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NCAA Tournament mid-major breakdown: MAAC, Patriot League, SoCon

The Monmouth Hawks bench reacts to a

The Monmouth Hawks bench reacts to a basket against the Quinnipiac Bobcats during the second half of a college basketball game at the MAC on January 9, 2016 in West Long Branch, N.J. Credit: Getty Images / Rich Schultz

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 MAAC, Patriot League and Southern Conference begin to wind down their regular seasons.


The favorite: Monmouth

Record: 22-5 (14-2 MAAC)

RPI: 40

Best wins: At UCLA, at Georgetown, vs. Notre Dame (neutral site), vs. USC (neutral site).

Worst loss: At Canisius.

The Hawks captured the attention of the public early in the college basketball season thanks to the buzz-generating antics of their bench. Monmouth is more than a sideshow, however. The Hawks can play.

Monmouth’s tournament resume is about as good as a mid-major school could possibly have, with wins over five power conference schools. Junior guard Justin Robinson has become a star, averaging 20.3 points, placing him in the top 30 scorers nationwide.

As long as the Hawks avoid taking a bad loss in the remainder of the regular season or the early rounds of the MAAC tournament, they should be in line to receive an NCAA Tournament bid even if they don’t win the conference title.

The challenger: Iona

Record: 15-10 (12-4 MAAC)

RPI: 160

Best wins: Iona has not defeated a team in the RPI top 150.

Worst loss: Vs. Quinnipiac.

The preseason favorite, Iona blew all of its chances to pick up a signature win in nonconference play. In their first matchup with Monmouth, the Gaels melted down in their own gym, getting into a postgame scuffle with the Hawks after a 110-102 loss that snapped a 26-game home winning streak.

Despite all that, Iona remains in the MAAC title hunt, just two games behind Monmouth in the standings thanks in part to senior guard A.J. English, a volume shooter who is averaging career highs in scoring (21.3) and assists (6.4).

The Gaels get their second shot at Monmouth Friday on the road in Long Branch, New Jersey.

Dark horses: Siena (18-9, 11-5 MAAC, RPI-91) sits just one game behind Iona in the standings and already beat the Gaels on their own floor. Manhattan (11-13, 8-7 MAAC, RPI-215) has made two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances under coach Steve Masiello and owns a victory over Monmouth.

Southern Conference

The favorite: Chattanooga

Record: 23-4, (12-2 SoCon)

RPI: 38

Best wins: At Dayton, at Georgia, vs. Illinois (neutral site)

Worst loss: At Western Carolina

Chattanooga’s at-large bid hopes in all likelihood disappeared when it lost to Western Carolina on Feb. 11. But if the Mocs can survive the conference tournament, they would be a very dangerous team on the 12 or 13 seed line.

The Mocs remain the only team to have beaten No. 15 Dayton on its own floor this season and have four different players that average double digits in scoring.

With four sub-.500 teams remaining on the regular-season schedule, Chattanooga should enter the SoCon tournament with the first seed, barring any slip-ups.

The challenger: East Tennessee State

Record: 17-10 (10-4 SoCon)

RPI: 124

Best wins: At Georgia Tech, vs. Wisconsin-Green Bay

Worst loss: At Charleston Southern

ETSU has largely lived on the edge in conference play — only three of its SoCon wins have come by more than 10 points. Despite that, the Buccaneers remain in striking distance. They’ve won four of their last five games.

ETSU hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2010. To get back there, the Buccaneers likely would have to avenge its two previous losses to Chattanooga in the SoCon tournament.

Dark horses: Furman (17-11, 11-4 SoCon, RPI-149) owns a win over Chattanooga. Mercer (16-9, 8-6 SoCon, RPI-142) has lost three straight but has solid nonconference wins over Arkansas, George Mason and Tulane.

Patriot League

The favorite: Bucknell

Record: 13-12 (12-4 Patriot)

RPI: 196

Best wins: None against a team in the RPI top 150.

Worst loss: At American.

Bucknell is the favorite in name only since there are four teams within two games of the conference lead.

The Bison withstood a seven-game losing streak to end nonconference play before getting off to a 9-1 start in Patriot League play.

In recent weeks, Bucknell has begun to falter, losing three out of its last four games, including a 14-point road loss to 7-18 American. If the Bison do emerge from the Patriot League, they’ll probably be in a play-in game as a 16-seed.

The contender: Navy

Record: 17-9 (9-5 Patriot)

RPI: 179

Best wins: Vs. IPFW (neutral site), Furman.

Worst loss: South Carolina-Upstate.

Coach Ed DeChellis’ glacial-slow pace finally may pay off for the Midshipmen. Per, Navy ranks 325th in the country in adjusted tempo, averaging 65.5 possessions per 40 minutes.

As a result, the Midshipmen gave up more than 70 points in a game just three times all season.

Though Navy struggles to score at times, its control over the flow of a game may let it steal a game or two in the Patriot league tourney . . . or beyond.

Dark horses: Lehigh (15-14, 9-5 Patriot, RPI-206) has won five in a row (including a road win over Bucknell). Boston University (16-11, 9-5 Patriot, RPI-184), for its part, has won six straight and gets three of its last four games at home.

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