Conference tournaments

THE BALTIMORE SUN

State men

Colonial Athletic Association Site: Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, Va.

When: Tomorrow through Monday

2001 champion: George Mason.

2002 favorite: UNC-Wilmington. The pre-season choice captured the regular-season title with a 14-4 league record.

Darkhorse: Virginia Commonwealth. A talented and explosive squad led by Georgetown transfer Willie Taylor.

Player to watch: Brett Blizzard, UNC-Wilmington. An excellent defender, playmaker and scorer, he is the general of the Seahawks' balanced team.

Outlook: Towson, a consensus pick to finish last, came on with a rush to tie for sixth in the regular season, winning five of its last seven games. New coach Michael Hunt is the first at the university to win 11 times in his first season and the Tigers were 9-1 in tournament play when he was an assistant. But it's too early to expect miracles in this strong league.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Site: Pepsi Arena, Albany, N.Y.

When: Tomorrow through Monday

2001 champion: Iona.

2002 favorite: Rider and Marist both finished 13-5 to tie for regular-season title. Tie-breaker gave Rider the top seed.

Darkhorse: Manhattan. The only 20-game winner in the field is the best shooting team in the league.

Player to watch: Mario Porter, Rider. The leading candidate for player of the year led the MAAC in both scoring (20.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.4 rpg).

Outlook: Ninth-seeded Loyola must participate in a play-in game tomorrow against No. 8 Canisius, a team the Greyhounds split with during the season. The winner gets Rider, a team Loyola shocked in the finale, 77-65. Extremely young, the Greyhounds have a tough row to hoe.

Northeast Conference

Site: Spiro Sports Center, Staten Island, N.Y.

When: Tomorrow and Saturday, with championship Wednesday at highest remaining seed's home court

2001 champion: Monmouth.

2002 favorite: Central Connecticut State. This team lost only once in 20 league games and has won 15 in a row, the longest streak in Division I.

Darkhorse: Monmouth. The defending champion gave Central one of its toughest games, gaining a 16-point lead before losing in overtime.

Player to watch: Jermaine Hall, Wagner. The NEC's leading scorer heads a team playing on its home court.

Outlook: Qualifying for the field for the fourth straight year, UMBC comes into the tourney on a roll with nine wins in 10 starts. The only defeat was at Wagner, its semifinal opponent if both teams advance. But Central Connecticut is even hotter and has the inside power with Corsley Edwards (Lake Clifton) in the middle and an athletic forward in Ron Robinson. The Retrievers will need to be at their best to make the NCAAs for the first time. Mount St. Mary's did not qualify.

Patriot League Site: Show Place Arena, Upper Marlboro

When: Saturday and Sunday, with championship game Friday on highest remaining seed's home court

2001 champion: Holy Cross.

2002 favorite: American. In their first season in the league, the Eagles proved prognosticators who picked them near the bottom dead wrong. A rout by Holy Cross in the finale can be thrown out because American had already clinched.

Darkhorse: Colgate. Won five of its last six games to register the best overall record in the league at 17-10 and swept Lafayette, its quarterfinal opponent.

Player to watch: Patrick Doctor, American. The senior from Brandywine will be playing in his backyard and figures to be hungry after the Eagles were denied tournament play by the Colonial Athletic Association last year.

Outlook: A floundering Navy (10-19, 5-9) never recovered from an overtime loss at American on Jan. 30, when first place was at stake. It limps into the tourney with seven defeats in its final eight games and faces a Holy Cross team that has beaten the Midshipmen five straight - including an overtime decision in last year's league championship game. But the tourney figures to be wide open, with the top five teams all within two games of each other in the standings.

State women

Atlantic Coast Conference

Site: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.

When: Tomorrow through Monday

2001 champion: Duke

2002 favorite: Duke. There's the Blue Devils (unbeaten at 16-0 in the ACC) and then the rest of the league.

Darkhorse: North Carolina State. The Wolfpack (7-9 in league and 13-14 overall) is truly a darkhorse, but is a tournament-tough team with a near-legendary coach in Kay Yow. The 'Pack also gave Duke its biggest scare in league play, losing, 73-68, in Raleigh on Jan. 13.

Player to watch: Alana Beard, Duke. Beard owned the ACC this season, leading the league in scoring (19.1 ppg), field-goal percentage (58 percent) and steals (3.33 a game). She was second in assists (4.96 apg), was the only player in the league to have two 30-point games and was the only unanimous pick for the All-ACC team.

Outlook: Duke, ranked fourth in the nation with a 24-3 overall record, looks like a shoo-in to win a third straight ACC tournament. Sophomore Alana Beard has been called the Michael Jordan of ACC women's basketball. Her coach, Gail Goestenkors, said the 5-foot-11 Beard "is the most humble person I've ever been around. That allows her to take everything in stride and remain focused." In addition to N.C. State, Clemson (77-69 loss) and Maryland (66-55 setback) gave Duke good runs this season before losing.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Site: Pepsi Arena, Albany, N.Y.

When: Today through Sunday

2001 champion: Siena.

2002 favorite: Siena. The Saints won 19 in a row before being upset by Loyola and are playing in familiar territory.

Darkhorse: Manhattan. This third-seeded team also owns a victory over Siena and comes into the tournament with two straight wins.

Player to watch: Gunta Basko, Siena. The junior forward from Latvia is on target for a second straight player-of-the-year award after ranking third in scoring and second in rebounding in the league.

Outlook: As the bottom seed, the Greyhounds' streak of nine straight years in the semifinals appears to be in jeopardy. They must win twice to continue the skein and a formidable St. Peter's team stands in the way should they survive the opener. It looks like a Siena-St. Peter's showdown in the final.

Northeast Conference

Site: Mount St. Mary's College

When: Saturday and Sunday, with championship game March 9 on highest remaining seed's home court.

2001 champion: Long Island

2002 favorite: Long Island

Darkhorse: Wagner. The Seahawks, with conference scoring leader Meredith Kerns (18.8 ppg), closed out the regular season with a 64-61 win over defending conference champ Long Island on Saturday to avenge an earlier, 30-point loss.

Player to watch: Carlin Chesick, St. Francis (Pa.). The junior forward led the top-seeded Red Flash to the conference regular-season crown, averaging 16 points and 6.9 rebounds a game this season.

Outlook: St. Francis (Pa.) earned the top seed with a 14-4 conference mark, but it's Long Island, which won seven straight before Saturday's loss to Wagner, that has played the best ball in the past month. The Blackbirds are led by junior forward Tamika Dudley (15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds) and, having won last year's tournament as the No. 3 seed, are comfortable coming in seeded second. This year's third seed, Sacred Heart, could pull off the same feat accomplished by Long Island last year.

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