Westwood Rising

 

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(Photo: Casey Sapio, USA TODAY)

 

 

All year long, Steve Alford has been brewing something in Los Angeles. The embattled coach has had a superb bounce back season for UCLA. That was no more evident then on Saturday night as the Bruins took down the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson.

UCLA’s resurgence can be attributed to freshman sensation Lonzo Ball. The sure-fire lottery pick has proven himself to be the best pure point guard in a draft class filled with talented point guards. He leads one of the most explosive teams in the country.

UCLA isn’t always dialed in defensively because they’re so adept on the other end. The Bruins will certainly need to defend better in March, but if they don’t it won’t stop them from being one of the toughest outs in the Big Dance.

Let’s do some conference tournament previews.

ATLANTIC SUN: Florida Gulf Coast, once again, proved to be the class of the Atlantic Sun as it won another regular season title. With many of its primary challengers defecting from the conference recently, the Eagles have enjoyed life at the top. Despite that, they’ll have a difficult time winning the automatic bid here. Lipscomb watched crosstown rival Belmont dominate this league before it left and is ready to step up to primetime. The Bisons have already beaten the Eagles on their home court and that’s why they’ll win the automatic bid.

BIG SOUTH: Winthrop and UNC-Asheville tied for the regular season title at 15-3 with Liberty right on their heels at 14-4. Those three have separated themselves from the pack and look primed to take the bid. UNC-Asheville has the most experience here and thus the Bulldogs are the team no one wants to see in this tournament. Too bad. The Bulldogs will be the team that wins it.

OHIO VALLEY: This one is simple. If Belmont doesn’t breeze through the conference tournament it will be one of the more shocking results in any conference tournament. The Bruins finished five games ahead of their next closest competition and look like a team that can pull off an upset in the Big Dance.

NORTHEAST: Mount St. Mary’s looked to be clear favorites in the NEC until last week when LIU beat the Mountaineers on their home court. It’s going to be a slugfest for the Mountaineers as 7 of the 8 teams that qualified for the conference tournament finished at .500 or above. This will be competitive, but the regency of the the loss to LIU will work in their favor and they’ll return to the dance for the first time since 2014.

AMERICA EAST: The Vermont Catamounts went 16-0 in conference play and are as heavy favorites as Belmont is in the OVC. This tournament will be played on the home court of the higher seeded team. That means teams will have to travel to Vermont to attempt to do something none of them have been able to do all season – beat the Catamounts. That won’t happen. Vermont goes dancing.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: Syracuse, Illinois, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island

Last Four Out: Marquette, California, Wake Forest, Houston

This bracket is good for games through 2/26

EAST

1.Villanova16.UC Davis/Mount St Mary’s Buffalo

8.Michigan9.Dayton

5.Purdue12.Nevada Orlando

4.Florida St13.Monmouth

6.Oklahoma St11.USC Buffalo

3.West Virginia14.East Tennessee St

7.Virginia Tech10.Providence Sacramento

2.UCLA15.CSU Bakersfield

SOUTH

1.North Carolina16.South Dakota Greenville

8.South Carolina9.Michigan St

5.Florida12.Georgia Tech/Illinois Orlando

4.SMU13.Akron

6.St. Mary’s11.Vanderbilt Salt Lake City

3.Arizona14.Bucknell

7.Wisconsin10.Middle Tennessee St Indianapolis

2.Kentucky15.Oakland

MIDWEST

1.Kansas16.North Carolina Central/New Orleans Tulsa

8.VCU9.Arkansas

5.Cincinnati12.Texas-Arlington Milwaukee

4.Notre Dame13.Princeton

6.Minnesota11.Rhode Island/Syracuse Tulsa

3.Baylor14.Florida Gulf Coast

7.Wichita St10.Northwestern Indianapolis

2.Louisville15.Winthrop

WEST

1.Oregon16.North Dakota Sacramento

8.Creighton9.Maryland

5.Iowa St12.UNC-Wilmington Greenville

4.Duke13.Vermont

6.Miami(Fl)11.Illinois St Milwaukee

3.Butler14.Belmont

7.Virginia10.Seton Hall Salt Lake City

2.Gonzaga15.Texas Southern

More Conference Tournament Previews

AMERICA EAST: Albany was by far the most dominant team in the league this season. The Great Danes didn’t lose their first conference game until Feb. 17. With all games being at campus sites its going to take a lot to keep Albany from repeating.

