The apex of the college basketball season is fast approaching, with conference tournaments set to start in less than two weeks and the national tournament in Sioux City set to begin in less than a month. As teams, coaches, and schools prepare for this exciting time of year, you as fans, should too. This is a comprehensive preview guide and conference-by-conference breakdown of the action thus far, remaining important games and potential tournament participants.
*Note: All records/statistics/rankings are as of Feb. 8.
The Appalachian Athletic Conference is a tight race between the top four spots, with only of those four teams currently featured in the top 25. Milligan College (Tenn.) (20-5) (14-2) last checked in at the No. 21 spot. But Bryan College (Tenn.) (21-3) (13-2) Point University (Ga.) (19-5) (11-4) and 2015 NAIA DII tournament team Tennessee Wesleyan (11-7) (11-5) close behind. Milligan ranks in the top 20 in the country in five categories, including: defensive rebounds per game (30), total rebounds per game (44), total rebound offense (1011), total blocks (88) and blocks per game (3.8). Point appears to have the toughest remaining schedule between the top four teams, with three remaining games against top four opponents. Bryan seems to easiest remaining schedule, with just one game against the other top teams in the AAC. This conference race is close and should remain close up until the conference tournament.
Top remaining AAC games: Point vs. Bryan 2/10; Point vs. Milligan 2/13
The California Pacific Conference includes only five schools and should only send one team to the national tournament in Sioux City, IA. UC Merced (Calif.) (6-14) (5-0) –- who made the tournament field last year — and Simpson (Calif.) (9-13) (4-1) are the two frontrunners as of now. The two teams met on 1/9 and UC Merced defeated Simpson 87-75. They have one more remaining meeting on 2/13 and that game will likely decide who represents the CPC in Sioux City.
Top remaining CPC games: UC Merced vs. Simpson 2/11
The Cascade Collegiate Conference features a four-team race at the top, with three of the four teams (Southern Oregon, Oregon Tech and Eastern Oregon) being 2015 NAIA DII tournament teams. Both Oregon Tech and Eastern Oregon lost in the first round of last year’s tournament, while SOU lost to the upstart No. 7 seed Tabor (Kan.) in the second round. No. 9 Southern Oregon (21-1) (14-1) is the only one of the three currently in the top 25. The Raiders are ranked 1st in scoring margin at (30) and 2nd in turnover margin (8.5), scoring offense per game (89), steals per game (15.6) and total steals (328). Junior Ashley Claussen leads the Raiders with 19.4 points per game, 3.91 assists per game and 2.95 steals per game. SOU’s lone loss came on the road against Eastern Oregon on Jan. 16, but the Raiders will play both Oregon Tech (20-5) (13-2) and Eastern Oregon (18-8) (14-3) before the end of the regular season. The regular season title should come down to the wire, with important games coming on the final week of the regular season.
Top remaining CCC games: Oregon Tech vs. SOU 2/9; Eastern Oregon vs. SOU 2/13; Eastern Oregon vs. Oregon Tech 2/14
The Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference features a six-team race for the top regular season spot and those six teams are separated by a mere three games. No. 1 Saint Xavier (Ill.) (25-1) (14-1) resides at the top with Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) (21-4) (14-2), No. 5 St. Francis (Ill.) (23-3) (13-2), Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) (20-6) (12-4), St. Ambrose (Iowa) (17-7) (11-4) and Purdue Calumet (Ind.) (20-6) (11-5) close behind. Both Saint Xavier and Cardinal Stritch were in the 32-team field of the 2015 NAIA DII Tournament and in 2014, Saint Francis went 38-0 and won the title. Saint Xavier ranks in the top five in 14 statistical categories and is led by their star sophomore, Kara Krolicki. Krolicki leads the Cougars with 20 points per game and is sure to be a household name in years to come. This conference race isn’t close to being over, considering how close the standings are this late in the season. Olivet Nazarene and Purdue Calumet appear to have the easiest remaining schedules with only one game remaining against a top six CCAC teams, while St. Xavier, St. Francis, St. Ambrose and Cardinal Stritch all have two remaining.
Top remaining CCAC games: St. Francis vs. Purdue Calumet 2/10; St. Ambrose vs. St. Xavier 2/17; Olivet Nazarene vs. St. Francis 2/17; St. Xavier vs. Cardinal Stritch 2/20
The Crossroads League features four teams who have a realistic shot to make it in the tournament field, three of which were in last year’s field. No. 3 Marian (Ind.) (23-3) (14-0) reigns at the top spot, with Goshen (Ind.) (19-7) (11-3), Indiana Wesleyan (20-6) (9-5) and Saint Francis (Ind.) (12-11) (8-6) rounding out the top four. Lakan Hasser-Smith leads the Knights in scoring, averaging nearly 17 points per game. Despite the lackluster record, Saint Francis’ two-time All-American Forward Brooke Ridley is having another monster year. Ridley leads the Cougars with 20 points per game, 9.39 rebounds per game and 2.61 blocks a game. With a three-game lead atop the conference, Marian is almost a shoe-in to make it in the field of 32 in Sioux City. Both Goshen and Indiana Wesleyan also have a strong chance to represent the Crossroads League in the national tournament.
