Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Conference Calling: Players to Watch for Championship Week (Part III)

Yeah, it's Tuesday, not Saturday. I get it. Anyway, let's get into the final batch of conference tournaments and the players that might make some impact therein.

More after the jump.

Conference USA: F Maurice Kemp, East Carolina
--God, this league is depressing. Schools like MTSU and North Texas are so thrilled to get into C-USA, but the one worthwhile basketball program, Memphis, is shipping out to join The Schools That Are No Longer Worthy of the Name "Big East." I prefer to call them the CUSS League (Conference USA's Sloppy Seconds).

Anyway, off the soapbox and let's talk about Maurice Kemp. Second in the league in scoring and top-10 in rebounds, steals and blocks, Kemp can make plays on either end, seemingly against anyone except Memphis. He averaged 12 points on 41% shooting in two meetings with the Tigers. And at this point, someone beating Memphis is the only thing that can make this tournament remotely interesting, so go Pirates.

Mountain West: G Todd Fletcher, Air Force
--The Falcons need to play big to get past the homestanding UNLV Rebels in their Mountain West tournament opener. Everyone knows Michael Lyons will bring the noise, but he'll need help from his second-leading scorer/point guard.

Fletcher came up large against New Mexico, scoring 21 points and drilling a swank jumper that turned out to be the game winner:

Can he repeat that sort of heroics? Will he get the opportunity, or will UNLV do what they usually do on their home court, which is to look like the Final Four team I predicted them to be in the preseason? Fletcher dished 13 assists and committed only three turnovers in two games against Vegas, including a home win.

Pac-12: F Josh Scott, Colorado
--The 6'10" freshman's last double-figure scoring game came against first-round opponent Oregon State. Since then, he's played gingerly while trying to avoid aggravating a concussion suffered against Arizona State.

Should the Buffs get by OSU, Arizona awaits. Scott shot 75% in his two games against the Cats, so getting him touches would be in CU's best interests.

Southland: F Damen Bell-Holter, Oral Roberts
--The 6'9", 245-pound Bell-Holter has a size advantage over Southland Player of the Year Taylor Smith, averages nearly a double-double for the season (15.8-9.7) and has crushed fat numbers in his battles against conference leaders Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern State (19.5-13.5 averages in four games).

The one downside: his first meeting with SFA was his only single-digit scoring game in conference play.

SEC: F Murphy Holloway, Ole Miss
--The SEC's leading rebounder needs to come stronger than he did in the second meeting with Missouri, the Rebels' presumptive quarterfinal opponent (7-and-1). He dropped 22 and 8 on the Tigers in round one, but Mizzou lacked Laurence Bowers in that game.

If any game is close, though, the best play Holloway could make would be to cold-cock Marshall Henderson to ensure that a string of stupid three-point shots won't take Ole Miss totally out of the game.

Big Sky: G Will Cherry, Montana
--How strong is Cherry after only one game back from his reaggravated foot injury? Cherry was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year despite missing 10 games, and he helped do a good job against Northern Arizona's solid backcourt in his return.

With Mathias Ward out, Cherry's return to form is that much more important. Conference Player of the Year Kareem Jamar has struggled against No. 2 seed Weber State, but Cherry has been dominant in those games (23-4.5-3.0-2.5 in two games, plus 20-22 from the line).

Big West: G Lorenzo McCloud, Pacific
--The Tigers come into the tournament on the back of a 20-point thrashing of league champion Long Beach State. McCloud made life miserable for 49er point guard Michael Caffey, and doing it again could get Pacific into the dance.

Every Tiger will be geeked for this tournament and the opportunity to send retiring coach Bob Thomason out in style.

ACC: F Akil Mitchell, Virginia
--Mitchell ripped 10.4 boards per game against ACC leaders Miami, Duke and North Carolina, and him continuing to do so will be key to the Cavs reaching the NCAA tournament. He'll need support on the offensive glass, though, as UVa is eighth in the league in OR%.

Atlantic 10: G Tyreek Duren, LaSalle
--Duren's ability to contain Butler gunner Rotnei Clarke will be key, provided the Bulldogs pull their expected win over Dayton. Offensively, Duren ended the season on a hot streak, averaging 19 PPG over his final six, but only two of those were against potential at-large teams (at Temple and Saint Louis).

Big Ten: G Keith Appling, Michigan State
--Appling was playing some ugly ball from just before Valentine's Day to last week's title elimination bout against Wisconsin. If he's getting his scoring form back, it will help, but the last time he combined 10+ points and 5+ assists in the same game was January 31 against Illinois. A couple of those would mean MSU's offense is starting to hum at just the right time.

Expect a quasi-final Bracketometry update on Friday, and I'll try my best to deliver this time. We'll see if life allows it.

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