Wednesday's Conference Tournament Primer

    
February 29th, 2012
Four more conferences join in on the tournament fun on Wednesday while the Big South moves on to the quarterfinal round, meaning that more teams will see their season come to an end. The top two seeds in the Atlantic Sun, regular season champion Belmont and host school Mercer, begin their journey in Macon and both teams will be prohibitive favorites to advance. Rick Byrd's Bruins enter tournament play on an 11-game win streak and they won both regular season meetings with 8-seed Jacksonville by double digits.

However both of those meetings came in January and the Dolphins won three straight before falling to North Florida in their regular season finale. In the second meeting, an 85-71 Belmont win, the Bruins shot 5-for-9 from three and scored 46 points after going into the half tied at 39. Guard Kerron Johnson, one of three Bruins named First Team All-Atlantic Sun, scored 21 points in the win and three other Belmont players reached double figures. Belmont's balance, which comes as a result of their deep rotation, makes them a tough matchup for many teams on the defensive end of the floor.

Aloys Cabell and Russell Powell led the way for the Dolphins in that contest, scoring a combined 37 points but as the game wore on it was apparent that Jacksonville didn't have the number of weapons needed to keep up with Belmont. Therein lies the problem for the Dolphins, whose opponents have shot 47% from the field this season. Add in big men Scott Saunders and Mick Hedgepeth and it's easy to see that JU will have a hard time slowing Belmont down unless multiple Bruins have off nights.

Bob Hoffman's Bears won nine straight games entering their stretch run but dropped three of their final four games, but maybe getting to host the conference tournament can turn things around. Mercer takes on Lipscomb, a team they swept with the most recent meeting being a 63-54 victory on the 23rd. Mercer limited the Bison to 33.3% shooting from the field and 38.6% from two, but the Bears had better improve their rebounding if they're to avoid an upset. Lipscomb grabbed 17 offensive rebounds but luckily for Mercer the Bison were unable to take advantage.

Jake Gollon and Langston Hall struggled in that contest but Bud Thomas stepped up to score 15 points and Daniel Coursey added 12. Lipscomb freshman Malcolm Smith was named to the All-Freshman Team and rightfully so, as he ranks second on the team in scoring despite starting just eight games this season. Others need to step up with Smith essentially being the man with jordan Burgason no longer with the team. The winners of these games have Thursday off, a built-in perk for the higher-seeded teams provided they take care of business.

Atlantic Sun (quarterfinals)
#1 Belmont vs. #8 Jacksonville, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
#2 Mercer vs. #7 Lipscomb, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Big South (quarterfinals)
#2 Coastal Carolina vs. #7 Radford, 12:00 p.m. (Big South Network)
#3 Campbell vs. #6 Winthrop, 2:00 p.m. (Big South Network)
#1 UNC Asheville vs. #8 High Point, 6:00 p.m. (Big South Network)
#4 Charleston Southern vs. #5 Liberty, 8:00 p.m. (Big South Network)

One would expect the top three seeds, led by regular season champ UNC Asheville, to take care of business and move on to the semifinals with all three having swept their opponents in the regular season. If there's one matchup of those three to keep an eye on its Winthrop/Campbell, with the Camels winning by just three points in the meeting at Winthrop. And despite the two games separating them in the standings that 4/5 battle could go right down to the wire as Charleston Southern and Liberty split their two meetings. Antwan Burrus' three-pointer in the final seconds of the second meeting gave the Flames a 75-74 win on February 9th.

Ohio Valley (first round)
#5 Southeast Missouri vs. #8 Eastern Kentucky, 6:00 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
#6 Austin Peay vs. #7 Jacksonville State, 8:00 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)

Murray State's clearly the favorite to win the OVC crown but they won't play until Friday, so the question is whether or not one of the four teams playing on Thursday has the ability to make it to that point. Southeast Missouri State would be the most likely choice given their 9-7 conference record, but the Redhawks limp into the tournament on a four-game losing streak. Dave Loos' Austin Peay squad could be the better choice as they boast four players averaging double figures (TyShawn Edmondson leads the way at 12.5 ppg), and the Governors have won three in a row entering their game against Jacksonville State.

Patriot League (quarterfinals)
#8 Navy at #1 Bucknell, 7:00 p.m.
#5 Lafayette at #4 Holy Cross, 7:00 p.m.
#7 Colgate at #2 Lehigh, 7:00 p.m.
#6 Army at #3 American, 7:30 p.m.

The question in the Patriot League on Wednesday night is whether or not any of the visitors have the ability to knock off one of the top three teams. Navy? Highly unlikely as the Midshipmen went 0-14 in league play, something no team has accomplished since Army did so in 2002-03. Colgate? The Raiders' lone conference wins came at the expense of Navy, and outside of NJIT they haven't beaten a team other than the Mids since mid-December (Dartmouth). Army would be the best choice given the presence of Ella Ellis, but they lost both meetings with American by double digits (by 12 at home and by 24 at AU). Lafayette and Holy Cross split their season series so that would be the game that should garner the most attention. If one of the top three should lose it would be a huge surprise.

WCC (first round)
#8 Portland vs. #9 Santa Clara, 9:00 p.m.

Simple storyline here: Kerry Keating's Broncos have seen a year that was supposed to be promising unravel right before their eyes, beginning with Marc Trasolini's torn ACL during a summer trip to Canada. Kevin Foster's been suspended for the remainder of the season and the play of Evan Rocquemore notwithstanding it's easy to see why Santa Clara went winless in WCC play. Portland doesn't arrive in Las Vegas scalding hot themselves, as the Pilots have lost 12 of their last 13 games. Winner gets San Francisco on Thursday night.