Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at 11:40 AM
IT'S MINI-TOURNEY MADNESS - WE CHECK OUT THE EIGHT (8) CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS THAT TIP OFF WEDNESDAY (AND LET YOU KNOW WHERE WE MIGHT FIND SOME UPSETS!)
Folks, there are 27 on-the-board College Basketball games on the Wednesday docket - and that's over the course of nine different conference tournaments. In the latest Jim Sez edition, we previewed the ACC Tournament that rolled into action on Tuesday, so next we hit up the other Eight (8) leagues that begin their mini-tourney play here on "hump day":
SUN BELT CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT ... Wednesday-thru-Sunday
at Lakefront Arena - New Orleans, LA
No doubt a one-bid league here and - let's face it - this mini-tourney is Louisiana's to lose! The Ragin Cajuns (26-5, 16-2) rank first in the league in scoring (84 points per game) and that ranks 'em 13th nationally with senior G Frank Bartley (team-best 17.4 ppg) coming into his own after transferring over from BYU two seasons back. Note Louisiana has a decent 60 RPI and should have a strong crowd presence here.
THE FAVORITE: Louisiana
DARK HORSE: Troy
PLAYER TO WATCH: D'Marcus Simonds, G, Georgia State ... The Sun Belt Conference's Player of the Year averaged 21.5 ppg and chipped in four-and-a-half assists per outing.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT ... Wednesday-thru-Saturday
At Thomas and Mack Center - Las Vegas, NV
We're going on record to say MWC regular-season champ Nevada (26-6, 15-3) will get a bid to the NCAA Tournament no matter what they do here in this mini-tourney in Sin City. Still, the Wolf Pack (see RPI of 14) won't be coasting 'cause fiery head coach Erik Musselman has his club going pedal-to-the-medal at all times and so it's up to the likes of Boise State (23-7, 13-5) or perhaps San Diego State (19-10, 11-7) to steal away this mini-tourney with their defensive calling cards.
THE FAVORITE: Nevada
DARK HORSE: San Diego State
PLAYER TO WATCH: Chandler Hutchison, G, Boise State ... The Broncos' best scorer (19.5 ppg) actually poured in 44 points in a January game against San Diego State.
PAC-12 CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT ... Wednesday-thru-Saturday
at T-Mobile Arena - Las Vegas, NV
Truth is the Pac-12 might get just four teams into the NCAA Tournament field (see regular-season champ Arizona along with USC, UCLA and Utah) and so one of the major storylines here is whether or not the likes of Stanford/Oregon/Washington/Arizona can get hot and make a run for an at-large bid ... we say these teams have to win a minimum of two Pac-12 Tourney games here to get considered but don't be at all surprised if this quartet springs a few upsets along the way! All the Sean Miller talk in Arizona has not steered the Wildcats off course as U of A has won five of its last six games behind a surging star in F Deandre Ayton (19.9 ppg) but - you heard it here first - USC may well have the best overall talent in this field as the Troy Boys sport four prime-time scorers including F/C Chimezie Metu (15.9 ppg).
THE FAVORITE: Arizona
DARK HORSE: Oregon
PLAYER TO WATCH: Justin Bibbins, G, Utah ... This tiny star (he's 5-foot-8) is a Long Beach State transfer who could spark the Utes to a nice mini-tourney run here.
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ATLANTIC-10 CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT ... Wednesday-thru-Sunday
at Capital One Arena - Washington, DC
Sorry, folks, but we've soured on this once "underrated" league as last week we watched regular-season champ Rhode Island blow a 7-point lead in the game's final 41 minutes at Davidson while "contenders" St. Bonaventure, St. Joe's and aforementioned Davidson all have run hot-and-cold way too much in 2017-18. Could this be a mini-tourney where a middle-of-the-pack finisher such as Saint Louis or George Mason steal the show? Just a feeling that underdogs could boast a nice won/loss record by the time the A-10 Tourney is in the books.
