2014 Mid-Major Conference Tournaments Preview (Part I)

March 4, 2014 - 12:00pm
The first of the Mid-Major conference tournaments kicked off on Tuesday with more to follow this week and most of next.

The first of the Mid-Major conference tournaments kicked off on Tuesday with more to follow this week and most of next.

While the BCS conference women's basketball tournaments get underway when the ACC and SEC tip off their opening rounds on Wednesday, two midmajor conference tournaments are already in progress with more to follow throughout this week and next. The Patriot League and Big South hosted their opening rounds on Tuesday, March 4, with the upper seeds holding serve across the board. The Atlantic 10 and Ohio Valley conference tournaments open Wednesday, the Metro Atlantic and West Coast conference tourneys start Thursday, and the America East and Southern conferences commence their championship tournaments on Friday. We'll provide snapshoots of each of those in this article.

Big East and Summit League teams take their NCAA Tournament hopes to the hardwood in conference tourneys beginning Saturday and the Northeast gets underway Sunday, but those leagues haven't finished regular-season play yet.  The following leagues begin play next Monday or later: Horizon, MEAC, Mid-American (MAC), Mountain West, Big West, Atlantic Sun, SWAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt, WAC, Big Sky, CAA, Missouri Valley, Southland. We will bring you a second installment spotlighting these tournaments this weekend along with highlights from those already in progress.

Conference Breakdowns

Patriot League
When and Where: Tuesday, Thursday, March 4 and 6, 10 and 15, at higher seed
2013 Champion: Navy
Top Seeds: 1. Navy; 2. Army; 3. American; 4. Bucknell
The Skinny: Prior to 2011, Navy had never won this tournament. Led by coach Stephanie Pemper, the Mids have now won the past three and are coming off the first outright Patriot League regular-season title in school history.

Progress to Date: No. 7 Boston University rode an early second-half surge to a 59-49 victory over No. 9 Colgate, and No. 8 Lehigh ground its way past No. 10 Loyola Maryland, 40-35, on Tuesday. The Mountain Hawks will face top-seeded Navy in Annapolis in Thursday's quarterfinal, while the Terriers head to West Point to face No. 2 Army. In Thursday's other two quarterfinal match-ups, No. 4 Bucknell hosts No. 5 Holy Cross, and No. 3 American takes on No. 6 Lafayette.

Big South
When and Where: Tuesday, March 4; Thursday, March 6 through Sunday, March 9, HTC Center, Conway, S.C.
2013 Champion: Liberty
Top Seeds: 1. High Point; 2. Liberty; 3. Winthrop; 4. Campbell
The Skinny: One of the rare years in which the field has a legitimate shot to unseat Liberty, which has won two straight and 15 of the last 17 Big South titles. But the Lady Flames head into the tournament on a five-game winning streak.

Progress to Date: No. 6 Coastal Carolina crushed No. 11 Charleston Southern, 106-71, No. 7 Presbyterian handled No. 10 Longwood, 54-40, and No. 8 UNC Asheville squeaked past No. 9 Radford, 43-42, in Tuesday's opening-round action. All teams take Wednesday off. In Thursday's quarterfinal action, UNC Asheville, ow 11-19, will face top-seeded High Point (20-9), Coastal Carolina (15-15) will see whether it can continue its high-octane ways against No. 3 Winthrop (21-8), and Presbyterian (12-18) will take on the reigning champs, No. 2-seeded Liberty. Fifth-seeded Gardner-Webb (16-13) meets No. 4 Campbell (18-11) in the other quarterfinal.

Ohio Valley
When and Where: Wednesday, March 5, through Saturday, March 8, Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn.
2013 Champion: Tennessee-Martin
Top Seeds: 1. Tennessee-Martin; 2. Belmont; 3. Tennessee Tech; 4. Tennessee State
The Skinny: Both UT-Martin and Belmont earned byes to the semifinals, putting them just two victories from the title. UT-Martin seniors Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome are looking to make it a clean sweep of career OVC Tournament play as the Skyhawks have won the last three tournament titles.

