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Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament preview: Will #DunkCity be back again?

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After last season’s surprising Sweet 16 run from Florida Gulf Coast, the Eagles — and the rest of the Atlantic Sun — will be one to watch as we get closer to the NCAA Tournament. While Dunk City returns key pieces in Bernard Thompson, Brett Comer and Chase Fieler, Mercer and USC Upstate are talented enough to compete with the Eagles for the A-Sun tournament title and the automatic tournament bid. Florida Gulf Coast tied Mercer atop the league standings in the regular season and the two teams met for the conference tournament title last season. Is Dunk City on another collision course with Mercer in the title game?

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

The Bracket

When: March 4-9

Where: Campus sites

Final: Sunday, March 9th, 2:00 p.m., ESPN2

Favorite: Florida Gulf Coast

Although the Eagles tied Mercer atop the Atlantic Sun at 14-4, Florida Gulf Coast holds a huge advantage in the tournament by having home-court advantage. The Eagles have lost one game at home all season and it came December 1st against non-conference Iona. Can Dunk City make another magical run?

And if they lose?: Mercer

The Bears split the season series with Florida Gulf Coast and have one of the league’s best players in senior point guard Langston Hall. In Atlantic Sun play, Mercer led the league in field goal percentage offense and defense as well as three-point percentage offense and defense and they tied Florida Gulf Coast for the league’s best mark in defensive rebounding percentage. Mercer’s talent and balance will give them a legitimate chance.

Sleepers:

  • Lipscomb: Although they’re a five seed, Lipscomb has four straight wins, including a 21-point drubbing of Florida Gulf Coast at home on February 27th.
  • USC Upstate: The three seed has the trio of Torrey Craig, Ty Greene and Renardo Glenn and they are as talented a trio as there is in the Atlantic Sun.

Studs:

  • Torrey Craig, USC Upstate: The conference’s leading scorer is a major offensive threat and also a top-five rebounder.
  • Langston Hall, Mercer: Hall is having a fine senior season as he leads Mercer in points and is also the A-Sun leader in assists.
  • Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast: The Eagles’ floor leader is second on the team in scoring and second in the conference — behind Hall — in assists. And don’t forget the lobs that drive Dunk City.

CBT Prediction: Florida Gulf Coast

American Athletic Conference 2013-14 Preview: Louisville comes back strong

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The inaugural year of the American Athletic Conference — or American as they prefer — features the defending national champions in Louisville for only one year before they leave for the ACC, but it should make for some great competition at the top as the Cardinals, Memphis and UConn will slug it out for the AAC title.

Cincinnati, Temple, South Florida, Houston and SMU all have talented pieces in place for potential NCAA Tournament runs while Central Florida and one-year AAC member Rutgers (Big Ten next season) are at the bottom.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The champs are still loaded: Louisville loses senior leader Peyton Siva, defensive stopper Gorgui Dieng and forward Chane Behanan is suspended, but the Cardinals still return Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell and Kevin Ware should be up to speed soon. Wayne Blackshear is also finally healthy and Chris Jones is the top junior college transfer in the country.

2. Best backcourt won’t be crowned overnight: Between Louisville (Smith, Jones, Ware and Terry Rozier), Memphis (Joe Jackson, Mike Dixon, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson) and UConn (Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun) can all vie for the honor of the best backcourt in the American — and maybe the country — but that claim will have to be decided on the floor.

3. The return of UConn: Tournament-ineligible last season due to a poor APR, the Huskies have the talent to make a postseason run behind their aforementioned experienced backcourt and the late-season play of junior DeAndre Daniels. The key for the Huskies will be finding an interior presence somewhere, be it Tyler Olander, Phil Nolan or Kentan Facey.

4. SMU has a lot of new (and talented) pieces: Led by McDonald’s All-American shooting guard Keith Frazier, Larry Brown will have quite an infusion of talent in year two at SMU. But how will they all integrate together? JuCo center Yanick Moreira, Illinois State point guard transfer Nic Moore and freshman two-guard Sterling Brown are also potential key pieces.

