Monday's Conference Tournament Primer
WCC: #1 Saint Mary's vs. #2 Gonzaga, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)
The top two teams in the WCC meet in Las Vegas, and it should be fun as the two teams don't care much for each other. Gonzaga won 11 straight WCC regular season titles before Saint Mary's grabbed this year's crown, and that should spice things up even more. Mark Few's Bulldogs played very well on Saturday night in their semifinal win over BYU, with Kevin Pangos going off for 30 points to lead the way. The Gaels had a little more trouble in their semifinal, as a talented San Francisco team gave them all they wanted before Randy Bennett's team pulled away late.
With second and third-round games being played in Portland this season, the winner of the WCC's automatic bid could lay claim to a protected seed there given the struggles of the Pac-12. Saint Mary's will look to counter Pangos with veteran point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who can also fill it up when left alone on the perimeter. He's been a constant for the Gaels in both meetings with the Bulldogs, which the two teams split with the home team winning both. The Australian averaged 23 points per game against Gonzaga this season, but the key for Saint Mary's will be how effective forward Rob Jones can be.
Jones scored just two points in the Saint Mary's win over Gonzaga, with the Gaels being able to withstand that thanks to 17 points and ten boards from redshirt freshman Brad Waldow. But in the 73-59 loss in Spokane, Jones and Waldow were kept in check on the glass (ten combined rebounds to 21 in the first meeting), and guard Stephen Holt went scoreless as well. Page is going to be a key figure on the perimeter tonight, because it's not just Pangos that the Gaels have to worry about.
Junior wing Guy Landry Edi has reached double figures in two of the last three games, most recently scoring 11 against BYU. The athleticism that both he and freshman Gary Bell have can make for tough matchups, especially when the Bulldogs can get out and run. Add in forwards Elias Harris and Robert Sacre, and Saint Mary's will have multiple areas they need to take care of in order to win. Pangos scored 27 points in the second meeting between the two but the contributions of those two can't be overlooked, as they combined for 22 points and 19 rebounds. Gonzaga's going to need more of the same if they're to take another title back to Spokane.
CAA: #1 Drexel vs. #2 VCU, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
When two teams with 27 wins apiece still aren't considered a lock for the NCAA tournament there's no real need to state just how important that title game may be. That's the situation that the top two seeds in the CAA find themselves in going into Monday's title game, because while both have the look of a tournament team on the court the resume is considered by some to be lacking when it comes to strength of schedule numbers. Drexel won the lone regular season meeting (64-58) but that game was played way back on January 8th, and both teams have improved a great deal since then.
Freshman Damion Lee has been outstanding for the Dragons, helping out the likes of Chris Fouch, Samme Givens and Frantz Massenat. VCU's youngsters have become more comfortable in their roles, as has senior wing Bradford Burgess. There will be a lot on the line and a nice contrast of styles as well, with the Rams looking to pressure all 94 feet and Bruiser Flint's squad playing a half-court defense befitting of his name. The winner won't have to spend the next six days worrying about their fate, while the loser may have to endure a few sleepless nights.
MAAC: #4 Fairfield vs. #2 Loyola (MD), 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Fairfield pulled off the upset of the tournament as they beat top-seed Iona in the semis, but even with Derek Needham out for the season (broken foot) was it really that big of an upset? Sydney Johnson's Stags are talented and they have depth, led by senior forwards Ryan Olander and Rakim Sanders. Houston transfer Desmond Wade has played well at the point, and a team that struggled to find its was under a first-year head coach early in the season has rounded into form at just the right time. As for Jimmy Patsos' Greyhounds, they've got depth as well and guard Dylon Cormier is one of the best players in the MAAC. Loyola also features the versatile Erik Etherly, Robert Olson and MAAC 6th Man of the Year Justin Drummond. Look for this one to be a tight affair as the two teams split their regular season meetings with the road team winning both.
MAC: # 12 Northern Illinois at # 5 Eastern Michigan, 7:00 p.m.
# 9 Ball State at # 8 Western Michigan, 7:00 p.m.
# 10 Miami at # 7 Toledo, 7:00 p.m.
# 11 Central Michigan at # 6 Bowling Green, 7:00 p.m.
The Mid-American Conference changed up their tournament format before the season, doing away with divisional seeding and giving the top two seeds byes to the semifinals. That means we won't see either Akron or Buffalo until Friday night, and six of the eight teams playing in the first round come from the West Division. Eastern Michigan was the lone team in the West to finish with a winning conference record, which is a testament to what first-year head coach Rob Murphy has been able to do with the program. But the second place team in the division, Toledo, needs to be careful with ten-seed Miami (OH), as forward Julian Mavunga ranks among the best players in the MAC. The four winners advance to Cleveland, but it's difficult to figure out if any of these teams can truly do some damage once they get there.
SoCon: #3N Western Carolina vs. #1S Davidson, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Western Carolina has won seven straight games, which makes them a dangerous foe for top-seed Davidson. However, Bob McKillop's team has been the class of the SoCon and with forwards Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks leading the way it's easy to see why. Harouna Mutombo leads four Catamounts in double figures with an average of 13.7 points per game, and that balance is going to be key if WCU is to have any shot at knocking off the Wildcats. Davidson won the lone regular season meeting 88-67, outscoring the Catamounts by 18 from beyond the arc and by 15 from the foul line. Those margins need to be close tonight.
Summit League: #1 Oral Roberts vs. #4 Western Illinois, 7:00 p.m.
#2 South Dakota State vs.#6 Southern Utah, 9:30 p.m.
Southern Utah is the lone team not in the top four to advance to the semis as they knocked off three-seed Oakland on Sunday night. The Thunderbirds now get to take on South Dakota State, who is led by guard Nate Wolters. Wolters handles his many responsibilities very well in leading the Jackrabbits, and if Southern Utah doesn't have an answer for him it's going to be a long night for them. SDSU averages just two more possessions per game but they're far more efficient, and they average 12 more points per game as well. In the first semi top-seed Oral Roberts takes on Western Illinois, a team they swept during the regular season but their win at WUI was by just one point. Dominique Morrison shot just 2-for-11 from the field in their quarterfinal on Saturday, but he did score 27 points in the first meeting between these two.
Sun Belt: #9 Arkansas State vs. #5 North Texas, 7:00 p.m. (Sun Belt Network - Summit Arena)
#3 Denver vs. #7 Western Kentucky, 9:30 p.m. (Sun Belt Network - Summit Arena)
Neither of the top two seeds reached the semis with both Middle Tennessee and UALR falling in Sunday's quarterfinals, which in theory opens the door for three-seed Denver. But given the nature of the Sun Belt tournament all that did was guarantee the Pioneers the right to wear their home whites the rest of the event. Joe Scott's Pioneers take on WKU in the second semifinal, and Ray Harper's Hilltoppers are playing well as they've won four straight. Guard Derrick Gordon is going to be a star in the Sun Belt, but the Hilltoppers dropped their lone meeting with Denver by 13 (78-65).
The first semifinal features North Texas, who more than a few people picked to win the conference tournament based on the presence of Tony Mitchell. Mitchell averages 14.8 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, and it's a safe assumption that the Missouri transfer will have Arkansas State's attention from the start. John Brady's Red Wolves knocked off top-seed Middle Tennessee, but they can struggle offensively.