When Irish Eyes are Smiling (Welcome Coastal Carolina, Northern Iowa, North Florida)

Freshman Bonzie Colson (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Is this the year when coach Mike Brey gets his Notre Dame team to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Its something that hasn’t happened for Notre Dame in quite some time, but it looks like Brey finally has the squad to do.

Notre Dame has always been a great jump-shooting team, but now it looks like they have the total package. What’s separating the Irish this year is the late season emergence of freshman Bonzie Colson. Colson, with his long arms give the Irish a legitimate post presence.

Notre Dame looks right for a deep run this year. If they can show some toughness this March, they could be a sleeper in the tournament.

More Previews.

MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: The MEAC is one of the few leagues that saw a team roll through the regular season undefeated. North Carolina Central looks like the class of a MEAC that is as good as its been in recent memory. Norfolk St and UMES will challenge the Eagles, but expect Central to repeat as champions and return to the NCAA tournament.

MID-AMERICAN: As usual, the MAC was competitive like always with three teams, Central Michigan, Kent St and Buffalo, finishing tied for the regular season crown at 12-6. Behind those three, Bowling Green and Toledo finished tied for fourth with identical 11-7 records. Suffice it to say, this thing is completely up in the air. In the end, Kent St’s history navigating this tournament makes them the pick here.

SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC: Texas Southern, a team that has wins at Michigan St and Kansas St, rolled nearly wire-to-wire here. They have only two conference losses and look primed to make another run to the NCAA tournament. The only teams close, Southern and Alabama St, are ineligible for the postseason but are somehow allowed to compete anyway. Look for the Texas Southern to go dancing.

Last Four In: Illinois, Miami (FL), Texas, Purdue

Last Four Out: Indiana, UCLA, Old Dominion, Texas A&M

This bracket is good for games thru 3/8

MIDWEST

1.Kentucky16.St. Francis(NY)/North Florida(ASun) Louisville

8.NC State9.Dayton

5.Wichita St12.Stephen F. Austin Seattle

4.Louisville13.Central Michigan

6.Providence11.LSU Seattle

3.Gonzaga14.UC Davis

7.Iowa10.VCU Omaha

2.Kansas15.Albany

WEST

1.Villanova16.Texas Southern Pittsburgh

8.Georgia9.Ohio St

5.SMU12.Texas/Illinois Jacksonville

4.Notre Dame13.Iona

6.Georgetown11.BYU Jacksonville

3.Baylor14.Georgia St

7.Cincinnati10.Oklahoma St Portland

2.Arizona15.South Dakota St

SOUTH

1.Virginia16.Coastal Carolina(BSouth) Charlotte

8.St. John’s9.Temple

5.North Carolina12.Wofford Portland

4.Utah13.Valparaiso

6.Arkansas11.Purdue/Miami(FL) Columbus

3.Oklahoma14.New Mexico St

7.Oregon10.Boise St Omaha

2.Wisconsin15.North Carolina Central

EAST

1.Duke16.Montana/Lafayette Charlotte

8.Xavier9.Michigan St

5.West Virginia12.Louisiana Tech Louisville

4Northern Iowa(MVC)13.Yale

6.Butler11.Davidson Columbus

3.Iowa St14.William&Mary

7.San Diego St10.Mississippi Pittsburgh

2.Maryland15.Belmont(OVC)

Three’s Company

UC Davis senior Corey Hawkins

There’s a team in California that no one is talking about. This team not only plays after most of the country is asleep, it doesn’t even play on TV. The UC Davis Aggies are 21-4 and 11-1 in the Big West and it’s in large part because they’re the best in the nation in three-point shooting percentage.

Senior guard Corey Hawkins, son of Hersey, leads one of the most efficient offenses in the country. UC Davis is 25th nationally in points per possession. That’s a good stat to watch as people search for a team to pull off an upset in the Big Dance.

