Friday's Conference Tournament Primer

March 2nd, 2012
Friday will be a busy night in regards to conference tournaments, with eight leagues paring down their respective fields. But there's no team on the slate more in need of a win than BYU, who takes on six-seed San Diego in the second quarterfinal of the night. The uncertainty that surrounds forward Noah Hartsock's knee injury doesn't help matters for Dave Rose's team, but whether or not he's able to play the Cougars need to avoid a misstep agains the Toreros.

Johnny Dee went off on Pepperdine on Thursday night, scoring 30 points to lead San Diego to the 76-54 win. As a team Bill Grier's squad shot 56.3% from the field against the Waves while turning the ball over just nine times. The Toreros will have to duplicate that performance if they're to have a shot at knocking off a BYU team that beat them twice during the regular season, and neither meeting was all that close.

BYU won 88-52 in Provo and 82-63 in San Diego, with the meeting at Jenny Craig Pavilion being the more recent of the two. BYU dominated the battle on the glass, out-rebounding USB 46-28 with an offensive rebounding percentage of 41.7%. And in that contest BYU didn't get much from Hartsock, but the triumvirate of Charles Abouo, Brandon Davies and Brock Zylstra grabbed a combined 26 rebounds. Six of Davies' 12 rebounds were of the offensive variety, and if that happens again the third meeting will end up like the first two.

Two things will need to happen if the Toreros are to knock off BYU: they're all going to need to step up on the boards to help out Dennis Kramer and Chris Manresa on the glass, and freshman point guard Chris Anderson will have to "win" the matchup with BYU's Matt Carlino. Anderson's gotten better as the season's worn on, which is something a team would hope for from its freshmen.

BYU still may have some work to do in regards to reaching the NCAA tournament, and to do so would at the very least require a third meeting with Gonzaga, which is what awaits the winner. Dave Rose's team would be pushing their luck if they weren't the Bulldogs' opponent on Saturday night.

In the first quarterfinal in Las Vegas the four and five seeds meet, with the winner becoming a serious threat to snatch the WCC's automatic bid. Max Good's team was 7-1 in conference games away from home, and with Anthony Ireland and Drew Viney the Lions have two of the league's better players.

But it isn't as if Rex Walters' Dons lack talent, as they're led by Angelo Caloiaro and Perris Blackwell. Four Dons average double figures, and these two teams have played two high-scoring thrilled with LMU winning both. The winner gets Saint Mary's, and there's no reason why neither can knock off the Gaels and advance to the title game as well.

WCC - Quarterfinals
#4 Loyola Marymount vs. #5 San Francisco, 9:00 p.m. (BYUtv)
#3 BYU vs. #6 San Diego, 11:00 p.m. (BYUtv)

Atlantic Sun - Semifinals
#1 Belmont vs. #4 ETSU, 6:00 p.m. (ASun TV/CSS)
#2 Mercer vs. #6 FGCU, 8:30 p.m. (ASun TV/CSS)

Three of the top four seeds made it through to the semifinals of the A-Sun tournament, but losing five of their last six to end the regular season didn't stop six-seed FGCU from knocking off USC Upstate 71-61. Chris Varidel led five Eagles in double figures with 14 points off the bench, and FGCU managed to score 50 points in the second half. They'll take on host Mercer, who swept the regular season series and limited the Eagles to 37% shooting in the second meeting. Langston Hall scored a game-high 20 points in the 75-66 Mercer victory at FGCU, and three others scored ten apiece for the Bears.

In the other semifinal regular season champion Belmont takes on ETSU, a team the Bruins beat twice by double digits this year. Kerron Johnson has played well on the perimeter and big men Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders make up a formidable tandem in the paint for Rick Byrd's squad. The Bucs will need big games from Isiah Brown and Adam Sollazzo if they're to knock off the defending champs but it can be done.

Colonial - First Round
#8 James Madison vs. #9 UNCW, Noon
#5 Delaware vs. #12 Towson, 2:30 p.m.
#7 Northeastern vs. #10 William & Mary, 6 p.m.
#6 Georgia State vs. #11 Hosftra, 8:30 p.m.

First Round Preview by Robert Canady

Horizon - Quarterfinals
#6 Youngstown State vs. #3 Detroit, 6 p.m. (Horizon League Network/ESPN3)
#5 Butler vs. #4 Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m. (Horizon League Network/ESPN3)

Play resumes in the Horizon League with a pair of games to be played at Valparaiso, with the winners moving on to face the regular season champion Crusaders and two-seed Cleveland State. Butler will be the focus of many given their recent tournament history, but they've got a tough matchup on their hands in the form of the Milwaukee Panthers. These two teams split a pair of physical contests during the regular season with the home team winning both and neither scoring more than 54 points in either game. Milwaukee limited Butler to 20% shooting in the second half of their 53-42 win on January 26th, but the improved play of Andrew Smith inside is something to keep an eye on.

