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NCAA Basketball: The second week of conference tournaments

Can it keep getting better? Yes it can. This is March and the madness is here.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri Valley Conference Championship- Loyola Ramblers vs Drake Bulldogs Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Well last week was great for college basketball junkies. And previewing the first week of games was also kind of fun. So here we go with the rest of the conference tournaments. This week we get into the major conferences, which for this purpose are less interesting to me.

The rest of the non-P5 tournaments...

Big West

Top Seed: Long Beach St
Projected NCAA Seed: 15
BRACKET

So this is one of those conferences where the highest rated teams are not the ones who finished at the top. Long Beach State and Cal-Fullerton finished first and second respectively. UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara not only both have cooler nicknames, but they also have rank first and second in terms of KenPom rank (and I put a lot of faith in KP).

Dan Monson’s Beach are the Big West outright champs for the first time since they won three consecutive conference titles in 2010-2013. They won 10 in a row to build up a 10-1 conference record and held on to the title despite dropping a couple of road games late. Joel Murray leads the team with over 16 ppg. He and two other starting guards all shoot over 35% from three, although the rest of the team isn’t great at shooting from deep. They earned their 1-seed with their defense that was the best in the Big West during conference play and they forced turnovers on over 22% of opponent turnovers. Defense travels, my friends.

Cal-Fullerton finished 2nd largely due to going 4-0 against Irvine and Santa Barbara. The Titans really struggle to defend the three but offensively they have a scoring big man in E.J. Anosike who brings them 16.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. After Anosike, this is a really balanced scoring team.

UC Irvine is the highest rated KenPom team with a ranking of 120th overall. For reference, Long Beach State is the third highest ranked team in the conference at 154. The Anteaters had a rocky December and early January, with a number of games cancelled or postponed for COVID protocols. They were also missing their 2nd leading scorer, Dawson Baker for several games in that span. Now healthy and with Collin Welp to be the inside presence to compliment Baker, they have finished 9-2 and might be the most dangerous team in the field.

The Santa Barbara Gauchos are in the hunt here too as the 5-seed and the conference’s best offensive team. Amadou Sow, Ajay Mitchell and Miles Norris all average double-figures and the Gauchos have 2 kids from Minnesota on the roster, one who starts.

Predicted Winner: If Irvine can get past Santa Barbara in their first round 4 vs 5 matchup, I like the Anteaters to win it all. If they fall to the Gauchos, then my money is on Dan Monson to take The Beach back to The Tournament.

Conference USA

Top Seed: North Texas
Projected NCAA Seed: 12
BRACKET

The North Texas Mean Green have been one of the top mid-majors all season and currently sit ranked 44 in KenPom. If they end up winning this tourney and getting a 12-seed, they could be underseeded (much like MTSU in 2017). Grant McCasland gave his team a tough early schedule to get them ready for March. They got down early to Kansas and couldn’t get back in, they got up early on Miami but couldn’t hold on. And since that Miami loss in November, they’ve lost just twice. Taylor Perry is one of the top 100 3-point shooters in the country and the Green have a couple nice players in the frontcourt. They get to the free throw line, they rebound well and they defend the three.

Middle Tennessee State won the opposite division and is the 2-seed. With their turnover issues, defensive rebounding issues and the fact that they don’t shoot the three very well; I’m not convinced that they are going to come out of this tournament on with the automatic bid.

UAB finished 2nd to the Green, they decimated MTSU and are poised to be the team most likely to upset North Texas after those two split their season series. Andy Kennedy’s team is the top offense in CUSA and he had his team tested often in the early part of the season. Were it not for a couple bad (and odd) losses, they easily could be sitting as the top seed here. They are on the NCAA bubble here, but would need some help to get in without the auto-bid. Jordan Walker leads this team as a 19.7 point per game scorer and is shooting over 40% from three.

