Champ Week: Setting up Week 1

Championship Week is set to get under way. Here's what to look for in this week's conference tournaments. All tourneys that begin March 5 or later will be previewed next Monday.

America East

When: Thurs., March 1, through Sun., March 4; title game will be held Sat., March 10

Where: First round, quarterfinals, semifinals at Chase Family Arena (University of Hartford); championship at highest remaining seed

The favorite: Stony Brook, the No. 1 seed in the America East tournament, lost to Boston University in the league's tourney title game last season. The Seawolves, who finished the regular season on a three-game winning streak, hope to avoid that fate this season. They'll rely on their defensive prowess (55.5 points per game allowed in America East play, No. 1 in the conference).

The top challengers: Vermont, the 2010 AE tourney champ, defeated Stony Brook 68-49 on Feb. 12. Boston University (45.2 field goal percentage in conference play) split its two battles with Stony Brook this season.

Three players to watch: Bryan Dougher (13.4 ppg, 80 percent from the charity stripe) has been Stony Brook's anchor. Matt Glass (11.9 ppg, 48 percent from the field) guides a Vermont team that has won 14 of its past 16 games. Albany's Gerardo Suero averages 21.7 ppg, No. 1 in the league.

My pick: Stony Brook is a tough squad that won't crack as the pressure mounts. I'll go with the Seawolves in a victory over Vermont in the tournament's title game.

Atlantic Sun

When: Wed., Feb. 29, through Sat., March 3

Where: Macon, Ga. (Mercer)

The favorite: The Belmont Bruins opened the year with tough outings against Memphis and Duke on the road. But those tests strengthened the Bruins, last season's conference tourney champs, who will enter the Atlantic Sun tournament on an 11-game winning streak. They're scoring 82.1 ppg, second in the nation.

The top challengers: Mercer, the host of the tournament, will have the crowd on its side. The 2-seed Bears, however, have lost three of their past four games. But they have the league's top scoring defense (63.1 ppg allowed). USC Upstate, the Atlantic Sun's top rebounding team (36.7 rebounds per game) and the tourney's 3-seed, beat Belmont 79-78 on Jan. 21.

Three players to watch: USC Upstate's Torrey Craig leads the Atlantic Sun in rebounding (8.8 rpg) and he's second in scoring (16.9 ppg). Belmont's Kerron Johnson is tied for first in assists (5.4 assists per game) and he's also leading the Bruins with 14.4 ppg. North Florida's Parker Smith averages 17.0 ppg.

My pick: Belmont's offense will be too much for any team in the field. I think the Bruins will spoil the "home team" Mercer's tournament with a win over the Bears in the final.

Big Sky

When: Sat., March 3, quarterfinals; Tues., March 6, semifinals; Wed., March 7, championship

Where: Quarterfinals at higher seed; semifinals and championship at regular-season champion (Weber State or Montana).

The favorite: Depends on what happens Tuesday, when Weber State and Montana (both entered the week at 14-1) meet for the Big Sky regular-season championship. Weber State has already beaten Montana once this season.

The top challengers: Both Weber State (the league's top scoring offense at 78.7 ppg) and Montana (the Big Sky's top scoring defense at 58.9 ppg allowed) have separated themselves from the rest of the field. Portland State, which possesses the top shooting mark in conference play (49.4 percent), will finish third in the Big Sky.

Three players to watch: For most of the season, Weber State's Damian Lillard (24.7 ppg) has been on top of the national scoring charts. Montana's Will Cherry (16.8 ppg in Big Sky action) leads the conference in steals (2.6 steals per game). Portland State's Chehales Tapscott (13.9 ppg) leads the Big Sky with 1.9 blocks per game in league play.

My pick: I think Lillard will put together a "SportsCenter"-worthy string of performances as he leads Weber State to the Big Sky tournament title and the conference's automatic berth.

Big South

When: Mon., Feb. 27, through Sat., March 3

Where: First round at higher seeds; quarterfinals and semifinals at No. 1 seed UNC-Asheville; championship at highest remaining seed.

The favorite: UNC-Asheville, last season's Big South tournament champion, looks to repeat. The Bulldogs have averaged 80.8 points per game this season, the No. 6 scoring mark in the country. They're shooting 48.2 percent from the field.

The top challengers: Coastal Carolina defeated UNC-Asheville 74-69 on Valentine's Day. The Chanticleers -- that's a fighting rooster, by the way -- have held Big South squads to 39.4 percent shooting from the field, the top mark in the conference. Charleston Southern (77.2 ppg, second in the league) defeated the Bulldogs in their only matchup of the year (93-88, Jan. 19).

