Thursday's Conference Tournament Primer
LIU won at Sacred Heart by six (87-81) on January 5th and their meeting in Brooklyn was a wild 103-91 overtime track meet. The Blackbirds have a number of weapons on which to rely, led by NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd, but the first order of business for them on the defensive end will be to slow down Shane Gibson. Gibson ended the regular season with averaging 22.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, with the former number ranking fourth nationally and tops in the NEC.
According to Ken Pomeroy's numbers, Gibson is ninth nationally in offensive rating among players who have a possession percentage of 28% or higher. Simply put, when the Pioneers get the ball in his hands good things generally happen. Gibson accounted for 24 points, five steals and four assists in the meeting in Brooklyn, but while he's the feature option the junior guard is not the only player Dave Bike can call on.
Forward Justin Swidowski is averaging 11.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, putting up 23 and five against the Blackbirds. Swidowski clearly can be effective inside but he's going to need some help as LIU has not only Boyd but also Jamal Olasewere on which to rely in the paint. Both average at least 17 points per game with Boyd also leading the team with 9.7 caroms per contest, and despite having the ability to step out to the three-point line both shoot better than 50% from the field.
As a team LIU shoots 47.4% from the field, a number that is the best in the NEC. Sacred Heart isn't far behind as they make shots at a 45.9% clip, and with both regular season meetings being high-scoring affairs more of the same is to be expected. If Chris Evans, Evan Kelley and Luis Montes can raise their level of play on the perimeter Sacred Heart is capable of winning. But when you add in the likes of Jason Brickman and C.J. Garner for LIU it's going to be a tough task to say the least.
The one home team that did not manage to sweep their opponent during the regular season is Wagner, who opens tournament play with a visit from Central Connecticut State. The Blue Devils have three of the NEC's best scorers in Ken Horton, Robbie Ptacek and Kyle Vinales, and they did manage to beat Wagner 78-61 in New Britain in the regular season finale for both. The Seahawks, who have an ample supply of scorers themselves, got in trouble by shooting 5-for-24 from the field in the first half. A similar effort from Latif Rivers and company will get them beat again if they aren't careful.
Glen Braica's St. Francis (NY) squad limps into tournament play on a two-game losing streak, but they did sweep the regular season series with Quinnipiac, who they face in the 4/5 game. The second meeting was a 64-56 Terrier victory at QU, with Jalen Cannon leading a balanced offensive effort with 13 points while also pulling down 19 rebounds. QU guard James Johnson can light it up when he gets going, and Ike Azotam grabbed 15 boards in that game to lead the Bobcats.
And lastly three-seed Robert Morris hosts a Monmouth team that's turned some head in year one of the King Rice era. The Hawks have won three straight, most recently blowing out LIU 106-78 in the regular season finale, but they were swept by RMU during the regular season. Jesse Steele is the lone Monmouth player averaging double figures for what's been a balanced attack, and they have to be successful in slowing down Velton Jones if they're to have a chance to win at RMU.
Northeast - Quarterfinals
#8 Sacred Heart at #1 Long Island, 7:00 pm
#7 Central Connecticut at #2 Wagner, 7:00 pm
#6 Monmouth at #3 Robert Morris, 7:00 pm
#5 Quinnipiac at #4 St. Francis (NY), 7:00 pm
America East - First Round
#8 UMBC vs. #9 Binghamton, 8:15 p.m. (AE All-Access Live Video)
These two teams meet for the right to take on regular season champion Stony Brook on Friday and it's a safe assumption that regardless of who wins they'll be a decided underdog against the Seawolves. Binghamton won just one game all season, and that was a stunning home win over Vermont. UMBC won just four games this season but two of the wins came at the expense of Binghamton. There will be some solid players on display, as Chase Plummer (UMBC) and Robert Mansell (Binghamton) are the leading scorers for their respective teams.
Atlantic Sun - Quarterfinals
#4 ETSU vs. #5 North Florida, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
#3 USC Upstate vs. #6 FGCU, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
The other half of the A-Sun bracket will take the floor on Thursday, with a USC Upstate team that's won 20 games this season being the highest-seeded team. Torrey Craig was named league Player of the Year for his efforts, and he'll be a handful for Florida Gulf Coast to say the least. The Spartans won their most recent meeting 87-74, jumping out to a 46-24 halftime lead. Craig scored 30 points and grabbed nine boards and sidekick Ty Greene added 22 and six assists. Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson combined to score 44 points but Brown needed 23 shots to score his 24, and he has to be more efficient if the Eagles are to win.