Hot shooting, low possessions and veteran leadership is the hallmark for this team.  The Aggies are certainly a team to watch approaching March.

Stock Up: Purdue. The Boilermakers are doing everything a bubble team is asked to do. Get top-50 wins, win on the road and do them both at the same time. Good turnaround for Matt Painter’s team.

Stock Down: Louisville. There are some weird things going on there right now. Rick Pitino kicked Chris Jones of the team and the Cardinals have been struggling.

Stock Up: North Carolina Central.  The Eagles are rolling through the MEAC at 13-0. No conference opponent has come within single digits this month.

Stock Down: Seton Hall. This is a team with player leaving the program near the end of the season and another takes a cheap shot at an opponent. The Pirates haven’t won a game since January 31.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: Stanford, UCLA, Texas, St. John’s

Last Four Out: Pittsburgh, Colorado St, Tulsa, Boise St.

This bracket is good for games thru 2/22.

MIDWEST

1.Kentucky16.St. Francis(NY)/Bucknell Louisville

8.Iowa9.Cincinnati

5.Louisville12.Valparaiso Columbus

4.Wichita St13.Harvard

6.West Virginia11.Georgia Columbus

3.Notre Dame14.North Carolina Central

7.Georgetown10.Michigan St Omaha

2.Kansas15.Florida Gulf Coast

WEST

1.Virginia16.South Dakota St Charlotte

8.Indiana9.Dayton

5.SMU12.Texas/UCLA Jacksonville

4.Arkansas13.Kent State

6.San Diego St11.St. John’s/Stanford Seattle

3.Iowa St14.UC Davis

7.Xavier10.Illinois Portland

2.Arizona15.Albany

EAST

1.Duke16.New Mexico St Charlotte

8.Ohio St9.Temple

5.Northern Iowa12.Wofford Louisville

4.Oklahoma13.Iona

6.Providence11.Oregon Pittsburgh

3.Maryland14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Oklahoma St10.Texas A&M Pittsburgh

2.Villanova15.High Point

SOUTH

1.Wisconsin16.Georgia Southern/Texas Southern Omaha

8.Mississippi9.Purdue

5.Baylor12.Murray St Jacksonville

4.North Carolina13.Louisiana Tech

6.VCU11.LSU Portland

3.Utah14.Eastern Washington

7.Butler10.NC State Seattle

2.Gonzaga15.William & Mary

Super Nova (Welcome Wichita St, Mercer, Coastal Carolina)

Image

Villanova’s James Bell

How can a team, with recent Final Four pedigree and only three losses fly under the radar?  That’s exactly what’s happened to Villanova.  The Wildcats have quietly put together a great season, which has them in position to possibly be a No. 1 seed.

Villanova doesn’t have the star power of a Kansas or Duke, but that’s fine with them.  The Wildcats are still going to attack you.  As usual, the guard heavy Wildcats use their quickness to force turnovers and get out in transition.  In halfcourt sets, they move the ball and space the floor extremely well.

Coach Jay Wright has had teams with more star power and that have been held in higher regard, but he might have his best chance to win a national championship this season.  No one saw that coming.

MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: MEAC officials have to be praying that the tournament gets it right this season.  North Carolina-Central is by far the best team in this league and has the non-conference win over NC State to drive that point home even further.  This tournament won’t be a cakewalk as it’s in Tidewater, Va. where Hampton and Norfolk St will have huge contingent of fans.  Despite that, this Central team is too talented and they’re going dancing.

MID-AMERICAN: This is a tough one to call.  There are five teams with a legitimate shot to win this thing.  The MAC was competitive once again with Western Michigan and Toledo tying for the league title.  Western Michigan won the tiebreaker, but no favors were done as they’re staring down Akron or Ohio in the semifinal – both of whom will have plenty of supporters this week in Cleveland.  For that reason, I think Toledo will be able to sneak to the dance from the other side of the bracket.

