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Conference Basketball Tournament Capsules, Pick’em Challenge: Part 1

The Northeast, ASUN, Horizon, and Patriot League all tip off the next couple days—here’s what to watch!

NCAA Basketball: Lafayette at Rutgers Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

Northeast Conference:

February 28, March 2, 5, 8 [Official Bracket]

All games at home court of higher seed (true Yankee frugality!)

Structure: 9-team tournament, re-seed after quarterfinals

Today’s Game

[9] Central Connecticut Blue Devils at [8] Fairly Dickin’, Son Chess Pieces

6pm CT | NEC Front Row | FDU -3.5 | O/U 136
CCSU: 7-23 (5-13), KP 349 | FDU: 4-21 (5-13), KP 346

This is the conference with two different St. Francis’s (PA and NY BKN [MNW note: they’re sensitive about #branding as Brooklyn’s NEC Team, apparently]), but neither is likely to win it. Instead, this looks to be a two-team race between regular season champ, Bryant (19-9/15-2) and second-place finisher Wagner (19-5/13-3). The Seahawks looked to be the class of the league for most of the year, but they’ve gone 2-3 down the stretch (2 OT losses, and a loss to Bryant in the season finale). Bryant is on a 13-1 streak, losing only to LIU over that stretch. LIU would be a live dark horse, but the home court advantage also really makes Bryant and Wagner stand out as favorites...and really makes Bryant’s season-ending win important.

If either of the two favorites takes the auto-bid, it will be noteworthy. Despite winning the regular-season title three times since 2016, Wagner’s only NCAA bid was back in 2003. Bryant is fairly new to D-1 hoops, eligible for postseason play only since 2013, and they have yet to see the Big Dance. The call here is for Wagner to right the ship and advance with a win on Bryant’s home court. Wagner is more reliant on their starting five, and the time off between games should work to their advantage.

MNW: Hi it’s me, your friendly degenerate. Have you heard the Good News of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ NEC Front Row?

It’s a friendly little platform. Rough around the edges, but lots of funny accents from the commentators and lots of fast-paced basketball—Bryant is one of the fastest teams in college hoops and LIU’s hot on their tail in pace.

More importantly, Bryant’s in the Never Made the Tourney Club, and that makes them an instant rooting interest. I’m taking Bryant to win the NEC.

In the meantime? You’re going to see some TRULY assy basketball today if you tune in to Central Connecticut-Fairleigh Dickinson. The two sides take different approaches to being awful—the Blue Devils try to take the air out of the ball. The Chess Pieces don’t play on funny green squares, but they run, run, run...pointlessly, aimlessly, wonderfully. Long may they run.

Atlantic Sun ASUN Conference:

March 1, 3, 5, 8 [Official Bracket]

All games at home court of higher seed (not just for New Englanders anymore!)

Structure: Standard 12-team, two-division tournament

Okay, let’s get this out of the way first: The Jacksonville Dolphins (of Jacksonville, FLORIDA) finished second in the East and could very well meet the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (of Jacksonville, ALABAMA), winners of the West division, in the semifinals. So try to keep them straight, okay? [That won’t be hard for old-time Iowa Hawkeyes fans]

Artis Gilmore led the Jacksonville (the FLORIDA one) to an NCAA runner-up finish in 1970.

You might think that’s too much Andrew Jackson-related content, but the East champ was Liberty, so what the fuck do you want out of me? The other bye went to Bellarmine, who is in their second-year as a D-1 school, and first year of being eligible for the NCAA tournament (they did play in the CBI last year). The only other team to post an above. 500 conference record was FGCU, and this isn’t Dunk City. Central Arkansas is the 6-seed (excuse me, the 3W-seed), but Scottie Pippen isn’t walking through that door. (You’re right, I’m running out of steam.)

Jacksonville State (AL) already had wins over Liberty and Jacksonville (FL), and swept Bellarmine. Let’s say their 1-3 stretch in February is fixed and they’ll play like the best team in the ASUN, which they were for the rest of the season. [Having home court won’t hurt.]

MNW: Are we sure? I’m still showing Bellarmine as ineligible for the NCAA Tournament...but I wouldn’t mind seeing the Knights on the big stage, as that no-dribble offense sounds wild. [Kind of...Yeah, MNW is right, Bellarmine is still ineligible. My bad, boss.]

