Mid-Majors conferences look to bite into BCS NCAA bids

Contributors
March 8, 2013 - 8:34am
Delaware, behind All-American Elena Delle Donne, is expected to make the NCAA tournament even if they don't win the Colonial Tournament Championship, which opens the door for 2 NCAA bids from this mid-major.  (Photo courtesy Delaware Athletics)

Delaware, behind All-American Elena Delle Donne, is expected to make the NCAA tournament even if they don't win the Colonial Tournament Championship, which opens the door for 2 NCAA bids from this mid-major. (Photo courtesy Delaware Athletics)

For the fans of the teams in the mid-major leagues, conference tournament time is among the most exciting of the season. Supporters of Power-6 conference teams pay attention too, but for entirely different reasons.

Most mid-major conferences will draw only the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament no matter which team wins the title. But in a handful of conferences, a loss by the favorite could result in that league receiving two bids, meaning one less at-large possibility for a BCS conference program.

In the Colonial Athletic Association, for example, if any team other than Delaware wins the tournament, this becomes a two-big league. Same thing with the Horizon League, where Green Bay is NCAA-bound regardless of conference tournament result. Then there's the Missouri Valley Conference, where despite a lack of eye-popping wins Creighton boasts an RPI number (26) that almost always leads to a bid.

These three teams will have lots of major-college fans over the next two weeks.

Also, pay close attention to the Atlantic 10, where Dayton (26-2, RPI 11) is a lock and Charlotte (24-4, 53), Duquesne (22-6, 35) and St. Joseph's (20-8, 54) all merit at-large consideration. Two bids from this league seems likely, and three teams could advance if things break right.

Here's a rundown of each of the mid-major conference tournaments:

Ohio Valley

March 6-9, Nashville Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn.

Defending champion: Tennessee-Martin

Top seeds: 1. Eastern Illinois; 2. Tennessee Tech; 3. Belmont

Player to watch: Tennessee-Martin's Heather Butler has made at least one 3-pointer in an NCAA-record 76 consecutive games.

Full Court pick: We give a huge edge to the top two seeds as each will receive byes into the semifinals. And a slight nod to Tennessee Tech, which did lose to Eastern Illinois in the regular season but enters the tournament with victories in three straight and seven of its last eight. EIU dropped its last two regular-season games.

Darkhorse: Defending champion Tennessee-Martin boast not only Butler but Jasmine Newsome, the OVC's Player and Defensive Player of the Year. Oh, and the Skyhawks come in on a five-game winning streak.

Big South

March 6-10, HTC Center, Conway, S.C.

Defending champion: Liberty

Top seeds: 1. Liberty; 2. Winthrop; 3. Presbyterian

Player to watch: High Point's Cheyenne Parker leads Division I in rebounding and blocked shots, quite an accomplishment in the Brittney Griner Era.

Full Court pick: First-team All-Big South picks Devon Brown and Tolu Omotola have Liberty poised to win this event for the 15th time in 17 seasons.

Darkhorse: Winthrop has the league's two-time player of the year in guard Dequesha McClanahan, and the Eagles dominated No. 3 and potential semifinal foe Presbyterian in both meetings. Problem is, Winthrop hasn't matched up well with Liberty, while Presbyterian went 1-0 against the Lady Flames.

Atlantic Sun

March 6-9, Hawkins Arena, Macon, Ga.

Defending champion: Florida Gulf Coast

Top seeds: 1. Florida Gulf Coast; 2. Stetson; 3. Mercer

Player to watch: FGCU's Sarah Hansen isn't just good, she's really, really smart. Hanson is a two-time Atlantic Sun Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Full Court pick: Florida Gulf Coast. The most prohibitive favorite of all the tournaments, the Eagles (25-5) have won 39 straight conference games and this season whipped league foes by an average of nearly 26 points per contest.

Darkhorse: Is there one? How 'bout North Florida? The Ospreys came within 11 points of Florida Gulf Coast, the closest of any league team.

West Coast

March 6-11, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

Defending champion: BYU

Top seeds: 1. Gonzaga; 2. San Diego; 3. St. Mary's

Player to watch: Haley Steed, BYU. Tough-as-nails seventh-year senior (not a misprint) point guard ranks second in Division I in assists and piloted the Cougars to the 2012 crown.