CONFERENCE-USA: This is another tough one.  Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Tulsa and Middle Tennessee St finished in a four-way tie for first.  UTEP, the team that finished one game behind those four, has the honor of hosting the tournament.  The crowd in the Haskins center is sure to be raucous and will make tough for any opponent the Miners face.  UTEP will make its way back to the NCAA tournament.

SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC: The NCAA has come down hard on the SWAC as four teams, Grambling State, Mississippi Valley State, Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, are ineligible for the NCAA because academic progress penalties.  The decision came down late and the SWAC is going to let all four teams participate in the conference tournament.  How the conference will decide the automatic bid is too convoluted so I’ll just go with Alabama St.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: Minnesota, Arkansas, Tennessee, Saint Joseph’s

Last Four Out: California, Pitt, Georgetown, St. John’s

SOUTH

1.Florida16.Stony Brook Orlando

8.Oklahoma St9.Gonzaga

5.Creigton12.Harvard(Ivy) Orlando

4.Louisville13.Iona

6.New Mexico11.Iowa Buffalo

3.Syracuse14.Delaware

7.VCU10.Stanford St. Louis

2.Kansas15.Eastern Kentucky(OVC)

EAST

1.Villanova16.Wofford/Alabama St Buffalo

8.Kansas St9.Arizona St

5.Saint Louis12.Tennessee/Minnesota San Antonio

4.Cincinnati13.Boston U

6.UCLA11.Saint Joseph’s/Arkansas Milwaukee

3.Iowa St14.NC-Central

7.Memphis10.Colorado Raleigh

2.Duke15.Georgia St

WEST

1.Arizona16.Weber St San Diego

8.UConn9.George Washington

5.Ohio St12.Louisiana Tech San Diego

4.North Carolina13.Stephen F. Austin

6.Kentucky11.Nebraska Spokane

3.San Diego St14.UC-Irvine

7.Baylor10.BYU Milwaukee

2.Wisconsin15.Utah Valley

MIDWEST

1.Wichita St(MVC)16.Coastal Carolina(BSouth)/Wright St St. Louis

8.UMass9.SMU

5.Michigan St12.Western Michigan Spokane

4.Oklahoma13.North Dakota St

6.Texas11.Xavier San Antonio

3.Michigan14.Mercer(ASun)

7.Oregon10.Dayton Raleigh

2.Virginia15.Robert Morris

The Long Wait (Welcome Creighton, Liberty)

Middle Tennessee St’s Shawn Jones

It’s going to be a long agonizing week for the Middle Tennessee St Blue Raiders after their upset loss at the hands of Florida International in the Sun Belt Conference semi-finals (more on this later).  They were dominant in the regular season winning all but one conference games, but March is cruel as the Blue Raiders know all too well.

Last year they bowed out of the conference tournament in the quarterfinals after being the No. 1 seed as they lost to Arkansas St.  They didn’t get in last season and their prospects are grim for this season.  While they played a top-20 non-conference schedule they only have two top-100 wins and no top-50.  The committee may reward them for challenging themselves out of conference, but it’s unlikely.

You feel bad for the Blue Raiders, but March is cruel and unusual punishment for a team of their kind.  The punishment this week will be waiting.

We have some conference tournament finals that I didn’t get a chance to preview so here’s some predictions for some of tonight’s finals.

COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: Sundays two semi-finals had fantastic finishes so both teams may be spent emotionally.  Northeastern came from 24 down to beat George Mason while James Madison had some fortunate calls to preserve victory over Delaware.  It’s going to be hard for the Huskies to beat a Virginia school in Richmond though and I expect the Dukes to go dancing for the first time since 1994.

SUN BELT: Neither Florida International nor Western Kentucky is supposed to be here.  It’s the second year in a row the Hilltoppers shocked the world to reach the final while Richard Pitino has turned around Florida International in one year after Isaiah Thomas screwed that job up too.  The Golden Panthers are a nice story, but the Hilltoppers are used to this and will go dancing again.