The ASUN is a weird blind spot in my college basketball watching, as I spend so much time avoiding the Fuckin’ Falwells that I wind up losing out completely on my Dolphins #content. You’re not likely to be riveted by much, here, unless someone like Florida Gulf Coast or Central Arkansas make a run—the fastest of the top four seeds is the UVA disciple at Liberty, rolling in at Kenpom’s AdjT at a whopping 264th.

Because the world’s awful, I’ll tip the Flames to get it done.

Horizon League:

March 1, 3, 7-8 [Official Bracket]

First two rounds at higher seed; semifinals and finals at Indiana Farmers Coliseum

Structure: 12-teams, re-seed after every round

Any thoughts, HWAHSQB?

The Horizon had juice 10-20 years ago, when Milwaukee made a Sweet 16 and Butler made back-to-back title games. But this year, it finished an all-time low #26 in KenPom’s conference rankings, and there’s little reason to think any of these teams are ready to make noise with the auto bid.

The four byes went to Cleveland State (15-6 in conference play), Purdue Fort Wayne (15-6), Northern Kentucky (14-6), and Wright State (15-7), and they’re reasonably closely clustered in both NET and KenPom rankings. However, both of those measures declare 5-seed Oakland to be the league’s best team. That said, a lot of the pro-Oakland work is being done by November wins over Oklahoma Sate, Toledo, and Vermont (all top-100 in KenPom). The 3-6 finish suggests the Grizzlies are running on fumes at this point.

Let’s give recency bias a moment. Purdue Fort Wayne went 9-0 in February as part of a 14-3 run, and Northern Kentucky is 12-2 down the stretch, losing only to Detroit Mercy (2x) and defeating Purdue Fort Wayne. Let’s say they meet in a 2 vs. 3 semifinal and the winner—it will be Northern Kentucky—goes on to defeat Cleveland State for the title.

MNW: Probably the most fun of the first few tournaments, even if no one’s making a run in the Dance. The first couple rounds give us potential for an on-campus upset, and there’s the farewell to UIC as a Horizon member—plus the pettiness of them having to waive the right to host the coveted 8-9 matchup with Milwaukee.

I’d watch out for Wright State—the Raiders enjoy the recreational close game and have a win over NC State under their belt. But I like Cleveland State to get it done and vault Dennis Gates into a Big East job.

Patriot League:

March 1, 3, 6, 9 [Official Bracket]

All games at home court of higher seed [Yankee frugality = patriotism]

Structure: Standard 10-team tournament

Colgate (20-11/16-2) won the regular-season title by a full four games and is the prohibitive favorite. But, unless you’re holding some strange grudge, you really should be cheering for second-place Navy. Coached by former Penn State head man Ed DeChellis, the Midshipmen haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1998, and haven’t won a game in the Big Dance since the improbable Elite Eight run in 1986 (having David Robinson certainly helped, right Michigan fans?).

Boston University has had some moments (including handing Colgate their last loss, back on Jan. 28), and 6’10” Sukhmail Mathon is probably the league’s best player. 4-seed Lehigh also beat Colgate, so maybe??? That said, the Mountain Hawks haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2012, and C.J. McCollum ran out of eligibility a long time ago. So, let’s not be too clever here. Colgate is probably going to win the bid.

Finally, for the benefit of Rutgers fans, I will note that Lafayette finished their season 10-19/7-11, good enough for the #8 seed in the fifth-worst conference in college basketball.

MNW: I’m sorry, cheer for Navy? GoForThree reads this blog once in a while, you know.

I used to have a firm rooting interest in this conference, but then Holy Cross fired Bill Carmody and has been first-round-bound ever since. The Crusaders can rot in hell for all I care; Worcester is a fourth-tier Massachusetts city, anyway.

Actually, I’ll stick with Dr. Loyola—the Greyhounds are coached by Northwestern alumnus and longtime assistant Tavaras Hardy and led by PG Cam Spencer, brother of former Loyola lacrosse player Pat Spencer, who you may have heard played one season for the Northwestern Wildcats basketball team. But he was a lacrosse player! Don’t know if that ever got mentioned. Anywho, Cam can pour it in.

The ‘Hounds split with 3-seed Boston, including a win at the one Patriot League arena I’ve attended, so look out for them...but all roads lead to Hamilton. The Raiders hung a cool hundred on Syracuse in the Carrier Dome; I’ll take 1-seed Colgate to win the Patriot.

Would you like to pick the winners of these basketball tournaments? We’re going to get some sort of a contest going. While I don’t know right now what that’s going to look like, there’s a Google form below—use your SBN handle, please. At some point we’ll make this more professional.