Four solid teams head the Big South conference tournament this year with the top two seeds bringing some solid star power. The No. 1 seed, High Point, has — hopefully? — a two-time Player of the Year in senior forward John Brown while No. 2 seed Winthrop has the talented guard duo of Keon Johnson and Jimmy Gavin.
Coastal Carolina and UNC Asheville also had successful conference seasons are are no pushover in this tournament. The winner of this tournament is likely facing a No. 15 or No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
When: March 3-6
Where: Campbell University’s Pope Center and Gore Arena in Buies Creek, N.C.
Winners of six consecutive games, High Point also beat No. 2 seed Winthop in that span and the Panthers have the conference’s Player of the Year in John Brown. But Brown suffered a foot injury on Saturday, and his status for the Big South tournament is very much in the air. High Point is a team that shoots efficiently around 3-point range (39 percent) and they’ll need to have other options besides their star.
And if they lose?: Winthrop
The Eagles have been major contenders in the Big South this season in-part because they have two go-to scorers in Keon Johnson and Jimmy Gavin. With a good third scorer in Xavier Cooks, Winthrop can really put up points. Like High Point, Winthrop is efficient shooting the 3-pointer at 38.5 percent from distance.
Coastal Carolina: Elijah Wilson and Shivaughn Wiggins can both score and Jaylen Shaw and Badou Diagne aren’t bad options either.
UNC Asheville: The Bulldogs have five double-figure scorers and gave High Point and Winthop close games this season.
Big South Player of the Year: John Brown, High Point
The redshirt senior also earned the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a four-time first-team all-conference selection during his time at High Point. Brown averaged 19.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.7 steals per game this season.
Big South Coach of the Year: Richie McKay, Liberty
Liberty was predicted to be last place in the league this preseason and ended up 10-8 and in fifth place in an 11-team league. McKay had only four letters winners and no returning starters to build a roster from and Liberty still had a winning conference season in his first year back as head coach.
First-Team All-Big South:
John Brown, High Point
Keon Johnson, Winthrop
Jimmy Gavin, Winthrop
DeShawn Murray, Presbyterian College
Lotanna Nwogbo, Longwood
CBT Prediction: Winthrop takes down High Point
Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards
After being a multi-bid league in 2015, the Missouri Valley Conference could be a one-bid league once again if Wichita State wins the autobid in St. Louis. The Shockers won the conference’s regular season title by four games and the senior backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker is as experienced as any in the country.
Evansville is the No. 2 seed with two first-team, all-conference players while Illinois State and Northern Iowa have both defeated Wichita State during the conference season. If one of those teams beats Wichita State and wins the autobid, the Missouri Valley Conference could be a two-bid league.
The Shockers only lost two conference games all season and boast the nation’s most experienced backcourt in Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Wichita State had some early bumps in the road when VanVleet was hurt, but they’ve been soundly beating most opponents in conference play and look like a potentially dangerous team this March.
And if they lose?: Evansville
The Purple Aces have the No. 2 seed and the league’s best inside/outside combination in senior guard D.J. Balentine and center Egidijus Mockevicius, the nation’s leading rebounder this season. Evansville has yet to beat Wichita State this season but has the talent to do so.
Illinois State: Good enough to beat any team in the league, Illinois State is a very dangerous matchup in Arch Madness, led by senior DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell.
Northern Iowa: The Panthers already beat Wichita State on the road and would matchup well with them in the semifinals.
Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year: Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
We saw how important the senior point guard was to the Shockers when they went 0-3 without him against Division I opponents earlier this season. VanVleet was tremendous in conference play, leading the Valley in assists and steals and having a great 4.0 assist/turnover ratio. He was also top-ten in conference play in free-throw percentage and 3-point percentage and was the most important player on the best team.
Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
After the Shockers got off to a sluggish start thanks to injuries, they turned things around when they got healthy and ran away with the league’s regular season title, winning by four games. Almost all of Wichita State’s wins came by double digits this season and they’re blowing out most opponents.
First-Team All-Missouri Valley League:
Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville
D.J. Balentine, Evansville
Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
Ron Baker, Wichita State
Anthony Beane, Southern Illinois
CBT Prediction: Wichita State over Illinois State
Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards
The Ohio Valley was one of the most competitive conferences in the country this season, as six teams finished with double-figure league victories, all of whom were within just two games of first place. Parity always leads to a wild tournament.
When: March 2, 3, 4 and 5
Where: Municipal Auditorium, Nashville
Final: March 5th, 5:00 p.m.