5. The American has talent from top-to-bottom: The heavy-hitters Louisville, Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati should compete for NCAA Tournament bids right away but other teams in the league could surprise thanks to a lot of returning talent. Temple, South Florida, Houston, and SMU all have a lot of pieces and with it being a new league one — or more — could thrive right off the bat.

PRESEASON AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Russ Smith, Louisville

An explosive off-guard with the ball, Smith averaged 18.7 points per game last season but must be more of a leader if Louisville is to remain in national title talks. A key question with Smith will be whether or not he embraces his role on this team — ‘Russdiculous’ actually works in Louisville’s system — or if he spends his senior season trying to prove he can be a point guard to NBA teams.

source:  THE REST OF THE AMERICAN’S FIRST TEAM:

  • Shabazz Napier, UConn: Experienced senior guard can score or run an offense and remains one of the nation’s most underrated guards.
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: Averaged 17 points in the Big East and remains Cincinnati’s No. 1 scoring option.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Breakout postseason and summer for the sophomore big man could lead to big season.
  • Ryan Boatright, UConn: Explosive junior guard can score and push tempo with best of them.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Joe Jackson, Memphis
  • Luke Hancock, Louisville
  • TaShawn Thomas, Houston
  • Michael Dixon, Memphis
  • Isaiah Sykes, Central Florida

BREAKOUT STAR: Omar Calhoun (UConn)

Calhoun is poised for a big year after a strong freshman season where he averaged 11.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5 wing will have the benefit of playing with two of the conference’s top five returning scorers and assists leaders in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and the trio will be tough to guard.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Larry Brown (SMU)

It’s not the kind of pressure from fans or administration, but time is not on SMU’s side. Their last NCAA Tournament? 1993. Some of the Mustang players weren’t born yet. Head coach Larry Brown is 73, which means that his time in Dallas is limited. Brown will have a few years to win at SMU and he gets a major talent influx this year with transfers and a strong recruiting class.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : This new league was better than we thought.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The battle of the backcourts between Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • December 28th, Louisville at Kentucky
  • November 19th, Memphis at Oklahoma State
  • December 14th, Cincinnati at Xavier
  • December 2nd, Florida at UConn
  • February 8th, Gonzaga at Memphis

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Louisville: The champs return a number of talented pieces and add best junior college guard Chris Jones and get a healthy Wayne Blackshear. How soon does Behanan return from suspension?
2. Memphis: Incredibly experienced senior-laden backcourt leads a talented group that needs Shaq Goodwin and its talented freshman class to mature quickly.
3. Connecticut: Napier and Boatright are as good any backcourt in the country but how much have Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels improved?
4. Cincinnati: After Sean Kilpatrick who scores for the Bearcats? Mick Cronin’s bunch will still defend like crazy but questions on offense linger.
5. Temple: Fran Dunphy’s teams always compete and even without Khalif Wyatt, Will Cummings and Anthony Lee still gives them plenty.
6. South Florida: One-two punch of playmaking guard Anthony Collins and forward Victor Rudd gives the Bulls a nice foundation going forward.
7. Houston: TaShawn Thomas returns from a 16.9 and 9.8 junior campaign and Danuel House should make the leap on the wing as a sophomore.
8. SMU: A lot of new talent and transfers for the Mustangs, but how does it all mesh together in a new league?
9. Central Florida: Six of top seven return, including first-team All-Conference USA guard Isaiah Sykes.
10. Rutgers: The Eddie Jordan era begins in New Jersey as the Scarlet Knights look to turn around their program.

Conference USA 2013-14 Preview: Southern Miss leads a large group of new teams

Tom Herrion
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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Realignment has completely changed the face of Conference USA as four prominent members left for the brand-new American Athletic Conference and eight new teams came into play from the Atlantic 10, Sun Belt and WAC.

Benefitting the most from the departure of dominant Memphis is NBCSport.com’s projected preseason No. 1 team in Conference USA, Southern Miss. An experienced, senior-laden squad led by the senior backcourt of Neil Watson and Jerrold Brooks returns from a 27-10 team that was 12-4 in the league last year.

UTEP and Louisiana Tech follow the Golden Eagles. Miners’ junior forward Julian Washburn could be the conference’s best player by the end of the season and has the most upside in the conference while Louisiana Tech comes from the WAC led by junior scoring guard Raheem Appleby.

