Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Conference Tournament Countdown: Big West, Mountain West, Conference USA, and Pac-10

[Editor's Note: SportsJudge continues it's breakdown of all 30 conference tournaments leading up to March Madness with tonight's preview of the Big West, Mountain West, Conference USA, and PAC-10 Championships.]

Big West (previewed by Mike Colligan)

The Big West conference is never an easy conference to follow. The names all sound alike (UC-_____ & Cal State ______). The conference tournament features single and double byes, along with reseeding every round, making it impossible to really predict any potential matchups. This year, it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

Cal State Northridge snagged the top seed, but were swept by Pacific and lost at Long Beach State. Long Beach State, the #2 seed, not only knocked off the top seed but also swept #3 Pacific. Fourth seed UC Santa Barbara is on fire as of late after winning seven of their past eight. Included in that streak of wins are victories over Long Beach St. and Pacific. Unfortunately UCSB is also terrible on the road. Cal State Fullerton is the returning champ and feature the conference stud Josh Akognon (23.5 ppg), but he has little supporting cast and they are the 7 seed. Confused yet?

Once the smoke clears, I think Pacific walks away with the conference championship. Cal State Northridge is going to be tough to knock off but the Tigers have confidence having done it twice already this season.

Kevin Fenstermacher: Pacific
Brian Doyle: Long Beach St.
Mike Colligan: Pacific

Mountain West (previewed by Brian Doyle)

The Mountain West boasts five 20-win teams and has three teams finishing conference play at the top with 12-4 records. The contenders for the Mountain West tournament are BYU, Utah, New Mexico, San Diego St., and UNLV. Look for four teams to get into the NCAA Tournament from this conference, with the four likely to be decided from the outcome of play in this tournament.

BYU enters the tournament having won 9 of their last 10 games to claim the top seed. They are led by the trio of Lee Cummard, Jimmer Fredette, and Jonathan Tavernari, whom all average at least 16 points per game. BYU awaits the winner of Colorado St. and Air Force before presumably moving on to the semi-finals to face the winner of San Diego St. and UNLV. UNLV has proven to be an achilles heal for BYU this season, having lost to them in both meetings. Furthermore, the Mountain West tournament is being held in Las Vegas, which further aides UNLV against BYU if the Runnin’ Rebels are able to get past San Diego St. in their first round matchup.

UNLV, however, has struggled with San Diego St. this season, losing both matchups, including both teams regular season finale last Saturday. San Diego St., in turn has not been able to get by BYU this season. All of these mental factors involving the inability to beat an opponent play into BYU’s hands. UNLV’s only home loss in conference play came at the hands of San Diego State. After the Aztecs’ recent win over UNLV on Saturday, look for the same to happen in the MWC quarterfinals, and for BYU to eliminate SDSU in the semi-finals.

On the other side of the bracket look for the #2 and #3 seeds Utah and New Mexico to meet up in the semi-finals. It will be too difficult for many teams to keep up with Utah, who spreads its scoring so much that the 6th and 7th men, Tyler Kepkay and Shaun Green, each average over 10 points per game, but look for New Mexico, who finished the regular season on a 10-2 run, to find a way with their own 6th man Chad Toppert averaging 11 points per game. Look for a New Mexico – BYU final that, like most of the games in this conference tournament, could really go either way. I like BYU to come out on top though.

Kevin Fenstermacher: UNLV
Brian Doyle: BYU
Mike Colligan: Utah

Conference USA (previewed by Mike Colligan)

You may as well just rename this the Memphis Conference Championship. Tomorrow will mark 1,105 days since Memphis last lost a game in the conference and this season they were hardly challenged. Only four conference games all year were decided by single digits and all were on the road. That's not much cause for concern considering the tournament will be held at the FedEx Forum in...you guessed it...Memphis, Tennessee.

The real reason you might want to tune in is to see if the UAB Blazers can find their way into the Big Dance. Our resident Bracketologists here at SportsJudge feel their tough non-conference schedule is enough to win over the committee. I think UAB will need to make it into the Championship game in order to snag a spot in the field of 65. That might be a tough task if it means they have to topple #2 seed Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane, led by a nasty defense, enter the tournament as hot as ever winning 10 of their past 12. In their most recent matchup with Rice, the top three-point shooting team in the league, Tulsa held them to only 15% shooting from beyond the arc. Unfortunately a few key losses will likely doom any chance Tulsa has of making the tournament if they can't find a way to upset Memphis. Don't count on that happening.

Kevin Fenstermacher: Memphis
Brian Doyle: Memphis
Mike Colligan: Memphis

Pac-10 (previewed by Brian Doyle)

The Pac 10 has some intriguing matchups as the tournament begins first round play at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Top seed Washington awaits the winner of Oregon St. – Stanford in the quarterfinals before presumably taking on the winner of Arizona – Arizona St. in the semi-finals. Washington is led by Isaiah Thomas, Justin Dentmon and Jon Brockman, all of whom average 15 points a game. The Huskies spread around their offense, making it difficult for opposing teams to focus on one offensive threat. Washington comes into the tournament on a 5 game winning streak and have won 8 of their last 9, with a loss at UCLA thrown into the mix.

Arizona St. is the largely inconsistent team coming into the tournament. They also had a 5 game conference winning streak before losing to Washington, and then inexplicably to Washington St. and Stanford. However, they face a struggling Arizona team that have lost 4 of their last 5, and who lost both games to Arizona St. this year, although both were close contests. Look for James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph to find a way to get Arizona St. past Arizona and into the semis against Washington.

On the other side of the bracket, if UCLA can get past the Washington St. - Oregon winner in the quarterfinals, they’ll await the winner of Cal – USC. Unfortunately, rapper Lil Romeo (Percy Miller) has only played in six games for USC this season. I still don’t think Taj Gibson and company will be enough to beat Cal, who, if they were on Washington’s side of the bracket, I would pick to play in the championship game in this tournament.

That pits UCLA up against Cal and Arizona St. up against Washington in the semi-finals. Unfortunately, I don’t think Cal can get over the hump against UCLA, the defending Pac-10 champion and an experienced tournament team. On the other side of the bracket Washington has too many scoring options for Arizona St. to handle. Look for last year’s tournament MVP Darren Collison to lead UCLA to another Pac-10 championship, this time over Washington, helped of course by Josh Shipp and Cameroonian forward Alfred Aboya, who I think will have a big tournament.

Brian Doyle: UCLA
Kevin Fenstermacher: Arizona St.
Mike Colligan: UCLA

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