NCAA Men: Conference tournament previews - Aussies to watch
The Aussie men continue to perform exceptionally well in NCAA Division I basketball. With March finally here, it means conference tournament time, with everyone jostling to secure a ticket to the 2015 edition of the coveted NCAA tournament.
You can find the full list of Aussies in NCAA Division I this season HERE.
Conference Tournament Preview: Aussies to Watch
While the majority of teams featuring Aussies will be taking part in their conference tournaments, not all of them have a realistic shot at winning.
I take the time to preview the teams that I believe have the best chances of either earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament or be a realistic chance at earning a ticket to the big dance via their conference tournament. This means that teams featuring great players such as seniors Jeromie Hill (Texas-San Antonio), Hugh Greenwood (New Mexico) and Corban Wroe are not featured.
So who has a shot at dancing? Let's shimmy on over and take a look...
Tournament commences on Wednesday, March 4 (Australian time).
Lafayette Leopards | Dan Trist & Nathaniel Musters
Featuring arguably the best performed Australian in NCAA Division I hoops this season in Dan Trist, Lafayette earned the number 4 seed heading into the Patriot League tournament and will take on number 5 seed Boston University.
Behind the stellar play of senior forward Trist who has averaged an impressive 17.7 points on 57.5% shooting from the field with 6.7 rebounds per game, the Leopards would consider themselves a genuine chance for the Patriot League crown. With 7 double-doubles this season, Trist's on-court performances have earned him conference player of the week honours 4 times this year and 3 of the last 4 awarded.
If Trist can be at his efficient scoring best in the post, it will open up good looks from the perimeter for his team mates who should be able to capitalize. Boston will be tough after they accounted for their Leopards in their last outing, so Trist and Co. will need to be on top of their games if they wish to progress.
Tournament commences on Wednesday, March 4 (Australian time).
Winthrop Eagles | Xavier Cooks
Winthrop competed in a 6-way fight for first place in the Big South Conference, finishing in 5th place and just 1-game behind the table leaders Charleston Southern and High Point. Freshman forward Xavier Cooks has enjoyed a fantastic first year with the Eagles, becoming a regular starter and one of the best freshman Aussies in action this season. Cooks has been delivering a very good 7.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.6 blocks per game and is a key player for the Eagles this season.
As the 5th seed in the conference tournament, Winthrop take on number 4 seed Radford in a do or die battle. Cooks will play an important role once again in a conference that was is close at the top. The Eagles remain in with a very good chance to win the title and gain a ticket to the NCAA Tournament and Cooks may be required to play a key role to reach that objective.
Tournament commences on Thursday, March 5 (Australian time) and can be watched at AmericaEast.TV.
Albany Great Danes | Sam Rowley, Peter Hooley & Mike Rowley
Sam Rowley with Peter Hooley as 2015 America East Champions - Courtesy University at Albany Media Relations
One of the hottest teams featuring Australian's in the nation is Albany who boast the 'dynamic duo' of senior forward Sam Rowley and junior guard Peter Hooley. The Great Danes earned a 15-1 record to top the America East Conference for the first time since 2006 - their only loss coming at the hands of number 3 seed Stony Brook. They will be aiming for a three-peat of conference tournament titles and another ticket to the big dance.
Rowley has been the standout for Albany, leading the team in scoring with 14 points alongside 7.7 rebounds per game while earning conference player of the week honours in back-to-back weeks on 26 February and 2 January. What is even more impressive is that the Great Danes earned the regular season title with star guard Hooley missing 8 games as he took leave of absence due to the passing off his mother who lost her long battle with cancer.
Hooley is the x-factor for the Great Danes. The 2014 America East Tournament Most Outstanding Player guided the Great Danes to a fairytale run to the NCAA tournament last year, and it is possible that he could do so again this time around. His 13.7 points per game average does not fairly represent his capability and now that he appears to be back in his groove, there is no doubting that Albany are the clear favourites and should account for number 8 seed Maine to open tournament play.
Corban Wroe, Taylor Dyson and Dougal Weir will be in action for the Hartford Hawks.
Tournament commences on Thursday, March 5 (Australian time) and can be watched on NECFrontRow.com.
Bryant Bulldogs | Bosko Kostur
Bryant could finish the conference play as high as 2nd in the Northeast Conference (NEC) after their morale boosting win over the ladder leading St. Francis (NY). It was freshman Bosko Kostur who helped propel the Bulldogs to the big win, pouring in a new career-high 23 points. Kostur has proved to be a revelation in the second half of the season after seeing little time on court in the first half. Since being elevated to the starting lineup he has scored in double-digits 7 times and provided a boost for the Bulldogs.
With Kostur's rising stature and their upset win against St. Francis (NY), Bryant would consider themselves a realistic chance of winning the NEC tournament. As the number 3 seed, they will take on number 6 seed Sacred Heart in the quarterfinals of the NEC tournament.
West Coast Conference
Saint Mary's Gaels | Dane Pineau, Emmett Naar & Jock Landale
After pushing the national number 3 ranked Gonzaga to the brink of a WCC defeat, Saint Mary's enters the conference tournament as the number 3 seed behind the 'Zag's and Brigham Young. The Gael's have a good recent history in the WCC tournament and will be looking to force their way back to the WCC championship game but will have to be at their very vest to do so.
Emmett Naar has been a revelation for the Gael's in his first season, adopting a key play-making role in coming off the bench and playing big minutes. He has been posting 6.6 points and 4.1 assists per game and will be a key player for Saint Mary's in their quest to see post-season action. It all begins with a game against the number 6 seed Portland this week.
