Thursday's Conference Tournament Primer

March 8th, 2012

Big 12 - Quarterfinals
#4 Baylor vs. #5 Kansas State, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
#1 Kansas vs. #9 Texas A&M, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
#2 Missouri vs. #7 Oklahoma State, 7:00 p.m. (Big 12 Network)
#3 Iowa State vs. #6 Texas, 9:30 p.m. (Big 12 Network)

The most important game in the Big 12 has to be the final game of the day in Kansas City, as Texas could really use a win over Iowa State on their resume. Rick Barnes' Longhorns are either just in or just out based on which projections you follow, but a win over the Cyclones would get them to the semifinals and that may end up being enough to punch their ticket. What remains to be seen is how Texas will defend 6'8" Royce White, who has a forward's build but point guard skills...and responsibilities. The Minnesota transfer is called on by Fred Hoiberg to get things going for the likes of Scott Christopherson and Chris Allen, and Melvin Ejim is another dangerous option Texas will need to account for. 

As for Texas there's no secret that J'Covan Brown is their most important player, because when he plays well their young perimeter players can gradually work their way into the flow of the game. Point guard Myck Kabongo has matured throughout the course of the season, and while he's still got a way to go before reaching the status of former UT point guards such as T.J. Ford and D.J. Augustin the talent is definitely there. The key for Texas will be what they can get out of big men Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene, because if those two are productive in the paint the Longhorns are an entirely different team. That could prove to be difficult however given White's unique skill set, and Texas could have to go small to deal with him on the perimeter. 

Kansas and Missouri are both still part of the battle for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, and while that may be a longshot for the Tigers a Big 12 tournament title would go a long way in changing that. Marcus Denmon and Phil Pressey have been two of the best guards in the country this season, but they'll need Ricardo Ratliffe to stay out of foul trouble if they're to have success this weekend. The matchup with Oklahoma State may play right into Missouri's hands with Le'Bryan Nash injured and the Cowboys not always displaying the best decision-making. 

Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor will look to lead the Jayhawks to the tournament crown after winning the regular season title outright, but keep an eye on players such as Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey this weekend. The play of those two will be very important in the NCAA tournament, and if they can go in with some positive momentum that would be even better for Bill Self and his team. The 4/5 matchup kicks things off, and big men other than Quincy Acy are going to have to bring it physically if the Bears are to beat Kansas State. K-State on the other hand needs sound decisions from Angel Rodriguez, and he's been a work in progress in that area all season long.  

ACC - First Round

#8 Maryland vs. #9 Wake Forest, Noon (ESPNU/ACC Network)
#5 NC State vs. #12 Boston College, 2:00 p.m. (ESPNU/ACC Network
#7 Clemson vs. #10 Virginia Tech, 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU/ACC Network)
#6 Miami vs. #11 Georgia Tech, 9:00 p.m. (ESPNU/ACC Network)

Just like in the Big 12 the bubble teams will be the ones to watch in Atlanta, with NC State and Miami both needing to do some work in order to have their names called on Selection Sunday. That four-game skid that NC State hit, beginning with their tough loss at Duke, could be what ultimately sends Mark Gottfried's team to the NIT, but with talented players such as Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie and Scott Wood the Wolfpack are more than capable of winning a couple games (a depleted Virginia awaits the winner of their game in the quarterfinals).

As for Miami they likely have less work to do than NC State despite finishing beneath them in the standings, and while they play Georgia Tech don't expect much of a home-court advantage for the Yellow Jackets. Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji make up a solid interior tandem, and with thei talented guards the Canes don't lack for pieces. A win over the Jackets would mean a third meeting with Florida State, and their half of the bracket looks more conducive to a run to the finals due to State's matchup issues with North Carolina. 

