3 Seniors to Watch in the First Round of Conference Tournament Play

Isaiah Sykes is looking to take Central Florida deep in their conference tournament.

The nature of conference tournament seeding creates a situation where the first round doesn't present a lot of meaningful basketball in terms of teams expected to make a run at the conference title, or get a bid to the big dance. The majority of contenders either have a bye or, as is the case with Oklahoma State and Baylor, are matched up with teams that they should soundly defeat.

This doesn't mean there is nothing interesting for the college basketball fan, however, or for the athletes performing. Seniors still hold onto hopes of getting a NCAA tournament seed by improbably winning their conference tournaments, or even just extending their careers one more game by picking up a win. For fans, this can lead to some individual efforts that can be exciting to watch.

Though we don't expect any of the players or teams discussed to show up in the NCAA tournament, through the use of our nERD metric and game simulations we are able to identify some first round games that should be competitive. This article looks at examines three seniors who, through big performances, could propel their teams out of the first round of their conference tournaments, and perhaps even further.

Isaiah Sykes, Central Florida (vs. Temple)

Our nERD metric sees Temple as the slightly superior team in what should be a highly competitive game. These schools met twice in regular season play, and split the series. In the first meeting, UCF defeated Temple 78-76, while in the second meeting Temple outlasted UCF pulling out an 86-78 victory.

The difference in outcomes can be explained by one player: Isaiah Sykes. The UCF offense runs through Sykes, who is as capable of taking over a game as any player in college basketball. He's averaging 16.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game on the season. In the first game against Temple this season, Sykes eclipsed these season averages, posting a ridiculous 23/15/6 line. In the second meeting between these teams, Sykes was forced to sit out with a foot injury, and Temple edged UCF in overtime.

Temple ranks a remarkably unimpressive 260th in adjusted defense in the country, and can do nothing to stop Sykes. Look for the senior to deliver a huge performance in what will be his last game if he fails to do so.

Victor Rudd, South Florida (vs. Rutgers)

Again, the nERD scores between these two teams are incredibly close, making for another great game. These teams met twice in the regular season, with Rutgers winning both, 79-69 and 74-73. A look at those games reveals that USF will need a top-notch performance from their star, Victor Rudd, who has averaged 15.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on the year, in order to win. In their first meeting, Rutgers won by 10 points largely due to their ability to hold Rudd to essentially right around his season averages, allowing him to post a line of 15/7/3. In the second meeting, the game was decided by a point, and the difference was that Rudd went off for 26/9/2.

This will be Rudd’s final game in a Bulls uniform if he doesn’t perform well. I expect him to establish himself early, against what is a less than stellar Rutgers defense.

Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall (vs. Butler)

Our nERD metric likes Seton Hall slightly more than Butler despite the Bulldogs having defeated the Pirates in both meetings this year, most recently on March 8 by a score of 71-54. In that game, senior Fuquan Edwin, in only his second game back from being sidelined with a thumb injury, scored just four points in just 21 minutes of play. In their previous meeting with Butler though, Edwin played a full complement of minutes and scored 20 points. While Butler was still victorious, it was a much closer score of 64-57.

Edwin’s season averages of 14.7 points, 1.7 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game could lead you to believe that his primary value to Seton Hall is as a scorer. This would be incorrect. Edwin’s more impressive peripheral statistics are on the defensive end, as he averages 2.8 steals per game (third in the country) and had six in the Pirates’ first meeting with Butler.

He has the ability to take whoever he's assigned to guard completely out of the opponent’s offense, a fact acknowledged by his recently having been named Big East Defensive Player of the Year. His defensive skills will be essential to pulling off a win against a respectable Butler offense, and victory is much more likely if his shot is falling and he can score around the 20 point mark.