Even more tournaments you say? Well, we are happy to oblige.
A loss to Montana in the regular season finale cost them the title and number one seed, but the Wildcats sport one of the best point guards you’ve never heard of, lead the conference in scoring (79.1 ppg, 11th nationally), and are right behind Montana in field goal percentage defense. Saturday’s loss snapped a seven-game winning streak and split the season series with Montana. Part three seems inevitable, and I think the third frame goes the way of Weber State.
Montana State over Portland State
It’s tough to pick an upset since this is a two-team conference and only six teams get to participate in the Big Sky tournament. But the Bobcats are one up on the Vikings and we’re rolling decently until hitting an eight-game skid to destroy their February. Yes, Portland State is coming off of three straight wins. However, when they met at the end of December, MSU were able to shoot 56% from the floor to send the Vikings to their 2nd straight conference loss. Oh, and PSU’s scoring defense is atrocious. Besides, I’m a sucker for an underdog.
Damian Lillard, PG, Weber St.
Like I said, Lillard is probably the best point guard you’ve never heard of. Averaging 24.5 points a game, 5 boards a game and 3.9 assists a game, Lillard has been the heart and soul of this team. He’s broken the 30 point mark eight times, with two of those games being 40+ performances. No one has really found a way to shut him down. Cal did the best job, keeping him to just 14 points and 3 assists. That was back in December. Now he’s firing on all cylinders and has put up 21 and 19 against Montana, the Wildcats’ only hurdle to the Tournament. He catches fire, Weber State goes dancing.
They may have looked a little shaky as of late, falling to St. Joe’s and needing overtime to get past UMass, but this is still a team deserving of a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Knocking off Duke and Wichita State make them a threat to make it past the first weekend of the tournament, while their bad losses don’t reveal too many holes (Disclosure: I mention them so I can mention that my alma mater, Bowling Green, did the upsetting in November, AY ZIGGY ZOOMBA!). Plus, they’ve already dispatched the other top teams in the league. A possible revenge game could come in the semis if St. Joe’s can get that far.
Dayton over Xavier
The Flyers were one of those teams that spent most of February on the bubble before the top of the league put some distance on them. Should they get past George Washington (just beat them 75-59 on Saturday), they get a crack at fellow bubble squad Xavier, who they split the season series with (lost in OT 2 weeks ago). The rubber match could see the 6 seed burst a bubble and move on to the semis.
Langston Galloway, Saint Joseph’s
I know it’s a tough stretch for a guy that may only play one game in the tournament, but hear me out. Galloway is the 2nd leading scorer for the Hawks, is 4th in the nation in 3 point shooting and dropped 22 in the win over Temple (4-6 from downtown). If he gets hot, he could lead the Hawks in derailing the Owls’ walk to the A10 title.
Ok, so I know that Akron is the populat pick as the only 20-game winner in the conference. But UB has already beaten them twice and the Bulls top the Zips in almost every important statistical category (scoring offense, shooting percentage, FG defense, rebound margin, assists to turnovers, etc.). Throw in a win just over a week ago and the fact that the Bulls, like Akron, will only need to win once to get to the title game under the new tournament format. Should the third time be the charm for UB, it’ll hand them their first MAC tournament title.
Bowling Green over Ohio
Yes, this is a huge homer pick because A. the Falcons have to beat Central Michigan tonight and either Toledo or Miami just to get to this game and B. BG has been horrible on the road (4-11). But this is a more talented team than their 16-14 record would show. They do have that upset over Temple in November and have splits with Kent and Ohio and gave Buffalo all they could handle in a 4-point loss on Saturday. Besides, if Akron beats Buffalo in the finals, that’s not really an upset.
Mitchell Watt and/or Javon McCrea, Buffalo
These two form the best frontcourt combo in the league. Their stat lines are almost identical and they’re the power of the group in the paint. They’re also veteran leaders that will be the reason UB dances.
It is hard to argue with a 13-game winning streak. Yes, they lost in the only meeting with Norfolk State. However, they overtook the Spartans for the regular season title and should be able to walk into the Dance on the back of the best defense in the league.
Coppin State over Delaware State
Three pointers, that is all. The Eagles make them and make them. In fact, only Florida makes more a game as CSU nets 9.6 a game from downtown. Now, they have to get through FAMU to get a shot at the Hornets in the quarterfinals, but the first meeting was close (84-81 DSU win). In that game Coppin State dropped nine threes and were a play away from getting the win after coming back from 12 down.
Admittedly, I know as little about the Southland as I do about the MEAC. However, it’s hard to argue with a 15-1 conference record and a 16-game winning streak that was ended in the Bracketbuster at the hands of Weber State. If you take that game out, 16 straight in conference before loafing on Saturday to a loss to UTSA. Seems like a pretty straight forward pick to me.
Lamar over Stephen F. Austin
The 2-3 game could give the Cardinals a chance to avenge the loss that lead head coach Pat Knight to channel his father and verbally attack his upperclassmen in the post-game press conference. Could Lamar’s seniors change the perception that they have an attitude problem and run to the Southland finals?
Long Beach State
The 49ers have one of the best at-large resumes, although the season-ending loss to Fullerton makes that a little worse. But, 15-1 in conference and the only loss coming during a likely blow-off game makes for an easy choice for me. That and we’ve been on the LBSU bandwagon for most of the season here at the Bang. Why stop now?
UC Riverside over Cal Poly
It’s all about playing well at the right time and the Highlanders are doing that pretty well. They’ve won three of their last four with only a beatdown by LBSU marking that up. They’ve split two close games this season and while it might not be much of an upset, I could easily see Riverside come away with this win.
The big conferences coming down the pike very soon…