Big East - Quarterfinals
#1 Syracuse vs. #9 Connecticut, Noon (ESPN)
#4 Cincinnati vs. #5 Georgetown, 2:00 p.m. (ESPN)
#2 Marquette vs. #7 Louisville, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
#3 Notre Dame vs. #6 USF, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)  

Seven of the top eight seeds will take part in the Big East quarters, with nine-seed UConn being the "party-crasher" in that regard. The Huskies, according to many, punched their ticket with a win over West Virginia on Wednesday, but until their name is actually called on Sunday the best strategy would be to simply keep winning. Syracuse swept the regular season series, winning by two in Storrs, and with their many weapons Jim Boeheim's team is also one of the two clear favorites to make a run all the way to New Orleans. Shabazz Napier has to make sound decisions with the basketball if UConn is to win; they're not going to get away with the same number of mistakes that they did against DePaul and WVU.

The only teams on the slate who may still have work to do: Cincinnati and USF. Mick Cronin's Bearcats should be an NCAA tournament team but it's difficult to tell just how much emphasis the selection committee will place on a team's computer numbers, so the best move for Cincinnati would be to go out and beat Georgetown. As for USF, a win over Notre Dame would give them the win over a top-level Big East team that their resume is missing, and with Notre Dame also preferring to slow things down the final game of the night may not surpass 60 possessions. Anthony Collins is going to be key on both ends of the floor, as in addition to running the offense he'll have to slow down Eric Atkins.

Big Ten - First Round
#8 Iowa vs. #9 Illinois, 11:30 a.m. (BTN)
#5 Indiana vs. #12 Penn State, 1:55 p.m. (BTN)
#7 Northwestern vs. #10 Minnesota, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
#6 Purdue vs. #11 Nebraska 7:55 p.m. (ESPN2) 

With Purdue most likely in the Field of 68 and Illinois not looking like a tournament team at this point, most of the attention on day one in Indianapols will focus on Northwestern. Bill Carmody's Wildcats are still in search of the first NCAA berth in school history, and wings Drew Crawford and John Shurna are more than capable of getting hot and leading the Wildcats on a run. But they first have to get past Minnesota, who is wrapping up a season that really hasn't lived up to what many were hoping for even with Trevor Mbakwe going down with a torn ACL. Ralph Sampson III is banged up and if he can't go that limits the Golden Gophers even more when it comes to frontcourt depth. Iowa/Illinois looks to be a toss-up, and that fact is why Bruce Weber's seat is scalding at this point. Matt Gatens is a tough matchup, and if the Hawkeyes can get Melsahn Basabe going inside it could be them who faces top-seed Michigan State on Friday.

Big West - Quarterfinals
#3 UC Santa Barbara vs. #6 Pacific, 3:00 p.m. (BigWest.TV)
#2 Cal State Fullerton vs. #7 UC Irvine, 5:30 p.m. (BigWest.TV)
#1 Long Beach State vs. #8 UC Davis, 9:00 p.m. (BigWest.TV)
#4 Cal Poly vs. #5 UC Riverside, 11:30 p.m. (BigWest.TV)  

The concern for top-seed Long Beach State isn't so much what will happen against UC Davis today but rather the remainder of the weekend as wing Larry Anderson will miss the conference tournament with a sprained knee suffered in their loss at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday. To lose a player of Anderson's caliber is a huge issue, especially when considering the fact that he's the Big West Defensive Player of the Year. Dan Monson's 49ers don't lack for talent with Casper Ware and T.J. Robinson leading the way, but it will be a tough adjustment throughout the weekend from a defensive standpoint.

UCSB has won the last two Big West tournament crowns, and with Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally the Gauchos are definitely capable of making it three straight, and Fullerton has done a very good job all season with their transfers being more than ready to take over. Johnson and Fullerton's Kwame Vaughn are the two players not at LBSU with the best chance of taking over in Anaheim, but keep an eye on UC Riverside's Phil Martin as well. 

