2011 Championship Week(s) Primer

My disdain for the BCS - or, more accurately, college football's complete and utter lack of a postseason that caters to the basic principles of sport - has been pretty well documented here. It's gotten to the point where I can no longer say, with any degree of honesty, that I am a college football fan. I love the game, love the tradition, love waking up early on fall Saturdays for College Gameday, but because of the system in place I can't go above classifying myself as merely a Louisville football fan.

I haven't seen The King's Speech yet. Actual critical claim aside, if friend after friend saw this movie and reported back that it had a tremendous beginning, the most brilliant and inspiring middle of any film in cinematic history, but an end that left everyone in the theater angry and completely unfulfilled, I would not even consider ever seeing that movie, a stance every one of you would also take. This being the case, it absolutely blows my mind that the powers that be in the world of college football continue to get away with this.

When I first started playing sports at the YMCA, I would keep score in my head because I knew after the game the official would tell us that the teams had tied. I couldn't stand competition without a clear victor then, and the same can still be said today. Sure there can be lesser or moral victories for the teams that don't claim the sport's top prize, but ultimately all that extracurricular stuff we follow, the recruiting, the scheduling, the summer work-outs; it's all part of a pursuit to be that one team standing on a podium on the first Monday of April.

In college football, almost 50% of the games are completely meaningless in terms of their relation to who gets to lay claim to the title of national champion. To me, that's maddening, and it's why when Louisville's season is done, for all intents and purposes, I'm done.

The antithesis of this begins tonight when first round action will tip in the Big South and Horizon League conference tournaments.

From here on out, every single game will have some direct influence on who gets to cut down the nets five weeks from now. Maybe 16 days from today Liberty becomes the first 16 seed to ever knock off a No. 1, but maybe they only get that far because Coastal Carolina, a team which would have knocked them out in the conference title game, got upset by Gardner-Webb in tonight's tournament opener. Maybe that No. 1 seed - let's call them Duke - would have ended up winning the national championship had they drawn any other team in the field of 68 as their first round opponent.

As I said at the very beginning of the year, obtaining the sport's top prize is extremely unlikely for the vast majority of the 346 teams competing in Division I, but thank God it's not impossible. Thank God the bottom-tier RPI school that won its conference tournament gets the chance to prove itself on the sport's biggest stage, and not inside a quarter-full stadium against a team that doesn't really want to be there, in a game that, for all intents and purposes, has absolutely zero significance. Thank God when Butler beat UTEP in the first round a year ago that wasn't how their season ended.

Championship Week(s) is the fun before the fun. If filet mignon is the main course here, then char-grilled lobster tails are the appetizer. Starting tonight, we're treated to 13 days of nothing but dream-fulfilling, career-ending, win-or-turn-in-your-jersey action. All the elements that draw casual fans so completely into the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament are inherent in each and every one of the 30 conference tournaments that will take place over the course of the next two weeks.

Quite simply, it's high drama that you can't find anywhere else in sport.

Everyone loves to take their shots at ESPN, but the fact remains that each and every one of us are enormously indebted to the worldwide leader for what it does during college basketball's postseason. Between today and Selection Sunday, ESPN will air 190 conference tournament games on its family of networks. If it was possible for me to get sick of the sport, I would.

Mid and low-major D-I basketball is an acquired taste, and it's one that's especially difficult to attain when the team you love and follow plays in a conference like the Big East. So while I'm fully aware that the majority of you likely aren't interested in any of what you're about to read, allow me to say this: I don't care. This is my favorite time of the year, I'm currently smiling as I type, and this post is going to happen whether you like it or not.

For the rest of you, it's time to get briefed for Championship Week. It's a time primarily for the little guy, so focus here excludes the six major and four mini-major (A-10, WAC, MWC, C-USA) conferences.

 

YOUR COMPLETE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT DATES AND LOCATIONS

It's the most logical, if not exciting, jumping off point, and we all know this blog has always been rooted in practicality.

Let's go ahead and include the big boys in this one just because we can.

