- National Teams
Although some conference tournaments have already began, most schools are just wrapping up the regular season. The winner of the tournament will receive the automatic bid, only one given to each conference, to the NCAA tournament.
It is at this time of the year some heartbreak will develop because a team could clearly win their conference in the regular season but all that means is that they will receive the top seed in the respective tournament where they will have to go undefeated to be crowned overall champions. Some conferences may give the top teams a bye in the first rounds of the tournament.
What is truly heartbreaking about this is that the top teams can lose and have to settle for an NIT (National Invitational Tournament, which used to be a big thing but has lost prestige over the years and is now considered no more than a consolation prize) bid unless they receive an at large bid, given to any team regardless of conference, by a committee, based on their record, style of play and strength of schedule.
Style of play may not be an actual criteria but it should be as watching boring, methodical basketball can be less than appealing for the casual viewer.
Most of our Brits play in the smaller conferences where at large bids are few and far between so securing that automatic bid is their only chance to go dancing in March. Of course being conference champions is a prize in itself, which should not be discounted in any way.
It is not all heartbreak though; some winners can be inspiring especially where some of our Brits are concerned, namely those that are on teams that finish with an adverse record.
Every team starts the tournament 0-0, especially those tournaments that take part on a neutral site. Last season Liberty made the NCAA tournament after winning the Big South conference tournament. Liberty had a conference record of 5-11 and an overall record of 11-20. They went on to beat Charleston Southern to become champions.
This was especially heartbreaking because Charleston Southern featured Londoner, Alhaji Fuller, and with a conference record of 12-4, they were expected to be the team dancing.
The inspiring part of this story is Liberty reinforced that old adage that winner takes all.
Last season Ashley Hamilton,a Londoner who played for Loyola Marymount, had the misfortune to finish the season with a 1-15 record in the West Coast conference. Hamilton would go on to lead his team to three wins in as many days in the conference tournament. They were just unlucky to meet Gonzaga, who was undefeated in conference play and ranked the No.1 team in the country, on the fourth day.
So close yet so far for Hamilton. One can’t help but wonder if any of our current Brits can lead their team to a championship this year.
Michael Ochereobia | Western Illinois | Forward | Junior
Michael Ochereobia seems to have saved his best for last, posting career highs of 23 points and 10 rebounds in a victory over IUPUI in the last regular season conference game.
The senior also registered two blocks and an assists in his last home game. He made all of his three free throws and missed only one of his eleven shots.
Ochereobia averages approximately nine points per game and five rebounds.
Western Illinois earned a sixth seed in the conference tournament and will play third seed South Dakota State on Sunday.
Ovie Soko | Duquesne | Senior | Forward
Ovie Soko went to war in the second of last regular season game, scoring 18 points to go with 13 rebounds but Duquesne came four points short of a victory against Massachusetts on Wednesday. The senior also had three assists but fouled out of the game.
The Atlantic Ten tournament starts next Wednesday, but Duquesne has an uphill battle to win it as they finished the season with a record of 12-16 (4-11 A-10).
Fahro Alihodzic | UAB | Senior | Forward
Fahro Alihodzic scored 13 points and had 10 rebounds in a loss to Louisiana Tech on Sunday. A few days later UAB lost to Middle Tennessee, where Alihodzic scored two points and grabbed four rebounds, in their last regular season conference game of the year. UAB finished with an overall record of 18-12 and were 7-9 in Conference USA.
The C-USA tournament starts next Tuesday.
Christopher Caird | Drake | Junior | Guard/Forward
Drake wrapped up their season over the week. They lost the final conference game to Bradley on Saturday and then lost in the opening rounds of the Missouri Valley conference to Evansville on Thursday.
Drake finished at the bottom of the conference (third from last) with an overall record of 15-16 and a conference record of 6-12.
Caird wrapped up his junior season, scoring eight points against Bradley and six against Evansville.
Jess Chuku | Lehigh| sophomore| Forward
Jesse Chuku scored 17 points in the final regular season conference game for Lehigh in a loss to Colgate on Saturday. The sophomore also grabbed 11 rebounds and had two assists.
Lehigh were seeded sixth in the Patriot league tournament and subsequently lost to third seeded Holy Cross on Wednesday.
Chuku scored only two points, not for a lack of trying as he was 1-of-11 from the field, in a game that was likely to be be his last game as a sophomore. He finished third in scoring , on the team, and second in rebounding, whose overall record is 14-17 and 7-11 in conference.
Will Saunders | Charleston Southern | Junior| Forward
Will Saunders had 16 points, five rebounds and three assists in his last regular conference game of his junior season, on Saturday, in an unfortunate loss to Coastal Carolina. The junior played twenty three minutes and was disqualified, with five fouls, in the two point loss.
Charleston Southern did win their first tournament game, with Saunders contributing 18 points and six rebounds in the victory over Campbell.
Up next is a revenge match with Coastal Carolina.
Ben Mockford | St Francis NY | Senior| Guard
St Francis (NY) lost in the opening rounds of the Northeast conference tournament by a point on Wednesday. Ben Mockford scored 10 points. St Francis lost when Mount St Mary made a three pointer with two seconds to spare.
Mockford had previously scored 20 points in a victory over Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday in the last regular season conference game.
Mockford finished his college career scoring over 1000 points in his three seasons at St Francis (NY).
Luke Nelson | UC Irvine | Freshman | Guard
If UC Irvine wins their last game, against UC Davis on Saturday, they will be the outright regular season champions of the Big West conference. However if they lose, highly unlikely seeing as UC Davis are last in the conference standings but you never know, they will need UC Santa Barbara to lose their final conference game or it will be a tie.
Luke Nelson, who leads the team in scoring as a freshman, scored five points and dished out four assists to defeat Cal Poly on Saturday then he had seven points and three assist in their penultimate regular season conference game against CS Fullerton on Thursday.
Alex Young | UC Irvine | Guard | Sophomore
Alex Young, who leads the team in assists per game, scored a dozen points to o with four assists and four rebounds against Cal Poly then the sophomore had 13 points five rebounds and three assists against CS Fullerton.
Their next game is on Saturday.
Image Credit: Western Illinois Athletics