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Mustang Semi

Player of the Week

Semi Ojeleye, F, Junior, SMU Mustangs

Semi OjeleyeSemi OjeleyeThe Duke transfer was on the Who’s Hot list last week for his consistent high level of play in his conference. I ended his bit saying if he can lead SMU to a weekend victory over No. 11 ranked and American Athletic Conference leader Cincinnati, it would be a momentous victory. He did just that. The Mustangs won 60-51 in a low scoring but ever crucial game that catapulted them into first place in the American. Ojeleye led both teams with 18 points, playing all but one minute of the game. Ojeleye makes the list again not so much for elevated play, but because he answered the bell and got the job done. The Mustangs just barely lost earlier in the year to the Bearcats in Cincinnati and knew they needed to win this game to have the greatest chance to win the American Athletic Conference regular season title. Now, Ojeleye and SMU control their own destiny: win and they are a lock to get in, even if they fall in their conference tournament. Ojeleye is one of the most consistent scorers and performers in the country and works in perfect cohesion with his other teammates.

Who’s Hot

Isaiah Johnson, C, Senior, Akron Zips

Johnson is one of the biggest leaders and factors on an Akron team that is sitting pretty in the MAC Conference. Johnson, a 6’10” senior, is the team’s leading scorer averaging 16.7 points per game and a healthy 7.3 rebounds per game. He has been a heavy influence on why the Zips are in first place in the MAC East at 22-4 and 12-1 in their conference. Easily the best team and sitting comfortably at the top, Akron has won 15 of their last 16 games. Johnson has good stats and plays well all around, but he is extremely efficient on the floor. His field goal percentage is 62.7 percent, an average that is well above what good standards are. He takes good shots and does just enough, not too much but just what he is supposed to do. The senior’s play is now paying off for him after the last three years of steady improvement and increased minutes. Akron isn’t a sexy team to watch at times and they don’t have stats that jump off the page. They work harder than almost any team they play though and have great veteran leadership specifically from Johnson. They should run the table in the MAC (unless Marcus Keene is sitting at the table) and easily cruise into the NCAA Tournament.

Vermont Catamounts

Why mention a team in the American East conference here? Maybe because they are just one of the last three teams in the nation to remain undefeated in conference play (14-0). Princeton and No. 1 Gonzaga are the other two. The Catamounts (24-5) are running away with their conference and will be locks for the Big Dance. Their competition is significantly worse than the other bigger conferences, but to remain undefeated in conference play, against the teams that know you better than anyone in the country, is a daunting task to accomplish this late in the season. Vermont ranks 31st nationally in points allowed with 64.1 per game. With two games remaining at home against teams they have already beaten this season, a perfect conference record is looking more and more like a reality.

Who’s Not

Nevada Wolfpack

For the large majority of this season, Nevada was cruising in the Mountain West Conference and no one could overtake them for first place. Not anymore. The Wolfpack have dropped two of their last four and allowed Colorado State (18-9, 10-4) to lead the Mountain West by half a game. Nevada (20-6, 9-4) are tied with Boise State half a game back of the lead. The Wolfpack have been led by a stellar combination of forward Cam Oliver and guard Jordan Caroline and they had kept them in first place most of the year. In wins Oliver excels and puts up big numbers, but in many losses, his stats have dropped and he has been bottled up somewhat. Nevada’s resume may not be good enough to get an at large big from the NCAA Tournament committee so winning this conference will be crucial. They have five games remaining in the regular season. Three of them are home games, including games against Colorado State and Boise State which could decide the fate of all three teams.

Top Mid Major Conferences Up for Grabs

5. MAC West Conference

The MAC East is thoroughly decided, with Akron in control for good. The wild West is another story. Ball State (16-10, 7-6) are sitting in first place, but there are four sitting just one game back of the lead. The best candidate to threaten the top spot is Central Michigan with Wooden Award candidate and the national leading scorer Marcus Keene. The third ranked Chippewas and their high-powered offense have been in and out of the top spot in the West this season and with five games left for them this season, it’s officially crunch time. Ball State and Central Michigan play each other on Saturday 2/18 and would prove huge if Ball State could win and put more breathing room between the rest of the pack.

4. Missouri Valley Conference

As mentioned in a couple of previous week’s blogs, the Missouri Valley Conference is going to come down to two teams: Wichita State, the usual suspect, and Illinois State. Wichita State has dominated the conference the last couple of years, but this year they have been tested by the upstart and underrated Redbirds of Illinois State. Both teams are tied 14-1 in conference play and have both split their season series. The Shockers have a slightly better record, with two more wins but one more loss than Illinois State. Both teams are favored to win out and if this happens, it would give the Shockers the regular season title. The conference tournament will be where the real action is. Whoever comes out on top of that will have the auto bid to the tournament. If the Redbirds win the conference tournament title, the Shockers have a good shot at an at large bid into the Big Dance. If the Shockers win the conference tournament title, there would be great debate to put the Redbirds into the Big Dance. Very exciting stuff coming soon from this conference!

3. Mountain West Conference

As mentioned above, this conference is very tight will just a couple weeks left in the regular season. Colorado State leads Nevada and Boise State by half a game, with one of them most likely coming out on top.

2. Atlantic Ten Conference

This is a conference that see’s two teams tied atop the standings in the regular season standings. VCU (21-5, 11-2) and Dayton (20-5, 11-2) are both teams very familiar with the NCAA Tournament. Dayton has been known as a sleeper team for years come tourney time and they have pulled some upsets off. VCU made their legendary run to the Final Four a couple seasons back and is a usual contender for the Atlantic 10 title. VCU has a very tough last 5 games, with three of them being on the road and road games at dangerous teams in Richmond and Rhode Island. After losing to VCU away earlier in the year, Dayton will look to avenge their loss on the first of March and the winner of that game will most likely go on to win the regular season title. Expect both teams to punch their ticket to the Big Dance and present a tough opponent to any team.

1. American Athletic Conference

As explained earlier, SMU took care of business by beating Cincinnati last weekend and now sit half a game above the Bearcats for the American regular season lead. This conference comes in at No. 1 because it fields two of the best teams in the country, in No. 18 Cincinnati and No. 19 SMU. Both are two of the stingiest, toughest defenses in the country and wreak havoc in forcing turnovers and tough shots. The teams split their regular season meetings and if SMU wins out, they will win the regular season title. The conference championship could bring anything to the table, since so many teams in the Atlantic Ten are talented and can beat anyone they face. Winning the conference tournament is no guarantee for either of these teams, so whoever wins the regular season title will be in the best standing position headed into the NCAA Tournament.

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