Not only did the Bruins win the league, but they’ll be playing the OVC tournament in their own backyard in Nashville. And if head coach Rick Byrd has taught us anything about his tenure with the Bruins, it’s that we probably should not be betting against him winning. This year’s squad is typical Belmont: a star guard (Craig Bradshaw) flanked by a myriad of shooters to surround an uber-efficient post presence in Evan Bradds. The Bruins, if they get to the tournament, will even be a threat to win a game there. They have the best offense in the league and own wins at Murray State and over Valparaiso in Nashville.
And if they lose?: Morehead State
The Eagles do three things well that will make them dangerous in tournament situations: they force a lot of turnovers, they get a lot of offensive rebounds and they shoot the three ball well. Extra possessions in a one-and-done tournament setting are huge, especially when a team is playing well and hitting shot from the perimeter. Should I mention that the Eagles won in a row to close out the regular season?
Murray State: There are a lot of new faces on the Racers this season, but there is a reason that this program has had such a sustained run of success.
Tennessee State: Dana Ford’s club was the best defensive team in the league and has one of the best 1-2 punches in Keron DeShields and Tahjere McCall.
UT-Martin: Winning their division was monumental, as they get a bye to the semifinals.
OVC Player of the Year: Evan Bradds, Belmont
Bradds is one of the most efficient players in college basketball, consistently finishing among the leaders nationally in field goal percentage. He shot better than 70 percent from the floor every year since he arrived at Belmont. His ability as a low-post scorer forces opponents to decide whether they want to double him to get the ball out of his hands, opening up the shooters on Belmont’s perimeter, or let him go one-on-one in the post, where he’s near-unstoppable.
OVC Coach of the Year: Dana Ford, Tennessee State
All due respect to the rest of the conference, there wasn’t much competition for Ford here. The Tigers won five games all season long in 2014-15. This year, Ford brought in a slew of new pieces, turned TSU into the best defensive team in the conference and finished tied for second in the conference standing, a game behind Belmont.
Evan Bradds, Belmont
Chris Horton, Austin Peay
Twymond Howard, Tennessee-Martin
Craig Bradshaw, Belmont
Torrance Rowe, Tennessee Tech
CBT Prediction: Belmont is heading back to the dance.
Northeast Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards
The Northeast Conference has a heavy favorite in the conference tournament thanks to one team being superior and the deck being stacked in favor of the No. 1 seed. Wagner, the conference’s only 20-win team, is in prime position to at least make the championship game thanks to the favorable format the NEC tournament has with top seeds.
Not only do the Seahawks (20-9, 13-5) get home games in each game as the highest seed, but after the tournament quarterfinals, the tournament redraws seeds so that Wagner will once again play the lowest seed left in the semifinals. That leaves them in better position than the No. 2 through No. 4 seeds — who also get home games in the quarterfinals. Fairleigh Dickinson, Sacred Heart and St. Francis (NY) are the other top seeds. The winner of this conference tournament is likely facing a No. 16 seed and potential First Four game in Dayton.
When: March 2, 5 and 8
Where: Campus sites, with the higher seed hosting every game.
The only 20-win team in the conference, the Seahawks are riding a five-game winning streak and own homecourt advantage throughout the NEC tournament. A balanced team that can defend well for its level, Wagner has a lot of pieces that can hurt you, led by sophomore guard Corey Henson (13.5 ppg) and junior wing Michael Carey (12.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg).
And if they lose?: Fairleigh Dickinson
The Knights have been a confusing team, full of road wins over the league’s better teams and home losses to those same teams. Fairleigh Dickinson still has one of the league’s top duos in a pair of sophomores, guard Darian Anderson (14.8 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.3 rpg) and wing Earl Potts Jr. (14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
Sacred Heart: The Pioneers have won nine of 12 games to earn the No. 3 seed and Cane Broome can really score.
St. Francis: Winners of four consecutive games, the Terriers get a home game early and offer a balanced scoring effort.
Northeast Conference Player of the Year: Cane Broome, Sacred Heart
The sophomore guard was the league’s best scorer and it wasn’t even close. In conference games, Broome led the NEC in scoring by over seven points a game over second place. He was also top ten in league play in assists, steals, free throw percentage and tops in minutes. The 6-foot-0 guard was held to single-digit scoring one time all season and it came against UConn. Broome’s turnover numbers are high and his shooting percentages can improve but he’s an offensive force in most games.
Northeast Conference Coach of the Year: Bashir Mason, Wagner
The 30-year-old Mason is finding some early success in his career as he’s won at least 19 games and 12 NEC games in three of his four seasons as head coach at Wagner. At one time the youngest head coach in Division I men’s basketball, Mason has a chance to make his first NCAA tournament with Wagner with a win in the conference tournament.
