All 12 of the MAC’s members lost at least six conference games during the conference’s 18-game league schedule. So, in other words, this is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable conference tournaments of 2015. The top four seeds in the field — Central Michigan, Buffalo, Kent State and Toledo were all within a game of each other in the standings this season.
Winners of six consecutive games entering the MAC Tournament, the Bulls have a potent duo in forward Justin Moss and guard Shannon Evans and Bobby Hurley’s team appears to be peaking at the right time. It also helps that Buffalo doesn’t have to play until the tournament’s semifinals and they swept potential semifinal opponent Kent State during the regular season.
And if they lose?: Central Michigan
While the Chippewas aren’t as hot as Buffalo, they are the No. 1 seed in the tournament and also get the advantage of not playing until the semifinals. Central Michigan also owns a pair of season sweeps over the Bulls and Toledo during the season, the two teams they could face in the MAC Tournament if the bracket holds to form.
Kent State – If any team in the field is used to playing — and winning — in close games, it might be the Golden Flashes. Kent State had 12 games decided by five points or less this season and went 8-4 in those games.
Toledo – Looking to end a 35-year NCAA Tournament drought, the Rockets won 27 games last season and were the preseason favorites to win the league. They still have a chance to make a run here in a wide-open field.
Player of the Year: Buffalo junior forward Justin Moss
Entering 2014-15, the Bulls had the unenviable task of replacing senior forward Javon McCrea, the MAC’s reigning Conference Player of the Year. Enter Moss, who led the league in scoring (18.4 ppg) and rebounding (9.3 rpg) this season in an increased role after only playing a little over nine minutes per game last season. Remarkably consistent, Moss scored in double figures in all but three games during the regular season.
Coach of the Year: Central Michigan’s Keno Davis
The Chippewas were a MAC afterthought entering the season, as they were picked to finish fifth in the West Division in the preseason coaches’ poll. Central Michigan defied preseason expectations by finishing as the No. 1 overall seed in the conference tournament. With the league’s top offense and a much-improved defense — from last season’s last-place defense — Central Michigan went from 10-21 to 22-7 in one season.
Julius Brown, Toledo – Efficiency was a key for the senior as Brown improved his field-goal shooting (46% FG, 41% 3PT) while also being tied for second in scoring (16.4 ppg) and fifth in assists (4.3 apg)
Maurice Daly Ndour, Ohio – The imposing 6-foot-9 senior was fourth in the MAC in scoring (15.6 ppg), second in rebounding (8.2 rpg) and second in blocks (2.2 bpg).
Chris Fowler, Central Michigan – Leading the MAC in assists (6 apg) was the junior point guard of the Chippewas. Fowler was also seventh in the league in scoring (15.3 ppg) and fifth in steals (1.5 spg).
Richaun Holmes, Bowling Green – The senior led the league in blocks (2.7 bpg) while also finishing second in field-goal percentage (55 percent). Holmes also averaged 14.7 points per game and was fourth in the MAC in rebounding (8 rpg).
CBT PREDICTION: Buffalo over Toledo
West Coast Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards
For the 14th time in the last 15 seasons No. 7 Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference regular season title, winning 17 straight before falling to BYU in the regular season finale for both. And that result may have changed the tenor of this year’s WCC tournament, with the Cougars now in possession of the marquee victory their NCAA tournament resume lacked. Mark Few’s Bulldogs, led by senior guard Kevin Pangos, don’t lack for options on the perimeter or in the post and they could be a threat to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history.
While those talents make Gonzaga the favorites in Las Vegas, it also makes them an attractive target for the rest of the WCC. BYU and Saint Mary’s finished tied for second, and both teams have all-conference caliber options. The Cougars are led by guards Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth, and Saint Mary’s has senior forward Brad Waldow to call upon in the post. But even with the talent that both teams have, this will not be a three-team tournament.
Pepperdine, led by junior forward Stacy Davis, once again exceeded preseason expectations under head coach Marty Wilson. The Waves won ten conference games, and while teams such as San Diego, Portland and Santa Clara all finished below .500 they have the ability to pull off a surprise or two in Las Vegas. That could make things tricky for the teams expected to get to Monday’s semifinals, but is it enough to provide a surprise champion?