Predicted Winner: I’ll be surprised if the title game isn’t North Texas and UAB. My money would be on North Texas to finish off the Blazers in a game that I would very much enjoy watching.

MAAC

Top Seed: Iona
Projected NCAA Seed: 13
BRACKET

Hey there coach Rick Pitino in your 2nd season at Iona. He has his Gaels as the top seed and they could work their way up to a 12-seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. He has his team at the 1-seed due to their defense and a couple of key transfers that really helped bolster the offense. This team beat Alabama, beat Liberty and nearly took down a decent Saint Louis team. Basically they have been the #1 offense in the MAAC and the #2 defense. Not a great shooting team, but they get to the rim where they finish and draw plenty of fouls.

The best defensive team in the conference has been the Peacocks of Saint Peter’s. Forward, KC Ndefo and guard Darryl Banks III lead this team. But this is a top 40 defense nationally and can make things very difficult for the Gaels.

Predicted Winner: Iona ran through the MAAC tourney last year as a lower seed and I suspect that this year, as the top seed, they’ll do the same.

WAC

Top Seed: New Mexico State
Projected NCAA Seed: 14
BRACKET

This league ended up with a rare 3-way tie for first place. That little nugget plus the fact that 2 other teams have a really good profile means that this has the potential to be a highly competitive tournament.

New Mexico State has earned the top seed and they are lead by forward, Teddy Allen who is averaging 19.5 per game. Allen was recruited to play at West Virginia, transferred to Nebraska last year and now has found a home at New Mexico State. Overall a very good rebounding team who defends the perimeter well.

Seattle earned the 2-seed but might have the weakest profile but Chris Victor, in his first season as a head coach, has the Redhawks in position to get into the NCAA Tournament, largely because of their defense. They have never made the NCAA Tournament since becoming a D1 team in 2010.

Stephen F Austin has my love because they are a favorite nickname of mine. Kyle Keller took over the Lumberjacks when Brad Underwood left for Illinois and he’s looking to get back to the Tournament for what would essentially be his 3rd trip in 6 seasons (assuming 2020 where they were the favorite to win the WAC). They’ve won 10 in a row, they are very good at getting themselves extra possessions by crashing the offensive glass and forcing a lot of turnovers. For them it comes down to shooting, which has been much better in this 10-game winning streak.

And don’t sleep on Grand Canyon, the 4-seed. But this team is coached by Bryce Drew and was the WAC’s representative in the NCAA’s last year. They are the 2nd best team in the country at defending the 3 and during conference play have been one of the top 3 offenses in the league both in terms of efficiency and 3-point shooting. They have a very real shot at winning this.

Predicted Winner: This one is so wide open, it is impossible to predict. Personally I think like Stephen F Austin to come out of the WAC. If they are shooting decently, I think they get it done and will be a fun team to watch in the NCAA Tournament as probably a 14-seed.

Mountain West

Top Seed: Boise St
Projected NCAA Seed: 7/8
BRACKET

Likely getting 4 teams into the NCAA Tournament, we arrive at our first multi-bid conference. So while there is less drama about who is going to get their ticket punched to the NCAA Tournament, there is some valuable basketball to be watched here if you want to find ways to win your bracket pool. There really two tiers of teams here. Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State are all top 35 caliber teams and will not only make the NCAA Tournament, they’ll have a shot at advancing.

Then you have Wyoming, Utah State and Fresno State who are possibly in contention to win this tournament. Wyoming is likely in as an at-large while Utah St and Fresno each had losing conference records and will have to win the MWC tourney.

Finally, on to the teams.

Leon Rice’s Boise State team is always an elite defensive rebounding team and in conference play was one of the top 2 offensive and defensive teams in the league. Two 3-point losses to Colorado State are ones that I’m sure they looking to avenge, but they earned the top seed anyway. Missing free throws may be the bug that bites them this week.

