I live blogged the second half of the Gopher/Badger game so it that's what you're here for you sicky just scroll down. But there's more important things to deal with. Yep, here we are, the most wonderful time of the year. I love the small conference tournaments that really kick-off March Madness, and they're getting started this week. Here's a quick look at the tournaments that start today, as well as a couple that have already gotten going. Yes, because I'm that kind of a nerd. I don't really care what you think, I love this crap.
Same story as the last several years, where Belmont is a legit sleeper to pull a first round upset, but due to conference strength as well as the Bruins inability to snag a big-time win, they'll need to win the conference tournament in order to gain a bid. Although I'm not really sure why they have such a good rep, in four tournament appearances they're 0-4 with only that one-point loss to Duke in 2008 being close. Of course, that'd be why they have that rep, because 99% of America loved them, if only for that brief window where they were in position to knock off the devil's team.
Favorite: Belmont, duh. They shoot the ball well and don't turn it over, two traits pretty unique to the Bruins within the A-Sun. Plus they're incredibly balanced with six players scoring at least 9.0 points per game, which means a rough night for one player won't screw them.
Sleeper: Mercer. Nobody is really close to as good as Belmont, but Mercer finished 13-5, Belmont swept them but merely by a combined 5 points, and the tournament is being held in Mercer's gym (where Belmont won by 1 after scoring the final 3 points in the last 31 seconds). Plus the Bears can at least kind of play defense.
W's Pick: Belmont. Not only are they more talented than the rest of the conference, they're loaded with upperclassmen who won't be intimidated by playing on the road.
BIG SOUTH (started Monday):
Nobody plays defense in this conference, which at least makes things entertaining. According to kenpom.com's defensive efficiency metric, only Winthrop at #189 even ranks in the top 200 in the country. That's at least fun, if not effective.
Favorite: UNC-Asheville. The Bulldogs rolled through the league with a 16-2 mark, and with stellar guards Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm they have the guard play you need to get through a tournament.
Sleeper: Coastal Carolina. A handful of team's in this conference have some surprising wins this year (CC over Clemson, Campbell over Iowa, Presbyterian over Cincy) but the Chanticleers are the only team who sustained any success following that win, finishing second in the league (plus Presbyterian isn't fully D-I eligible yet, and doesn't get to play. Sad).
W's Pick: Asheville. Primm and Dickey are seniors and, along with fellow senior and third best player Chris Stephenson, give the Bulldogs a great core back from last year's tournament championship team.
Obviously the big story here is Murray State, a team that could lose in the first round of this tournament and still secure an NCAA at-large bid. What that means is that teams on the bubble need to be hoping and rooting for Murray to roll to the championship. Which also means this is all irrelevant to a Gopher fan. Kill me.
Favorite: Murray State. Maybe they don't have a string of super impressive non-conference wins (although Southern Miss, St. Mary's, and Memphis are a good string), but they've pretty much rolled through the OVC.
Sleeper: Morehead State. Yes, Tennessee State is the only team to beat the Racers this year, but I think in order for an OVC team to knock them off in this tournament it's going to be someone with some talent who gets hot from three and shoots a boatload of them. Morehead is the best candidate to do so.
W's Pick: Murray State. No other team is this far above it's conference mates in talent, ability, execution, and basically everything else. It would be a major upset for anybody else to win this.
I can't really think of a single semi-interesting thing to say about the Patriot League, but it is worth noting that the Patriot ranks as the 22nd best conference in the NCAA according to kenpom.com. The Ohio Valley, where your precious little Murray State squad plays, is ranked 24th. So there.
Favorite: Bucknell. You remember Bucknell, right? Slightly dangerous squad who the Minnesota beat to open the season and made everyone at least assume the Gophers wouldn't be terrible? Yeah, I hate them too.
Sleeper: Lehigh. Speaking of kenpom.com, his metrics actually rank the Mountain Hawks as the better offensive and defensive team (and overall as well, obviously). They also beat Bucknell at home and lost by just three on the road.
W's Pick: Lehigh. I want there to be as few NCAA Tournament teams the Gophers beat as possible because otherwise you're going to be dealing with dingleberries running around talking about how the Gophers beat this crappy small conference team who won a bid. No thanks.
WEST COAST CONFERENCE:
The biggest talking point when BYU moved over to the WCC was that adding the Cougars would help make the league stronger, and could even boost it to a three-bid league (with Gonzaga and St. Mary's). It might work. The Zags and Gaels are already in, but BYU still has work to do. They probably need to win a couple games in the tournament here, and if they can get past Gonzaga in the semis that might do it.
Favorite: St. Mary's. The Gaels won the conference regular season title by a game over Gonzaga, splitting the home-and-home with the Bulldogs in the process. The health of Stephen Holt, the team's third-leading scorer, who missed the final three regular season games is a big issue.
Sleeper: Loyola-Marymount. The Lions, who finished fourth in the WCC, can be very, very good (wins over St. Mary's, BYU, St. Louis, Valpo, and UCLA) and can be very, very bad (losses to Columbia, North Texas, Morgan State, and San Diego). You could say they're a bit of a two-face. If the coin comes up positive they have the ability to win this and steal a bid.
W's Pick: Gonzaga. They finished second in the league, but with seven wins in their last eight and no issues with pesky Loyola Marymount, the Bulldogs are the league's best, and with the league's staggered tournament format (Zaga and SMC get byes to the semifinals) they only have to win two games (for contrast, Loyola would have to win four).
HORIZON (started Tuesday):
League is wide open this year in sharp contrast to the last couple of years where Butler dominated. Also, for those college wonk idiots who are picking Butler to win this tournament you're idiots. Butler sucks this year. Other than winning 5 out of 6 to close the reg. season they've been terrible. The win over Purdue was their only good win this year (also winning @ Cleveland State is ok I guess) and they've lost to like everybody. Seriously if you read someone who picked Butler to win the Horizon you should track them down and stab them in the mouth with some sort of pointy stick. Also I'm writing this one after watching Gophers/Badgers whilst the rest were written early tonight, so you know, I'm pretty drunj.
Favorite: I don't know. I completely lost track of whatever window I had open that had the tournament seeds. I think it's Valpo. they used to have Bryce Drew and lost to Loyola Marymount in bracket busters. That's all I know.
Sleeper: Detroit. I think they did pretty ok this year but I like them because they have Ray Maccallum. And former Indiana guy Eli Holman. I think. That might have been last year.
W's Pick: Anybody but Butler cuz Eff those guys, am I right? They made last year's championship suck.