Conference Madness 2016: Part One

It feels like just weeks ago we were cooped up inside our homes waiting for the arrival of the 2015-16 NCAA basketball season. It doesn’t feel long ago, either, that one of the most dominant teams in NCAA history (the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats) was eliminated from the Final Four by the pesky Wisconsin Badgers.

But, alas, we have reached that time again – when teams from each conference around the country (save the Ivy, of course) gather to compete for their chance to punch their ticket to the big dance or solidify their résumé for a possible at-large bid. In the end, only 68 teams will hear their names called out on Selection Sunday. The others will hold out hope for a bid to NIT, CIT, CBI or any of the other postseason tournaments so that their season doesn’t officially come to a close.

It all starts, however, on one stage (or 31, depending on how you look at it). Twelve days of fun begins tonight with two conferences kicking off their conference tournaments, so we’ve gathered a panel of College Tailgate writers to take you on a ride through the amusement park that is March.

Albany guard Peter Hooley following his American East championship buzzer-beater in 2015 to lead the Danes into the NCAA Tournament. Photo Credit: sfgate.com

Atlantic Sun

Teams: North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, NJIT, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Lipscomb, South Carolina Upstate, Stetson

Connor Basch

Sleeper: Jacksonville Dolphins
Led by the third leading scorer in the A-Sun (Kori Babineaux 18.7 ppg), the Dolphins put together a solid above .500 season this year both overall and in conference. Their assist to turnover ratio (+1.1) is, and will be, a key their success in the conference tournament.

Champion: North Florida Ospreys
They have experience against high quality opponents this year. Perhaps you’ve heard of Ben Simmons? Well, the Ospreys put up 108 against Simmons’ squad back in December and if they can put up numbers like that again, well, let’s just say this guy would be happy:

Gif Credit: SB Nation

Player to Watch: Dallas Moore (North Florida)
At 19.7 ppg, Moore is one of the top 50 scorers in the country. After clinching their first NCAA tournament birth in school history last year, Moore could lead them back to the dance for the second straight season.

Quinn Matheis

Sleeper: Lipscomb Bisons

It’s hard to find much of a team in the A-Sun who can make a case for providing upstart-momentum this year, but the closest one to it is Lipscomb.  With every other contender falling as the regular season comes to a close, Lipscomb has actually found momentum, including a W over league leader North Florida.

Champion: North Florida Ospreys

While the Ospreys have fallen as the season has come to a close, they are still by far the best team in this conference and will likely claim their second straight A-Sun title.

Player to Watch: Marc-Eddy Morelia (FGCU)

First team all A-Sun.  17.1 PPG, 53% FG, 9.0 RPG.  Florida Dunk Coast.  That is all.

Kellan Buddy

Sleeper: NJIT Highlanders
They have played a couple of big games against Big East teams including St. John’s and Providence.

Champion: Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
Highest FG% in the league (47.1). Also, lowest allowed FG% at 41.7.

Player to Watch: Dallas Moore (North Florida)
Sixteen 20-point games this season. Averages 19.7 ppg, 6.1 assists. Three games with 10+ assists.

Connor Mallon

Sleeper: Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
The biggest threat to sneak up and take the tournament championship from North Florida could be the Eagles. No sorry not the Marquette Golden Eagles, but rather the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. Can they come up big in the Atlantic Sun tournament and repeat their run like they did in 2013? Only time will tell as FGCU relies more on its defense to win games.

Champion: North Florida Ospreys
The Atlantic Sun has never really been known as a big basketball conference until the Cinderella team, Florida Gulf Coast University, managed to creep into the tournament in 2013, and shock the world appearing as far as the Sweet 16.  This year it does not look like that magic can be done again as the conference has under performed with only North Florida set to win the Atlantic Sun tournament. They are coming off a championship last season and hope to repeat with better success. Their 21-10 record may not say much, but being 13-1 at home probably will and 85.5 PPG might. That being said, they are 6-9 on the road yet have the best road record in the conference. A notable win from Ospreys came at the beginning of the season by giving the Big Ten’s Illinois Fighting Illini a 93-81 loss.

