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March Madness 2017: SEC Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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SEC Player of the Year: Malik Monk, Kentucky

Malik Monk is hardly a perfect basketball player. He doesn’t rebound well. He’s not a great passer. He’s not a great defender. He’s a streaky shooter. But he’s also the single-scariest scorer in college basketball this season because of his ability to erupt. He had 31 second half points to beat Georgia in overtime and 30 second half points to beat Florida, a win that gave Kentucky the SEC title.

SEC Coach of the Year: Mike White, Florida

The Gators finished the season at 24-7, and it might have been better had their starting center and the anchor of their front line, John Egbunu, not torn his ACL. Florida looks to be in line for a top four seed on Selection Sunday, but they are a top ten team according to KenPom, which was not something that was expected of this group prior to the season. White’s ability to turn this team into a defensive powerhouse has been impressive.

First-Team All-SEC:

  • Malik Monk, Kentucky (POY)
  • De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox might be the bet pro prospect on this list. That said, he hasn’t played his best basketball for a while as he’s dealt with knee, ankle and virus issues.
  • Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell finished the season averaging 21.2 points, and he’s arguably the best on-ball defender in the league.
  • J.J. Frazier, Georgia: I think you can make the argument that Frazier was the best point guard in the SEC this season. He’s been unreal since Maten went down with an injury.
  • Yante Maten, Georgia: Maten was playing sensational basketball before he went down with a knee injury a couple of weeks ago. The Bulldogs need him back.

Second Team All-SEC:

  • Kasey Hill, Florida
  • KeVaughn Allen, Florida
  • Dusty Hannahs, Arkansas
  • Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
  • Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss

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The Bracket 

When: March 8-12

Where: Nashville

Final: March 12th, 1:00 p.m.

Favorite: Kentucky Wildcats

Is anyone really surprised that the Wildcats are the pick to win the SEC tournament? Not only are the the most talented team in the SEC, they won the regular season title by two games. The key here, however, is going to end up being De’Aaron Fox, and not just for this tournament. Malik Monk’s ability to take over a game is the reason that Kentucky can make a Final Four, but unless Fox is back to being the guy he was at the start of SEC play, it’s hard to picture Kentucky winning four straight in March.

And if they lose?: Florida Gators

If you subscribe to the idea that KenPom is the best way to measure how good a team is, then Florida would actually be the favorite to win the SEC tournament. I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t think it was a fluke that the Gators beat Kentucky by 22 points in Gainesville. They are athletic and a nightmare defensively, but the loss of John Egbunu to a knee injury is a brutal blow to their ceiling.

Other Contenders:

  • South Carolina: For my money, the Gamecocks are the third-best team in the SEC, but the drop-off from the top two to them is dramatic. The problem? Frank Martin’s team just cannot score.

Sleeper: Vanderbilt

I actually think the Commodores are dangerous in this event. They’ve won six of their last eight and eight of their last 11 games to get into tournament contention, they swept Florida and they spread the floor and shoot a lot of threes. When those threes are going down, they’re not an easy team to put away.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Vanderbilt: The Commodores are an interesting test case. They’re going to have 15 losses in they don’t win the SEC autobid, but they have two elite wins (Florida sweep), five top 50 wins, ten top 100 wins and played the nation’s most difficult non-conference schedule. As the No. 7 seed, I think they need to win at least two games — Texas A&M and Florida — to get in.

Defining moment of the season: Pick your favorite Malik Monk eruption. Personally, my favorite is the 30 second half points he scored to beat Florida without De’Aaron Fox on the floor:

CBT Prediction: I fully expect Kentucky to get the job done in Nashville.

March Madness 2017: Pac-12 Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Pac-12 Player of the Year: Lonzo Ball, UCLA

The Pac-12 Player of the Year award had a bit of controversy to it, as Dillon Brooks received the honor from the league despite the fact that he was injured and played poorly during the early part of the season. My best guess: He got the nod over Ball because he was much better during conference play than he was during the season at-large, and the Pac-12 almost never gives their award to a freshman.

Which is silly to be, because I didn’t think that there was any doubt that Ball was the best player in the league this season. He led the nation in assists, he jump-started the most dangerous offense in the country and he turned UCLA into a title contender. He unselfishness permeated the roster. Numbers don’t show you that.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year: Sean Miller, Arizona

Miller was actually my pick for National Coach of the Year. He took a team that lost Ray Smith, Terrence Ferguson and, for 19 games, Allonzo Trier to a Pac-12 regular season co-championship while relying on three freshmen, including two — Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins — who are consistently inconsistent.

