Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Men's College Basketball [Print without images]

Monday, March 11, 2013
Champ Week: Setting up Week 2

By Myron Medcalf
ESPN.com

As the second week of conference tournaments kicks off, here's what you need to know about each:

ACC

When: Thursday (first round); Friday (quarterfinals); Saturday (semifinals); Sunday (championship)
Where: Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C.
Bracket and results

The favorite: Miami won the conference crown outright on Saturday, but the Hurricanes will enter the ACC tournament riding a 2-3 stretch. Duke, however, has won three in a row since Ryan Kelly (20.6 PPG, 9-for-17 from the 3-point line during this winning streak) returned from a foot injury. The Blue Devils should be the favorites to win the league's automatic bid.

The top challengers: The Hurricanes can overcome the field, too. They're long and athletic. Shane Larkin (13.7 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.0 shots per game and 40.3 percent from beyond the arc) is one of the most significant players in the country, and the squad he leads is top-20 in adjusted defensive efficiency -- a common trait for every national championship team since 2003. North Carolina, which recently switched to a smaller lineup, could challenge for the title, but Saturday's lopsided home loss against Duke tempered expectations for Roy Williams' squad. Tar Heels standout James Michael McAdoo's tender back could hurt UNC's chances, too. Virginia has a ton of bad losses but also also claims victories over Wisconsin, Tennessee, Duke and North Carolina. The Cavs, despite their lukewarm finish, are in the mix. And then there's NC State. If talent alone dictates the outcome in Greensboro, the Wolfpack might cut down the nets.

My pick: It's tough to pick against Duke, which is jelling at the right time. Kelly changes the offensive and defensive dynamics of a Blue Devils squad that's arguably the best team in the nation right now.

Atlantic 10

When: Thursday (first round); Friday (quarterfinals); Saturday (semifinals); Sunday (championship)
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Bracket and results

The favorite: In his first season as interim head coach, Jim Crews led Saint Louis to a conference title months after former coach Rick Majerus died. The Billikens, who've won 12 of their past 13 games, were recognized for their defensive presence (61.3 PPG allowed, No. 1 in the A-10). Since Jan. 19, however, they've scored 73 points or more in nine of their 14 contests. Dwayne Evans (12.9 PPG) leads five players averaging at least 9.8 PPG. The Billikens are balanced, stubborn and dangerous.

The top challengers: The same could be said of VCU. Shaka Smart's "havoc" defensive scheme is the subject of national headlines (No. 1 nationally in turnovers forced per possession, according to Ken Pomeroy). The Rams have turned that aggressive attack into the Atlantic 10's top scoring offense (77.7 PPG), a unit that's guided by Treveon Graham (15.7 PPG). Temple's come-from-behind victory over the Rams was not its first quality victory; the Owls have defeated Syracuse and Saint Louis, too. Could Khalif Wyatt (19.5 PPG) lead this hot team (seven-game winning streak) to the A-10 tournament crown? Yep. Butler has been inconsistent in recent weeks, but Rotnei Clarke (16.7 PPG) & Co. have wins over North Carolina, Marquette, Indiana and Gonzaga. La Salle has had its moments, too.

My pick: I think the Billikens will continue their strong finish as they secure a conference title and complete one of the most impressive storylines of the 2012-13 season.

Big 12

When: Wednesday (first round); Thursday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Bracket and results

The favorite: Kansas. Surprised? Bill Self earned his ninth consecutive Big 12 regular-season title this past weekend. The Jayhawks are perennial national title contenders. With national player of the year candidates Ben McLemore (16.7 PPG) and Jeff Withey (13.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 4.0 BPG), they could win the conference tournament and reach the Final Four for the second consecutive season, too.

