Every year, a large collection of college basketball journalists and bloggers get together to compete in one of the most anticipated contests of the year: The Jerome. We are required to pick the winners of each conference tournament as well as a few other 'tiebreakers' as we get into the BCS conference tournaments. You are rewarded for obviously selecting the winner but the kicker is that taking risks counts. If you select the 5th seed in the Big South tournament to win, and they do, you get more points than if you had selected the 1st place team in the MVC to win and they did. With that said, Max and I wanted to share our predictions with you so you can either praise us for our brilliance or, most likely, ridicule us for our idiocy. Here's a quick look:
Who Wins: Gardner-Webb
Why: The Runnin' Bulldogs are the third overall seed in this tournament so we aren't taking a massive risk but this is a pick that makes sense. Gardner-Webb has won their last seven games and has only lost one game since late January. Charleston Southern is the favorite here with High Point being another team a lot of folks are picking but don't forget that Webb swept Charleston Southern in their season series (both in overtime).
Who Wins: Valparaiso
Why: Valpo is a lame pick as they are the top-seed in this tournament. However, we are really trying to stay close by the teams that are hot and you can't really question the Crusaders back half of the season. They've lost two games since January 4th. The only issue there is that one of those games was to the second seeded Detroit Titans. If Valpo and Detroit meet in the title, which is highly likely, it will be one of the top games of the conference tourney season.
Who Wins: Mercer
Why: Chalk, baby. In all honesty, this was one of the tougher ones to call. You have Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast that are both very solid teams. Then you have enticing upset possibilities like SC Upstate and Stetson. At the end of the day, the main reason we are picking Mercer is because they are playing at their home in Macon, GA. That should be enough to squash the upset bid.
Who Wins: Mount St. Mary's
Why: Now we're talking. The Mountaineers of Mount St. Mary's have won their last seven games including a convincing win over Bryant (their first round matchup) on Valentine's Day. Robert Morris looks like the odds on favorite in this one but the Northeast has been a fun conference to watch all season because it has been so even across the top tier. I expect this tourney to have some big upsets, hopefully Mount St. Mary's is the one making the run.
Who Wins: Belmont
Why: Hard to pick against the Bruins in March. Belmont is 24-6 on the year and has been the dominant team. They enter the tournament as the one-seed but with Murray State, Eastern Kentucky, and Tennessee State all lurking, this pick could get upset pretty quickly. With that said, it just feels like Belmont has been too solid all year to let the auto-bid slip away so we're taking the top-seed Bruins.
Who Wins: Bucknell
Why: This is a much harder pick if Lehigh's C.J. McCollum is healthy. It is worth noting that Lehigh did take down the Bison after McCollum's injury so I'm not saying that Bucknell is unbeatable but they have only lost two games since mid-January whereas the Mountain Hawks have stumbled heading into the tournament. That combined with Bucknell's Mike Muscala should be enough to secure the auto-bid for Bucknell.
Who Wins: Indiana State
Why: To be honest, we haven't been sold on Creighton all season long and we believe they are prime for the upset in the MVC conference tournament. Max and I went back and forth between Illinois State and Indiana State (while skipping over Wichita State) and decided that it is former Zag Mangisto Arop's time to shine. Manny has done it all for ISU this year, scoring 13 points per game and grabbing a team high five boards per contest. Fifth-seeded Indiana State takes home the title and goes dancing.
Who Wins: Davidson
Why: This one was about as hard as our selection in the West Coast Conference. Davidson has reigned supreme over the SoCon this year as they have gone 17-1 with their only loss coming against Georgia Southern. They gave the Zags a solid challenge in the Old Spice Classic and with Bob McKillop, they will be a dangerous squad in March Madness.
Who Wins: Delaware
Why: We had a good amount of back and forth on this one as lower-seeded teams like George Mason were appealing but two-seed Delaware is the pick. The Fighting Blue Hens have only lost two games since late January and have a big time scorer in Devon Saddler. Northeastern, James Madison, and George Mason all will present tough challenges but Delaware looks poised to make a run and go dancing.
Metro Atlantic Athletic
Who Wins: Rider
Why: This should be one of the more wild tournaments of the year. It looks like six or seven teams could all make the run to March Madness. We're taking second-seeded Rider because of their defensive prowess but Niagra, Iona, Loyola (MD), and Canisius all have what it takes to dance. I know I keep saying this but this conference really could go a number of ways. We're hopeful that Rider can make it through but this is lower on the confidence scale.
Who Wins: Middle Tennessee
Why: In all honesty, this pick terrifies me. It doesn't terrify me because MTSU is a huge underdog, it scares me because they have been SO good recently. At 27-4, the Blue Raiders have NOT LOST since the first week of January and have simply put the hammer down on the rest of the Sun Belt. That said, Arkansas State handed them their only loss of conference play so they won't be intimidated when the two teams likely match up in the finals.
Who Wins: South Dakota State
Why: Max and I went back and forth between SDSU and NDSU and decided on the top seeded Jackrabbits. It comes down to one thing, or person: Nate Wolters. Something tells me that the explosive scoring senior guard is not about to let his last chance to dance get away from him. While this is another solid conference, I can't see SDSU losing this one.
Who Wins: Stony Brook
Why: Another chalk pick but I think this is one of the easier ones to select. In fact, I think Stony Brook has the talent and experience to make a big move in the NCAA Tournament. They are a tough matchup because they are so strong defensively and they have the scorers to make a run. The Seawolves should run through this field.
Who Wins: Gonzaga
That's it for our first round of selections. It should be an absolutely outstanding week that will likely result in most of these picks NOT coming to fruition.