Player to Watch: Dallas Moore (North Florida)
The junior from St. Petersburg is an offensive machine and leads the conference in PPG, assists, and in minutes played per game. Plus, he was named the Atlantic Sun’s Player of the Year. 

Patriot League (PL)

Teams: Bucknell, Lehigh, Boston, Army, Navy, Colgate, American, Loyola, Holy Cross, Lafayette

Connor Basch

Sleeper: Army West Point Knights
Well, they’re one of the few teams to actually beat the highly entertaining Monmouth Hawks this season. Though they’re only 9-9 in the Patriot League, they’re 6-1 in their last 7 games. Plus, they’re the Army…

Champion: Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Remember when Lehigh beat Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament? This is a team primed for big situations. After starting out the season 0-7, they’ve fought back to 15-14 on a nine-game winning streak. More importantly, they took down PL leading Bucknell by 15 points on the road.

Tim Kempton Jr., the Junior forward for the Mountain Hawks, leads the team in scoring this season with 17.5 ppg. Photo Credit: americansportsnet.com

Player to Watch: Kyle Wilson (Army)
Wilson leads the Patriot League in 3PM (94) on the season. We’ve talked about how Army could be a dangerous team, well they’ve got the opportunity to make their first ever NCAA tournament with two 16+ ppg scorers (Wilson & PL leader Tanner Plomb (20 ppg)).

Quinn Matheis

Sleeper: Army West Point Knights
Some fantastic momentum at the end of the season can lead to some in-over-your-head March moments.  Army is in good position.

Champion: Lehigh Mountain Hawks
It’ll come down to Lehigh or Bucknell, and I don’t have much idea as to who has the edge.  But Lehigh has won 9 straight including a W at Bucknell, so I’ll go with them.​

Player to Watch: Tim Kempton (Lehigh)
Second year in a row as Patriot player of the year, and boosting impressive numbers (17.5 PPG, 54.3% FGP, 9.4 RPG).

Kellan Buddy

Sleeper: Army West Point Knights
The Knights have won 5 of last 6 games (including a win against Lehigh). They have also, this season, had 4 players reach the 1000 point mark for their career.

Photo Credit: wpsdc.org

Champion: Bucknell Bisons
Won outright conference title for 5th time in 6 years this season. Have 4 wins in a row, which will bring more momentum for them.

Player to Watch: Tim Kempton (Lehigh)
17.5 ppg, .543 fg%, 9.7 boards on average this season.

Connor Mallon

Sleeper: Bucknell Bisons
Since teams in the Patriot League are so deep, the sleeper team will probably have to be Bucknell because of their effectiveness in all areas. It is a very experienced and well coached team and should go far not only in the Patriot tournament but the NCAA tournament if they are crowned champs.

Champion: Army West Point Knights
The Patriot League is a bit more of a harder conference to analyze and who will be champs. While Bucknell leads the conference, Army, BU, and Lehigh all pose a threat. I am going to go wild on this prediction ad say that Army emerges as the ultimate victor mainly because of their 11-5 road record.

Player to Watch: Tim Kempton (Lehigh)
The junior Mountain Hawks poses as an essential big man for the team and as a true leader who works all over the court.

America East 

Teams: Stony Brook, Albany, New Hampshire, Vermont, UMass Lowell, Binghamton, Hartford, Maine, UMBC

Connor Basch

Sleeper: Albany Great Danes
Peter. Hooley. What a story this young man has. He has been a part of the America East tournament championship team in each of his 3 seasons so far with the Danes, so why not make it a 4th? We all remember the wild finish he added last year in the AE title game.

Champion: Albany Great Danes
*Refer to above statements.

Player to Watch: Carson Puriefoy (Stony Brook)
Look – Stony Brook has been the best team in this conference for the majority of the season. That was the case last year as well. The unsung hero for the SeaWolves in senior guard Carson Puriefoy who is second on the team in scoring behind Mr. Do-it-all Jameel Warney. If they can continue to get production from both of these guys, it could be yet another wonderful America East tournament.

Quinn Matheis

Sleeper: Albany Great Danes
Albany wins most of their close games, and has won 8 of their last 9 including putting one over Stony Brook. This is also a team that has traditionally just found a way to win in march under dashing head coach Will Brown.