The top challengers: Oklahoma State is probably the greatest threat to Kansas' title hopes. The Pokes split their season series with Kansas and co-Big 12 champ Kansas State. Marcus Smart (15.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 3.0 SPG) helped Oklahoma State end the regular season with 11 wins in its last 13 games. The Wildcats earned a slice of the Big 12 title, but they were just 1-3 against Kansas and Oklahoma State. Still, Rodney McGruder (15.1 PPG) and the league's No. 2 scoring defense (63.7 PPG allowed) will give the Wildcats a shot to win it all. Looking for sleepers? See: Iowa State (39.1 percent from the 3-point line, No. 1 in league play) and Baylor (Pierre Jackson scored 28 points in Saturday's 81-58 victory over Kansas).

My pick: I think Oklahoma State has been the most competitive team in the league in recent weeks. Travis Ford's squad is no longer the erratic assembly that fumbled through the first few weeks of the conference season. Smart and his teammates will win this tournament.

Big East

When: Tuesday (first round); Wednesday (second round); Thursday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: Madison Square Garden in New York City
Bracket and results

The favorite: Georgetown, Louisville and Marquette split the regular-season crown, but Louisville is carrying the most momentum into the final edition of the Big East tournament in its traditional format. The Cardinals concluded the regular season with seven consecutive wins. Their defense is ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy, and they're just as good as and probably better than the crew that reached the Final Four last season. The Big East tournament has been a catalyst for previous national champions, and that could be the case with Louisville in 2012-13.

The top challengers: Georgetown is an equally capable foe in this field. The Hoyas whipped Syracuse by 22 points on Sunday. They held Big East opponents to a league-low 56.9 PPG during the regular season, and they're led by national player of the year candidate Otto Porter Jr. (16.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.0 BPG and 2.0 SPG). Marquette has been one of nation's toughest squads (3-1 in overtime games, undefeated at home), but the Golden Eagles haven't played like contenders outside Milwaukee. Perhaps Syracuse (1-4 in its past five games) will wake up in the Garden. Pitt and Notre Dame have defeated some of the nation's best teams in 2012-13. And Villanova (victories over the Big East's tri-champions) is a true sleeper in the field.

My pick: The Cardinals have the mojo (and defense) necessary to win the Big East tournament title. They've certainly encountered obstacles that spurred doubts about their postseason potential, but they're rolling right now. I'll take the Cardinals.

Big Sky

When: Thursday (first round); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont.
Bracket and results

The favorite: Weber State has won 11 consecutive games. The Wildcats lost the regular-season title to Montana, but they're the hottest team in the tournament. They're second in the nation with a 50.8 percent clip from the field. They have the Big Sky's top scoring offense (75.1 PPG) and scoring defense (61.3 PPG allowed), too. Davion Berry (15.1 PPG) is one of the three players averaging double figures for Weber State.

The top challengers: Montana won the regular-season title, but it's still not 100 percent. Mathias Ward, who leads the Grizzlies with 14.8 PPG, is out for the season with a foot injury that he suffered in mid-February. Will Cherry (13.3 PPG and 1.8 SPG) missed three games in early March after suffering his second foot injury of the season, but then scored 14 points in a promising return in Saturday's 63-50 win over Northern Arizona. Without Ward, however, this is not the same group. Montana State and North Dakota could get lucky, I guess. But Montana or Weber State will represent the league.

My pick: After Damian Lillard was drafted last summer, many assumed that Weber State's chances of earning the conference's auto-bid over Montana would decrease. But Montana's injuries and the Wildcats' late surge have helped prove that theory wrong. Weber State will dance in 2013.

Big Ten

When: Thursday (first round); Friday (quarterfinals); Saturday (semifinals); Sunday (championship)
Where: United Center in Chicago
Bracket and results

The favorite: Indiana. Barely. The Hoosiers earned the Big Ten title with their thrilling victory at Michigan on Sunday. They're equipped with four players who are shooting at least 48 percent from the 3-point line. Victor Oladipo (13.7 PPG) and Cody Zeller (16.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG) comprise the league's top inside-outside combo. Plus, the Hoosiers have hovered near the top-15 of Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings in 2012-13. They have the tools to win the Big Ten tournament title and compete for the national championship.