That won’t be the expectation, with the most important question for the WCC being how many NCAA tournament bids will the conference receive. With Gonzaga being the only lock to hear its name called Selection Sunday the best way to remove any doubt is to win the automatic bid. And that should make for a fun five days at Orleans Arena.
The Bulldogs are the clear favorites in Las Vegas thanks to their dominance throughout WCC play. In addition to Pangos and Wiltjer, Mark Few can call upon a host of experienced options including WCC Defensive Player of the Year Gary Bell Jr., wing Byron Wesley and bigs Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. And with players such as Kyle Dranginis and Eric McClellan serving as reserves, the Bulldogs have depth as well. Skilled offensively and solid defensively, Gonzaga can use this weekend as a springboard into the NCAA tournament.
And if they lose?: BYU
The Cougars have little trouble putting points on the board, as they averaged 81.1 points per game and shot 46.4 percent from the field in conference games. Haws and Collinsworth lead the way for BYU, with Chase Fischer and Anson Winder both averaging at least 13 points per contest as well. BYU arrives in Las Vegas having won six straight games, and a key during the stretch has been senior guard Skyler Halford. Scoring 8.7 points per game on the season, Halford is averaging 14.8 ppg during this current win streak. If that continues, and BYU can string together stops on the other end, they’re a threat to win the tournament.
Saint Mary’s: Brad Waldow leads the way for Randy Bennett’s team, and they’re experienced on the perimeter thanks to the presence of players such as seniors Aaron Bright and Kerry Carter. The Gaels ranked second in the WCC in both field goal and three-point percentage in league games, and they were tops in the WCC in defensive rebounding percentage. If Garrett Jackson can build on his final two games of the regular season (19.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg), that would undoubtedly help the Gaels.
Pepperdine: Marty Wilson’s Waves won ten conference games thanks in large part to their defense, as they were second in the WCC in field goal percentage defense and first in three-point percentage defense. Forwards Stacy Davis and Jett Raines lead the way offensively, and guards Jeremy Major and freshman Shawn Olden are solid as well. The key for Pepperdine: rebounding, as they ranked ninth in the WCC in defensive rebounding percentage in conference games (65.9%).
Sleeper: San Francisco
Unlike the Pilots, Rex Walters’ team enters the tournament having won four of its last five games. Of course three of those wins came against teams seeded seventh (Santa Clara), ninth (Pacific) and tenth (Loyola Marymount), with Pepperdine being the other. Kruize Pinkins and Mark Tollefsen lead the way for a team that has three players averaging between 12.3 and 14.2 points per game.
Deeper Sleeper: San Diego
The Toreros are the five-seed, but they’ve struggled mightily on the offensive end in conference games (last in field goal percentage, eighth in three-point percentage). The good news is that they have an experienced backcourt of Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee, with the latter having the ability to get rolling from deep. But if they’re to make a run, players such as Duda Sanadze and Thomas Jacobs will need to step forward in the scoring department with Jito Kok serving as the defensive anchor in the post.
WCC Player of the Year: F Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
Teammate Kevin Pangos was the conference’s pick for Player of the Year and that’s certainly understandable given his role on the team. But Wiltjer’s debut season for Gonzaga was an excellent one, as he averaged 16.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 53 percent from the field and 44.9 percent from beyond the arc.
WCC Coach of the Year: Mark Few, Gonzaga
Sure the expectation was that Gonzaga would win the conference. But that doesn’t mean Few should be prohibited from receiving this honor. The Bulldogs went 29-2 overall and 17-1 in WCC play, with 14 of those conference wins being by ten points or more.
G Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: Pangos averaged 11.6 points and 5.0 assists per game for the champions, playing an average of nearly 33 minutes per contest.
G Tyler Haws, BYU: One of the best shooters in the country, BYU’s all-time leading scorer averaged 22 points per game and shot 47 percent from the field.
G Kyle Collinsworth, BYU: An argument can be made that Collinsworth is the most versatile player in college basketball, as he tallied an NCAA-record five triple-doubles this season.
F Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s: Waldow averaged 19.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, shooting better than 56 percent from the field.