Conference USA - Quarterfinals

#2 Southern Miss vs. #10 East Carolina, 1:00 p.m. (CBS SN)
#3 Tulsa vs. #6 Marshall, 3:30 p.m. (CBS SN)
#1 Memphis vs. #8 UTEP, 7:30 p.m. (CBS SN)
#4 UCF vs. #5 UAB, 10:00 p.m. (CBS SN)  

The day in Memphis appropriately tips off with Southern Miss, who despite their gaudy record still needs a strong conference tournament to feel comfortable with their NCAA tournament hopes. Larry Eustachy's team has very good computer numbers (17 RPI, 60 SOS) but there have been questions about the validity of those numbers. Whether or not that's fair is a conversation for another day, but the least that Neil Watson and company can do is simply keep winning. UCF likely needs to win the automatic bid, or at the very least reach Saturday's title game, to get to the Big Dance and the individual battle between Keith Clanton and UAB's Cameron Moore will go a long way in determining the outcome. Memphis takes on UTEP, and given the Miners' struggles on the offensive end of the floor the Tigers should advance provided Joe Jackson stays under control. 

Great West - First Round

#5 Houston Baptist vs. #4 NJIT, 3:30 p.m. 
The winner of the Great West Tournament gets an automatic bid to the CIT, and top seed Utah Valley is the favorite to get that done. The Wolverines take on the winner of HBU/NJIT, and the tandem of Chris Flores and Isaiah Wilkerson will need to play well if the Highlanders are to advance. Marcus Davis leads the way for Houston Baptist, and with the two teams splitting the regular season series it's anyone's guess as to who wins. 

MAC - Quarterfinals

#8 Western Michigan vs. # 4 Kent State, 7:00 p.m. (STO)
#7 Toledo vs. # 3 Ohio, 9:30 p.m. (STO)  

Ohio and Kent State make their debuts at the 2012 edition MAC tournament tonight, as they take on Toledo and Western Michigan respectively. The top four seeds all hail from the East Division, which underlines how much better it was than the West throughout the course of the season. D.J. Cooper has led the way at the point for John Groce's Bobcats, and his presence along with that of other key scoring options means that Ohio winning the tournament wouldn't be a shock. The same can be said for Rob Senderoff's Golden Flashes, who have four players averaging at least 9.8 points per game with Justin Greene leading the way. Akron and Buffalo await the winners in Friday's semifinals.

MEAC - Quarterfinals
#3 Delaware State vs. #11 Florida A&M, 6:00 p.m.
#5 North Carolina Central vs. #4 Bethune-Cookman, 8:00 p.m.  

With top-seed Savannah State going down on Wednesday things have opened up at the top of the bracket, something that both Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central hope to take advantage of. NCCU is led by the tandem of Dominique Sutton and Ray Willis, as they're averaging 31.4 points per game. Guards Adrien Coleman and Kevin Dukes pace the Wildcats, who are also capable of not just winning tonight but getting to the NCAA tournament. On the other side of the bracket Delaware State and Florida A&M meet with the winner taking on Norfolk State tomorrow night, and the Hornets haven't disappointed in the suspense department this season. Don't be surprised if tonight's game goes down to the wire as well.

Mountain West - Quarterfinals
#1 San Diego State vs. #8 Boise State, 3:00 p.m. (The Mtn.)
#4 Colorado State vs. #5 TCU, 5:30 p.m. (The Mtn./CBS SN)
#2 New Mexico vs. #7 Air Force 9:00 p.m. (The Mtn.)
#3 UNLV vs. #6 Wyoming 11:30 p.m. (The Mtn./CBS SN) 

The Mountain West has the look of a four-bid league at this point, but could there be a fifth team with the ability to pop up and grab the automatic bid? If so, TCU may be that team provided they take some of their mojo from Daniel Meyer Arena with them to Las Vegas. The Horned Frogs lost just one home conference game this season (SDSU), and with point guard Hank Thorns they have the best distributor in the conference. Their 4/5 battle with Colorado State should be highly entertaining given the caliber of CSU's guards, and while the Frogs have a little more size inside a lack of it hasn't prevented Pierce Hornung from out-toughing the opposition many times this season. SDSU, New Mexico and host UNLV are all playing to improve their NCAA tournament seeding, which should make for great semifinal action on Friday provided they all advance.

