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TGS HOOPS...EARLY COLLEGE CONFERENCE TOURNEY PREVIEW!

                                       by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Edtior

After providing a look-ahead to the postseason extravaganzas conducted by the major conferences last week, we provide a quick preview for the conference tournaments of the lower-echelon Division I leagues in this edition.

The rather recent introduction of the CollegeInsider.com Tourney, or CIT, and the College Basketball Invitational, or CBI, has provided more postseason slots and thus more opportunities for entries from the low-major leagues to have teams participate in tourneys other than the NCAA and NIT. There's also a new entry to the postseason called the "Vegas 16" that will be structured as was the old NIT in which all of the games were played at Madison Square Garden in New York City; for the Vegas 16, all games will be played at the Cox Pavilion on the campus of UNLV, and will take place from March 26-30.

Now, with three extra postseason events added over the past decade, several of these lower-echelon loops are sending multiple entries to the postseason, so it behooves handicappers to begin paying attention to these sides before they enter either the Big Dance, NIT, CBI, CIT...or Vegas 16. Many Las Vegas sports books, which routinely post numbers on several "added" conferences (Big Sky, Metro-Atlantic, Ohio Valley, Summit, SoCon), will be including prices on almost all of these minor conference tournaments as well. Note that many of the upcoming conference tournaments will also be televised (the introduction of ESPN3, which streams on computers, has added countless more college hoops viewing opportunities and will be providing added coverage for many of the lower-rung D-I conference tourneys).

We've listed below, by conference alphabetical order, upcoming tournament specifics for those lower-profile Division I leagues. Also included are any teams that enjoy home-court tourney edges; the top contenders in each loop, noted by italics, with any clear-cut favorite accompanied by an *; and last season's conference results in the NCAA, NIT, CBI, and CIT. Just before Selection Sunday, in next weekend's TGS Hoops 31, we'll also review how these leagues have fared in recent Big Dance action.

March Madness...it's here!

AMERICA EAST...Tourney March 2, 7, and 12 at home of highest seed for each matchup. Top eight teams qualify. Stony Brook enters as the top seed. UMass-Lowell is in its third of a four-year transition period from Div. II and is ineligible for the conference tournament. Top contenders-Stony Brook, Albany, New Hampshire, Vermont. Notes...The home team of Strat-o-Matic games on Long Island, Stony Brook, enters the conference tourney with the homecourt edge. With all starters back from last year's team that made it to the CBI, the Seawolves have been no surprise, and continue to feature the AE's top post threat, four-year starting PF Jameel Warney (18.7 ppg & 10.2 rpg), largely responsible for the Brook's +7.7 rebound margin, ranked 19th nationally. Juco PG Ahmad Walker (10.2 ppg) has added more scoring from the top. But losses in two of the last three games have some folks in Strat-o land worried, especially since top contender Albany inflicted a recent 82-70 defeat. The Great Danes are looking for their fourth straight conference tourney crown, and, as a year ago, feature a 4-G lineup led by srs. Peter Hooley & Evan Singletary (combined 26 ppg). Best chances to knock off the top two belong to New Hampshire, which beat Albany and played Stony Brook within 1 point on the road and features emerging 6-6 soph F Tanner Leissner (scored 25 in recent 59-58 loss to the Seawolves), and Bernie Sanders' favorite team, Vermont, which hit the tourney hot with five straight wins including a season-ending upset at Stony Brook. Bombardier Catamount frosh G Ernie Duncan hits 43% from beyond the arc and hit all four of his triples in last Saturday's win at Stony Brook. Last year...NCAA-Albany lost vs. Oklahoma, 69-60. CBI-Vermont won at Hofstra, 85-81; won vs. Radford, 78-71; lost at UL-Monroe, 71-66; Stony Brook lost at Mercer, 72-70. CIT-New Hampshire lost at NJIT, 84-77.