The top challengers: Michigan's defense has struggled all season, but Wooden Award finalist Trey Burke (19.1 PPG, 6.9 APG) leads one of the nation's most versatile and potent offensive units. Michigan is just as dangerous as Indiana. Michigan State followed a five-game winning streak in February with three consecutive losses. Keith Appling (13.4 PPG) has struggled lately, especially from beyond the arc. But the Spartans have defeated every elite team in the Big Ten not named Indiana. Deshaun Thomas (19.8 PPG) and the Buckeyes enter the Big Ten tourney on a five-game winning streak. Wisconsin's defense (55.8 PPG allowed in Big Ten play, No. 1 in the conference) fueled wins over Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana. Dark horses? Minnesota has been down in recent months, but the Gophers have performed well in neutral-site matchups under Tubby Smith. Illinois has wins over Gonzaga and Indiana. A desperate Iowa squad could shock the field, too.

My pick: Down the stretch, the Buckeyes proved they're more than a one-man team. They're far more balanced than they appeared in the first month of the season. Aaron Craft (2.0 SPG) is the nation's best on-the-ball defender, and he's become a more dependable scorer, too. Thomas' supporting case is more trustworthy now. Thad Matta's squad will cut down the nets in Chicago.

Big West

When: Thursday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Bracket and results

The favorite: In recent years, Dan Monson built Long Beach State around a veteran core of Casper Ware, T.J. Robinson, Larry Anderson and Eugene Phelps. The foursome exhausted its collective eligibility after the 2011-12 season, but the blueprint did not change for Monson. The 49ers played one of the nation's toughest nonconference slates (14th per the RPI nonconference SOS, according to ESPN.com). Matchups against North Carolina, Arizona, Syracuse and Ohio State helped the program prepare for a run to its third consecutive Big West regular-season championship. James Ennis (17.0 PPG) is the leader of the program, but transfers Kaela King, Dan Jennings and Tony Freeland have enhanced this team, too.

The top challengers: On March 9, Pacific beat the 49ers (1-for-16 from the 3-point line) by 20 points. The Tigers are averaging a healthy 67.9 PPG even though Lorenzo McCloud (11.4 PPG) is the only player averaging double figures in 2012-13. Cal Poly (turnovers on 15.6 percent of its possessions, No. 5 in the country per Pomeroy) defeated UCLA in the nonconference season. Chris Eversley (16.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG) & Co. split their series with LBSU. Since Jan. 30, UC Irvine is 3-1 against the three teams that finished first, second and third in the regular-season standings (LBSU, Pacific, Cal Poly).

My pick: Monson's program has experienced the pain that comes with winning the regular-season crown and then missing the NCAA tournament because of an unexpected stumble in the conference tourney. That won't happen this year. The 49ers will win their second consecutive Big West tournament title.

Conference USA

When: Wednesday (first round), Thursday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.
Bracket and results

The favorite: Memphis, the top seed in the C-USA tournament, enters the event as a heavy favorite. Next year, the Tigers will join the reformed Big East, which won't be called the Big East. The bottom line is that this is the Tigers' last C-USA postseason tourney. The Tigers were undefeated in conference play (16-0) and have lost just one game since Dec. 15 (64-62 at Xavier on Feb. 26). They'll leave C-USA officially in a few months, but they're already in a different league. Joe Jackson (13. 8 PPG, 4.9 APG) and Adonis Thomas (11.5 PPG) lead the most talented, athletic and efficient squad in the conference. Everyone else in this league is a distant second.

The top challengers: Southern Miss (48.5 percent from the field, No. 1 in the conference). The Golden Eagles finished four games behind Memphis in the C-USA race, but they're desperate. Despite their lukewarm résumé, they're technically a bubble team entering the league tournament. But the only meaningful victory would come in a championship game matchup with Memphis. They suffered double-digit losses against the Tigers in their two meetings, though. UTEP's best moments in 2012-13 were its triple-overtime victory over Oregon, a win over Central Florida on Feb. 16 and a two-point loss to Memphis on March 5. If that Miners team shows up, it could upset a few teams in the field. But its inconsistency (failed to score 54 points in three of its past six games) is troubling.