MISSOURI VALLEY: This certainly was a top heavy league this year as Wichita St and Northern Iowa ran away and hid from the rest of the conference. That’s why it is expected that those will be the two teams playing for the championship on Sunday. In the rubber match, expect Wichita St, the team with the superior experience and talent, to cut down the nets.

METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: A loss on the last day of the regular season is the only thing that kept Iona from winning the league by three games. The Gaels’ misstep doesn’t scare me too much as they’ve been to the tournament recently and will be tough prep on short rest. The tournament will be competitive as always, but expect Iona to go dancing.

SOUTHERN: As good as Wofford has been over the course of the year, Chattanooga has been right there all along. The two squads were far and away the class of this conference and appear to be on a collision course for a Monday night showdown. The teams won on each other’s home floor so this creates a bit of intrigue. Wofford is the favorite here, but not by much.

COLONIAL: The regular season in the CAA finished in a four-way tie for first place. If there’s anyone out there who’ll tell you they have this league pegged than than call that person’s bluff. On a true neutral court in Baltimore anything can happen. Given the disappointment from last season and performing well against the other top teams in the league, I’m going with William & Mary.

WEST COAST: There may be many people wondering if there’s a major kink in the armor of Gonzaga after losing to BYU in it’s last regular season home game. I am not one of those people. BYU played fantastic and could very well be a tournament team itself, but Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country and it’ll have motivation. The Zags will win in Vegas.

SUMMIT: South Dakota St and North Dakota St went back and forth this season vying for the Summit League’s No. 1 spot. At the end of the day, both teams finished with 12-4 records with South Dakota St winning the tiebreaker. Playing the tournament in the state of South Dakota gives the Jackrabbits a bit of a chance. Despite that, there’s a team on their side of bracket who’s beaten them and is even closer to the site where the tournament will be played. That’s the South Dakota Coyotes and they’re my upset pick to win the Summit League.

BRACKETOLOGY: Saturday March 8, 2014 (Welcome Harvard)

Before we get to the bracket. Here’s a prediction for a conference tournament beginning today.

AMERICA EAST: Vermont blew through the regular season with just one blemish on their record in a three-point loss at runner-up Stony Brook.  In the rematch, the Catamounts won by 16.  In fact, the rest of the conference hasn’t been close as only one of their 15 conference wins have been decided by fewer than 10 points.  Nothing indicates that Vermont isn’t going to the Big Dance.

Last Four In: Oregon, Minnesota, Tennessee, Nebraska

Last Four Out: Georgetown, Florida St, California, Providence

Good for through games of 3/7.

