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2014 Southland Conference Tournament Preview: Can anyone stop Stephen F. Austin?

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When Texas-Arlington, Texas-San Antonio, and Texas State left the Southland Conference prior to the 2013 season, the remaining teams breathed a collective sigh of relief. Before the trio departed (and the conference added Oral Roberts), the tournament allowed only the league’s top eight to compete, a bracket that forced each squad to play on the tourney’s first day and (unintentionally) encouraged upsets. During the past three Southland tournaments, the top seed has never won the NCAA’s autobid, but thanks to a new format, Stephen F. Austin (along with Texas A&M Corpus-Christi,) gets to bypass the first two rounds, potentially ensuring an NCAA appearance for the Southland’s most deserving team.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 12-15, 2014
Where: Leonard E. Merrell Center, Katy, Texas
Final: March 15, 7:30 (ESPN2)

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin

It is unclear why Stephen F. Austin hasn’t received more national press (though CBT’s Scott Phillips did outline several reasons for the Lumberjacks’ success this season). The team hasn’t lost a conference game since February 16, 2013, and what is remarkable about SFA is their dominance with a new coach at the helm. Brad Underwood is a branch on Frank Martin’s coaching tree, and so while the team fouls at a ridiculous rate (their defensive foul rate, 53.1 percent, ranks among the worst in DI, typical of a Martin-influenced coaching philosophy), SFA also the Southland’s most efficient offense (1.18) and completely lock down opponents (.95).

And if they lose?: Northwestern State

Mike McConathy’s squad has the most momentum entering postseason play: since mid-January, the Demons have won eleven of their last thirteen games. And while they have lost six Southland contests, four were by a combined nine points. Northwestern State’s offense is propelled by its backcourt; Zikiteran Woodley and Jalan West have won the Southland’s past two freshman of the year awards and both are proficient scoring within the arc (a combined 58 percent). The Demons are also the nation’s fastest team, using 76 possessions per game, running about fourteen seconds off the shot clock before a field goal attempt.

Sleepers

  • Texas A&M Corpus Christi: The second-seeded Islanders are defined by their defense, particularly from beyond the arc and in transition. While opponents don’t take many threes, TAMU-CC is effective chasing shooters from the line and preventing open looks, and have perfected their transition defense, allowing opponents to post an effective field goal percentage of 49.1 percent (39th best in DI, per Hoop-Math.com). This defensive fortitude also extends to the halfcourt, as the squad also has the conference’s second stingiest non-transition eFG percentage.
  • Oral Roberts: The Southland’s wildcard for a tournament title, Oral Roberts is arguably the league’s unluckiest team. Not only did the Golden Eagles drop six games to Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Northwestern State, but each of the six losses were by single digits.
  • Sam Houston StateMichael Holyfield, the Bearkat’ junior center, is one of the conference’s most improved players, and it is inconceivable that the big didn’t earn a single Southland honor (especially an all-defensive team nod). Holyfield has seen a significant bump in minutes from his sophomore year, and has used the extra playing time to boost his rebounding percentages, grabbing nearly 19 percent of Sam Houston State’s misses (the nation’s eighth best rate this season) and 27 percent of opponents’ attempts (the seventeenth best rate). Combined with his block rate of almost ten percent, Holyfield can defensively control a game.

Studs

  • Jalan West, Northwestern State: The 5-foot-10 West excels at penetrating opposing defenses and wreaking offensive havoc. After a year spent probing, but not converting, within the arc, West upped his percentage of two-point (not at the rim) attempts and is efficiency connecting on those looks (45 percent).
  • Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin: The Southland’s player of the year, only one other DI player uses a higher rate of his team’s possessions and is most offensively efficient than the forward (TJ Bray of Princeton).
  • Shawn Glover, Oral Roberts: The squad’s offense runs through the senior. A high usage shooter, Glover’s game is predominantly in the paint, and he has attempted a whopping 445 twos this season (making half of those shots).

CBT Prediction: Stephen F. Austin earns the conference’s automatic bid.