Tulsa could start four sophomores and is adding some much-needed height to a team that is talented but still young, Charlotte returns to C-USA and needs to address uncertainties in shooting and leadership to contend, and UAB will ride senior forward Rod Rucker as far as they can go.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Charlotte (Atlantic 10), Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt), Florida International (Sun Belt), Louisiana Tech (WAC), Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt), North Texas (Sun Belt), Old Dominion (Colonial), Texas-San Antonio (WAC)
Out: Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU (all to American Athletic Conference)

PRESEASON CONFERENCE USA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Rod Rucker, UAB

Rugged, 6-foot-5 forward has a 220-pound frame that he uses to bull to the basket and rebound and score. He put up 14.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in his junior year.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Neil Watson, Southern Miss: Senior guard shoots, defends and leads in a number of ways.
  • Raheem Appleby, Louisiana Tech: After impressive sophomore year of 14.9 points per game, could be poised for breakout year.
  • Elijah Pittman, Marshall: Rail-thin 6-foot-9 forward is C-USA’s returning leading scorer at 16.1 points per game.
  • Julian Washburn, UTEP: Junior 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12.3 points per game last season and has some skill in the open floor.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Southern Miss
2. UTEP
3. Louisiana Tech
4. Tulsa
5. Charlotte
6. UAB
7. Marshall
8. Middle Tenn St.
9. Florida International
10. East Carolina
11. North Texas
12. Tulane
13. Florida Atlantic
14. Old Dominion
15. Texas San Antonio
16. Rice

Big West conference tournament preview

Bob Thomason
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Long Beach State, even with heavy personnel losses from last season’s NCAA tournament team, was the preseason pick to win the Big West and Dan Monson’s team did just that. But the 49ers didn’t lack for challengers and that will be the case this weekend when the top eight teams get together at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Any of the eight teams in the field are capable of winning at least one game this weekend, which should make for an entertaining three days in Anaheim.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: Anaheim, California (Honda Center)

When: March 14th – March 16th

Final: March 16th, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Long Beach State

The 49ers enter the tournament having lost three of their last four games, with two of those defeats coming on the road against UC Irvine and Pacific, so they don’t enter the weekend rolling so to speak. But the talent for another title run is certainly there, with Ennis and sophomore point guard Michael Caffey leading the way. The addition of DePaul transfer Tony Freeland allowed Ennis to move back to small forward after having to play as an undersized four for much of non-conference play. Also of note are shooting guard Keala King and power forward Dan Jennings, with King giving the 49ers the slasher (in addition to Ennis) this team didn’t have during non-conference play.

And if they lose: Pacific

Seven players average at least five points per game but just one, Lorenzo McCloud (11.4 ppg) is in double figures, which underlines Pacific’s reliance on balance and controlling tempo. The Tigers shoot nearly 39% from beyond the arc and they share the basketball, as their assists per game (15.4) and assist percentage (63.1% of their made field goals are assisted) lead the Big West. With their pending move to the WCC and head coach Bob Thomason retiring, the Tigers won’t lack for motivation this weekend.

Sleepers: This area is loaded with possibilities, beginning with UC Irvine and Hawaii. Both have depth in the front court, with Michael Wilder, Will Davis II and Adam Folker leading the way for the Anteaters while Vander Joaquim, Christian Standhardinger and Isaac Fotu anchor things insider for the Warriors. Cal Poly is similar to Pacific in that they have one player averaging double figures (forward Chris Eversley) and shoot well from beyond the arc. Lastly there’s UC Davis, a team capable of lighting it up offensively with Big West scoring champ Corey Hawkins leading the way.

Studs: 

– F James Ennis (Long Beach State): Big West Player of the Year, Ennis ended the season ranked in the top ten in the Big West in points, rebounds, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, steals and blocked shots.

– Corey Hawkins (UC Davis): Averaging 20.9 points per game on the season, and he lit up Hawaii for 41 earlier this season.

– Alan Williams (UC Santa Barbara): The only player in the Big West averaging a double-double, Williams (17.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg) leads the way for the Gauchos.

