Hey, remember this? This was awesome.
Location, etc.: All games to be played at Sioux Falls Arena, SD; top 8 of 10 included; championship Tuesday, 8 p.m., ESPN2
The Favorite: North Dakota State, ladies and gents: 16-2 league record, 15 wins in their last 16 games, league-best efficiency margin, four seniors in the starting lineup including the 23-points-a-game-with-unheard-of-efficiency Mr. Ben Woodside (pictured above) at shooting guard, a top-65 Pomeroy rating (best in the conference by a substantial margin), a win over closest competitors Oral Roberts on O-Rob's home floor a week ago today, and last but not least--the focus that comes with an an entire class of immensely talented players redshirting and spending a year on the bench solely for the purpose of this moment.
The Contender: The aforementioned Oral Roberts Golden Eagles have dominated this league the last few years and it's safe to say they're not giving up their choke-hold to the first-year eligible usurpers from NDSU without a fight. They have two senors of their own in guard Robert Jarvis and forward Marcus Lewis that average 30 points between them. Nobody has allowed fewer points-per-possession or rebounded the ball better in league play. And, of course, O-Rob has done this whole "win your conference tournament" thing before. Could the stakes be too high for the NDSU seniors?
The Darkhorse: Oakland, as I've written a few times here before, is just about as dangerous as third-seeded teams in lower-echelon mid-major conferences can get. Erik Kangas is a lights-out shooter outside and Keith Benson brings some serious defensive muscle inside. OU hasn't been as good away from home as the league's top two teams--all five of their Summit lossess took place away from the O-Rena--but they're also the league's hottest non-NDSU team, having won seven straight and six of them by double digits. A semifinal match-up between the Golden Grizzlies and Golden Eagles would be--yes--golden.
Prediction: I'm such a sucker that I'm openly rooting for Oakland exclusively out of how much I enjoyed my trip to watch them play, but North Dakota State has proven itself the best team in the league this year and they'll be much closer to home than either OU or ORU. The Bison seniors have also seen and accomplished too much in their five years at NDSU to get too rattled by the occasion, I'm guessing. I think they they take the bid.
Location, etc.: First round at campus of higher seed, semifinals and finals at top seed Weber State; top 6 of 9 included, top 2 seeds get byes to semifinals; championship Wednesday, 10 p.m., ESPN2.
The Favorite: Well, Weber St. went 15-1, won the league by four full games, and will host the tournament on their home floor. You think it's them? Oh, and in efficiency terms, they had both the league's best offense and defense, a claim only the likes of teams like Gonzaga and Memphis can make. If almost anyone besides the Wildcats won this tournament it would be a total stunner, save perhaps for ...
The Contender: ... Portland St. The Vikings strolled to last year's regular season and conference titles, returned just about everybody, upset Gonzaga in nonconference play ... and then mysteriously just never got it together in the Big Sky. Still, their Pomeroy mark is much closer to Weber's than you'd expect for a team that languished four games back in the standings. The Vikes--led by mighty-mite senior PG Jeremiah Dominguez, one of my favorite players in the country--take a ton of threes and make 37.2 percent of them, a big reason they're in the top 40 in eFG in the country. If they rise up on D the same night their shots are falling, it's certainly plausible to see them winning in Ogden.
The Darkhorse: Uh ... anyone? Montana was the other team (along with Portland St.) to finish at 11-5 in the league, but the Grizzlies lost their two games to Weber by a combined 27 points. It's awfully hard to see anyone besides the Vikings challenging the champions.
Prediction: If Portland St. had their [excrement] together well enough to win this tournament, they wouldn't have spent their last two games beating such decidedly mediocre teams as Montana St. and Eastern Washington a) by six points at home b) in overtime. Weber St. should roll.