Conference Tournament Previews

Getty Images

2014 Big Ten Tournament Preview: Can Michigan State turn things around?

Leave a comment
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

I’m not sure there is a conference in the country where there is more at stake in the conference tournament.

Even with Sunday’s loss at Nebraska, Wisconsin has a chance to play their was into a No. 1 seed if they can win the conference tournament. Michigan probably can’t be a No. 1 seed, but winning the league tournament should lock them into a No. 2 seed. And neither of those teams have the highest ceiling of anyone in the conference. That would be Michigan State, who is a national title contender if they can get their act together. Iowa is also trying to figure their issues out, as the Hawkeyes look like a top 15 team and play like a No. 8 seed.

Then you get to the bubble, where both Nebraska and Minnesota have their NCAA tournament hopes pinned on their performance this week.

The Huskers are probably in a better spot than the Gophers. If Nebraska, who gets a first round bye, lucks out and gets Ohio State in the quarterfinals, they are probably going to get in whether or not they win that game. Minnesota, on the other hand, probably needs to win at least two games if they want to dance. They are on the outside looking in as of today, and beating Penn State isn’t going to change that.

MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews

The Bracket

When: March 13-16

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

Final: March 16, 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: Michigan Wolverines

Despite losing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the draft, and with Mitch McGary biding his time on the bench with a back injury, John Beilein somehow managed to do something that he wasn’t able to do last season: win the outright Big Ten regular season title. That’s what happens when Nik Stauskas turns into an all-american and Caris LeVert puts together an all-Big Ten caliber campaign. I’m not sure there is a pair of wing players that were better in conference play than those two.

AP Photo

Perhaps the biggest difference between Michigan now and Michigan four months ago has been the play of Derrick Walton at the point. He’s not Trey Burke, at least not yet, but as his confidence has grown, his ability to handle the rigors of running an offense at this level of basketball has increased exponentially. He’s become more than just the guy that dribbles the ball up the court. He’s a player, and with defenses keying on Stauskas and LeVert, that makes a major difference.

And if they lose?: Michigan State Spartans

I’m going to ride the Spartan bandwagon until the season is over. All the proof I needed was in that second half against Iowa, when Keith Appling finally played like Keith Appling and Michigan State beat the brakes off the Hawkeyes for 20 minutes. That’s the key to any and all success Michigan State will have this month. Appling just isn’t right right now. I don’t know if it’s the wrist injury itself, the fact that sitting out has killed his conditioning or if it is as simple as Appling’s confidence being in the gutter. Whatever the case may be, if he can find the form that he had in that second half against Iowa, Sparty will be awesome once again. And if he can’t? It won’t be a great month in East Lansing.

Other Contenders:

  • Wisconsin Badgers: Outside of the three-week stretch when the Badgers lost five out of six games, they’ve been nearly unbeatable, with their only loss coming at Nebraska on the final day of the regular season. Wisconsin has quite a bit on the line in this tournament. Win it all, and they could be the last No. 1 seed.
  • Ohio State Buckeyes: Ohio State is as tough as anyone defensively. Their issue is the ability to score the ball. On the nights that guys like Lenzelle Smith and Shannon Scott are scoring, the Buckeyes can beat anyone in the league. On the nights they aren’t, the Buckeyes can lose to anyone. Such is life.

Sleeper: Iowa Hawkeyes

On paper, Iowa looks like one of the best teams in the league. They’re talented, they’re deep and they have two of the best players in the conference in Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White. But they haven’t been able to win close games against elite competition all season long, and they haven’t played a lick of defense for the better part of a month. So which team shows up in Indy?

AP Photo

Deeper Sleeper: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Tim Miles has done a tremendous job with this Nebraska program, but the question I have about them is whether or not they can beat teams away from home. They did win at Michigan State, but so did Illinois. The Huskers are good — they are the fourth seed after all — so it will be interesting to see what they can do this week.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Terran Petteway, Nebraska: Petteway is the best player on the Huskers. He’s fun to watch because he has a penchant for hitting ridiculously tough shots in critical moments. And his hair is awesome.
  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Indiana has struggled this season, but it’s not Ferrell’s fault. He’s had a terrific sophomore campaign.
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky is the latest in a long line of talented Wisconsin big men. His ability to score in the post and be a threat in pick-and-pop actions makes him perfect for Wisconsin’s swing offense.
  • Caris LeVert, Michigan: Nik Stauskas gets all the attention for the Wolverines, but LeVert is actually the most improved player on the roster. He may be the team’s most indispensable player as well.