Champion: Stony Brook SeaWolves
Not a difficult one here. Can Stony Brook lose? Yes…they’ve shown vulnerabilities of late; but this team has too high of a ceiling to reach to lose in this tourney, and they play some of the best team basketball you will likely see from any team this year.

Player to Watch: Jameel Warney (Stony Brook)
The America East is a conference which traditionally emphasizes solid fundamentals and team basketball, so “players to watch” run thin.  But it’s a very reasonable argument that Stony Brook would not be the dangerous 14-seed they likely are without this guy and his 17-odd PPG and 63% (!) FGP.

Kellan Buddy

Sleeper: Albany Great Danes
4 game win streak coming into tourney.

Team: Stony Brook SeaWolves
Largest scoring margin, also best defense, 62 PPG allowed.

Player to Watch: Pancake Thomas (Hartford)
19 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

Connor Mallon

Sleeper: Vermont Catamounts
The Vermont Catamounts currently rank third in the conference and are the team to watch out for the most mainly because of their late season run, winning their last five games. The Catamounts are hot at the moment and have the best FG% in the conference at .483.

Champion: Albany Great Danes
While Stony Brook leads the conference at 23-6, the Albany Great Danes are going to be the champions in this conference tournament solely because of their experience of winning tournaments like this for the past three years in a row. Stony Brook may be hungry for revenge after losing the past two championships to Albany, but by having a roster full of upperclassmen, the talent and connection these players have with one another is a great reason they can repeat their success.

Player to Watch: Jameel Warney (Stony Brook)
For the past three years, Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney has been named the conference player of the year and it is rightfully deserved. The senior forward has brought big numbers to the Seawolves including 18.7 PPG and an overall versatile player grabbing 10.2 RPG and 3.2 blocks per game. If Stony Brook manages to win the tournament and make a run in the NCAA tournament, then the NBA draft stock for Warney will most likely skyrocket.

Jamey Schilling

Sleeper: Vermont Catamounts
Just like how Bernie Sanders is a sleeper from Vermont, Vermont is a sleeper from Vermont.

Champion: Stony Brook SeaWolves
…or as my dad calls them, Stoned Brook. They came to Omaha for the College World Series a few years ago, and so my judgement is completely based off that.

Photo Credit: midmajormadness.com

Player to Watch: Pancake Thomas (Hartford)
Don’t forget the syrup.

Northeast Conference

Teams: Wagner, Fairleigh Dickinson, St. Francis Brooklyn, Sacred Heart, Mount St. Mary’s, LIU Brooklyn, St. Francis, Robert Morris, Bryant, Central Connecticut

Connor Basch

Sleeper: St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
Arguably the most important factor heading into March is how hot your team is in terms of win streaks. The Terriers are on a four-game winning streak all by 6+ points.

Champion: Wagner Seahawks
They’re the only team in the conference without double-digit losses on the season (20-9). Unless there’s another Cal Poly 2014-like team that will come out of the NEC this year, expect the Seahawks to roll through the tourney.

Player to Watch: Cane Broome (Sacred Heart)
I put together an “All-Namerican” article earlier this year, and I have to apologize to Mr. Broome that I neglected to put him in it. This guy is one of the best pure scorers in the country at 22.7 ppg.

Quinn Matheis

Sleeper: St Francis Brooklyn Terriers

Their finding something composed of a stride of late, and they probably still simmer over the missed opportunity last year to make the big one.

Champion: Wagner Seahawks
In a conference of mediocrity, the slightly less mediocre rises to the top.  They’re really rolling now, and since they took 1st place from Farleigh Dickinson on the road, they have not looked back.

Player to Watch: Cane Broome (Sacred Heart)
This guy’s name is composed of two different ways to shoo off pesky vermin.  He also has a fantastic stat line (22.7 PPG, 3.0 APG) and is the first guy from SHU to be named NE PoY in their 17-year tenure.

Photo Credit: blackbirdshoopsjournal.com

Kellan Buddy

Sleeper: Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
This is their first time and highest seed in the tournament since 2006.

Champion: Wagner Seahawks
5 game win streak-and the highest seed.

Player to Watch: Cane Broome (Sacred Heart)
22.7 points and 3 assists per game.

