rick-byrd

Atlantic Sun Conference tournament preview

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Belmont’s off to the Ohio Valley next season, which means the Bruins get to spend their final two seasons in the A-Sun dominating the league (35-3 vs. conference foes) and then trying not to stumble in the conference tournament for that automatic bid.

And where will they try to clinch the tournament title this season? At Mercer, which finished tied for second in the regular-season standings.

That’s what you call stress. And drama!

THE BRACKET

Where: University Center, Macon, Ga.
When: Feb. 29-March 3
Final: March 3, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Studs
Kerrion Johnson, Belmont
: The Bruins’ junior point guard has no shortage of options around him (5.2 apg) and can score himself (14.0 ppg). Little wonder Belmont’s offense thrives with him.

Ian Clark, Belmont: Sure, this could be Ian Clark or Drew Hanlon, but the 6-3 junior is more reliable with the ball and  better at creating scoring options for others. Himself, too (12.4 ppg).

Langston Hall, Mercer: A 6-4 sophomore who rarely comes off the floor, Hall leads the Bears in scoring (11.3 ppg) and assists (4.0 apg).

Torrey Craig, South Carolina Upstate: The conference’s leading scorer puts up 17 points a night and is the focal point of the offense. In a bigger league, the 6-6 sophomore would be an undersized forward. Not here.

Favorite: Belmont. Rick Byrd’s team has owned this league the last two years. The Bruins are an overwhelming favorite because of their depth, skill and style of play. Few A-Sun teams can handle them. Plus, Belmont isn’t getting an at-large berth if it doesn’t win. This is a team that’ll come in focused and ready.

And if they lose? Mercer. That’s an easy call, too. The tournament’s hosts have lost twice to Belmont this season, but by a combined five points, including last week’s 62-61 home loss. The Bears have lost three of their last four, but two were on the road. If the home crowd can help them through some rough patches, the Bears will be tough.

Sleepers: S.C. Upstate tied with Mercer for second and has the league’s leading scorer in Torrey Craig. But the odds of them reaching the championship aren’t great. If they get there, they are one of the two teams to have beaten Belmont, though. Lipscomb is the other, but it’ll be lucky to win one game.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

AP POLL: Villanova climbs to No. 1 in the country.

Jay Wright
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
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Like the Coaches Poll, Villanova found themselves No. 1 in the AP Poll during the regular season for the first time in the history of the program.

And like the Coaches Poll, there isn’t much in the way of a consensus when it comes to who is the No. 1 team, as there are six teams that received No. 1 votes in the poll this week.

[NEW PODCAST]

[LATEST BRACKETOLOGY]

The biggest shock to me?

The No. 1 team in the NBC Sports Top 25, Iowa, received just 11 first place votes and is ranked fourth in the AP Poll.

They were ranked fifth in the Coaches Poll.

Can we get Fran McCaffery the love they deserve?

Here is the rest of the AP Poll:

1. Villanova (20-3, 32 first-place votes)
2. Maryland (21-3, 13)
3. Oklahoma (19-3, 7)
4. Iowa (19-4, 11)
5. Xavier (21-2)
6. Kansas (19-4, 1)
7. Virginia (19-4, 1)
8. Michigan State (20-4)
9. North Carolina (19-4)
10. West Virginia (19-4)
11. Oregon (18-4)
12. Miami (FL) (18-4)
13. Louisville (19-4)
14. Iowa State (17-6)
15. Texas A&M (18-5)
16. SMU (20-2)
17. Arizona (19-5)
18. Purdue (19-5)
19. Dayton (19-3)
20. Providence (18-6)
21. Baylor (17-6)
22. Kentucky (17-6)
23. USC (18-5)
24. Texas (16-7)
25. Wichita State (17-6)

DROPPED OUT: No. 22 Indiana, No. 25 South Carolina
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 USC, No. 24 Texas

COACHES POLL: Villanova is the new No. 1 team in the country

Josh Hart, Jordan Pric
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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Just as we expected, there is absolutely no consensus when it comes to the No. 1 team in college basketball.

In the new Coaches Poll released today, Villanova slots in as No. 1 overall, but Maryland received the same number of first place votes as the Wildcats and seven teams — seven! — received at least one first place vote, including No. 8 North Carolina and No. 9 Michigan State.

[NEW PODCAST]

[LATEST BRACKETOLOGY]

The biggest shock to me?

The No. 1 team in the NBC Sports Top 25, Iowa, received just three first place votes and is ranked fifth by the coaches.

I think the coaches need to pay better attention.

Or they hate Fran McCaffery.

One or the other.

Anyway, here’s the full poll:

1. Villanova (20-3, 11 first-place votes)
2. Maryland (21-3, 11)
3. Oklahoma (19-3, 3)
4. Xavier (21-2)
5. Iowa (19-4, 3)
6. Kansas (19-4, 2)
7. Virginia (19-4)
8. North Carolina (19-4, 1)
9. Michigan State (20-4, 1)
10. West Virginia (19-4)
11. Miami (FL) (18-4)
12. Oregon (20-4)
13. Texas A&M (18-5)
14. Arizona (19-5)
15. Iowa State (17-6)
16. Purdue (19-5)
17. Dayton (19-3)
17. Providence (18-6)
19. Baylor (17-6)
20. South Carolina (20-3)
21. Kentucky (17-6)
22. Indiana (19-5)
23. USC (18-5)
24. Wichita State (17-6)
25. Texas (16-7)

DROPPED OUT: No. 18 Louisville, No. 25 Saint Mary’s
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 USC, No. 25 Texas