The CAA used to be maybe the premier mid-major conference, but alignment can be a bitch and losses of VCU, George Mason, and Old Dominion (all in the top 4 all-time for CAA championships) will do that to you. There's not a whole lot to love here. Northeastern beat Florida State and Richmond, while James Madison also beat Richmond. That's about the list of notable non-conference victories. You're also looking at four teams tied at the top of the conference at 12-6 so yeah, another crap shoot.
FAVORITE: William & Mary. The Tribe grab the #1 seed via tiebreakers, and although Northeastern has a slightly better kenpom rating it's not really that big a deal because I have no idea about this conference anyway. They also went 5-1 against the three other teams they tied with (which was probably the tie breaker) which really just means they lost to a whole bunch of bad teams. The Tribe also boast a big time scorer in Marcus Thornton (no not that one. Or that one) at 19.4ppg, and a guy who I can only assume will be Defensive Player of the Year in Terry Tarpey considering he led the CAA in rebounding (8.4pg), blocks (1.4pg), and steals (1.8pg). Damn that's impressive.
SLEEPER: Hofstra. They finished just behind the mishmash at the top at 10-8 in conference play, and the Pride most interest me because they can score. They play at an insane tempo, don't turn the ball over, and are a great shooting team all of which means POINTS. They are 16th in the country in points per game this year, and if you take out the teams which helped their averages beating up on a bunch of bottom feeder teams, while Hofstra is a bottom feeder team (or maybe middle, if I'm feeling generous) the Pride get into the top 10. Anybody who can score like that has a chance to get hot, and hot is deadly in March. Also wouldn't hurt to consider playing a little bit of defense.
THE PICK: Hofstra. When the conference is as jumbled as this, it seems to best to me to find something that stands out about someone. Northeastern has those two "good" wins, but closed the season on a troubling skid. William & Mary went 5-1 against the other top teams, but have the worst defense in the conference. Delaware has the league's leading scorer but is a mess in every other way, and Wilmington can play D but can't score. I considered James Madison, who finished out the year winning six of seven, but only one of those wins was against a good team. Hofstra, along with that offense, tightened up the defense in conference play and is one of only two conference teams (along with Northeastern) to finish in the top 3 in the CAA in both offensive and defensive efficiency in conference play. Good enough.
When you take the Davidson out of the SoCon, you weaken the SoCon, who ranks as a bottom nine conference this season per kenpom. You also make things more competitive and weirder since you don't have one time gallivanting around dominating everyone with all their fancy three pointers. Three teams ended up with double digit conference wins this year, and two of them enter the conference tournament with 20+ wins on the season overall.
FAVORITE: Wofford. The Terriers have been the best non-Davidson SoCon team over the years, making the NCAA Tournament three of the last five seasons and they're in the drivers seat again this year after going 16-2. They didn't just beat up on conference foes either, as they picked up nice wins over Iona and North Carolina State in the early season. If not for a terrible loss to Citadel and maybe one other good win they could have been a bubble team. Leading scorer Karl Cochran (15ppg) was just named SoCon player of the year, and when the Gophers played Wofford last year I featured him as a great chucker. He's still taking a silly amount of his team's shots (33%) but his shooting and assist levels have reach a point where I can't really call him a chucker anymore. Just a volume shooter.
SLEEPER: Chattanooga. I don't know if it really counts as a sleeper when a team finished 15-3 and one game back, but outside of Wofford, Nooga, and Mercer the rest of this conference is horrendous. I like Chattanooga because they can control the paint. Actually their advanced numbers say they don't really control the paint, but they do have two guys who finished in the top 5 in the conference in rebounding, one of which who finished first in blocked shots with 3.3 per game, so it sure sounds like they could control the paint. One thing they actually are is battle tested, having played four overtimes this year, going 3-1. They also finished out on a six game win streak.
THE PICK: Wofford. No, they're no Davidson, but they're awfully hard to pick against. The Terriers were in the top 2 in conference play in nearly every metric, and the only team in the top 3 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They're the second best shooting team and the hardest team to make baskets against. Their top competition has serious flaws, and the Terriers have plenty of tournament experience. Lotta pro-Wofford reasons piling up.