2014 American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview: Louisville looks to win its only year in the AAC

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Not many knew what to expect in the first year of the American Athletic Conference. But after a season that saw five likely NCAA Tournament teams (Cincinnati, Louisville, SMU, UConn, Memphis) and three All-Americans (Sean Kilpatrick, Shabazz Napier, Russ Smith), it is safe to say that this is a really good league this season. Cincinnati and Louisville tied atop the league standings — with Cincinnati getting the No. 1 seed by virtue of a coin flip; seriously — and both teams will be favored to reach the finals and face each other for the tourney title. Can Louisville win the league in its only year in the American before moving on to the ACC?

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 12-15

Where: Memphis, TN

Final: March 15, 6:00 p.m., ESPN

Favorite: Louisville has won nine of its final 10 games of the regular season and with sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell peaking at the right time, this looks like a dangerous team that is poised for a run. Harrell is averaging 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game over his last five games — four of them against ranked opponents — and when you add his interior scoring with Louisville’s deep stable of talented guards, they’ll be tough to beat in Memphis.

Russ Smith is playing at an All-American level — as both shot-happy Russdiculous or as a distributor — and Luke Hancock, Chris Jones and Wayne Blackshear are all capable of being solid role players and perimeter scoring threats.

And if they lose?: Cincinnati was the surprise of the American during the season as they tied with Louisville atop the conference standings and won the No. 1 seed via a coin flip. Mick Cronin’s bunch really defends and hits the glass hard and Sean Kilpatrick should be a first team All-American on everyone’s list after putting up 20.9 points and 4.5 rebounds a game.

Other Contenders:

  • Memphis: With homecourt advantage and four senior guards, the Tigers are very dangerous in this event. The frontcourt duo of Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin have made great strides playing together since the beginning of the season.
  • SMU: Larry Brown has done a tremendous job turning this program around and Nic Moore is one of the best point guards in a conference full of great guards.
  • UConn: Shabazz Napier played at an All-American level this season, but he’ll need more help from Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels and company to have a shot at winning this thing.

Sleeper: Houston

The Cougars own wins over UConn and Memphis and played first-round opponent SMU within single digits in both losses. TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House are a talented enough inside-outside, one-two punch to give any team in the league problems.

Deeper Sleeper: Rutgers

The American is definitely stacked at the top and weak at the bottom this season but Rutgers has been in some real fights since losing by 48 at Louisville on February 16th. Since then, Rutgers has lost by six points or less to Memphis, Cincinnati, Central Florida and UConn and owns a win over South Florida.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Nic Moore, SMU: Illinois State transfer has made a major impact on the Mustangs with his poise and shooting ability (48% FG, 45% 3PT, 84% FT).
  • TaShawn Thomas, Houston: The junior averaged 15.5 points, eight rebounds, and 2.6 blocks a game on 59 percent shooting from the field.
  • Myles Mack, Rutgers: The junior point guard can score (15.9 points per game) or distribute (4.4 assists per game) and he’s a threat to knock in perimeter jumpers.

CBT Prediction: Louisville over Cincinnati

Best Big East Tournament Memory: Since the AAC is technically the old Big East, that means I’m allowed to do this:

2014 Conference USA Tournament Preview: Louisiana Tech fighting to stay atop the league

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source: AP
AP

Although the new-look Conference USA is still hard to memorize from top-to-bottom with all of the first-year teams, the top of the league is still very strong as four teams (Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee, Tulsa) finished tied atop the standings at 13-3 while UTEP was right behind at 12-4. With five really good teams in a 15-team field, this has the potential to be a wild tournament.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 11-15

Where: Don Haskins Center, El Paso, Texas

Final: Saturday, March 15, 10:35 a.m., CBS

Favorite: Louisiana Tech

Although the top of the league standings featured four 13-3 teams and 12-4 UTEP, the Bulldogs are the deepest and most talented team. Even without dynamic junior scorer Raheem Appleby for 12 games of the C-USA slate, Louisiana Tech still finished 13-3 and tied atop the league. Appleby recently returned and played 16 minutes in the regular-season finale against Rice.

And if they lose?: Southern Miss

The Golden Eagles are incredibly balanced as their five leading scorers average in-between 9.6 points and 11 points per game. Although Southern Miss played Louisiana Tech without Appleby, they still own a win over them during the regular season.