Second Team All-WCC:
G Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara
G Johnny Dee, San Diego
G Kerry Carter, Saint Mary’s
F Stacy Davis, Pepperdine
C Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga
Defining moment of conference play: BYU’s win at Gonzaga (February 28)
While the Bulldogs have been part of the one-seed conversation for most of the season, the same wasn’t the case for a BYU team that’s had to navigate multiple injuries throughout the season. And while they had the benefit of a solid non-conference schedule, Dave Rose’s team had yet to pick up a “signature” victory. That changed in Spokane on the last day of February, and that win could be what gets BYU an at-large bid should they need it.
CBT Prediction: Gonzaga wins its third straight WCC tournament title, beating Saint Mary’s in the title game.
Southern Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards
The SoCon looks quite a bit different than it has in past seasons, as Davidson and the College of Charleston are no longer in the league while new additions like Mercer and East Tennessee State have made an immediate impact. And while there has been some turnover in the membership, the league’s power still ended up being Wofford, as many predicted prior to the season. The Terriers are a veteran-laden group, but they split their two games with Chattanooga, who finished in second in the conference, this season.
The Terriers returned essentially their entire roster from last season’s NCAA tournament team, and it showed during the season. After notching a number of quality non-conference wins — Iona, Charleston Southern, N.C. State — Wofford ended up winning the outright SoCon title. Wofford is led by league Player of the Year. Karl Cochran.
And if they lose?: Chattanooga
Shaka Smart protégé Will Wade has turned the Mocs into one of the most promising mid-major programs in the country. The goal is to eventually run ‘Chaos’, which is the mid-major version of VCU’s ‘Havoc’, and while they aren’t completely chaotic just yet, this is still a team that has won quite a few games in the past two years. The addition of VCU transfer Justin Tuoyo this season was huge.
Mercer: Last season, the Bears won the Atlantic Sun to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, where they upset Duke in the opening round. They lost seven seniors off that team, but they also changed leagues and, led by a powerfully athletic guard like Ike Nwamu, finished in third in the always-tough SoCon.
Western Carolina: The Catamounts are led by the SoCon’s most dynamic guard, James Sinclair, and while they finished just 9-9 in league play, they were one of just three teams that were actually able to notch a win over either Wofford or Chattanooga.
Player of the Year: Karl Cochran, Wofford
A 6-foot-1 guard, Cochran was the spark for Wofford’s offense this season. He averaged 15.0 points, 5.8 boards, 2.8 assists and 1.8 steals on the season while shooting 37.5 percent from three as the team’s only real perimeter threat.
Coach of the Year: Mike Young, Wofford
Young is the easy pick here, as he was able to back up the preseason projections and win the league’s regular season title. His job was made easier by the fact that he had a veteran team coming off of a league tournament championship from last season.
All-Southern Conference Team:
Jalen Riley, ETSU – Riley finished the season averaging a league-best 20.7 points.
Ike Nwamu, Mercer – Nwamu led the Bears in their first season in the SoCon, leading them to a third place finish in the league.
Casey Jones, Chattanooga – Jones was the leading scorer and the best player for the Mocs, the clear-cut second-best team in the conference.
James Sinclair, Western Carolina – Sinclair was the most dynamic player in the conference, averaging 19.1 points, 5.7 boards and 3.1 assists, which included the 40 points he had against VMI.
CBT PREDICTION: Wofford returns to the tournament by beating Mercer in the finals.
After being alone at the top in recent years, Wichita State has a nearly equal rival in Northern Iowa this season. Both teams are 27-3 and ranked in the top 15 as the Valley will surely get two teams in the NCAA Tournament. But first comes Arch Madness, and a few teams like Illinois State, Indiana State and Evansville are capable of stringing together some wins and stealing a bid.
The Shockers enter Arch Madness as the No. 1 seed. The trio of Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton has won a lot of games in Saint Louis the last few years. Gregg Marshall’s team should be favored again after a strong recent showing at home against Northern Iowa. If the basketball gods are looking down on his, they’ll grant us a grudge match between the Shockers and Northern Iowa. Back in January, the Panthers handed Wichita State their only loss of the Missouri Valley season.
And if they lose?: Northern Iowa
Also at 27-3 this season are the Panthers, who are the No. 2 seed and might have a more favorable draw on their side of the bracket. Led by Player of the Year Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa is deep, balanced and experienced and are looking to add some postseason success to an otherwise tremendous season.
Illinois State: The Redbirds have battled injuries this season but still finished at No. 4 in the Valley. Tough defensively and balanced, Dan Muller’s team will compete with anyone.