ATLANTIC SUN...Tourney March 1, 3, and 6 at home of highest seed for each matchup. North Florida is the top seed. Top contenders-North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, NJIT, Jacksonville. Notes...After qualifying for its first-ever Big Dance a year ago, North Florida is favored to make it back-to-back NCAA visits. The bombs-away Ospreys lead the nation in three-pointers (386!) and three-point attempts (928!) while hitting 41.6% from downtown, which ranks sixth nationally. UNF also ranks fourth in scoring at 85.5 ppg. An upperclassmen-heavy lineup returned four starters from last year's 23-win team and continues to be led by jr. G Dallas Moore (19.7 ppg) & 6-8 matchup nightmare sr. swingman Beau Beech (15.6 ppg), though the hottest scorer lately has been 6-7 sr. F Demarcus Daniels, who scored 25 (vs. NJIT) and 23 (vs. USC-Upstate) in recent games. Second-seed Florida Gulf Coast has only one remaining player (backup F Filip Cvjeticanin) from former HC Andy Enfield's "Dunk City" edition that crashed the Sweet 16 three years ago, and the Eagles did beat North Florida on Feb. 6. More inside-oriented than recent years with 6-8 jr. Marc-Eddy Noriela (17.1 ppg), who does all of his offensive work on the blocks, and the first option on attack. A-Sun newcomer NJIT, which took Northern Kentucky's place in the league after campaigning as the last D-I Independent, has at times flashed the form that lifted last year's edition to the CIT semifinals. A recent 5-game win streak by the Highlanders featured a win over FGCU, and NJIT continues to feature electric G Damon Lynn (18.1 ppg). But the Highlanders have lacked the dimensions provided a year ago by sr. G Winfield Willis, who hit a team-best 44% beyond the arc last season but has been out with injury since early December. Looking for a longshot? Try Atlanta suburb-based Kennesaw State, with a familiar coach (Al Skinner, part of the ABA glory-era New York Nets and later a longtime HC at Boston College) and wins in four of its last five, including an upset of North Florida. The Owls have perhaps the A-Sun's best 1-2 combo in Gs Yonel Brown and former Quinnipiac transfer Kendrick Ray, both scoring 19 ppg, though neither tops 6-feet-tall and can be liabilities on defense vs. bigger backcourts. Last year...NCAA-North Florida lost play-in game vs. Robert Morris, 81-77. CIT-USC-Upstate won vs. James Madison, 73-72; lost vs. UT-Martin 60-49; Florida Gulf Coast lost vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 75-69.

BIG SKY...Tourney March 8-12 at Reno Events Center, Reno, NV (home of NBA-DL Bighorns). Top contenders-Weber State, Montana, Idaho, Eastern Washington, North Dakota, Idaho State. Notes...For the first time since an ill-advised one-time run in 2008 at Portland's Rose Garden (Moda Center), the Sky's tourney moves off-campus to a neutral venue in Reno at the Events Center, the home of the NBA-DL Reno Bighorns and not the same venue as the Lawlor Center, home of the Nevada Wolf Pack. Also, all teams qualify after participation was limited to the top eight teams in recent years. Weber State likely enters as the top seed after last Saturday's gutsy win in Ogden vs. Montana, achieved minus frontline workhorse and the nation's third-leading rebounder (13 pg), rugged PF Joel Bolomboy, dealing with a deep knee bruise. The Wildcats are hoping Bolomboy can return for Reno, though they did beat the Grizzlies in last weekend's crucial win without him, when juco G Dusty Baker (not the manager of the Washington Nationals) earned hero status when scoring 20 off of the bench. (File away for reference the apparent bad blood between Montana and Weber State, which engaged in a post-game shoving match in the handshake line.) Still healthy for the Wildcats is star jr. G Jeremy Senglin (18 ppg), who hits 46% of his triples, and Weber connects on 48.4% from the floor, which ranks 18th nationally. The Grizzlies from Missoula will still probably like their chances if they get a rematch in Reno with former Washington transfer 6-8 Martin Breunig (18.8 ppg and 8.8 rpg) rivaling Bolomboy for the league's best big man honors. Montana has also gotten a lot of mileage from a pair of newcomer Gs, juco PG Walter Wright (12.4 ppg) and frosh Michael Oguine (11.4 ppg). Last year's Sky champ, Eastern Washington, has burned hot on occasion when much-traveled G Austin McBroom (21.5 ppg; formerly Central Michigan and Saint Louis) has been unleashed, as he has three games of 35 or more since Feb. 11. The Eagles rank sixth nationally in field-goal percentage (49.8%), with holdover PF Venky Jois (16.9 ppg) second nationally at 69.7%. Also keep an eye on Idaho, which recently got its backcourt pair of Victor Sanders and Perrion Callandret (combined 30 ppg) back together after both battled recent injuries. The Vandals upended EWU with both Sanders and Callandret on the floor together last weekend. Another longshot worth a look could be Idaho State, which has won 9 of 12 and features fireball juco G Ethan Telfair (19.8 ppg), younger brother of ex-NBA G Sebastian Telfair and a cousin of Stephon Marbury. Last year...NCAA-Eastern Washington lost vs. Georgetown, 84-74. CIT-Northern Arizona won at Grand Canyon, 75-70; won at Sacramento State, 78-73; won in OT vs. Kent State, 74-73; won vs. NJIT, 68-61; lost at Evansville in title game, 71-65; Sacramento State won at Portland, 73-66; lost vs. Northern Arizona, 78-73.