Colorado St is ranked and is a very efficient offense team. David Roddy, from Breck, is averaging 19.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and is shooting 46.2% from three. They have wins over Saint Mary’s, Creighton and Mississippi State. They were oddly swept by UNLV and they have a 30-point loss to San Diego State on their resume.

San Diego St is the 3-seed and might be the best team in the tournament. This is a great defensive team. Nationally they rank 4th in defensive efficiency, 7th in defensive effective FG%, 4th in defensive 2pt FG% and 32nd in turnover %. Offensively, it is the Matt Bradley show. This senior guard, who transferred from Cal, averages 17.8 points per game and nobody else on the team averages over 8.4. They have lost twice since January, both were by 1-point on the road to Boise and Colorado St.

Wyoming Cowboys have been to the NCAA Tournament just once since 2002 and are really turning things around under Jeff Linder. They started the MWC with a 10-1 record, but have limped into the postseason going 3-4 to finish. They may need to beat UNLV on Thursday to ensure they get into the NCAA Tourney with an at-large bid.

Fresno State and Utah St too? Sure, they could make a run. Orlando Robinson could carry Fresno for a few games. And Utah State has a strong frontcourt with Justin Bean and Brandon Horvath.

Predicted Winner: San Diego State wins a great semi-final game over Colorado State and then finishes off Boise to earn the automatic bid.

Big Sky

Top Seed: Montana St
Projected NCAA Seed: 14

BRACKET

The Bobcats have not made the NCAA Tournament since the 1996 when Princeton as a 13-seed beat UCLA 41-43. But I digress. Montana State is the top seed in the Big Sky and after a rough start, has been very good all throughout the conference season. Three guys average double-figures and as a team they excel at getting to the free throw line.

Southern Utah is the 2-seed, led by two players averaging over 14 ppg. Tevian Jones and John Knight III. The Bobcats swept the season series between these two teams and the Thunderhawks are likely looking forward to a third matchup.

Predicted Winner: Montana State, but only because I was in Bozeman this fall and things like that matter in making predictions.

MEAC

Top Seed: Norfolk St
Projected NCAA Seed: 16 at Dayton
BRACKET

The Spartans of Norfolk State have been the best team in the MEAC all season. These guys get to the line and they defend the three. Joe Bryant Jr leads this team and was just named the MEAC player of the year.

If anyone is going to knock them off, it would be Howard. What makes the Bison dangerous is that they are 10th nationally in defensive turnover % and then they shoot the three at 37% as a team. If they create turnovers and are hitting threes, they could upset the Spartans.

Predicted Winner: Norfolk State should be the winner of the MEAC.

Southland

Top Seed: Nicholls
Projected NCAA Seed: 16 at Dayton
BRACKET

This bracket is Nicholls’ to lose but they have a couple glaring weaknesses. They really don’t make free throws very well, ranking 357th out of 358 teams, and they don’t shoot the three very well either. They have Ty Gordon, who was the Southland player of the year, averaging 21.6 as a high volume shooter (he’s attempted 269 threes this season!). The Colonels are frequently winning double-digit conference games but have not made the NCAA Tournament since 1998.

The funny thing about Nicholls is that they were swept this year by Southeastern Louisiana. And SE Louisiana would be the top seed if it were not for a really bad loss to Incarnate Word. The Lions defense is quite bad, but they have 3 very good scorers and do a great job of getting to the free throw line. They last made the NCAA Tourney in 2005 when Billy Kennedy was seeing his name rise up the list of the next hot coach.

Predicted Winner: I’m typically adamant that the old, “tough to beat a team three times” adage is actually BS. If you beat a team twice, it is often because you are the better team. But with that said, I think that Nicholls gets it done this time around and takes down SE Louisiana in the championship game (if SE Louisiana can get by New Orleans).

SWAC

Top Seed: Alcorn State
Projected NCAA Seed: 16 in Dayton
BRACKET

Here we go with another conference where the top seed may really not even be the top teams in the conference.