Top remaining CL games: Goshen vs. Marian 2/20; Indiana Wesleyan vs. Saint Francis 2/20
The Great Plains Athletic Conference is the most successful NAIA DII conference historically, with 12 of the 24 national championship winners coming out of the GPAC since 1992. Last year’s tournament field featured an all-GPAC Semifinal of Morningside (Iowa), Concordia (Neb.), Briar Cliff (Iowa) and Hastings (Neb.), with Morningside edging Concordia 59-57 in the championship game. No. 2 Morningside currently sits atop the conference (24-2) (16-2) with Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.) (19-6) (12-6), Concordia (19-7) (11-7), Briar Cliff (Iowa) (18-7) (11-7), Hastings (Neb.) (17-8) (11-7) and Mount Marty (S.D.) (17-9) (11-7) all within a game of second place. Morningside will be a favorite to repeat as national champions, The Mustangs rank in the top 10 in 10 different statistical categories and return a number of key pieces from last year’s team, including Junior Lexi Ackerman, Junior Taylor Bahensky, Senior Jordyn Wollenburg and Senior Jessica Tietz. With the amount of depth in this conference the GPAC will have another chance to send three to four teams to Sioux City.
Top remaining GPAC games: Dakota Wesleyan vs. Morningside 2/10; Briar Cliff vs. Hastings 2/13; Morningside vs. Briar Cliff 2/17; Concordia vs. Briar Cliff 2/20; Hastings vs. Dakota Wesleyan 2/20
There are three Independent teams that have put themselves in a position for a bid to Sioux City, but the overwhelming favorite to represent that sector is national tournament regular No. 4 College of the Ozarks (Mo.) (20-3) (4-0). The Bobcats possess a variety of weapons on offense, including four different players who average 10 or more points per game. The Bobcats score over 77 points per game and rank 16th nationally in assist/turnover ratio (1.095). The two other Independent teams with a shot to make in the tournament field are No. 22 Indiana Northwest (18-7)(2-0) and No. 23 Haskell (Kan.) (19-5) (5-3).
Top remaining Independent games: College of the Ozarks vs. Haskell 2/16
The Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference sent two teams to the 2015 NAIA DII National tournament and both of those teams have a chance to return. Both Tabor (Kan.) (19-6) (15-0), who were the Cinderella team of last year’s tournament and Oklahoma Wesleyan (16-9) (10-5) have a chance to return to Sioux City. Friends (Kan.) (17-9) (11-5) and Kansas Wesleyan (17-10) (8-9) also have outside shots to make the tournament field. Tabor is built on their defense, ranking 4th in 3-pt FG pct. Defense (0.259) and 13th in scoring defense per game (59). Junior Jurnee Reid leads the Blue Jays with 9.28 points per game, 5.36 rebounds per game and 1.64 steals per game.
Top remaining KCAC games: Kansas Wesleyan vs. Friends 2/20
The Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference sent two teams to the national tournament in 2015, but probably won’t send that many in 2016. Asbury (Ky.) (17-9) (13-2) was one of the teams the KIAC sent in 2015 and they currently sit atop the conference in first place. IU East (Ind.) (15-9) (10-2) are in second place and Rio Grande (Ohio) (16-7) (9-3) are in third, but with the less than spectacular nonconference records it might be difficult to send more than two teams to Sioux City this year.
Top remaining KIAC games: Rio Grande vs. Asbury 2/9
The North Star Athletic Association sent one team to the NAIA DII national tournament in 2015 and that very team seems poised for another trip to Sioux City. Jamestown (N.D.) (22-4) (8-0) have amassed a perfect NSAA conference record thus far and appear to be ready for national tournament play. Senior Jessica Buck, who averages 18.24 points per game, 6.36 rebounds per game and 1 block per game, leads the Jimmies. The Jimmies rank in the top 10 in total rebound defense (33), scoring margin (17.08) and field goal percentage (0.448). The only serious threat to the Jimmies is second place Dickinson State (N.D.). The Bluehawks are just one game back in the conference standings and have a chance to square off against the Jimmies on 2/13. This conference race could come down to the end.
Top remaining NSAA games: Jamestown vs. Dickinson State 2/13
The Sun Conference sent one team to the national tournament in 2015 and Southeastern (Fla.) (20-4) (11-2) appear to be poised to return. The Flames rank in the top 10 in five categories, including: 3-pt FG percentage defense (0.262), field goal percentage defense (0.341), 3-pt FG made per game (9.083), assists per game (18) and 3-pt FG percentage (0.358). Christian Strawbridge leads the Flames with 16 points per game, 9.33 rebounds per game and 1.33 blocks per game. Webber International (Fla.) (16-8) (10-2) appears to be the only team with an outside shot to dethrone the Flames and represent the Sun Conference in Sioux City.
Top remaining Sun Conference games: Southeastern (Fla.) vs. Webber International 2/13
The Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference sent one team to the NAIA DII National tournament in 2015 and that team, Davenport (Mich.), has a chance to make it back to Sioux City. Lawrence Tech (Mich.) (19-2) (16-2) and Davenport (20-5) (16-2) are currently tied atop the WHAC leaderboard, with Indiana Tech (17-9) (13-5) and Madonna (Mich.) (13-9) (13-5) close behind in third place. No. 19 Lawrence Tech have made succeeded thanks to good defense and rebounding, ranking 2nd in 3-pt FG percentage defense, 4th in total rebound margin (12.7) and 6th in total rebound defense (32). Davenport, who lost in the title game in 2013, rank in the top 5 in 10 different categories, including: total assists (502), assists per game (20), scoring margin (25.2), total rebound margin (14.7), total rebound offense (1193), field goal percentage (0.468), offensive rebounds per game (18.040), scoring offense per game (86), total rebounds per game (48) and total scoring offense (2147). The regular season title race could be decide on 2/10, when Davenport travels to Lawrence Tech.
Top remaining WHAC games: Lawrence Tech vs. Davenport 2/10; Indiana Tech vs. Lawrence Tech 2/13; Madonna vs. Indiana Tech 2/20
*Post was updated from a previous version in regards to number of qualifiers from KIAC