The first week of conference championships has arrived. Only a few of the smaller conferences play early this week, but that does not mean that it won't be exciting.
Quaterfinals—Mar. 3 & 4, University Center (Mercer University), A-SUN TV
No. 1 Lipscomb vs. No. 8 Kennesaw State, Mar. 3
Lipscomb will dominate this game. Adnan Hodzic is coming off what might have been the two best performances of his career. Lipscomb is red hot. The Bisons have won four straight games, while the Owls have lost their last seven.
Lipscomb 86, Kennesaw State 63
No. 2 Jacksonville vs. No. 7 North Florida, Mar. 3
Jacksonville's shooting and scoring will be too much for North Florida. The Ospreyes are more used to a slow-paced game, while the Dolphins like to push the ball. Also, the Dolphins will dominate the rebounds with the Ospreyes lacking strong big men.
Jacksonville 71, North Florida 58
No. 4 Campbell vs. No. 5 East Tennessee State, Mar. 4
East Tennessee State has many players that can shoot three-pointers. Campbell's three-point defense is not too good, although it is not horrible. Since East Tennessee State has so many shooters, it will make it easier for East Tennessee State to pull out a close win.
East Tennessee State 68, Campbell 64
No. 3 Belmont vs. No. 6 Mercer, Mar. 4
This will most likely be the most exciting first round game in the Atlantic Sun Tournament. Both of the regular season meetings were decided by four points each, with the first one going into overtime. Belmont has been playing as well as it has all season, and this will help them entering the tournament.
The Bruins have a balanced scoring attack with four players averaging eight points per game or more. Mercer mainly relies on James Florence, although it also has a balanced scoring attack. The difference in this game will be that Belmont is deeper than Mercer.
Belmont 77, Mercer 75
Semifinals, University Center (Mercer University), A-SUN TV
No. 1 Lipscomb vs. No. 5 East Tennessee State, Mar. 5
Lipscomb will continue to dominate this tournament into the semifinals. The Bisons have too many threats for the Buccaneers.
Lipscomb 81, East Tennessee State, 73
No. 2 Jacksonville vs. No. 3 Belmont, Mar. 5
Jacksonville and Belmont both played great towards the end of the regular season. Both teams play similar styles of games, which should make this one exciting. Both teams have one three-point shooter that it can generally rely on. Jacksonville has Ben Smith (37.5 percent) and Belmont has Ian Clark (40.2 percent). I am going to give the edge to Belmont. First, the Bruins are overall better shooters, which will help them in a game with a lot of shooting. Second, the Bruins have much better post players, which will give them a second place to go to and provide offensive balance.
Belmont 79, Jacksonville 72
Championship, University Center (Mercer University), ESPN2
No. 1 Lipscomb vs. No. 3 Belmont, Mar. 6
The key in this game will be Adnan Hodzic. It will be tough for Belmont to find a way to stop him. Belmont's best post defender, Mick Hedgepeth, averages 3.5 fouls per game. Hodzic tends to draw a lot of fouls. If Hedgepeth guards Hodzic, he will most likely end up in foul trouble. If the Bruins decide to keep Hedgepeth off of Hodzic to keep him out of foul trouble, then Hodzic will likely have a very big game. Either way, Belmont will be in some trouble.
Lipscomb 85, Belmont 80
First Round—Mar. 2, Hosted by higher seed, HLN
No. 3 Green Bay vs. No. 10 Youngstown State
Youngstown State has really struggled on the road this season (2-12). This, along with Green Bay having a more balanced and reliable team, will allow the Phoenix to cruise to the quaterfinals.
Green Bay 71, Youngstown State 62
No. 6 Valparaiso vs. No. 7 Detroit
Detroit does play well on perimeter defense. Almost all of Valparaisio's game is shooting. The Crusaders shoot 37.1 percent form beyond the arc and have seven players that make more than one-third of their three-pointers. This explosive shooting will be enough to push Valpo to the quaterfinals.
Valparaiso 79, Detroit 71
No. 4 Milwaukee vs. No. 9 Illinois-Chicago
This game will probably be closer than many are suspecting. Both times that these two teams met, the games were decided by five points or less. Although Illinois-Chicago has really struggled on the road (1-14), it should be able to stay close for most of the game before falling well behind late.
Milwaukee 71, Illinois-Chicago 63
No. 5 Cleveland State vs. No. 8 Loyola (IL)
In both regular season meetings, the games were decided by five points or less. This will likely be another close game, but Cleveland State clearly has better talent and it will give it the edge.
Cleveland State 69, Loyola (IL) 65
Second Round—Mar. 5, Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler University), HLN
No. 3 Green Bay vs. No. 6 Valparaiso
Green Bay 65, Valparaiso 55
No. 4 Milwaukee vs. No. 5 Cleveland State
Cleveland State has a lot of good three-point shooters and Milwaukee does not defend the three-pointer too well. The Vikings have two three-point specialists that shoot over 40 percent. Norris Cole shoots 36.5 percent and D'Aundray Brown shoots 34.3 percent. The only reason that Cleveland State will not blow Milwaukee out is because Milwaukee is a much better rebounding team.
Cleveland State 72, Milwaukee 66
Semifinals—Mar. 6, Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler University), ESPNU
No. 2 Wright State vs. No. 3 Green Bay
This game will probably close the whole way. The difference in this game will be Green Bay's depth. The Phoenix have three players averaging 12 or more points per game. Both teams do not have big men that are too good, so this will likely be a game of shooting.
