Central Oklahoma: Could easily throw Fort Hays State in this category, but the Bronchos and Tigers play each other in the first round, so one of the darkhorses will advance to the semifinals. Prior to a two-game losing streak (which included losses by a combined three points) to end the regular season, Central Oklahoma had won six straight games. The Bronchos coasted past Missouri Western in the opening round of the tournament, and Josh Gibbs (21. 1 points / 11.4 rebounds per game) is a hard player to stop for 40 minutes.
Players to watch
• Dillon Deck (Central Missouri): The Mules feature a balanced scoring effort, but 6-foot-9 post player, Dillon, Deck engineers the Mules’ attack from the inside.
• Bryton Hobbs (Northeastern State): Despite being the tournament’s No. 9 seed, the RiverHawks feature the top scorer in the league. Hobbs averages 22.6 points per contest.
• Craig Nicholson (Fort Hays State): At 17.7 points and 7.5 assists per game, the Tiger go as their point guard goes. If Nicholson has free reign in the league tournament, the Tigers could end up with the title.
• Central Missouri enters the league tournament as the No. 1 team in the Central Region. The Mules are trailed by Minnesota State-Mankato. Missouri Southern (third), Northwest Missouri State (fourth), Fort Hays State (sixth) and Washburn (eighth) are in the top eight. However, Washburn figures to fall out after losing to NSU in the first round of the league tournament.
Emporia State: Much like the men’s tournament, the team to beat in the women’s tournament could be the No. 2 seed. The Hornets — who have been ranked in the top 25 all season — have lost only three times this year, and two of those losses were to teams on the other side of the tournament bracket. Emporia State figures to blow out Central Oklahoma before getting a rematch in the semifinals against Pittsburg State, who beat the Hornets, 81-75, in Pittsburg, Kan., on Feb. 26.