First-Team All-Pac-12:

  • Lonzo Ball, UCLA (POY)
  • Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks totally changes that Oregon team offensively, and he made three game-winners during the regular season.
  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Markkanen was the steadying for on the Arizona roster that needed it through some trying times in December and January.
  • T.J. Leaf, UCLA: Leaf was an unexpected gift for the Bruins this season, providing them an elite stretch four on a team that thrives playing uptempo small-ball.
  • Markelle Fultz, Washington: I normally don’t like giving first-team all-league honors to a guy from a bad team, but Fultz was just so good this year.

Second Team All-Pac-12:

  • Derrick White, Colorado
  • Reid Travis, Stanford
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona
  • Ivan Rabb, Cal

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The Bracket 

When: March 8-11

Where: Las Vegas

Final: March 11th, 8:00 p.m.

Favorite: Oregon Ducks

The Ducks caught a break getting the No. 1 seed — they held the tiebreaker over Arizona thanks to their win over the Wildcats — which means that they won’t have to play another one of the elite teams in the conference until the title game. If seeds hold, Arizona and UCLA will square off in the semifinals. Oregon also has the benefit of having Dillon Brooks on their roster. I don’t know if there’s anyone in the league I’d want taking a big shot more than him.

And if they lose?: UCLA Bruins

I actually think UCLA is the best team in the league. When they play their best basketball, I am not sure there is another team in the country that can beat them. Their best occurs when they actually are getting stops, and the Bruins have proven in recent games against Arizona and Oregon that they can get stops when they have to.

Dillon Brooks (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Arizona Wildcats: Sean Miller is the best coach in the league and he has as much talent on his roster as any team in the country. Allonzo Trier and Lauri Markkanen will carry the Wildcats, but they are going to be at their best when Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins show up. That’s never a guarantee.

Sleeper: USC Trojans

The Trojans have a little UCLA in them. They play fast, they shoot a lot of threes and they have terrific point guard play. The Trojans are also going to be playing for their tournament lives. No matter the bracket you look at, USC ends up someone on the list of last four in or last eight in.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • USC: The Trojans have to win at least one game in the dance, and if they want to avoid sweating out championship week, they are probably going to want to beat not only Washington in the first round but UCLA in the quarterfinals as well.
  • Cal: The Bears need quality wins. I think that the lack of depth in the league means Cal needs to get to the Pac-12 final to be able to make up the ground to get an at-large bid.

Defining moment of the season: Dillon Brooks’ game winner against UCLA in Eugene was the sign that Oregon is back:

CBT Prediction: UCLA cuts down the nets in Las Vegas, beating Arizona and Oregon to get there.

March Madness 2017: ACC Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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ACC Player of the Year: Justin Jackson, North Carolina

This is the hardest league Player of the Year pick to make. There are three legitimate candidates for the award, and one of them — Luke Kennard of Duke — made the NBC Sports all-american first team over Jackson. But to me, Jackson was the best player during ACC play, the most consistent player during league play on the best team in the league, the one that won the ACC regular season title by multiple games.

ACC Coach of the Year: Mike Brey, Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish lost Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste after last season. That came a year after they lost Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. That is a lot of talent to lose for a program that doesn’t traffic in one-and-dones to overcome, and yet, in a year where the ACC is as tough at the top as it has ever been, Mike Brey steered a team led by Matt Farrell, a 6-foot-nothing point guard from the Jersey Shore, and Bonzie Colson, a 6-foot-5 power forward, to a second-place finish in the league. Give the man his due.

First-Team All-ACC:

  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina (POY)
  • Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard has been phenomenal all season long, and his second half performance against Wake Forest, when he scored 30 points and went 10-for-10 from the floor, was the best half of basketball any individual played this season.
  • Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: Mitchell’s ascent to dominant scorer early in ACC play turned Louisville from a really good team into a national title contender.
  • John Collins, Wake Forest: You may not know the name, but you should. At one point in league play, he scored at least 20 points in 12 straight games.
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson averaged a double-double and was the leading scorer for Notre Dame as a 6-foot-5 power forward.