Fullcourt pick: As usual, Gonzaga is the team everyone else is chasing.

Darkhorse: Inconsistency has plagued BYU all season, but the Wildcats are definitely capable of putting it all together.

Patriot

March 7, 11 and 16, at higher seed

Defending champion: Navy

Top seeds: 1. Army; 2. Navy; 3. American

Player to watch: Army freshman guard Kelsey Minato, who in conference play led the league in scoring, 3-point shooting and free throw shooting, became the first player to win Patriot League Player and Rookie of the Year honors in the same season.

Full Court pick: After winning both regular season matchups, look for the Army to go 3-for-3 against the Navy in an all-service academies title game.

Darkhorse: Three weeks ago, eighth-seeded Colgate surprised Army, so don't sleep on the rematch in Thursday's quarterfinals.

MAAC

March 7-11, MassMutual Center, Springfield, Mass.

Defending champion: Marist

Top seeds: 1. Marist; 2. Iona; 3. Fairfield

Player to watch: Although only a sophomore, Iona's Damika Martinez is already a two-time MAAC scoring champion.

Full Court pick: Marist. Hard to bet against a program that has won this event eight years in a row.

Darkhorse: Canisius gave the Red Foxes their toughest (relatively speaking) MAAC tests, but as the No. 7 seed would have to get to the field to try its luck with Marist again.

America East

March 8-10, SEFCU Arena, Albany, N.Y., title game on March 16 at highest remaining seed.

Defending champion: Albany

Top seeds: 1. Albany; 2. Hartford; 3. UMBC

Player to watch: Albany guard Ebone Henry leads a balanced Great Danes attack.

Full Court pick: Albany. The Great Danes swept through the league unbeaten, faces a depleted tournament field and needs just two wins in their own gym to repeat.

Darkhorse: Hartford. With four titles and six finals appearances the past seven seasons, Jen Rizzotti's Hawks are usually ready to deal this time of year.

Notes: Maine, which would have been seeded eighth, withdrew from the tournament in the wake of a bus accident involving the team on Feb. 26. Also, Boston University, which finished second, is ineligible pending its move to the Patriot League.

Southern

March 8-11, Kimmel Arena and U.S. Cellular Center (semis and final), Asheville, N.C.

Defending champion: Samford

Top seeds: 1. Chattanooga; 2. Davidson; 3. Elon

Player to watch: Davidson's Sophia Aleksandravicius is an elite rebounder and shot-blocker.

Full Court pick: Chattanooga, which opened the 2012-13 season with a stunning 9-point win over Tennessee, has won 16 straight games since an overtime loss at Elon on Jan. 7.

Darkhorse: High-scoring No. 4 Appalachian State comes in having lost three of its last four, but when the Mountaineers are on they can match firepower with anyone.

The Dayton Flyers are on a 13-game win-streak headed into the A-10 Tournament. (Photo courtesy Dayton Athletics)

Atlantic 10

March 8-10, Hagan Arena (St. Joseph's), Philadelphia; title game on March 16 at the Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Defending champion: Dayton

Top seeds: 1. Dayton; 2. Charlotte; 3. Fordham

Player to watch: Charlotte's Jennifer Hailey is a double-double machine for a 49ers team that comes in on a program-record 13-game winning streak.

Full Court pick: Dayton. The high-scoring Flyers' depth and well-balanced attack should serve them well in a tournament format.

Darkhorse: Homecourt advantage hasn't helped St. Joseph's that much in the past, but this year's Hawks (20-8) are more dangerous than they've been in years.

Sun Belt

March 8-11, Summit Arena, Hot Springs, Ark.

Defending champion: Arkansas-Little Rock

Top seeds: 1. Middle Tennessee State; 2. Arkansas-Little Rock; 3. Western Kentucky

Player to watch: Florida International's Jerica Coley is the nation's Division I scoring leader.

Full Court pick: A one-point loser in overtime in last year's final, Middle Tennessee State will avenge that defeat this time.

Darkhorse: No. 7 South Alabama has won three straight and owns wins over UALR and Western Kentucky.