Three players to watch: Campbell's Eric Griffin is averaging 15.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Charleston Southern's Kelvin Martin (15.3 ppg), a 6-foot-5 senior forward, is second in the Big South in rebounding and second in steals in conference play. High Point's Nick Barbour can light it up (21.4 ppg).

My pick: I think Coastal Carolina's defense will carry it to the Big South tourney title over UNC-Asheville.


When: Fri., March 2, through Mon., March 5

Where: Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Va.

The favorite: Drexel captured the CAA regular-season title via its stubborn defense (55.7 ppg allowed, No. 1 in the CAA). The Dragons haven't lost since Jan. 2 (17-game winning streak).

The top challengers: VCU, a Final Four team last season, hopes to boost its postseason profile with a run in the CAA tourney. George Mason, the top shooting team in the conference (44.7 percent from the field), and Old Dominion, the top rebounding team in the league (42.1 rpg), could win this tournament, too.

Three players to watch: VCU's Bradford Burgess (13.5 ppg) has started 141 consecutive games for the Rams. Damion Lee (42 points combined in Drexel's past two road games) is one of the top freshmen in the country. Delaware's Jamelle Hagins (12.7 ppg, 11.3 rpg) has recorded 14 double-doubles this season.

My pick: This is a tough one. But I'll go with the Rams. VCU versus Drexel could be a classic CAA title game.

Horizon League

When: Tues., Feb. 28, through Tues., March 6

Where: First round at higher seeds; second round and semis at 1-seed Valparaiso; championship at highest remaining seed.

The favorite: Valparaiso has climbed to the top of the Horizon League with a 47.2 percent shooting clip from the field, No. 1 in the league. Ryan Broekhoff (14.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Kevin Van Wijk (14.4 ppg) have anchored that offensive attack. Van Wijk, however, has been hampered by a knee injury in recent weeks.

The top challengers: Cleveland State looked like the league favorite entering the conference slate, but the Vikings have won just two of their past seven games. A groin injury has kept D'Aundray Brown (2.6 spg) out for seven of the team's past eight games. Milwaukee, Butler and Detroit all finished the regular season at 11-7. Butler, the surprising star of the past two NCAA tourneys, has to win the Horizon League tournament title to get an invitation to this year's Big Dance. But the Bulldogs have built up momentum -- they've won five of their past six games. Detroit has the league's top scoring offense (72.3 ppg). Milwaukee defeated Valparaiso 57-55 on Dec. 29.

Three players to watch: Ronald Nored (5.3 apg) has competed in the past two national title games, so he has the leadership skills that will be crucial for the Bulldogs. Ray McCallum Jr. (15.1 ppg) has been up and down for Detroit, but he can prove that he's a star in the conference tournament. Kendrick Perry (16.8 ppg) leads the league in scoring and could shift this tournament for No. 6 seed Youngstown State.

My pick: I realize they aren't the favorites and are very vulnerable, but I'm not going to bet against the Bulldogs. They finished fairly strong and they're mentally equipped for the challenge, considering their past two postseasons and Brad Stevens' coaching ability. Butler. Again.


When: Fri., March 2, through Mon., March 5

Where: MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.

The favorite: Iona, the 1-seed in the tournament, is ranked 13th in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. The Gaels (83.1 ppg) possess the nation's top scoring offense. These MAAC champs have the offense, athleticism and maturity to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

The top challengers: Loyola (Md.), which allowed just 62.8 ppg in conference play, split with the Gaels this season. Manhattan has the No. 2 scoring margin (plus-7.7 ppg) in the league.

Three players to watch: Iona has a must-see trio. Scott Machado (13.1 ppg, 10.1 apg) might be the best point guard in the country. Michael Glover, a 6-7 forward, has 13 double-doubles this season. And LaMont "Momo" Jones (15.9 ppg) has star power, too.

My pick: Loyola (Md.) split with Iona this season. Its defense could give Iona fits. But the Gaels should be too strong offensively to squander the tourney title.

Missouri Valley

When: Thurs., March 1, through Sun., March 4

Where: Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo.

The favorite: It took far too long for the 1-seed Shockers -- who have wins over UNLV, Creighton and Davidson -- to crack the national rankings. This is a dangerous program that can win the Missouri Valley tournament title and make noise in the NCAA tournament.