My pick: Memphis. It's that simple. The Tigers are clearly the best team in the conference. Anything other than a C-USA title would be a shock for the program and major blemish for coach Josh Pastner.

MAC

When: Wednesday (first round); Thursday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland
Bracket and results

The favorite: Ohio has won eight of its past 10 games and finished tied with Akron for first place in the MAC's east division. D.J. Cooper recently became the first player in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds and 300 steals. Last season, he led the Bobcats to the Sweet 16. He's capable of guiding the program, which possesses the MAC's top scoring offense (73.9 PPG in league play), to a MAC tourney championship and another upset in this year's NCAA tournament, too.

The top challengers: Akron should be the favorite to win the MAC tourney title, but misfortune in recent weeks has changed the trajectory of the program. The recent arrest of point guard Alex Abreu (10.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 1.2 SPG) stripped the team of its maestro. That's difficult to overcome at this juncture of the season. Akron is still tough without him, but it's difficult to envision the Zips winning the tournament title without their starting point guard. The presence of Zeke Marshall (13.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.6 BPG) shrinks the odds against them. Kent State's 3-point shooting (38.7 percent, No. 1 in the conference) and potent scoring duo (Chris Evans and Randal Holt average 31.0 PPG combined) makes this team a sleeper. Western Michigan tied Toledo (ineligible for the postseason because of low APR) for first place in the east division.

My pick: Ohio still has its dynamic point guard. Akron does not. The Bobcats will dance again in 2013.

MEAC

When: Monday (opening round); Tuesday (opening round continued); Wednesday (quarterfinals); Thursday (quarterfinals continued); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va.
Bracket and results

The favorite: Pendarvis Williams (14.1 PPG, 40.7 percent from beyond the arc) is the leader of a Norfolk State team that went undefeated in MEAC play this season (16-0). If the Spartans win the league tournament, they'll enter the Big Dance as a low seed. But that didn't stop them from springing a surprising upset over Missouri last year. They defend the arc better than any other team in the conference. (MEAC opponents shot 25.8 percent from beyond the arc against the Spartans in league play.)

The top challengers: North Carolina Central finished one game behind Norfolk State in the league's title race, but the two teams never encountered each other in league play. They're on a collision course, however, for a matchup on Saturday in the title game. Savannah State (27th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy) held MEAC opponents to a league-low average of 53.9 PPG. Morgan State's Justin Black (14.3 PPG) leads the conference's top scoring offense (68.2 PPG). Hampton has won nine of its past 12 games.

My pick: Williams and Norfolk State have the talent and experience to make a run this week and secure another trip to the NCAA tournament.

Mountain West

When: Tuesday (first round); Wednesday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas
Bracket and results

The favorite: New Mexico survived the war for first place in one of the nation's most balanced leagues while securing a regular-season championship. The Lobos owned the Mountain West's second-best scoring defense (60.7 PPG). Kendall Williams (14.0 PPG) is a threat from the perimeter. Alex Kirk (12.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 1.8 BPG) is one of the nation's most underrated big men. As a team, the Lobos are ranked 19th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy.

The top challengers: Saturday's results alone exemplified the parity within this conference. Boise State, a bubble team, beat San Diego State in a must-win matchup. Air Force hit a late 3-pointer in its upset of New Mexico. Fresno State earned a nine-point road win over UNLV. In this conference tournament -- if it resembles the regular season -- anything could happen. Colorado State's Colton Iverson (14.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG) is the top player for the MWC's No. 1 scoring offense (72.3 PPG). UNLV has won five of its past six games, and Anthony Bennett (15.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG and 1.3 BPG) is the best player in the field. San Diego State has been mediocre off campus (losses in its past five road games), but the Aztecs get stops (14th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy). Plus, Jamaal Franklin (17.0 PPG) is as clutch as any other player in the conference. Boise State is healthy, so the Broncos are dangerous, too. Could Air Force make a crazy run in Vegas? Sure.