Second Team All-ACC:

  • Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State
  • Matt Farrell, Notre Dame
  • Joel Berry II, North Carolina
  • Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
  • Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech

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The Bracket 

When: March 7-11

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

Final: March 11th, 9:00 p.m.

Favorite: North Carolina

The Tar Heels are not only the best team in the ACC, they may be the best team in the country. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II make up one of the best 1-2 punches in all of college basketball, and when Isaiah Hicks is healthy — and out of foul trouble — they pound the glass better than anyone in college hoops. As long as their defense is good enough, which it has been of late, they are a dangerous team.

And if they lose?: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame got a bit lucky with the way that the ACC tournament bracket shook out. They won’t have to play North Carolina, Duke or Louisville — for my money, the three best teams in the league — until the finals. When their threes are going down, they are as tough to beat as anyone in the conference.

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 19: Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after a play against the Tennessee State Tigers during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 19, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Luke Kennard (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Florida State: The Seminoles have to love how the ACC bracket shook out. They’re on the other side of the field from the top three teams in the league and will likely get Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals.
  • Louisville: The Cardinals got a tough draw with the way the bracket shook out, likely getting Duke and North Carolina in their first two games in the ACC tournament, but they are elite defensively and have one of the league’s best in Donovan Mitchell.
  • Duke: The Blue Devils, in just about every game they play, are going to have three of the four best players on the floor with Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen. But they’re going to have to win three games — and beat Louisville and North Carolina — just to get to the finals.

Sleeper: Virginia Cavaliers

UVA is the best defensive team in the country once again. Their issue has been their ability to score, and it looks like the reintroduction of Kyle Guy into their rotation has solved those problems for the time being. They shook off a rough February to win their final three games, including a win over North Carolina last week.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Syracuse: The Orange are probably on the right side of the bubble as of today, but given the number of losses they have on their résumé and just how many games they’ve won at home this season, I’d recommend beating Miami in the opener to feel comfortable.
  • Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons are right there on the cut-line. They get Boston College in the first round and would square off with Virginia Tech in the second round should they win. I think they need to get to the quarters.
  • Georgia Tech: Josh Pastner’s done a terrific job with this team, but I think they need to beat both Pitt and Virginia to have a real chance at getting an at-large bid.
  • Clemson: Clemson is still in the mix, but they need to win at least two, and maybe three, games to really have a chance. If they get to the semifinals, they will have beaten N.C. State, Duke and Louisville. That might be enough.

Defining moment of the season: Duke. Everything about them. They’ve been the most intriguing team in the country for so many reasons, whether it’s the drama surrounding Grayson Allen and his tripping habit to the all-world freshmen that can’t crack the rotation to Coach K’s back surgery, there’s a reason this team has dominated the headlines all year long.

CBT Prediction: Duke over Notre Dame in the finals.

March Madness 2017: Big Ten Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big Ten Player of the Year: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

A no-brainer for this award, Swanigan posted a ridiculous 25 double-doubles this season while averaging 18.7 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. Nearly unguardable in the post without a double team at the college level, Swanigan has expanded his offensive game as he hurts defenses from every level of the floor. A 44 percent three-point shooter who also makes 79 percent of his free throws, Swanigan has rare touch for a player his size.

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Richard Pitino, Minnesota

Minnesota looked like they might be in serious trouble entering this season but Pitino has done a remarkable job of helping turn things around while saving his job. After only eight Big Ten wins the last two seasons, the Golden Gophers finished with 11 Big Ten wins this season as they finished in fourth place. Mixing veterans, transfers and true freshmen, Minnesota has a top-15 defense and the future looks solid.

First-Team All-Big Ten:

  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (POY)
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: The Terps lost four starters but Trimble (16.9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.4 rpg) was once again one of the nation’s most clutch players. Trimble scored Maryland’s game-winning points five times in the final 30 seconds this season.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ clearly emerged as Wisconsin’s best player this season, putting up 13.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Defensively, Happ is perhaps the Big Ten’s best player.
  • Peter Jok, Iowa: One of the nation’s best offensive players, Jok scored in bunches (2o.2 ppg) but also improved his all-around game (5.7 rpg, 2.7 apg) while leading the Big Ten in free-throw percentage at 92 percent.
  • Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan: Finally healthy for a full season, Walton was brilliant in his senior season as he gets a slight nod over Nate Mason. Walton had good numbers (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg) and was very efficient (43% FG, 41% 3PT, 85% FT)

Second Team All-Big Ten:

  • Nate Mason, Minnesota
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State
  • Tai Webster, Nebraska
  • Malcolm Hill, Illinois
  • Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern

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The Big Ten Tournament moves east to Washington D.C. for the first time this season as it will be very intriguing to see which fanbases travel to catch this event.