The top challengers: Creighton beat the Shockers at the start of league play. And prior to the Bluejays' three-game losing skid in early February, they were the team to beat in the MVC. Possible sleepers who might pull off an upset? Take your pick from five teams (Northern Iowa, Drake, Missouri State, Illinois State and Evansville) which all finished at 9-9 in conference play.

Three players to watch: Doug McDermott (23.1 ppg and 8.1 rpg) might miss out on the national player of the year award due to his team's shaky finish, but the sophomore can certainly put the Bluejays on his back and carry them to a tournament title. Missouri State's Kyle Weems (15.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg) is the reigning MVC player of the year. Wichita State 7-footer Garrett Stutz can beat teams inside (14.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg), but he's not afraid to shoot from the perimeter (33 percent from beyond the arc).

My pick: I think McDermott will be special in St. Louis as he leads the Bluejays to the MVC tournament title, a crown they haven't held since the 2006-07 season.

Ohio Valley

When: Wed., Feb. 29, through Sat., March 3

Where: Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn.

The favorite: Google Murray State. The 1-seed Racers, who won the Ohio Valley tournament in 2010, have lost just one game this season. They have a national player of the year candidate in Isaiah Canaan, and they've won their third consecutive Ohio Valley regular-season title. It's hard to imagine any team in the tournament stopping this squad.

The top challengers: Tennessee State, the 2-seed, is the only team that's defeated Murray State this season. And the Tigers pulled off the upset on the road. Tennessee Tech, the No. 2 scoring offense in the league (73.2 ppg), was competitive in both matchups against the Racers.

Three players to watch: Canaan is averaging 19.4 ppg. Teammate Donte Poole is averaging 13.9 ppg. Tennessee Tech's Kevin Murphy, the league's top scorer at 20.6 ppg, set a school record with 50 points in his team's 98-80 victory over SIU-Edwardsville on Jan. 30. He's scored 28 or more seven times this season.

My pick: Murray State will not be denied in Nashville. The Racers aren't just a good mid-major. They've proven to be a great team this season. Period.


When: Thurs., March 1, for quarterfinals; Sun., March 4, for semifinals; Wed., March 7, for the title game

Where: Quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game at higher seed.

The favorite: LIU Brooklyn, the Northeast Conference's regular-season champion, secured the 1-seed. The Blackbirds possess the league's top scoring offense (85.4 ppg) and field goal percentage (48.5). They've won eight of their past nine games.

The top challengers: Wagner, a 2-seed in the tournament, put the Northeast Conference on the map this season with its Dec. 23 road win over a ranked Pitt squad. But the squad with the league's top scoring defense (63.3 ppg) was swept by LIU Brooklyn this season. Robert Morris, the 3-seed, is one of two Northeast squads that has defeated the Blackbirds this season (75-66 on Jan. 26).

Three players to watch: The Blackbirds' Jamal Olasewere is second in the league with 19.3 ppg in conference play. Robert Morris' Velton Jones (16.5 ppg, 4.3 apg) is a special player. Wagner's Jonathon Williams, a 6-6 wing who's recorded 19 or more points in three of Wagner's past five games, is one of the toughest matchups in the league.

My pick: I think Wagner will find a way to secure this league's automatic berth with a tournament title.

Patriot League

When: Wed., Feb. 29, quarterfinals; Sat., March 3, semifinals; Wed., March 7, title game

Where: Quarterfinals, semifinals and championship at higher seed.

The favorite: Bucknell, last season's Patriot League tourney champ and a 1-seed this year, is shooting 46.1 percent from the field. And the Bison have held Patriot League foes to 60.7 ppg, the No. 1 mark in the conference.

The top challengers: Lehigh was second in the conference with an 11-3 mark. The Mountain Hawks, the 2010 Patriot League champs, defeated Bucknell 56-53 on Feb. 16. American, a 3-seed, could get hot and win this tournament (40.6 percent from beyond the arc in league play).

Three players to watch: Mike Muscala (16.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg) is a 6-11 force inside for Bucknell and a weapon that the rest of field will have a tough time countering (89.5 percent from the charity stripe, 1.8 blocks per game in league competition). Lehigh's C.J. McCollum is sixth in the nation at 21.7 ppg. American's Charles Hinkle is averaging 16.8 ppg in the Patriot League.

My pick: Muscala and the Bison will win their second consecutive tournament title with a victory over a talented Lehigh squad.


When: Fri., March 2, through Mon., March 5

Where: U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C.

