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As conference tournaments heat up, Northeastern men will be going in cold

Tyson Walker led the Huskies with 18.5 points per game this season.
Tyson Walker led the Huskies with 18.5 points per game this season.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

They haven’t played a game since Feb. 17. Practices have been limited. Still, somehow, the Northeastern men’s basketball team has to get prepared for the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

The Huskies are the No. 2 seed in the CAA and begin play Sunday in Harrisonburg, Va. The question is: Are they going to be able to overcome the inactivity and win an NCAA Tournament bid?

Northeastern is not alone. The CAA had to cancel three two-game sets this past weekend — Northeastern-William & Mary, Hofstra-Elon, Delaware-Towson — so a lot of teams have been inactive. That can only contribute to the unpredictable nature of postseason play.

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The CAA is just one of many conference tournaments that begin this week. A preview:

CAA

March 6-9 at Harrisonburg, Va.

Favorite: James Madison. The Dukes are playing on their home court, which would make them an obvious choice, but leading scorer Matt Lewis, a terrific guard, is out with a knee injury. They’ll need fellow guard Vado Morse to carry more of the load.

Contenders: Northeastern, Hofstra. NU’s Tyson Walker has had a remarkable season, mostly because he’s become a dangerous shooter. A great three-day stretch by him could put the Huskies back in the NCAA Tournament.

Long shot: Drexel. Sharp-shooting guard Camren Wynter would have to put together a series of great games.

Prediction: Northeastern. The Huskies have been surprising all season, especially when Walker isn’t the only offensive threat. That’s what they need in Harrisonburg.

ATLANTIC 10

March 3-6 at Richmond, Va.; final March 14 at Dayton, Ohio

Favorite: Saint Bonaventure. The Bonnies don’t impress you individually but are a dynamic team.

Contenders: Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Louis, Richmond. COVID pauses have ruined the season for Saint Louis and Richmond, the top two teams in the preseason poll. This is a chance for redemption.

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Long shot: UMass. The Minutemen need to ride sophomore center Tre Mitchell if they’re going to pull this off.

Could Jordan Goodwin and Saint Louis reach the tournament?
Could Jordan Goodwin and Saint Louis reach the tournament?Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Prediction: Saint Louis. With regular practice time and no game cancellations, the Billikens are the best team in the league.

PATRIOT

March 3-14 at higher seeds

Favorite: Colgate. The Red Raiders have had only one weird slip-up this season, losing to Army after beating the Knights by 44 the night before.

Contenders: Navy, Lafayette. Navy, behind the intense, savvy play of guard Cam Davis, is good enough to win this. The Middies are actually the top seed.

Long shot: Boston University. It’s been a disastrous season, but the Terriers still have enough talent to pull off a series of upsets.

Prediction: Colgate. The Raiders have a multitude of guards — Jordan Burns, Nelly Cummings, Tucker Richardson, and Jack Ferguson — who are capable of big scoring games. No one can match it.

ATLANTIC SUN

March 3-7 at Jacksonville, Fla.

Favorite: Liberty. Coach Ritchie McKay plays at least nine players and tries to wear down opponents.

Contenders: Bellarmine, Lipscomb. Bellarmine, located in Louisville, Ky., is the No. 2 seed, but isn’t eligible for the NCAA. The conference is still allowing them to play.

Prediction: Liberty. The Flames aren’t as good as they’ve been in past years, but are still clearly the best team. Leading scorer Darius McGhee is a 5-9 guard with astounding leaping ability and 3-point range.

OHIO VALLEY

March 3-6 at Evansville, Ind.

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Favorite: Belmont. The Bruins are something to behold on offense, one of the top five shooting teams in the country, scoring more than 80 points per game.

Contenders: Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky. Both teams defeated Belmont in the last week of the regular season. Shockingly, Eastern ran the Bruins off the court.

Long shot: Austin Peay. It’s been an off-year for the Governors, who almost always contend, but a few huge games from forward Terry Taylor could make up for it.

Austin Peay guard Terry Taylor (21) will likely have to carry the Governors' to a conference title.
Austin Peay guard Terry Taylor (21) will likely have to carry the Governors' to a conference title.Kathleen Batten/Associated Press

Prediction: Belmont. The Bruins are NCAA-worthy, win or lose, but that’s not the reality of the selection process. COVID cancellations hurt their nonconference schedule, so they’ll need to win to make the tournament.