As for the tournament action itself, this has been a strange year for the Big Ten.

Since the committee didn’t give the Big Ten a top-four seed during February’s early bracket reveal, we know that the conference likely has work to do to get even one top-four seed. With the way Purdue has played lately, they have the best chance to win this event and gain a respectable seed, but the Big Ten is going to have to prove itself in March with some pretty undesirable seeds.

The Bracket 

When: March 8-12

Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.

Final: Sunday, March 12, 3 p.m. EST

Favorite: Purdue

The Boilermakers are the easy favorite for this event as they won the Big Ten regular season by two full games and enter this week as winners of eight of their last nine games. With the Big Ten’s best player in Caleb Swanigan and a great supporting cast that was built to play around Swanigan’s unique skillset, the Boilers are motivated to earn a better NCAA tournament seed by winning this event. Matt Painter made that clear in the postgame interview following the Northwestern win.

And if they lose?: Wisconsin

Based solely on recent play, Wisconsin has no business being in the title conversation this week. The Badgers had lost five of six games before Sunday’s win over Minnesota as they went into a freefall. But the rest of the Big Ten is still very mediocre and Wisconsin has a veteran group that knows how to win in tournament settings. The win over the Golden Gophers was convincing enough that Wisconsin might have figured things out just in time.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 21: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers fouls Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers while shooting the ball during the second half of the game on January 21, 2017 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Ethan Happ (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Maryland: As long as Melo Trimble is on the floor, you can’t count out Maryland. One of the nation’s elite guards is still great in close games and he has plenty of talent around him.
  • Minnesota: The Big Ten’s biggest surprise has an elite defense anchored by Reggie Lynch, one of the nation’s best shot blockers, and an offense led by breakout guard Nate Mason.

Sleeper: Iowa

The Hawkeyes have quietly crept into the bubble picture by winning four straight — including impressive road wins at Wisconsin and Maryland. The Big Ten Tournament draw also happens to lay out very nicely for Iowa. Potential matchups in the first three rounds come against Indiana, Wisconsin and Maryland — three of the four teams Iowa just beat. With something to play for, a potent star senior scorer in Peter Jok and a favorable draw, Iowa could be a team to watch in D.C.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Illinois: A shocking road loss to Rutgers might leave Illinois out either way. A win over Michigan in the first round has to happen at the very least and Illinois might even have to beat No. 1 seed Purdue to get in.
  • Iowa: If Iowa beats Indiana and gets the best of the Badgers again in the quarterfinals then they might be dancing.

Defining moment of the season: The Big Ten didn’t have a lot of great moments this season but Purdue clinching the Big Ten title against rival Indiana on Senior Day was pretty cool.

CBT Prediction: Purdue over Wisconsin

March Madness 2017: Big 12 Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big 12 Player of the Year: Frank Mason III, Kansas

Mason’s play this season makes him the no-brainer conference player of the year and perhaps the frontrunner for the national award. He’s averaging 20.5 points, 5.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and a sizzling 49.3 percent from 3-point range for the potential No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

Big 12 Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas

There was a temptation to reward Brad Underwood for Oklahoma State’s turnaround, but it’s impossible not to recognize Self leading his program not only to a 13th-straight conference title, but doing it by four games in the country’s toughest league. Kansas may have the top talent in the league year in and year out, but Self’s presence on the sideline guarantees it comes together year in and year out. This season was no exception.

First-Team All-Big 12:

  • Frank Mason III, Kansas (POY)
  • Monte Morris, Iowa State: The nation’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio is as consistent an elite presence on the floor as there is in the country.
  • Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: The most dynamic and important piece of the country’s best offense, Evans averaged 18.7 points per game.
  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: Mason is Kansas’ MVP, but Jackson is the Jayhawks’ most difficult matchup and is a likely top-five NBA draft pick.
  • Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The big man doubled his rebounding output this season to average a double-double of 17.5 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Second Team All-Big 12:

  • Jevon Carter, West Virginia
  • Jeffrey Carroll, Oklahoma State
  • Devonte Graham, Kansas
  • Deonte Burton, Iowa State
  • Jo Lual-Acuil, Baylor

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The thought was coming into the year that the Big 12 would be down this season, but for the fourth-straight year it ranked as the country’s best conference by KenPom. Another thing that didn’t change was Kansas winning the league, making it 13 in a row for the Jayhawks. The league isn’t going to send a huge number to the NCAA tournament this season, but make no mistake, the conference’s round-robin schedule was a grind, making it all the more impressive Kansas cleared the league by four games.

