Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Conference Tournament Countdown: Big 12, A-10, SWAC

[Editor's Note: SportsJudge continues it's breakdown of all 30 conference tournaments leading up to March Madness with this preview of the Big 12, Atlantic 10, and SWAC Championships.]

(previewed by Kevin Fenstermacher)

The lowly Southwestern Athletic Conference. A definite one bid league that will more than likely have its champion playing in the play-in game. There really isn’t much to this conference. There are two contenders to take to crown this season, Alabama State and Jackson State.

Behind Brandon Brooks, the Alabama State Hornets finished 19-9 this year with a 16-2 conference record. The two conference losses came at opposite ends of the spectrum. They lost one game to their main competition this year, Jackson State, and the other two the bottom feeder of the SWAC, Alcorn State. I look for a conference final between the Hornets and Jackson State this season.

Jackson State has just 3 losses in conference play this year (15 wins), but only has accumulated a 16-14 record. 1 non-conference win doesn’t look to good when you are a contender for your conference tournament. Grant Maxey (16.2 PPG) and Darrion Griffin (14.8) have been the one-two punch this year (Jeremy Caldwell and Garrison Johnson are also each chipping in over ten points a contest). It should be a good showdown with ‘Bama State for the 65th spot in the field.

Alabama State seems to be the better of the two teams. Both match-ups during the season were close to the end and I don’t expect this one to be any different. Look for Alabama State to nudge past Jackson State by only a few points.

Kevin Fenstermacher: Alabama State
Mike Colligan: Jackson State
Brian Doyle: Alabama State

Atlantic-10 (previewed by Kevin Fenstermacher)

The A-10 has provided us with some entertaining basketball again this season. They could have up to four teams in the tournament after a strong showing in 2008. Xavier is a lock for the field of 65 and Dayton shouldn’t have any concerns beyond seeding as well. The two teams who need this tournament to bolster their final resume are Rhode Island and Temple. Of course there is always the off-chance that another team (like St. Joe’s or LaSalle) pulls off the big upset and wins the conference tourney, but if that happens you won’t be seeing five out of the A-10.

Xavier has been one of the more consistent teams in the nation this year finishing at 24-6 overall and 12-4 in the conference, winning the conference regular season title. Xavier looks to follow up on their great play in March last season with another great year. The Musketeers have good leadership and even thought they have struggled a bit of late, don’t sleep on them to make some noise in your bracket.

Dayton has lost three of their last five games including a beat down by Xavier and an overtime thriller to Rhode Island. They still haven’t lost their spot in the tournament, but they need to pick up their play if they want to be considered a team to look out for. As of now they stand as an 8-10 seed. A conference championship could lock up a better spot for them.

Rhode Island blew a huge game for them to UMASS in the final game of the season. It would have given the URI Rams a share of the conference title and put them in much better shape for the NCAA Tournament (probably in the tourney instead of outside looking in). URI may need to win the A-10 Tourney to get into the big dance, but a conference championship appearance may be enough depending on how the other conferences play out. I know one thing; the Rams don’t want to leave their fate to the Selection Committee.

Legendary Big 5 Coach Fran Dunphy has done an excellent job replacing THE LEGEND of Big 5 coaches, John Chaney. The guy doubled as a mascot and a coach for years. How many other coaches can do that (maybe Coach K). You can’t tell me Chaney didn’t look like the Temple Owl in his last few seasons as coach. I wouldn’t be surprised if the wide-eyed coach wouldn’t be able to spin his head around like an owl too. But, I digress. Temple was a big surprise to get into the NCAA Tournament last year. They have been able to keep up their high level of play this season with good out of conference wins against Penn State and Tennessee (along with a solid 11-5 conference record). The Owls are hoping for Christmas in March. Dionte Christmas might be the most versatile scorer in the A-10. If he gets hot beyond the arc, watch out for the Temple Owls (ask Tennessee).

I might be playing favorites again but I am picking Temple to travel over to Atlantic City (why is this tournament not being played at the Palestra again?) and return home to Philadelphia as the A-10 Tournament winners. Look for Christmas to be the player of the tournament and get the Owls (1-3 against Xavier, URI, and Dayton) over the hump and into the field of 65.

Kevin Fenstermacher: Temple
Mike Colligan: Xavier
Brian Doyle: Dayton

Big 12 (previewed by Kevin Fenstermacher)

The Big 12 can get anywhere up to 7 teams into March this season. Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M are looking good for some extended play come March. Kansas State has an outside chance, but would need to do some serious damage in the Big 12 Championship.

I don’t see any miracles happening for K-State this year, so I’m going to go with just six teams out of the Big 12 this year. While Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and Texas are all very skilled teams, I don’t think they have enough talent to get through the big three of this conference to win the tourney. Oklahoma is beginning to show cracks in its armor at the wrong time this season. Oklahoma does have the frontrunner for Player of the Year, Blake Griffin, back in its lineup and he is still putting up numbers after his concussion, but they lost three of its last five (@ Texas, Kansas, @ Mizzou). Griffin wasn’t there for the KU game, but Kansas showed some great resiliency against the higher ranked Sooners.

Kansas didn’t have the rebuilding year that many expected after its Championship run. They lost a ton of key players from last year (Chalmers, Arthur, Kahn, Rush) but the youth has come in and performed well beyond expectation. It will be tough for such a young team to make it deep in the NCAA Tournament, but they do have some key players who were there last year (Collins and Aldrich). Bill Self is one heck of a coach so I wouldn’t count this young team out of any bracket.

Missouri has also lost 2 of its last 3 (Kansas and Texas A&M), but have shown throughout the year that they are one of the better teams in the country. Carroll and Lyons are the scoring duo for the Tigers, but they get good contributions from many other players. They also hold wins against Kansas and Oklahoma this year. They have shown that they can beat the cream of the crop in the Big 12. Mizzou really doesn’t get much national recognition it seems. Don’t be shocked to see a deep tourney run from the Tigers.

Kevin Fenstermacher: Kansas
Mike Colligan: Oklahoma
Brian Doyle: Oklahoma

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