As the big boys continue their conference seasons the little guys hit the floor to start their conference tournaments.
Today marks the first day for the Big South and Horizon League Tournaments, while the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley Conference and Patriot League tip-off their games tomorrow.
March is here, my friends!
HORIZON LEAGUE PREVIEW
Bubble- Butler, Cleveland State
PROJECTED CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
1. UW-Milwaukee 18-12 (13-5) vs 2. Butler 21-9 (13-5)
So it looks like the highly anticipated matchup between Cleveland State and Butler will occur in the semifinals rather than the finals. The interesting thing about this game not being the finals is that it will be contested on a neutral floor at UW-Milwaukee because they're the number one seed.
The Vikings and Bulldogs have played in some memorable confrontations in recent Horizon League tournament history. The combatants met in back-to-back Championship Games in 2008 and 2009. Butler defeated Cleveland State easily in 2008, but the Vikings pulled the shocker a year later 57-53. Cleveland State then went on and made a run to the Sweet 16 as a 13 seed.
I feel like Butler has done enough to warrant an NCAA bid, while Cleveland State most likely has to win the conference tournament to get into the Big Dance.
Butler and Cleveland State are getting all the hype, and deservedly so, but UW-Milwaukee beat Butler twice this year. Let's not sleep on the Panthers.
PREDICTION- Butler has too much experience. I'll take the Bulldogs.
Projected Tournament Seed- Butler (11)
Player to Watch- Norris Cole (Cleveland State)- The high-top fad is back! The Vikings love to utilize the pick-and-roll, and this is where Cole excels as evidenced by his 41 point outburst against Youngstown State.
BIG SOUTH PREVIEW
PROJECTED CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
1. Coastal Carolina 26-5 (13-5) vs 3. UNC Asheville 16-13 (11-7)
The possible game to look at in this tournament is a possible semifinal rematch of last year's Championship Game between Winthrop and Coastal Carolina. Winthrop has had a stranglehold on the league for the better part of a decade; last year was Coastal Carolina's first time in any real national spotlight. They showed jitters in that game a year ago. I expect a different outcome this time around.
UNC Asheville has a lot of momentum heading into the conference tournament, especially after the stunning buzzer-beater they had against the Chanticleers on Feb. 23.
PREDICTION- The Chanticleers have waited 12 months to get back to this point; it's their time.
Projected Tournament Seed- Coastal Carolina (13)
Player to Watch- Chad Gray (Coastal Carolina)- The transfer from South Carolina made a significant impact in his two seasons with the Chanticleers. Gray averages 14 points and six rebounds a night.