Mid Major Conference Tournaments

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By Jim Hurley:

Gotta admit that we love the way the College Basketball schedule shapes up here in early March:

Many of the so-called "mid-majors" get a crack at winning automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament all this week/weekend long and then the "big boys" from the Big East, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC all share the stage next week and right into next weekend ...

Hey, there's plenty of camera time for everyone, right?

The key to this year's conference tournies as it pertains to the mid-majors is that - right or wrong - there's a growing perception out there that the non-power conferences will get a bigger piece of the pie now that there are three additional berths to be filled in this 2011 NCAA Tournament but could that mean some teams such as George Mason (Colonial Athletic Association) along with the likes of Missouri State and Wichita State (both of whom hail from the Missouri Valley Conference) and Gonzaga (West Coast Conference) feel "safer" with the additions or could they fall into a sort of mental trap here, lose in (let's say) their mini-tourney semifinal round and then possibly not get into the NCAAs?

You can listen to all the talk about "quality wins" and "RPI's" and "strength of schedule" and "bad losses" but the fact of the matter is - and history will prove this out, ladies and gents - most mid-major teams that fall way short of accomplishing a mini-tourney crown often are punished for that conference tournament loss as opposed to being rewarded by their so-called "body of work" and so warnings go out to these above-mentioned hoop squads.

In short, don't take anything for granted.

Now hear this: Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the College Basketball and also the NBA Winners when you check in on Game Days anytime after 10 a.m. ET on the weekend and after 1 p.m. ET Monday-through-Friday right here online or else get us at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 - and do make sure to be with us all through this exciting and very profitable hoops ride right into June! Folks, keep in mind that all the College Basketball Conference Tournaments have begun and there will be lots of matinee weekday action coming later this week and all through next week and so make sure to check your daily hoop schedules and then check with us for all the day-time and night-time hoops winners. Got it?


Let's dipsy-do through a batch of mid-major conferences that are holding their mini-tournaments as we speak:

The annual "Arch Madness" (get it, this mini-tourney is held in St. Louis a/ka/ the "Arch City") tips off Thursday night with a pair of first-round games but things will get really interesting from Friday's quarterfinals on when the likes of Missouri State (23-7, 15-3) and Wichita State (23-7, 14-4) will do their best to fend off their challengers and keep an eye here on Northern Iowa (19-12, 10-8).

The NIU Panthers may not have G Ali Farokhmanesh anymore - the leader of last year's club that beat Kansas in an NCAA Tournament second-round game before getting beaten in the Sweet 16 - but this club holds foe to less than 61 points a game and Kwadzo Ahelegbe (14 ppg) is still quite capable of winning a game at crunch time.

Don't look for any series of upsets here in "the Valley" - Missouri State, Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State represent the cream of this crop and the likes of Creighton and/or Evansville likely getting more than just a single win is not great.

The Favorite: Missouri State ... The Dark Horse: Northern Iowa.

You might have seen the recent quote by George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga (yes, on our recent Jim Sez list for doing one of the top five coaching jobs in America this 2010-11 season) that claimed, "This is the deepest and most talented this league has been in my 14 years in the league."

Hey, Larranaga wasn't blowing smoke at anyone as the CAA had five teams win 11-or-more conference affairs in an 18-game conference sked (see George Mason, Old Dominion, Hofstra, VCU and Drexel) and any of these clubs could swipe this mini-tourney that concludes with Monday's 7 p.m. on ESPN from the Richmond Coliseum.

No doubt G-Mason deserves to get the favorite's nod here but Old Dominion is loaded while starring F Frank Hassell (14.2 ppg and 9.8 rpg) and Hofstra has a one-man wrecking crew player in senior G Charles Jenkins (23.2 ppg) who just had his jersey #22 retired prior to last Saturday's rocking-chair 79-60 victory against Delaware.

The Favorite: George Mason ... The Dark Horse: Drexel

WEST COAST CONFERENCE - March 4th-thru-7th
As stated previously, the best advice anyone could give both Saint Mary's (23-7, 11-3) and Gonzaga (22-9, 11-3) is don't lose before the WCC Championship Game on Monday night (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) - just in case!

Both the Gaels and 'Zags have rock-solid resumes here although no doubt neither gets a whole lot of brownie points for beating up a handful of bad fellow conference clubs (see Pepperdine, Loyola-Marymount and San Diego) plus keep in mind a mini-tourney win for either St. Mary's or Gonzaga could elevate their NCAA Tournament seed by a full level although our long-term analysis here has both of 'em somewhere on the #7 or #8 seed line.

Could either do damage once they do get into the NCAAs?

Well, St. Mary's was a Sweet 16 team last year - who can forget that second-round triumph over Villanova? - but there appears to be something missing here from Randy Bennett's club and that's not only a top-flight big man but some mental toughness too while Gonzaga simply doesn't appear to be able to get past the first weekend although we'd love to see an #8 seed 'Zags crew hook up against Ohio State or Kansas in Round II ... now that would be fun stuff for Mark Few's upset-minded bunch.

The Favorite: Saint Mary's ... The Dark Horse: Santa Clara

SUN BELT CONFERENCE - March 5th-thru-8th
Don't even bother to attempt and figure out how this league handles its mini-tournament although we will say first-round action in Springs (AR) could well have some strange twists-and-turns with the bottom four clubs in both the East and West Divisions as Denver and North Texas could be "live" in terms of winning a couple of games but Florida Atlantic (21-9, 13-3) remains the class of this conference that likely puts only a single/solitary team in the NCAAs although we could see a case where an FAU team that loses in the finale gets an at-large bid.

The Favorite: Florida Atlantic ... The Dark Horse: North Texas



ORLANDO (39-22) at MIAMI (43-17) - 8:05 p.m. ET, TNT
The NBA's Southeast Division says that the Heat sports a 4 ½-game lead over the Magic while heading into this early-March matchup but no doubt Miami's hearing footsteps - Orlando's won its last three in a row and both C Dwight Howard (23.3 ppg and 13.9 rpg) and the team's three-point shooters are finally beginning to jell after the team's upheaval trades earlier this year.

In Tuesday's 116-110 non-cover home win against the 7-point underdog New York Knicks, there was Howard stuffing the stat sheet with 30 points and 16 rebounds while Orlando's long-range gunners were busy connecting on 8-of-18 triples (a 44.4 percent accuracy rate) and no doubt that lethal inside/outside duo will keep Miami on its collective toes here tonight in South Beach.

If the Heat wish to extinguish the bad taste in its mouths from last Sunday's 91-86 home loss to the Knicks, than containing Orlando's bench is a must - the Magic reserves scored 44 points versus New York the other night and really was the difference in that clash (the Knicks registered just 11 bench points).

Two items to watch here: Miami has allowed LeBron James (26.2 ppg) to take many of these late-game crunch-time shots - why not Dwyane Wade (25.5 ppg) doing those honors, we ask! - and here you must toss into the equation that newly-inked veteran PG Mike Bibby might well be the guy determining who gets the ball with the game on the line as his drive-and-dish moves could evolve into James, Wade or even F Chris Bosh (18.3 ppg) getting off that last-second shot.

NOTE: All aboard for our exclusive College Basketball Saturday Six-Pack Game Previews in the next edition here of Jim Sez!


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