SOUTH

1.Florida16.Florida Gulf Coast Orlando

8.Baylor9.Gonzaga

5.UCLA12.Toledo Spokane

4.Cincinnati13.Belmont

6.Ohio St11.BYU Orlando

3.North Carolina14.NC-Central

7.UConn10.Dayton St. Louis

2.Kansas15.UC-Irvine

EAST

1.Wichita St16.Davidson/Alabama St St. Louis

8.Oklahoma St9.Iowa

5.Creighton12.Tennessee/Minnesota San Antonio

4.Oklahoma13.Louisiana Tech

6.Kentucky11.Saint Joseph’s Milwaukee

3.Michigan14.Boston

7.VCU10.Xavier Raleigh

2.Virginia15.Delaware

MIDWEST

1.Wisconsin16.Weber St/Coastal Carolina Milwaukee

8.Kansas St9.Arizona St

5.New Mexico12.Green Bay San Diego

4.Iowa St13.Stephen F. Austin

6.Saint Louis11.Nebraska/Oregon Spokane

3.San Diego St14.Georgia St

7.Memphis10.Colorado Raleigh

2.Duke15.Robert Morris

WEST

1.Arizona16.Utah Valley                San Diego

8.SMU9.George Washington

5.Michigan St12.Harvard(Ivy) San Antonio

4.Louisville13.North Dakota St

6.Texas11.Stanford Buffalo

3.Syracuse14.Iona

7.UMass10.Arkansas Buffalo

2.Villanova15.Vermont

Published in: on March 8, 2014 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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More Conference Tournament Predictions

PATRIOT LEAGUE: Defending champion Bucknell was rolling along in the Patriot League until mid-February when two losses tarnished its perfect league record.  The fact that one of those loses came to second-place finisher Lehigh at home would make me extremely nervous if I were a Bison fan.  For that reason, and the fact that the Mountain Hawks have been just as good, I’m taking Lehigh to go dancing.

WEST COAST: Saint Mary’s won the league outright in a minor upset.  However the Gaels finished just one game ahead of Gonzaga and two ahead of BYU.  This will be a competitive tournament with the four teams having a legitimate shot at cutting down the nets in Las Vegas.  BYU in its first season in the WCC is used to playing in Vegas, is relatively close to Vegas and will take the matter out of the committee’s hands by winning the WCC championship.

MISSOURI VALLEY: Wichita St and Creighton has been the class of the Missouri Valley this season, but this is a tournament that has seen its fair share of upsets over the years.  That being said I find it very hard to pick against the Shockers the way they’re playing right now.  I expect them to beat a scrappy Missouri St team in the finals.

NORTHEAST: Wagner got everyone’s attention in December after it upset Pittsburgh.  The Seahawks followed that with an impressive conference record of 15-3.  The problem though is that two of those losses came at the hands of the regular season and defending tournament champion Long Island.  The Blackbirds wouldn’t have to play Wagner or Robert Morris until the finals and will play every game of the tournament at home.  I like them to repeat.

AMERICA EAST: This will be a good one.  I would not be surprised if regular season champion Stony Brook, Vermont or 2011 NCAA tournament team Boston University won this tournament.  I think Vermont is due for the win I thought they’d get last season.  The Catamounts are going dancing.

It’s March and Your Seed Will Not Save You (Welcome Indiana St)

VCU's Brandon Rozzell sinks a three-pointer in the first half against Vertrail Vaughns (11) and George Mason, which is 26-6 but not assured an NCAA bid. (John Mcdonnell/Washington Post)

Yesterday, all hell broke loose on the mid-major level. Number 1 seeds in the Colonial, Missouri Valley, Metro Atlantic Athletic, America East, and Sun Belt all lost.

In addition to that; College of Charleston had to come back from a double-digit second half deficit and Bucknell won with the aid of a no call to stave off disaster.

I say all of this to prove that’s its March and no one is safe. Not on the mid-major level. Not on the high-major level. Even Purdue lost to lowly Iowa on Saturday.

A lot of people, this time of the year, get extremely concerned with seeding, but that’s not nearly as important as playing well. Kansas was the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament last year and look how much that helped the Jayhawks in bowing out early in the Big Dance.

I know being a No. 1 seed is good and is helpful, but playing well helps even more. Last season, Butler and Michigan St both got to the Final Four as No. 5 seeds. The name of the game is not getting a high seed. It’s winning.

More Conference Tournament Previews:

MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE: This was once again a sub par year in the MAC as failed to cracked the top-15 in Conference RPI. In fact, it sits at 20 with conferences such as the Northeast, Atlantic Sun and Ivy in front of it. Due to that fact, it’ll be another one-bid year for the conference, which magnifies the importance of the conference tournament. Kent St won the regular season title, but it was just by one game over Miami (Oh) and Western Michigan. Despite the one-game difference, I do expect the Golden Flashes to make it to the title game and reclaim the MAC championship.