SOUTHERN: I watched Davidson go to Charleston earlier this season and put a beat down on the Cougars earlier this season.  The margin may be closer, but the result will be the same.  The gold standard of SoCon basketball is going dancing again.

METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC: Here is another tournament where the teams playing weren’t expected to be here.  Iona is a solid program and has proven it can hang with good competition this season.  Manhattan, on the other hand, is the beneficiary of getting to play the No. 7 seed in the semifinals.  Iona has endured its share of heartbreak in this tournament the past few years, the Gaels will get the job done this time around.

We all so have some other tournaments getting started today.

MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: It’s been an unusual year in the MEAC where two teams have been way ahead of the pack.  Last year’s NCAA tournament darling Norfolk St finished undefeated in league play and North Carolina Central finished with only one loss.  That loss didn’t come at the hands of the Spartans because the two didn’t play.  They will in the title game and the Spartans will repeat.

MID-AMERICAN: Akron was threatening to run away with this league and was possibly heading towards locking up an at-large bid.  Then came a surprising loss at Buffalo and the suspension of point guard Alex Abreu.  Those unfortunate series of events leave the Ohio Bobcats as the clear favorites to repeat as MAC champions and go to the big dance.

On to the Bracket:

Good for Games played thru 3/10

Last Four In: Virginia, Boise St, Tennessee, La Salle

Last Four Out: Kentucky, Mississippi, Iowa, Middle Tennessee St

MIDWEST

1.Indiana16.Florida International/Long Island  Dayton, OH

8.Wichita St9.San Diego St

5.Pittsburgh12.Bucknell Austin

4.Oklahoma St13.Louisiana Tech

6.VCU11.Minnesota Austin

3.Florida14.Valparaiso

7.Memphis10.Colorado St Philadelphia

2.Georgetown15.Florida Gulf Coast(ASun)

SOUTH

1.Louisville16.Southern/Liberty(BSouth)  Lexington, KY

8.NC State9.Temple

5.UCLA12.Tennesse/Boise St Salt Lake City

4.Kansas St13.Davidson

6.Creighton(MVC)11.Colorado Dayton, OH

3.Ohio St14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Butler10.Villanova Lexington, KY

2.Miami(FL)15.Iona

EAST

1.Duke16.Norfolk St Philadelphia

8.Iowa St9.Illinois

5.Saint Louis12.Cincinnati San Jose

4.Arizona13.Harvard(Ivy)

6.Syracuse11.Saint Mary’s Auburn Hills, MI

3.Michigan14.Vermont

7.UNLV10.California Kansas City

2.Kansas15.Long Beach St

WEST

1.Gonzaga16.Northeastern San Jose

8.Oregon9.Missouri

5.Wisconsin12.La Salle/Virginia Kansas City

4.Marquette13.Akron

6.Notre Dame11.Belmont(OVCSalt Lake City

3.New Mexico14.South Dakota St

7.North Carolina10.Oklahoma Auburn Hills, MI

2.Michigan St15.Montana

Carolina BBQ (Welcome Creighton)

rwillett@newsobserver.com UNC's Tyler Zeller (44) applauds the reserve players after taking a place on the bench with teammate John Henson late in the Tar Heels' game against Clemson. Zeller scored 14 points and Henson had 13 in the Tar Heels' 74-52 victory.

On Saturday night the North Carolina Tarheels showed the world why they were ranked preseason No. 1.  North Carolina went to Duke and thoroughly defeated a team that will be a No. 2 seed at the least.  It was one of the more impressive performances I’ve seen this season and served notice to Syracuse and Kentucky that there’s one more legit contender for the national championship.

The Tarheels have possibly the best frontcourt in the nation with John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes to go along with perhaps the best pure point guard in Kendall Marshall.  This is a scary team to face because they can beat you with so many guys.

Defense and point guard depth is a concern, but good luck to any team that plans on outscoring the Heels.  They have their mojo back and are serious threats to cut down the nets.