BIG SOUTH...Tourney March 3-6 at HTC Center, Conway, SC (home court of Coastal Carolina Chanticleers). The top five finishers receive byes into the quarterfinals; seeds 6 thru 11 compete in a play-in round. Top contenders-Winthrop, High Point, Coastal Carolina, UNC-Asheville, Gardner-Webb, Liberty. Notes...An absolutely wide-open event with the top six teams separated by just three games in the league standings, similar to the logjam the past two seasons. On both of those occasions, vet HC Cliff Ellis' Chants of Coastal Carolina (bound for the Sun Belt next season) took advantage of the Myrtle Beach locale at their home HTC Center to win this event before giving powerhouses Virginia and Wisconsin some anxious moments in the Big Dance sub-regionals. Though returning four starters from last season, CC did not find its stride until mid-January, and hits the tourney as the loop's hottest team with wins in 10 of its last 12. A newcomer to the Chanticleer mix, South Carolina transfer G Jaylen Shaw, has picked up his pace late in the season and has three straight double-digit scoring games, and is one of four double-digit scorers in Ellis' well-balanced lineup. Winthrop, which lost in the finale vs. Coastal a year ago, enters as the top seed and features a dynamite backcourt pair of mini 5-7 (or is he really 5-5?) G Keon Johnson (19.8 ppg) and well-traveled Bradley and Wisconsin-Parkside transfer Jimmy Gavin (18 ppg). The Eagles' 48.5% FG shooting ranks 17thnationally. High Point, coached by former Jim Larranaga aide Scott Cherry, features the Big South's best NBA prospect in explosive 6-8 sr. F John Brown (19.6 ppg), whose windmill dunks have been featured more than once on ESPN Sports Center. (Though check status of Brown's foot injury, suffered last week). The Panthers also shoot 39% from tripleville (21st nationally). UNC-Asheville impressed early in the season when it advanced to the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout and also beat Georgetown, as would another Big South rep, Radford. And the Hoyas thought the Big East was tough! Last year...NCAA-Coastal Carolina lost vs. Wisconsin, 86-72. NIT-Charleston Southern lost vs. Old Dominion, 65-56. CBI-Radford won at Delaware State, 78-57; lost at Vermont 78-71; Gardner-Webb lost at Colorado, 87-78. CIT-High Point won vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore, 70-64; lost at Eastern Kentucky, 66-65.

METRO ATLANTIC...Tourney March 3-7 at Trans Union Center, Albany, NY. The top five seeds gets byes into the quarerfinals; seeds 6 thru 11 compete in a play-in round. Top contenders-Monmouth, Iona, Siena, Fairfield, St. Peter's. Notes...Much discussion among "Bracketologists" (us included) whether Monmouth has an NCAA at-large case, if needed, which could make the Metro-Atlantic a two-bid league for the first time since 1995, when St. Peter's and Manhattan would qualify for the Big Dance. Prior to winning this year's Metro regular-season crown, the Hawks beat UCLA, Notre Dame, Southern Cal, and Georgetown in pre-league play, though the wins over the Bruins and Hoyas would eventually lose some of their luster. Coach King Rice's fast and athletic roster, which finished the regular season with a 25-6 record, can score points in bunches as it ranks 13th nationally in steals, with go-go 5-8 jr. G Justin Robinson (20 ppg) among the nation's leaders at 62 steals. Though there is much regional sentiment for HC Tim Cluess' frequent Big Dance qualifier Iona, which hits the tourney hot after winning its last five and nine of its last ten, including a comfy 83-67 win at Monmouth on Feb. 19. The uptempo Gaels score 80 ppg and are again led by sr. G A.J. English (22.2 ppg). Regional observers give only one other entry, Dancin' Jimmy Patsos' Siena, a legit shot, as the Saints won 20 games and recently welcomed back second-leading scorer G Marquis Wright (15.4 ppg) after being out with injury since Christmas. Patsos has the best-balanced team in the MAAC, with five DD scorers now available with Wright's return. Last year...NCAA-Manhattan lost play-in game vs. Hampton, 74-64. NIT-Iona lost vs. Rhode Island, 88-75. CBI-Rider lost at Loyola-Chicago, 62-59. CIT-Canisius won vs. Dartmouth, 87-72; won at Bowling Green, 82-59; lost at NJIT, 78-73.