CBT Prediction: Michigan State over Michigan

Best [name of league] Tournament Memory:

2014 Big 12 Tournament Preview: This is going to be good

oklahoma state marcus smart
source: AP
AP Photo

If I could only watch one conference tournament this season, it would be the Big 12. That’s what happens when, barring an upset, all eight teams in the quarterfinals have a chance at playing their way into the Big Dance.

The matchups?

The juiciest.

RELATEDRead through’s latest Bracketology

There’s No. 4 Iowa State and No. 5 Kansas State, two teams that are noted for being unbeatable on their home floors squaring off at a neutral site. No. 3 Texas, who came from nowhere this season to become an NCAA tournament team, takes on No. 6 West Virginia, who needs to make a run to the finals to have a shot at hearing their name called on Selection Sunday. If No. 7 Baylor can beat No. 10 TCU, the Bears will square off with No. 2 Oklahoma, with the best perimeter team in the conference taking on the team with the best front court. And if No. 8 Oklahoma State can get past No. 9 Texas Tech, they’ll take on No. 1 Kansas, a matchup that shouldn’t need explanation.

And that’s just the quarterfinals.

Did I mention they have great barbecue in Kansas City?

MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews

The Bracket

When: March 12-15

Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City

Final: March 15, ESPN

Favorite: Kansas Jayhawks

On paper, Kansas is the most talented team in the Big 12, maybe the country. They have the two guys that will go top three in the NBA Draft in June (Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid), another lottery pick (Wayne Selden) and an all-Big 12 caliber role player that could end up being a first round pick himself (Perry Ellis). As you’ve come to expect from a program that has won ten straight Big 12 regular season titles, they’re loaded.

MOREWhere did Andrew Wiggins rate as an All-American?

But there are two things that could derail a Big 12 tournament title. The first is Embiid’s back. It’s balky. He’s getting a second opinion on it in California and could very well end up sitting out until the NCAA tournament. He’s the defensive rock for a team that has not been consistently great defensively. The other is Naadir Tharpe. For the most part, Tharpe has been very good this season. But when he’s bad, he’s really, really bad. Kansas could end up playing Oklahoma State and Iowa State before the finals. They cannot afford Bad Naadir if Embiid isn’t playing.

AP Photo

And if they lose?: Iowa State

As crazy as this may sound, the Cyclones actually had more Big 12 Player of the Year candidates than Kansas did. DeAndre Kane has been the best back court player in the conference, and Melvin Ejim has capped a terrific career with an All-American season. Throw in Georges Niang, one of the nation’s biggest matchup nightmares, and the Cyclones are good enough to make a run to the title despite being slotted into the No. 4 seed.

Other Contenders:

  • Oklahoma: The Sooners are better than anyone gives them credit for. The No. 2 seed in the bracket, Oklahoma spreads the floor and gets out in transition as much as anyone in the conference. Buddy Hield and Cameron Clark are as good of a 1-2 punch as you will find in the league, and yes, I do realize how loaded that statement is.
  • Texas: Remember when we all fired Rick Barnes back in October? Well, don’t look now, but the Longhorns finished as the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament and drew a matchup with West Virginia in the quarterfinals. Texas wins with their defense and their massive front line, and on the nights that Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor are shooting well, they’re dangerous.

Sleeper: Baylor

We all wrote the Bears off earlier this season, and rightfully so. They lost eight out of ten games at one point and looked like a sinking ship. But they closed the regular season with seven wins in eight games as Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson started to play better while Kenny Chery embraced his role as lead guard offensively. The issue with this group is always going to be on the defensive end, where they rank 95th in defensive efficiency.

Deeper Sleeper: Oklahoma State

I’m actually picking the Pokes to win the Big 12 tournament despite being the No. 8 seed that will have to beat Texas Tech, Kansas and either Kansas State or Iowa State just to get to the final. Here’s why: Marcus Smart is back to being Marcus Smart. He’s still flopping, but he cut down on his ridiculous threes and he cutback on some of those headlong drives into the lane. He’s playing like an actual point guard instead of trying to be Kobe Bryant. When he does that — when he allows Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash to be the go-to-guys offensively — Oklahoma State looks like the team that was picked in the top ten in the preseason. Oh, and in the last two weeks, they beat Kansas and came within a missed free throws from Phil Forte and a 25-foot three from Naz Long of beating Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Markel Brown, Oklahoma State: Le’Bryan Nash was a top ten recruit. Marcus Smart is, well, Marcus Smart. But Brown has been Travis Ford’s most consistent offensive weapon in Big 12 play.
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia: It’s a shame that Staten plays in a league with DeAndre Kane and Smart because he’s been overshadowed. He had as good of a year as any point guard in the country.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield’s development into an all-Big 12 player is one of the biggest reasons that the Sooners are a top 25 team this season.
  • Marcus Foster, Kansas State: He wasn’t a top 100 player coming out of high school but Foster has been one of the nation’s best freshmen.