MID-AMERICAN: This will be a competitive tournament as usual.  The MAC is one of the best mid-major conferences in the country and the action in Cleveland should be entertaining.  Akron won the regular season championship, but that was only by one game over Buffalo, who swept the season series.  Neither Akron or Buffalo will have to play until the semifinals, but it won’t matter as Ohio will get the automatic bid.

MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: I’ve never liked how the MEAC stretches its tournament out.  A league that’s constantly fighting to stay out of Dayton should be doing everything it can to make sure it’s best teams have the best chance of winning.  For that reason I don’t trust regular season champion Savannah St to win.  I’m going with the experience of Fang Mitchell’s Coppin St club to go dancing.

SOUTHLAND: Texas-Arlington cruised through league play and lost it’s only conference game in its last game.  It has been consistent all year and appear to be the favorite.  I’m not choosing the Mavericks though.  Ever since Pat Knight ripped his Lamar Cardinals they’ve been playing like a different team.  I expect that to carry over to an automatic bid.

SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC: Mississippi Valley State’s 17-1 conference record is an impressive feat.  The Delta Devils lone loss came on the last game of the regular season and I think it’ll serve as a wake-up call.  The fact that second-place finisher Southern is ineligble for postseason play on solidifies my belief that the Delta Devils will dance.

WESTERN ATHLETIC: I’ve seen the Nevada Wolfpack play multiple times and I’ve come away impressed every time.  They have a gaudy 25 wins and should have the support of plenty of Wolfpack fans in Las Vegas.  New Mexico St and Idaho will be threats, but won’t be good enough.

BIG WEST: The last thing the rest of the Big West needed to happen was to have Long Beach St lose it’s final regular season game.  The 49ers now have the extra motivation of avenging their only regular season conference loss.  I’m convinced that Long Beach St is among the best 35-50 best teams in the country and none of their Big West mates are even close.  Long Beach St will dance.

Today’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Tennessee, Virginia Commonwealth, Northwestern, Colorado St

Last Four Out: South Florida, California, Oregon, NC State

SOUTH

1.Kentucky16.Stony Brook/Savannah St Louisville

8.Saint Louis9.Cincinnati

5.UNLV12.Northwestern/Virginia Commonwealth Portland

4.Gonzaga13.Long Beach St

6.Wichita St11.Southern Mississippi Albuquerque

3.Baylor14.Belmont(ASun)

7.Florida St10.West Virginia Columbus

2.Michigan15.Montana

WEST

1.North Carolina16.Bucknell Greensboro

8.Memphis9.Mississippi St

5.Creighton(MVC)12.BYU Albuquerque

4.Georgetown13.Oral Roberts

6.Notre Dame11.Xavier Columbus

3.Wisconsin14.Denver

7.New Mexico 10.Alabama Omaha

2.Missouri15.UT-Arlington

MIDWEST

1.Kansas16.UNC-Asheville(BSouth)/Mississippi Valley St               Omaha

8.Louisville9.Virginia

5.Temple12.Drexel Nashville

4.Indiana13.Colorado St/Tennessee

6.Florida11.Miami(FL) Louisville

3.Marquette14.Akron

7.Kansas St10.Harvard Pittsburgh

2.Ohio St15.Loyola(MD)

EAST

1.Syracuse16.Long Island Pittsburgh

8.St. Mary’s9.Purdue

5.Murray St(OVC)12.Texas Portland

4.San Diego St13.Nevada

6.Vanderbilt11.Washington Nashville

3.Michigan St14.Davidson

7.Iowa St10.Connecticut Greensboro

2.Duke15.Valparaiso

In Graphical Form

Even More Conference Tournament Previews

Greg Kampe's Oakland squad could be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament

SUMMIT LEAGUE: The Oakland Grizzlies are in complete control over this league – cruising through conference with only one loss. Greg Kampe’s squad is one of the best mid-majors in the country. They beat Tennessee and had near-misses against Illinois and Michigan St. A championship game against IUPUI or Oral Roberts may be difficult, but the winner of that game may be too tired to give Oakland a good run. Oakland will make a return trip to the dance.

