SEC, Mountain West, WAC and Big West Previews

LAST FOUR TOURNEY PREVIEWS: SEC, MOUNTAIN WEST, WAC, BIG WEST

The final four conference tournaments of the college basketball postseason are set to begin. We're here with previews from the SEC...where Kentucky is expected to dominate...and then three from out West that could get very interesting before everything is said and done.

If this is your first visit to the NOTEBOOK, we're featuring in our previews this year the computer rankings from Jeff Sagarin of USA today and college hoop guru Ken Pomeroy. We're also presenting the offensive and defensive efficiency rankings (points allowed adjusted for possessions and opponents) compiled by Pomeroy. We present the data in bracket order so you can have what you need for the first two rounds in one glance.

Conferences are presented in rotation order. So, we start with the SEC that is playing down in New Orleans this year. Maybe that will give LSU a boost as they face Arkansas in the first round, in hopes of advancing to play powerhouse Kentucky in the quarterfinals.

SEC TOURNAMENT (in New Orleans, LA)
Arkansas (9): 104 in Sagarin, 119 in Pomeroy, 94 on offense, 159 on defense
LSU (8): 93 in Sagarin, 107 in Pomeroy, 196 on offense, 37 on defense
Kentucky (1): 1 in Sagarin, 1 in Pomeroy, 2 on offense, 6 on defense

Nobody measures up with Kentucky in this league in terms of the numbers. And, frankly, we think some of the numbers from the other teams are a bit too good. We'll learn more about this week and next. As long as Kentucky stays focused, they can coast to a three-day sweep. Of course, we've seen countless times over the years that dominant teams can't stay focused in relatively meaningless games (in terms of the big picture). There's actually a good sized list of teams who could take out a flat Kentucky.

South Carolina (12): 162 in Sagarin, 161 in Pomeroy, 160 on offense, 166 on defense
Alabama (5): 29 in Sagarin, 29 in Pomeroy, 109 on offense, 8 on defense
Florida (4): 16 in Sagarin, 18 in Pomeroy, 4 on offense, 108 on defense

That #8 ranking on defense for Alabama has our attention. Florida comes and goes, and goes so often that we don't buy those computer ratings. So, we'll have our eye on Alabama in this quadrant, and maybe this half of the brackets if Kentucky seems uninspired.

Auburn (10): 143 in Sagarin, 150 in Pomeroy, 240 on offense, 62 on defense
Mississippi (7): 84 in Sagarin, 84 in Pomeroy, 142 on offense, 53 on defense
Tennessee (2): 65 in Sagarin, 54 in Pomeroy, 96 on offense, 36 on defense

Tennessee closed the season very well...which earned them a second seed in this tournament but didn't make up for several weeks of shaky results earlier. So, you have a team that should be seeded around 6th or so getting a bye and special placement. They're still the best of this quadrant at the moment...and they know they have to keep things going.

Georgia (11): 114 in Sagarin, 116 in Pomeroy, 133 on offense, 106 on defense
Miss. State (6): 62 in Sagarin, 74 in Pomeroy, 135 on offense, 41 on defense
Vanderbilt (3): 28 in Sagarin, 21 in Pomeroy, 16 on offense, 61 on defense

Mississippi State seems to find their way onto the radar at this time of year no matter how things went in the regular season. They do have the best defense in this quadrant. And, they're at least a neighboring state to Louisiana in terms of crowd support. We'll be working with our sources from the get-go to see fi there are any geographic edges this time around. New Orleans isn't exactly a centralized location!

Second on the list today is the Mountain West...which will have three teams in the Dance and possibly four if Colorado State can bolster its resume. UNLV is the perennial host of the event because it's such a great travel locale for fans. That gives them an unfair advantage normally, but even moreso this year because the team has been so good at home but so shakyk on the road. Top seeded San Diego State is actually only third best according to the computers. Bad luck for New Mexico...because they have the best computer pedigree but the worst draw.

MOUNTAIN WEST TOURNAMENT (at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, NV)
Boise State (8): 141 in Sagarin, 155 in Pomeroy, 129 on offense, 182 on defense
San Diego St. (1): 45 in Sagarin, 51 in Pomeroy, 89 on offense, 35 on defense

Clear edges here for SDSU, as you'd expect in a one versus eight match. They don't really have good numbers for a top seed though, which leaves them more vulnerable than most in the first and second rounds.

TCU (5): 136 in Sagarin, 138 in Pomeroy, 73 on offense, 218 on defense
Colorado St. (4): 76 in Sagarin, 76 in Pomeroy, 30 on offense, 178 on defense

Colorado State is probably as bubblelicious as it gets right now. This conference usually wouldn't even get considered for four bids. The Rams have a case to make. But, an early loss will give the naysayers arsenal. JIM HURLEY will consult closely with his Vegas sources on the scene for guidance on the Rams and the whole tourney. This could be a darkhorse we ride round by round.

