Yesterday, I reviewed the status of the races in 11 conferences, ranging from the America East to the MEAC. Today, I’ll take a look at the other half of the alphabet, starting in the Heartland.
Current Leader: Northern Iowa (12-3)
State of the Race: Far tighter than it was two weeks ago. The Panthers have dropped two of their last three. The first of those losses was to the team who may very well pass them in the standings, Creighton (12-4). UNI and CU split their two meetings, with each winning on the other’s home floor. The Blue Jays have a slightly better profile than the Panthers, with wins over New Mexico and Dayton at the Qwest Center and a close loss to Nebraska in Lincoln. UNI’s best non-league win, meanwhile, is one against Auburn in suburban Chicago. Don’t discount Illinois State’s chances as the Redbirds are two games back now, and they close the regular season by hosting UNI and traveling to Omaha.
Conference Tournament: March 5-8 in St. Louis
My Pick: Creighton, as they’re the hottest team in the conference right now.
Current Leader: Robert Morris (13-1)
State of the Race: Not close. The Colonials lead last season’s tournament champions, Mount St. Mary’s by three games in the loss column. RMU won in Emmitsburg by seven and the two meet in Moon Township to close the regular season on Feb. 28. It’s possible that the Colonials may wrap up homecourt advantage for the conference tournament by then. Not that it matters based on last year’s results.
Conference Tournament: Higher seeds host on March 5, 8, 11
My Pick: Robert Morris. They were expected to make it last year and failed. This year, they weren’t expected to be as good and have a great shot to make the tournament for the first time.
Current Leader: Morehead State (12-3)
State of the Race: Tight. The Eagles lead Tennessee-Martin by a half game and defending champion Austin Peay by two games. Morehead has a 3-0 record against their pursuers, with a meeting at Tennessee-Martin to close the regular season. The Governors and Skyhawks split their two meetings, with each winning on the road.
Conference Tournament: Higher seeds host on March 3; March 6-7 at Nashville
My Pick: Morehead State because of their dominance over the 2nd and 3rd place teams in the league.
Current Leader: American (9-1)
State of the Race: The Eagles only conference loss was to second-place Holy Cross in Worcester. The two meet again in Washington on Saturday afternoon. Homecourt advantage for the Patriot League tournament may be on the line. Navy sits at 6-4, but they beat Holy Cross in Annapolis and lost to American by 1 there. They travel to Worcester on Wednesday and Washington one week later.
Conference Tournament: Campus sites, March, 4, 8, and 13
My Pick: American, as they’ll secure top seed and homecourt. They’ll then repeat last year’s performance.
Current Leader: Davidson (15-1)
State of the Race: Not close. The Wildcats have a three-game lead on The Citadel in the South Division. North Division leader (and tournament host) Chattanooga is five games behind. It appears Stephen Curry’s ankle injury isn’t too terribly serious. If it was, it could have definitely changed this race. Davidson is probably in good shape for an at-large berth, but they really cannot afford to drop another game.
Conference Tournament: March 6-9 at Chattanooga
My Pick: Davidson I keep on pointing back to the 2005 experience, but this serves to remind the Wildcats how important the conference tournament is.
Current Leader: Sam Houston State (8-2)
State of the Race: Tight. The Bearkats currently share the West Division lead with 2007 champion Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Stephen F. Austin and Nicholls State lead the East Division and are a game behind the West leaders in the loss column for the overall conference lead. Sam Houston swept the season series with the Islanders, but they’ve lost to both East leaders. TAMU-CC won at Nicholls State and hosts Stephen F. Austin on February 28.
The Lumberjacks and Colonels split their season series, with each winning at home.
Conference Tournament: March 11-15 at Katy, Texas
My Pick: Sam Houston State
Current Leader: Alabama State
State of the Race: Predictably tight, as the Hornets lead Jackson State by a game in the loss column. Alabama State beat Jackson State at home to open the conference season, but the two meet again March 5 in Jackson. Alabama State is the only team in the conference with a winning record over Division I opposition. Keep in mind that this league is one of the most unpredictable around come tournament time.
Conference Tournament: March 11-14 at Birmingham
My Pick: Alabama A&M, just to stick with the theme of unpredictability.
Current Leader: North Dakota State (13-2), in their first year of eligibility
State of the Race: Tightening, as perennial power Oral Roberts is now just a game behind the Bison in the loss column (11-3). Oakland is three games back in the loss column (9-5). NDSU’s two conference losses are to the Golden Grizzlies on the road and at home to Southern Utah. The Bison did beat Oakland in Fargo and ORU there as well. North Dakota State travels to Tulsa to close out the regular season on Feb. 28.
Conference Tournament: March 7-10 at Sioux Falls, SD
My Pick: North Dakota State, as they have the best team and the advantage of having the conference tournament in their part of the country. Granted, it’s not quite the short distance Oral Roberts has had to travel over the past few seasons.
Current Leader: Arkansas-Little Rock (12-2)
State of the Race: Uncomfortably tight, as the Trojans lead North Texas by 4 games in the West Division, but the East Division’s frontrunners, Troy and Western Kentucky, are only a game back in the loss column for the overall conference lead. Troy actually took a half-game lead in the East by beating the Hilltoppers by five on Saturday.
Both East co-leaders own wins over UALR, but the Trojans host WKU Thursday. They don’t face their namesakes again during the regular season. If the Hilltoppers had built on their win against Louisville back in November, they could’ve been a contender for an at-large bid. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t and they’ll have to win the auto bid to get in.
Conference Tournament: First round hosted by higher seeds, March 4; Remaining rounds, March 8-10 at Hot Springs, AR
My Pick: Western Kentucky. I would go with UALR here, since the tournament is technically at a neutral site this year, but given how Sun Belt teams typically do when playing conference tournament games close to home, I’ll go with the team that has the most potential and isn’t close to home.
Current Leader: Utah State (12-1)
State of the Race: Even with the Aggies’ loss to Boise State on Saturday, the rest of the league has a long way to go to catch up. Nevada (8-4) and Boise State (7-4) are both three games behind. The question is, now that Utah State has lost a game, will they still get an at-large if they should stumble in the conference tournament?
Conference Tournament: March 10-14 at Reno
My Pick: Utah State. I don’t think the Aggies are going to risk sweating on Selection Sunday.
Current Leader: Gonzaga (10-0)
State of the Race: Not close. The Bulldogs lead Portland (7-3) by three games and St. Mary’s (7-4) by three-and-a-half games. They’ve swept the season series with both teams. Gonzaga should end up with an at-large bid should they stumble at the conference tournament. St. Mary’s chances may depend on Patrick Mills’ health, but if they continue to struggle in his absence, their only chance may be the auto bid. Portland really needed a win against Gonzaga to bolster their slight hopes.
Conference Tournament: March 6-9 at Las Vegas
My Pick: Gonzaga. In the end, I don’t think St. Mary’s will do it, even if Mills returns, as he’ll have to shake off some rust. This is going to end up being a one-bid league.
I’ll continue to update these races as the season winds down.