Another in-season tournament schedule has been officially completed, as the slate for the MGM Grand Main Event (to be held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas) was announced Wednesday by BD Global Sports. The tournament consists of two four-team brackets, with the teams in the Heavyweight Bracket (Clemson, Creighton, Massachusetts and Rutgers) getting to host at least two home games before heading to Las Vegas for games November 23 (Monday) and 25 (Wednesday).
In the Heavyweight Bracket semifinals November 23, Clemson will take on UMass with Creighton/Rutgers being the other matchup. The consolation and championship games will be held two days later.
There’s also a Middleweight Bracket, with UTSA and Central Arkansas meeting in one semifinal and Texas Southern and Howard in the other. Those four teams will play two road games apiece against the teams in the Heavyweight Bracket before they play in the afternoon sessions in Las Vegas November 23 and 25.
Of the eight teams in the event just one, Texas Southern, played in the NCAA tournament last season. Mike Davis’ Tigers, who won games at Kansas State and Michigan State last season, was the SWAC’s automatic entrant and lost to Arizona in the round of 64.
Monday, Nov. 23 – Session 2 (Evening Session – Game Times TBD)
Clemson vs. UMass
Creighton vs. Rutgers
Wednesday, Nov. 25 – Session 4 (Evening Session – Game Times TBD)
Heavyweight Championship Game
Monday, Nov. 23 – Session 1(Afternoon Session – Game Times TBD)
UTSA vs Central Arkansas
Texas Southern vs. Howard
Wednesday, Nov. 25 – Session 3 (Afternoon Session – Game Times TBD)
Middleweight Championship Game
Nov. 13 – Howard at UMass
Nov. 14 – Texas Southern at Creighton
Nov. 15 – UTSA at Clemson
Nov. 15 – Howard at Rutgers
Nov. 17 – UTSA at Creighton
Nov. 19 – Texas Southern at Clemson
Nov. 19 – Central Arkansas at UMass
Nov. 21 – Central Arkansas at Rutgers
2014-15 Southland Preview: Can Stephen F. Austin go unbeaten again?
Stephen F. Austin has a lot to live up to if they hope to achieve similar success in 2014-15. The 2013-14 iteration of the Lumberjacks went 32-3, 20-0 in the Southland, won 29 straight games and beat VCU in the Round of 64 before falling to UCLA.
That’s quite an accomplishment for first-year head coach Brad Underwood, a former assistant of Frank Martin, who had tremendous balance and perimeter shooting last season. Although Stephen F. Austin loses leading scorer Desmond Haymon and another double-figure scorer in Deshaunt Walker, they do return Southland Player of the Year Jacob Parker, as well as Southland Tournament MVP Thomas Walkup and point guard Trey Pinckney.
The trio of returning starters is more than enough with others filling the departed players’ shoes to once again win the Southland Conference Title, as the Lumberjacks were one of the country’s best non-power conference teams last season.
Underwood’s team is the heavy favorite and he received an eight-year deal after last season.
The early runner-up candidate behind Stephen F. Austin is Sam Houston State, who returns seven contributors from last season including Southland Newcomer of the Year and 6-foot-4 senior Jabari Peters. Peters started all 35 games last season, along with three other returning starters: 6-foot-0 guard Kaheem Ransom, 6-foot-1 junior Paul Baxter and 6-foot-11 center Michael Holyfield.
This is a deep and experienced team. The Bearkats lost in the Southland title game last season and finished 24-11 (13-5).
Northwestern State is situated next as junior point guard Jalen West averaged 19.4 points and 6.4 assists last season for an offense that averaged 86.6 points per game, good enough for second in the nation. The Demons also return Southland Freshman of the Year, 6-foot-2 guard Zeek Woodley and 6-foot-9 center Marvin Frazier.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi returns after a 14-4 conference mark and all-league candidate John Jordan is back at point guard. The Islanders could compete in the Southland as 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Rashawn Thomas also returns. McNeese State and Incarnate Word both have all-conference caliber players in senior guards Kevin Hardy and Denzel Livingston. Both of those players are capable of making plays all over the floor and each averaged over two steals a game last season.