Sleepers:

  • Tulsa: Danny Manning has done one of the more underrated coaching jobs in the country as the Golden Hurricanes have won eight straight.
  • Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders have won 11 of 12 and Shawn Jones is arguably the league’s best player.
  • UTEP: Since losing three players to an FBI probe for gambling, Tim Floyd has rallied this team to a 12-4 conference record.

Studs:

  • Shawn Jones, Middle Tennessee: League’s leading Player of the Year candidate can score or control the glass.
  • Vince Hunter, UTEP: One of the nation’s most productive freshman, Hunter averaged 17.4 points per game over his final 15 games after averaging 12.5 for the season.
  • Kenneth Smith, Louisiana Tech: The nation’s second-leading assist man (7.9 per game) drives the engine that makes the Bulldogs go.
  • James Woodard, Tulsa: The sophomore guard has scored double-figure points in 23 straight games.

CBT Prediction: Louisiana Tech over Middle Tennessee

2014 Mid-American Conference Tournament Preview: Toledo, WMU look to end East Division’s reign

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In recent years the East Division has dominated the MAC, with the last nine winners of the automatic bid coming from that division. But the power was in the West this year, with Western Michigan and Toledo finishing with matching 14-4 conference records. As a result those two get byes to the semifinals, with three-seed Buffalo and four-seed Akron getting byes into the quarterfinals. The other eight teams begin play on Monday, and there could be a few surprises along the way to determining the league’s NCAA tournament representative.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 10, 12-15, 2014

Where: Higher seeds (March 10); Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio (March 12-15)

Final: March 15, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Toledo

The Rockets made some noise during non-conference play, winning their first 12 games before dropping a tough 93-83 decision at Kansas on December 28. Four starters are averaging double figures led by guards Julius “Juice” Brown and Justin Drummond and forward Rian Pearson. Toledo’s a very good offensive team but if there’s a concern entering the conference tournament it’s the fact that they’re 11th in the MAC in field goal percentage defense and tenth in defensive efficiency.

And if they lose?: Western Michigan

Few expected Steve Hawkins’ Broncos to grab the top seed in the conference tournament, but WMU managed to do just that. Shayne Whittington is one of the MAC’s best front court players and senior guard David Brown’s scoring 19.1 points per game. Western Michigan enters the tournament playing well, as they’ve won ten of their last 11 games with the lone defeat coming at Toledo on March 1. A possible concern for WMU: rebounding, with the Broncos ranked 11th in defensive rebounding percentage.

Sleepers:

  • Buffalo: Senior forward Javon McCrea’s been one of the MAC’s best, and they’ve won five of their last six games.
  • Ohio: The Bobcats finished third in the MAC East, but they pick up a 66-50 win at Akron on February 22.
  • Akron: You can’t count out Keith Dambrot’s Zips, who have reached the last seven MAC tournament title games.

Studs: (three or four best players)

  • Javon McCrea, Buffalo: The preseason pick to win Player of the Year, McCrea’s averaging 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
  • David Brown, Western Michigan: Brown’s averaging a MAC-best 19.1 points per game, and he also leads the conference in made three-pointers per game (2.7).
  • Demetrius Treadwell, Akron: Treadwell’s averaging 16.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in conference play, and he’s also posted ten double-doubles against MAC foes this season.

CBT Prediction: Toledo outlasts Akron in the title game, avoiding what would be an excruciating wait to see if they can get into the NCAA tournament field as an at-large.

2014 Southern Conference Tournament Preview: One last hurrah for Davidson?

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During the preseason the expectation of many was that the Southern Conference race would provide suspense throughout the season, with at least five teams having realistic hopes of winning the regular season title. Ultimately this would not be the case, with perennial juggernaut Davidson winning the league title by three games. However the Wildcats, who will move to the Atlantic 10 in July, won’t lack for challengers in Asheville. Chattanooga won 12 league games in Will Wade’s first season, and three other teams won at least 10 conference games.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 7-10

Where: U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, N.C.