Wyoming (6): 70 in Sagarin, 71 in Pomeroy, 147 on offense, 24 on defense
UNLV (3): 21 in Sagarin, 32 in Pomeroy, 44 on offense, 32 on defense

UNLV is likely to play better than those rankings given their home court advantage. They beat North Carolina at the Orleans earlier this year...and really are Sweet 16 material when playing in friendly environs. Unfortunately, the Big Dance isn't being held near a casino.

Air Force (7): 178 in Sagarin, 192 in Pomeroy, 235 on offense, 146 on defense
New Mexico (2): 18 in Sagarin, 14 in Pomeroy, 45 on offense, 12 on defense

New Mexico is a team we'll be watching next week for sure. Of course, we remember that they came in WAY overrated a couple of years ago. We like the look of this year's team better. Maybe a semifinal loss to UNLV will be better preparation for the Dance because it gives them a day off and one less war to endure.

 

There's another tournament this week in Sin City. That's the WAC, where Nevada-Reno is the virtual home team who will enjoy great crowd support at the Orleans. They're the top seed, but you'll see in a moment that the computers think New Mexico State is the better tam.

WAC TOURNAMENT (at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, NV)
Hawaii (6): 214 in Sagarin, 218 in Pomeroy, 173 on offense, 262 on defense
Idaho (3): 149 in Sagarin, 154 in Pomeroy, 107 on offense, 210 on defense

There are only two teams to take seriously in this tournament, and neither Hawaii nor Idaho is one of them! Idaho might get hot...but they have poor numbers for a #3 seed, particularly on the defensive end.

Fresno State (7): 180 in Sagarin, 175 in Pomeroy, 190 on offense, 170 on defense
New Mexico State (2): 71 in Sagarin, 72 in Pomeroy, 78 on offense, 73 on defense

New Mexico State has the best math in the conference...but not enough to put them on the radar for an at-large bid. They lost twice in the regular season to Nevada, but could beat them in the finals to sweep the WAC's only Dance bid.

San Jose State (8): 282 in Sagarin, 264 in Pomeroy, 206 on offense, 307 on defense
Nevada (1): 99 in Sagarin, 102 in Pomeroy, 103 on offense, 113 on defense

Did Nevada celebrate their regular season title too much? You don't get a Dance invite for that. The brackets favor them getting to the finals...where a home state crowd may provide enough to make it three straight over the Aggies of NMSU.

La. Tech (5): 198 in Sagarin, 183 in Pomeroy, 203 on offense, 173 on defense
Utah State (4): 140 in Sagarin, 133 in Pomeroy, 90 on offense, 183 on defense

Boy, Utah State sure has faded over the years from their glory days. They used to be GREAT by WAC standards, but consistently overrated once they stepped up in class. Now they're mediocre in class.

Whew...it's been a lot of preview material to digest...and we're grateful that you've hung with us all the way through. We've now reached the final conference!

BIG WEST TOURNAMENT (in Anaheim, CA)
Pacific (6): 275 in Sagarin, 279 in Pomeroy, 264 on offense, 276 on defense
UCSB (3): 110 in Sagarin, 106 in Pomeroy, 63 on offense, 168 on defense

This is basically a conference where nobody but Long Beach State is any good...and a lot of that is because nobody plays any defense! UCSB is actually second best according to the computers even though they have the third seed. We wouldn't be surprised if they survive into the finals.

Cal-Irvine (7): 257 in Sagarin, 258 in Pomeroy, 271 on offense, 241 on defense
Cal-Fullerton (2): 161 in Sagarin, 163 in Pomeroy, 57 on offense, 283 on defense

Wow...a second seed has the 283rd ranked defense. Ugly! California high schools need to start teaching both sides of the ball apparently.

Cal-Davis (8): 329 in Sagarin, 320 in Pomeroy, 305 on offense, 326 on defense
Long Beach St. (1): 42 in Sagarin, 41 in Pomeroy, 61 on offense, 42 on defense

You can see how Long Beach is the class of the field by a good bit. They could play way below par and still sweep. They're probably good enough to get an at-large bid given a very tough early schedule. Do they want to take the risk? If we see a focused Long Beach early, we may back them through the weekend.

Cal-Riverside (5): 268 in Sagarin, 278 in Pomeroy, 326 on offense, 121 on defense
Cal-Poly (4): 164 in Sagarin, 165 in Pomeroy, 146 on offense, 195 on defense

If you buy the premise that defense matters most in a playoff atmosphere, then Riverside has a chance to be a factor in a non-defensive league. But, their offense is SO bad that it's tough to have confidence.

Our previews our done...and we'll be focusing on boxscore summaries of the day games in our next few NOTEBOOK entries. You longtimers know we believe that reading and reacting to developments on the fly is the best way to handicap tournament basketball. Our summaries will help you do that from this point forward.

Don't forget that BIG JUICY WINNERS are available daily here at the website. If you're ready to sign up for the whole postseason, call our office at 1-800-323-4453.

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