Conference tourney previews (Part 2 of 2)

HoopsHD is celebrating the greatest month of the year with a 2-part preview of every single conference tourney in the nation. Jon Teitel kicked it off last week with his predictions for the 14 conference tourneys that are already underway (http://hoopshd.com/2018/02/26/conference-tourney-previews-part-1-of-2-3) and now he is ready to announce his picks for the 18 other conference tourneys.

AAC tourney predicted champ: Cincinnati (#1 seed)
Dates: March 8-11
Location: Orlando, FL
Last year’s tourney champ: SMU (#1 seed)
Fun fact: SMU has won 2 of past 3 years
Seeding: 3 of past 4 champs were top-2 seed
SMU has had good success in this tourney…but their 12-3 start this year is a distant memory after losing 12 of their final 16 to finish the regular season. Cincinnati has only 4 losses all season and each 1 was to a team that will make the NCAA tourney (Xavier/Florida in early-December and Houston/Wichita State in mid-February). The Bearcats are 1 of the best defensive teams in the nation and Coach Mick Cronin has a pair of senior big men who can hit the offensive boards in Gary Clark/Kyle Washington. After recording 3 separate winning streaks of 4+ games this year while playing its “home” games out of state all season at the BB&T Arena in Kentucky, this team is well-prepared to go to Orlando and win 3 more games in a row.

ACC tourney predicted champ: Virginia (#1 seed)
Dates: March 6-10
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Last year’s tourney champ: Duke (#5 seed)
Fun fact: 6 different champs in past 6 years (after only Duke/North Carolina for previous 7 years)
Seeding: 12 of past 13 champs were top-3 seed
When you have a tourney that offers a double-bye to its best teams, it should come as no surprise that it is usually 1 of the best teams who wins that tourney. Virginia is certainly in the discussion of the best teams in the nation and their defense (52.8 PPG) is certainly good enough to win it all. However, all of this conference’s recent games that have come down to the final seconds (Virginia over Louisville, Miami over North Carolina, Virginia Tech over Duke, etc.) means that anyone is capable of being upset on any given night. Since neither the Blue Devils/Tar Heels were able to beat the Cavaliers this year, I will pick Coach Tony Bennett to leave his heart in Brooklyn. The Hoos have only won this tourney 2 times in the past, but as we all know the 3rd time is the charm.

A-10 tourney predicted champ: George Mason (#5 seed)
Dates: March 7-11
Location: Washington, DC
Last year’s tourney champ: Rhode Island (#4 seed)
Fun fact: 7 different champs in past 8 years
Seeding: 5 of past 6 champs were #4-5 seed
This tourney has had 7 different champs in the past 8 years so I will pick George Mason to make it 8 of 9. The 2 favorites are Rhode Island/St. Bonaventure, each of whom beat the Patriots by 16+ PTS this year. However, after seeing each of the top-2 seeds struggle at home last Tuesday (the Rams lost by 30 and the Bonnies needed triple-OT to beat Davidson), the fact that a lot of 4&5 seeds have had success in the past gives hope to everyone in Fairfax, VA. Coach Dave Paulsen has had plenty of success in March at his prior 2 programs: a D-2 title at Williams in 2003 and 4 postseason appearances during his final 5 years at Bucknell. The biggest X-factor of all is SO SF Ian Boyd who was a 1-man buzzer-beater last month: a 3 to beat St. Joe’s, a layup to beat UMass, and then a tip-in to beat VCU.

Big East tourney predicted champ: Villanova (#2 seed)
Dates: March 7-10
Location: New York, NY
Last year’s tourney champ: Villanova (#1 seed)
Fun fact: Villanova has been in title game each of past 3 years
Seeding: 5 of past 8 champs were not top-2 seed
It seems impossible that Butler has never won a Big East tourney game…but the Bulldogs have never won a Big East tourney game. I am very tempted to pick Providence since they are the only team to beat both Villanova/Xavier this year, but when you lose to DePaul at home by 17 you have lost my vote. Xavier only has 4 losses all season but 2 of them were to Villanova by double-digits so I will select the Wildcats to win their 3rd conference tourney in the past 4 years. Coach Jay Wright’s team started 22-1 before stumbling through February with losses to St. John’s/Providence/Creighton, but after seeing his team simply shred Georgetown in person back in January I can assure you that they are good enough to go all the way. They do not have any seniors of note, they do not have any key players taller than 6’8”: all they have is 1 of the best teams in the nation that has not lost a game by double-digits since December…of 2015!!

