College Basketball

Conference Tournament Previews Part II

The NCB Conference Tournament Preview continues today with the Atlantic Sun, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot League, and West Coast conferences being reviewed as they begin play today.

Yesterday was the first day of the postseason for college basketball and certainly did not disappoint, giving us two upsets, two overtimes, and one buzzer beater among only seven games. Radford, Coastal Carolina, UNC-Asheville, Presbyterian, Milwaukee, Cleveland State, and Loyola (Ill) said goodbye to their dreams of dancing, leaving 297 squads to battle it out over the next twelve days.

Today five more conferences begin their postseason and 13 more schools will see their tournament hopes fade away.

note: as of this writing the first game of the Atlantic Sun tournament has concluded with Florida Gulf Coast beating North Florida 73-63


Atlantic Sun Tournament bracket (Wikipedia)

The Atlantic Sun Tournament will be played from March 6-9 at the Hawkins Arena in Macon, Georgia, home to top-seed Mercer. Northern Kentucky, despite finishing 9-9 in conference play, is not eligible for postseason play until they fully complete their transition to Division I in 2017.

Favored to win:

The Mercer Bears (21-10, 14-4) are projected as having a 54.64% chance of winning by Team Rankings and are given odds of 56.4% by Ken Pomeroy. They are the most efficient team on offense and on defense in conference play, but are far more skilled on the defensive end.

The Bears play at a slow pace (62.6 possessions per game) and force turnovers 22.5% of the time which ranks 47th in the nation. They also excel at limiting shots inside the arc, holding their opponents to a 2-point shooting percentage of 43.8, and blocking shots on 11.6% of possessions, 67th best in the NCAA.

Their worst conference lost was by 17 points at Northern Kentucky. Offensively, the Bears rely on threes, shooting from behind the arc on 39.4% of shots (the average is 33.0) and relying on the trey for 32.1% of their total points. Their average three-point shooting percentage is an unspectacular 34.4, but in their loss to Northern Kentucky they made only 28.6% of their shots from deep.

Their downfall could be going cold from deep if the other team is shooting well enough. They may also run into a problem against a good free throw shooting team considering their opponents average 20.4 free throw attempts per game.

Looking for the upset:

The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (21-10, 13-5) are 1-1 against Mercer this year, losing to the Bears by 7 in OT on their road trip and besting them by 3 at home. The Eagles boast a win over top-ACC team Miami, but also have two losses to a 12-17 Lipscomb squad. Team Rankings gives them a 21.91% chance of winning the Atlantic Sun tournament and KenPom has them at 25.5%.

As indicated by the outcomes of their previous two meetings, a matchup between Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast should be a great game if they so happen to meet in the finals. FGC does a good job of defending the perimeter, allowing their opponents to shoot only 31.5% from deep on average. On offense they shoot the ball quite well inside (averaging 53% on 2’s,) but rank 267th in free throw percentage which could pose some problems against a rough Mercer defense.

The Eagles have the best shot of toppling Mercer for the Atlantic Sun crown. (Photo by Jason Easterly)

Players to keep an eye on:

1. Travis Smith (6’3″ SR), Mercer Bears

Smith averages 13.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and is shooting 40.7% from long range. In the last 5 games Smith has made 15 of 29 (51.7%) shots from deep.

2. Torrey Craig (6’6″ JR), South Carolina Upstate Spartans

Craig averages 17.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1 steal a game.

3. Bernard Thompson (6’3″ SO), Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

Thompson is averaging 14.1 points, 4.2 rebonds, 1.8 assists, 2.8 steals and is shooting 47.8% from the field.

4. Sherwood Brown (6’4″ SR), Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

Brown averages 15.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.5 steals and is shooting 46% from the field.



Northeast Tournament bracket (Wikipedia)

The Northeast Conference Tournament takes place on March 6, 9, and 12 at the venues of the higher seed in each matchup.

Favored to win:

The Robert Morris Colonials (22-9, 14-4) have a 48.94% chance of taking the tournament according to Team Rankings and a 46.9% chance according to KenPom. The Colonials are the most balanced of Northeast teams between offense and defense are are the best defensive team in conference play this season.

Their strengths are forcing turnovers and knocking down threes. Robert Morris attempts 22.5 treys a game (24th) and connects on 38.5% of shots from deep (20th). They are also an excellent on the line, making 74.7% of free throw attempts.