The Braves of Alcorn State have the top seed in the SWAC. Since losing to Grambling at home at the end of January, they have gone 8-1. This is a deep team with 8 guys currently playing a lot of minutes and very balanced scoring.

Texas Southern is the 2-seed here and I’d like to believe they have a good shot to win the SWAC but they were 0-4 against Alcorn and Southern (the 1 and 3 seeds respectively). The Tigers have won the automatic bid 5 of the last 8 years. What makes this team really interesting is that they have zero players averaging in double figures this season. Instead they have 10 players who play 18 minutes or more and all average somewhere between 4.6 and 9.6 points per game. Technically, this team ranks higher according to KenPom than Alcorn. But Alcorn won by 1 at home and by 3 at Texas Southern so the results speak for themselves.

Southern has actually been a team that I’ve kept an eye on throughout the season as one that generates a ton of steals with their defense and then makes a lot of threes on offense. They ran out to an 8-2 SWAC record but finished 3-4 and earned the 3-seed. The Jaguars are a little dangerous but their 3-point shooting has suffered lately, after being very good through the first half of the season. They could rediscover that touch and make a run, but shooting under 20% for 3 consecutive games from three is not an encouraging sign.

Weirdly neither of the top 2 seeds in the SWAC had even 1 player make the 1st or 2nd All-SWAC team.

Predicted Winner: I’m taking Texas Southern to exact some revenge on the Braves and earn their 6th NCAA trip in 9 seasons.

Atlantic 10

Top Seed: Davidson
Projected NCAA Seed: 10
BRACKET

Many years, this is a multi-bid conference, but the A10 may struggle to get 2 teams into the field this year, assuming Davidson wins the conference tourney.

The Davidson Wildcats are the team to beat and they have the best offense in the A10, in fact it is the 10th most efficient offense in the country. The formula for coach Bob McKillop is simple. Make threes while taking good shots, no turnovers and defensive rebound, limiting your opponent’s possessions. And he’s been doing it at Davidson successfully for a long time. This year he has 4 players averaging between 11.9 and 16.8 ppg and all shoot the three very well. As a team, they are 8th nationally in 3-point percentage. One of those big 4 being Michael Jones, a Woodbury native who is shooting 43.8% from three.

Dayton, just beat Davidson to end the regular season and inch their name up the bubble list a little bit. With a little help, they could get themselves in by getting to the title game and things falling their way in other tournaments. With 7 players averaging over 20 minutes per game and very balanced scoring from those 7 guys, this is a really good defensive team and a “pretty good” offensive one.

VCU comes into the tournament as the 3-seed with the same conference record as the Flyers. Also needing at least a couple wins to get bumped up into the Field of 68, the Rams had won 8 in a row before dropping a fairly bad loss to Saint Louis in the regular season finale. This team gets things done with their defense. Nationally ranked as the #4 defense in terms of efficiency and #2 in forcing turnovers. Where they are vulnerable is that they also turn the ball over a lot and they give up a ton of offensive rebounds. If they are hitting threes to go along with forcing turnovers, they are very dangerous.

Lastly, let’s not forget about St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies are another team I’ve paid attention to throughout the season and they haven’t quite lived up to expectations as they were the unanimous preseason pick to win the conference. In the non-conference part of the season The Bonnies beat teams like Boise St, Clemson and Marquette. But then they limped out to a 4-4 start of the A10 season. Since then, they’ve gone 8-1 with one game where they were beat soundly at VCU. As the 4-seed, they’ll have to knock off Davidson in the semis, but if they are putting things together, they could easily win this.

Predicted Winner: I’m going with St. Bonaventure to stay hot and run through the A10 Tourney.

MAC

Top Seed: Toledo
Projected NCAA Seed: 13
BRACKET

Well Toledo is the highest ranked team and the team that finished atop the standings. Easy right? Well...sure, but fore the fact that Kent State swept the Rockets, including a 13-point win in Toledo.

