10 biggest storylines for the mid-major conference tournaments
6. Monmouth is back!
The Hawks were last year’s national darling, beating power programs and dancing along the bench as they did so. This year, Monmouth’s non-conference slate was good but not noteworthy like last season. Since then, the Hawks have set fire to the MAAC.
Monmouth’s only conference losses came on December 31 and January 2. Aside from that holiday blip, King Rice’s team has carved up the conference. Point guard Justin Robinson is one of America’s most electric players in the open court with the ball in his hands. After a last-second bubble pop last season, Monmouth is hungry for a tourney berth.
The Hawks enter their conference tourney with an impressive 18-2 conference record and 26-5 overall clip.
7. How Valpo fares without Alec Peters
Valparaiso senior forward Alec Peters was one of America’s leading scorers and best players last season. When his coach, Bryce Drew, left for Vanderbilt, conventional wisdom led everyone to believe Peters would head for the pros or take advantage of the graduate transfer rule and try to win a championship.
Instead, he returned to Valpo to shoot for a Horizon League title.
Last season, the Crusaders earned the top seed in the conference tournament but were upset in a wild overtime game by Green Bay. Peters, who was averaging an absurd 23 points and 10 rebounds per game, will now miss the rest of the season with an injury.
The Crusaders will need to fight for a spot in the Big Dance as the top seed in their tournament, without their top player.
8. VCU and Dayton dance before the Dance
Earlier this week, the Dayton Flyers beat VCU at home to clinch the outright Atlantic-10 regular season championship. Both teams have rock-solid resumes for an at-large bid, but that won’t stop them from trying to win a championship in Pittsburgh.
The two teams split regular season meetings and a championship rubber match could be one of the best mid-majors games we see. It would factor into seeding for the NCAA Tournament, but more than most Championship Week games would be more about the game itself than the future implications.
Dayton is 15-2 in conference and 24-5 overall, while VCU enters the A-10 tourney 13-4 and 23-7 overall.
9. “Arch Madness” could be wild
Perhaps the only game more intriguing than a VCU-Dayton rematch would be a showdown between Wichita State and Illinois State in the Missouri Valley title game. The Shockers and Redbirds both went 17-1 in conference, each winning on one another’s home court in the regular season. Third place in the Missouri Valley Conference? How about a two-way tie at 9-9.
The rest of the conference displayed a wild amount of parity, leaving Wichita State and Illinois State as the kings among a group of peasants. A third match-up between the two could be fantastic, but they don’t call the MVC Tourney Arch Madness for nothing. Upsets always show up in St. Louis.
If neither of the top two win the automatic bid, they’ll head to the bubble and make a lot of teams across America nervous.
10. Will Vermont keep rolling?
The Vermont Catamounts are as hot as any team in the nation.
It has been 18 games and over two months since Vermont lost a game, dating all the way back to December 21. Four of the Catamounts’ five losses this season have come at the hands of top 55 teams in the KenPom rankings. Vermont has simply mowed down fellow mid-majors, especially in the America East Conference, where the Cats went undefeated.
Though the America East doesn’t have the name or respect of a major conference, going undefeated through the conference and winning the conference tournament would turn some heads and earn Vermont some buzz as a possible sleeper in March.
The Catamounts enter their conference tourney 27-5 overall.
Shane McNichol covers college basketball for Larry Brown Sports. He also blogs about college basketball and the NBA at Palestra Back and has contributed to Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.