CBT Prediction: Oklahoma State over Oklahoma

Best Big 12 Tournament Memory:

2014 Big East Tournament Preview: Can Villanova finally beat Creighton?

James Bell, Zedric Sadler
Leave a comment
AP Photo

It seems weird to write a Big East tournament preview in the realignment era. How can one describe the upcoming four long days at Madison Square Garden without including Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, or Connecticut?

Despite it’s current lean appearance, the Big East, according to Ken Pomeroy’s conference rankings, trails only the Big Ten and the Big 12, and sports two teams – Creighton and Villanova – that are threats to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. After that duo, however, the rest of the conference is riddled with question marks, and lacking a strong showing at the Garden, it isn’t inconceivable that only the conference’s top two dance.

RELATED: Read through’s latest Bracketology

Providence, Xavier, and St. John’s have all missed opportunities to provide any separation during the past two months. Puzzling defeats follow what seemed to be season-defining wins, and without at least one victory in the coming days for SJU and Xavier (in particular), those two squads will be absent from the tournament field (despite the Friars’ 20-win record, PC likely has to make the title game to get a bid).

As the memories of Allen Iverson, the six overtime semifinal, and Kemba Walker, among others, fade and become highlight packages for fans of Dave Gavitt’s Big East, the league’s new era begins on Wednesday – considering it is still the Big East, there should be a few surprises along the way.

MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews


When: March 12-15

Where: Madison Square Garden

Final: March 15, 8:30 (Fox Sports 1)

Favorite: Creighton

Yes, Creighton has serious question marks – following St. John’s blueprint, teams have concentrated on stopping the Bluejays not named Doug McDermott, and the team’s defense (while improved!) is susceptible to undermining lapses – but Greg McDermott’s squad is still the conference’s team to beat. The path to a win on Saturday starts with McDermott, the senior forward who recently topped 3,000 career points, and when the team is clicking offensively, they are unstoppable.

MORE: Who joined Doug McDermott as an All-American

The key for McDermott and company, however, is Ethan Wragge, the team’s bearded three-point specialist. Since February 1st, the senior has slightly slipped beyond the arc: his three-point percentage has slid to 40 percent, a decline from the 49 percent Wragge had converted during the first month of Big East play. As demonstrated in recent losses to Xavier and Georgetown, when Wragge isn’t connecting from deep, Creighton’s offense becomes stagnant, and open looks (and makes) for the forward enables better half court spacing and clear lanes for the other Bluejays.

AP Photo

And if they lose?: Villanova

The team most overlooked in many Big East preseason rankings, Villanova has cracked the discussion for a top seed in the tournament field. Non-conference wins over Kansas and Iowa at the Battle 4 Atlantis padded the team’s resume, but they still haven’t beaten Creighton during Big East play, which is why the Wildcats aren’t the favorite for the tournament title. What is most impressive about this Jay Wright-led team is their offensive efficiency. Both James Bell and Darrun Hilliard make more than 50 percent of their twos and roughly 40 percent of their threes, and JayVaughn Pinkston ranks behind McDermott as the conference’s toughest one-on-one matchup.

How did a team which only lost one true contributor from a year ago manage to post an offensive rating with a conference efficiency margin of plus .16 from 2013? The squad cut down on their twos, beefed up their three point attempts, and display halfcourt ball movement that recalls the classic four-guard Nova teams from the mid-aughts.

Other Contenders:

  • St. John’s: After losing their first five Big East contests, St. John’s finished the season winning ten of their last thirteen games. The backcourt core of D’Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan has propelled the Red Storm during their run, but the crux of the Johnnies success lies with JaKarr Sampson.
  • Xavier: Matt Stainbrook’s potential absence severely undermines the Muskeeters’ tourney title chances. The transfer wasn’t just the team’s most consistent scorer within the paint, but Stainbrook was Xavier’s best defensive rebounder. His potential loss will further Semaj Christon’s responsibilities, but the guard, whose sophomore leap helped him crack the conference’s first team list, should be up to the task.

