As Selection Sunday approaches on March 13, the mid-major conferences in Division I men’s basketball start to gain attention.
Here’s a primer on three such conferences as the regular season winds down for the America East, Big Sky and Big West conferences.
The favorite: Stony Brook
Record: 23-5, 14-1 America East (clinched regular season title
Best wins: vs. Princeton, vs. Hofstra, vs. Albany
Worst loss: at Western Kentucky
Stony Brook has endured five straight years of heartbreak in the America East tournament. Four losses in the conference championship game (two at home). A fifth loss in the semifinals as the tournament’s top seed.
This year may be the Seawolves’ best shot to push through and earn their first NCAA Tournament bid. They’ve won 19 of their last 20 games, consistently receiving votes in the AP Top 25 poll along the way.
Senior forward Jameel Warney is making his final season count. He’s averaging 18.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. A player who can singlehandedly take over a game, Warney would be a troublesome matchup for any high-major big man in the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, the Seawolves would have to get there first. They’ll have home-court advantage in the conference tournament. Stony Brook could be in play for an at-large bid if it loses in the conference final, but it would far prefer to celebrate an America East title on its own floor than sweat through Selection Sunday.
The contender: Albany
Record: 22-7, 11-3 America East
Best wins: vs. Yale, vs. Stony Brook
Worst loss: at Maine
The Great Danes have been Stony Brook’s nemesis in recent years. They’ve eliminated the Seawolves in the conference tournament four straight seasons.
Winners of three straight America East tournament titles, Albany has made it a habit of peaking at the end of the season under coach Will Brown. The Great Danes have won seven of their last eight games.
Senior guard Peter Hooley — whose buzzer-beater in the conference tournament final against Stony Brook last year sent Albany to the NCAA Tournament — remains an integral part of the offense, averaging 12.9 points and 2.8 assists per game, both second on the team.
Dark horse: Vermont (17-12, 9-5 America East) was among the preseason favorites and is hanging around the top of the standings.
The favorite: Weber State
Record: 20-7, 12-2 Big Sky
Best win: at South Dakota State
Worst loss: at Idaho State
Winners of 10 out of their last 12, the Wildcats have surged into a tie with Montana for the conference lead.
What gives Weber State a slight edge is the fact that it boasts one of the big men of any mid-major.
Senior forward Joel Bolomboy is averaging 17.6 points and 13 rebounds per game. He has a legitimate pro future, as well. DraftExpress.com has Bolomboy ranked 90th on its list of the Top 100 Prospects in the NBA Draft.
Bolomboy went down over the weekend with a scary looking knee injury that ultimately was diagnosed as a bone bruise. He’s out indefinitely, but if Bolomboy can return in time for the conference tournament, Weber State will be a tough out.
The contender: Montana
Record: 21-8, 12-2 Big Sky
Best win: Boise State
Worst loss: at San Jose State
Survivors of a nonconference slate that included trips to Kansas, Gonzaga and Washington, the Grizzlies mostly have taken care of business against inferior Big Sky competition.
Four different players are scoring in double figures for Montana, led by senior forward Martin Bruenig (19.2 ppg).
Heightwise, Bruenig (6-8) doesn’t give up much to Bolomboy (6-9). If Bolomoby’s knee is ready, the two will go at each other for the first time this season on Saturday night at Weber State.
Dark horse: Eastern Washington (16-11, 10-5 Big Sky) is the defending conference champ and boasts a forward in senior Venky Jois with a .697 field-goal percentage.
The favorite: Hawaii
Record: 22-3, 11-1 Big West
Best wins: UCSB (twice), UC Irvine (twice), vs. Nevada, vs. Northern Iowa, vs. Auburn
Worst loss: None to a team outside of the RPI top 100.
The Rainbow Warriors are taking advantage of some borrowed time.
With a postseason ban coming next year as a result of NCAA sanctions imposed for numerous infractions committed by former coach Gib Arnold, Hawaii has putself in position to make its first NCAA Tournament since 2002.
Coach Eran Ganot’s squad plays stingy defense, surrendering just 95.3 points per 100 possessions, per kenpom.com, 28th best in the country.
With a slew of RPI top 150 wins in hand and a dominant conference record, the Rainbow Warriors could steal an at-large bid if they happen to fall in the Big West tournament.
The contender: UC Irvine
Record: 20-8, 9-3 Big West
Best wins: at Long Beach State, at UCSB, at Utah State, New Mexico State
Worst loss: None to a team outside the RPI top 150
The defending conference champion Anteaters still have much of the same group that took Louisville down to the final possession in the NCAA Tournament last year.
That includes 7-foot-6 junior center Mamadou Ndiaye, who is averaging 12.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 23.4 minutes a game, all career-highs.
However, UC Irvine has already lost to Hawaii twice in its last four games — including a 22-point blowout on the road.
Dark horses: UCSB (13-12, 7-5 Big West) has won four in a row and owns road wins over Washington and UC Irvine. Long Beach State (15-12, 9-3 Big West) has already beaten Hawaii on the road and gets a rematch at home with the Rainbow Warriors to close the regular season.