Scouting The Tourney: The Conference Champs
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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The final stretch of the regular season is upon us. A handful of conference’s postseason tournaments get underway this week, meaning the 2012 NCAA Tournament field of 68 will officially start to take shape. By the time Selection Sunday on March 11 comes around, 31 teams will be able to sit back and enjoy knowing that their names will definitely be called. In our first edition of scouting the tournament, we take a look at those teams currently leading their conference, the biggest obstacle in their way at their respective postseason tournaments, what seed they can expect to be should they be victorious and whether or not they have a chance at an at-large bid.
Conference: Team Overall Record (Conference Record) RPI/SOS
American East: Stony Brook 20-8 (14-2) 156/330
Guaranteed some type of postseason play by winning regular season championship. Have to win conference tournament in order for it to be at the big dance rather than the NIT. Vermont, who defeated them 68-49 on February 12, serves as their biggest challenge. Strong chance they will be a 16 seed and part of the First Four.
Atlantic-10: Temple 22-6 (11-3) 16/59
Currently ranked 25th nationally. In a tight race for the regular season title with Saint Louis, Xavier and St. Bonaventure that could come down to the final game. Conference tournament should be one of the most intriguing in the country. Thanks to their 22 wins and preconference win against Duke they’re not in a position where they have to earn the guaranteed bid. Their body of work is good enough for an at-large bid. Depending on how they finish out they could be as high as five or as low as seven.
ACC: Duke 25-4 (12-2) 4/3
The number three team in the country. Will play for the regular season championship on March 3 against North Carolina. The outcome of that game and the conference tourney will determine whether or not they are a top seed. If the tourney were to start today, they likely would be. Will be looked at as a viable contender to go all the way thanks to their quality guard play.
Atlantic Sun: Belmont 24-7 (16-2) 65/167
Last loss came on January 21. Have won 11 straight since, finishing atop the league. Mercer and USC Upstate pose biggest threats to relegate them to NIT. Mercer got swept in the regular season series by a total of five points while SCUS was the last team to defeat them. Will either be a 14 or 15 seed.
Big 12: Kansas 25-5 (15-2) 6/5
A top four team in the country with the potential to end up a top overall seed. One of the true surprises in college basketball considering they were projected to have a down year prior to the start of the season. Really clicking at the right time as they have won seven in a row, including an overtime thriller against Missouri.
Big East: Syracuse 29-1 (16-1) 1/23
One of, if not the, best team in the nation. Undefeated when at full strength. The top team from the deepest and most talented conference. Could potentially be the top overall seed in the tournament if they win out and Kentucky slips up. The Big East Tournament is brutal, though, comparing similarly to late NCAA Tournament action.
Big Sky: Weber State 23-4 (14-1) 78/203
Playing for the regular season crown on February 28 at Montana. Body of work is good enough to earn an invitation to NIT with a loss, but participation in the NCAA tourney will require a conference tournament championship. Lackluster performances against quality opponents earlier in the year killed their chances at an at-large berth. Being a 15 seed is the best-case scenario for them.
Big South: UNC-Asheville 21-9 (16-2) 122/207
Stood atop their conference pretty much from start to finish as they’ve had the regular season title in hand for a few games now. Without a high-caliber win, though, they have to make sure to take care of business in their conference tournament. Even then, they’ll probably participate in a play-in game for the second-straight year as they’re destined for a 16 seed at best.
Big Ten: Michigan State 24-5 (13-3) 2/1
A perennial tournament team who has grown rapidly throughout the course of the regular season. Unranked in the preseason, they are now ranked fifth in the country. Must win one of last two against Indiana or Ohio State in order to have top seed in conference tournament. Unlikely to be anything lower than a three seed, perhaps even a one seed if they can win out.