Connor Mallon

Sleeper: St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
The St. Francis Terriers have their own little streak going for them as they close out the season, winning their last four games. Their most recent win came against Mount St. Mary’s; the same team they open against tonight in the Northeast Tournament

Champion: Wagner Seahawks
The same reason I picked Vermont, is the reason why I am picking the Wagner Seahawks to take home the tournament championship. The Seahawks are on their own streak winning their last five games by nearly 18.6 PPG. The team may not have had the best overall offense than other teams in the beginning, but their defense is what really makes them stand out being one of the best in the conference in rebounds and blocks.

Player to Watch: Cane Broome (Sacred Heart)
Sophomore Cane Broome has been a one man show for Sacred Heart with nearly 22.7 PPG. The Pioneer guard’s numbers may seem big for a small conference like the Northeast, but that’s because his numbers ranked 10th best in the nation. With more development in the offseason, Broome could potentially emerge as one of the NCAA’s very top players.

Jamey Schilling

Sleeper: St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
Brooklyn kids are tough. But are they tough enough to win the NEC? Possibly.

Champion: Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
How sure am I that Fairleigh Dickinson will win the tournament? I’m Fairleigh certain of it.

Player to Watch: Cane Broome (Sacred Heart)
He comes equipped with 22.7 PPG. A cane AND a broom? He can’t be stopped.

Ohio Valley

Teams: UT Martin, Murray State, Eastern Illinois, Austin Peay, SIU Edwardsville, Southeast Missouri State, Belmont, Morehead State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State

Connor Basch
Sleeper: Morehead State Eagles
Coming in with a six-game winning streak including a win over OVC leading Belmont.

Champion: Belmont Bruins
Well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pulling for the Bruins because they knocked off Marquette at the Bradley Center to open the regular season. This is a solid squad.

Photo Credit: americansportsnet.com

Player to Watch: Evan Bradds (Belmont)
Bradds is the highest percentage shooter in the country (70.7%). He has converted a wild 193/273 shot attempts this season. WOAH!

Quinn Matheis

Sleeper: 
UT-Martin Skyhawks
No real “sleepers” by the paradigm of the definition in the OVC this year…but the best team opposite Belmont are these guys.  The Skyhawks are also streaking at the right time.

Champion: Belmont Bruins
Most of you probably remember the Bruins as “the team that almost nearly beat UVA with ridiculous 3-point game”.  Their strategy for success has not changed, and its working decently well.​

Player to Watch: Tahjere McCall (Tennessee State)
This guy is decorated this year…OVC Defensive Player of the Year, First team All-Conference, All-newcomer team.  I’ve seen this guy play 1-on-1 three times…two of those times his defender tried to drive, got nowhere, and made a sloppy pass…the other time, McCall stole the ball.

Kellan Buddy

Sleeper: Morehead State Eagles
Six game win streak, don’t expect them to slow down.

Champion: Belmont Bruins
They beat Marquette on the road, and they only have four conference losses.

Player to Watch: Chris Horton (Austin Peay)
18.7 points and 11 rebounds per game.

Connor Mallon

Sleeper: Morehead State Eagles
You may notice I use this analogy a lot, but I truly believe that the hottest team at the end of the season, is the one most likely to do the most damage. That being said, the Morehead State Eagles have closed their season on a six game winning streak, only one game behind Belmont in the conference. Both Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech have records similar to Morehead State, but the Eagles seem to have figured out their strategy to winning consistently and could be a major threat if they transition well to this conference tournament.

Champion: Belmont Bruins
The Belmont Bruins are not only one of the best teams in the OVC, but one of the best teams most likely to be Cinderella contenders come tournament time. The Bruins are 15th in the nation in scoring and came out of the gates swinging this season beating Marquette in their opening game on the road. Sure the Golden Eagles have not been that much of a threat, but winning on the road is not easy.

Photo Credit: theleafchronicle.com

Player to Watch: Chris Horton (Austin Peay)
While the Austin Peavy Governors are on the outside looking in for the OVC tournament, center Chris Horton brings a powerful attitude to the game when he plays. The senior big man leads the conference in PPG, rebounds and even is a great blocker.