Sleeper: Providence

The Friars are the tournament’s primary sleeper due to Bryce Cotton. Standing only 6-foot-1, Cotton never leaves the floor – he averages 40.1 minutes per game – is quick enough to get into the lane at will, and possesses a 40-plus vertical that helps him unleash jumpers from all over the court, regardless on how tight teams guard him. The most efficient player on PC’s roster, he could solely carry the team to Saturday night.

Deeper Sleeper: Georgetown

Despite a sub-.500 conference record, Georgetown has a slightly easier road to the title game than the other three teams playing on Wednesday. The Hoyas recently beat down on Creighton and Xavier, two potential matchups, and the backcourt of Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is an unpredictable nightmare to defend. Both guards could offensively take control of a game – versus CU and XU, the duo scored a combined 44 percent of the team’s points – or they could disappear.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Josh Fortune, Providence: While he doesn’t play as many minutes as Cotton, Fortune also rarely leaves the court, and his improved three-point touch has made the guard less of the offensive liability he was as a freshman in 2013.
  • Daniel Ochefu, Villanova: The only Wildcat taller than 6-foot-7 who uses consistent minutes, Ochefu’s defensive contributions have helped Nova hold opponents to roughly one point per possession in Big East play.
  • Deonte Burton, Marquette: Freshmen don’t normally plays for Williams unless they have shown a necessary dedication defensively, but Burton is such a versatile threat that Williams has had to give Burton meaningful minutes.
  • Jalen Reynolds, Xavier: Since it is unclear if Stainbrook will play (or if he does, how many minutes he will contribute), Reynolds’ role will increase. Luckily for coach Chris Mack, Reynolds has shined with extra PT.

CBT Prediction: Villanova over Creighton

Best Big EastTournament Memory:

2014 SWAC Tournament Preview: Texas Southern looks to win automatic bid

AP Photo
Leave a comment
AP Photo

The SWAC tournament will include all ten teams, a somewhat surprising occurrence given the fact that four programs are ineligible for postseason play. While Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi Valley State and Grambling State may not be favorites to win the event, the same can’t be said of regular season champion Southern. The Jaguars won the regular season title by three games, and that will have to suffice as the reigning tournament champs can’t play in the NCAA tournament. Last season it was Texas Southern that won the league but couldn’t participate in postseason play, and now that they’re eligible Mike Davis’ team may be the favorite to win the auto bid.

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

The Bracket

When: March 11 – 15

Where: Houston, Texas (Toyota Center)

Final: March 15, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Southern (to win the event; ineligible for the NCAA tournament)

The Jaguars have been the SWAC’s best team all season long, and defense is a big reason why. In addition to leading the conference in defensive efficiency by a wide margin, Southern led the SWAC in field goal percentage defense (36.1%), three-point percentage defense (27.8%) and blocked shots (5.6 per game). Godfrey and Miller are the offensive leaders for a team that also finished second in field goal and three-point percentage. Solid offensively, it’s the spectacular defense that makes Southern the favorite in Houston.

And if they lose?: Texas Southern

Simply put, the Tigers have the SWAC’s best player in Aaric Murray. Murray’s averaging 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game against SWAC opponents, and you likely remember the 48 points he dropped on Temple in a non-conference game back in December. Senior wing D’Aris Scarver (14.5 ppg) and junior forward Jose Rodriguez (11.5 ppg) are solid supplementary pieces for the SWAC’s highest-scoring offense, and the Tigers are also the conference’s most efficient offense.


  • Alabama State: The Hornets have the SWAC’s best distributor in Jamel Waters (6.2 apg), and the Hornets lead the SWAC in turnover margin.
  • Arkansas-Pine Bluff: The Golden Lions have won nine of their last 11 games, with one of the victories being a 64-58 win at Southern on February 15.

Studs: (three or four best players)

  • Aaric Murray, Texas Southern: Leads the SWAC in scoring and ranks third in rebounding, which has been quite the turnaround for the much-traveled big man.
  • Calvin Godfrey, Southern: Godfrey ranks in the top ten in scoring (10th), rebounding (2nd), field goal percentage (1st) and blocked shots (3rd).
  • Jamel Waters, Alabama State: Not only does Waters lead the SWAC in assists, he also leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio and is third in steals.

CBT Prediction: Texas Southern gets the automatic bid.

2014 America East Tournament Preview: Can Stony Brook finally get past Vermont?

AP Photo
Leave a comment
AP Photo

For years, the America East was dominated by the trio of Vermont, Albany and Boston U. With the Terriers taking off for the Patriot League during trickle-down realignment, that left the door open for UVM to take control of the conference, and they did, posting a 15-1 league record and steam-rolling to their eighth league title since 2002.