Conference Tournament site Dates
ACC Greensboro, N.C. March 10-13
America East Hartford, Conn. March 3-6, 12
Atlantic Sun Macon, Ga. March 2-5
Atlantic 10 Atlantic City, N.J. March 8, 11-13
Big East New York March 8-12
Big Sky TBD -- regular-season champion March 5, 8-9
Big South Campus sites (higher seeds) March 1, 3, 5
Big Ten Indianapolis March 10-13
Big 12 Kansas City, Mo. March 9-12
Big West Anaheim, Calif. March 10-12
Colonial Richmond, Va. March 4-7
Conference USA El Paso, Texas March 9-12
Horizon Campus sites (higher seeds) March 1, 4-5, 8
Ivy League   No Tournament
MAAC Bridgeport, Conn. March 4-7
MAC Cleveland March 8, 10-12
MEAC Winston-Salem, N.C. March 8-12
Missouri Valley St. Louis March 3-6
Mountain West Las Vegas March 8-12
Northeast Campus sites (higher seeds) March 3, 6, 9
Ohio Valley Nashville, Tenn. March 2-5
Pac-10 Los Angeles March 9-12
Patriot Campus sites (higher seeds) March 2, 6, 11
SEC Atlanta March 10-13
Southern Chattanooga, Tenn. March 4-7
Southland Katy, Texas March 8-12
Summit Sioux Falls, S.D. March 5-8
Sun Belt Hot Springs, Ark. March 5-8
SWAC Garland, Texas March 9-12
WAC Las Vegas March 9-12
West Coast Las Vegas March 4-7

 

2011 Overview

Parity in college basketball this season isn't limited to the top of the food chain. A year after Butler came within a couple of inches of the national championship, the dominant mid-major is an endangered species. For the first time in a decade and just the second time in the past 21 years, there are zero teams in the country with a perfect record in league play. 

As Pat Forde tells us, the last time this happened, things got wild.

The only other time nobody in that span ran the table in conference play was 2001 -- and if that year is a guidepost for what's to come, we're on the bullet train to the cuckoo's nest come tournament time.

Of the 29 conference tournaments in 2001, 14 were not won by the top seeds. That included Iowa (7-9 league record) winning the Big Ten, Hawaii (8-8) winning the WAC, Indiana State (10-8) winning the Missouri Valley and Northwestern State (11-9) winning the Southland.

Then the Big Dance got really goofy. There were 13 first-round upsets in 32 games, still the NCAA tournament record since the field was expanded to 64 in 1985. The upset epidemic included the last 15-over-2 we've seen (Hampton over Iowa State), two 13-over-4s (Kent State over Indiana and Indiana State over Oklahoma), and the obligatory 12-over-5s (Utah State over Ohio State and Gonzaga over Virginia). A double-digit seed (No. 11 Temple) advanced to the Elite Eight, too.

If you look away for even one night this March, you're liable to miss something crazy.

 

EIGHT SQUADS FOR THE BUBBLE BOYS TO PULL FOR

If you're a major conference fan still with us, I'll humor you.

The crop of mid-major squads poised to head to the dance regardless of league tourney performance is fairly thin in relation to recent years, which is great news for middling squads in BCS conferences. With rare exception, a regular season champion getting knocked off is not going to result in a stolen spot this year.

Rapidly aging fans of teams that haven't done enough yet to warrant "lock" status should adopt these squads as their own for the next couple of weeks.

1. George Mason (Colonial Athletic)

The Patriots own the nation's longest winning streak (14) and a national ranking (25th in the coaches' poll). They're dancing regardless of what happens this week.

2. Old Dominion (Colonial Athletic)

For all the attention mid-major leagues like the Missouri Valley and the Mid-American get, it's been the CAA which has been the most consistent in terms of NCAA Tournament success over the past 10-15 years. A season ago it was the Monarchs who won the Colonial title and then made noise in the tournament by upsetting sixth-seeded Notre Dame in the first round. They won't need to win three games in three days in Richmond this year to get another shot to shine in the national spotlight.

3. Saint Mary's (West Coast)

The Gaels beat Richmond and Villanova on their way to the Sweet 16 in 2010, but Randy Bennett's team has been the topic of much debate in recent weeks. They lost three of four to end the regular season, but the fact that they beat St. John's and played a quality non-conference schedule (BYU, San Diego State, Vanderbilt) should be enough to get them in should they slip-up in the WCC tourney, where they are the top seed.

4. Gonzaga (West Coast)

A perennial occupant of any such list, the "down" 'Zags probably just need one win the WCC Tournament (they'll start in the semifinals) to remove any doubt about their inclusion in the field of 68.

5. Butler (Horizon League)

The 2010 national runners-up are squarely on the bubble, but their unusually weak major conference counterparts might be enough to get them in without the Horizon's auto-bid.

