March Madness: Predicting the Outcomes of the First Week of Conference Tourneys
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March Madness is under way, with most of the low to mid major conferences having already began their tournaments.
For many teams, the only possibility for them to make the Big Dance is by winning their conference tournament, making this weekend one of the most exciting periods of the entire college basketball season.
These tournaments magnify the phrase "Go hard or go home." One bad shooting performance could mark the end of the season for a mid-major team that dominated the regular season, while a hot streak could take a team with a losing record all the way to the NCAA Tournament.
My predictions are be based largely off of how well teams played in-conference during the regular season, but there will almost certainly be upsets that very few people could have imagined before hand.
When there is an automatic bid to the Big Dance up for grabs, every school is given at least a little hope that they can lock up one of the 68 precious seeds.
I hope you find this article enjoyable, and remember that I do not have any impact on what actually happens. These are just predictions so there is no need to get overly emotional if your team was not picked to win their respective conference tournament.
Note: The Ivy League is the only conference that does not have a tournament, but the winner of the Princeton-Harvard game on Saturday will make the NCAA Tournament. Therefore, I will still make a slide about the match-up between the rival schools.
Belmont went 19-1 in Atlantic Sun play this season, with their only loss coming to Lipscomb, who has already been eliminated. The top competition that Belmont faces is East Tennessee State, a school that they beat by 10 points both times the two teams faced off this year.
Considering the Bruins are 11th in the country in points per game, averaging just over 80 points, it seems unlikely that even a bad shooting night would prevent them from winning their conference championship game.
The Big South Tournament is already down to just two teams, Coastal Carolina and UNC-Asheville. The previous meeting between these two teams had an epic ending, as the Bulldogs beat Coastal Carolina on a last second turnover followed by a buzzer beater three pointer.
Coastal Carolina's top player Desmond Holloway is out because of eligibility issues and because of that, I think UNC-Asheville will once again win this match up.
If there is any mid major team that could repeat George Mason's 2006 Final 4 run, it might be the 2011 Patriots, who are the clear favorites to win the CAA. Their path to winning the conference tournament isn't clear cut, as they might have to face Old Dominion, or Hofstra's Charles Jenkins, who is fourth in the nation in scoring.
But George Mason is no doubt the team to beat, and if they do win the CAA tournament, they should receive a generous seed come Selection Sunday.
Pick: George Mason
If Butler wants to solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament, they may need to win a game or two in the Horizon Tournament. Butler, Cleveland State, and Milwaukee all tied in the regular season conference standings, but Milwaukee owns the tie-breaker, so they received the one seed along with home court advantage.
The trio of teams are all capable of landing the automatic bid, but I believe Butler is the favorite, due to their experience and overall talent.
Princeton and Harvard usually butt heads over academics but now, the rivalry has extended onto the basketball court. Princeton won the first meeting between the two schools but there is no telling what will happen when the game takes place in Cambridge.
Due to the home court advantage and the fact that Harvard has not made an NCAA Tournament since 1946, I think the Crimson will have the upper hand.
Fairfield is the team to beat in the MAAC conference tournament, but Iona may be getting hot late, as they just beat Fairfield to close out the regular season. Iona is led by Michael Glover, a forward from the Bronx who averages 18 points per game. The Gaels are also 8th in the entire country in assists and 16th in points.
Since their four game losing streak, Iona has won seven straight games, four of which were on the road. Fairfield however has also finished the season on a strong note, winning eight of their last ten games.
After watching Missouri State barely beat eight seed SIU, I am pretty convinced that the Bears will not be able to top Wichita State in the championship game, assuming both teams advance that far. The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament is known for its upsets, and it wouldn't be surprising to see either of the top two seeds lose in the semi-finals.
Wichita State appears to be the more balanced team, and if the Bears' shooting woes continue, the final score of championship game will not even be close.
Pick: Wichita State
Long Island is probably the most obvious pick to win their conference tournament out of anyone who plays in the first week. The Blackbirds finished the regular season on a 10 game winning streak, and the last team they lost to was St. Francis, who they just beat in the first round of the NEC Tournament.
The only competition for Long Island might come from Quinnipac, but they don't have nearly as much talent.
Pick: Long Island
The Ohio Valley Conference, more specifically Morehead State, features one of the top players in the entire country in Kenneth Faried. The Eagles' forward recently broke Tim Duncan's NCAA rebounding record, and will very likely be the first player in the schools history to get drafted into the NBA.
Even with Faried, the Eagles were not good enough to win the conference regular season title, which instead went to Murray State. The outcome of the championship game might come down to whether or not Murray State can prevent Faried from being his usual self.
Pick: Morehead State
Bucknell is once again expected to win the Patriot League and receive a bid to play in the NCAA Tournament. Standing in the way of Bucknell and their goal are the American University Eagles, a team that only lost to Bucknell by six points in their previous meeting.
Even though Bucknell almost lost to the Eagles earlier this season, I don't see the rematch being nearly as competitive.
College of Charleston seemed like they were the clear favorite, until they lost back to back games heading into the tournament, with their second loss coming to Western Carolina, who they tied with for the regular season conference championship.
There is no guarantee that those will be the two schools who face off in the championship game, as both Wofford and Chatanooga appear to be potential threats.
Pick: College of Charleston
Oakland made headlines earlier this year, after they came within a point of beating Michigan State but bounced back with an upset over a then highly ranked Tennessee team. Since those two games, Oakland has continued a very successful season by going 17-1 in Summit League play.
Anything short of a conference championship for the Golden Grizzlies would be considered a disappointing season, but I think they will have no trouble making it into the NCAA Tournament.
Florida Atlantic got through conference play fairly easily, going 13-3 and finishing the regular season on a three game winning streak. Right behind them are Louisiana-Lafayatte and Arkansas state, who both ended up at 11-5 in Sun Belt play.
This conference tournament is more wide open than just about any other one that takes place in the first week, but Florida Atlantic's consistency gives them the edge.
Pick: Florida Atlantic
The WCC tournament is perhaps the most intriguing tournament of the first week.
We have Gonzaga and Saint Mary's, two teams that are both on the bubble and could use a few more wins to bolster their resume. Although the most recent Bracketology by ESPN's Joe Lunardi has both teams in as eleven seeds, that could easily change if either school loses before the title game.
Saint Mary's had a horrid finish to the regular season, losing three of their last four including an overtime loss to Gonzaga. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have won nine straight conference games since they lost their first meeting to Saint Mary's.