My pick: Leon Rice's program has endured a multitude of obstacles this season. But the Broncos also have amassed the necessary momentum to win a postseason tournament in a tumultuous league such as the MWC. This is a determined bubble team that doesn't want to leave anything to chance on Selection Sunday. So ... the college basketball world will get to know Derrick Marks (16.4 PPG) soon, as he leads the Broncos to the MWC title.

Pac-12

When: Wednesday (first round); Thursday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas
Bracket and results

The favorite: As the 2012-13 season approached, UCLA warranted the majority of the Pac-12 buzz. Coach Ben Howland had signed the nation's top recruiting class, according to most analysts. And then ShabazzGate began. But Shabazz Muhammad's suspension due to an NCAA investigation of claims that he'd received improper benefits was only the beginning of the drama. Josh Smith transferred. The Bruins lost to Cal Poly. And the naysayers yelled, "I told you so!" But once Muhammad (18.3 PPG) returned and jelled with his teammates, the Bruins began to display some of the potential many had attached to the program last summer. They had some tough moments, but the Bruins ultimately earned the Pac-12 title -- outright -- this past weekend. And they did it despite possessing a so-so defense (61st in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy and ninth in the Pac-12 with 68.8 PPG allowed in league play).

The top challengers: Oregon had a solid chance to win the Pac-12 after earning victories over Arizona and UCLA in its lone matchups with those schools this season. But the Ducks have suffered three losses in their past five games, including a 10-point loss at Utah on Saturday. Through January, the Ducks were the best team in the conference. Not anymore. Mark Lyons (14.9 PPG) is the captain of an unpredictable Arizona team that has won four of its past eight games. The Wildcats, however, are the toughest matchup for UCLA. They're long, athletic and efficient (21st in adjusted offensive efficiency per Pomeroy). But again, anything could happen. Cal had won seven in a row before last week's 13-point home loss against Stanford. Colorado swept Oregon and split its series with Zona. Plus, Andre Roberson (10.8 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 2.3 SPG) is expected to return for the Pac-12 tournament after missing time with a virus.

My pick: I probably shouldn't do this, because they're so unpredictable, but the Wildcats will find a way to win the Pac-12 tournament.

SEC

When: Wednesday (first round); Thursday (second round); Friday (quarterfinals); Saturday (semifinals); Sunday (championship)
Where: Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
Bracket and results

The favorite: Florida hasn't exactly been invincible, suffering losses in its past three road games. But the Gators are still the most stable assembly in the SEC. They're top-five in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency per Pomeroy. They're shooting 48.5 percent from the field, a mark that is ninth in the country. Their starting rotation features speed (Kenny Boynton is averaging 12.5 PPG), size (Patric Young is averaging 10.5 PPG) and versatility (6-foot-10 forward Erik Murphy is shooting 46.6 percent from the beyond the arc). Florida is still the best team in the conference.

The top challengers: Well, take your pick. Kentucky has won four of seven games without star Nerlens Noel. Archie Goodwin scored 16 points in a critical win over Florida on Saturday. John Calipari's young bubble team has matured through adversity. Few teams in the conference have matched Tennessee's late momentum, though. Jordan McRae (16.2 PPG) has led the Vols to eight wins in their past nine games. Missouri -- when Phil Pressey (11.9 PPG, 7.1 APG, 1.8 SPG, 3.7 TPG) is focused, of course -- can beat any other team in the conference. Anthony Grant's Alabama team has the SEC's No. 2 scoring defense (59.7 PPG allowed) and one of its best players (Trevor Releford is averaging 15.6 PPG). Ole Miss (76.3 PPG, first in the conference) recovered from a rocky stretch by winning four of its past five games. Marshall Henderson (19.7 PPG) leads the conference in scoring.

My pick: The field includes a multitude of desperate teams, but Tennessee has responded to the pressure as well as any other team in the SEC. Cuonzo Martin's program has also played with a vigor that it had lacked in the first portion of the SEC season. The Vols are determined right now, and they're not interested in giving the selection committee a chance to seal their fate. They'll decide that by winning the SEC tournament.