Indiana State: Evansville and Loyola have better win totals, but the Sycamores were more successful in conference play. Devonte Brown and Brenton Scott are a nice scoring combo while Jake Kitchell has looked good in conference play.
Player of the Year: Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa
The 6-foot-8 senior is third in the conference in scoring (15.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg) while placing fourth in assists (3.3 apg) and first in field-goal percentage (63 percent shooting). He’s also improved to 44 percent as a 3-point shooter and been consistent for much of the season for a 27-win team.
Coach of the Year: Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
Gregg Marshall deserves a ton of crediting for maintaining Wichita State as a top-15 program, but Jacobson took a program barely above .500 a year ago and made them into a top-15 team with a chance at making the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
All-Missouri Valley Team:
Ron Baker, Wichita State – Now the main scorer for the Shockers, the 6-foot-3 junior guard is averaging 15.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game on admirable splits (44% FG, 40% 3PT, 75% FT)
Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State – A Cousy award finalist, the junior is averaging 12.5 points and a conference-best 5.4 assists per game. Van Vleet is also averaging 4.4 rebounds per game.
D.J. Balentine, Evansville – One of the nation’s most prolific scorers at the mid-major level, Balentine averages 19 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville – In a league dominated by guards, the 6-foot-10 junior led the Valley in rebounding (9.9 rpg) and was second in blocks (2.3 bpg) and field goal percentage (59 percent shooting).
CBT PREDICTION: Wichita State over Northern Iowa
Weekend Preview: The first weekend of conference play is here
GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 22 Baylor at No. 18 Oklahoma, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
There is only one game this weekend that features two teams that are both ranked, and that pits the Bears against the Sooners. We think we know what Oklahoma is this year, a top 20 team with the ceiling of being a Final Four-caliber program. The question mark is Baylor, who entered the season without much in the way of expectations thanks to the graduation of Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson.
But the Bears have been one of the nation’s surprises. They have just one loss on the season and look like they could end up being a tournament team, a fact that would (gasp!) get Scott Drew some coach of the year consideration. And here’s the scary part: Kenny Chery is just now getting back into the rotation.
THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: UNLV at No. 13 Kansas, Sun. 4:30 p.m.
Two weeks ago, this game would not have made this list as the Rebels were one of the more disappointing teams in the country. But they’ve bounced back with a win over Arizona in Vegas and a five point loss to Wyoming on the road. Christian Wood suddenly looks like he’ll be the best big man on the floor, and Kansas has been struggling enough that the Rebels just may be able to pull off the upset in Lawrence.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
No. 21 Washington at Stanford, Sun. 10:00 p.m.: Washington has a tough road trip this week, but they match up better with Stanford than they do Cal. Chasson Randle vs. Nigel Williams-Goss will be fun.
No. 17 West Virginia at TCU, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: If there are two teams that are expected to come back to earth during Big 12 play, it’s these two. The Mountaineers, who have just one loss, look like they’re for real. TCU? Well, let’s just say this will be an interesting gauge game.
Minnesota at No. 12 Maryland, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Maryland hosts their first game as a Big Ten member, and they get a Minnesota team that is coming off of a loss after looking like one of the hottest teams in the league.
Butler at No. 15 St. John’s, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: St. John’s lost their Big East opener at Seton Hall on Wednesday. Can they bounce back with a win on Saturday?
UCLA at No. 10 Utah, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: UCLA has not played like it yet this year, but the Bruins are one of the more talented teams in the conference.
Seton Hall already has an upset win at home under their belt this week, as they knocked off No. 15 St. John’s at the Prudential Center on Wednesday afternoon. The most impressive part is that the Pirates were able to do it without Isaiah Whitehead healthy. Villanova is a much different team from Seton Hall: more talented, more disciplined, better defensively. The Pirates are going to need another terrific performance from Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina, but those two have been good this year.
No. 24 Colorado State at New Mexico, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Colorado State has not lost yet this season, but playing at New Mexico is never an easy thing to do.
No. 21 Washington at Cal, Fri. 10:00 p.m.: Cal actually matches up with the Huskies pretty well. David Kravish can pull Robert Upshaw away from the rim and the Bears have plenty of guards.
Creighton at No. 25 Georgetown, Sat. 4:30 p.m.: Creighton is coming off of a loss in their Big East opener, but Georgetown is as well.
