Weber State's Joel Bolomboy tries to get around Northern Colorado's Tanner Morgan during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Ogden, Utah. Weber State defeated Northern Colorado 85-68. (Benjamin Zack/Standard-Examiner via AP)
Benjamin Zack/Standard-Examiner via AP

Big Sky Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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The Big Sky tournament underwent massive changes in advance of this season, as all 12 teams will get to participate and a neutral site will be used. Reno will be the site this year, which is a big difference from seasons past in which the top seed served as the host. As expected Weber State and Montana were the top two combatants for the regular season crown, with Randy Rahe’s Wildcats claiming the title despite losing league Player of the Year candidate Joel Bolomboy for two games due to injury. The Wildcats and Grizzlies will be the favorites in Reno, but getting to the title game will be a challenge for both.

The Bracket

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When: March 8, 10-12

Where: Reno Events Center, Reno, Nevada

Final: March 12, 8:45 p.m. (ESPNU)

Favorite: Weber State

Many of the players in Randy Rahe’s current rotation were members of the team that reached the NCAA tournament two seasons ago, which should help Weber State even with the changes to the format and location of the Big Sky tournament. Of course it also helps to have talent, and there’s no shortage of that in Ogden. It all starts with the Big Sky’s best big man in Joel Bolomboy, and guard Jeremy Senglin (17.2 ppg in Big Sky games) is a force to be reckoned with as well. And with nine players playing at least 15 minutes per game in conference play, the Wildcats have the depth needed to navigate three games in three days.

And if they lose?: Montana

The Griz missed out on a share of the Big Sky regular season title as they lost to Northern Colorado Saturday, but Travis DeCuire’s team won six of their final eight games with the other loss coming at the hands of Weber State. Martin Breunig has been one of the conference’s best players, and the play of guards Walter Wright and Michael Oguine has been key as expected starter Mario Dunn missed 12 games due to injury. Only Eastern Washington was better in conference play from an offensive efficiency standpoint, and defensively the Griz ranked first in the Big Sky in both defensive rebounding and three-point percentage and third in field goal percentage.

Other Contenders:

  • Idaho: The Vandals shot 38.2 percent from three in Big Sky play (Chad Sherwood shot 45.1 percent), and they were also the best team in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage. Defensively, only Weber State was better from an efficiency standpoint.
  • Idaho State: The Bengals have two guards who can put points on the board in Ethan Telfair and Geno Luzcando. But they’ll most likely have to figure out their matchup issues with No. 5 North Dakota if they’re to make a run.
  • North Dakota: Brian Jones’ team swept Idaho State during the regular season, and they also split the season series with Weber State. And with a player as gifted as guard Quinton Hooker, UND could very well get to the title game.

Big Sky Player of the Year: Joel Bolomboy, Weber State

Bolomboy was outstanding throughout for the regular season champions, averaging 18.2 points and 12.8 rebounds per game while also shooting 59.6 percent from the field. Bolomboy’s an incredibly tough matchup to deal with in the post, and when fouled he converted his free throws at a solid clip (73.8 percent in Big Sky games) as well.

Big Sky Coach of the Year: Bill Evans, Idaho State

Picked to finish dead last in the Big Sky preseason poll, Evans’ Bengals arrive in Reno as the four-seed. Idaho State won 11 conference games this season, with the perimeter tandem of Ethan Telfair and Geno Luzcando leading the way offensively. Those two combined to average 40.2 points and 4.6 steals per game in Big Sky play, and collectively the Bengals are a much-improved outfit from a season ago.

First-Team All-Big Sky:

  • Joel Bolomboy, Weber State (POY)
  • Ethan Telfair, Idaho State: One of the Big Sky’s most impactful newcomers, Telfair averaged 23.9 points and 5.7 assists per game in conference play (league leader in both categories).
  • Quinton Hooker, North Dakota: Hooker averaged 20.6 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting in Big Sky play, while also averaging four assists and two steals per contest.
  • Martin Breunig, Montana: The senior forward averaged 19.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, shooting 64.8 percent from the field.
  • Venky Jois, Eastern Washington: Averaging 18.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest in Big Sky play, Jois led the conference in field goal percentage (70.6).