Butler-final-four_medium

6. Missouri State (Missouri Valley)

The Bears just claimed their first MVC regular season title, but they have zero top 50 RPI wins and three losses to teams outside the top 100. Remember, this is a program that was left out of the dance in 2006 despite an RPI of 21, still the best ranking of any team not to make the NCAA Tournament. Maybe the committee throws them a bone if Arch Madness eats them up.

7. Wichita State (Missouri Valley)

Almost certainly on the outside looking in at the moment, but a tough loss in the MVC title game to Missouri State might be enough if none of the other bubble candidates make any noise in their respective conference tournaments.

8. Belmont (Atlantic Sun)

Definitely a long-shot, but the Bruins (27-4, 19-1) have dominated the Atlantic Sun so thoroughly that the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world should probably pull for them this week just to be safe.

 

EIGHT OTHER HEAVY FAVORITES

These teams may be heading into the postseason as runaway tournament favorites after dominating their league's regular season, but an upset will relegate each of them to the NIT.

1. Belmont (Atlantic Sun)

Is it fair that they're occupying both this list and the one immediately preceding it? Yes, because this is my post and I say so. The Bruins' lone conference loss came to a senior-laden Lipscomb squad that they might have to face in the semifinals.

2. Oakland (Summit League)

You might as well go ahead and familiarize yourself with Oakland now, because if the Golden Grizzlies take care of business in the Summit League tourney this week they're going to be the 12/5 or 13/4 upset pick that all the "March experts" at your office hit you over the head with. They dominated the Summit (17-1) after playing perhaps the nation's toughest non-conference schedule (West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio State).

Gk-top_medium

Totally

3. Coastal Carolina (Big South)

The Chanticleers won the Big South by three games (16-2), but may not belong in this category because, after what's happened over the past 12 days, I'm not sure they're the league favorite anymore. It was just two weeks ago when Coastal had the nation's longest winning-streak at 22 games and was knocking on the door of a top 25 ranking, but then sophomore point guard Kierre Greenwood went down with a season-ending injury, the Chanticleers were stunned by Gardner-Webb and UNC-Asheville, and the NCAA announced it was investigating the program, which is being led by former Auburn/Clemson coach Cliff Ellis. Because of the investigation, leading scorer Desmond Holloway was suspended indefinitely. No other regular season champ is heading into the postseason with more lingering issues.

4. Long Island (Northeast)

Rekindling memories of the Charles Jones era, the Blackbirds are again one of the nation's most exciting teams and won 18 of their last 19 contests to take the Northeast crown by a full three games. They're looking to go dancing for the first time since '97 when they and Jones (the nation's leading scorer) hung 91 on Villanova in a first round losing effort.

5. Bucknell (Patriot)

After a brief down period, the darlings of the middle part of the last decade are back. Sort of. This team couldn't hang with the Bettencourt/McNaughton squads, but they did post a 13-1 mark in the Patriot League, they knocked off Richmond on Jan. 2, and they'll put the fear of God into a three seed if they can first hoist the PL trophy on their home floor come March 11.

6. Fairfield (Metro Atlantic Athletic)

The MAAC has been known as Siena's conference in recent seasons, but with the Saints struggling in Mitch Buonaguro's first year, the Stags took advantage and won the league by two games. Not that they were overly convincing in doing so. Just two of Fairfield's last 13 games ended in a double-digit victory for the regular season champs. It'll be a fun conference tournament to follow (thank you, SNY), but neither this team nor any other in the field is built as well as the Siena squads of the past couple of years.

7. Long Beach State (Big West)

The 49ers, a perennial powerhouse in the Big West, have won eight straight and own a three-game advantage over Cal Poly in the league standings with just one contest to play.

Casper-clap_medium

Casper Ware's legit, so are those unis

8. Texas Southern (Southwestern Athletic)

The Tigers began the season 1-7, but lead the SWAC by three games with two to play. A conference tournament championship will almost certainly send them to Dayton for a "First Four" appearance.

 

15 PLAYERS WHO WILL BE HEARD FROM

1. Kenneth Faried (Morehead State/Ohio Valley)

Despite standing just 6-7, Faried broke Tim Duncan's career-rebounding record on Feb. 19 and figures to hear his name called in the first round of this summer's NBA Draft because of his unbelievable knack for getting to the ball. The shoe-in for OVC Player of the Year is averaging an astounding 14.4 rebounds per game to go with a career-best 17.6 ppg. 

