Big Ten Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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Since the beginning of the season, everyone knew that the Big Ten was Wisconsin’s to lose after returning four starters from last season’s Final Four team. Now that senior center Frank Kaminsky has emerged as the Player of the Year, the Badgers solidified themselves as a top-ten team all season and won the league by two full games over Maryland.

Speaking of Maryland, the Terps have been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season and they’ve emerged as a top-ten team and the Badgers’ biggest threat in the tournament. Mark Turgeon’s team is the only team in the Big Ten to beat Wisconsin with Frank Kaminsky this season and they know how to win in tight ball games thanks to their tremendous 75 percent free-throw shooting.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

From there, the Big Ten gets a little muddy in the middle. Michigan State, Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State all finished within a game of each other in the league and Indiana and Illinois finished at .500 by faltering a bit down the stretch. Michigan also somehow finished 8-10 in the league despite significant injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton.

Just as we saw to start the season, Wisconsin is the the heavy favorite to win in Chicago. Let’s see if the Badgers can hold true on that like in the regular season and build some momentum towards the NCAA Tournament and a potential No. 1 seed.




MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 11-15

Where: United Center, Chicago

Final: March 15, 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: Wisconsin

With a record of 16-2, the Badgers won the league by two full games. Senior center Frank Kaminsky is the leader for Player of the Year and along Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes, the trio forms a tremendously versatile and talented frontcourt. Sophomore Bronson Koenig has emerged as a steady replacement for injured senior Traevon Jackson and senior Josh Gasser can hit 3-pointers and also makes free throws at an 85 percent clip. As a team, Wisconsin is 13th in the country at 75 percent from the charity stripe. When the get ahead, they know how to close.

And if they lose?: Maryland

The Terps have ascended to No. 8 in the country and recently defeated the Badgers at home. Like Wisconsin, Maryland is great from the free-throw line, where they actually are better than the Badgers and rank No. 12 in the country. Freshman guard Melo Trimble is an NBCSports.com All-American this season as he leads a trio of talented scorers along with senior guard Dez Wells and junior forward Jake Layman. It’s the first time Maryland will play in the Big Ten Tournament and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle it. They’ve been one of the pleasant surprises of college basketball this season.

Other Contenders

  • Michigan State: The Spartans seem to always peak in March and Tom Izzo’s team has played better down the stretch with some minor exceptions. Senior Branden Dawson is a warrior and junior Denzel Valentine is a jack-of-all-trades wing.
  • Purdue: The Boilers sport some of the most talented big men in the Big Ten with junior center A.J. Hammons and his 7-foot-2 backup in freshman Isaac Haas. It also helps they get an additional bye over Iowa

Sleeper: Iowa

Winners of six games in a row, Iowa is playing with a lot of confidence heading into the Big Ten Tournament. Senior forward Aaron White has put up some stellar performances and he’s surrounded by an experienced and deep team.

Deeper Sleeper: Ohio State

The front court for the Buckeyes can be dreadful at times, but freshman guard and NBCSports.com first-team All-American D’Angelo Russell has been sensational this season. Russell is talented enough to take a game over and senior guard Shannon Scott can also set up others for easy baskets.

Big Ten Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

What can be said about Kaminsky that hasn’t already been said this season? He’s been remarkable in nearly every facet of the game and somehow exceeded expectations entering the year. The senior led Wisconsin in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and shoots 41 percent from 3-point range.

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Mark Turgeon, Maryland

Before the season, Turgeon was a major candidate on the hot seat after losing five players to transfer. Now? He’s coaching a top-ten team in his first season in a brand-new league. Tremendous turnaround year for Turgeon and the Maryland program and the head coach deserves a lot of credit for melding a talented freshman class together with the returning pieces he had left.

First-Team All-Big Ten:

  • Kaminsky
  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State – Russell averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range. The smooth lefty also throws some of the prettiest assists in all of basketball.
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – One of the best closers in college basketball, Trimble shoots 87 percent from the free-throw line and helped the Terps go 11-0 in games decided by six points or less this season.
  • Branden Dawson, Michigan State – In the final go-around for the senior forward, Dawson averaged 11.6 points and a conference-leading 9.3 rebounds per game. Dawson also shot 54 percent from the field.
  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana – Although Indiana has struggled down the stretch, the electric junior guard is averaging 16 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game with efficient splits (44% FG, 42% 3PT, 84% FT) 

Second Team All-Big Ten:

  • Dez Wells, Maryland
  • D.J. Newbill, Penn State
  • Aaron White, Iowa
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
  • A.J. Hammons, Purdue

CBT Prediction: Wisconsin takes down Maryland as the Big Ten’s two best square off in the title game.

Southland Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

(Stephen F. Austin's Thomas Walkup/Getty Images)
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source: Getty Images
(Stephen F. Austin’s Thomas Walkup/Getty Images)

 READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology | The updated top 25

The Southland may be a one-bid league, but they have one of the best mid-major teams in the country in Stephen F. Austin and plenty of star power throughout the league. The Lumberjacks will look to make the Big Dance for the second consecutive season, as they’ve only dropped one Southland game in the last two seasons while they had a 19-game winning streak at one point during the year. But Brad Underwood’s team will be challenged by a balanced and talented Sam Houston State team and a No. 3 seed in Texas A&M Corpus-Christi that beat both the Lumberjacks and Bearkats this season. And you can’t forget about No. 4 seed Northwestern State, who has one of the nation’s best set-up guys in Jalan West (tied for national lead with 7.5 apg) and the nation’s second-leading scorer in sophomore Zeek Woodley (22.4 ppg)

The Bracket


When: March 11-14

Where: Leonard E. Merrell Center, Katy, Texas

Final: Saturday, March 14, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin

After going unbeaten in the Southland last season, Stephen F. Austin is once again a strong contender to take the auto bid for the conference. The Lumberjacks took home the Southland regular-season crown for the third consecutive season and they only have one conference loss in the last two years.