RMU is a short team so they focus on pressuring the ball instead of protecting the paint. Their opponents this season have hit 51.2% of 2’s but the Colonials have forced a turnover on 24.6% of possessions. In each of their four conference losses, they failed to meet their three-point percentage average and in 3 of the 4 losses their turnover margin was less than +3.

If the Colonials can grab a high number of steals and knock down three’s at a high rate they should find themselves as Northeast champions. However, considering that 36.2% of their points come from behind the arc, they will be in major trouble if their long-range shooting goes cold.

“Dude, they’re too tall.” (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America)

Looking for the upset:

The Wagner Seahawks (18-11, 12-6) have played 6 overtime games this season, losing two of them, one of which was to Robert Morris 83-79. Wagner has the best overall defense and is the only Northeast team to allow less than 100 points per 100 possessions (98.1) this season. Their defensive execution entails turning the ball over frequently (21.7%) through a high number of blocks and steals and also limit the oppositions 2-point shooting percentage to 43.7. The Seahawks, however, allow opponents to shoot 35% from deep (232nd) which will not work out well against the Colonials.

Don’t sleep on these guys:

Bryant (19-10, 12-6) and LIU-Brooklyn (17-13, 12-6) are the archetypical Northeast teams, up-tempo and offensive-minded. The Bryant Bulldogs average 74.3 PPG (34th) and the LIU Blackbirds average 78.2 (11th) and both squads rank in the top-35 in assists per game and field goal percentage. On the opposite side of the floor they are not so effective though, giving up 71.1 and 76.2 points per contest respectively.

Both teams suffered a one-possession loss to RMU, but Bryant also beat the Colonials 84-77 in the beginning of January.

Players to keep an eye on:

1. Jamal Olasewere (6’7″ SR), LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds

Olasewere is averaging 19.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals and is shooting 51.1% from the field.

2. Alex Francis (6’6″ JR), Bryant Bulldogs

Francis is averaging 17.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and is shooting a ridiculous 57.4% from the field on about 12 attempts a game.

3. Velton Jones (6’0″ SR), Robert Morris Colonials

The Colonials’ offensive engine is averaging 11.3 points, 1.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.7 steals.

4. Kyle Vinales (6’1″ SO), Central Connecticut State Blue Devils

Vinales is a huge scorer for the Blue Devils, averaging 21.6 points on 18.4 field goal attempts per game.



Ohio Valley Tournament bracket (Wikipedia)

The Ohio Valley Conference Tournament is taking place from March 6-9 at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium, the first public assembly facility in the mid-South with air conditioning, in case you were wondering. The NMA is only about ten minutes from Belmont’s campus.

Favored to win:

Ken Pomery said that it appears Belmont (24-6, 14-2) will “be the biggest favorite in any conference tournament this season.” KenPom gives the Bruins a 76.6% of winning the tournament and TeamRankings gives them a 69.95 chance of winning it all. Belmont is led by a stellar duo of guards in Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark and is a top-20 team in points per game, assists per game, and field goal percentage, largely due to their pair of seniors in the backcourt.

The Bruins shoot 2’s at 56.9% (2nd) and 3’s at 38.4% (21st) for an effective field goal percentage of 57.2 (2nd). They also shoot well from the stripe, making 73.8% of free throws. Threes are especially important in their game, accounting for 33.1% of their total points.

They are a poor rebounding team, but are able to gain extra possessions through their high turnover rate (24.4%). The Bruins are one of the eldest teams in the nation with an average experience level of 2.34 years per player (15th).

Kerron Johnson (#3) and Ian Clark (#21) are one the best backcourt combos in the nation. (Photo from

Looking for the upset:

Murray State (20-9,10-6) and Eastern Kentucky (23-8, 12-4) are also high-octane offenses that depend on shooting efficiently from the arc. KenPom and TeamRankings list both of these teams as having less than a 15% chance of winning the OVC tournament, likely due partially to the fact that their less-than-impressive defenses are no match for Belmont’s aggressive offensive style.

The Murray State Racers are nearly exactly as experienced as the Bruins (2.32 years per player, ranking 19th), but Senior guard and team leader Isaiah Canaan has struggled with his shot this season, seeing dips in his free throw, two-point, and three-point percentages. In their 5-point victory over Belmont earlier this year, the Racers were out-shot and out-rebounded by a substantial margin but were able to win by taking 14 more free throw attempts than the Bruins did.