Big West: Long Beach State 21-7 (14-0) 39/103
A team to familiarize yourself with if you’re looking for a squad capable of upsetting a higher seed early. Played tough teams out of conference and gave them all a run for their money. In conference they were largely head and shoulders above everybody else. They still have to be weary of an upset in the conference tournament. Overlooking their opponent will send them straight to the NIT. Looking like a 11th or 12th seed.
Colonial: Drexel 25-5 (16-2) 71/242
Won 17-straight games to close out the regular season and needed each and every one of them in order to earn the guaranteed postseason bid. Winning conference tournament will be the only way they can get to the big dance. Virginia commonwealth, George Mason and Old Dominion are serious threats to knock them off and send them to the NIT. Likely to be a 13 or 14 seed.
Conference USA: Memphis 21-8 (11-3) 29/19
Haven’t developed at the rate that many were expecting, but still a good bet to be a part of the field even if they falter late. Last two games of the regular season are must-wins in order to have top seed going into conference tourney. Projected to be as high as an eight seed or as low as a ten. Played their best basketball in March last year.
Horizon: Valparaiso 21-10 (14-4) 89/159
Going to have some big shoes to fill come tournament time as they are poised to take Butler’s spot in the tournament. They don’t have the makings of a Final Four squad, though. In fact, they’ll more than likely be a 15 seed with a difficult matchup at the outset. That’s barring them able to get by Cleveland State, Milwaukee, Detroit and the aforementioned Butler. Won’t be easy.
Ivy: Harvard 24-4 (10-2) 37/169
Recent loss to Pennsylvania makes the final two games of the regular season vital. The conference’s bid to the NCAAs could come down to a single-game playoff again since there is no postseason tournament. Program is looking to make their first appearance in the big dance since the field was expanded. Knocked off two ACC schools, Boston College and Florida State, earlier in the season.
MAAC: Iona 24-6 (15-3) 41/145
Took their regular season crown with a few games to spare. Loyola (MD), Manhattan and Fairfield are all capable of making sure they don’t take the conference tournament championship as well if they don’t play their best basketball. While they have a few quality wins out of conference, they’re headed to the NIT if they get caught looking ahead in the conference tournament. In the NCAAs they could end up a 13/14 seed.
Mid-American: Akron 20-9 (12-2) 62/127
A victory away from clinching a regular season champion. Far from a lock to win conference tournament. Ohio and Buffalo are capable of stealing away the guaranteed bid, both of them defeated Akron earlier in the year. Lone quality win came at the beginning of the season against now-reeling Mississippi State. Good enough to not be a 16 seed. 14 seed is likely their ceiling.
MEAC: Savannah State 20-10 (13-2) 197/332
Struggled mightily against quality competition, but a good team in their league. Can clinch the regular season crown with a victory in the season finale against Maryland-Eastern Shore. Last lost on January 16, have won 12 straight. Will likely have to play their way in during the First Four as a 16 seed.
Missouri Valley: Wichita State 26-4 (16-2) 15/56
A Top 15 team in the country who is hungry to prove themselves in the NCAAs after winning the NIT last year. Took the regular season title by wrapping up on an eight-game winning streak. Blew out Creighton on the road during that stretch. Conference tournament championship isn’t a necessity to be a part of the field, but it would get them a top six seeding. Otherwise, they could be as low seven or eight.
Mountain West: UNLV 24-6 (8-4) 12/40
Ranked 17th in the country despite playing .500 basketball over the last month. Has the quality wins out of conference to ensure that they will be a part of the field regardless of how they finish in the regular season and conference tourney. They’re atop of the league right now, but could finish as low as sixth if they lose out. Winning out could earn them a top four seeding. Losing out could put them somewhere in the 7-10 range.
Northeast: LIU Brooklyn 22-8 (16-2) 86/244
Finished first in the regular season. Had two eight-game winning streaks. Will be NIT bound if they don’t win the conference tournament. They will be the favorites going in but they’re not in a league full of inferiors. Several teams, most notably Wagner, Robert Morris, St. Francis (NY) and Monmouth could spoil what has been a special season up to this point. Won’t be higher than a 16 seed.