SUN BELT: Unfortunately, it was another down year for the Sun Belt as it waits for Western Kentucky to get back on its feet. Florida Atlantic, almost by default, won the regular season with a 13-3 record, but this conference tournament will be wide open. Florida Atlantic is on the same side of the bracket as Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette, two teams that it lost too this season. For that reason, I’m going to give a team from the other side of the bracket, Arkansas St, the edge to get to the dance.

BIG SKY: Northern Colorado and Montana battled all year to see who would win the regular season title in the Big Sky. Northern Colorado eventually won out, but the one game difference shows how close the two teams are to each other. That one game also proved to be of paramount importance as Bears won the right to host the conference tournament on their home court. That will prove to be the difference as Northern Colorado will go dancing.

MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: Just about everybody expected Morgan St to run away with its fourth consecutive regular season title in the MEAC, but it didn’t work out that way. The Bears garnered the No. 4 seed in the tournament with Bethune-Cookman, Hampton and cross-town rival, Coppin St finishing ahead of them. I think Morgan St will find itself in the finals again, but Hampton will be there to avenge a loss earlier this season.

Today’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Butler, Washington St
Last Four Out: Baylor, Memphis, Virginia Commonwealth, Michigan

Good for Games through 3/3

SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas16.McNeese St/Bethune-Cookman Tulsa
8.UCLA9.Michigan St
5.Connecticut12.Missouri St Tampa
4.Kentucky13.Princeton
6.Texas A&M11.Florida St Washington, D.C.
3.Syracuse14.Bucknell
7.George Mason10.Marquette Washington, D.C.
2.Wisconsin15.Murray St
WEST
1.Duke16.Long Island Charlotte
8.Cincinnati9.Utah St
5.Kansas St12.Richmond Tampa
4.Florida13.Belmont
6.West Virginia11.St. Mary’s Denver
3.BYU14.Wisconsin-Milwaukee
7.Tennessee10.Washington Cleveland
2.Pittsburgh15.Vermont
SOUTHEAST
1.Purdue16.Coastal Carolina Chicago
8.Missouri9.Gonzaga
5.St. John’s12.Butler/Virginia Tech Tucson
4.San Diego St13.Oakland
6.Vanderbilt11.Illinois Tulsa
3.Texas14.Fairfield
7.Temple10.Boston College Charlotte
2.Louisville15.Long Beach St
EAST
1.Ohio St16.Northern Colorado/Texas Southern Cleveland
8.Villanova9.Old Dominion
5.Georgetown12.Washington St/Nebraska Tucson
4.Xavier13.Charleston
6.Arizona11.UAB Denver
3.North Carolina14.Kent St
7.UNLV10.Georgia Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Florida Atlantic

In Graphical Form

Conference Tournament Previews (Addendum)

SUN BELT: Troy, North Texas and Middle Tennessee St all tied for the overall conference title with 13-5 records. Troy is the No. 1 seed by way of a 2-1 record against UNT AND MTSU. However, the Trojans has been done no favors by having Western Kentucky on its side of the bracket. There’s not team in this conference that strikes fear in the heart of its foes like the Hilltoppers. They have wins over Vanderbilt, Murray St and Mississippi St out-of-conference and are on a six-game winning streak. Their experience and confidence will carry the Hilltoppers to another Sun Belt title.

SUMMIT LEAGUE: I’ve never seen a team with one league loss in more trouble than Oakland. There’s no question that IUPUI and Oral Roberts are capable of winning this tournament. IUPUI has already proven it can beat Oakland and Oral Roberts has wins over Missouri and New Mexico. That being said, Oakland has been consistent all year. It has only lost once in the 2010 calendar year going 16-1. With IUPUI and Oral Roberts fighting it out on the other side of the bracket, Oakland will have smooth sailing to the NCAA tournament.