Southland

When: Wednesday (first round); Thursday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy, Texas
Bracket and results

The favorite: Stephen F. Austin earned the Southland's regular-season title after ending the season on a five-game winning streak. The Lumberjacks are seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy (86.3 points allowed per 100 possessions). They've lost just two games since suffering a 62-54 loss at Texas A&M on Dec. 5. Taylor Smith, a 6-6 senior forward, is averaging 15.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.0 BPG and 1.1 SPG but is shooting 48 percent from the free throw line. That's significant, because the Lumberjacks went 21-for-41 combined from the charity stripe in their two conference losses (to Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana).

The top challengers: Northwestern State leads the nation in scoring (82.4 PPG). So why didn't the Demons win the Southland title? Their defense is ranked 189th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy. But if the Demons can get a few extra stops that eluded them in league play, they can win the Southland tournament and secure the automatic bid. An ankle injury, however, has sidelined top scorer DeQuan Hicks (14.6 PPG) for the past three games. Warren Niles (19.1 PPG) & Co. ended the regular season with third-place status in the Southland, but Oral Roberts' weak finish (the Golden Eagles have lost three of their past four) wasn't really promising.

My pick: The Lumberjacks are just too tough defensively to squander a chance to reach the NCAA tournament.

SWAC

When: Wednesday (first round); Thursday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas
Bracket and results

The favorite: It should be Texas Southern (regular-season champions), but the Tigers are banned from the postseason by the NCAA because of repeated violations. Arkansas Pine Bluff and Mississippi Valley State are ineligible because of low APR scores. So Southern, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, will go after its first automatic bid since 2006. The Jaguars commit turnovers on 16.7 percent of their possessions, 18th nationally per Pomeroy. Forward Malcolm Miller (16.0 PPG) is third in the SWAC in scoring. Guard Derick Beltran (15.9 PPG) is fourth.

The top challengers: Jackson State averaged 65.9 PPG in the regular season, third in the conference. The Tigers are also 65th in adjusted tempo per Pomeroy. Prairie View A&M is 14th in offensive rebounding rate per Pomeroy. But Jourdan DeMuynck (15.4 PPG) is responsible for 24 percent of his team's offensive output. That's a heavy load.

My pick: With Texas Southern and Arkansas Pine Bluff absent, Southern is the best team in the field. The Jaguars will earn their first trip to the NCAA tournament in seven years.

WAC

When: Tuesday (first round); Thursday (quarterfinals); Friday (semifinals); Saturday (championship)
Where: Orleans Arena in Las Vegas
Bracket and results

The favorite: Louisiana Tech dominated the conference for the majority of the season but suffered a lopsided loss (78-54) to a rejuvenated Denver squad on Saturday. With that victory, the Pioneers snatched a slice of the regular-season title. They're 17-1 since New Year's Eve. Chris Udofia (12.9 PPG, 2.4 BPG) is a star who led his team to a share of the WAC title in its first season in the conference (Denver played in the Sun Belt last season.) The Pioneers are shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 10th in the nation. They're top-40 in adjusted defensive and offensive efficiency per Pomeroy, too. Denver possessed the WAC's top scoring defense during the regular season (53.2 PPG allowed).

The top challengers: Before its current two-game losing streak, Louisiana Tech had won 18 consecutive games. Between Dec. 12 and March 7, the Bulldogs' record was unblemished. They were the best offensive unit in the WAC based on points per game (70.9 PPG in league play). And sophomore guard Raheem Appleby (14.5 PPG) is one of the top players in the conference. New Mexico State, which features the WAC's No. 2 scoring offense at 70.0 PPG in conference play, has wins over Denver and Louisiana Tech in 2012-13.

My pick: The Pioneers' defense has been fearless in the second half of the season. Since Jan. 6, only one team has scored more than 60 points against them. I'll go with Denver to rep the WAC in the NCAA tournament.