Big Sky tourney predicted champ: Idaho (#2 seed)
Dates: March 6-10
Location: Reno, NV
Last year’s tourney champ: North Dakota (#1 seed)
Fun fact: 4 different champs in past 5 years
Seeding: 6 of past 7 champs were #1 seed
Each of the top-4 teams in this league had 13+ wins in conference play so it will not be a cakewalk for any of them. Even though the #1 seed has had a great track record in the past I will give the nod to Idaho because they are 4-0 this year against the other top-4 seeds (Eastern Washington/Montana/Weber State) and have won 12 of their past 14 games. Coach Don Verlin starts 4 seniors/1 junior who will try their best to win it all for SR G Perrion Callandret, who is out for the year after breaking his kneecap in late-February. I normally am not a fan of Vandal-ism but I will make an exception for this squad.

Big 12 tourney predicted champ: Kansas (#1 seed)
Dates: March 7-10
Location: Kansas City, MO
Last year’s tourney champ: Iowa State (#4 seed)
Fun fact: only 5 champs ever are Iowa State/Kansas/Missouri/Oklahoma/Oklahoma State
Seeding: 19 of past 21 champs were top-3 seed
Do the math: only 5 teams have ever won this tourney and only 1 of these 5 is a top-3 seed, so even though this conference is stacked the eventual victor will be Kansas. The Jayhawks swept the #3 seed this year (West Virginia) and were 1 PT away from sweeping the #2 seed (Texas Tech). The tourney remains in Kansas City for the 9th straight March, which gives Coach Bill Self’s team a huge home-court advantage approximately 45 minutes away from Allen Fieldhouse. They have size in 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, great 3-PT shooting on the perimeter, and 1 of the best players in the nation in SR PG Devonte’ Graham.

Big West tourney predicted champ: Fullerton (#4 seed)
Dates: March 8-10
Location: Anaheim, CA
Last year’s tourney champ: UC Davis (#1 seed)
Fun fact: 7 different champs in past 7 years
Seeding: 4 of past 5 champs were not #1 seed
I know it may be unwise to pick Fullerton as the 8th different champ in the past 8 years, especially since they were swept by UCSB during a 9-day stretch in late-January, but all of the other contenders have problems as well. The defending champs were swept by Fullerton and suspended their star forward Chima Moneke due to a violation of team rules at a hotel, UC Irvine started the season 5-12, and UCSB lost 3 of their final 5 games to finish the regular season. On the other hand, Coach Dedrique Taylor’s team finished strong by winning 5 of their final 7 games. They do not start a single senior so they might be 1 year away from contending, but with 5 starters ranging from 6’3” to 6’7” they can switch any ball screen you throw at them.

C-USA tourney predicted champ: Middle Tennessee (#1 seed)
Dates: March 7-10
Location: Frisco, TX
Last year’s tourney champ: Middle Tennessee (#1 seed)
Fun fact: Middle Tennessee has been in title game each of past 3 years
Seeding: 5 of past 6 champs were top-2 seed
Many teams have learned the hard way that it is no fun to play Middle Tennessee in March: the Blue Raiders have won an NCAA tourney game during each of the past 2 years. Coach Kermit Davis has created a veritable juggernaut with 5 postseason appearances in the past 6 years and six 24+ win seasons over the past 7 years. Each of their 3 non-conference losses since Thanksgiving were to high-major teams by 3-6 PTS at neutral sites (Auburn/Miami/USC). Their 16-2 record since Christmas makes them 1 of the hottest teams in the country, so as long as they can avoid Marshall (the only team who swept them this season) they should be okay. With 3 seniors in the starting lineup they have plenty of guys who know what it takes to win a title so there is no reason for anyone to be feeling “blue” in Murfreesboro.

Ivy tourney predicted champ: Penn (#2 seed)
Dates: March 10-11
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Last year’s tourney champ: Princeton (#1 seed)
Fun fact: Penn has not lost conference game in Palestra this season
Seeding: #1-seed has never lost a game in this tourney
Biased much!? Unlike last year’s tourney which featured a Princeton team that was undefeated in conference play, this appears to be a 2-team race between a pair of teams with vastly different histories during the past decade. Penn coach Steve Donahue just led the Quakers to only their 2nd winning season since 2007, while Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has only had 1 losing season since 2008. Harvard did beat Penn in Cambridge in early-February, but the Quakers won the rematch 2 weeks later at the Palestra, which just happens to be the location of this tourney. Penn is a poor FT shooting team whose tallest player is 6’8”…yet all they have done since getting slaughtered by Villanova in late-November is win 18 of 22.

MAC tourney predicted champ: Eastern Michigan (#3 seed)
Dates: March 5-10
Location: Campus sites and Cleveland, OH
Last year’s tourney champ: Kent State (#6 seed)
Fun fact: 5 different champs in past 6 years
Seeding: 6 of past 9 champs were not top-2 seed
The top-2 seeds have had mixed success in tourneys past and Eastern Michigan has not won this tourney in 20 years so they are long overdue. The Eagles stormed into the start of the season by winning 8 of their 1st 10 games, then lost 8 of their next 12, but finished strong by winning 8 of their final 9 games (which included a sweep of West Division champ Toledo). Coach Rob Murphy has only 1 senior of note on the roster (Tim Bond) so they might be 1 year away, but with a frontcourt that stands 6’7”/6’9”/6’10” they can go toe-to-toe with any high-major in the country. However, they better get it done in regulation since they are 0-3 in OT this season.