SOUTHLAND: The Southland Conference has had some really good showings in the NCAA tournament in the past five years, but this doesn’t look like a year where that’s going to be the case. In fact, the winner of this tournament may be relegated to Dayton to play in one of the “First Four” games. McNeese St won the regular season title, but the difference between first and eighth place in this league is just three games. It’s going to be terribly difficult for the Cowboys to navigate this tournament successfully. Mike McConathy is the best tournament coach in this league and I expect him to lead his Northwestern St. ball club back to the NCAA tournament.

SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC: The SWAC has needed one team to be head and shoulders above the rest of the league and that’s exactly what happened this season. Texas Southern was on auto-pilot for most of the conference season finishing with a four-game cushion for the league title. The Tigers should enjoy the same kind of success in the conference tournament. I expect Texas Southern to dance.

BIG WEST: Long Beach St has had no peer in the Big West this season, running away with the conference title. In fact, outside of a minor blip at the end of January, the 49ers have been downright dominant in the 2011 calendar year. This team has won 15 of its last 17 with ten of those wins coming by double figures. There is no reason to believe that Long Beach St is going to forget how to win. The 49ers are the pick to win the Big West.

Today’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Memphis, Colorado, Butler, Richmond
Last Four Out: Michigan, Virginia Commonwealth, Clemson, USC

Good for Games through 3/6

EAST
1.Ohio St16.McNeese St/Bethune-Cookman Cleveland
8.Villanova9.Gonzaga
5.Texas A&M12.Harvard Tampa
4.Kentucky13.Wisconsin-Milwaukee
6.Temple11.Georgia Washington, D.C.
3.Syracuse14.Kent St
7.Cincinnati10.Boston College Tulsa
2.Texas15.Bucknell
WEST
1.Duke16.Boston U Charlotte
8.Vanderbilt9.George Mason
5.St. John’s12.Butler/Colorado Washington, D.C.
4.Wisconsin13.Oakland
6.Georgetown11.Washington Denver
3.BYU14.Indiana St(MVC)
7.Tennessee10.UAB Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Northern Colorado
SOUTHEAST
1.Pittsburgh16.UNC-Asheville(BSouth) Cleveland
8.Utah St9.Illinois
5.Kansas St12.Richmond/Memphis Tucson
4.San Diego St13.Belmont(ASun)
6.Connecticut11.Michigan St Tampa
3.Florida14.Charleston
7.UCLA10.Missouri Charlotte
2.North Carolina15.Long Island
SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas16.Texas Southern/Middle Tennessee St Tulsa
8.Old Dominion9.Marquette
5.West Virginia12.St. Mary’s Tucson
4.Xavier13.Iona
6.Arizona11.Florida St Denver
3.Louisville14.Morehead St(OVC)
7.UNLV10.Alabama Chicago
2.Purdue15.Long Beach St

In Graphical Form

More Conference Tournament Previews

PATRIOT LEAGUE: Bucknell and American are way ahead of the pack in this league. Bucknell ran through Patriot League competition with only one loss and American only three. Too bad for the Eagles, two of those losses came from the Bison. Nothing really to say here, but to expect part three with Bucknell winning again.

MISSOURI VALLEY: I’m used to seeing multiple bids come from this league, but the trend of it being one-bid the past few seasons has to be troubling for commissioner Doug Elgin. Despite this, there are still teams in this conference who can win a game in the NCAA tournament. The Missouri St. Bears finished in first with the Wichita St. Shockers one game behind. The two teams were the most consistent all year and appear to be on a collision course. In round three, expect the Shockers to come out on top.

