Posted: Tuesday March 8, 2011 12:29PM ; Updated: Tuesday March 8, 2011 3:22PM
Andy Glockner
Andy Glockner>INSIDE COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Previewing this week's premium conference tournament action (cont.)

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Atlantic 10

(Tournament Bracket)

Tuesday, March 8; Friday March, 11-Sunday, March 13
First-round games on campus; Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, N.J.

The pick: Xavier. The X-men only won the league by a game over Temple, but were far superior in PPP margin (+0.22 vs. +0.15, per Gasaway). The Owls also lost Micheal Eric for the season, which changes their m.o.

Dark horse: Richmond. The Spiders were crushed by both Xavier and Temple in the teams' only meetings of the season, but they know they enter the tourney needing wins to ice an NCAA bid. They have the talent to string some Ws together, but lack the consistency against better teams this season.

Deep sleeper(s): There really isn't one. The fifth- through ninth-best teams in scoring margin were basically equivalent in league play, and the top four teams in the league were way above that level.

Player(s) to watch: Point guards are the rule of the day with Xavier's Tu Holloway and Richmond's Kevin Anderson playing leading roles in their teams' successful campaigns. Temple has Juan Fernandez, but he's more part of a collective effort. The best player you may not have heard of is St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson.

Bubble/bracket games of note: Richmond likely needs to get to the tourney semis to feel decent about its at-large chances, so the Spiders will need to handle (assumedly) Rhode Island in the quarters.

Conference USA

(Tournament Bracket)

Wednesday, March 9-Saturday, March 12
Don Haskins Center, El Paso, Texas

The pick: UTEP. In theory, the tourney should be wide open, as there's no dominant team in the league, but UTEP landed on the other side of the bracket from UAB, Memphis and Southern Miss, which is a huge advantage. Combine that with home-court advantage and it's a powerful combo when most else is relatively equal among the top teams.

Dark horse: Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles arguably are the best team in the league, but three one-point losses in league play dropped them to an unlucky 9-7. They have the most potent offense in C-USA on a PPP basis, so if they can find one or two more key stops a game, they could be dangerous despite having to play an opening-round game against bottom seed Tulane and then being on the rough side of the draw.

Deep sleeper(s): Marshall. The Thundering Herd won six of their last seven in league play, with the only loss coming by eight at UTEP, who they would play in the quarterfinal if they can get past No. 11 seed Houston. The Herd also crushed So. Miss. and Memphis at home and beat West Virginia, too, so the top-end quality is there to make a run. They get after you on the glass and get to the free throw line a ton.

Player(s) to watch: UTEP still has Randy Culpepper firing away in the backcourt. Gary Flowers has been a frontcourt force for Southern Miss. Jamarr Sanders has improved his efficiency as a scorer for UAB, but Cameron Moore has really blossomed this season with full-time minutes and is back from a broken hand.

Bubble/bracket games of note: UAB has a very odd at-large case. The Blazers have a terrific RPI, but don't really have any true quality wins. Memphis has much more meat to its résumé, but lags in computer profile and the league standings despite a sweep of the Blazers. The two are set to meet in a semifinal, with the loser almost certainly done as far as NCAA hopes go.

Mountain West

(Tournament Bracket)

Wednesday, March 9-Saturday, March 12
Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

The pick: San Diego State. Brandon Davies was an enormous part of BYU's slagging defense that helped keep the Aztecs on the perimeter in the game in San Diego. Without him, it will take a supremely good shooting game from the Cougars to offset what could be a huge disadvantage inside and on the glass if the two teams meet for a third time. SDSU could have to deal with homestanding UNLV in the semis, but the Aztecs are the better team in that matchup.

Dark horse: New Mexico. The Lobos have a legit inside force in UCLA transfer Drew Gordon and an experienced point guard in Dairese Gary. They also own BYU at the moment, having won all four meetings between the teams in the last two seasons. New Mexico is on BYU's side of the bracket, so that could be a semifinal matchup.

Deep sleeper(s): None. It's very hard to see anyone outside the top four winning the title.

Player(s) to watch: In addition to the Lobos mentioned above, there's this guy named Jimmer on BYU you might want to check out. SDSU's Kawhi Leonard is a fine alternative if you prefer inside/outside stuff. Chace Stanback is a multipurpose force for UNLV.

Bubble/bracket games of note: Colorado State is trying to push its way into the NCAAs, but seems to need at least a finals appearance, if not the auto bid, to get in. That would (ostensibly) mean beating New Mexico, then BYU and then SDSU/UNLV. Tough sledding. If BYU falters (especially against the New Mexico-Colorado State winner) and SDSU wins the tournament, the Aztecs could pip the Cougars for the West regional.

WAC

(Tournament Bracket)

Wednesday, March 9-Saturday, March 12
Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

The pick: I'll go out on a huge limb and take Utah State, which won the league by five games with a massive +0.21 points per possession margin.

Dark horse: New Mexico State. The league's other Aggies have some athleticism and talent and just gave Utah State a strong test in Las Cruces. Plus, they're on the other side of the bracket, so they wouldn't see the Aggies until a potential title game.

Deep sleeper(s): Everyone besides Utah State is pretty much a deep sleeper in this league, but if you pass on NMSU as an alternative, Idaho had the same PPP differential and was the only team to beat Utah State in league play. Boise State is the only other team that really has any legit chance of winning this.

Player(s) to watch: League player of the year Tai Wesley inside makes things tick for Utah State. New Mexico State is paced by forward Troy Gillenwater. For pure entertainment, check out San Jose State scoring machine Adrian Oliver.

Bubble/bracket games of note: Utah State is almost certainly playing for seed in the NCAAs, but the bracket obviously would be thrown for a loop if there is a bid thief here. The Aggies get a double-bye into the semifinals, so Bubble Nation will have to hold its breath twice.

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