MEAC...Tourney March 7-12 at The Scope, Norfolk, VA (not the home court of Norfolk State, which plays its games at Echols Hall); First round pits seeds 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, and 8 vs. 9; winners advance to quarterfinals, and so forth. For the second straight year, Florida A&M is ineligible due to APR penalties. Top contenders-Hampton, South Carolina State, Norfolk State, Bethune-Cookman. Notes...Hampton likely enters the tourney as the top-seeded team as it takes a 1 1/2-game lead in the league race to the final weekend, and can sew up the top seed with wins vs. either Delaware State or Norfolk State later this week. The nearby Norfolk venue helped propel the Pirates to the Dance last season, where HC Edward Joyner, Jr.'s team beat Manhattan in the play-in game. Hampton, which returned four starters, was the only MEAC rep notunder .500 in non-league play, with the best win against Sun Belt foe UL-Monroe. Joyner's team causes matchup problems with its big transfer Gs, ex-Miami-Ohio Reginald Johnson, jr. (18.6 ppg) and ex-Tennessee Quinton Chievous (16.8 ppg), who spearheaded last year's run in Norfolk. The only other MEAC entry with a winning SU record (16-13) is South Carolina State, which beat Hampton on Jan. 25 and features one of the MEAC's top newcomers in juco G Eric Eaves (16.8 ppg). The MEAC Tourney has featured several upsets in recent years, however, and if there is a team to watch, regional observers suggest keeping an eye onSavannah State, which has won six straight, including a pair of successes vs. South Carolina State. And if looking for a one-man show, check out Washington, D.C.-based Howard, where the Bison showcase the nation's leading scorer jr. G James Daniel (27.7 ppg). By the way, old ABA fans might remember the Norfolk Scope venue as one of the regional homes of the Virginia Squires in the days of Julius Erving in the early '70s. Last year...NCAA-Hampton won play-in game vs. Manhattan, 74-64; lost vs. Kentucky, 79-56; NIT-NC Central lost vs. Miami-Florida, 75-71; CIT-Norfolk State lost at Eastern Kentucky, 81-75.