MEAC tourney predicted champ: Hampton (#1 seed)
Dates: March 5-10
Location: Norfolk, VA
Last year’s tourney champ: NC Central (#1 seed)
Fun fact: only 2 champs in past 4 years are Hampton/NC Central
Seeding: 3 of past 4 champs were #1 seed
This should be 1 of the most competitive tourneys in the country as each of the top-5 seeds have 11-12 conference wins. Since NC Central is not 1 of those 5 teams, Hampton looks to be the favorite. Coach Ed Joyner Jr. should expect a lot of fan support as the tourney is only 15 miles away from the Hampton Convocation Center. He tested his team in non-conference play by scheduling a pair of big boys in Virginia/Xavier, and they responded well in conference play by winning 10 of their final 11 games. With a starting lineup featuring 4 juniors/1 sophomore they could be 1 year away from something special, and with only 1 starter taller than 6’5” they are certainly capable of being beat up on the boards. However, they beat each of the other top-3 seeds during the season by double-digits (Bethune-Cookman/Savannah State) so you should want to be a Pirate for a change.

MWC tourney predicted champ: Nevada (#1 seed)
Dates: March 7-10
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Last year’s tourney champ: Nevada (#1 seed)
Fun fact: 4 different champs in past 4 years
Seeding: 6 of past 7 champs were top-2 seed
Despite their 1st road loss of the season in regulation last Saturday night, Nevada prepares to defend its title as the odds-on favorite. Coach Eric Musselman’s team is 5-0 against the other top-4 seeds (Boise State/Fresno State/New Mexico) so they will not be scared of whoever is in their path. They have a ton of juniors/seniors and 1 of the best transfer packages in college basketball history in the form of twin brothers Caleb/Cody Martin (combined 33.5 PPG/11.8 RPG/6.9 APG/2.9 SPG/2 BPG) who headed west after 2 years with another Wolfpack (NC State). They only lost to Texas Tech/TCU in December by a combined 10 PTS so if this Wolf Pack team can win a title this week then they might even win a game or 2 next week.

Pac-12 predicted champ: Arizona (#1 seed)
Dates: March 7-10
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Last year’s tourney champ: Arizona (#2 seed)
Fun fact: only 4 teams to play in title game during past 5 years are Arizona/Oregon/UCLA/Utah
Seeding: each of past 4 champs were top-2 seed
Biased much part 2!? People may be doubting the “classiness” of Arizona off the court but despite all the drama of the past 2 weeks they remain the class of the league on the court. It seems like half of this conference is squarely on the bubble so if it appears that they are playing like their postseason lives depend on it…it is because they do. If any of Rawle Alkins/DeAndre Ayton/Allonzo Trier were missing in action then I would be the 1st to doubt them but at the moment they are all eligible/healthy. When all 3 of them have been active this season the Wildcats have won 14 games (including a 14-PT win over USC last month) and lost 3 by a combined 14 PTS. Combine that with an us-against-the-world mentality, a team who has made the title game in 5 of the past 7 years, and a ton of alums/fans/students who will make the short flight to Vegas and you have a recipe for success.

SEC predicted champ: Tennessee (#2 seed)
Dates: March 7-11
Location: St. Louis, MO
Last year’s tourney champ: Kentucky (#1 seed)
Fun fact: Kentucky has won past 5 of past 8 titles and lost 2 other title games by combined 8 PTS
Seeding: each of past 9 champs were top-3 seed
8 teams with 20+ wins = get ready for a dogfight where even 1st round opponents cannot be taken for granted: Alabama-Texas A&M could be 1 of the best opening round matchups in tourney history as it features a pair of potential lottery picks in Collin Sexton/Robert Williams. For all of Kentucky’s success in this tourney, they have been terrible this year against each of the other top-4 seeds (0-5 combined record vs. Auburn/Florida/Tennessee) so it looks like their youth might have finally caught up to them. The Tigers seemed like a smart pick when they were 21-2 but losing 4 of their final 8 is great cause for concern. In contrast, the Volunteers stumbled into conference play with a pair of losses but have won 14 of their past 17 games despite being saddled with 1 of the strongest schedules in the nation. Coach Rick Barnes has won more than 650 games during his career but exactly 1 of them has occurred in a conference tourney title game (a 10-PT win by Providence over Georgetown in the 1994 Big East tourney). He does not appear to have a very experienced team with a starting lineup of 3 sophomores/2 juniors…but compared to all the freshmen on the Wildcats they look downright ancient!

