In part three of the lesser conference tournament previews and predictions, we have two more strong teams coming out in Vermont and whoever the MAC gives us. I can hear One Shining Moment on repeat in my head as we are just over a week till the best month in sports! I can’t wait!
The America East Tournament: March 7-14
Sorry that this tournament preview is coming late, but we only missed the first round of games where there were no upsets as the top 4 seeds all defeated the bottom 4 seeds. This means that on Tuesday we will have the matchups of #3 Hartford at #2 Stony Brook, and #4 UMBC at #1 Vermont. Vermont is a heavy favorite entering as 1-5 favorites, as they should be. Stony Brook, the two seed, has odds of 5.8-1 to win the title, and then Hartford is 30-1 and UMBC is 40-1 showing again how dominant the Catamounts were this season.
What makes Vermont the biggest conference favorites we’ve seen and probably will see until Dayton? Vermont scores a lot of points, but they also can defend with the best of them. Similar to all of the elite college basketball teams, Vermont can win in the 70/80’s and they can grind out a 59-50 win in a defensive battle. Vermont suffered only two conference losses to Stony Brook and UMBC, likely their next two opponents. Oddly enough, each of these losses took place on the Catamount’s home court so could this happen again? Probably not. I want to pick against the Catamounts and take the historic UMBC Retrievers, but it took a near perfect performance from the Retrievers to win by two, shooting 56% from three, so barring a miracle Vermont should roll to the final on Saturday. Who they will be facing will likely be the Stony Brook Seawolves. Other than their awesome mascot, Stony Brook similarly needed a lights out performance to win by only four points, shooting 48% from three point range.
The Seawolves have no chance of getting into March Madness without a win on Saturday so they’ll be up for it. If this was a week ago, I might have predicted the Seawolves to get it done, but with so many other upsets, weak conference power houses like Vermont can’t take the chance of getting an at large bid with teams like SDSU and Northern Iowa likely taking them before Vermont. Go Catamounts.
The Colonial Athletic Association Tournament: March 7-10
In one of the more open conference tournaments, the CAA looks to have an upset filled tournament. We are now into the final four, again sorry for being late, with only one of the top four seeds still alive. #7 Elon upset #2 William and Mary, #6 Northeastern upset #3 Towson, and #5 Delaware upset #4 Charleston. The top seeded Hofstra Pride are still alive, and they play the #5 Delaware Blue Hens tonight. The other game is between the #7 Elon Phoenix and the #6 Northeastern Huskies.
I predict to see the Huskies and Pride advance to the championship in what will be a very close game. The two matchups in the season were 75-71 and 74-72 wins for Hofstra in a very close affair. Northeastern was actually the had the second-best odds to win the tournament even though they entered in as the 6th seed. They had 2.85-1 odds while Hofstra had 2.25-1 odds to win the tournament. Hofstra won each game at the free throwline, fouling less and making more free throws on more attempts. If the Huskies can play a clean game, they should be able to get it done, but I don’t think that will happen. Go Pride.
The Summit League Tournament: March 7-10
Yet again, I’m late and we’re into the final four of the Summit League tournaments where we have currently a 50% upset rate. #1 North Dakota State and #4 Oral Roberts advanced, and #2 South Dakota State was upset by #7 Purdue Fort Wayne, and #3 South Dakota was upset by #6 North Dakota. Tonight, NDSU will face Oral Roberts and Purdue Fort Wayne faces North Dakota, with the winners advancing to the title game tomorrow night on ESPN2.
Both of the North Dakota teams are both slight favorites and I predict both to advance. The battle of North Dakota was split 1-1 in the regular season and with a March Madness birth on the line, the stakes couldn’t be higher. In what should be a closely contested battle, I would predict the NDSU Bison to get the job done and secure a likely #15 seed, currently predicted to face Florida State. Go Bison.
The Sun Belt Tournament: March 7-15
In a bracket similar to the WCC where there are extreme byes with the top two teams getting triple byes, Cinderella’s don’t happen. In this tournament we only missed round one where #10 Costal Carolina upset #7 University of Texas-Arlington, and #8 Louisiana beat #9 Arkansas State.
The favorite to win the tournament is #3 Texas State at 2.6-1 odds, followed by #1 Little Rock at 2.9-1 odds. With the favorite being 2.6-1, this means that this tournament is wide open among the top four seeds. Looking at the numbers, I predict Texas State to beat #4 Georgia State in the championship on Sunday airing on ESPN2. There’s not much to it other than the analytics love Texas State and barring some crazy shooting performances, they should be able to roll into the bracket, unfortunately as a likely #16 seed. Go Bobcats.
The Mid-American Conference Tournament: March 9-14
While this doesn’t have the same allure of #MACtion that we get when the MAC football teams play on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, who can hate the MAC? The MAC was an absolute mess where there is Akron, and there is everyone else. Only seven games separate the #12 and #2 seeds so there will be some upsets in this year’s MAC tournament. Last season, the top team, Buffalo, won the tournament relatively comfortably and the standings were similar as it was Buffalo and everyone else.
Akron will be able to sleepwalk to the final and will face Ball State in the final in my opinion. Since the tournament starts tonight, I can give a full prediction! So here goes nothing. Round one: The #9 Central Michigan Chippewas will upset the #8 Ohio Bobcats, the #5 Buffalo Bulls will cruise over #12 Miami (OH) Red Hawks, the #6 Kent State Golden Flashes will beat the #11 Eastern Michigan Eagles, and the #7 Toledo Rockets will easily beat the #10 Western Michigan Broncos. In the next round, Buffalo, Akron, Toledo, and Ball State will advance. Finally, Akron will face Ball State, where the Zips will get a projected #13 seed. Go Zips.