In the other matchup ETSU looks to beat North Florida for the third time this season, and if the Bucs can force the Ospreys into 19 turnovers as they did in the second meeting that's definitely possible. UNF also didn't have an answer for Isiah Brown in the 65-50 result as he scored a game-high 27 points. Parker Smith led UNF with 17 points but no other Osprey scored more than seven, and that cannot happen again.
Big South - Semifinals
#7 VMI vs. #6 Winthrop, 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
#1 UNC Asheville vs. #4 Charleston Southern, 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
While chalk ruled in the top half of the Big South bracket both two-seed Coastal Carolina and three-seed Campbell fell on Wednesday. In theory that would clear the way for top-seed UNC Asheville, but theory doesn't always hold up especially in March. The backcourt tandem of Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm ranks among the best that doesn't end up on television every week, however one of their two league losses was a 93-88 defeat at home to Charleston Southern on January 19th. Arlon Harper and Saah Nimley scored a combined 48 points to lead the Buccaneers, matching the combined output of Dickey and Primm. If they can do that again don't be surprised if CSU pulls the upset.
VMI knocked down 14 three-pointers in their win over Coastal Carolina and there's no doubt that Stan Okoye and company can score. Winthrop forced 16 Campbell turnovers in their 71-55 win and Reggie Middleton was a tough cover on the other end, pacing the Eagles with 25 points. How they got to this point is of little concern to either VMI or Winthrop, as the winner will find themselves 40 minutes away from the NCAA tournament.
Missouri Valley - First Round
#8 Indiana State vs. #9 Southern Illinois, 7:00 p.m. (MVC TV)
#7 Drake vs. #10 Bradley, 9:30 p.m. (MVC TV)
The question for the four teams kicking off Arch Madness is a simple one: who is best capable of knocking off top seeds Wichita State and Creighton? That answer is a toss-up between Drake and Indiana State, with all due respect to SIU forward Mamadou Seck. Ben Simons and Rayvonte Rice can both put up some points for the Bulldogs while Jake Odum runs the show for the Sycamores. Those two should be the favorites to advance to Friday's quarterfinal round, although SIU did split the regular season series with ISU. Drake was able to sweep their two meetings with Bradley, beating the Braves by eight at home and by seven at Bradley.
Ohio Valley - Quarterfinals
#4 Tennessee Tech vs. #5 Southeast Missouri State, 6:00 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
#3 Morehead State vs. #7 Jacksonville State, 8:00 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
The two teams that played for the OVC crown last season look to begin a run at the title on Thursday as defending champ Morehead State and runner-up Tennessee Tech take the floor. Kevin Murphy has lit it up for Tech in conference play, and he's got a 50-point game to his credit to boot. Donnie Tyndall's Eagles won four of their last five games to end the regular season, but the loss of Terrance Hill did take some time to get used to on the offensive end of the floor. SEMO is more than capable of knocking off the Golden Eagles but they did drop the lone regular season meeting by 15, while Morehead and Jacksonville State split their two meetings with the visiting team winning both.
West Coast - Second Round
#5 San Francisco vs. #8 Portland, 9:00 p.m.
#6 San Diego vs. #7 Pepperdine, 11:00 p.m.
Of the four teams playing on Thursday night at Orleans Arena the Dons have the best shot of making some waves should they advance. Angelo Caloiaro is one of the better players in the WCC in regards to versatility and he's one of four San Francisco players averaging double figures in scoring. Eric Reveno's Pilots have had their issues on both ends of the floor, and the hope for Portland is that they play USF as they did in the second meeting (72-71 Dons win at Portland) as opposed to the first (104-70 loss at USF). San Diego won both of its meetings with Pepperdine this season, most recently beating the Waves 70-57 in Malibu on February 9th. Taylor Darby and Corbin Moore will have to take over if Pepperdine is to advance to play BYU on Friday.