The Bracket

When: March 8-11

Where: Sprint Center; Kansas City, Mo.

Final: Saturday, March 11, 6 p.m.

Favorite: Kansas

The Jayhawks are clearly the class of the Big 12, winning the conference by its largest margin since 2010. Kansas isn’t invulnerable at the Sprint Center, as the rest of the league has more than enough firepower to threaten them, but there’s no argument that makes anyone else the favorite.

And if they lose?: West Virginia

The Mountaineers should have swept Kansas this year. They rocked them in Morgantown, but blew a late lead in spectacular fashion in Lawrence later in the season. Their Press Virginia style seems to seriously bother the Jayhawks, and it could make for a raucous title game.

MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 24: Head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers reacts to a call in the second half during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at WVU Coliseum on January 24, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Bob Huggins (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Baylor: The Bears went 2-4 against the top-four of the conference, but their length and the talent of Johnathan Motley makes them an intriguing matchup
  • Iowa State: The Cyclones have won six of their last seven and three members of their core — Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas — who have won two Big 12 tournament titles in their career. They’ve also have claimed wins against each of the other top teams in the league this year.

Sleeper: Oklahoma State

The Cowboys opened the Big 12 slate with six-straight losses, but then won nine of 10 before ending the season with losses to Iowa State and Kansas. Their defense is porous, but their top-ranked KenPom offense, led by point guard Jawun Evans, makes them a legitimate threat to reel off three wins in three days.

The Bubble Dwellers: One

  • Kansas State: Most projections have the Wildcats just on the bad side of the field of 68 line, which means they’ll probably have to score a win against Baylor in the quarterfinals to move the needle. Depending on what happens around the rest of the country, that one more win could be enough to earn a berth.

Defining moment of the season: Kansas erasing a 14-point deficit in the final three minutes at home against West Virginia. This is Peak Phog Allen.

CBT Prediction: Kansas

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards: Can the Valley get two teams in?

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The Missouri Valley Conference tournament — known by Valley fans as Arch Madness because of its St. Louis location — will be especially intriguing this season. As one of the only mid-major leagues with a legitimate chance to get two teams into the 2017 NCAA tournament the Missouri Valley Conference tournament will have a lot of eyeballs on it this week.

Casual college basketball fans are surely familiar with Wichita State after their recent successes but Illinois State was another important story during the conference season. The Redbirds enter this week as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament as they tied the Shockers with a 17-1 mark in conference play (with Wichita State and Illinois State splitting the regular-season series).

Outside of Illinois State and Wichita State the rest of the Valley has seen a down year — which is part of the reason the Redbirds and Shockers are hovering near the bubble.

Can Illinois State and Wichita State both get in the field if they meet for the title?

The Bracket

When: March 2-5

Where: Scottrade Center; St. Louis, Missouri

Final: Sunday, March 5, 2 p.m. EST, CBS

Favorite: Wichita State

The Shockers come in as the No. 2 seed but they are throttling opponents lately during a 12-game winning streak. Wichita State owns a scoring margin of 19.5 this season — second only to Gonzaga — and every win on the current streak has come by at least 15 points. One of the most balanced teams in the country, this year’s Shockers might not have future pros like Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet, but they go 10 deep and wear opponents down over the course of a game.

And if they lose?: Illinois State

Illinois State is the No. 1 seed in this tournament as they feature a tough and experienced roster that is also riding a six-game winning streak. Not nearly as dominant as Wichita State when it comes to margin of victory, the Redbirds had to sneak by to win some games the last few weeks as they’ve managed to stay 17-1 in conference play. Illinois State loves to slow down the tempo (308th in adjusted tempo on KenPom) and rely on its No. 10 overall defense (per KenPom) to do most of its damage. The Redbirds have a suffocating defense led by senior point guard Paris Lee and his Valley-leading 2.0 steals per game as they rank fourth in the country in field goal defense as opponents are only shooting 37.7 percent against them.