Atlantic 10
When and Where: Wednesday, March 5, through Sunday, March 9, Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, Va.
2013 Champion: St. Joseph's
Top Seeds: 1. Dayton; 2. St. Bonaventure; 3. Fordham; 4. George Washington.
The Skinny: Balance has been the rule in this league in recent years - the top seed has failed to win this tournament in each of the past two seasons, and the top two seeds head into this year's event after losses in their regular-season finales over the weekend as Dayton fell to No. 4 George Washington and St. Bonaventure lost at No. 7 La Salle.

West Coast
When and Where: Thursday, March 6, through Tuesday, March 11, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nev.
2013 Champion: Gonzaga
Top Seeds: 1. Gonzaga; 2. BYU; 3. Pacific; 4. St. Mary's
The Skinny: Nationally ranked Gonzaga, which has won four of the past five titles, is, as usual, the team to beat. But watch out for WCC newcomer Pacific, which has gone 10-2 since Jan. 18 and lost by just four at Gonzaga in Saturday's regular-season finale.

When and Where: Thursday, March 6, through Monday, March 10, MassMutual Center, Springfield, Mass.
2013 Champion: Marist
Top Seed: 1. Iona; 2. Marist; 3. Fairfield; 4. Quinnipiac
The Skinny: Iona may have gotten the top seed, but eight-time defending MAAC Tournament champion Marist made a statement Sunday by winning at Iona, 79-67. The Red Foxes have a 23-game winning streak in this event, with the last 13 wins by double digits.

America East
When and Where: Friday, March 7, through Monday, March 10, SEFCU Arena, Albany, N.Y.
2013 Champion: Albany
Top Seeds: 1. Albany; 2. Stony Brook; 3. New Hampshire; 4. Maine
The Skinny: Stony Brook heads in on a seven-game winning streak and last week snapped Albany's 38-game winning streak against conference foes. But the two-time defending champion Great Danes will still be tough to unseat, especially since they're hosting the event. Albany has hosted the final and won the tournament the past two years.

When and Where: Friday, March 7, through March 10, Kimmel Arena, Asheville, N.C.
2013 Champion: Chattanooga
Top Seeds: 1. Chattanooga; 2. Furman; 3. Davidson; 4. Appalachian State
The Skinny: Chattanooga closed out the regular season on a 22-game winning streak and has won 34 straight against SoCon opposition. Historically speaking, the Lady Mocs have won 14 of the 30 SoCon tournaments, more than double that of any other league member. Appalachian State is next with six.  

Players to Watch

Five (okay, six) players to watch this week when conference tournaments get under way in the Big South, Patriot, Ohio Valley, Atlantic 10, West Coast, MAAC, America East and Southern conferences:
Shereesha Richards, Albany: The nine-time America East Player of the Week – yes, that’s a conference record – has scored 587 points for an Albany team that is the top seed. The 6-1 sophomore forward (20.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg) shoots .624 from the field and is a tough match for anyone in the country.
Dequesha McClanahan, Winthrop:
Sure, the 5-8 senior guard shined with a triple-double on Senior Day, but consider the rest of the season for the all-time leading scorer in the Big South (2,192 points, to date). Averaging 17.3 points and a league-best 6.9 assists, McClanahan heads a Winthrop team that could challenge No. 1 seed High Point and conference heavyweight Liberty.
Andrea Hoover and Ally Malott, Dayton: You can’t mention one without the other, as this tandem leads a Flyers team that has won 27 of its last 29 Atlantic 10 regular-season games. The acrobatic Hoover, already a 1,000-point scorer, is money from the free-throw line (.946) in addition to her 16.9 points and her 5.4 rebounds per game. The 6-4 Malott, averaging 14.5 points and 8.2 boards, boasts a team-best eight double-doubles on the season.

Taylor Hall, Chattanooga:  Miss AAA Basketball in 2010, Hall wasn’t even going to play basketball in college and didn't join the Mocs until December of her freshman year. The 6-1 senior, who has done nothing but get better with time, flirted with a quadruple-double on Senior Night and finished the regular season averaging 14.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.6 steals per outing.
Heather Butler, UT Martin: What’s the 5-5 senior guard accomplished in four years? The leading scorer in Ohio Valley Conference history is also the active NCAA leader in double-figure games with 125 straight. Butler averaged 24.1 points per game this season, and her 2,811 career points (44 of those from Senior Day) rank her 20th all time in the NCAA.