No. 3 Virginia at Miami, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: Miami has struggled a bit of late, but the Hurricanes do have some talent on their roster.
No. 19 North Carolina at Clemson, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Clemson likes to take the air out of the ball offensively, and that could slow down North Carolina enough to get them into a half court game.
FIVE MORE STORY LINES
1. UConn at Florida, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: A rematch from last year’s Final Four features two teams in desperate need of quality wins for their NCAA tournament resume.
2. No. 5 Louisville at Wake Forest, Sun. 8:00 p.m.:
3. Illinois at No. 20 Ohio State, Sat. 3:30 p.m.: This is one of the games that I will be watching closely on Saturday, as the Buckeyes have not looked like a team that can compete at the top of the Big Ten.
4. There will be four games on NBCSN and streaming on the NBCSports Live Extra app this weekend:
– Duquesne at Dayton, Sat. 3:00 p.m.
– Rhode Island at Saint Louis, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
– Richmond at Davidson, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
– Saint Louis at George Mason (women), Sun. 2:00 p.m.
5. Kansas State at Oklahoma State, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: There haven’t been many more disappointing teams in the country than Kansas State this season.
2014-2015 Season Preview: Louisiana Tech the favorite in the ever-changing Conference USA
Conference realignment has been rampant the last few seasons, and Conference USA is still feeling the effects of it heading into the 2014-2015 season. Gone are East Carolina, Tulane and the league’s lone NCAA tournament team from last year, Tulsa. The conference welcomes in Western Kentucky as its newest member. If you’re scoring at home, that’s nine new programs and seven former members since 2013.
At least one thing looks to remain certain in 2014-2015, Louisiana Tech should finish atop the conference standings. The Bulldogs were one of four teams — Tulsa, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss — to share the regular season title with a 13-3 record. Like previously mentioned, Tulsa left C-USA, Middle Tennessee lost four starters and Souther Miss is starting the Doc Sadler era after Donnie Tyndall accepted the Tennessee position.
Louisiana Tech returns plenty of key contributors, but none more important than head coach Michael White, who was in the conversation for several coaching vacancies this offseason.
The Bulldogs boast the league’s top back court with Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith running the show, Alex Hamilton back as the team’s top scorer and Raheem Appleby, who was sidelined for several weeks last season with an ankle injury. Michale Kyser mans the frontline with his 3.0 blocks per game, and he’ll be an important piece this season, as the Bulldogs’ biggest threat, UTEP, has two talented forwards.
The Miners may have finished fifth last season, but was only a game out of first in the top-heavy C-USA. Tim Floyd’s team is headlined by sophomore Vince Hunter and (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Julian Washburn (13.1 ppg). Another team looking to make a run at the Bulldogs is newcomer, Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers join the league from the Sun Belt, and have been to two of the last three NCAA tournaments. Ray Harper’s team is aided by senior guards T.J. Price and George Fant — the team’s top two scorers at 15.5 points and 13.3 points, respectively –who will help with the transition against better competition.
Along with Harper, C-USA has three new coaches. Mike Rhoades came over from VCU to take over at Rice while Michael Curry (Florida Atlantic) and Dan D’Antoni (Marshall) join the conference from the NBA sidelines, despite neither of them having college basketball coaching experience.
In: Western Kentucky Out: East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa
PRESEASON CONFERENCE-USA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith, Louisiana Tech
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged single-digits (7.8 ppg) last year, but he effected the game in so many other ways. He was second in the nation in assists (7.7 apg), was 10th in the nation with a 3.23 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he was also top 10 in the nation in steals at 2.5 per game. The senior guard was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and is the only returning member of the league’s first-team from a season ago.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON CONFERENCE-USA TEAM:
Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech: Another member of Louisiana Tech’s heralded back court. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged a team-high 14.5 points per game last season.
Pierria Henry, Charlotte: The 49ers top scorer from a season ago averaged 12.3 points, grabbed 5.1 boards and dished 5.8 assists per game.
Vince Hunter, UTEP: Hunter is coming off a great freshman campaign, averaging 12.5 points and 6.4 boards per game. Part of a talented front court duo with Julian Washburn.
T.J. Price, Western Kentucky: One of the top newcomers to the league averaged better than 15 points per game over the past two years in the Sun Belt.