So the Rockets. Actually a very good offensives team. They don’t turn it over, they shoot the three well and they make a lot of free throws. 12 of their last 15 games have been won by double-digits, five of them by 20 or more and 2 of them by 40 or more!! Three players average 15 or more including JT Shumate who has taken 119 threes and is shooting 51% from three! That’s 3rd in the country. This team can really light it up!

Kent State has not only swept the top seed this year, but they have won 12 in a row. Making this bracket far more interesting. They’ve gone from a KenPom ranking of 197 in mid-January to currently ranked 138th. They are more of a defensive minded team ranking top 2 in the MAC in Def efficiency, Def eFG%, Def TO%, Def Reb%, block % and Def 2pt FG%. Can they find enough offense to take down Toledo for a third time?

Ohio, Buffalo and Akron are in the mix. But this appears to be down to the top 2 teams. One that is explosive and really good on offense. The other that is dominating on defense.

Predicted Winner: I’m going with Toledo to explode for points and beat the Flashes of Kent State. This would be their first NCAA Tournament since 1980!

American

Top Seed: Houston
Projected NCAA Seed: 5
BRACKET

Two teams are certainly in from the American. Houston and Memphis are getting bids regardless. SMU is a likely third team in but they are going to have to win a couple games, maybe even beat Memphis to be certain of a spot.

Houston has been the league’s top team all season. They beat Virginia by 20, they beat Oklahoma State by 11 and they lost to Alabama and Wisconsin by a combined 3 points. Then they 15-3 in the the American after 2 of their best players were lost for the season who combined for 27.8 points per game before their injuries. But this team gets it done with defense. They swarm, they are physical and offense becomes very difficult for opponents. With that said, they were swept by Memphis and split with SMU. So is that 1-3 record against the other top American teams a concern?

Memphis is technically the 3-seed, but most likely the favorite to win their half of the bracket. Five guys average between 9.6 and 11.9 for the Tigers. They have balanced scoring, they hit the offensive glass and they really get to the free throw line. Their struggles? Making those free throws, turning the ball over and defensive rebounding.

SMU has swept Memphis this year, split with Houston but managed 3 other losses throughout the season, or they’d be the top seed in this little tourney. They shoot well, they defend the three well and everything is pretty good statistically. Kendric Davis is a 19.5 ppg scorer from the point.

Predicted Winner: I’m going to suggest that Memphis takes care of SMU and then Houston beats Memphis to get the auto-bid and move up a seed line. At some point the free throw shooting and turnovers are going to catch up to Memphis.

Ivy

Top Seed: Princeton
Projected NCAA Seed: 14
BRACKET

A little Ivy madness with no surprise to see Princeton as the top seed as the Tigers finished 1 game ahead of Yale. And there is a pretty clear gap between these to teams and the rest of the Ivy.

This Princeton team beat 2 Power 5(6) teams this season taking down Oregon State and Mississippi. They also took a very dangerous Minnesota team to overtime. Hard to believe they’ve only been to the Big Dance once in the last 10 years. But this current team is highly efficient on offense (ranks 30th nationally), is a good shooting team and while their defense isn’t great; they do a good job of defensive rebounding to limit opponent possessions. They have 3 guys who score in the 14-15 point range with 2 of them shooting over 38% from three.

Yale has been the Ivy representative in the NCAA Tournament 3 of the last 6 years. Azir Swain leads this team scoring 18.9 points per game.

Predicted Winner: Princeton and Yale split the regular season with almost identical scores of 81-75 and then 80-74. I don’t think it is out of the question for Penn or Cornell to steal a semi-final game, but the top 2 seeds playing for the title seems most likely. I’ll take the top-seeded Tigers to take home the Ivy.

The Power 5(6) conferences...

These conference tourneys are great, but also considering so much less is on the line for most of the teams, they lose that true playoff drama.

