Preview: Southern, Metro-Atlantic, West Coast Tourneys
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
PREVIEWING SOUTHERN, METRO-ATLANTIC, WEST COAST TOURNEYS
We continue our conference previews today with a look at three mid-major events that get under way Friday. There are two games in the afternoon in the Southern Conference (so make your decisions quickly there!), then everything else is this evening.
Today we feature:
- The SOUTHERN CONFERENCE, where teams like Wofford and Appalachian State hope to make headlines the way Davidson did during the Stephen Curry era.
- The METRO-ATLANTIC CONFERENCE, home of the Siena team that knocked off Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year. Siena is the top seed of this event.
- The WEST COAST CONFERENCE, with both Gonzaga and St. Mary's looking to solidify bids to the Big Dance with strong showings. Gonzaga is a lock, but wants to improve its seeding. St. Mary's is barely on the right side of the bubble at last report.
The VERY busy hoops schedule today also includes four games in the COLONIAL and MISSOURI VALLEY conferences. We ran through those teams in our Thursday report. Please check the archives to see how the postseason might play out for teams like Old Dominion and Northern Iowa.
You regulars know we emphasize TWO-POINT DEFENSE as the best indicator stat for quality in college basketball. Defense wins championships. Championships are determined in tournaments...so we should definitely be looking at defense in tournaments!
Because there are so many teams to talk about today, we'll present the information in bracket order. That way you can make notes in your schedules about who plays defense and who doesn't. It will also be easy to spot potential "defensive darkhorses" in that format. It's worked for us in the past. We appreciate that so many of you are with is year to year for the kind of tournament coverage you just can't find anywhere else. ESPN barely talks about today's teams outside of Gonzaga and St. Mary's. There's no way they'd take the time to tell you who plays the best defense in each league!
We'll go in rotation order and start with the Southern Conference. Remember that the first two games listed are scheduled for Friday afternoon. The squads in this 12-team event will be listed in pod format...so that the winner of the game involving the first two teams in the pod will advance to face the bottom team in Saturday's quarterfinals.
Also, the Southern brackets are a bit confusing because they don't seed 1-12, they mix and match from their North and South divisions. Just trust the layout, and don't try to think too much about what the seedings in parenthesis mean!
SOUTHERN CONFERENCE (Charlotte, NC)
(S3) Davidson 48%
(N6) Elon 51%
(N2) Western Carolina 52%
(N4) NC Greensboro 53%
(S5) Furman 46%
(S1) Wofford 48%
(S4) Citadel 49%
(N5) Samford 48%
(N1) Appalachian State 48%
(N3) Tennessee Chattanooga 50%
(S6) Georgia Southern 56%
(S2) College of Charleston 48%
Appalachian State and Wofford were the regular season divisional champs, but neither is particularly great defensively. Of course, this is a league with very few real defenses...so something like 48% on two-pointers will still grade out fairly well. Relatively speaking, it still takes defense to win a conference like this!
Western Carolina sticks out like a sore thumb as a pretender. They do have other strengths that help them overcome horrible inside defense. But, in playoff style basketball, that poor inside play is likely to be a big problem at some point.
We have to respect Davidson because of its big game experience the past few seasons, and Furman jumps out as a possible defensive dog.
Can the winner here do any damage in the Big Dance, the way Davidson has in recent seasons. We're very skeptical. Davidson was mostly a one-man show, and they kept running into opponents who were too arrogant to guard Stephen Curry with abandon. They didn't want to look intimidated, and instead kept losing to the pure shooter! The Southern Conference doesn't have anyone like that this year, and is comprised of soft defenses (by national standards). We'll think about a Southern Conference dog in the first round of the Dance, but we'll need a very favorable price.
Moving to one of our favorite conferences, the Metro Atlantic...
METRO ATLANTIC (Albany, NY)
(8) Loyola Maryland 42%
(9) Manhattan 45%
(1) Siena 47%
(4) St. Peter's 41%
(5) Rider 49%
(7) Canisius 47%
(10) Marist 52%
(2) Fairfield 45%
(3) Iona 44%
(6) Niagara 47%
There are 10 teams in this league. The bottom four teams play in for the right to lose to top seeds Siena and Fairfield!
We love this conference because our Northeast sources know the teams so well. When we get involved in this league, you know we've got some great information. As fans, we love the tempo too. There are some very intense games played in this tourney every year. Siena and Niagara in particular are fast teams who put on a good show.
It's interesting that some truly stellar defenses show up in this league. We're used to seeing poor numbers in the mid majors. But, St. Peter's clocks in at 41%, and Loyola Maryland at 42%. Other weaknesses have kept them from surging higher in the standings. In postseason halfcourt basketball, those strong defenses will give them a shot to compete. Siena could conceivably run into both the way the brackets are set up.
There's a growing consensus that Siena is the class of the group. Just be aware that they HAVEN'T fared well in challenge games this season. And, it can be tough to run the table three days in a row with a defense that allows 47% from inside the arc. This year's team doesn't strike us as the same caliber as last year's group. We wouldn't be surprised to see somebody else cut down the nets in Albany.
Wrapping up today's conference previews with the West Coast Conference...
(5) Loyola Marymount 45%
(8) Pepperdine 53%
(4) San Francisco 50%
(1) Gonzaga 44%
(6) San Diego 50%
(7) Santa Clara 48%
(3) Portland 49%
(2) St. Mary's 47%
This conference has a stepladder format which we actually like a lot in terms of fairness. The top two teams get a bye all the way to the semifinals. Teams 3-4 in the standings are slotted in the quarterfinals. The bottom four teams have to win their way onto the ladder. So, for example, in that upper hunk of teams...Loyola plays Pepperdine for the right to play San Francisco...then THAT winner advances to play Gonzaga in the semifinals. We think more mid majors should honor their regular season contenders in this fashion. It's a shame when a quality team from a mid major gets bumped because they had an off-night at just the wrong time. Way to go West Coast!
Gonzaga has the best defense in the league, and is probably a stronger first seed than realized given their results vs. St. Mary's. The media keeps linking those two teams together as "co-powers" in the league. Frankly, St. Mary's isn't even a Dance quality team in our view (and they stunk up the joint last year when they made it). Gonzaga isn't as good as its hype, but is better than St. Mary's by a good bit. Gonzaga is a little overrated, St. Mary's is A LOT overrated!
Hard to see a great darkhorse in Gonzaga's half of the brackets. Somebody might get hot and take out St. Mary's in the semifinals...which would probably put them on the wrong side of the bubble.
That wraps up our conference previews for today. We'll be back tomorrow to study the Sun Belt in time for that first round...then we'll run through the Mid American numbers Sunday for that league's opening night. Next week, the tourneys will be coming fast and furious as all the major conferences get rolling. Isn't March great?!
We're very likely to have some tournament action on tonight's card for our clients. There are only eight games on the regular board, then 20 tournament games on tap! There's also a busy night in the NBA. Among the pro games we're paying close attention to:
LA Lakers at Charlotte
Detroit at Cleveland on ESPN
Boston at Philadelphia
New Orleans at San Antonio on ESPN
If you haven't already signed up, do so NOW so you can start building your bankroll for all the big stuff ahead. We're dealing with some tasty appetizers right now...the main course is about done in the oven! Call 1-800-323-4453 to sign up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK. You've heard all about our PRIVATE LINE CLUB (on an 8-2 run), the BLUE RIBBON CLUB, and our vaunted CASHLINE, which is now 23-7-1 in the last 31 games!. You know it's only going to get better in the tournaments!
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