Prediction: Go with the “storybook” ending here. Pacific leaves the Big West on top, sending their retiring head coach to the NCAA tournament one last time.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

2013 Conference-USA tournament Preview

Louisville v Memphis
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Conference-USA has centered around just one team the entire year. The Memphis Tigers have thoroughly dismantled the entire conference, finishing with an unblemished record in league play. While the Tigers have received national acclaim for their performances this season, the rest of the conference has been completely forgotten about, and with good reason. SMU made a splash in the off-season with the hiring of Larry Brown, but that could not cover up the fact that SMU, along with the rest of the conference is not all that good. Southern Miss had a strong showing under Donnie Tyndall, but is lacking the firepower Larry Eustachy had at his disposal a year ago. Tulane has had a nice resurgence, capturing their first winning record in 2008. But those success stories are few and far between, considering the entire conference failed to accrue a single win over a top-25 opponent.

Check out a preview below:

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: BOK Center, Tulsa, Ok.

When: March 13-16

Final: March 16, 11:35 a.m. (CBS)

Favorite: Memphis Tigers
The perennial-favorites have lost just once since Christmas, and finished the season unbeaten in league play. Their lone loss came on the road at Xavier in a rare late-February non-conference game, and they won all of their C-USA games by a 13-point average margin of victory. Memphis’ issue is that they struggled to play up to the level of their competition in non-conference play. Luckily for the Tigers, they won’t find much stiff competition in the C-USA tournament. On top of that, they are also likely to get guard Antonio Barton back, who has been out with a foot injury for the past six weeks.

And if they lose? Southern Mississippi
While not as talented as Memphis, Southern Miss has a strong squad that is offensively gifted and well-balanced. Six different players can be primary scorers on any given night, and JuCo transfer Dwayne Davis, who was named C-USA Newcomer of the Year, has been hot as of late, averaging 28.5ppg in his last four games. Donnie Tyndall’s squad will need to limit turnovers, which has been their primary issue all season. If they can maximize the number of offensive possessions, they will have a real chance to steal a bid from Memphis and the rest of the NCAA tournament bubble.

Sleeper: Tulsa
OK, this is a stretch, a really, really big stretch. Yes, Tulsa is 16-14 overall and just 8-8 in Conference-USA, but I mean, why not? From what we’ve seen this entire season, it would come as no shock to me if Tulsa were to advance to the championship game. They have Danny Manning at the helm this year, the same Danny Manning from the 1988 Kansas “Danny and The Miracles” team. Plus the tournament is being held in Tulsa at the BOK Center. We’ve already seen some bizarre stuff from championship week. Liberty, a team with 20 losses, won the Big South tournament. Anything can happen folks.

Other Studs:

– Josh Davis, Tulane
The junior forward has been the conference-s most dominant player this year and averages a double-double per contest. He has failed to score ten points just three times and has scored 20+ points in nine games. He is Tulane’s catalyst and is involved on nearly every play. He ranks in the top-40 in the country among minutes used, and is among one of the best rebounders in the country, providing the Green Wave with extra possession.

– Joe Jackson, Memphis
He’s the Tigers’ team leader, top scorer and most important player. The Memphis-native is one of the most efficient offensive players in the country, and does a bit of everything for the Tigers, averaging 4.9apg, 3.1rpg and 1.7spg. In all but one of Memphis’ losses this season Jackson has struggled to assert himself in the offense. Luckily none of the losses came against C-USA competition, which means he is likely to be a force for the next four days.

– Elijah Pittman, Marshall
The junior forward leads the team in points and has been playing some of his best basketball since February 1st. Teamed with guard DeAndre Kane, the Thundering Herd have one of the better 1-2 punches in Conference-USA. They will need to ge the most out of their duo if they want to steal a bid from league-leading Memphis.

CBT Prediction: Memphis is going to win the tournament but only because I envision mass chaos throughout the entire C-USA bracket. This tournament often provides us with the unexpected, which could lead to a final between Memphis and 5-25 Rice.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Big Ten Conference Tournament Preview

Michigan's guard Trey Burke drives around Indiana's Victor Oladipo during the second half of their NCAA college basketball game in Ann Arbor
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I’m not sure I can remember a more anticipated conference tournament than this year’s Big Ten.