Jamey Schilling

Sleeper: UT Martin Skyhawks
You must be from Martin, because you’re the only Tenn-I-see. *crickets chirp and the reader is left with an uncomfortable urge to never read Schilling’s predictions ever again.

Champion: Belmont Bruins
Belmont. Belmont. Belmont. Craig Bradshaw is about to turn it up.

Player to Watch: Craig Bradshaw (Belmont)
He lit up Virginia last year in the tournament, and he lit up Marquette.

Big South

Teams: High Point, Winthrop, Costal Carolina, UNC Asheville, Liberty, Gardner Webb, Radford, Longwood, Charleston Southern, Presbyterian, Campbell

Connor Basch

Sleeper: Costal Carolina Chanticleers
Don’t shoot the messenger, I just really like the nickname “Chanticleers.” IS THAT TOO MUCH?

Champion: Costal Carolina Chanticleers
…but if you really need a reason, they lead the Big South in RPG at 39.1 and they have four players averaging 11+ per game this season.

Photo Credit: Costal Carolina University

Player to Watch: John Dawson (Liberty)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this time to S/O to a former Golden Eagle who has taken his talents elsewhere and has been effective in doing so. In his Junior season, Dawson is averaging 13.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 3.6 APG. Well done, sir.

Kellan Buddy

Sleeper: Costal Carolina Chanticleers
They’re the reigning champs, there’s no reason why they can’t repeat. They’ve got the best defense in the conference, and defense wins championships.

Champion: Winthrop Eagles
They’re close to the top of the list in most major categories, very strong offensively.

Player to Watch: John Brown (High Point)

POY and Defensive POY in the same season, 60.2 FG%

MAAC

Teams: Monmouth, Iona, Siena, Fairfield, St. Peter’s, Manhattan, Canisius, Rider, Quinnipiac, Niagara, Marist

Connor Basch

Sleeper: Iona Gaels
Back on January 15th, the Gaels and Monmouth played to a 110-102 game (in favor of the Eagles) in one of the most intriguing mid-major games I’ve ever seen. Should Iona win this tournament, they also could be a team that could create some problems in the NCAA tournament as well.

Champion: Iona Gaels
*come on, Connor. Get through the MAAC without talking about Monmouth’s bench.* Though the Eagles have been phenomenal this year against higher opponents (wins against UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, Georgetown), they also lost by 16 at home to the Gaels after taking one from them on the road.

Player to Watch: A.J. English (Iona)
This guy can score in bunches. 22.3 PPG to go along with 6.1 APG (both conference leading statistics).

Photo Credit: metro.us

Kellan Buddy

Sleeper: Siena Saints
They’ve got a pretty solid offense, and great scoring margin (5.5)

Champion: Monmouth Eagles
…you figure it out.

Player to Watch: A.J. English (Iona)

Solid offensive player, 22.3 ppg. Unreal.

Missouri Valley 

Teams: Wichita State, Evansville, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Indiana State, Missouri State, Loyola, Bradley, Drake

Connor Basch

Sleeper: Northern Iowa
So, is Ali Faroukmanesh coming back anytime for the Panthers? No? Well shucks. Regardless, Wes Washpun and Co. have stuck it to two top 10 opponents (UNC, Iowa State) this season. This team was a sleeper last year in the NCAA Tournament with Seth Tuttle, so why not keep the winning mentality?

Champion: Wichita State Shockers
Sure, this team could be as bad as they want in the NCAA tournament year-by-year, but they definitely have a stranglehold on the MVC under Gregg Marshall.

Player to Watch: The tandem of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet (Wichita State)
Raise your hand if you feel like these guys have been with the Shockers since ‘nam…

Gif Credit: Tumblr

Yeah, me too…and experience is pivotal in March.

Kellan Buddy

Sleeper: Evansville Purple Aces
Top in FG%, and accuracy is everything. Best in defensive rebounds, key to stop opposing scoring.

Champion: Wichita State Shockers
If every team in the bigger conferences can struggle against this team, expect a quick and convincing ride to the ‘ship from the shockers.

Player to Watch: Egidijus Mockevicius (Evansville)
Just because its fun to say, and he’s not bad with rebounds and FG%, which I Guess are key basketball components.

 

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