Tuesday's Conference Tournament Primer

March 6th, 2012

While there's plenty of conference tournament action on Tuesday's schedule, and three bids to be distributed, there's also a huge game in the Ivy League as Penn (19-11, 11-2) visits rival Princeton (18-11, 9-4). What's on the line for the Quakers? A share of the Ivy League title with Harvard, which would force a one-game playoff between the two teams at a site to be determined. Jerome Allen's Quakers are led by the outstanding senior guard triumvirate of Zack Rosen, Tyler Bernardini and Miles Cartwright, with Rosen being the likely choice for Ivy League Player of the Year. 

Rosen (18.5 ppg, 5.3 apg) has scored 20 points or more in four of Penn's last six games, and in Penn's 82-67 win over Princeton back on January 30th he scored 28 and dished out five assists. Job one for any team taking on Penn is to limit Rosen's impact on the game, but that's a task that's far easier said than done. And in most instances this season it's fallen short. Bernardini had to deal with foul trouble in that game yet still managed to score 14 points in 25 minutes, and the Quakers will need him to snap out of his current slump tonight if they're to force a playoff. 

While Penn's won seven straight it isn't as if the Tigers come in playing poorly, as they've won seven of their last eight. Forward Ian Hummer's been a critical factor all season long for Mitch Henderson, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding and ranking second on the team with three assists per game. Hummer's a versatile forward who can be a difficult matchup for teams, and he combined with center Brendan Connolly to score 36 points in the first meeting (21 for Hummer).

Those two got their points but rebounding was a problem at the Palestra, as Penn grabbed 13 offensive boards and out-rebounded the Tigers 33-19. Pretty easy to figure out what Princeton needs to change from that first meeting if they're to defend their home floor. Princeton also has senior Douglas Davis in the backcourt, who averages 13.0 points per game, and point guard T.J. Bray has proven himself to be effective as both a distributor (3.6 apg) and a rebounder (4.5 rpg) at his position. If Penn wins the battle on the glass and shoots 10-for-18 from three as they did at The Palestra, there will likely be a playoff this weekend. But with Princeton playing better now than they were at the end of January, look for the rematch to be a 40-minute dogfight.   

Atlantic 10 - First Round
#9 Duquesne at #8 Massachusetts, 7:00 p.m.
#12 Charlotte at #5 Saint Joseph's, 7:00 p.m.
#10 Richmond at #7 La Salle, 7:00 p.m.
#11 George Washington at #6 Dayton, 7:00 p.m.

The four winners will advance to the quarterfinals in Atlantic City, where the top four seeds await. Tonight's action is most important for Saint Joseph's and Dayton, two teams clinging to hopes of making a run at an NCAA tournament bid. For that to happen one would think that the Hawks and Flyers need to get to Sunday's final given recent missteps, but the simplest thing to do at this point is go out and win; live to fight another day.

Carl Jones, Langston Galloway and C.J. Aiken have the ability to lead Saint Joseph's on a run, and it's not like Archie Miller's Flyers lack for talent either. But keep an eye on La Salle, who has one of the best point guards in the conference in Tyreek Duren, and that 8/9 matchup could be the most entertaining given the pressure applied by both Duquesne and UMass. 


Big East - First Round
# 16 DePaul vs. #9 Connecticut, Noon (ESPN2)
# 13 Pittsburgh vs. # 12 St. John's, 2:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
# 15 Providence vs. # 10 Seton Hall, 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
# 14 Villanova vs. # 11 Rutgers (ESPNU)

So, UConn begins their Big East Championship in the same spot they began their "five games in five days" run last season. But it's an entirely different scenario for the Huskies, who were safely in the NCAA tournament last season, and they had an assertive leader in Kemba Walker. That guy hasn't stepped up yet for the Huskies, who are also taking a DePaul team that despite their last place finish has improved since last season. Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young are both very good sophomores, and freshman Jamee Crockett has improved his play. UConn can't afford to stumble, but they're likely in better shape than a slumping Seton Hall squad that dropped games to Rutgers and DePaul to end the regular season. Providence lacks depth but with Bryce Cotton, Vincent Council and LaDontae Henton the Friars can definitely scare the Pirates if not win. 