Green Bay 75, Wright State 66
No. 1 Butler vs. No. 5 Cleveland State
Cleveland State does not have a good big man. This will allow Matt Howard to have a big game. Gordon Hayward will have a good game as always, and Shelvin Mack and Willie Veasley should add in solid performances.
Butler 74, Cleveland State 57
Championship—Mar. 9, Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler University), ESPN
No. 1 Butler vs. No. 3 Green Bay
Green Bay has really struggled against Butler, losing 72-49 and 75-57. This game will not be much different. Green Bay has no way of matching up with Butler. The Bulldogs will continue the nation's longest win streak into the NCAA Tournament.
Butler 81, Green Bay 60
Quaterfinals—Mar. 2, Hosted by higher seed, BSN
No. 1 Coastal Carolina vs. No. 8 VMI
VMI will have no chance in this game. Coastal Carolina will take an early lead from the start. The Chanticleers will host this game. They are 15-1 at home, while VMI is 2-12 on the road. Coastal Carolina has already dominated VMI twice this year, and this won't be any different.
Coastal Carolina 103, VMI 87
No. 4 UNC-Ashville vs. No. 5 High Point
High Point likes to score and has many players that can put the ball in the basket. UNC-Ashville allows 78 points per game. The Bulldogs play poor defense and High Point should be able to score. Nick Barbour shoots 40.5 percent from three-point range and will most likely have a huge game.
High Point 81, UNC-Ashville 73
No. 3 Winthrop vs. No. 6 Liberty
Winthrop is a good defensive team and Liberty does not have overpowering offense. Winthrop should be able to control the Flames throughout.
Winthrop 63, Liberty 49
No. 2 Radford vs. No. 7 Charleston Southern
Charleston Southern only has one player that is solid in the post. This will not be enough to keep Art Parakhouski from having a great game.
Radford 74, Charleston Southern 54
Semifinals—Mar. 4, Kimbel Arena (Coastal Carolina University), ESPNU
No. 1 Coastal Carolina vs. No. 5 High Point
In what should be a game with a lot of shooting, Coastal Carolina will have an advantage. The Chanticleers shoot better from the field and from three-point range and get more points per shot.
Coastal Carolina 73, High Point 67
No. 2 Radford vs. No. 3 Winthrop
Winthrop might be able to limit Art Parakhouski's offensive production. The Eagles have multiple rebounders that will keep Parakhouski from getting a lot of second chance points. However, Parakhouski will probably have a very big defensive game, whether it shows up on the stat sheet or not. The Eagles will not have any game on offense on the inside.
Radford 59, Winthrop 52
Championship—Mar. 6, Kimbel Arena (Coastal Carolina University), ESPN2
No. 1 Coastal Carolina vs. No. 2 Radford
Coastal Carolina and Radford matched up well during the regular season. Radford won one of the meetings by 10 and Coastal Carolina won the other by one. Coastal Carolina's lack in strong rebounding will lead to few second chance points for the Chanticleers and a lot of second chance points for Radford's Art Parakhouski.
Radford 68, Coastal Carolina 62
Quaterfinals—Mar. 2, Hosted by higher seed, OVC TV
No. 1 Murray State vs. No. 8 Tennessee State
Murray State's balanced scoring attack will cause too much trouble for the weak Tennessee State defense. Murray State and Tennessee State did not meet in the regular season.
Murray State 82, Tennessee State 59
No. 4 Eastern Illinois vs. No 5. Eastern Kentucky
Eastern Kentucky already dominated Eastern Illinois on the road. Eastern Kentucky's deep roster, with four players averaging nine or more points per game, will help it a lot in this game.
Eastern Kentucky 74, Eastern Illinois 65
No. 3 Austin Peay vs. No. 6 Tennessee Tech
This will be the biggest OVC first round upset. Tennessee Tech has already beaten Austin Peay once. In the second meeting, Tennessee Tech lost by four in overtime. The Golden Eagles match up well with Austin Peay and even have some advantages on paper. Possibly the biggest factor in this game will be free throw shooting. The Golden Eagles have a bunch of solid free throw shooters, but some of their shooters are atrocious. If the Golden Eagles get the right players to the line, they should get an advantage throughout the game, and then be able to close it out down the stretch.
Tennessee Tech 71, Austin Peay 66
No. 2 Morehead State vs. No. 7 Jacksonville State
Morehead State should handle Jacksonville State easily, although it will probably not be a huge blowout. The Gamecocks don't have a big man that can put up with Kenneth Faried.
Morehead State 84, Jacksonville State 59
Semifinals—Mar. 5, Bridgestone Center, ESPNU
No. 1 Murray State vs. No. 5 Eastern Kentucky
Murray State is simply too good to lose to Eastern Kentucky. The Racers have much more balance and have superior talent.
Murray State 71, Eastern Kentucky 64
No. 2 Morehead State vs. No. 6 Tennessee Tech
Tennessee Tech might have the post players to put up with Kenneth Faried, but the Golden Eagles do not play perimeter defense and Morehead State is a pretty good shooting team. This will be enough for Morehead State to push itself past Tennessee Tech.
Morehead State 77, Tennessee Tech 70
Championship—Mar. 6, Bridgestone Center, ESPN2
No. 1 Murray State vs. No. 2 Morehead State
This Morehead State team has too much heart to lose after getting to the conference championship. Kenneth Faried is a fearless leader and is not willing to let his team's season end without going to the tournament in back-to-back years for the third time in school history. This will be a great game that cannot be missed. Morehead State will just squeak out a victory over Murray State to get the OVC's bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Morehead State 89, Murray State 86 OT
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