Conference Tourney Time!

by Will Rogers

Conference Tournaments are set to get underway this week and the brackets are set in the Ohio Valley, Big South, Missouri Valley, Sun Belt, SoCon (Southern), Atlantic Sun, Horizon League, NEC, Summit, WCC and Patriot League. 

Here are a few tidbits that can hopefully enable you to make smarter wagers. 

Ohio Valley - This tournament takes place in Evansville, IN and the top two teams (Murray State, Belmont) both get double-byes to the semis. So it’s heavily-weighted to the favorites. I don’t think that there will be a ton of value in this particular tournament, but the interesting thing is that Murray State probably does not need to win it. Belmont is a good team and it would be interesting to see the line in a potential tournament final where Murray State had nothing on the line.

Big South - Here the top seeds don’t get the double bye. The top three (Longwood, Winthrop and Gardner Webb) seem a cut above the rest. Gardner Webb, the 3-seed, is the highest rated team at KenPom. The team to target may be 4-seed USC Upstate as several teams seeded lower than the Spartans are rated higher at KenPom. This tournament takes place in Charlotte.

Missouri Valley - “Arch Madness” (tournament is always held in St. Louis) was turned upside down on the final day of the regular season when Northern Iowa upset Loyola Chicago to claim the top seed. Loyola, who would have been an overwhelming favorite as the top seed, actually fell to the 4-seed! Don’t be surprised if it’s Loyola vs. Missouri State playing in the Final. Loyola probably now needs to win this in order to make the Big Dance.

Sun Belt - Texas State is the top seed, but don’t rule out South Alabama (the 5-seed) making a run in Pensacola. The Jaguars have a tough road ahead as they would have to win four times in five days. If they win the first game, they would likely be a favorite over 4-seed Troy and a game with Texas State would be close to a pick ‘em. In the bottom half of the bracket, Coastal Carolina could be a dark horse. This is a wide open tournament.

SoCon - Chattanooga and Furman, the top two seeds in Asheville, are both strong. The 3-seed Samford could be prone to getting knocked out early and will probably be a slight underdog in the quarterfinals against 6-seed UNC Greensboro. Compared to Chattanooga, Furman seems like they may have an easier path to the Final. Chattanooga was 2-0 vs. Furman in the regular season. 

Atlantic Sun - Two of the unluckiest teams in America, Kennesaw State and Eastern Kentucky, will meet in the first round. I am very interested to see if the winner of that matchup can pull an upset over the Western Division winner, Jacksonville State, in the quarterfinals. I think Liberty is the team to beat here. Every game in the A-Sun Tournament takes place at a campus site (of the higher seeded team).

Horizon League - Not until the semifinals will the remaining Horizon League teams head to Indianapolis. The first two rounds are played at campus sites (of the higher seeded team). Cleveland State is the top seed here, but recall I played Oakland against CSU last weekend and the Golden Grizzlies (the 5-seed) ran out to a 65-57 win. I happen to think Oakland is the best team in the Horizon, but they are at a severe disadvantage having to play in the first round, then (if they win) going to Cleveland State for the quarterfinals. The bracket is re-seeded in the semis with the highest remaining team playing the lowest-remaining team.

NEC - Bryant nabbed the top seed on Saturday, but Wagner is the team to beat in my eyes. Last year, as the top seed, Wagner got upset by Mount St. Mary’s. Now as the 2-seed, the Seahawks are thinking about revenge. All games in the NEC Tournament are played at campus sites (of the higher seed) and there is reseeding (highest seed plays lowest remaining seed) for the semis. 

Summit - South Dakota State is the only team in the country besides Murray State that did not lose a single conference game all season. That makes the Jackrabbits the runaway favorites in Sioux Falls this weekend. They will have to win three games in four days to do so. But given that they outscored Summit League opponents by 15.5 points per game, maybe that’s not so difficult? 

WCC - Finally some teams you may be aware of! Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and San Francisco are all likely to get in as at-large teams, though San Francisco is very much on the bubble and cannot afford to be upset in its first game and they could be playing a good BYU team. Not that Gonzaga or St. Mary’s needed the help, but this tournament in Las Vegas greatly favors the top two seeds, who get byes to the semifinals. The third and fourth seeds (Santa Clara and San Francisco) get byes to the quarters. The bottom four teams are at a major disadvantage and have no hope here. There is a massive divide between the top five and bottom five. 

Patriot - Colgate, the top seed, is a pretty big favorite here and they’ll get to play at home as every game is held at campus sites (of the higher seed). The Raiders won the Tournament last year. 

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