NORTHEAST: Long Island’s uptempo style has led it to an impressive 16-2 league record. In fact, the Blackbirds have only loss once in the 2011 calendar year. Given the fact that this tournament is played entirely on home courts give them an extra advantage. The Blackbirds should expect a challenge from the tournament-tested Robert Morris Colonials, but this team is head and shoulders above the rest of the league and will make their way to the NCAA tournament.

COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION:
This one should be interesting. After back-to-back losses to Hofstra and Old Dominion, George Mason ran off 15 wins in-a-row to put a stamp on an at-large bid. Old Dominion, by virtue of stellar play in the non-conference did the same. The question right now goes to the hunger of both teams and I believe both may already know they’re dancing. One team however, isn’t going to be dancing without an automatic bid and I expect it to come out firing on all cylinders. Virginia Commonwealth, at home in Richmond, will “steal” a bid and punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament.

METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: After its impressive showing in BracketBusters, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) became one of the most intriguing leagues in the country. The conference tournament is usually entertaining and this year should be no different. Fairfield finished in first in the regular season, but show kinks in the armor in losses to Rider and Iona, the two teams that tied for second. Iona, by virtue of being hot at the right time seems to be surging towards a NCAA bid, which it’ll get.

SOUTHERN: College of Charleston was cruising through league play until the last week of the regular season where it lost its final two games. That brought into a tie for the South Division and league title with defending champion Wofford. Although Charleston has a win over Tennessee and an almost win at Maryland, I think its going to be tough for it to navigate through this tournament. Chattanooga and Wofford will meet for round 3 with Wofford making a repeat trip to the NCAA tournament.

WEST COAST: St. Mary’s and Gonzaga both have at-large hopes with Gonzaga’s chances being a tad bit better at the moment. Given that the tournament is set up to give top two teams an advantage expect to see the two class programs in the conference go at it one more time. It will be a heavyweight slugfest in Vegas with St. Mary’s getting an automatic bid ensuring two WCC teams go dancing.

AMERICA EAST: Vermont and Boston University have been the two best teams in league play, but neither is perfect. Maine had a run at the both of them and should be in the mix this weekend in Hartford. However, I still believe that Vermont and Boston will get through a tough tournament to meet for all the marbles once again. Boston will not be able to finish Vermont for a third time and the Vermont Catamounts will go dancing.

Conference Tournament Previews (Cont.)

METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: For the past three years, Siena has been rolling through the MAAC like a warm knife through hot butter. The Saints once again coasted to the regular season title with a 17-1 record. They have shown vulnerabilities though. Not all of the Saints wins have been dominant and some have been downright close. Fairfield has a legitimate shot at pulling off the upset, but I don’t see it. The Saints seem to be extremely focused in their last two games and playing on their home floor will be a huge advantage. I expect Siena to go dancing again.

SOUTHERN: This will be one of the more competitive conference tournaments in the country. The SoCon has wins over schools from the Big East, ACC, SEC, and Atlantic 10 this season. Those wins came from Appalachian St., Western Carolina, College of Charleston and Wofford. Throw in Davidson and there will be some high-quality hoops in Charlotte this weekend. In the end, you have to go with the team that’s lost only one game this calendar year. I expect Wofford to make its first trip to the Big Dance.

WEST COAST: Once again, Gonzaga has proven to be the class of this league. It’s amazing to see the Bulldogs have the success they’ve had given the losses they sustain in the offseason. Despite that, Gonzaga has proven to be beatable this season and, over its record 11-year run, in the WCC tournament. Saint Mary’s and Portland are extremely capable of winning this tournament. There is a high probability of the two meeting in the semi-finals, a game in which Portland will win on their way to the WCC tournament title.

AMERICA EAST: The top four teams in the America East are separated by two games. Stony Brook, Vermont, Maine and Boston University are all capable of going dancing. However, there’s one team who clearly has the number of the other three. In its six meetings with Vermont, Maine and BU; Stony Brook has a 5-1 record. They’ve won 10 out of 11 and are looking very strong. The loss to New Hampshire is a bit alarming, but it was the last game of the season and Stony Brook had nothing left to play for. The Seawolves do now and they’ll be going dancing.