MISSOURI VALLEY

March 4-7 at St. Louis

Favorite: Loyola of Chicago. The Ramblers are one of the best defensive teams in the country. On offense, they’re more efficient than spectacular but do just enough.

Contenders: Drake, Missouri State, Indiana State. Drake would have been the co-favorite, but the Ring Dings have lost their two best players to foot injuries.

Long shot: Northern Iowa. The Panthers lost their best player, A.J. Green, to injury in November, and have slowly adjusted to his absence.

Prediction: Loyola. If you haven’t seen him, you need to watch Ramblers center Cameron Krutwig, who doesn’t have an NBA body but plays with an NBA brain.

SOUTHERN

March 5-8 at Asheville, N.C.

Favorite: North Carolina Greensboro. The Spartans’ Isaiah Miller is the best player in the league, but they’re a lukewarm favorite among a well-balanced group.

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Contenders: Furman, Wofford, Chattanooga, East Tennessee. Wofford, led by point guard Storm Murphy, is capable of some hot shooting that could make a difference.

Long shot: Citadel. The well-conditioned Bulldogs are committed to full-tilt, fast-break basketball. They’d have to tire the field out.

Jalen Slawson is averaging 8.9 points per game this season for Furman.
Jalen Slawson is averaging 8.9 points per game this season for Furman.C.B. Schmelter/Associated Press

Prediction: Furman. The Paladins are a well-balanced offensive team and experienced. This has been a tough group that hasn’t gotten over the tournament hump. If they win, it will be the school’s first NCAA appearance since 1980.

SUN BELT

March 5-8 at Pensacola, Fla.

Favorite: Texas State. The school fired coach Danny Kaspar for using racially insensitive language toward his players; he was replaced by Terrence Johnson, who did a great job keeping the team on track.

Contenders: South Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia State. In 6-10 Jalen Thomas, Georgia State has the kind of player few other teams in the league do.

Long shot: Texas Arlington. The Mavericks have some offensive firepower, most notably guard Shahada Wells.

Prediction: South Alabama. The Cougars are sparked by guard Michael Flowers, an intense competitor who will nail long-range threes but also take his defender into the paint and overpower him.

NORTHEAST

March 6-9 at higher seeds

Favorite: Bryant. The Bulldogs are the most talented team, but they’ve had some odd dips in performance. They seem to be on the right track now.

Contenders: Wagner, Mount St. Mary’s. Wagner has won 10 of its last 11 games.

Long shot: None. Because of the pandemic, the NEC reduced this to a four-team tournament.

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Prediction: Bryant. The Bulldogs just need guard Michael Green to be at his best.

SUMMIT

March 6-9 at Sioux Falls, S.D.

Favorite: South Dakota State. Offensive balance fuels the Jackrabbits, with five players averaging between 9.9 and 16.1 ppg.

Contenders: North Dakota State, South Dakota. SDak has a powerful 1-2 punch in A.J. Plitzuweit and Stanley Umude, both averaging more than 20 ppg.

Long shot: Oral Roberts. Sophomore guard Max Abmas is a scoring machine, averaging 24.7 ppg, and has gone for 40 or more twice.

High-scoring Max Abmas leads Oral Roberts.
High-scoring Max Abmas leads Oral Roberts.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Prediction: South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits are battle-tested, having played games against West Virginia, Saint Mary’s, Utah State, and Iowa State (a victory).

WEST COAST

March 4-9 at Las Vegas

Favorite: Gonzaga. The Zags are overwhelming, the best offensive team in the nation.

Contenders: OK, no one really, but to be consistent . . . Brigham Young, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine. BYU has great depth, as coach Mark Pope can play up to 11 players and will get an NCAA at-large berth.

Long shot: Pacific. Former NBA player Damon Stoudamire has done a good job reviving this program, and the Tigers actually gave Gonzaga a semi-tough game this season.

Prediction: Gonzaga. Tune in to the final and see which player might look good in Celtics green. (Hint: Corey Kispert.)

Joe Sullivan can be reached at josephsullivan1974@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan.