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West Coast Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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In recent years the regular season champion of the West Coast Conference would arrive in Las Vegas feeling secure about its chances of landing an NCAA tournament bid even if they didn’t managed to grab the league’s automatic bid. Things aren’t as comfortable this time around for either Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga, as their non-conference slates either lacked the challenging games (Saint Mary’s) or quality wins (Gonzaga) needed to provide some breathing room. That, along with the presence of BYU and Pepperdine, should make for an intense “long weekend” at the Orleans Arena, where the WCC will hope that this event can produce two NCAA tournament teams.

The Bracket 

wccbracket

When: March 4-8 (no games Sunday, March 6)

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

Final: March 8, 9:00 p.m. EST

Favorite: Saint Mary’s

The Gaels surprised many by winning a share of the regular season title, as they were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll. They’ll be the top seed this week thanks to their season sweep of Gonzaga, and with guards Emmett Naar and WCC Newcomer of the Year Joe Rahon leading the way head coach Randy Bennett has the pieces needed to win the tournament. Forwards Calvin Hermansson and Dane Pineau shouldn’t be overlooked either, as they’re second and third on the team in scoring behind Naar and 6-foot-10 freshman center Evan Fitzner was productive in both wins over Gonzaga (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg).

And if they lose?: Gonzaga

Mark Few’s Bulldogs are led by one of the best front court tandems in the country in senior Kyle Wiltjer and sophomore Domantas Sabonis. Wiltjer’s a face-up four with range well beyond the three-point line, thus providing Sabonis with the room he needs to operate from 15 feet and in. The question mark throughout this season has been the development of their perimeter rotation, but there has been progress. Josh Perkins was named to the WCC’s all-freshman team, and Eric McClellan the conference’s best defender. How that group, which includes Silas Melson and Kyle Dranginis, performs will be key for Gonzaga as they look to win the WCC tournament for the fifth time in the last six years.

Other Contenders:

  • BYU: They’ve got the WCC Player of the Year in versatile guard Kyle Collinsworth, and fellow guards Chase Fischer and Nick Emery can fill it up scoring-wise. And even with their ability to put up points, BYU led the WCC in defensive efficiency in conference games per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.
  • Pepperdine: The Waves can make a claim no other WCC team can make this season: they swept Saint Mary’s. Marty Wilson’s group, led by forward Stacy Davis and guard Jeremy Major, is capable of making a run in Vegas.

WCC Player of the Year: Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

The NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles (11), Collinsworth is the “straw that stirs the drink” for BYU. In WCC games he ranked in the top five in rebounds (third), assists (first) and steals (first), and at 15.6 points per game the senior ranked 13th in the conference in scoring. At 6-foot-6 he’s a tough matchup for opposing teams from a size standpoint, and his ability to find the likes of Chase Fischer and Nick Emery makes BYU a tough team to slow down offensively.

WCC Coach of the Year: Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s

Saint Mary’s exceeded expectations this season, going from a team pegged by many as the one likely to fall out of a top three slot to one that grabbed the top seed in the conference tournament. For that Bennett should be praised, as the backcourt of Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon has meshed well and the front court has accounted for the graduation of Brad Waldow as well.

First-Team All-WCC:

  • Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
  • Emmett Naar, Saint Mary’s
  • Stacy Davis, Pepperdine
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
  • Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga

CBT Prediction: Saint Mary’s beats Gonzaga in a thriller.

Big South Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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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.

The Bracket 

bracket

When: March 3-6

Where: Campbell University’s Pope Center and Gore Arena in Buies Creek, N.C.

Final: March 6, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

[   MORE: All of NBCSports.com’s conference tournament previews   ]

Favorite: High Point

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.

Other Contenders:

  • 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

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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 Bracket 

MBB_Bracket

When: March 3-6

Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis

Final: March 6, 1:00 p.m. (CBS)

[   MORE: All of NBCSports.com’s conference tournament previews   ]

Favorite: Wichita State

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.

Other Contenders:

  • 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

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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.

Right?

Right.

The Bracket 

2016 OVC Men's Basketball Tournament Bracket

When: March 2, 3, 4 and 5

Where: Municipal Auditorium, Nashville

Final: March 5th, 5:00 p.m.

Favorite: Belmont

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?

Other Contenders

  • 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.

First-Team All-OVC:

  • 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

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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.

The Bracket  

bracket16_mbb_wbb

When: March 2, 5 and 8

Where: Campus sites, with the higher seed hosting every game.

Final: March 8, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)

[   MORE: All of NBCSports.com’s conference tournament previews   ]

Favorite: Wagner

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).

Other Contenders:

  • 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

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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’?

The Bracket 

2016_MBB_Bracket

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.

Other Contenders

  • 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.