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March 5, 2008
Conference Tournament Previews
Patriot League, Atlantic Sun, Sun Belt

by Ken Pomeroy


Three more tournaments get underway tonight. In the Patriot and Atlantic Sun, the early rounds could get wild, while in the Sun Belt, action before the final is expected to be ceremonial. All figures listed are the chances of a team getting to a particular round, with the rightmost column indicating its chances of winning the tournament.

Patriot League

                     Semis Final Champ
1 American            70.1  58.2  44.9
2 Navy                75.9  51.3  22.1
3 Colgate             62.2  25.7  10.4
8 Holy Cross          29.9  17.7   7.7
6 Lafayette           37.8  16.8   6.3
4 Lehigh              70.6  17.0   5.3
5 Army                29.4   7.1   1.7
7 Bucknell            24.1   6.2   1.6

Format: All games at higher seed, March 5, 9 and 14.
Most likely championship matchup: Navy at American (30%)

What in the name of Darren Mastropaolo is going on here? Bucknell and Holy Cross, who combined for 47 wins last season, are the bottom two seeds in 2008. Both teams are in the midst of rebuilding, but the Crusaders have a not-so-insignificant chance to finish their rebuilding process this week. Congratulations, Jeff Jones. Your American Eagles won the regular season title, and as the number one seed you get to take on...the second-best team in the league! My algorithm gives Holy Cross a 30% chance to knock off American at Bender Arena tonight, a place where Holy Cross won by two back in January. It gives them a one-in-13 chance to go New York Giants on the conference and win three straight road games for the auto bid. Parity was in force in the PL this season, as every team won at least five games and lost at least four in a 14-game schedule, so it's no surprise that their tourney is wide open, even while being played at home sites.

Atlantic Sun

                     Semis Final Champ
1 Belmont             92.6  47.0  33.9
5 Lipscomb            66.7  38.2  27.9
6 Gardner-Webb        55.2  34.9  13.8
2 Jacksonville        78.7  38.7  10.8
4 E. Tennessee St.    33.3  13.6   8.3
3 Stetson             44.8  19.1   3.8
7 Mercer              21.3   7.2   1.2
8 Campbell             7.4   1.2   0.3

Format: All games at Lipscomb, March 5-8.
Most likely championship matchup: Belmont vs. Jacksonville (18%)

You'll remember this conference from such early-season upsets as "Gardner-Webb over Kentucky" and "Mercer over USC." Four months later, G-Webb and Mercer are the six- and seven-seeds in the A-Sun Tourney. The top seed Belmont, who somehow flew under the radar despite wins over Cincinnati and Alabama, has the best chance to win the event. They take nearly half their shots from beyond the arc and have a weak defense, so they're not indestructible by any means.

The A-Sun has the market cornered on potential tourney mayhem, with four teams having at least a one-in-ten chance of winning it all. Lipscomb, underseeded as a five, gets a nice boost from hosting the event. In fact, ESPN should be televising a potential semifinal game between Belmont and the Bison instead of the final.

Sun Belt

                      Qtrs Semis Final Champ
1  South Alabama       100  95.1  89.0  64.7
3  Western Kentucky    100  87.7  78.3  30.3
6  North Texas        82.9  11.3   8.1   1.5
2  Ark. Little Rock    100  60.9   9.1   1.0
4  Middle Tennessee   75.0  42.2   4.2   0.9
5  La. Lafayette      73.0  41.0   3.9   0.8
8  New Orleans        63.8   3.7   1.8   0.3
7  Florida Atlantic   54.5  22.4   2.5   0.2
10 Florida Int'l      45.5  16.8   1.6   0.1
9  Denver             36.2   1.2   0.4   0.1
12 Troy               27.0   9.0   0.4  0.04
13 La. Monroe         25.0   7.8   0.3  0.03
11 Arkansas St.       17.1   1.0   0.3  0.02

Format: First round at higher seeds, March 5. Rest of tournament at South Alabama, March 9-11.
Most likely championship matchup: Western Kentucky vs. South Alabama (70%)

This is the largest conference tournament in the land, but it could be the most predictable. There's just a one-in-20 chance that a team other than South Alabama and Western Kentucky wins the title, which is believable considering the duo went 30-2 against the rest of the Sun Belt. South Alabama has very real at-large hopes; the good news for the bubble is that by virtue of playing all their games at home, they are the odds-on favorite to take the automatic bid. However, despite sweeping the 'Toppers during the regular season, USA's two worst offensive performances in conference came against WKU. On the flip side, Western Kentucky's two worst offensive games all season came against the Jaguars.

Tomorrow: The Missouri Valley and the NEC.

Ken Pomeroy is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Ken by clicking here or click here to see Ken's other articles.

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Prospectus Preview (03/05)
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