First-Team All-Northeast League:
Cane Broome, Sacred Heart
Michael Carey, Wagner
Jerome Frink, LIU
Martin Hermannsson, LIU
Darian Anderson, Fairleigh Dickinson
CBT Prediction: Wagner over Fairleigh Dickinson
Atlantic Sun Tournament Preview and Conference Postseason Awards
The Atlantic Sun has had quite a bit of tournament success in recent years. Mercer, who has since left the conference, picked off No. 3 seed Duke in the 2014 tournament while FGCU became #DunkCity after the Eagles flew to the Sweet 16 with wins over No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 10 seed San Diego State.
The conference didn’t have many marquee wins during the regular season, but they did pick off a couple high-major program. North Florida won at Illinois. NJIT beat St. John’s in Carnesecca Arena. FGCU got UMass at home. And while none of those teams are tournament teams, it is a sign that this league, in general, may be more competitive than you may think. Can you say ‘Upset City’?
When: March 1, 3 and 6
Where: Campus sites, hosted by the higher seed
Final: March 6th, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Favorite: North Florida
The Ospreys won a competitive conference that plays a true, double round-robin league schedule by two full games. They’re the best team in the league, meaning that they get home court advantage through the tournament, and they’ve lost just a single game at home all season long. Throw in the fact that this group is one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks — you’d be hard-pressed to find a better back court at this level than Dallas Moore and Beau Beech — and you may want to get out of their way if their shots are going down.
And if they lose?: NJIT
It’s their first year in the conference, but I think NJIT can make a run. For starters, traveling all the way to New Jersey for a game is not an easy thing for teams located in the south to do, and the Highlanders will have home court throughout the tournament unless they get UNF in the title game. Then throw in the fact that this team A) Has one of the league’s best players in guard Damon Lynn and B) has beaten Michigan, Duquesne, South Florida and St. John’s in the last two years, and it’s not difficult to picture them making a run.
FGCU: The Eagles are arguably the most talented team in the conference, but they’ll have to lock horns with UNF in the semis if they win.
Kennesaw State: Al Skinner’s Owls struggled for much of the season, but they were the hottest team in the league down the stretch, winning four of their last five games.
Atlantic Sun Player of the Year: Dallas Moore, North Florida
More was the best player on the best team in the conference, which, generally speaking, is usually enough to earn an award like this. He led the conference in scoring (19.7 points) and assists (6.1). This wasn’t a difficult pick.
Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year: Al Skinner, Kennesaw State
On Jan. 23rd, the Owls, who were picked to finish last in the league in the preseason, were 3-16 against Division I opponents, but Skinner was able to turn things around down the stretch. KSU won six of their last nine games to get to .500 in league play, which is A) something that has not happened for this program since 2007 and B) tied for the best record the Owls have ever had in the league as a Division I program. In the previous four seasons, KSU had a total of nine league wins.
First-Team All-Atlantic Sun:
Dallas Moore, North Florida
Damon Lynn, NJIT
Kendrick Ray, Kennesaw State
Beau Beech, North Florida
Marc-Eddy Naurelia, FGCU
CBT Prediction: North Florida protects their home court and earns the automatic bid.
WEEKEND PREVIEW: Saturday is the best day of non-conference hoops
GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 12 Villanova at No. 8 Virginia, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
We’ve reached something of a crossroads with this Villanova team. In the last two seasons, they’ve won 32 regular season Big East games, storming through the conference for back-to-back league titles. But in neither of those years have they found a way to play themselves out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. All of the numbers tell us that this team, this program, is one of the best in the country … except for when they are asked to play elite competition. Fair or not, with Villanova, it always feels like this is a team that fails to perform when the lights shine the brightest, and that was once again on display last week, when they flew out to Hawaii and got run out of the gym by Oklahoma.
That said, this Villanova team is, in theory, one that should be able to give Virginia some problems. They have big men that can pass, they can spread the floor and they have shooters up and down their lineup, although part of the reason for their early season struggles has been the inability to consistently his threes this season. On the other hand, Virginia still has just one loss on the season, they were dominant in the win over West Virginia at the Garden last week and their only loss — at No. 22 George Washington — doesn’t look all that bad. Another impressive win over a top 20 team will certainly be a statement.
THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 17 Butler vs. No. 9 Purdue, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
We knew the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Like Fieldhouse was going to be a fun event, but back when the season began, it seemed like the matchup between Indiana and Notre Dame was going to be the highlight of the double-header. Yogi Ferrell vs. Demetrius Jackson! An ACC power vs. a Big Ten power! And while there’s an argument to be made that it is still the more important of the two games — both the Hoosiers and the Irish desperately need this win — the nightcap has clearly become the better basketball game.