Final: Monday, March 10 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Davidson

Bob McKillop’s Wildcats lost just one conference game: an 87-85 overtime decision to Elon back on January 16. De’Mon Brooks, the coaches’ choice for SoCon POY, and company were dominant in conference play as they led the SoCon in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, field goal percentage defense and both offensive and defensive efficiency (conference games only). And from a rebounding standpoint the Wildcats led the conference in defensive rebounding percentage; very rarely will this group beat itself. The starting five is experienced, and with four players (including Brooks) scoring in double figures Davidson is a difficult team to defend.

And if they lose?: Wofford

After losing three of their first five conference games (two of the losses came against Chattanooga) the Terriers have gone 9-2, and in conference play they’re second in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Guard Karl Cochran (15.2 ppg, 3.1 apg) and forward Lee Skinner (11.1, 8.6 rpg) have led the way offensively for a group that plays slower than any team in the SoCon.

Sleepers:

  • Chattanooga: Will Wade’s Mocs won their first eight conference games, and in forward Z Mason they’ve got one of the SoCon’s best players.
  • Western Carolina: The Catamounts are led by guard Trey Sumler, but they’ll need to defend better than they did in losses to Chattanooga (83 points allowed) and Samford (93) last week.
  • Elon: The Phoenix were the preseason pick of some to win the SoCon, and with five seniors they certainly don’t lack for experience.

Studs:

  • DeMon Brooks, Davidson: SoCon POY, Brooks averages 18.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game on the league’s best team.
  • Z Mason, Chattanooga: In addition to averaging 18.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game Mason also swatted three shots per contest, winning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Trey Sumler, Western Carolina: Sumler’s averaging 17.9 points and 4.4 assists per game for the Catamounts, leading the conference in the latter statistic.
  • Jelani Hewitt, Georgia Southern: Hewitt led the SoCon in scoring with an average of 20.0 points per game, and his first round matchup with Furman’s Stephen Croone (19.3 ppg) won’t lack for entertainment.

CBT Prediction: Davidson beats Wofford in the title game.

Horizon League Conference Tournament preview: Can Green Bay finish off its great season?

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source: AP
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After last season’s thrilling Horizon League title game that saw Valparaiso close out Wright State with an 18-4 run to end the game, this year’s conference tournament should also be exciting as plenty of talented teams and plenty of talented players will take the floor. Green Bay, Cleveland State and Wright State will be the three favorites to capture the auto bid, but Valparaiso, Youngstown State and Oakland have enough star power to make things interesting.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 4-11

Where: Campus sites (first round), Green Bay (second round and semifinals), highest seeded team (championship)

Final: Tuesday, March 11, 7:00 p.m., ESPN

Favorite: Green Bay

Green Bay will be the favorite in the Horizon League Tournament as they get a double bye before a home game in the semifinals and a potential home game in the championship. Keifer Sykes and Alex Brown form the league’s top inside-ouside combo and Green Bay has a home win over ACC champion Virginia.

And if they lose?: Cleveland State

Also having the benefit of a double bye, Cleveland State has won 10 of its last 11 games with the only loss coming against Green Bay. The Vikings’ biggest strength lies in its balance. Five players average at least 9.6 points per game and four of those players have made at least 40 three-pointers on the season. Cleveland State’s offense can give other teams fits with its balance and ability to space the floor at multiple positions.

Sleepers:

  • Wright State: The Raiders placed third in the regular season and have won four consecutive games entering the Horizon League Tournament after falling just short of the NCAA Tournament last season.
  • Valparaiso: It was a surprising season for a new-look Valpo team that has plenty of talent in senior guard Lavonte Dority and freshman forward Alec Peters.

Studs:

  • Keifer Sykes, Green Bay: The junior guard is averaging 20.4 points, five assists and 4.4 rebounds a game and also has ridiculous bounce.
  • Bryn Forbes, Cleveland State: Forbes leads the Vikings’ balanced offensive attack at 15.4 points per game while shooting 41 percent from three-point range and 82 percent from the charity stripe.
  • Lavonte Dority, Valparaiso: The senior guard averages a team-leading 16.4 points a game and he’s shooting great percentages (46% FG, 85% FT, 44% 3PT) across the board.
  • Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State: The stat-sheet stuffing senior guard averaged 20.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals a game while shooting 50 percent from the field, 73 percent from the free throw line and 35 percent from three.

CBT Prediction: Green Bay over Cleveland State