Pac 12

Top Seed: Arizona
Projected NCAA Teams: 3
BRACKET

A conference that has been very down for several years is back. The Pac 12 is back with a couple teams that are definitely capable of reaching the Final Four. But first the conference tourney.

Probably only 3 teams are making the field, but all three are quite good.

Predicted Winner: Arizona and UCLA are teams that rank in the top 15 in offensive and defensive efficiency. I’ll be surprised if they aren’t both in the final and Arizona wins.

Big East

Top Seed: Providence
Projected NCAA Teams: 7 with Creighton and Xavier sitting above the bubble. A quick loss would be bad for them.
BRACKET

Providence is your league winner and I’m going to call out that they will not win the conference tourney. Ed Cooley’s team is deep and very well balanced with good guard play and Nate Watson is a beast in the middle.

The early intrigue here will be the Creighton/Marquette game and Xavier/Butler. Xavier cannot afford to lose this one before getting Providence in the quarterfinals. Creighton could lose and likely hold on, but its close. A win guarantees they are in.

Nova vs. UConn as a potential semi-final matchup will be a great game, followed by whoever is in the championship game.

Predicted Winner: Villanova.

Big 12

Top Seed: Kansas
Projected NCAA Teams: 6
BRACKET

Six teams projected to be in the Field of 68 and really any of the 6 could win this conference tourney. More realistically it is going to come down to 4 teams. Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech or Texas.

Perhaps of Oklahoma upsets Baylor in their first round game, they can get back into the conversation. But the 6 teams seems pretty solid.

Predicted Winner: I’m itching for Texas Tech to beat Baylor. Texas to beat Kansas and we get a third game of Texas vs. Texas Tech. Regardless of who they are playing, I think Texas Tech wins the title.

SEC

Top Seed: Auburn
Projected NCAA Teams: 6
BRACKET

Six teams projected in and all 6 are a six-seed or higher. The SEC is stacked this year. All six teams could easily be in the Sweet 16 and a couple could be in the Final Four.

Auburn was gone 5-3 down the stretch, beating only bad teams. But they do have Jabari Smith, a top 3 NBA pick, and Walker Kessler to be the best frontcourt in college basketball.

Kentucky has the 3rd most efficient offense an dhas really been hitting their stride since the beginning of Februrary.

Don’t forget that Arkansas and Tennessee have both beat Auburn & Kentucky in the last month. Tennessee is elite on defense, as is LSU.

Any of these teams mentioned could win this thing.

Predicted Winner: I’m going to go with Arkansas. Erik Musselman gets his team focused on winning this while the likes of Auburn and Kentucky are fine tuning for the NCAA Tournament.

ACC

Top Seed: Duke
Projected NCAA Teams: 5 with Miami and Notre Dame on the verge of being out.
BRACKET

The ACC is bad and Duke is the class of the conference. In my lifetime, this may be the least interesting ACC Tournament ever.

The intrigue here is really around Miami and Notre Dame. They have byes into the quarterfinals. Should they lose that first game, they’ll still likely be in but other tournament outcomes could change their status. They need to win to stay in.

Also, Wake cannot afford to lose their 2nd round game against the winner of Pitt/Boston College.

Predicted Winner: Duke

Big Ten

Top Seed: Wisconsin Illinois
Projected NCAA Teams: 8
BRACKET

Eight Big Ten teams are pretty solid. Indiana is currently out after their 2-7 finish to the season. They are clinging to the bubble and could get their way in with a couple of wins. But it would have to be over Michigan and then Illinois. And if Michigan loses that one, they likely move to the wrong side of the bubble. Keeping the Big Ten number at 8 teams.

Rutgers is right on that line and barely hanging on to stay in. Their 6-3 finish really saw them move up and earn their potential at-large bid. If they manage to beat Iowa (most likely) in their first game, they are a lock. Lose and things get interesting.

Assuming higher seeds win through the first 2 rounds, the quarterfinals on through are going to be great games as a fan.

Predicted Winner: Purdue over Illinois