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Other Contenders:

  • Northern Iowa: Just like last season, Northern Iowa is one of the most confusing teams in the country. The Panthers lost five straight to start conference play, rallied by winning nine of 10 and then lost the final three games to close out conference play. Northern Iowa is talented enough to make noise as the No. 3 seed but they’re wildly inconsistent.
  • Southern Illinois: The Salukis only finished .500 in conference play but they’re sitting at the No. 4 seed thanks to a weak year in the Valley. Southern Illinois might not be as competitive as a typical four seed in this event but they do have some steady seniors in guard Mike Rodriguez and forward Sean O’Brien. Talented sophomore guard Armon Fletcher is also showing signs of breaking out of a recent slump after netting the go-ahead three to beat Loyola last week.

Sleeper: Loyola

Revenge will be on Loyola’s mind this week as they get a crack at Southern Illinois in the quarterfinals before potentially playing Illinois State in the semifinals. The significance of those two in-state games for the Ramblers? Loyola lost to both teams, on the road, by two points each, during the last two weekends of conference play.

In fact, Loyola has seen eight of its 13 losses get decided by four points or less this season. Loyola has to be tired of falling in close games and they get one more chance to make a run here.

The Bubble Dwellers: 2

  • Wichita State: If Wichita State wants to help its computer numbers then they should hope to play Bradley, Northern Iowa and then Illinois State to fully enhance their resume. The Shockers have a gaudy record but only six top-100 games all season (2-4 record), so a title-game rubber match against a top-50 team like Illinois State should help computer numbers — regardless of the outcome.
  • Illinois State: If Illinois State hopes to enhance its NCAA tournament profile in the best way possible they should hope for Evansville, Southern Illinois and Wichita State as opponents during Arch Madness. The Redbirds are slightly higher than Wichita State in current RPI but they’ve played even fewer top-100 opponents (2-3 record). As explained above, it likely helps Illinois State if they play Wichita State in the championship game — win or lose — because it gives both teams an additional top-50 opponent.
FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Drake, in Des Moines, Iowa. At this time of year college basketball coaches often sound like political candidates looking for votes as they tout their teams' NCAA tournament worthiness. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Missouri Valley Player of the Year: Paris Lee, Illinois State

The senior guard won a tight race over a handful of others as Lee separated himself from the group with another stellar defensive season. The NCAA’s active leader in career steals, Lee led the Valley in assists and steals per game this season as he averaged 13.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. Improving dramatically on the offensive end, Lee upped his shooting percentages across the board, including a staggering rise from 31 percent to 41 percent as a three-point shooter.

Missouri Valley Coach of the Year: Dan Muller, Illinois State

You could make a strong case for Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall but Muller gets the slight edge for this award. Illinois State captured its first Missouri Valley Conference regular season title since 1998 and the Redbirds were able to do so despite missing senior MiKyle McIntosh for five games in the middle of conference play. Muller is now hoping to break another drought started in 1998 by taking his alma mater back to the NCAA tournament.

First-Team All-Missouri Valley:

  • Paris Lee, Illinois State (POY)
  • Landry Shamet, Wichita State: Only the fourth Valley freshman to ever grab first-team all-conference honors, Shamet averaged 11.4 points, 3.4 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting very efficiently (49% FG, 45% 3PT, 81% FT).
  • Milton Doyle, Loyola: Motivated to finish strong after a disappointing junior season, the 6-foot-4 Doyle came through in a big way for the Ramblers as he put up 15.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
  • Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa: Although his junior season was more efficient shooting the ball, Morgan was asked to do it all for the Panthers this season as he led the team in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
  • Alize Johnson, Missouri State: One of 20 Division I players averaging a double-double this season, Johnson put up 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range. The junior is starting to generate some pro buzz.

Second Team All-Missouri Valley:

  • Jaylon Brown, Evansville
  • Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
  • Deontae Hawkins, Illinois State
  • MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State
  • Sean O’Brien, Southern Illinois

Defining moment of the season: When Wichita State’s Daishon Smith dunked on Oklahoma’s Kristian Doolittle back in December, it signified that the Shockers would be just fine playing bigger opponents without Baker and Van Vleet. This is one of the better poster dunks of the year.

CBT Prediction: Wichita State over Illinois State (but both teams get in the NCAA tournament)