Saturday's Conference Tournament Primer

    
March 10th, 2012

Pac-12 - Title Game
#4 Arizona vs. #6 Colorado, 6:10 p.m. (CBS) 

With Selection Sunday just a day away, one of the big questions out there is how the selection committee will deal with the Pac-12. The league that's underachieved in historic fashion this season will get at least one team into the field (since that's the rule), but how many more? Regular season champion Washington and runner-up California have both been eliminated, leaving them at the mercy of the committee. The best thing for a team to do is make sure they remain in control of their own fate, which is what Arizona and Colorado have done by reaching the conference title game. 

Colorado, in their first season in the Pac-12, has exceeded all expectations and that's that a credit to the job that Tad Boyle has done. Picked to finish in a tie for tenth in October, the Buffaloes managed to win 11 league games despite some major personnel losses and now sit one game away from their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003. A balanced effort, with four players reaching double figures, is what got them past Cal on Friday night and a similar performance will be needed if they're to beat Arizona. 

As for the Wildcats they've reached the final despite having to suspend point guard Josiah Turner, but to be fair was the personnel loss that big? Sean Miller's team may not have a "perfect" option at the point but they've got some versatile guys who can help with the duties. Nick Johnson has played some point as has Jordin Mayes, and senior Kyle Foog has been a "jack of all trades" kind of player on the perimeter. Add in forwards Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill and you've got a solid nucleus than can give opposing teams fits.

The home team won both of the regular season meetings, with Arizona putting forth the better performance in their victory than CU did in theirs. If Carlon Brown can continue his solid play for one more game the Buffs are more than capable of winning and grabbing that automatic bid, and forward Andre Roberson is a warrior on the glass. Last year's game went down to the wire, with Washington's Isaiah Thomas providing a moment that few will ever forget. With there not being much separating Arizona and Colorado we could be headed towards a similar finish today.     


America East - Title Game

#2 Vermont at #1 Stony Brook, 11:02 a.m. (ESPN2)

The top two seeds in America East meet for a trip to the NCAA tournament, and it's interesting that Vermont's loss to Binghamton ended up being the difference. The home team won both meetings, and in a tight gym like Stony Brook's the Seawolves likely hold an advantage there. But with Matt Glass and Four McGlynn among other players, the Catamounts are more than capable of leaving Long Island with the title. For Stony Brook they need a good day at the point from Bryan Dougher, but he's going to have his hands full with Sandro Carissimo being one of the conference's best on-ball defenders. 

ACC - Semifinals
#1 North Carolina vs. #5 NC State, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN/ACC Network)
#2 Duke vs. #3 Florida State, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN/ACC Network)  

The team with the most to gain in Atlanta is NC State, who may have sealed their trip to the NCAA tournament with their win over Virginia on Friday afternoon. But a win over the Tar Heels, who may not have John Henson (wrist), would be quite the achievement due not only to their NCAA hopes but also he fact that Carolina won both regular season meetings by comfortable margins. In game two it's the rematch of a thriller at Cameron, won by the Seminoles on a Michael Snaer three as time expired (Duke did win the return meeting in Tallahassee).

Florida State's coming off one of the best offensive performances of the season, turning the ball over just 11 times and finishing their win over Miami with an efficiency of 122.1. Ian Miller and company will need to take care of the ball against Duke if they're to win, and with Ryan Kelly out this weekend the Seminole big men will have an edge from a depth standpoint.

Atlantic 10 - Semifinals
#8 Massachusetts vs. #4 St. Bonaventure, 1:00pm (CBS SN)
#2 Saint Louis vs. #3 Xavier, 3:30pm (CBS SN)  

Xavier may be in following their win over Dayton last night but why leave anything to chance? In order to reach Sunday's final they're going to have to beat Saint Louis, who is one of the most disciplined teams in America. Rick Majerus has done an outstanding job with the Billikens, and players such as Brian Conklin and Kwamain Mitchell have played well all year long. In the first semifinal it's UMass and St. Bonaventure, which should provide an interesting contrast in styles. Point guard Chaz Williams has been outstanding for the Minutemen, and the same goes for the Bonnies' Andrew Nicholson. If St. Bonaventure can take care of the ball and not end up in a track meet, which is what UMass wants, they'd likely be the favorite to advance.

Big 12 - Title Game
#4 Baylor vs. #2 Missouri, 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)  

Both teams have a lot to gain from this one. Baylor, who knocked off Kansas on Friday night, could pick up wins over the top two teams in the conference in consecutive days and that would be quite some confidence boost heading into the Big Dance. As for the Tigers, a win could put them in line for a one-seed if not at the very least having their road to the Final Four goiing through St. Louis. A.J. Walton has been a bit of an unsung hero for the Bears this week, and they're going to need more of the same from him against Missouri's talented backcourt. And it's safe to say that Marcus Denmon is going 0-for-10 as he did in the Tigers' win over Texas. 

Big East - Title Game
#4 Cincinnati vs. #7 Louisville, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN) 

Despite their shared history throughout the years, this is just the second time that the Bearcats and Cardinals have met in a conference tournament final (1981 as members of the Metro Conference). The transformation made by Mick Cronin's team throughout the season has been something else, and with the Bearcats playing as they are a Big East title is definitely possible. The same goes for Louisville with point guard Peyton Siva playing as well as he has in New York. One more solid performance from Yancy Gates could be enough to push Cincinnati to the Big East title, but he'll have his hands full with Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng. Look for this one to go right down to the wire.