2. Charles Jenkins (Hofstra/Colonial Athletic)

In a move that was anything but ordinary, Jenkins, the reigning CAA Player of the Year and Hofstra's all-time leading scorer (2,441 career points), had his jersey retired on Senior Day over the weekend. Jenkins is the mid-major Jimmer Fredette, complete with the cult following. If you get the chance to see him put the ball in the basket this week (the Pride are the No. 3 seed in the CAA), you'll understand why.

3. Norris Cole (Cleveland State/Horizon League)

The senior guard, who sports one of the nation's best haircuts, was not only named the Horizon's Player of the Year, but also the league's top defender. He averaged 21.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.2 steals per game. On Feb. 12 he scored 41 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and handed out nine assists in a seven-point victory over Youngstown State. Cole and the third-seeded Vikings are in action tonight against No. 10 Illinois-Chicago.


4. Keith Benson (Oakland/Summit League)

Benson is the nation's second-leading shot-blocker at 3.8 per game, and also averages a double-double (17.7/10.2) for the top-seeded Golden Grizzlies. And he's not just doing it against mid-major competition. Of Benson's 16 double-doubles this season, four came against Purdue, Michigan State, West Virginia and Tennessee. 

5. Steven Gray (Gonzaga/West Coast)

He hasn't received nearly the attention of other Gonzaga stars in recent memory, but the highly-talented Gray (14.1 pts/4.0 ast) is easily the biggest reason the 'Zags are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the 12th straight year.

6. Andrew Goudelock (Charleston/Southern)

The senior guard has been a star at Charleston for four seasons and is the main reason the Cougars are a division champ in the SoCon and Bobby Cremins has a terrific shot at making it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996. Top competition has brought out the best in Goudelock, who claimed the school's all-time leading scorer title earlier this season. In four games against teams from BCS conferences he averaged 26.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

Goudelock_medium

7. Cam Long (George Mason/Colonial Athletic)

If you watch even an average amount of college basketball over the next two weeks, you're going to get sick of the line: "Who's going to be the next George Mason? Maybe George Mason." A big reason for that well-shared position is Long, who is destined to finish as the runner-up to Jenkins for the CAA's top honor, but might be the better pro prospect. The senior is averaging 15.1 ppg and shooting just a touch under 50% from behind the three-point line.

8. Mike Muscala (Bucknell/Patriot League)

Muscala pulled off a bit of an upset Monday, edging out Lehigh's C.J. McCollum (the conference's leading scorer and reigning POY) for Patriot League Player of the Year honors. Muscala leads the top-seeded Bison in scoring (14.9), rebounding (7.4), blocked shots (1.9) and field-goal percentage (.517). A showdown with McCollum and Lehigh likely looms in the Patriot semifinals.

9. D. J. Cooper (Ohio/Mid-American)

Behind then-freshman point guard Cooper, the Bobcats made an improbable run to a MAC title last year, and then shocked No. 3 Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a runaway 97-83 victory. Cooper scored 23 points in both the league title game and the win over the Hoyas, burying 5-of-8 three-point attempts in the latter performance. He's averaging a healthy 16.7 ppg as a sophomore, but should be more known for being second in the country in assists at 7.5 dimes per game.

10. William Mosley (Northwestern State/Southland)

The nation's leading shot-blocker by more than one rejection per contest, Mosley has swatted 10 or more shots on three separate occasions for the Demons.

11. Shelvin Mack (Butler/Horizon)

With Butler in danger of suffering the embarrassing distinction of playing in the NIT a year after their miraculous run to the national championship game, Mack put the team on his back and was the catalyst of a seven-game win streak to end the regular season. In his junior season, the Lexington (Ky.) native is averaging 15.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, and 3.7 apg.

12. Anatoly Bose (Nicholls State/Southland)

Raised on a farm in Kazakhstan and then in a beach-town suburb of Sydney, Australia, Bose has turned himself into one of the most prolific scorers in the country. The senior guard is the Southland's leading scorer (21.9 ppg), and dropped 37 in a loss at Oklahoma State earlier this year.

350x_medium

13. Donald Sims (Appalachian State/Southern)

Sims is averaging over 20 points per game (21.3 ppg) for the second year in a row, and heads into his final SoCon Tournament hoping to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

14. Orlando Johnson (UC-Santa Barbara/Big West)

Johnson has scored in double figures in each one of the Gauchos' 27 games this season, and has eclipsed the 30-point mark four times. Santa Barbara will look to defend its Big West crown starting next week.