But a new power has emerged over the last five seasons in the conference, as Stony Brook finished second of better in the regular season standings for the fourth time in the past five seasons. With three regular season titles under his belt, is this the year that head coach Steve Pikiell is finally able to get his team over the hump and into the NCAA tournament?

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

The Bracket

When: March 8-9, March 15

Where: Quarterfinals and semifinals held at SEFCU Arena in Albany, finals held on campus of highest remaining seed

Final: March 15, 11:30 a.m. ESPN2

Favorite: Vermont

The Cats have been a powerhouse in the America East for more than a decade now, having won five NCAA tournament bids since 2003 with this being their eighth league title since 2002. This year’s team is senior-laden and battle tested, led by Clancy Rugg, Brian Voelkel, and Sandro Carissimo. The Cats have won 18 of their last 19 games, with the lone loss coming at Stony Brook.

And if they lose?: Stony Brook

Stony Brook is looking to finally get over the hump. They’ve won at least a share of the league’s regular season title three of the past five seasons but have yet to make an NCAA tournament. This year’s group is talented as any that Steve Pikiel has had, but all three of their conference losses have come in the last five weeks.


  • Albany: The Great Danes get a break in that the first two rounds will be played in their home arena. That means that if they can get past UMBC in the quarters, they will likely host league champ Vermont in the semis.
  • Hartford: The Hawks finished third in the conference standings, having won six of their last seven games entering the postseason.


  • Jameel Warney, Stony Brook: The sophomore forward averaged 14.9 points and 7.9 boards this season, which included a game where he went for 32 points and 21 boards.
  • Clancy Rugg, Vermont: UVM’s 6-foot-8 senior ended the season averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 boards.
  • Mark Nwakamma, Hartford: A 6-foot-6 junior from Texas, Nwakamma averaged 15.1 points this season.

CBT Prediction: Stony Brook over Vermont

2014 CAA Tournament Preview: Can Delaware finally go dancing?

Delaware v Ohio State
Getty Images

The CAA lost some of it’s charm when it got raided by bigger conference. VCU and George Mason were the league’s two Final Four programs whose battles on the court were always — Always!!!! — bested by the rivalry between Mason’s Doc Nix and the Green Machine and VCU’s Peppas. Old Dominion is also spending their first season away from the CAA.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good teams in that conference. Delaware has been rolling through the conference despite spending a month without Devon Saddler and another month without Jarvis Threatt, arguably their two best players. Towson finished second in the league while riding the coattails of Jerelle Benimon, the best player in the conference. Drexel survived the loss of Damion Lee about as well as Dragon fans can hope. Marcus Thornton of William & Mary is as good as any of the great guards in the league.

The league may not be centered in Southern Virginia anymore, but there is still some fun basketball to be played.

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

The Bracket

When: March 7-10

Where: Baltimore Arena, Baltimore, MD

Final: March 10, 7:00 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)

Favorite: Delaware

Somehow, Devon Saddler is still playing college basketball in what feels like his 17th season at Delaware. He teams up with Jarvis Threatt and Davon Usher to give Monte’ Ross one of the best perimeter attacks at the mid-major level. Throw in Carl Baptiste, who has played well in the paint, and Delaware should be considered the favorite to bring home the CAA tournament title.

And if they lose?: Towson

Pat Skerry has done a terrific job building Towson into a power in the CAA. It helps when you’ve got a hoss like Jerelle Benimon, who might be the best player in all of mid-major basketball, monitoring the low-block. The Tigers enter the postseason having won six games in a row and 10 of their last 11.


  • William & Mary: The Tribe finished third in the CAA, winning six of their last night games. They’re led by Marcus Thornton, one of the best guards this side of Delaware and Drexel.
  • Drexel: The Dragons aren’t the same team without Damion Lee, but Chris Fouch, Frantz Massenat and Tavon Allen are as good as any top three in the league. Don’t count out Bruiser Flint.


  • Jerelle Benimon, Towson: Benimon averaged 18.9 points and 11.7 boards as the Tigers finished in second in the conference.
  • Devon Saddler, Delaware: Saddler missed time before league play started, but carried the Blue Hens when they were without Jarvis Threatt. He averaged 20.2 points and 3.4 assists.
  • Scott Eatherton, Northeastern: Eatherton was the only guy in the CAA to average a double-double other than Benimon, posting 15.5 points and 10.1 boards.
  • Zeke Upshaw, Hofstra: The second-leading scorer in the league, Upshaw went from being a no-name with Illinois State to one of the most-improved players in the country.

CBT Prediction: Towson over Delaware