Butler’s reputation over the years has been as a grind-it-out, tough, physical defensive team. Not this year. They run, they score a ton of points and they’re the sixth-most efficient offense in the country, according to KenPom. Purdue, on the other hand, is the nation’s best defensive team with the biggest front line. Butler’s strength is in their back court. There’s a lot going on here, but the bottom line is that it is must-see TV either way.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
Bankers Life Fieldhouse won’t be the only NBA arena hosting a really good double-header this weekend, as the CBS Sports Classic will take place in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The opener is the more intriguing matchup, as No. 11 North Carolina squares off with No. 22 UCLA at 1:00 p.m. The game is made all the more interesting by the fact that Kennedy Meeks will not be playing, opening up the door for Tony Parker to be able to out-muscle Isaiah Hicks. There’s a real chance, based on the way that UCLA has been playing of late, that the Tar Heels will suffer their third loss of the season. The second game of the two will pit No. 4 Kentucky vs. Ohio State, a game the Wildcats should not have trouble with.
It’s going to be a big day in New York for college hoops, as Utah will square off with No. 7 Duke at noon at the Garden. There is going to be a lot to keep an eye on here. For starters, this will be the first game against high level competition in which Duke will not have the services of Amile Jefferson, who broke a bone in his foot. Will Marshall Plumlee and Chase Jeter be enough to slow down Jakob Poeltl? The other part of it is that the Utes like to play four-around-one like Duke does, meaning they won’t be able to take advantage of Duke’s lack of a true power forward in the paint. But since they also don’t have a pure point guard, it is going to be interesting to see how they fare against the pressuring, half court man-to-man defense that Duke throws at teams.
UNLV had looked like they had shaken off all the issues they’ve had with execution and under-performing in recent years … until they hosted Arizona State on Wednesday night. The Rebels blew a 14-point second half lead and ended up losing 65-55 to the Sun Devils. Now they have to travel down to Tucson to take on No. 13 Arizona, a team that has been surging of late. We’ll really find out what UNLV is made of this weekend.
Perhaps the most interesting game of the day will be featured on NBCSN in a 12:30 p.m. ET tip as Michigan State, the No. 1 team in the country, will head up to Beantown to take on Northeastern in a true road game. How often does that happen? The game is part of another cool event that Spartan AD Mark Hollis dreamed up, as Michigan State will be playing a triple-header in men’s hoops, women’s hoops and hockey against the Huskies.
CLICK HERE to watch this game on NBC Sports Live Extra Saturday afternoon.
Not many people are going to be talking about this one — that’s what happens when games are played in Texas during football season — but No. 16 Baylor will make the trip to take on No. 24 Texas A&M. The Aggies have the size up front to handle Baylor’s bulk, but the Bears have enough talented perimeter defenders to deal with A&M’s quality guard play. The title of Best In Texas is on the line.
THREE MORE NOTABLES GAMES
Auburn at No. 10 Xavier, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
Wichita State at Seton Hall, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
No. 23 Cincinnati at VCU, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
As good as Iowa State has looked at times this season, and as talented as their starting five is, there are still people — myself included — who are doubting whether or not this is a team that can truly compete at the top of the Big 12 and for a national title. The concern is, mainly, depth, particularly behind Jameel McKay. Ben Jacobsen’s Northern Iowa team has already notched a win over North Carolina this season. Will they be able to hang another upset over a top five team?
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: Saturday will be the best day of college basketball this season to date, and, outside of March, it may be one of the best days of the entire season. There are in-state rivalry games. There are top 25 matchups in on-campus venues. There are bluebloods squaring off against each other in NBA arenas. Hell, the No. 1 team in the country is playing on the road against a mid-major that has already won a game in No. 15 Miami’s gym.
On paper, it looks awesome.
And while a schedule looking doesn’t always turn into a day of great games and wild finishes, at the very least we know that there is going to be something for us to talk about, something relevant that the public at-large will care about. It may not be Bo Ryan and it may not be Tony Bennett accepting the Wisconsin job, but with this number of quality basketball teams facing off against one another, we’re going to get some action. Buckle up, because it’s the first time since the Champions Classic that college basketball is can’t-miss TV.
ALSO ON THE SCHEDULE
Creighton at No. 3 Oklahoma, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
Oral Roberts at LSU, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
Tulsa at Oregon State, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
Tennessee at Gonzaga, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
Texas at Stanford, Sat. 11:30 p.m.
Pittsburgh at Davidson, Sun. 12:00 p.m.