The favorite: Davidson won three consecutive SoCon tournament titles from 2006 through 2008. See: Steph Curry. The Wildcats are the tournament's 1-seed. They won the South Division with the help of the conference's top field goal percentage defense (40.7 percent) and top scoring offense (79.4 ppg in conference action).

The top challengers: Wofford, a 2-seed from the South Division, pushed Davidson in the teams' first matchup (72-69 Davidson win on Dec. 1). UNC Greensboro is one of the best turnaround stories in the country (started out 2-14), but the Spartans have lost their past three games. The College of Charleston beat Davidson 86-78 on Feb. 11.

Three players to watch: De'Mon Brooks averaged 16.6 ppg for Davidson in conference play. The Citadel's Mike Groselle finished the regular season averaging 16.6 ppg, and he led the SoCon in rebounding (9.7 rpg). Trevis Simpson of UNC Greensboro led the conference in scoring (19.9 ppg) during the regular season.

My pick: Bob McKillop's squad is the best team in the SoCon, something it's proved all year. The Wildcats should be unstoppable in the conference tournament, too.


When: Sat., March 3, through Tues., March 6

Where: Sioux Falls Arena in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The favorite: Oral Roberts has lost just one game since suffering a Dec. 15 road setback at Gonzaga (67-61). The Golden Eagles shot 52 percent from the field during conference action. ORU won three consecutive Summit League tournament titles from 2006-08.

The top challengers: South Dakota State is the only Summit League foe that's defeated Oral Roberts this season (75-60 on Feb. 2). The Jackrabbits' plus-11.6 ppg scoring margin topped the league. Oakland, which owns the conference's top scoring offense (81.4 ppg), has won the past two conference tournament championships.

Three players to watch: Oakland's Reggie Hamilton leads the country in scoring (25.5 ppg). South Dakota State's Nate Wolters is eighth (21.2 ppg). Dominique Morrison (20.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 45.1 3-pt pct) does it all for Oral Roberts.

My pick: I'll go with South Dakota State over Oral Roberts in the tournament title game.

Sun Belt

When: Sat., March 3, through Tues., March 6

Where: Summit Arena/Convention Center in Hot Springs, Ark.

The favorite: Middle Tennessee State started its standout campaign with a Nov. 15 win over UCLA in Los Angeles. The Blue Raiders have the conference's top scoring defense (59.1 ppg allowed). And they're stacked with gutsy veterans.

The top challengers: Denver, a 3-seed, has wins over Saint Mary's, Southern Miss and MTSU this season. Arkansas-Little Rock, which swept Denver, won the Sun Belt's West Division.

Three players to watch: Middle Tennessee's LaRon Dendy, a transfer from Iowa State, is the top scorer (14.8 ppg) and rebounder (7.0 rpg) for the Blue Raiders. Denver's Chris Udofia leads his team in scoring (14.9) and assists (2.8 apg) and he's second in rebounding (5.3 rpg). North Texas freshman Tony Mitchell, who originally signed with Missouri, led the league in scoring (16.4 ppg) and rebounding (11.7 rpg) during conference play.

My pick: I think Middle Tennessee State has been one of the toughest teams in the country this season. Look for the Blue Raiders to represent the Sun Belt in the NCAA tournament and win their conference tourney.


When: Wed., Feb. 29, through Mon., March 5

Where: The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas

The favorite: Saint Mary's, the 1-seed in the tournament and the 2010 tourney champ, won the West Coast Conference's regular-season title with a 14-2 mark, snapping Gonzaga's 11-year streak atop the league. From Dec. 23 through Feb. 2, the Gaels won 12 consecutive games.

The top challengers: Gonzaga, last season's WCC tournament champion, snapped that winning streak with a 73-59 victory over the Gaels in Spokane, Wash., on Feb. 9. The Bulldogs have won six of their past seven games. BYU finished third (12-4) in its first season in the WCC.

Three players to watch: Matthew Dellavedova leads the Gaels with 15.4 ppg. If Kevin Pangos gets hot in Vegas (13.5 ppg, 40.4 percent from beyond the arc), the Bulldogs will win this tournament. If Noah Hartsock (16.8 ppg) is available for 3-seed BYU, then the Cougars could pull off the upset. He's been hampered by a recent knee injury.

My pick: I think the Zags have been the best team in the WCC in recent weeks. And I expect that push to continue in the WCC tournament, where I predict a tourney title for Gonzaga.

Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mmedcalf3030@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN.