NEC, SoCon, Summit and Sun Belt Conference Tournament Previews

The Northeast, Southern, Summit and Sun Belt Conferences are next on the docket, and now we really start to get a view of the contenders (and pretenders) in the smaller conferences.  These are where the Cinderella stories start, and if you’re in the know now, you can totally kick mad sweet knowledge to all your bros and/or dogs before the Prince even puts on the glass slipper.  With that said, here’s your mad sweet knowledge, Bangers.

Conference Champion
(#2) Wagner Seahawks
I know, I know.  the Long Island Blackbirds are the sexy pick out of the Northeast.  And the Blackbirds swept Wagner.  And Wagner closed out the season with a loss against under-.500 Central Connecticut State.  I get it.  But I don’t care.  Take out the anomaly loss to Central Connecticut, and the sweep by LIU, and the early out-of-conference loss to UConn, and what do we have left?  A 24-1 team, that’s what.  And that 1-point loss (to Lehigh) easily could’ve gone the other way.
Upset Alert
(#2) Wagner over (#1) Long Island
It’s pretty much a given that the NEC title game will pit #1 against #2, so let’s not even beat around the bush.  I’ve already sang Wagner’s praises up above, so instead I’ll speak to LIU’s detriments instead.  For one, when they lose, they lose bad: 12.5 pts. per loss bad, to be exact.  Also, they likely have zero momentum, after capping off an 8-game winning streak by getting drubbed 106-78 against 12-19 Monmouth to close the regular season.  Finally, they are last – DEAD LAST – in the conference in points against and turnovers/game.  Sure, they lead in points scored/game – and in fact are the 4th-best in that category in all of college basketball – but defense wins champiblah blah you know how it goes already.
Tournament MOP
Jamal Olasewere, (#1) Long Island
Okay, this is sort of cheating, as I at least know how the NEC quarterfinals turned out already (#1 LIU, #2 Wagner, #3 Robert Morris and #5 Quinnipiac all advanced, if you were wondering), but I was gonna go with Olasewere anyway.  Averaging 17 PPG and 7.6 RPG, the 6’7″ Junior also leads his team in steals.  As for the sort of cheating, Jamal led all Blackbirds in the categories of points (20) and boards (8) tonight, numbers that aren’t far off of his averages.

See?  Went the whole thing without a single “baked in a pie” reference.  I deserve a medal.  Alas, the SoCon beckons.

Conference Champion
(#1 South Division) Davidson Wildcats
Remember back when Cam Newton was playing at Auburn, and he would have those ridiculous superhuman rushes and passes, and you would think “wow he’s the best player on that entire field by a HUGE margin”?  Well, Davidson is the Cam Newton of the SoCon. (I feel that the lack of a “baked in a pie” earned me a “Cam Newton”.) Look, when every other team in the conference has double-digit losses except for you, and when the top-seed in the other division is 12-18 overall (and only 10-8 in the conference), it makes you stop and think.  Is Davidson gonna get past the first round?  Casey has them projected as a #15-seed, drawing Draymond Green and the fierce Michigan State Spartans; you tell me if they’ll make it to the round of 32.  Regardless, they’re like a butterfly in a room full of caterpillars when it comes to the SoCon.

Upset Alert
(#4 South Division) College of Charleston OR (#5 North Division) Appalachian State over (#1 North Division) UNC-Greensboro
Why not?  They both have better overall records, and neither ended the season by dropping three-straight like UNCG did.  The Not-Tar Heels should enjoy their bye by not even thinking about the hellish game they’re about to endure.  Can anyone say “spa day”?
Tournament MOP
Karl Cochran, (#2 South Division) Wofford
The Terriers ain’t gettin’ it done on offense (64.1 PPG, last in the SoCon) but their defense is stellar (holding opponents to 62.1 PPG, good for first in the conference).  Karl Cochran is a large part of that.  Or rather, a small part of that, since he only runs 6’1″ and 170 lbs.  He’s still busting 4.6 RPG, 1.4 STL/G and 0.6 BLK/G, leading the team in the final two categories.  Not to mention adding 11.3 PPG – which, by my count, is about 18% of the team’s throughput.

Conference Champion

(#1) Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
Casey and I already discussed that Oral Roberts should get a free pass in any situation, based on name value alone.  Giggity.  26-5 with really only 1 bad loss (to UTSA); the other losses were to out-of-conference BCS/mid-major squads or fellow conference stud South Dakota State.  I like them to at least get to the 2nd-round of the NCAAs. (And no, it is NOT the 3rd-round.  The play-in is the play-in; it shouldn’t be considered a “round”.  Next slide.)
Upset Alert
(#6) Southern Utah over (#3) Oakland
The Thunderbirds finished their season with a 1-6 stretch, dropping their last four (including one to Oakland).  So why pick them for the upset?  Because things change, Mox.  It’s time for Southern Utah to play with some damn pride!  Get after it, Thunderbirds? (Quick Aside: WTF is a “thunderbird”, and why don’t I have one?  Or 17??)
Tournament MOP
Reggie Hamilton, (#3) Oakland
I’m not fully convinced that Southern Utah can take out Oakland… but even if they do, Reggie Hamilton will still likely do enough to account for 3-4 games.  Leads the country in scoring.  Once again: leads the COUNTRY in scoring.  On top of his 25.5 PPG, Hamilton also leads his squad in APG (5.1), STL/G (2), and FT% (.882, good for 16th in the nation).

Conference Champion
(#1) Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
There’s the homer pick I was talking about.  Granted, two other Nashville-area schools (Vanderbilt and Belmont) will likely also entering the big dance, but there’s a big disparity in culture between the elite nature of Vandy and Belmont, and the working-man feel of MTSU.  Vandy and Belmont students may lose in the tourney, but they’ll continue to win at life, thanks to their silver spoons and such.  MTSU is the team you want to get behind and root for in the Tennessee mid-state area, without a doubt.  And with only 2 conference losses (and 5 losses total, a better record than Belmont or Vandy), they’re a legit contender.
Upset Alert
(#10) Florida International over (#7) Western Kentucky AND (#2) Arkansas-Little Rock
It’s about time that the nasty brawl with Miami a few years back isn’t the only thing that FIU is known for.  Granted, getting to the Sun Belt Conference final won’t exactly land you a spot on SportsCenter, but it’s a start.
Tournament MOP
LaRon Dendy, #1 Middle Tennessee State
Points?  You got it.  Rebounds?  He’ll snag a few.  Changing anything about the formula that has done right by them so far would just be foolish, and Dendy is a huge part of that formula.  He has to step up in a big way, but I feel that he’s capable of doing it, both in the conference tourney and beyond.
Aaaaaaaaaaaand SCENE.  There are still a few more previews to do, and we will do our best to crank them out before the respective tournaments.  Keep checking back!

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