Eastern Kentucky has lost to Belmont by 9 points and by 7 points this season and were only able to keep it that close because their free throw attempt margins in those two games were +9 and +10. It seems as though there is no way to out-shoot the Bruins, so teams will have to try to beat them at the line.

Players to keep an eye on:

1. Isaiah Canaan (6’1″ SR), Murray State Racers

Canaan is not shooting quite as well as he did in his junior campaign but is still averaging 21.6 points a game along with 3.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.5 steals.

2. Ian Clark (6’3″ SR), Belmont Bruins

Clark tied with Canaan for winner of the OVC Player of the Year and was also awarded the Defensive Player of the Year honor. The Memphis native is averaging 18.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.7 steals. He is shooting 46.2% from the arc and 54.3% overall.

3. Kerron Johnson (6’1″ SR), Belmont Bruins

Johnson, the other half of Belmont’s dynamic duo, is averaging 13.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals.

4. Mike DiNunno (5’11” SR), Eastern Kentucky Colonels

DiNunno is averaging 15.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.1 steals and shoots from the stripe at a rate of 86.4%



Patriot League Tournament bracket (Wikipedia)

The Patriot League Tournament takes place on March 6, 9, and 13 at the campus sites of the higher seed in each game. In the past 8 years, the 1-seed has won the tournament six times and the 2-seed has taken the title twice.

Favored to win:

The Bucknell Bison (25-5, 12-2) are clear favorites to represent the Patriot League in the tournament with Team Rankings giving them a 66.09% chance of winning and KenPom giving them a 69.8% chance. The Bison are slow, disciplined, and deliberate and are one of the best defensive squads in the nation.

On defense they ranked 346th in both steal percentage and turnover percentage, but block shots at a rate of 11% (86th), limit opponents to an offensive rebounding percentage of 23.9 (2nd), and have held teams to an average of 31.2% from deep (53rd) and 41.1% from inside the arc (3rd). Bucknell holds their opponents to 57.9 points a game, ranking 15th.

This a well-balanced team with both experience and height and are led by one of the most dominant big men in the nation, Mike Muscala. They have lost 5 games by a total of 19 points (3.8 a game, with one 12-point outlier against Princeton) and have won their past three by an average of 17.33 points.

Mike Muscala will straight mess you up. (Marlin Levinson/Star Tribune)


Looking for the upset:

Lehigh (20-8, 10-4) has a 27.09% chance of going all the way according to Team Rankings and a 21.1% chance according to KenPom. The Mountain Hawks have played admirably since losing one of the best guards in the nation due to injury, but those odds would assuredly be higher if CJ McCullom were still playing.

Since the loss of McCullom, coach Brett Reed has done a great job of dispersing scoring responsibilities and has three players averaging in between 12 and 13.5 points a game. Mackey McKnight has stepped up to lead the backcourt in McCullom’s absence and has been an effective leader thus far.

The Mountain Hawks are a much better team offensively, and on defense they limit 3’s quite well but are extremely vulnerable to inside scoring, an area in which Bucknell could totally dominate them. On offense, they shoot well from the line and from both sides of the arc, but fail to pull down offensive boards at a high rate. 31.7% of scoring comes from behind the arc (60th), so Lehigh will most likely falter if they can’t connect on three-pointers.

Lehigh is 1-1 against Bucknell this season. In their 65-62 road win over the Bison, Lehigh made 10 of 18 long range shots and limited Bucknell to 2 of 14 (.143) from behind the arc.

Don’t sleep on these guys:

The Lafayette Leopards (17-14, 10-4) have beaten Lehigh twice and are 1-1 against Bucknell but are only projected as having a 3.11% chance of winning the championship by TR and a 5.4% chance by KP. The Leopards are a terrible rebounding team and are generally pretty miserable on defense, but they are a capable team offensively, especially if they are knocking down threes. 39% of their field goal attempts are from long range and they are making 38.2% (22nd) of them. They also shoot well inside and from the line and move the ball well, ranking 67th in percentage of field goals assisted (58%).

In their 63-62 win over Bucknell at home, the Leopards shot 21 of 26 from the free throw line, compared to 10 of 15 for the Bison. They were otherwise out-shot and out-rebounded.

So… you’re saying I have a chance?


Players to keep an eye on:

1. Mike Muscala (6’11” SR), Bucknell Bison

Muscala is a force to be reckoned with in the post. He is averaging 19.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and is shooting 52.3% from the field and 77.5% from the line.