Even More Conference Tournament Predictions

I put these together for thehoopsreport.com so they’re a little long-winded

AMERICA EAST

The Favorite: The Binghamton Bearcats are in a position they’ve never been in before. They enter the America East tournament as the hunted. America East Player of the Year D.J. Rivera leads a club that has won 10 out of its last 11 games. The Bearcats have gone on the road and won on the home courts of Big East and Conference USA schools. They’ve prepared for this time of year and look to be ready for any and all comers in Albany this weekend.

The Challenger: The Catamounts of Vermont would be the kings in the America East if it weren’t for Binghamton. They’d be the No. 1 seed this weekend had the Bearcats not swept them. Despite that, this is a team with 23 wins and has been playing at a high level the entire year. They’ve won 14 of 15 and are on a serious roll entering the postseason. Although they face the unenviable task of having to face Albany on its home court in the quarterfinals, junior Marquis Blakely and the rest of the Catamounts will be a tough out.

The Darkhorse: The UMBC Retrievers enter the postseason losing three of their last four. However, this team is confident and experienced. Seniors Darryl Proctor and Jay Greene played integral roles in UMBC’s run to last year’s NCAA tournament and are fully capable of putting three solid games together. The Retrievers are responsible for one of Binghampton’s conference losses. This is one scary No. 6 seed.

When it’s all said and done, the cream will rise to the top in the America East. Vermont and Binghamton have been the teams to beat all season and nothing will change this weekend. The championship game will be in Binghamton, but Vermont will avenge the two earlier losses and return to the tournament for the first time since 2005.

COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION

The Favorite: Two years ago, Eric Maynor put his name on the map with a game-winning shot against Duke. He’s still at Virginia Commonwealth and he’s one of the best guards in the country. The Rams always seem to be at the top of the CAA and this year was no different. They’ve had mixed results coming down the stretch with a 5-3 record in their last eight. However, the Rams have Eric Maynor and he makes them the most dangerous team in the CAA.

George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga

George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga

The Challenger: Jim Larranaga has his Patriots in this position again. George Mason has been lurking the entire season and are in their relished position of the being the hunter. The names have changed from their Final Four run three years ago, but this is still an experienced basketball team. Seniors Dre Smith and John Vaughn are still at Mason and they have seen everything. They’ll expect to be in the Big Dance and that’s not something many mid-majors share with them.

The Darkhorse: Old Dominion quietly went about its business all year. Head coach Blaine Taylor’s Monarchs traditionally have talent, but seem to be overlooked in the CAA. After winning their last five, no one in the CAA is going to take them lightly. They’re as hot as any team in the conference and are the last team anyone wants to face in Richmond this weekend.

The CAA Tournament is always a very competitive tournament and this year will be no different. There are six teams capable of cutting the nets down in Richmond and that makes for great basketball. Old Dominion will meet George Mason in a classic Monday night and the Patriots will take their rightful place back in the field of 65.

METRO ATLANTIC

The Favorite: The Siena Saints began the season with at-large aspirations after their impressive showing in last year’s tournament.  They played a difficult non-conference schedule and got off to a slow start.  Once conference play started, the Saints showed their mettle and rolled to a 16-2 conference record to save their at-large hopes.  The experienced club led by senior Kenny Hasbrouck and junior Edwin Ubiles; Siena will be a tough out this weekend and, possibly, in two weeks as well.

The Challenger: Niagara has been consistent all year long.  The Purple Eagles hit the road in their non-conference schedule and are as prepared for this time of year as any team in the MAAC.  First-team All-MAAC and the conference’s defensive player of the year, junior Tyrone Lewis controls this club which closed the season with victories over Siena and Missouri Valley contender, Illinois St.  They are fully capable of keeping up with the Saints.