Pac-12 - Quarterfinals
#9 Oregon State vs. #1 Washington, 3:10 p.m. (FSN)
#5 UCLA vs. #4 Arizona, 5:40 p.m. (FSN)
#7 Stanford vs. #2 California, 9:10 p.m. (FSN)
#6 Colorado vs. #3 Oregon, 11:40 p.m. (FSN)  

Thanks to Wednesday's action there's a new record for the teams to avoid: 94 points, as in the lowest combined point total in a Pac-12 tournament game (Colorado/Utah did that just hours after UCLA/USC established a "new" mark of 95 points). That's the way this season has gone for the conference, which will need some excellent basketball for its NCAA prospects. Washington won the regular season title and Cal has the best resume, but the Huskies would be well-served to not get bounced by Oregon State. Arizona suspended Josiah Turner for the tournament and UCLA had to bench Joshua Smith for the first half on Wednesday due to his tardiness in getting to the team bus. Colorado may have been poor offensively but both of their games with Oregon have been exciting contests that didn't lack for scoring. Any one of these teams can grab the automatic bid at this point, and that parity's been a bit of a curse for the Pac-12 this season.

SEC - First Round
#8 LSU vs. #9 Arkansas, 1:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
#5 Alabama vs. #12 South Carolina, 3:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
#7 Ole Miss vs. #10 Auburn, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
#6 Mississippi State vs. #11 Georgia, 10:00 p.m. (SEC Network)  

Seeds five through seven have the most on the line today in New Orleans, with the Crimson Tide looking to be the safest bet to go dancing. Mississippi State has faltered down the stretch and despite their individual talent it remains to be seen if they've got the mental toughness (and focus) required to turn things around. And while Ole Miss hasn't been discussed a great deal nationally in regards to the NCAA tournament bubble, Andy Kennedy's Rebels are still alive and a good showing this weekend could punch their ticket. Ole Miss also suspended Jelan Kendrick for the weekend due to his, shall we say interesting, actions before the Rebels' regular season finale. The key players today: Alabama's Trevor Releford and Mississippi State's Dee Bost. Those two play well and their teams will win; don't and both the Tide and Bulldogs will be headed home.

SWAC - Quarterfinals
#3 Prairie View A&M vs. #6 Alcorn State, 1:30 p.m. (SWAC TV)
#4 Alabama State vs. #5 UAPB, 9:00 p.m. (SWAC TV)

Top-seed Mississippi Valley State avoided disaster last night, advancing to the semis with a three-point win over Jackson State. Both they and texas Southern await the winners of today's quarterfinals, which begins with Prairie View A&M battling Alcorn State. Prairie View won by three in their last meeting...five days ago, with Jordan Demuynck going off for 27 points to lead the Panthers. Alabama State and UAPB both finished 9-9 in conference play, which makes it anyone's guess as to who wins tonight. 


WAC - Quarterfinals

#3 Idaho vs. #6 Hawai'i, 3:00 p.m.
#2 New Mexico State vs. #7 Fresno State, 5:30 p.m.
#1 Nevada vs. #8 San Jose State, 9:00 p.m.
#4 Utah State vs. #5 Louisiana Tech, 11:30 p.m.

There are two conference tournaments in Las Vegas this weekend with the WAC taking over Orleans Arena this weekend. Nevada has been the best team all season long in the WAC but that would all be for naught if they were to get upset. New Mexico State is the team best equipped to grab the automatic bid if the Wolf Pack don't thanks to Wendell McKines, and Idaho handed Nevada their lone conference loss this season. As for the disappointing team that may be capable of making a run look no furthern than Hawai'i, who can call on Vander Joaquim and Joston Thomas inside.