Maybe the 2009 Big East tournament, the year that UConn, Pitt and Louisville all got No. 1 seeds and Villanova made the Final Four.

But even that Big East can’t compare to this year’s Big Ten in terms of excitement. The league is loaded this season, and while there were top ten and top 20 matchups seemingly twice a week, it felt like every single one of those games lived up to the hype. Over and over and over again, the Big Ten provided us with a Game of the Year candidate, as the heavyweights that dominate the top of the conference took turns beating up on each other.

And frankly, there’s no reason that can’t happen again this week. Look at some of the early round matchups: the Illinois-Minnesota winner gets a rematch with Indiana in the quarters, with the winner of that game to play the winner of Michigan-Wisconsin for the right to go to the title game. When an NCAA tournament Final Four contender has to be eliminated before the Final Four of the conference tournament, you know it’s going to be exciting.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: United Center (Chicago)

When: March 14-17

Final: March 17th, 3:30 p.m. ET CBS

Favorite: Indiana

If the Hoosiers aren’t the best team in the country, than they are right there in the conversation. Indiana has a couple of the most impressive wins that anyone has notched this year, going into Ann Arbor and East Lansing and to sweep both Michigan schools. In fact, Indiana went 5-2 against the other top five teams in the Big Ten. When they are focused and ready to play, there may not be a team in the country better than them.

If there is a reason to be concerned about the Hoosiers winning the Big Ten title, it’s that their path there is going to be quite difficult. They’ll need to beat either Minnesota or Illinois in the quarterfinals and Wisconsin or Michigan in the semifinals before they even get to the title game.

And if they lose?: Michigan State

How confident are you betting against Tom Izzo this month? I’m not, especially when Adreian Payne is playing hard and Gary Harris is hitting shots from the perimeter. The key for Michigan State comes down to the play at the point guard spot: which Keith Appling is going to show up this week? The one that looked awful in losses to Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State, or the one that took over in the second half against Wisconsin? Appling missed 17 straight threes at one point. He also had a couple of games this season where he looked like the best point guard in the conference not named Trey Burke.

Other contenders: I never thought that I would be saying this, but Ohio State looks like a serious challenger for the Big Ten tournament crown. They get either Purdue or Nebraska in the quarters before a potential rematch with Michigan State in the semifinals. I think the Spartans are a better basketball team, but with Aaron Craft’s ability to shut down Appling, they are a hot shooting night from their role players away from a trip to the finals.

And the, obviously, there is Michigan and Wisconsin. As impressive as the Badgers have been this season, I just can’t see them winning the Big Ten tournament, but that’s the thing about Bo Ryan’s program: they are always lurking just below the surface, waiting for someone to overlook them. Michigan was this close to beating Indiana on Sunday, and there is no question they have the talent to win this tournament. The problem? They have to win four games in four days, with the final three eventually being Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State or Ohio State. That’s tough.

Sleeper: Purdue

The Boilermakers played really well late in the season, winning at Wisconsin and blowing out Minnesota to sandwich a loss to Michigan in a game that they probably should have win. Purdue has some quality guard play and an underrated youngster in the paint in AJ Hammons. If Matt Painter can get them to get stops, they have a favorable draw — relatively speaking — to the title game.

Deeper sleeper: Illinois and Minnesota

We’ve seen how good these two teams can be when they play well. Both were ranked in the top 15 at one point. Both have wins over Indiana. And both have also lost to Northwestern. They play in the 8-9 game. Someone has to win that before getting a rematch with the Hoosiers.

Studs:

– Trey Burke, Michigan: He’s our National Player of the Year.

– Cody Zeller, Indiana: This year’s national love affair has been with Victor Oladipo, but I have a feeling that Zeller is going to put on a show in the United Center this week.

– Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: He shoots a lot, but when he gets into a rhythm, he’s a lot of fun to watch. And he can carry the Buckeyes.

CBT Prediction: I’d love to pick something out of the ordinary here, but I just think that Indiana is going to flex their muscles. They’re the best team in the conference. I think they leave no doubt.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.