2. Holden Greiner (6’8″ SR), Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Greiner, of no relation to women’s hoops phenom Brittany Greiner, is averaging 13.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 assists and is shooting 42.9% from the arc and 50.6% overall.

3. Ella Ellis (6’6″ SR), Army Black Knights

Ellis is averaging 18.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and is shooting 44.8% from the field and 84.7% from the stripe.

4. Tony Johnson (6’0″ SR), Lafayette Leopards

Johnson had a nearly perfect shooting game in his 29-point winning effort over Lehigh a week and a half ago. He is averaging 12.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.0 steals and is shooting 81.8% from the line, 45.1% from the arc and 55.7% overall.



West Coast Conference Tournament bracket, also known as the ugliest, most awful bracket ever created. (Wikipedia)

The West Coast Conference Tournament takes place on March 6,7,8,9, and 11 at the Orleans Arena in Paradise, Nevada, right outside of Las Vegas. The top two seeds, Gonzaga and St. Mary’s have byes all the way through the semifinals. Cakewalk City right here.

Favored to win:

No question about it in this conference tourney. Gonzaga is the number one team in the country, potentially a 1-seed in the national tournament, an elite offensive squad, and clearly the number one team in the WCC. The Bulldogs (29-2, 16-0) could certainly be upset by St. Mary’s, BYU, or even Santa Clara possibly (I said, possibly), but they are too dominant of a team for that to be a likelihood. Team Rankings has their chances of winning at 69.02% and KenPom gives them a 67.8% chance, extraordinarily large numbers for a conference tournament champion projection. Not having to play until March 9 certainly gives them a considerable boost in their chances though.

In one of their two losses this season, Brandon Paul dropped 35 points on the Bulldogs, and in the other Roosevelt Jones tuned into a superhero in the final 3 seconds of the game. If any of these teams want to topple Gonzaga in the conference tournament, they will have make it rain from three on offense and protect the paint like their lives depend on it while on defense.

We’re #1 and we deserve it. (Photo from

Looking for the upset:

When the Saint Mary’s Gaels (26-5, 14-2) traveled to Spokane to take on the Zags they were down 46-28 at the half but went on to outscore the Bulldogs 50-37 in the second half. The Gaels are also an elite offensive team but their defense is incapable of dealing with the slew of offensive weapons the Zags have at their disposal.

If they have any chance of beating the Bulldogs, as they did on January 10th, they will have to utilize their excellent rebounding capabilities, particularly on the offensive glass. In their 83-78 loss to Gonzaga, the Gaels had an offensive rebounding margin of +10 but failed to capitalize on the extra opportunities, going just 7 of 27 (25.9%) from long range.

The Brigham Young Cougars (21-10, 10-6) also suffered a 5-point loss to Gonzaga, but this one was on their home court and happened less than a week ago. BYU attempted 10 more FGs than the Zags did but only connected on 17 of 46 2-pointers and 6 of 17 3-pointers and shot 59.1% from the free throw line.

Gonzaga attempts an average of 17.4 treys a game, but the Cougars forced them to take 30 and made only 6 of them, good for a 20% long-range shooting effort. Unfortunately for BYU, the Bulldogs were still extremely efficient inside the arc, shooting 16-23 (69.6%) due to the impressive performance of Kelly Olynyk who shot 7 of 9 from close-range compared to the rest of the Zags who went for a combined 9 of 14.

Players to keep an eye on:

1. Kelly Olynyk  (7’0″ JR), Gonzaga Bulldogs

The Canadian BFG (Big Friendly Giant, for those of you unfamiliar with the Roald Dahl classic) is averaging 17.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 blocks and is shooting a phenomenal 66.8% from the field and 78.3% from the line. Olynyk should be a clear-cut candidate for National Player of the Year honors.

2. Elias Harris (6’8″ SR), Gonzaga Bulldogs

Harris, hailing from Speyer, Germany, is averaging 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and is shooting 50.8% from the field.

3. Matthew Dellavedova (6’4″ SR), St. Mary’s Gaels

The brilliant Australian point guard is averaging 16.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.2 steals and is shooting 42.0% from the field and 88.1% from the line.

4. Tyler Haws (6’5″ SO), Brigham Young Cougars

Haws, showing flashes of Cougar legend Jimmer Freddette, has recorded one 42-point effort and another 32-point outing this season and is averaging 20.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals and is shooting 47.1% from the field.

Can Delly and the Gaels take down the Zags this time around? (Photo: Sarah Weiser, AP)


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