It’s worth noting that Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word are playing full 18-game Southland schedules this season for the first time, but both remain ineligible for the NCAA Tournament after transitioning from Division II. Central Arkansas, Houston Baptist and Lamar are all banned from the postseason due to low APR scores.
Of the 13 teams in the Southland, only eight may play in the postseason in 2014-15.
Out: Oral Roberts
PRESEASON SOUTHLAND PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin
The reigning Southland Player of the Year, the 6-foot-6 Parker is one of three returning starters for a team that reached the Round of 32 in 2014. The senior averaged 14.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.4 steals per game last season while shooting 53 percent from the field, 46 percent from three-point range and 79 percent from the free-throw line. Efficient and productive from all over the floor, Parker will be the key for Stephen F. Austin to maintain last year’s success after the Lumberjacks lost some valuable seniors.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SOUTHLAND TEAM:
Kevin Hardy, McNeese State: Do-it-all 6-foot-2 senior guard averaged 11 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2 steals per game last season.
John Jordan, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi: A dynamic, play-making senior guard, the 5-foot-10 Jordan averaged 14.8 points and 5.4 assists per game as a junior.
Denzel Livingston, Incarnate Word: The 6-foot-4 senior combo guard averaged 20.3 points per game and a Southland-leading 2.5 steals per game as he scored 20 or more points in 10 of the last 11 games in 2013-14.
Jalan West, Northwestern State: The 5-foot-10 junior point guard averaged 19.4 points and a Southland-best 6.4 assists per game last season and could de-throne Parker for Player of the Year honors.
1. Stephen F. Austin
2. Sam Houston State
3. Northwestern State
4. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
5. McNeese State
6. Incarnate Word
7. Southeastern Louisiana
8. New Orleans
9. Nicholls State
10. Abilene Christian
11. Houston Baptist
12. Central Arkansas
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Northwestern State 119, Central Arkansas 102
Central Arkansas scored 52 points in the first half and 50 in the second…and still lost by 17 points. Why? The Demons scored 72 points in the second half, shooting 70.3% from the field and assisting on 19 of their 26 made field goals. Northwestern State also forced 13 turnovers in the second half, converting those opportunities into 23 points. Jalan West scored 26 points and Zikiteran Woodley added 24 for Northwestern State, which locked up the four seed in next week’s Southland tournament.
1) N0. 6 Villanova 77, Xavier 70
From the Xavier angle this result represents a missed opportunity to further solidify their standing with regards to the NCAA tournament. As for the Wildcats, Jay Wright’s team wins the Big East regular season title outright for the first time since 1982. Darrun Hilliard continued his solid play by scoring 19 points, and the victory keeps the Wildcats in contention for a one-seed in the NCAA tournament. This is one of the best teams in the country, and Jay Wright’s done an outstanding job with this group.
2) No. 22 Michigan State 86, No. 24 Iowa 76
The big news for the Spartans: Keith Appling knocked down some shots. Appearing more confident Appling scored 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting, and Travis Trice scored 17 points off the bench. As for Iowa the night was a frustrating one, as they once again struggled to string together stops. Michigan State shot 58.3% from the field, and if the Hawkeyes don’t find away to get better defensively they won’t be in the NCAA tournament very long.
3) No. 15 Cincinnati 97, No. 20 Memphis 84
On Senior Night the Bearcats senior starters did as they’ve done all season long: they led in regards to both the numbers and the intangibles. Sean Kilpatrick scored 34 points, Titus Rubles 24 and Justin Jackson added 13 to go along with nine rebounds, three assists and three steals. Cincinnati can win a share of the American Athletic Conference title with a win at Rutgers on Saturday. As for Memphis, the Tigers struggled defensively and as a result they’re locked into the 4/5 game in next week’s conference tournament.
1) F Brandon Edwards (UT-Arlington)
33 points (13-for-16 FG), 19 rebounds, three assists and three blocks in the Mavericks’ 87-86 win at Troy.
2) G Antoine Mason (Niagara)
38 points (13-for-19 FG), six rebounds and four assists in the Purple Eagles’ 78-76 win over Marist in a MAAC tournament first-round game.