NORTHEAST...Tourney March 2, 5 and 8 at home of highest seed for each matchup. Wagner is the top seed. Top contenders-Wagner, Fairleigh Dickinson, Long Island, St. Francis (NY), Sacred Heart, Mount Saint Mary's. Notes...Bob Beckel's alma mater Wagner, the pride of Staten Island, was in control of the Northeast race for most of the campaign and closed the regular season in a rush, winning its last five to comfortably claim homecourt edge in the tourney. Though the Seahawks were something of a surprise after limping in with a 10-20 SU mark a year ago for HC Bashir Mason. Spark for the turnaround was provided by 6-5 juco wing Michael Carey (12 ppg), a native of the Bahamas who emerged as Wagner's second-leading scorer. Though it's defense that propels the Seahawks, who have allowed 57 points or fewer in five of their last seven games. After Wagner and its 20-9 SU, mark, the only other Northeast teams above .500 are 15-14 Fairleigh Dickinson, which rates as quite an accomplishment for the Knights, picked last in the league by many preseason prognosticators, and 15-14 Long Island, the last team to beat Wagner (on Feb. 11). Though the Clair Bees, er Blackbirds, were wildly erratic, and connected on only 30% of their triples. The home team of the Pittsburgh Airport, frequent NCAA qualifier Robert Morris, endured a disappointing season and will be a deep longshot in this NE Tourney. Last year...NCAA-Robert Morris won play-in game vs. North Florida, 81-77; lost vs. Duke, 85-56. NIT-St. Francis (NY) lost vs. Richmond, 84-74.
OHIO VALLEY...Tourney March 2-5 at Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, TN (not the home court of Nashville-based Tennessee State, which plays its games at the Gentry Complex, or Nashville-based Belmont, which plays its games at the Mike Curb Events Center). Top contenders-Belmont, Tennessee Tech, Morehead State, Tennessee State, UT-Martin, Murray State. Notes...Wide-open event conducted at The Jetson's-style Nashville Municipal Auditorium, which looks as if it could have been moved from the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Though vet HC Rick Byrd's defending champ Belmont might rate a slight favorite, and features holdovers F Evan Bradds (17.7 ppg) & G Craig Bradshaw (16.6 ppg), the hometown venue might not prove as much of an edge this season, as another Music City entry, Tennessee State, has been the surprise package of the league and bounced the Bruins 87-72 in the regular-season finale on Sunday. The Tigers are transfer-heavy, with ex-Montana G Keron Deshields (16 ppg), ex-Niagara G Tahjere McCall (14.5 ppg), and ex-St. Francis (NY) and juco PF Wayne Martin (10.9 ppg) quickly coagulating for second-year HC Dana Ford, whose team was a lowly 5-26 SU last season. There is some support among regional scouts for all among UT-Martin,Murray State, and Tennessee Tech, though the team most are really watching is surging Morehead State, which has won six in a row, including conquers of Belmont, Tennessee Tech, and Tennessee State. Eagles HC Sean Woods (a former Kentucky star in playing days) is hopeful of getting high scorer jr. G Corban Collins (11.8 ppg) back in time from injury for the conference tourney, but Morehead has nonetheless won all four of its games minus Collins in the past two weeks. Last Year...NCAA-Belmont lost vs. Virginia, 79-67. NIT-Murray State won at UTEP, 81-66; won vs. Tulsa, 83-62; lost vs. Old Dominion, 72-69. CIT-UT-Martin won at Northwestern State, 104-79; won at USC-Upstate, 60-49; won at Eastern Kentucky, 70-69; lost at Evansville, 79-66; Eastern Kentucky won vs. Norfolk State, 81-75; won vs. High Point, 66-65; lost vs. UT-Martin, 70-69; Eastern Illinois won at Oakland, 97-91; lost vs. Evansville, 83-68.

PATRIOT...Tourney March 1, 3, 6, and 9, all at home of higher seed for each matchup. Bucknell is the top seed. Top four seeds receive byes in first round. Top contenders-Bucknell, Lehigh, Boston University.Notes...CBS head honcho Les Moonves' alma mater Bucknell survived the departure of successful 7-year HC Dave Paulsen (to George Mason) to win the regular-season crown and all-important home edge throughout the Patriot Tourney. All of this after a slow start in non-league play even with the presence of four starters from last year's 19-win team. But the Bison would eventually find their rhythm for new HC Nathan Davis, a former Bucknell aide for some of Pat Flannery's memorable teams a decade ago before moving to the HC spot at Randolph-Macon, with 6-5 sr. G Chris Hass (17.3 ppg) leading the charge. Lehigh, however, believes it has a shot after beating Bucknell in the most recent meeting on Feb. 10, and will not be intimidated after taking its lumps vs, the likes of Syracuse, Virginia, and Purdue in pre-league play. The Mountain Hawks (what was wrong with the old Engineers nickname?) enter the tourney hot, with nine straight wins, and feature the best post threat in the league with 6-10 jr. Tim Kempton (17.5 ppg). Third-seed Boston U, led by 6-5 jr. G Eric Fanning (15.2 ppg), is the last team to beat Lehigh (on Jan. 31). There is also some support for the best Army and Navy teams in recent years. Last Year...NCAA-Lafayette lost vs. Villanova, 93-52. NIT-Bucknell lost vs. Temple, 73-67.

