Missouri Valley, Mid-Continent, Conference USA, and Big Ten Conference Previews: The PunCity Trip
Thanks for the overwhelming response on the last couple posts. This blog is about to embark on a road trip to 4 conference tournaments in the next 2 weeks, so that's probably the highlight of this blog's year. Here's a preview from a basketball standpoint of the 4 leagues.
March 2-5: Missouri Valley Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. The MVC enters its conference tournament with 6 teams having a legitimate shot at going to the NCAA tournament. Most likely all 6 will not make it, but 4 bids are very likely, and 5 is not unlikely either. Wichita State, the regular season conference champion, is in the NCAAs as far as this blog is concerned. Because of this virtual "lock" status, WSU might be primed to be upset in their first game. That might not be the worst scenario in the conference's perspective, as Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Creighton, Missouri State, and Bradley would all make fine representatives for the MVC, (as would Wichita State), and taking out WSU would open up the automatic bid for another team without diminishing Wichita's tourney chances (though it would lower their seed).
PunCity's rooting for: Southern Illinois / Bradley
PunCity Picks: Northern Iowa. The #6 Seed faces a tough Missouri State team in the first round. Whoever wins that game will most likely go on to win the MVC Title. This blog guesses UNI, with a dark horse candidate of Bradley.
March 5-7: Mid-Continent Conference, Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Mid-Con is certain to be a one-bid league. The top seed entering the conference tourney is IUPUI, though Oral Roberts will be tough to beat in Tulsa, as it is their home city and the crowd will be behind them. Oakland University enters as the 7th seed this year, same as last year when they stormed through the field and won the league's automatic bid. Do not expect a repeat performance. The reasoning behind this ascension was that leading scorer (and future NBA player) Rawle Marshall had not played in a large portion of the conference season, lowering their seed. Upon Marshall's return, OU was a different team, and the Golden Grizzlies were able to pick up the wins they could have had if Marshall were around the rest of the year.
PunCity's rooting for: Valparaiso / Southern Utah (awesome logo)
PunCity Picks: Oral Roberts. "Home Court" advantage will help, after losing last year to Oakland, there's no doubt the Golden Eagles will be hungry.
March 8-11: Conference USA, Memphis, Tennessee. Juggernaut Memphis could possibly be joined by 2 other teams, but most likely only 2 bids will come out of Conference USA. UAB brings their "40 minutes of hell" style to the tournament, with the short preparation time each team has, this will bode well for the Blazers. The only problem is that because this is their conference, every team they face will have seen them before, so the preparation is not as challenging as any potential NCAA matchup would be. UTEP also has a shot here, although losing their leading scorer for the remainder of the year is not a good omen. UCF, which draws support from one of the best fight songs in the country, is looking to shock the world and parlay their back-to-back Atlantic Sun conference championships into a Conference USA championship.
PunCity's Rooting For: UCF / UAB
PunCity Picks: Memphis. Even though they don't have much to play for, having a 1 or 2 seed locked up, and might be better served to rest, there are no likely challengers here. As a result, this blog is going with its heart and picking UCF as a dark horse. The Golden Knights got smoked against good teams, but that was earlier in the year, and they played Western Kentucky, Kentucky, and UAB very close in losses this year. Coach Kirk Speraw has found a way to navigate the Golden Knights through 2 conference tournaments and played Connecticut extremely close in their NCAA tourney game last year.
March 12: Big Ten, Indianapolis, Indiana. Ohio State will most likely enter as the conference champion, though Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin still have an outside chance at the #1 seed. The Buckeyes have found success one year earlier than expected, as highly touted recruit Greg Oden arrives on campus next season. In the interim, Terrence Dials has combined with a very potent outside shooting backcourt to give Big Ten teams fits. That said, this league is its usual competitive self, and based on the first place team carrying at least 4 losses into tournament play, this is really anyone's tournament to win.
PunCity's Rooting For: Wisconsin (of course) / Indiana (very secondarily)
PunCity Picks: Ohio State. The Buckeyes really present big problems for their opponents, and this site can't see another Big Ten team winning 3 or 4 games in a row. Dark horses would be Penn State and Michigan State, even though calling MSU a dark horse sounds weird in any context. PSU would need to get a draw where they don't play the taller teams in the league, like OSU and Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions have been surprisingly competitive with the rest of the league.
As one might expect, PunCity's going to be on hiatus for the next week, this blog imagines it might make a half-assed attempt at finding a public library next Tuesday or something, but it's not going to sweat it. Should return by March 14th though, have a good fortnight.