3) G Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati)
34 points (11-for-18 FG) and three assists in the Bearcats’ 97-84 win over No. 20 Memphis.
1) Northwestern and DePaul
Both Chicagoland-area teams were bad in home losses. The Wildcats fell to Penn State 59-32, and DePaul lost to Butler 79-46.
2) G Ledrick Eackles (McNeese State)
Eackles missed all 11 of his field goal attempts in the Cowboys’ 67-51 loss at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
3) ShawnDre’ Jones (Richmond)
Shot 1-for-11 from the field in the Spiders’ 56-50 loss to VCU, finishing with three points, two assists and five turnovers.
Atlantic Sun: FGCU, Mercer set up title game rematch
Last season FGCU began its run with a win in the A-Sun title game on Mercer’s home floor. This year the Bears will aim to return the favor, with the top two seeds winning semifinal games at home. FGCU outlasted ETSU 69-64, and Mercer needed double-overtime to beat USC Upstate 78-75.
MAAC: Desi Washington victimizes Fairfield again
Both regular season meeting between Saint Peter’s and Fairfield ended on Desi Washington three-pointers, and Washington did it again as the Peacocks eliminated the Stags, 65-62 in overtime. The other winners on day one were Niagara (over Marist) and Rider (over Monmouth).
MVC: Loyola-Illinois knocks off Bradley
The Ramblers are now 1-0 all-time at “Arch Madness” by virtue of their 74-72 win over Bradley. Milton Doyle’s three-pointer as time expired was the difference. The other winner on opening night was Evansville, which will take on No. 2 Wichita State after beating Drake 69-61.
OVC: Seeds hold to form in the quarters
After picking up wins on day one Tennessee Tech and Southeast Missouri State looked to pick up a second win, but both fell short. Morehead State eliminated Tennessee Tech, with Angelo Warner scoring 23 points in their 76-61 win over the Eagles. And SEMO fell 84-76 to Eastern Kentucky as Corey Walden led the victors with 17 points.
WCC: Lower-seeded teams win on day one
With the opportunity to take on top seeds Gonzaga and BYU on the line, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount advanced in Las Vegas. The Broncos beat WCC tournament debutant Pacific 81-64, and they’ll take on Gonzaga Saturday. As for the Lions, they’ll look to duplicate their run to the WCC semifinals last season by beating BYU after coming back to beat Portland 67-64.
Conference USA finished its regular season with a four-way tie for the regular season crown, with Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss and Tulsa all finishing 13-3 in conference play. How they’ll be seeded in the conference tournament: Louisiana Tech gets the top seed, followed by Tulsa, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss.
Western Kentucky clinched the second seed in the Sun Belt with a 75-72 win over Louisiana. George Fant scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half to help the Hilltoppers hold off the Ragin’ Cajuns, who were led offensively by Elfrid Payton (31 points, 13 rebounds and three assists).
North Carolina Central concluded its 15-1 run through the MEAC with a 76-70 win at Norfolk State. Jeremy Ingram scored 19 points to lead the Eagles, who are 25-5 overall.
UC Irvine maintained its hold on first place in the Big West with a 62-44 win at Cal-State Fullerton, guaranteeing themselves at least a share of their first conference title in 12 years.
Jordan Adams scored 31 points to lead UCLA to 91-82 win at Washington. While the Bruins are locked into the two-seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament, they’re still playing to improve their NCAA tournament seeding.
Southern Utah ended a 31-game losing streak against Division I opponents with a 77-71 win over North Dakota.
Portland State beat Weber State 66-59, limiting the Wildcats to 17 points in the first half. The win was a big one for the Vikings, one of five teams competing for the final three spots in next week’s Big Sky tournament.
VCU moved to 11-4 in Atlantic 10 play with a 56-50 win at Richmond, keeping alive their hopes of winning a share of the conference title. They’ll need help in the form of another Saint Louis loss, however.
Stephen F. Austin moved to 17-0 in the Southland with an 83-72 win over Oral Roberts. Thomas Walkup led three Lumberjacks in double figures with 16 points.