WEST COAST CONFERENCE:
Just like every year in the WCC it comes down to Gonzaga being in, one team being on the bubble (this year it's BYU), and then a whole bunch of spoiler teams out to ruin some other team's day. This tournament became a lot less important for BYU after they won at Gonzaga last week. Instead of maybe needing to win it, they probably just need to avoid a bad loss in their opener against either Santa Clara or Loyola Marymount, two teams they swept, and they might still end up ok if they lose that one anyway. Win that one and then beat St. Mary's? In, and good, because the Haws/Collinsworth combo rules.
FAVORITE: Gonzaga. Everyone always complains that Gonzaga is always overseeded because they don't play anyone, and then usually Gonzaga goes out and gets upset earlier than their seed should dictate. I could sit here and go through the usual arguments: tough non-conference schedule, great RPI and kenpom numbers, wins over SMU, Georgia, St. John's, UCLA, Memphis, and BYU with their only losses that BYU one and an overtime loss on the road at Arizona, and they're point to a good if not great team. But you can make that same argument every year, and every year the same results. One of these years, Gonzaga is going to have to prove it.
SLEEPER: Pepperdine. Not just because Rico Tucker went there, but because of their defense and slow it down tempo could throw a team like Gonzaga off. It certainly worked against BYU earlier this year, where Pepperdine slowed the game down and shut off the three point line and it worked to the tune of a 67-61 victory. The only other team to hold BYU under 70 points this season was defensive juggernaut Utah, so that's an impressive feat. Look at the Waves 10-8 WCC record this year and they swept BYU, split with St. Mary's, and lost by 2 at home and 8 on the road versus Gonzaga. Their 3-point stifling defense clearly can throw good teams for a loop (#1 in 3pt defense in the country at just 26% allowed) and it could work here, if they can manage to not get upset along the way.
THE PICK: Gonzaga. Their nearest contenders, BYU and St. Mary's, have some major flaws, while Gonzaga pretty much appears to be a mostly unstoppable machine (BYU loss notwithstanding), just like every year. Considering they've won this tournament the last two years, and three of the last four, might as well stick with them.
The Summit is a total mess. First, they have nine teams which is like, come on. Now it's fine this year because Omaha is still in their transition phase, thus ineligible for the NCAA Tournament thus ineligible for the Summit Tournament. To add to that, seven of the league's nine teams won between 6 and 12 games. According to kenpom, however, there is a clear favorite.
FAVORITE: South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits, well known to most Gopher fans, rank 108th by kenpom, over 50 spots higher than their closest competition (NDSU). The tournament is played in South Dakota (though in Sioux Falls, where USD is not located). They have two of kenpom's top 5 players in the conference in Cody Larson and Deondre Parks, who can both do a little bit of everything. Tops in both offensive and defensive efficiency in league play, and by a wide margin, in an average game SDSU would outscore their Summit opponents by 17 points. Granted that number is skewed by some huge blowouts, but it's still impressive.
SLEEPER: IP-Fort Wayne. The Mastodons (for real) have a sweet name and went 9-7 in Summit play, but what makes them interesting is a sleeper is that they have a win over each of the three teams ahead of them. Plus, Mastodons.
THE PICK: North Dakota State. Pretty sure this will come down to SDSU vs. NDSU as god has decried, with both teams raining three balls from the sky as they are inclined to do. If that happens I'm pretty sure SDSU will win since the Bison can't guard against the three at all. The reason I'm going with NDSU is I don't like how the bracket sets up for the Jackrabbits. If South Dakota beats Fort Wayne, and they'll likely be favored by 3 or so and have some kind of home court advantage, they'll get SDSU next. The same Jackrabbit squad they just beat by 16 in
Outside the conference tournaments there is just a ton of relevant action. I started to list games but I had like, 5 of the first 10 listed and who has that kind of time? Just hunker down and watch.