15. Devon Beitzel (Northern Colorado/Big Sky)

Beitzel leads the Big Sky in scoring at 20.4 ppg, and has the Bears on the verge of their first conference title.

 

FIVE MORE JUST BECAUSE I CAN

Ryan Rossiter (Siena/Metro Atlantic Athletic)
C.J. McCollum (Lehigh/Patriot League)
Kyle Weems (Missouri State/Missouri Valley)
Xavier Silas (Northern Illinois/Mid-American)
Kareem Maddox (Princeton/Ivy League)

 

FIVE TITLE GAMES YOU WANT TO HAPPEN

1. Murray State vs. Morehead State (Ohio Valley)

A potential rubber match between the league's last two champions and two teams that are obviously the class of the league again in 2011. Plus, Kenneth Faried, dude.

2. Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary's (West Coast)

It was in contention before, but the last couple of years have solidified this as the best rivalry in mid-major basketball.

Saintx-large_medium

3. Missouri State vs. Wichita State (Missouri Valley)

Anyone who watched the de facto regular season championship game between these two on Saturday wants to see a rematch on March 6.

4. George Mason vs. Old Dominion (Colonial Athletic)

Probably the two best mid-major teams in the country. Either one is fully capable of making it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

5. Harvard vs. Princeton (Ivy League)

Sure, the league doesn't actually have a tournament, but these two teams (at 10-2 and 10-1, respectively) are the only ones with a shot at capturing the Ivy's auto-bid. Princeton won the first meeting in early February, but the rematch is this Saturday in Cambridge.

 

FIVE CRAZY COMPETITIVE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

Parity reigns supreme and should make for some tremendous games in each of these leagues.

1. Mid-American

Much has been made about the demise of the once mighty MAC, but you can't say the league lacks parity. With all teams in the conference having played at least 14 games, no one has more than ten wins. All six teams in the East division have records of at least .500.

2. Metro Atlantic Athletic

The bottom three are abysmal, but outside of that the league is wide-open. Fairfield's record is a gaudy 23-6, but the Stags haven't been blowing their competition away. Two-time defending champ Siena is the No. 7 seed and will play on the tournament's first day, but the Saints still have a bit of swag and are more than capable of making a run.

3. Southern Conference

The SoCon also made this list a year ago and then promptly delivered a tournament featuring one game that was decided by fewer than ten points. Still, 7 of the 12 teams in the conference won 10 or more games, and there were ties atop each of the two divisions at the end of the regular season.

4. Missouri Valley

The king of mid-major basketball tournaments will undoubtedly deliver again in 2011. No one in the league won fewer than four games, and five teams posted double-digit victories.

Cuonzo_martin_02-27-2011_m11k6r1v

Cuonzo Martin showing the mild amount of passion that comes with MVC basketball

5. MEAC

Bethune-Cookman will be your surprising regular season champion, but two-time defending tourney winner Morgan State and two others are right behind with matching 10-5 league marks.

 

FIVE LESS-EXCITING CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

There's been a growing trend in recent years of leagues starting their regular season champions, or top two seeds, in the semifinals of the postseason tournament. It makes sense in that it adequately rewards regular season performance and gives the league its best shot to be well-represented in the NCAA Tournament, but it's like, not as fun.

It's not a coincidence that two of the first league's to employ this set-up (Horizon/West Coast) just happen to include the two biggest names in mid-major basketball (Butler/Gonzaga). You don't send your #3 dog to Westminster.

Here are five conference tournaments that hope the prince cheats on Cinderella in ten years:

1. Big Sky

Not only does the Big Sky automatically place its top two seeds in the semifinals, but it only includes six teams in the whole tournament. A conference tournament that has as many total games as a first round baseball playoff series is un-American. I said it.

2. Horizon League

The Horizon has been utilizing this practice for a few seasons, but three years ago they stepped it up (down?) a notch. Now the top two seeds get an automatic bye into the semifinals, while the other eight teams have to win four games in four days if they want to dance. Cleveland State actually tied for the regular season title, but because of the tiebreaker they now have to win two games just to get to the semifinals where Milwaukee and Butler are already resting comfortably. The Vikings did, however, pull off the four wins in four days feat in 2009.

3. West Coast

Gonzaga and St. Mary's will both begin league play in the semifinals, again making this the easiest championship game to predict in the history of college basketball.