Summit

March 9-12, Sioux Falls Arena, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Defending champion: South Dakota State

Top seeds: 1. South Dakota State; 2. IUPUI; 3. South Dakota

Player to watch: Fort Wayne's Amanda Hyde has two 30-point games and one 40-point outburst this season.

Full Court pick: South Dakota State has won four straight Summit titles. But the Jackrabbits are 0-2 against IUPUI this season, with the losses coming by a combined four points.

Darkhorse: South Dakota has routed IUPUI twice, so don't be surprised if the lower seeds prevail in the semifinals.

Northeast

March 10, 13 and 17 at campus sites (top eight teams qualify)

Defending champion: Sacred Heart

Top seeds: 1. Quinnipiac; 2. Sacred Heart; 3. Monmouth

Player to watch:

Full Court pick: Hard to go against Quinnipiac, which completed an unbeaten conference season for just the fourth time in the 27-year history of the league - the three previous teams all went on to win the tournament - and will enjoy homecourt advantage for all three rounds.

Darkhorse: After winning just four league games the past two seasons combined, No. 7 St. Francis doubled that total in 2012-13. Included in the Terriers' eight victories is an upset of No. 2 and quarterfinal opponent Sacred Heart.

SWAC

March 12-16, Special Events Center, Garland, Texas

Defending champion: Prairie View

Top seeds: 1. Texas Southern; 2. Southern; 3. Mississippi Valley St

Player to watch: Grambling State's high-scoring guard Joanna Miller won SWAC Player of the Week honors three times in the last month of the season.

Full Court pick: Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who led Prairie View to two SWAC tournament titles before leaving for UNC Wilmington, has Texas Southern poised to pick up another league crown.

Darkhorse: Southern went 2-0 against Texas Southern, which went 16-0 against everyone else.

The following leagues have yet to complete their regular seasons:

WAC

March 12-13, 15-16, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

2012 champion: Fresno State (now in the Mountain West Conference)

Standings leaders: 1. Seattle; 2. Utah State; 3. Idaho

Seattle coach Joan Bonvicini has the uptempo Redhawks positioned to claim an NCAA bid in their first season of full Division I eligibility. With the departure of Fresno State, which had taken four of the past five conference titles, only one of the WAC's current teams (Louisiana Tech) has ever won this tournament.

Horizon

March 11-17 (Campus sites for first round, No. 1 seed hosts quarters and semis and highest remaining seed hosts final)

Defending champion: Green Bay

Standings leaders: 1. Green Bay; 2. Youngstown State; 3. Loyola

With an RPI of 21, Green Bay is NCAA-bound no matter what happens in this tournament. But with 11 titles the last 14 seasons (including the last two), the Phoenix aren't known for leaving things up to the committee.

MEAC

March 11-16, Norfolk Scope

Defending champion: Hampton

Standings leaders: 1. Hampton; 2. North Carolina A&T; 3. Howard;

Hampton is the three-time defending tournament champion and enters Thursday's game against North Carolina Central one victory away from completing a perfect conference season.

Missouri Valley

March 14-17, The Family Arena, St. Charles, Mo.

Defending champion: Creighton

Standings leaders: 1. Wichita State; 2. Creighton; 3. Illinois State

All three of the top teams headed into the final week with a shot at the tournament's top seed. Creighton began the week with an RPI of 26. According to the most recent edition of Collegiate Basketball News, teams with an RPI of 1-30 have a 99 percent chance of earning an NCAA at-large selection.

Big West

March 12-13 (1st round, quarterfinals), Bren Events Center, Irvine, Calif.; March 15-16 (semifinals, final), Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.

Defending champion: UCSB

Standings leaders: 1. Pacific; 2. Cal Poly; 3. Hawaii

One more victory and Pacific will enter the Big West tournament with the most victories (24) since UCSB also racked up 24 in 2003.

Colonial

March 14-17, Show Place Arena, Upper Marlboro, MD

Defending champion: Delaware

No. 16 ranked Delaware is undefeated in conference play thanks to All-American Elena Delle Donne.  They are poised to win back-to-back Colonial championships, but be wary of James Madison who only lost to the Hens by a point on Feb 24th and would like to upset Delaware to claim an NCAA bid.


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