Big Ten - Semifinals
#1 Michigan State vs. #4 Wisconsin, 1:40 p.m. (CBS)
#3 Michigan vs. #2 Ohio State, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)  

The top four seeds all advanced to the semifinals for the first time in the history of the Big Ten tournament and neither matchup should disappoint. Michigan State swept the regular season series with the Badgers, and as it's been pointed out the 2000 national champions beat the Badgers four times on their way to the title. That's going to be far easier said than done this time around, especially with Rob Wilson playing his best basketball at just the right time. In game two Ohio State and Michigan meet for the third time, with the home team winning both meetings. Jared Sullinger was outstanding in the Buckeyes' win over Purdue and the same goes for Michigan's Trey Burke in their win over Minnesota.

Big West - Title Game
#1 Long Beach State, #3 UCSB, 10:00 pm (ESPN2) 

Remains to be seen whether or not the 49ers can grab an at-large bid, but at the very least they'd want to win this one for pride. UCSB has won the last two Big West tournaments, and with Orlando Johnson a third is possible. 


Conference USA - Title Game

#6 Marshall vs. #1 Memphis, 11:35 a.m. (CBS)  

A Memphis win could make C-USA a two-bid league with Southern Miss being the other team. Should Marshall win, the league is likely looking at three bids. Bubble team will be tuned into this one. Will Barton's played at an All-America level this season, and Marshall's got an experienced group led by Damier Pitts and DeAndre Kane.

Great West - Title Game
#4 NJIT vs. #2 North Dakota, 5:00 p.m.  

The winner gets an automatic berth to the CIT, and with North Dakota having won the league last season they'll likely be motivated by the prospects of a repeat. NJIT brings Chris Flores and Isaiah Wilkerson to the table, and a tournament title would be quite the achievement for a program just a few years removed from one of the longest losing streaks in Division I history.

MAC - Title Game
#1 Akron vs. #3 Ohio, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN2) 

The winner goes to the Big Dance while the loser is likely NIT-bound. Zeke Marshall has played well for Akron and the same goes for Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper. Keith Dambrot's team won the regular season title but the Bobcats are more than capable of knocking them off, evidenced by their resounding win over the Zips in Athens just a couple weeks ago.

MEAC - Title Game
#4 Bethune-Cookman vs. #2 Norfolk State, 1:00 PM (ESPN2)  

Regular season champ Savannah State may not be here but the team many expected to win the conference, Norfolk State, is. Kyle O'Quinn is a force inside for the Spartans, and BCC is going to need to account for him if they're to win. On the other side Clifford Reed has relied on a balanced attack, with Adrien Coleman and Kevin Dukes leading four players in double figures with an average of 11.5 points per game.

Mountain West - Title Game
#1 San Diego State vs. #2 New Mexico, 7:00 p.m.(NBC SN)  

The top two seeds in the Mountain West meet for the third time this season, with the road teams winning both meetings. UNM's victory came during their huge week that also included a resounding home win over UNLV. The key for SDSU defensively is simple yet difficult to carry out: keep Drew Gordon from consistently establishing position in the paint. Tim Shelton, Garrett Green and DeShawn Stephens will be key in this regard. UNM's going to need their guard to play well given the fact that the Aztecs lean on MWC Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. Demetrius Walker has played well off the bench for the Lobos, averaging 15.5 points per game off the bench this week.

SEC - Semifinals
#1 Kentucky vs. #4 Florida, 1:00 p.m. (ABC)
#7 Ole Miss vs. #3 Vanderbilt, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)  

Similar to NC State in the ACC tournament there's one team with a lot to gain and three others who have a good idea where they're headed. Ole Miss moved a step closer to an NCAA berth on Friday night with their win over Tennessee, and a win over Vanderbilt this afternoon would likely put them into the field. Game one is all about confidence, as Kentucky won both regular season meetings by solid margins. If Florida can win that would be quite a boost for Billy Donovan's team, but he's going to need solid play from Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker in order to get the desired result.

Southland - Title Game
#3 Lamar vs. #4 McNeese St., 3:00 p.m. (ESPN2)  

Much was made of Pat Knight's scathing critique of his senior class, but the fact of the matter is that Lamar hasn't lost a game since. Senior Mike James can score with the best of them provided he exercises good shot selection, and he'll need to do so against a McNeese State team that knocked off top-seed UT Arlington in Thursday's semifinals.

SWAC - Title Game
#2 Texas Southern vs. #1 Mississippi Valley State, 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU)  

The top two seeds meet but there's quite the gap between the Delta Devils and Texas Southern, who would be the three seed had Southern been eligible to compete. Paul Crosby and Cor-J Cox lead the way for MVSU, who dominated the SWAC and play a style similar to what their head coach (Sean Woods) played under Rick Pitino at Kentucky. It would be a major surprise if Mississippi Valley State didn't win this one.

WAC - Title Game
#2 New Mexico State vs. #5 Louisiana Tech, Midnight (ESPN2)  

Louisiana Tech pulled off the upset of the night on Friday as they knocked off top-seed Nevada, possibly relegating the Wolf Pack to the NIT. Next up is two-seed New Mexico State, who features Wendell McKines and freshman Daniel Mullings has played good basketball over the last month. The key for Marvin Menzies' team: no mental letdown. One would think that they came into the weekend expecting another shot at Nevada, but they can ill-afford to go into the game underestimating Louisiana Tech.