4. Big West

The Big West gives its top two seeds a bye into the semifinals, but it's also one of the few leagues that employs the NHL style of having the highest remaining seed play the lowest remaining seed in each round. Smart? Sure. Annoying as hell for fans of postseason college basketball? You bet.

What have we learned so far? Conference tournaments west of the Mississippi are infinitely lamer than conference tournaments east of the Mississippi. The Big East has four games for three straight days. THREE STRAIGHT DAYS OF FOUR GAMES.

Grow up, left coast. 

5. Ivy League

Say what you will about the other four, but at least they have tournaments. Also, studying: not cool.

Bonus Crappy Tournament: Ohio Valley

Giving its top two teams an auto-bye to the semis for the first time in 2011. This is me judging you.

 

FIVE TEAMS EVEN THOSE WHO STOPPED READING AN HOUR AGO SHOULD WATCH

1. Oakland (Summit League)

This team is far more skilled than the vast majority of mid-to-low major teams you'll see over the course of the next two weeks. I'm telling you, the guy you hate at work who thinks he should be on Around the Horn will spend literally 85% of his time at work during the Monday-Wednesday before the tournament talking about how this team is going to "shock the world."

2. VMI (Big South)

Once again, your top-scoring team in the nation. If they can get past perennial powerhouse Winthrop tonight, don't be surprised if they pull the upset over top-seeded, but reeling Coastal Carolina on Wednesday night. That game will be on ESPNU.

3. Hofstra (Colonial Athletic)

Charles Jenkins.


4. Long Island (Northeast)

They aren't quite the LIU Brooklyn of the late-'90s, but they're close, and they might actually be better. The Blackbirds have scored more than 80 points in 13 of their last 14 games.

5. Chattanooga (Southern)

Georgetown transfer Omar Wattad leads the second-highest three-point barrage in the nation.

 

TEN POTENTIAL NON-TOP SEEDS WHO COULD GO DANCING

1. Boston (America East)

The Terriers ended the regular season on an eight-game winning streak and swept the season series with league champ Vermont. BU won in overtime at "The House of Pan and Freezin' Rain" in Saturday's regular season-finale.

2. Weber State (Big Sky)

Weber's won eight straight conference games heading into Saturday's finale against Eastern Washington. The Wildcats were upset in the Big Sky title game a year ago by Montana.

3. VMI (Big South)

The Keydets are always a tough out in the Big South tourney, and head into the postseason winners of their last five league games. They won at their first round opponent, Winthrop, on Saturday, and would likely face a struggling Coastal Carolina in the semifinals They defeated second-seeded Liberty by 10 on Feb. 15.

4. Hofstra (Colonial Athletic)

George Mason and Old Dominion may be the two mid-majors most likely to do damage in the NCAA Tournament, but the Pride are playing as well as any team in the conference and can lay claim to the league's best scorer.

5. Ohio (Mid-American)

They're getting hot at the right time for the second year in a row. The Bobcats are winners of four straight and six of their last seven, a span which includes an overtime victory at East division-leading Kent State. No team in the MAC is more talented, and Ohio has the advantage of knowing they won this tournament a year ago from the eight hole.

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6. Robert Morris (Northeast)

The defending champs should've knocked off Villanova in the first round of the dance a last year. RMU won its last six regular season games and will open the NEC Tournament against a Wagner team it just defeated by 17.

7. Morehead State (Ohio Valley)

Kenneth Faried, dude.

8. Stephen F. Austin (Southland)

The Lumberjacks have lost once since Feb. 2, and that was to West division-leading Texas State in overtime.

9. Alabama State (SWAC)

The Hornets were 3-6 in the league before their current seven-game winning streak started. They just waxed conference-leading Texas Southern by 12.

10. Oral Roberts (Summit League)

Oakland has owned the league this year, but the Golden Eagles still feel like this is their tournament. They've also won eight straight.

 

FIVE MORE BECAUSE, YEAH, I STILL CAN

American (Patriot League)
Lipscomb (Atlantic Sun)
Wofford (Southern)
Cleveland State (Horizon)
Quinnipiac (Northeast)

And there you have it.

If you didn't read every word, you know the drill...KFC Famous Bowl for lunch. It's a punishment, but you're also supporting the community. Yeah, not reading every word of a championship week preview on a blog aimed directly at Louisville Cardinal fans is akin to dealing a small amount of marijuana.

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