BIG SKY: Weber St finished just one game ahead of Northern Colorado in the league standings. The Wildcats are very fortunate that the tournament is played on the home court of the regular season champion because I don’t think they want to see the 23-win Bears on a neutral floor. However, the Bears will have to travel to Ogden shorthanded as junior guard Devon Beitzel is out with a broken foot. Weber St played a tough schedule to prepare itself for this moment and the fact that it’ll get home cooking will put it over the top.

MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: It’s clear that Todd Bozeman has Morgan St in complete control of this conference. The Bears won their third consecutive regular season championship and are poised to win their second straight tournament title. The way the MEAC’s tournament is set up actually takes the advantage of the buy away so Morgan will have to deal with that. However, only one team was able to beat the Bears in conference this season and they bounced back with five consecutive league wins after the setback. They’re experienced, tournament tough and have Reggie Holmes. The Bears go dancing again.

Today’s Bracket Projection:

Last Four In: Mississippi, Virginia Tech, Connecticut, San Diego St
Last Four Out: Rhode Island, Memphis, UAB, Mississippi St

Click the link below
NCAA Projected Bracket

From now until Selection Sunday, the bracket will be updated daily (Twice on Selection Sunday)

Bracketology: Saturday March 7, 2009 (Welcome Cornell)

We have more predictions for you today and the first of our daily bracket projections.  Congratulations to the Cornell Big Red for becoming the first team to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament.

SUMMIT LEAGUE

The Favorite: This moment has been brewing for North Dakota St in only its fourth year as a Division-I member.  The Bison are finally a full member of the Summit League they’re making the most out of it.  Led by the explosive Ben Woodside, the Bison are on the verge of their first NCAA Tournament berth.  They’ve rolled to a 16-2 league record and have won 15 out of 16 games.  This is a team that can points on the board in bunches and they’ll be hard to guard in South Dakota this weekend.

The Challenger: Oral Roberts is accustomed to this moment.  The Golden Eagles are attempting to make the NCAA tournament for the fourth year in a row, a feat that hasn’t been done since Valparaiso’s run from 1996-2000.  They’re used to having a home court advantage but now that the conference tournament has been moved to South Dakota, things will be a tad more difficult for them.  Head Coach Scott Sutton will his team prepared nonetheless and they’ll expect to win the tournament.

The Darkhorse: The Oakland Grizzlies are hotter than anyone in the Summit League outside of North Dakota St.  Winners of 7 in-a-row, they’re the only team in the conference that can claim to have beaten both the Bison and the Golden Eagles.  The Grizzlies have ridden the back of deadly three-point shooter, senior Eric Kangas to a third place finish.  If Kangas get’s hot this weekend, the Grizzlies may make they’re second trip to the Big Dance.

The Conference knew what it was doing when it shifted the conference tournament location from Oklahoma to the Dakotas.  The balance of power is shifting and it’ll be on display this weekend.  Oral Roberts has had a great run, but it ends this season.  North Dakota St will claim its first NCAA bid.

BIG SKY

The Favorite: The Weber St Wildcats are looking to extend their dominance of the Big Sky into the postseason.  Big Sky MVP, senior Kellen McCoy, and Freshman of the Year, Damian Lillard, lead the best backcourt in the Big Sky.  The Wildcats have only lost once this calendar year and they don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.  Not only are they winning, but only 3 of they’re 15 conference wins were by single digits.  It’s clear who the top dog in the Big Sky is.

The Challenger: If any team is capable of competing with Weber St, it’s the Portland St Vikings.  Last year’s Big Sky champion is back with first-team all-conference guard, senior Jeremiah Dominguez.  After the experience of making it to last year’s tournament coupled with victories against Boise St and at Gonzaga, The Vikings will not be intimidated by the moment.  They’ll give Weber St all it can handle.