SOUTHERN...Tourney March 3-7 at U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, NC. Top six seeds receive byes in first round. Top contenders-Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Furman, Wofford. Notes...There are some college hoop insiders who believe that Chattanooga, at 25-5 SU and with non-league wins over Georgia, Illinois, and Dayton, might have a Big Dance at-large case should it lose in Asheville. The Mocs surged despite the near season-long absence of returning top scorer G Casey Jones, who hasn't played since December 8 due to an ankle injury, as well as the departure after last season of HC Will Wade, who moved to VCU. New HC Matt McCall, a Billy Donovan disciple, would nonetheless hit the ground running and keep running, with a balanced attack featuring seven scoring between 7-12 ppg. UTC also has the SoCon's best rim protector in 6-10 C Justin Tuoyo, whose 2.3 blocks pg ranks among the nation's leaders. Stiff competition likely comes from East Tennessee State, which enters Asheville having won five straight and eight of nine, though it did lose both games this season vs. the Mocs. First-year HC Steve Forbes (not that Steve Forbes), hired off of Gregg Marshall's Wichita State staff, went heavy with jucos and senior transfers in his debut season, and got plenty of mileage from ex-Cincinnati G Ge'Lawn Guyn (18.1 ppg), juco wing T.J. Cromer (15.1 ppg), and ex-Missouri and Baylor G Deuce Bello (10 ppg). Most SoCon scouts are going to be surprised if the finale doesn't feature the Mocs and Bucs. If there is a longshot to watch, keep an eye on Western Carolina, as the Catamounts have won four straight and seven of eight (including a win over UTC) with a senior-heavy lineup featuring G Mike Brown (16.5 ppg). Last year...NCAA-Wofford lost vs. Arkansas, 56-53. CBI-Mercer won vs. Stony Brook, 72-70; lost vs. UL-Monroe, 71-69.

SOUTHLAND...Tourney March 9-13 at Merrell Center, Katy, TX. Top eight teams qualify. Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian are still in their transitional period from D-II to D-I and are ineligible for the conference tournament, though they can participate in the NIT, CBI, or CIT. Central Arkansas is ineligible due to APR penalties. Top contenders-Stephen F. Austin*, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Sam Houston State, Houston Baptist. Notes...SFA seeks a third straight Big Dance trip under HC Brad Underwood, a former Frank Martin aide who by now ought to be on the short list for any number of higher-profile openings. The Lumberjacks have yet to lose in Southland play this season with a familiar lineup still featuring classy 6-4 sr. wing Thomas Walkup (17 ppg), one of four starters back from last year's 29-5 powerhouse. Among many positives, SFA also ranks among the nation's steal leaders with 243. If there is to be a challenge to the 'Jacks, it likely comes from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, under the direction of former Rice HC Willis Wilson. The Islanders returned four starters from the team that won a game in the CIT last March and own one of the top post threats in the Southland with beastly 6-8, 250-lb. Rashawn Thomas (17.4 ppg & 8.4 rpg). With potential challenger Incarnate Word still in its transition phase from D-II and ineligible, the only other likely contender might be Sam Houston State, which regressed in a rebuild after losing four starters from last year's 26-9 team but enters the final weekend of the regular season on a slight upswing, winning three of its last four. Last Year...NCAA-Stephen F. Austin lost vs. Utah, 57-50. CIT-Sam Houston State beat UNC-Wilmington, 87-71; lost vs. UL-Lafayette, 71-70; Texas A&M-Corpus Christi won at Florida Gulf Coast, 75-69; lost vs. Kent State, 75-69; Northwestern State lost vs. UT-Martin, 104-79; Incarnate Word lost vs. UL-Lafayette, 83-68.

SWAC...Tourney March 8-12 at Toyota Center, Houston, TX. Alcorn State is ineligible due to APR penalties. Top contenders-Texas Southern, Jackson State, Southern. Notes...The vagaries of the SWAC are reflected no better than in conference tourney top seed Texas Southern, as HC Mike Davis' Houston-based Tigers lost 11 of their 12 non-league games before ripping off 14 wins in their first 15 SWAC outings. As usual, TSU was overscheduled early (at New Mexico, Creighton, Mississippi State, Syracuse, Baylor), but has been the best of the SWAC with a balanced lineup featuring four double-digit scorers led by powerhouse frosh PF Derrick Griffin (13.2 ppg and 11.1 rpg, good enough for 10th nationally with the latter). Before granting Davis' team a major edge because second-place Alcorn State is ineligible due to APR penalties, remember that the SWAC Tourney has produced some surprises over the years. Note that Southern U beat Mississippi State, Tulane, and Wyoming in pre-SWAC play, and has a big-time scorer in 6-4 former USC-Upstate transfer G Adrian Rodgers (16.8 ppg). And Alabama State was a chic preseason pick to win the league. Though the only SWAC rep to actually beat Texas Southern this term has been subpar Prairie View! Last year...NCAA-Texas Southern lost vs. Arizona, 93-72.