And if they lose?: Sam Houston State

The Bearkats went 15-3 in league play and only lost to Texas A&M Corpus-Christi outside of being swept by Stephen F. Austin. Southland Defensive Player of the Year Michael Holyfield is a force inside and he leads a balanced team that has a remarkable seven scorers averaging between 7.6 and 10.9 points per game this season.


  • Texas A&M Corpus-Christi – Led by talented point guard John Jordan, the No. 3 seed in the Southland Tournament is the only team in the league to beat Stephen F. Austin in the last two years.
  • Northwestern State – The Demons have the league’s best one-two punch in point guard Jalan West, who is tied for first in the NCAA in assists per game, and sophomore guard Zeek Woodley, who was second in the nation in scoring at 22.4 points per game.

Player of the Year: Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin

Assuming more of a leadership role in his junior season, Walkup became the leading scorer (15.5 ppg) and rebounder (6.5 rpg) at Stephen F. Austin while also leading the team in field-goal percentage (56 percent). Walkup has now been apart of three Southland regular-season titles in his three years with the program.

Coach of the Year: Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin

The second-year head coach of the Lumberjacks had another remarkable season, as he has Stephen F. Austin in position to potentially be in another NCAA Tournament. Underwood also has the most wins of any second-year coach in NCAA history, as his 59 wins in two seasons surpassed North Carolina’s Bill Guthridge.

All-Southland Team:

  • Walkup
  • Jalan West, Northwestern State – Tied for the national lead for assists per game (7.5 apg), the junior point guard was also third in the Southland in scoring (19.2 ppg) and steals (2.2 spg) and pulled down 4.1 rebounds per game.
  • Desharick Guidry, McNeese State -Sixth in the nation in rebounding at 11.2 boards per contest, the senior also averaged 17.4 points per game.
  • Denzel Livingston, Incarnate Word – The 6-foot-4 senior averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.5 steals a game for the Cardinals. Livingston’s low point total in a game this season was 11.
  • Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin – Walkup’s main running mate had ridiculous shooting splits (53% FG, 47% 3PT, 82% FT) and the senior forward averaged 14.2 points, 5.7 rebounds per game.

CBT PREDICTION: Stephen F. Austin over Sam Houston State

Conference USA Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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UTEP had quite a bit of hype entering the season, thanks in large part to potential first round pick Vince Hunter. Old Dominion was the trendy pick to win the league early in the year, thanks to a win over VCU and the play of star guard Trey Freeman. But at the end of the day, Louisiana Tech, who entered the season as the league favorite, left as the league champion.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology | The updated top 25

The Bracket


When: March 11-14

Where: Legacy Arena, Birmingham, Al.

Final: March 14, 2:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1)

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

Favorite: Louisiana Tech

The Bulldogs are still the conference’s resident powerhouse, as Mike White as built the Louisiana Tech program into one of the most entertaining teams in the country. They have a trio of really good guards that will make them difficult to matchup with, and their defense can be overwhelming at times.

And if they lose?: Old Dominion

The Monarchs flirted with the NCAA tournament bubble for a while, even finding themselves ranked in the top 25 after a win over VCU, but they came back to earth during Conference USA play. ODU finished tied for second in the conference, but with Trey Freeman running the show, they’re good enough to get to the NCAA tournament.


  • UTEP: The Miners won seven of their last nine games on the season, are coached by former NBA head man Tim Floyd and have a future pro on their roster in Vince Hunter.
  • Western Kentucky: Twice in the last three years, the Hilltoppers have made runs to an automatic bid. And while that was while they were a member of the Sun Belt, having stars T.J. Price and George Fant on the roster certainly doesn’t hurt.

Player of the Year: Trey Freeman, Old Dominion

One of Louisiana Tech’s trio of great guards will probably end up winning the actual award, but for my money, Freeman was the best — and most valuable — player in the conference this season.

Coach of the Year: Mike White, Louisiana Tech

Quite often, the award for Coach of the Year goes to the guy whose team outlived expectations. The Bulldogs were picked to win the league, and they did. By two full games despite the fact that Conference USA was balanced and competitive. That’s impressive.

All-Conference USA Team:

  • Freeman
  • Vince Hunter, UTEP – Hunter averaged 15.2 points, 9.3 boards and 1.0 blocks, all of which were top ten in the conference. He’s the league’s best pro prospect.
  • T.J. Price, Western Kentucky – Price is capable of huge games, and when he’s playing well, the Hilltoppers can beat anyone in the conference.
  • Speedy Smith, Louisiana Tech – Smith averaged less than six points, but he is one of the best passers in America and helped spur on their defense.
  • Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech – Hamilton was the best player on the league’s best team, yet he didn’t lead the team in a single statistical category.

CBT PREDICTION: Louisiana Tech knocks off Old Dominion in the finals.