The Darkhorse: The Montana Grizzlies have been one of the most consistent programs in the Big Sky.  The owner’s of the conference’s last NCAA Tournament victory, Montana boasts a proud tradition in the Big Sky.  They enter the postseason having lost 2 of 3, but they’d reeled off 7 in-a-row before hand.  The Grizzlies will be a team to reckon with this postseason.

Weber St and Portland St will receive byes in the quarterfinals as only the top six teams are invited to the Big Sky tournament.  That’s not an extra help they needed because these are clearly the top two teams in the conference.  They’ll meet in the championship game where playing on the Wildcats’ home floor will be the difference and Weber St will return to the dance.

MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC

The Favorite: There’s nothing more painful to a mid-major than to win a regular season title and lose in the conference tournament.  That’s the pain the Morgan St Bears has endured for a full year.  They’ve taken their frustrations out on MEAC opponents this season to the tune of a 13-3 conference record.  They’ve won 10 of 11 and have an upset win at Maryland.  Head Coach Todd Bozeman has turned around this program in just three seasons and has them on the verge of their first trip to the Big Dance.  This is definitely a hungry group.

The Challenger: The second place team in the MEAC, South Carolina St, enters the postseason almost as hot as Morgan St.  The Bulldogs have won 10 of 12 and have turned their season around after a rough start.  In the mid-to-late 90’s, they enjoyed as much success as anyone in the MEAC and are seeking to re-claim that prominence.  Led by senior Jason Johnson, the Bulldogs are a top challenger to the Bears championship aspirations.

The Darkhorse: Morgan St would only have one conference loss had it not been for the Hampton Pirates.  Hampton swept the Morgan St this season proving to everyone in the league that despite its 8-8 record, Hampton is capable of playing with any team in the MEAC.  Hampton has been gold standard this decade and is attempting to return to the tournament for the first time in three years.

The MEAC tournament is usually one of the most unpredictable conference tournaments in the country.  As was the case last year when Coppin St won the tournament from the #7 seed, this tournament is up for grabs.  That being said, Morgan St has been stewing on last year’s disappointment and it is ready to boil over.  The Bears are going to make history and head to their first NCAA Tournament.

Last Four In: Rhode Island, New Mexico, Michigan, South Carolina

Last Four Out: San Diego St, Arizona, Maryland, Northwestern

EAST

1.Connecticut16.Jacksonville Philadelphia, PA

8.Arizona St9.Minnesota

5.LSU12.New Mexico Miami, FL

4.Clemson13.Virginia Commonwealth

6.Illinois11.Dayton Portland, OR

3.Washington14.North Dakota St

7.Florida St10.Creighton Minneapolis, MN

2.Oklahoma15.Weber St

WEST

1.Duke16.Cal St Northridge Greensboro, NC

8.BYU9.Oklahoma St

5.Purdue12.Siena Miami, FL

4.Villanova13.Binghampton

6.Gonzaga11.Utah St Boise, ID

3.Missouri14.Miami(OH)

7.Marquette10.Ohio St Kansas City, MO

2.Memphis15.Cornell(Ivy)

SOUTH

1.Pittsburgh16.Radford/Alabama St Dayton, OH

8.Texas9.Boston College

5.California12.Michigan Portland, OR

4.Xavier13.Western Kentucky

6.West Virginia11.South Carolina Philadelphia, PA

3.Wake Forest14.American

7.Butler10.UNLV Dayton, OH

2.Michigan St15.Robert Morris

MIDWEST

1.North Carolina16.Austin Peay Greensboro, NC

8.Texas A&M9.Penn St

5.Syracuse12.Davidson Boise, ID

4.UCLA13.Rhode Island

6.Tennessee11.St. Mary’s Minneapolis, MN

3.Kansas14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Utah10.Wisconsin Kansas City, MO

2.Louisville15.Morgan St