season title for the 6th time in 7 years but was swept by Lehigh. Lehigh was swept by both Boston U and Loyola (MD)- one of whom they will likely need to beat in order to earn a rematch with Bucknell in the title game. Bucknell, Boston and Lehigh all rank in the Top 100 in the nation in offensive tempo with the Bison and Mountain Hawks averaging over 75 points per game. Defending champions Holy Cross (who enter the tournament as the 5-seed) are one of the slowest-paced teams in the nation and have held opponents to just 62.5 PPG this season. The Patriot League has been dominated by big men this season, led by Lehigh’s Tim Kempton (20.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG) and Bucknell’s front line of Zach Thomas (15.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG) and Nana Foulland (14.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG).



March 3-6

Top Seeds: UNC-Greensboro, Furman

Sleeper: Chattanooga

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games

Recent History: The SoCon saw an exodus of teams after the 2013 season. Of the current members of the conference, only Chattanooga and Wofford have won the SoCon tournament in the last decade. The top seed has won 4 of the least 5 SoCon Championships.

Preview: Greensboro, Furman, and East Tennessee State finished in a 3-way tie atop the SoCon. Greensboro got the top seed in the tournament based on a 3-1 record against the other two while Furman the second seed and ETSU the third. Entering the season many expected Chattanooga to repeat as champions but the Mocs lost their last 4 and stumbled to a 4th place finish. Greensboro finished the season on a 7-game winning streak, including a win over ETSU in the season finale to give the Spartans the top seed. Furman also had a 10-game winning streak this season, putting the Paladins in position to compete for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1980. There figures to be plenty of scoring in the SoCon tournament as the top 5 seeds all average over 75 points per game and 7th place Samford averaged 80 per game and 9th place The Citadel was second in the nation averaging 90.9 PPG but allowed 95.9 PPG, the worst mark in the nation. It would not be a surprise if any of the top four seeds won this tournament. East Tennessee St was the runners up last year and was the most consistent team in the SoCon all season.



March 4-7
Sioux Falls

Top Seeds: South Dakota, North Dakota St

Sleeper: South Dakota St

Tournament Format: 8 teams, normal bracket

Recent History: Over the last 5 years the Summit League has been won by either North Dakota State or South Dakota State. One of the top two seeds has won the tournament in each of the last 9 years.

Preview: South Dakota moved up to Division 1 in 2009 and joined the Summit League in 2011. This is the first time the Coyotes have finished higher than 5th in the league and have won 6 in a row as they look for their first trip to the NCAA Tournament. North Dakota St has appeared in each of the last 4 Summit League Championship Games, winning 2 and losing twice to South Dakota St. Omaha is also a recent transition to D1 and finished 3rd in the league averaging 84 PPG. Fort Wayne was the highest-scoring team in the league at 88 PPG and pulled an upset of in-state rival Indiana earlier this season. South Dakota St forward Mike Daum is the second-leading scorer in the nation at 24.9 PPG.

West Coast


March 3-7
Las Vegas

Top Seeds: Gonzaga, St Mary’s

Sleeper: BYU

Tournament Format: 10 teams, 2 play-in games then normal bracket

Recent History: Gonzaga has won the last 4 West Coast Conference Tournaments and 6 of the last 8. The only other team to win in that timespan was St Mary’s. The last time a team other than the Zags or Gaels won the tournament was San Diego in 2008.

Preview: Gonzaga blew through the regular season and looked primed to enter the postseason undefeated before BYU spoiled their perfect season on senior night in Spokane. Gonzaga ranks in the Top 10 in the nation in both offensive and defensive efficiency and have big neutral court wins over Florida and Arizona this season. Gonzaga averages 85 PPG and allows just 61. Second place St Mary’s plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation and have an efficient offense and stifling defense that has held opponents to 56.1 PPG. BYU is a stark contrast to St Mary’s, playing at one of the fastest paces in the nation and averaging over 81 points per game.


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