Southland predicted champ: SE Louisiana (#1 seed)
Dates: March 7-11
Location: Katy, TX
Last year’s tourney champ: New Orleans (#1 seed)
Fun fact: last year was 1st title game without McNeese State or Stephen F. Austin in 9 years
Seeding: each of past 4 champs were #1 seed
I wish I could pick Nicholls State, the #2 seed who has not won this tourney in 20 years, but getting swept by each of the other top-3 seeds (SE Louisiana/Stephen F. Austin) is a red flag. On the other hand, the Lions swept the Colonels/Lumberjacks to help them go 15-3 in league play. Coach Jay Ladner has improved during each of his 4 years in Hammond: 9 wins in year 1, 12 in year 2, 16 in year 3, and 21 in year 4 (the 2nd-most in school history). The top-2 seeds get a double-bye, which gives them a huge advantage in this 8-team tourney, and their starting lineup of 4 seniors/1 junior means they have enough experience to make the 2nd-ever NCAA tourney appearance in school history.

SWAC predicted champ: Texas Southern (#3 seed)
Dates: March 6-10
Location: Campus sites and Houston, TX
Last year’s tourney champ: Texas Southern (#1 seed)
Fun fact: only 2 champs from past 5 years are Southern/Texas Southern
Seeding: 5 of past 6 champs were top-2 seed
The good news for Grambling is that their 13-5 record as the best in league play…but the bad news is that the Tigers are 1 of 3 teams in the nation who are ineligible for postseason play (along with Alabama A&M/SE Missouri State). Texas Southern has literally had a tale of 2 seasons: 0-13 in non-conference play and 12-6 in conference play. Coach Mike Davis has owned this conference ever since he was hired in Houston in 2012: 6-straight top-2 finishes in the league and 4 straight trips to the postseason. Ironically, the Tigers are not even the best team to play on their own home court: the nearby Cougars have also played their “home” games at H&PE Arena while they try to finish construction of the Fertitta Center later this year. Demontrae Jefferson might be 1 of the smallest players in the nation at 5’7”, but after being suspended for a violation of team rules in January he returned with a vengeance in February (26.6 PPG/4.9 APG/49 3P%/80 FT%): I guess everything really is bigger in Texas.

Sun Belt predicted champ: Louisiana-Lafayette (#1 seed)
Dates: March 7-11
Location: New Orleans, LA
Last year’s tourney champ: Troy (#6 seed)
Fun fact: 5 different champs in past 5 years
Seeding: 4 of past 7 champs were #5-7 seed
This seems like a great opportunity to not pick the #1 seed in every tourney…but Louisiana-Lafayette is simply too good and should have plenty of fans in attendance since it is just a 2-hour drive to the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. They are also angry after finishing the regular season on the wrong side of the upset of the season.  With under 8 minutes left they held a 10-PT lead at home over a 6-24 Little Rock team that had lost 11 of its previous 12 games, yet somehow choked it away to lose by double-digits in OT. Coach Bob Marlin’s birthday is on Monday and what better gift could he receive from his team than a 6th trip to a postseason tourney in the past 9 years. Georgia State did upset the Ragin’ Cajuns in early-February but apparently it took a ton out of them as the Panthers proceeded to lose 4 of their final 6 games. The Cajuns have a veteran starting lineup of 2 seniors/3 juniors and have already set a school record for most wins in a season, so the Big Upset would be if anyone else were to emerge victorious in the Big Easy.

WAC predicted champ: Utah Valley (#2 seed)
Dates: March 7-10
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Last year’s tourney champ: New Mexico State (#2 seed)
Fun fact: New Mexico State has won 7 of past 11 titles and lost 2 other title games by combined 8 PTS
Seeding: 5 of past 6 champs were not #1 seed
The defending champs cruised into Valentine’s Day with a 22-3 record and then broke the hearts of their admirers by losing consecutive road games at Utah Valley/Seattle before getting back on track to finish 25-5. However, this tourney has not been kind to #1 seeds (which the Aggies know only too well after beating #1 seed Bakersfield in the title game last March) so we shall go with the Wolverines. Coach Mark Pope has improved during each of his 3 years in Orem: 12 wins in year 1, 17 in year 2, and 21 in year 3 (the most in school history at the D-1 level). However, the top-2 seeds no longer receive a double-bye so his team will have to earn it. They have spectacular senior size inside with 6’11” Isaac Neilson/7’ Akolda Manyang and a double-shot of Toolsons in the starting lineup with Conner (SG)/Jake (SF). Compared to the start of this season (road games on consecutive nights at Rupp Arena/Cameron Indoor Stadium), the end of the season should seem like a walk in the Valley.

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