SUMMIT...Tourney March 7-10 at the 2-year-old Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, Sioux Falls, SD (not the home court of nearby, Brookings-based South Dakota State, which plays its home games at Frost Arena, or of nearby, Vermillion-based South Dakota, which plays its home games at the Dakota Dome). The Summit League was formerly known as Mid-Continent Conference. Top contenders-South Dakota State, IPFW, Omaha, North Dakota State. Notes...This wildly-supported event in Sioux Falls takes place for the second year in the still shiny-and-new 13,000-seat Denny Sanford PREMIER Center and annually delivers one of the most crackling atmospheres of all postseason events. The regional edge cannot hurt South Dakota State, which has advanced to a handful of Big Dances in recent years and will be hellbent to atone for last year's loss in the finale vs. bitter foe North Dakota State. The senior-laden Jackrabbits, under vet HC Scott Nagy, like to push the pace behind their senior perimeter, featuring former Wisconsin transfer G George Marshall (16 ppg) and backcourt mate Deondre Parks (15.1 ppg). Though the revelation for the Rabbits has been 6-9 frosh F Mike Daum, scoring 14.8 ppg. Surprising IPFW ranks among the nation's scoring leaders at 80.4 ppg and surged down the stretch with wins in 15 of its last 19 games. Most of that minus midseason academic casualty G Mo Evans, who was the leading Mastodon scorer at the time (16.9 ppg) of his dismissal. Eventually, former Gardner-Webb transfer G Max Landis (18.7 ppg) would catch fire down the stretch and emerge as one of the Summit's most-lethal scoring threats. Go-go Omaha (84.9 ppg ranks fifth nationally!) is finally eligible after its transition period and has one of the best 1-2 combos in the Summit with 5-11 G Devin Patterson (17.5 ppg) and former Wichita State transfer F Jake White (17.4 ppg). And there's always aforementioned NDSU, with four starters back from last year's Summit champs and having beaten both SDSU and IPFW this season. Thoough the Bison endured a mostly-uneven campaign as they were never really able to replace last year's star, G Lawrence Alexander, now playing overseas. Last year...NCAA-North Dakota State lost vs. Gonzaga, 86-76. NIT-South Dakota State won at Colorado State, 86-76; lost at Vanderbilt, 92-77. CBI-Oral Roberts won vs. UC Santa Barbara, 91-87; lost at Loyola-Chicago, 86-78. CIT-IPFW lost at Evansville, 82-77.

WAC...Tourney March 10-12 at the Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV. Grand Canyon remains in its transition period from Division II and will be ineligible for the conference tournament, but can participate in the NIT, CBI, or CIT. Top contenders-New Mexico State, CS Bakersfield. Notes...The exception to the rule of conference tourneys, as only hardcore fans show up for this event at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, where early-round games are often played in front of a handful of fans. For hoops junkies, however, it's almost heaven, with some of the games seemingly being conducted for your singular enjoyment! New Mexico State does usually bring some supporters to Vegas and is the favorite to win this event for a fifth straight year, with HC Marvin Menzies fashioning another contender this season without the benefit of many returning starters (just two). But 6-9 soph beast Pascal Siakam (whose brother James played in recent years at Vanderbilt) is an immovable object on the blocks who scored 20.6 ppg and hauled in 11.8 rpg (ranking seventh nationally in the latter) who gives the Ags a significant edge in a league without many quality bigs. Though NMSU lacks the sharp edge of recent editions because of spotty 3-point shooting (only 33%). Most expect the top challenge in Vegas to come from Cal State Bakersfield, under HC Rod Barnes, better known from his past for stints at Ole Miss and Georgia State. Barnes has molded a contender with plenty of balance (five DD scorers) and is one WAC coach with a burly big, 6-9 Aly Ahmed (13.6 ppg), to do battle with Siakam in the expected showdown vs. NMSU. Worth noting that Siakam was held under his season averages over the two games vs. Ahmed and the Roadrunners, including Siakam's 1 for 12 FG shooting in the recent 63-55 win over Bakersfield in Las Cruces on Feb. 18. Ahmed, however, often finds himself in foul trouble, and needs to stay on the floor for Barnes' team to have its best chance. Last year-NCAA-New Mexico State lost vs. Kansas, 75-56. CBI-Seattle won vs. Pepperdine, 62-45; won vs. Colorado, 72-65; lost at Loyola-Chicago, 63-48. CIT-Grand Canyon lost vs. Northern Arizona, 75-70.


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