Marley Biyendolo may see some action for the number 4 seed Pepperdine Waves in their game against 5th seed San Diego, while David Humphries' 10th seeded Loyola Marymount take on Kai Healy's number 7 seed Santa Clara.
Tournament commences on Thursday, March 12 (Australian time) and can be watched at AmericaOneSports.com/bigsky.
Eastern Washington Eagles | Venky Jois, Daniel Hill & Felix Von Hofe
Eastern Washington have enjoyed an amazing season, earning more than 20 wins for the first time in school history. Venky Jois has been a big part of their success, being awarded player of the week on 9 December and putting in some huge games on his way to averaging 16.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and a conference best 2.5 blocks per game to extend his school record for swats. His importance to the team was highlighted when he went down with an untimely ankle injury, with the Eagles losing to Sacramento State and Portland State when he was missing.
The Eagles are locked in a 3-way battle for the conference title with 2 games remaining against Idaho State and Weber State. A recent loss to Big Sky contenders Montana dented their chances of securing at least a share of the crown. However Eastern Washington's focus will be firmly focused on the conference tournament and a chance to secure a ticket to the NCAA tournament. One thing is for certain, their Aussie star forward Jois will be required to once again step up and perform on the big stage. If fellow Aussie Felix Von Hofe can light it up from long-range, then the Eagles will be the most dangerous team in the Big Sky tournament.
Montana | Jack Lopez & Fabijan Krslovic
The Grizzlies are locked in a battle with Eastern Washington and Sacramento State for at least a share of the conference title. Their recent last second victory against the Eagles would have instilled confidence in their chances of progressing deep into the Big Sky tournament, and they will like their chances in their last regular season game against lowly Montana State.
Freshman Aussie forward Fabijan Krslovic has earned his place in the starting 5 through playing his role to near perfection. He has been a solid contributor, providing a presence in the paint with 4.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Montana have the talent to push the Eagles and Sacramento State and their fortunes could well come down to who is the better team on the day.
Mountain West Conference
Tournament commences on Thursday, March 12 (Australian time).
Boise State Broncos | Anthony Drmic, Igor Hadziomerovic & Nick Duncan
Despite losing Anthony Drmic for the season, the Broncos are making a run at clinching the Mountain West Conference title after they swept number 24 ranked San Diego State and are now tied with them at 12-4.
Nick Duncan - Courtesy Boise State Athletics
Boise State have won 12 of their last 13 games and next take on the winless San Jose State before closing out conference play against 6th placed Fresno State - the last team to have beaten the Broncos. Two wins will guarantee at least a share of the Mountain West title and a number 1 seed for the conference tournament. Their latest win against the Aztecs could well place them in contention for an at-large invitation to the NCAA should they not be able to win the Mountain West tournament, with many experts having penciled them in as a 'bubble' team.
Hadziomerovic has stepped up into the starting lineup in Drmic's absence and has been more than serviceable. However it is the three-point shooting of forward Nick Duncan who may be the wildcard as to how far the Broncos can progress in the post-season. If Duncan gets hot from downtown, Boise State has so many scoring weapons from outside that it could do some damage.
Keep an eye on Hugh Greenwood and the New Mexico Lobos who will enter the tournament as rank outsiders.
Tournament commences on Thursday, March 12 (Australian time)
Baylor Bears | Deng Deng
Baylor have won their past 4 games, including wins against nationally ranked number 12 Iowa State and number 20 ranked West Virginia. The nation's number 14 ranked Bears close out Big 12 action with outings against Texas and Texas Tech in a battle for the tournament number 2 seed with Oklahoma (ranked 15).
Aussie 6'8 forward Deng Deng has seen little action over the past month and is only likely to see minutes if the Bears' win in a blowout or if injury strikes the team. Nonetheless, Baylor are assured of an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament and are carrying some good form right now.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Louisville Cardinals | Mangok Mathiang
Ranked number 16 nationally, Louisville has all but sewn up an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament already. However before their ACC season is completed, they close out with tough games against number 12 ranked Notre Dame and then number 2 ranked Virginia who have lost only 1 conference game this season. This is a tough schedule with 2 wins, the Cardinals can potentially secure the number 3 seed for the tournament.
Australian Mago Mathiang has become a highly used rotation player for the Cardinals, providing 2.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 18 minutes per game. Defensively orientated, his game jus suited to playoff action and he could well be required for big minutes as Louisville aims for the ACC tournament title.
Tournament commences on Thursday, March 12 (Australian time).
Butler Bulldogs | Jackson Aldridge
Butler are currently the number 23 ranked team in the country and boast little used senior Australian guard Jackson Aldridge. The Bulldogs are a team to keep an eye on in March, as they are all but assured of receiving an at-large big to the NCAA tournament should they not be able to secure an automatic berth via the Big East tournament. Butler can secure the 2nd seed for the Big East tournament by accounting for Georgetown at home - the last time Aldridge will have a chance to play at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Sun Belt Conference
Tournament commences on Friday, March 13 (Australian time).
Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks | Majok Deng
The Warhawks were sitting pretty in 1st place in the Sun Belt Conference but suffered two recent set-backs to Appalachian State and Arkansas-Little Rock in 2 of their last 3 games. They now share first place with Georgia Southern and Georgia State with just 2 games left to close out the season. Whether they can secure the conference title or not will not chance their chances of a berth in the NCAA tournament - they need to win the conference tournament in order to go dancing.
A large factor in determining whether the Warhawks can see some post-season action will be the play of 6'10 junior transfer Majok Deng. The South Australian has earned his place in the starting lineup, providing 10 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. The conference tournament is wide open, however the Warhawks have for the most part of the season been the barometer for the league.