The Darkhorse: The only MAAC team to defeat both Siena and Niagara was the Rider Broncs.  They closed the season winning 7 of their last 9 and believe they can win the automatic bid.  Junior Ryan Thompson is one of the most explosive players in the MAAC and will be able to get any shot he wants this weekend.  The Broncs believe they should be mentioned with the Saints and Purple Eagles and are ready to prove why.

The bracket sets up well for Siena, who should cruise into the finals.  The other half of the bracket will be much more difficult with Niagara and Rider vying for the opportunity to face Siena.  In the end, Niagara will navigate its way to the finals to set up one of the best championship games of any conference tournament.  The homecourt advantage will not help the Saints this year though and Niagara will go dancing.

SOUTHERN CONFERENCE

Davidson Guard Stephen Curry

Davidson Guard Stephen Curry

The Favorite: Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three seasons, you know Stephen Curry is and you know who the Davidson Wildcats are.  This edition of the Wildcats isn’t as potent as last year’s, but they are still dangerous.  They’ve beaten West Virginia and NC State on neutral courts and have breezed through the SoCon regular season once again.  While they actually lost a league game this year, something they hadn’t done in two seasons, the Wildcats are still the team to beat as long as Curry puts on a Davidson jersey.

The Challenger: There’s only one team who can claim to beat Davidson at full strength during conference play and that’s the College of Charleston.  Head Coach Bobby Cremins has turned around the program which was a perennial NCAA tournament team in the late 90’s.  All-Conference guard Andrew Goudelock and the Cougars have wins over TCU and South Carolina so they’re a tested group.  They’ve proven they can beat the Wildcats now it’s time to see if they can do it again.

The Darkhorse: When the Citadel Bulldogs upset Davidson on February 18, the Wildcats were without Stephen Curry.  That doesn’t matter to the Bulldogs though.  They’re the playing their best basketball right now as winners of 12 of their last 13 and finished in a tie for second in the South Division.  In a season where they’ve won 18 games against Division-I opponents and 15 conference games for the first time, is an initial trip to the NCAA tournament in the offering for the Bulldogs as well?

The worst thing the College of Charleston and Citadel could’ve done was make Davidson see its own blood. Now the Wildcats have their antennas up and will be ready in Chattanooga this weekend.  While it won’t be easy, Davidson will make four consecutive trips to the Big Dance.

WEST COAST

The Favorite: Anyone who finishes with an undefeated conference record is going to be the favorite and this situation is no different.  Gonzaga is back in its usual spot with an NCAA tournament bid all but sewn up.  This could be the most talented team in Bulldogs’ history with seniors Jeremy Pargo, Josh Heytvelt, and Micah Downs leading the way.  Head Coach Mark Few always plays a tough non-conference schedule to prepare his team for this time of year.  They fell victim to the upset in last year’s WCC tourney.  They’ll be out to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

The Challenger: The Saint Mary’s Gaels captured an at-large bid last season and may be in position to do the same this year.  Sophomore Patrick Mills, possibly the best guard in the country, is back from injury and ready to pick up where he left off.  When healthy, this Gaels team can play with anyone in the country.  They’ve won five in-a-row including a huge win over Utah State in “Bracket Busters.”  This is a confident team going in to Las Vegas this weekend.

The Darkhorse: There was a buzz in the preseason that the San Diego Toreros may be able to capture an at-large bid after their upset of UConn in last year’s NCAA Tournament.  The Toreros have struggled this season, but this is still a team that can jump up and bite you.  Brandon Johnson is gone for the season, but any team with Gyno Pomare and Rob Jones is capable of doing damage.

When all is said and done, this is a two-horse race.  Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are on a collision course and it’s going to be a special basketball game.  The Gaels played one and half games against the Bulldogs without Patrick Mills and now that he’s back, they’re chomping at the bit.  Saint Mary’s will take its NCAA Tournament fate out of the committee’s hands and win the WCC tournament.