THE FAVORITE: Rhode Island
DARK HORSE: George Mason
PLAYER TO WATCH: James Demery, F, St. Joseph's ... The Hawks' senior star averages 17.2 ppg and shoots nearly 48 percent from the floor. Demery could be a mini-tourney star with a couple of hot streaks.
BIG EAST CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT ... Wednesday-thru-Saturday
at Madison Square Garden - New York City, NY
Maybe - just maybe - we've all been underrating the Xavier Musketeers (27-4, 15-3) all year long as Chris Mack's crew snagged the #1 seed in this here-and-now Big East Tourney as G Trevon Bluiett (19.4) and veteran guard J.P. Macura (12.4 ppg) power a defense-first team that somehow beat out Villanova (27-4, 14-4) for top spot. Right now, it appears there will be five or six Big East teams in the NCAA Tourney but if Providence or Butler lose their opening-round games they could get ousted so there's real import with these MSG games.
THE FAVORITE: Villanova
DARK HORSE: Seton Hall
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jalen Brunson, G, Villanova ... The best player in this league averaged 19 ppg and 4.8 assists per game and he's a late-game heart-and-soul guy.
CONFERENCE USA TOURNAMENT ... Wednesday-thru-Saturday
at Ford Star At The Star - Frisco, TX
The C-USA folks are beating the drums in the hopes of getting two or even three teams into the 68-team NCAA Tournament field but gotta belive this mini-tourney winner will be the one-and-only squad to make it to the Big Dance and so top seed Middle Tennessee (24-6, 16-2) must fend off Old Dominion (24-6, 15-3) and Western Kentucky (22-9, 14-4) or risk not getting into the NCAAs.
THE FAVORITE: Middle Tennessee
DARK HORSE: UAB
PLAYER TO WATCH: Nick King, F, Middle Tennessee ... A newly-named first-teamer in C-USA, King averages 21.2 ppg and he hits on 49.4 percent of his FG tries ... wow.
SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT ... Wednesday-thru-Sunday
at Scottrade Arena - St. Louis, MO
Gut feeling is that half of the SEC's 14-team league will find their way into the NCAA Tournament but better believe that if Miss State (21-10, 9-9) or Texas A&M (20-11, 9-9) lose their opening-round games they could be feeling the heat come the Selection Show on Sunday. One of the big parts of this SEC Tourney is to see if Auburn (25-6, 13-5 and shared first place with Tennessee) is as good as advertised considering Bruce Pearl's crew finished 10th in the league in defense. Gotta believe that Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky have the best shots to get hot and win this mini-tourney but don't sleep on Arkansas with that one-two scoring punch of Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon (combined for 35 ppg between 'em).
THE FAVORITE: Auburn
DARK HORSE: Missouri
PLAYER TO WATCH: Grant Williams, F, Tennessee ... The newly-named SEC Player of the Year averaged 15.3 ppg and 5.8 rebounds per game but keep in mind he scored in single digits in three of the Volunteers' last five games.
BIG 12 CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT ... Wednesday-thru-Saturday
at Sprint Center - Kansas City, MO
Surprise, surprise! The Kansas Jayhawks (24-7, 13-5) captured their gazillionith consecutive Big 12 regular-season title this year but they're no lead pipe cinch to win this mini tourney - after all, Texas Tech (23-8, 11-7) and West Virginia (22-9, 11-7) sported high-quality seasons and don't forget about born-again TCU which has a better RPI # (20) than either T-Tech or W. Virginia. In short, this figures to be an uber-competitive field and already thinking about taking points with everyone but last-place Iowa State. Make sure you check in with us at Jim Hurley's Network for all the mini-tourney action as there will be plenty of winners on tap.
THE FAVORITE: Kansas
DARK HORSE: Kansas State
PLAYER TO WATCH: Devonte' Graham, G, Kansas ... The unanimous choice as Big 12 Player of the Year led the Jayhawks to their 14th consecutive conference title and, interestingly enough, easily beat out Oklahoma's Trae Young who leads the country in scoring (27.5 ppg) and assists (8.9 apg).
NOTE: More mini-tourney talk in the next edition of Jim Sez.