Big Sky - Semifinals (at Montana)
#3 Portland State vs. #2 Weber State, 7:30 p.m. (Altitude)
#4 Eastern Washington at #1 Montana, 10:00 p.m. (Altitude) 

The top four teams in the Big Sky meet up in Missoula, and few are expecting anything less than a Weber State/Montana rubber game on Wednesday night. Tyler Geving's Portland State team has won four straight and seven of their last eight game, and with Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott he's got two of the better players in the Big Sky. But the question for PSU is whether or not they can limit Damian Lillard, and if the two regular season meetings are any indication of what could happen tonight their chances aren't good. Lillard's two point totals against the Vikings this season: 38 points on the road, 40 at home.

Eastern Washington has won three of their last four games, but in a weird scheduling quirk all three wins came at the expense of Idaho State (two regular season games, then their conference tournament meeting on Saturday). And they're running to a Montana squad that swept the two regular season meetings, and the Grizzlies are hot right now as well with a streak of 12 straight wins. Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar have played well on the perimeter all season long, and even with Cliff Colimon it's going to be tough for the Eagles to win on the Grizzlies' home floor.  


Horizon League - Title Game
#3 Detroit at #1 Valparaiso, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN) 

Valparaiso hosts a Detroit team that's gotten things going at just the right time, winning four straight and nine of their last ten heading into tonight's title game. The two regular season meetings were close but Bryce Drew's Crusaders won both, most recently beating the Titans at home on February 2nd. It was a tale of two halves, as Detroit shot 61% and scored 45 points in the first half, only to see VU clamp down and limit them to 34.5% shooting in the second half. Ray McCallum Jr. and Eli Holman are two key figures for Detroit but it's important to point out that five Titans finished that game in double figures.

The key for Detroit: slow down Horizon League Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff, who scored 26 points in the second meeting (6-6 3PT). Kevin Van Wijk has done well inside for the Crusaders, averaging 14.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in Valpo's last two games, and if he can come close to those numbers tonight Valparaiso will have a better shot at returning to the Big Dance for the first time since 2004. 


MEAC - Opening Round
# 8 Hampton vs. # 9 Morgan State, 11:00 a.m.
# 7 North Carolina A&T vs. #10 Howard, 1:30 p.m.
# 5 North Carolina Central vs. # 12 UMES, 4:00 p.m.
# 4 Bethune-Cookman vs. # 13 South Carolina State, 6:30 p.m.
# 6 Coppin State vs. # 11 Florida A&M, 9:00 p.m.  

Given the nature of the MEAC race beneath regular season champion Savannah State and second-place finisher Norfolk State this could be a wild five days in Winston-Salem. The top three seeds take Tuesday off, and Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central shouldn't have much trouble with South Carolina State and UMES, respectively.

But beginning with Coppin State/FAMU things could get interesting, especially considering the fact that somehow the two teams didn't meet during the regular season. Tony Gallo leads four Eagles in double figures, and with both teams having issues defensively this could be a wild contest that goes down to the wire. Hampton/Morgan State shouldn't lack for entertainment value either with the two teams splitting their regular season meetings, but neither winner reached 70 points so don't expect offensive fireworks. 


Summit League - Title Game
#4 Western Illinois vs. #2 South Dakota State, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Many expected the top two seeds to meet for the Summit League crown, but the Leathernecks took care of those plans with a 54-53 win over Oral Roberts on Monday night. Defending Dominique Morrison was tough enough and he still finished with 23 points, but just as it was on Monday the key for WIU in beating the Jackrabbits will be to make Nate Wolters' teammates don't go off as well.

Wolters, who led SDSU to a 63-47 win over Southern Utah with 31 points, seven rebounds and six assists, has an impact in all facets of the game for the Jackrabitts, and if he's able to get his teammates going offensively there's no telling how many points they could end up scoring (they hung 93 on Washington earlier this season). Ceola Clark III and Obi Emegano lead the way offensively for WIU, who will need a low-scoring (and low-possession) game if they're to pull off the upset. 


Sun Belt - Title Game
#5 North Texas vs. #7 Western Kentucky, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2 - Summit Arena) 

When Ken McDonald was fired on January 6th, few people thought that a young Western Kentucky squad would have enough left to make a run at a Sun Belt title. But thanks in large part to new head coach Ray Harper and a freshman in Derrick Gordon who is going to win a conference Player of the Year award before his career's over, the Hilltoppers find themselves one win away from an improbable NCAA tournament appearance. On the other side of the floor is North Texas, a team many pegged as a team that could win the league thanks to the addition of one-time Missouri signee Tony Mitchell.

North Texas won the lone regular season meeting 84-67 back on January 12th, but this is a far different WKU team than the one that set foot in Denton on that night. Does WKU have enough left in the tank, playing their fourth game in four days, to win the title? It will be tough, but there's no reason to assume that can't at this point.