Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Conference Tournament Countdown: Atlantic Sun, Northeast, Missouri Valley

[Editor's Note: SportsJudge continues it's breakdown of all 30 conference tournaments leading up to March Madness with this evening's preview of the Atlantic Sun, Northeast, and Missouri Valley Conferences.]

Atlantic Sun Conference
(previewed by Mike Colligan)

The Atlantic Sun conference tournament begins tonight with three teams having a legitimate chance of grabbing that prized automatic bid into the Big Dance. Jacksonville finds themselves with the #1 seed and the only first-round bye after winning a thriller over Belmont just days ago. In a way, it couldn't have worked out any better for Belmont. Jacksonville will likely face red-hot #4 seed Lipscomb in the second round, a team that is on an eight-game winning streak (including wins over all three top seeds), and which will also be played on Lipscomb's home court. Talk about a bonus for winning your conference regular season! If Lipscomb can stay hot they could be a big sleeper in this tournament.

On the other side of the bracket, #2 ETSU brings a solid defense but might have trouble stringing together a series of wins in crunch time. I think #3 Belmont has the best chance to win it all despite the fact on paper it looks like Jacksonville has their number. Jacksonville squeaked out two victory's this season over Belmont on last-second plays and as I mentioned above, they likely won't have to face Lipscomb "on the road" in their barn. What's interesting, is should Belmont advance to the Championship game against Lipscomb, it will give a new meaning to "backyard brawl". Belmont is in fact located less than a mile down the road from Lipscomb. Maybe it's just me dreaming here, but I have a feeling that will be your finals matchup.

Brian Doyle: Belmont
Kevin Fenstermacher: ETSU
Mike Colligan: Belmont

Northeast Conference (previewed by Kevin Fenstermacher)

The Northeast Conference is another small conference one bid league. Leading to conference this year has been Robert Morris (21-10). They had a big three point win against Mount Saint Mary’s in the final game of the regular season, sweeping the season against one of their top competitors in the NEC and grabbing their fifteenth win to finish 15-3 in NEC play. Senior guard, Jeremy Chappell, leads the way with his forth straight season scoring 14+ points per game (16.6 PPG).

RMC has a lot of veteran leadership with Chappell and a slew of juniors who start game in and game out for the Colonials. There are some contenders for the NEC crown, but they have handled the next four top teams in the conference (Mount Saint Mary’s, Long Island, Sacred Heart, Quinnipiac) with a 7-0 record against them this year.

Sacred Heart, fresh off their first ever NEC Conference Championship in 2008, is the Colonials toughest foe. They have the experience of winning this tournament last season and that could give them an edge and confidence boost to pull it off again this year. In the long run I don’t think it will be enough to topple the conference powerhouse this season, but they are the best dark horse in the field. Robert Morris may have some decent competition in their conference, but expect the regular season champions to be dancing come March.

Brian Doyle: Sacred Heart
Kevin Fenstermacher: Robert Morris
Mike Colligan: Robert Morris

Missouri Valley Conference (previewed by Kevin Fenstermacher)

The Missouri Valley has an outside chance at two teams in the NCAA Tournament this season. The Creighton Blue Jays have played some fantastic basketball this season and are riding a ten game winning streak into the conference tournament. They have 10 top 100 wins this season as well. They are right on the inside of the bubble according to ESPN resident “Bracketologist” Joe Lunardi. I think that they need to do some damage and should at least make the conference final to have a chance at the at-large bid.

They have been hot at the right time this season, but only had a share of the regular season title with Northern Iowa. UNI split the season series with Creighton as both teams won away from home. They have slipped late in the season when they lost 4 of 5, including their loss to Creighton and a loss in a “Bracket Busters” against Siena. UNI has a very balanced scoring attack and can come at you from all angles on the floor. You can’t key in on one player to stop them.

The only other two teams to get slight consideration in the conference tournament this season is Bradley and Illinois State. I’m going to count Bradley out right away just for ruining my bracket a few seasons ago for knocking out Kansas in the first round. At least Rock Chalk got it done for me last season after being picked as my champion for the 5th straight year. Illinois State has 22 wins and is a solid team, but I don’t think they will be able to do enough to topple the two conference power houses and get into the field of 65.

I am going with Northern Iowa to win the MVC Tournament. Their balanced attack is what I believe gets them past Creighton in the conference championship game and into the tournament. I feel the MVC hurts all the power conference teams on the bubble, as Creighton get an at-large to push the MVC into a two-bid league.

Brian Doyle: Northern Iowa
Kevin Fenstermacher: Northern Iowa
Mike Colligan: Creighton

*Be sure to stop back tomorrow when the SportsJudge team breaks down the MAAC, Colonial, West Coast, America East, and Southern Conferences.

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