Prediction: Weber State outlasts Montana to take the automatic bid.

Southland Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Stephen F. Austin State's Thomas Walkup (0) drives the baseline with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's Brandon Pye, left, and Kelani Currie defending during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Nacogdoches, Texas, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Victor Texcucano/The Daily Sentinel via AP)
(Victor Texcucano/The Daily Sentinel via AP)
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Does the Southland actually have a contender for Stephen F. Austin this season? The Lumberjacks have lorded over the conference for the last three seasons, getting to two NCAA tournaments and look like the overwhelming favorite to get back to a third this season. If anyone can pick them off, it’s probably Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, who could end up squaring off with SFA in the title game.

The Bracket

2016_MBB_Bracket

When: March 9-12

Where: Katy, Tx.

Final: March 12, 8:30 p.m. ESPN2

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin

Why wouldn’t the Lumberjacks be the favorite to win the league title? This is the third season that Brad Underwood has been the head coach in Nacogdoches, and he’s not only been to two NCAA tournaments — with a first round win over VCU in there — but he’s lost a single game to Southland foes. In three years. Put another way, SFA is 57-1 against Southland Conference teams in the last three years. That’s absurd. So yes, Stephen F. Austin is the favorite to win the league tournament.

And if they lose?: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

The Islanders are the hottest team in the league not named SFA. They’ve won eight of their last nine games — the only loss coming to SFA in that stretch — and are 15-1 against non-Lumberjacks in Southland play, the only other team they lost to in league play is ineligible for the tournament. They’re athletic, Rashawn Thomas is a stud and they can force turnovers with the best of them. They should get a rematch with SFA in the final.

Other Contenders:

  • San Houston State: SHSU finished third in the conference, although they were 0-4 against the top two teams in the league.
  • Houston Baptist: The Huskies caught a break that Incarnate Word isn’t eligible for the tournament, as they sneak into the No. 4 seed and get a first round bye. They’ve lost eight of their last ten, however, and need to turn things around.

Southland Player of the Year: Thomas Walkup, SFA

The best player on the team that currently holds total dominance over the league is a pretty easy pick for Player of the Year, particularly when that player happens to be the reigning Southland Player of the Year.

Southland Coach of the Year: Brad Underwood, SFA

Coach of the Year is usually an award that’s given to the coach that outperforms expectations by the largest margin, which is a line of thinking that I’m not sure I totally subscribe to. It’s not totally foolish for the most part, but if you think that away about a coach that went undefeated through league play even if his team was predicted to win the league, you’re doing it wrong.

First-Team All-Southland:

  • Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin
  • Rashawn Thomas, Texas A&M-CC
  • Anthony Odunsi, Houston Baptist
  • Aurimas Majauskas, Sam Houston State
  • Ty Charles, Stephen F. Austin

CBT Prediction: Are we really going to bet against SFA? No. No we’re not.

MEAC Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Howard guard James Daniel (11) dribbles the ball past Rutgers guard Mike Williams during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Piscataway, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
(AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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The MEAC conference tournament begins this week as No. 1 Hampton is the heavy favorite after making the NCAA tournament last season and winning the conference’s regular season. The Pirates (18-10, 13-3) are led by a strong inside-outside duo of Quinton Chievous and Reginald Johnson Jr as both players were first-team All-MEAC selections. Norfolk State, South Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman round out the top four seeds in the event as the winner of this conference tournament almost assuredly plays in a First Four game in Dayton.

The Bracket 

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When: March 7-12

Where: Scope Arena, Norfolk, Va.

Final: March 12, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

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

Favorite: Hampton

After making the NCAA tournament last season, the Pirates won the conference regular season and have the league’s best duo in Quinton Chievous and Reginald Johnson Jr. Hampton’s offense can struggle at times, but their defense is among the league’s best.