Milwaukee has three starters averaging between 10.7 and 11.1 points per game with Tony Meier leading the way while Smith is the lone Butler player averaging double figures. The first quarterfinal should be interesing given the Penguins' reliance on the three-point shot, and while Detroit didn't make good on the many predictions that they would win the league there's still more than enough talent needed to make a run at the league's automatic bid. Youngstown State has four players averaging at least 10.2 points per game with Kendrick Perry leading the way at 16.8. Detroit won 76-74 in the regular season finale for both last Saturday.   

Metro Atlantic - First Round
#8 Marist vs. #9 Saint Peter's, 7:30 p.m.
#7 Niagara vs. #10 Canisius, 9:30 p.m.

"MAACachusetts" (their word, not mine) gets underway with a pair of games in Springfield, and while it will be interesting to see how the tournament fares in a truly neutral environment from an attendance standpoint there will be good basketball to watch as well. Rivals Niagara and Canisius meet in the second half of the doubleheader, and with the Golden Griffins lacking the depth needed to be successful throughout the regular season maybe they can salvage something in Springfield. But they're going to have their hands full with NU freshmen Juan'ya Green and Antoine Mason, both of whom made the All-Rookie Team with Green winning Rookie of the Year. In the other first round matchup Marist, who has a very good freshman of their own in Chavaughn Lewis, takes on a young Saint Peter's squad that took their share of defeats as well. The Red Foxes swept the season series, winning the most recent meeting by 19 in Poughkeepsie on February 9th. 

Missouri Valley - Quarterfinals
#1 Wichita State vs. #8 Indiana State, 1:00 p.m. (MVC TV)
#4 Illinois State vs. #5 Northern Iowa, 3:30 p.m. (MVC TV)
#2 Creighton vs. #7 Drake, 7:00 p.m. (MVC TV)
#3 Evansville #6 Missouri State, 9:30 p.m. (MVC TV)

"Arch Madness" moves on to the quarterfinals, and while the top two seeds can be knocked off the 4/5 and 3/6 games will likely offer more intrigue. The four teams in those two contests all finished 9-9 in MVC play, and the battle between Evansville and Missouri State features two of the Valley's best players in UE's Colt Ryan and Missouri State's Kyle Weems. Ryan averages 20.5 points per game while the versatile Weems leads the Bears in both scoring and rebounding, but the Purple Aces won both regular season meetings by five points. As for the Panthers and Redbirds, they split their two meetings with the home team winning both.

Ben Jacobson's Panthers can defend with anyone and they limited Illinois State to an average of 64 points per game in the two contests. UNI knocked down 12 of 21 three-pointers in their 78-63 win over the Redbirds on February 11th, with Johnny Moran knocking down four of his six attempts. ISU has a very good interior player in Jackie Carmichael, and he can be a problem for the Panthers in the paint if their bigs don't limit the number of quality touches he gets.   

Ohio Valley - Semifinals
#1 Murray State vs. #4 Tennessee Tech, 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
#2 Tennessee State vs. #3 Morehead State, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

The top two teams in the OVC finally take the court with just one win separating them from the title game. All eyes from a national standpoint will be on the Racers, who have done enough to merit an at-large bid should they need one. Isaiah Canaan and Donte Pool have been the best guard tandem in the OVC this season but they're in for a challenge as Kevin Murphy and Jud Dillard can light it up as well. Murphy and Dillard average a combined 38.7 points per game for the Golden Eagles, who lost both regular season meetings with the Racers. 

The second semifinal features the lone team to have beaten Murray State in league play as Tennessee State takes on three-seed Morehead State. The Tigers and Eagles played just once in the regular season, with Tennessee State knocking down 13 three-pointers in their 77-72 victory. Robert Covington has been outstanding for Tennessee State this season and Morehead State had no answer for him as he scored 30 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the January meeting. Ty Proffitt runs the show for Morehead State but he has to keep the turnovers down (five in the regular season meeting) if the Eagles are to win. 

Southern - First Round
#4S College of Charleston vs. #5N Appalachian State, 11:30 a.m.
#3N Western Carolina vs. #6S The Citadel, 2:00 p.m.
#4N Samford vs. #5S Furman, 6:00 p.m.
#3S Georgia Southern vs. #6N Chattanooga, 8:30 p.m.

The SoCon tournament tips off with four games, beginning with Charleston taking on Appalachian State. The South Division has been stronger for quite some time and that was no different this season, so the expectation would be that teams such as the Cougars and Georgia Southern will take care of business and advance to the quarterfinals. Samford and Furman met just 13 days ago with the Bulldogs winning 55-49, limiting the Paladins to 34.6% shooting from the field. One issue for Furman was that they resorted to firing away from beyond the arc, and when you shoot 6-for-29 as they did that's a problem. Drew Windler led Samford with 18 points off the bench in that meeting. 

Conference play can be an opportunity for teams who have disappointed to make one final run, and that's what John Shulman's Chattanooga Mocs should use as motivation. The Mocs were the pick of many to at least win the North Division and yet they finished last in the division. Redeeming themselves will be tough however as Georgia Southern went 12-6 in conference play. Charlton Young's Eagles dropped their final two regular season games (Charleston and Davidson) and the beat the Mocs by just three points (75-72) in their lone meeting, so maybe Chattanooga can pull off the upset.