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Snowflakes: Small Conference Hoops Does the Footprint Proud

Posted: Mar 13, 2008

It’s the most exciting time of the year for many of the smaller schools around our region. Their conferences tournaments have become an extension of the NCAA Tourney as winning the automatic bid fulfills their dream of having a shot at the big boys. Many pundits feel it would be more fair to give the Big Dance berth to the regular season Champion, but the current system gives these teams much more publicity on a national basis. The drama of Championship Week provides smaller schools with a better opportunity to grow their programs and chase down the ‘BCS’ teams. Here’s a primer of what to look for with our smaller schools heading to the Field of 65.

* Winthrop won its 4th Big South title in a row as they defeated UNC-Asheville, 66-48. Senior guard Michael Jenkins led the way scoring 33 points in the Final as the Eagles look forward to repeating last year’s success in the NCAA Tournament, when they beat Notre Dame in the first round. Senior guards Jenkins and Chris Gaynor have the experience of playing the “bigger schools” in the Dance, so look for Winthrop to be a tough first round opponent once again.

* The State of Tennessee continued it’s excellent basketball season as Belmont (Atlantic Sun) and Austin Peay (Ohio Valley Conference) both punched their tickets to the Dance. Coach Rick Byrd will take Belmont to their third straight NCAA Tournament while Austin Peay will be a formidable opponent in the Tourney with five players averaging in double figures.


* Davidson continued their winning streak right through the Southern Conference tournament as they beat Elon, 65-49. Senior guards Stephen Curry and Jason Richards led the way like always, and the Wildcats have now won 20 games in a row. This team will be a very popular first round upset pick in brackets all over the country.

* Western Kentucky took the Sun Belt crown, but the league should get regular season Champion South Alabama and their 26 wins in the field as well. It will say a lot about the improvement of the league to get 2 bids, where conferences like the Missouri Valley and Conference USA may only get one berth. Western finished the season with 27 wins and will be led by 6’5” swingman Courtney Lee, who averages over 20 a game and has NBA potential. South Alabama has a ton of firepower-including high scorer Demetric Bennett- and will have a chip on their shoulders after losing on their home floor in the Sun Belt semifinals.

* George Mason took the CAA title with their defeat of William and Mary, 68-59. The Patriots will definitely be a fan favorite after their amazing 2006 run to the Final Four. It will be a tough selection Sunday for Virginia Commonwealth, who will probably not get in the field as at-large choice. The CAA regular season Champ will also probably lose their head coach Anthony Grant this offseason. The former Florida assistant will be a top candidate for both the South Carolina and LSU jobs.

- Patrick Snow

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