And if they lose?: Norfolk State

Riding the momentum of beating Hampton for the No. 2 seed in the tournament in the last game of the regular season, Norfolk State also owns a win over No. 3 seed South Carolina State in the last few weeks. The Spartans have shown that they can beat the league’s elite and senior guard Jeff Short is one of the top players in the MEAC.

Other Contenders:

  • South Carolina State: Over their last 15 games, the Bulldogs are 12-3 and two of those losses came against Savannah State.
  • Bethune-Cookman: Before a loss to South Carolina State, the Wildcats had won five straight games to get the No. 4 seed.

MEAC Player of the Year: James Daniel, Howard

The nation’s leading scorer (27.2 ppg) and No. 20 nationally in steals, Daniel did everything he could this season for Howard. The junior guard averaged 37.1 minutes per game and was held below 20 points three times all season. His season low was 15. Daniel isn’t the most efficient scorer in college basketball but he consistently puts up points and does it against all competition.

MEAC Coach of the Year: Gravelle Craig, Bethune-Cookman

After three consecutive losing seasons in conference play, Bethune-Cookman re-tooled with nearly an entirely new roster and finished fourth in conference play at 10-6. With only two players returning from last season’s team the Wildcats faced a ton of uncertainty but they were a surprise team in league play.

First-Team All-MEAC:

  • James Daniel, Howard
  • Quinton Chievous, Hampton
  • Reginald Johnson, Jr., Hampton
  • Jeff Short, Norfolk State
  • Dominique Elliott, UMES

CBT Prediction: Hampton over South Carolina State

Southern Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Chattanooga head coach Matt McCall directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Chattanooga's Matt McCall (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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This year’s version of the SoCon looks quite a bit different than last year’s version. Wofford, who won the league last season, saw their roster almost completely turned over. The team they beat in the SoCon title game last year, Furman, finished last place in the league a year ago. They’re the three seed this season. Will Wade left Chattanooga for VCU and Matt McCall, a first time head coach, out-dueled Steve Forbes, another first time Division I head coach, for the league title.

The Bracket 

16BKBrackets

When: March 4-7

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

Final: March 7th, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Chattanooga

Matt McCall has done a phenomenal job with the Mocs this season. In his first season in Chattanooga, he lost his best player (Casey Jones) and not only won an outright SoCon regular season title, but he did it while beating Georgia, Illinois and Dayton in the process. If the Mocs can get through the SoCon tourney unscathed, they’re going to be a trendy upset pick when the brackets are released.

And if they lose?: East Tennessee State

Another head coach in his first season with a new program, former Wichita State assistant Steve Forbes brought in a boat load of transfers to build the Buccaneers into a contender. ETSU is the most talented team in the league, and while they did get swept by Chattanooga, the Bucs have won eight of their last nine games.

Other Contenders

  • Furman: Niko Medved has done a great job building on last year’s fluky run to the league title game, finishing tied for third in the league while getting carried by Stephen Croone to the league title game.
  • Wofford: The Terriers had a ton of turnover in the offseason, but they’ve been the most consistent program in the league for years.

SoCon Player of the Year: Ge’Lawn Guyn, ETSU

In his first season in the league, the Cincinnati transfer played like a high major prospect, averaging better than 18 points for the Buccaneers. Guyn played a major role in ETSU finishing second in the conference this season.

SoCon Coach of the Year: Matt McCall, Chattanooga

We touched on it earlier, but in his first season as a head coach, McCall won the conference outright and picked off three high-major teams — including Dayton at Dayton! — more or less without the Preseason SoCon Player of the Year. That’s damn impressive.

First-Team All-SoCon

  • Ge’Lawn Guyn, ETSU
  • Stephen Croone, Furman
  • Justin Tuoyo, Chattanooga
  • Tre’ McLean, Chattanooga
  • Spencer Collins, Wofford

CBT Prediction: Furman makes another run to the finals, picking off Chattanooga this season.

West Coast Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett argues a call, during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga in Moraga, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
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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

High Point v Ohio State
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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