Ohio Valley: Murray State 28-1 (15-1) 37/208
A Top Ten team in the country looking to make school history. They’ve already done so, but postseason success will ultimately define this season. A 65-51 victory over St. Mary’s helped secure their spot in the tournament with or without a conference tournament championship. If they keep their winning streak intact going into the big dance they a top five seed is not out of the question.
Pac-12: Washington 20-8 (13-3) 52/69
Came together at the right time to finish first in the regular season after a disappointing start to the year. Winning this league doesn’t hold the same prestige as it used to a few seasons ago. There will only be three teams or so representing the league at the big dance. Therefore, it is critical for Washington to earn the guaranteed bid in order to be any higher than an eight seed.
Patriot League: Bucknell 22-8 (12-2) 79/165
Has to defeat Navy in order to be top seed going into conference tournament. Lehigh, American University and Holy Cross will be their stiffest tests in their quest to make their sixth tournament appearance. At best they could be a 14 seed, although 15 is much more likely.
SEC: Kentucky 28-1 (14-0) 3/42
Only loss on the season came at the buzzer at Indiana back on December 10. In the meantime they’ve run away with their regular season championship and are a near lock to be a number one seed. Easily could end up being the top overall seed as long as they keep remain undefeated against conference foes. Could have the most NBA talent of any team in the field.
Southern: Davidson 22-7 (16-2) 72/155
Conference tournament will not be easy despite being the top-ranked team going in. If they can survive, things will only get tougher as they’ll either be a 15 or 16 seed. Knocked off Kansas December 15, proving capable of upsetting high-major schools like they did the last time they were in the tournament.
Southland: Texas Arlington 22-6 (14-0) 85/262
Really came together during conference play to run through the league. Only loss since December 20 came out of conference at Weber State by two. Have been involved in a lot of close contests and done what is necessary late to win. Will have to do the same in conference tournament. Unlikely to be anything other than a 16 seed.
SWAC: Mississippi Valley State 18-11 (17-0) 147/300
Played an extremely difficult preconference schedule, winning only one game. Took their lickings early, though, so they could hand them out later. Have not lost since the beginning of conference play, easily taking the regular season crown. Southern University, Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M are upset minded, but they should remain undefeated against conference foes and be a 16 seed in the tourney.
Summit: Oral Roberts 26-5 (17-1) 40/172
Will not be missed by the rest of their current league when they leave for the Southland Conference. Slipped up just once during the regular season, but should be fearful of a potential rematch against South Dakota State as they are capable of beating them. Otherwise, not much else stands between them and their sixth tournament appearance. With only one solid win and a couple of losses to non-tournament teams, a 13 seed is probably as high as they can get.
Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee 25-5 (14-2) 48/173
Started off conference play really strong and maintained their level of play throughout to win the regular season championship. League isn’t good enough from top to bottom this year to justify multiple bids, though, so they have to go unscathed in their conference tourney. Beat UCLA early in the year and played Vanderbilt tough late. Could be a 13 seed, but more like a 14 seed if they avoid being upset by Arkansas-Little Rock and Denver.
West Coast: Saint Mary’s 25-5 (14-2) 31/121
Missed out on an opportunity to get two statement wins late against Murray State and Gonzaga, but did win their regular season championship. They may have a chance at a rubber match with Gonzaga in the conference tournament. That matchup will have direct seeding implications as both are NCAA bound. Six is about as high as they should expect to be while nine is the lowest.
WAC: Nevada 23-5 (11-1) 55/157
Facing off against New Mexico State on March 1 to determine their league’s regular season champion and the top seed going into the conference tourney. Knocked off Washington back in December in overtime, but their résumé otherwise lacks the quality victories to justify an at-large bid. If they get in, it’ll be as a 14 or 15 seed.
Make sure to check back later this week for our next edition of scouting the tourney, where we take a look at the 37 team’s most likely to receive an at-large bid!