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Five teams punched their ticket to the Big Dance over the weekend with four more coming on Monday evening. Who are they?
If you've been mired in a post-Super Bowl or college football hangover, now's a pretty good time to shake out your seasonal-affective-disordered bones and start opening a bunch of tabs in your browser. March is here. While the week before Selection Sunday rightfully gets a bunch of attention, the weekend before whatever ESPN decides to call the conference championships (I believe it's Championship Week now) gave us plenty of late-game dramatics, bubble implications and, of course, a few auto bid tickets punched.
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
Atlantic Sun Conference – (24-10, 13-5) – Coach Andy Enfield – RPI 95 – KenPom 126
FGCU earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid in just its second year of eligibility with an 88-75 win over Mercer on Saturday. The team got some early-season attention with a home win over Miami, but outside of okay non-con wins over Toledo and Loyola (MD), the team did what it had to do in conference, earning the second seed and a date with the Bears on their home floor in the conference championship.
Senior Brett Comer and sophomore Sherwood Brown provide a quality one-two punch, with junior Bernard Thompson playing a big role as well. The Eagles play an up-tempo game and get a lot of steals, and their win over Mercer made them the first team in 2013 to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Ivy League – (19-9, 11-3) – Coach Tommy Amaker – RPI 92 – KenPom 107
The Ivy was still in doubt on the final day of league play, as Princeton had a shot to clinch a share of the title, but the Crimson took care of business against Cornell, while the Tigers lost shortly after. Harvard lost to Vanderbilt in the first round of the tournament a year ago and is hoping to overcome an early-season cheating scandal that cost Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry their senior seasons.
The Crimson found leaders in Casey and Curry's absence, with sophomore Wesley Saunders taking over much of the scoring load. He is paired with freshman guard Siyani Chambers, who averages close to 13 points and 6 assists. The Crimson had decent road wins over Boston College and California, but missed out on additional opportunities to boost their seeding with losses to Saint Joseph's, UConn, St Mary's and Memphis, all by 10 points or less.
Big South Conference – (15-20, 6-10) – Coach Dale Layer – RPI 292 – KenPom 247
If you can't root for a 20-loss team to make the NCAA Tournament, then you probably shouldn't be watching college basketball. This won't sit well with Charleston Southern, which put together a solid season before being upset at the HTC Center in the final. But Liberty took down Coastal Carolina, High Point and Gardner-Webb, with a combined 34-16 conference record, before beating CSU, 87-76, to earn the auto bid.
The Flames are destined for a play-in game and a 16-seed, but this is what March is all about -- teams hitting their stride at the right time for the chance to make the field.
Ohio Valley Conference – (26-6, 14-2) – Coach Rick Byrd – RPI 18 – KenPom 47
Belmont probably would have been in the field of 68 with a loss to Murray State, but that didn't make the Bruins' overtime thriller (complete with plenty of clock issues) over the Racers any less exciting. Senior Kerron Johnson hit a shot with 1.2 seconds to play to give Belmont a 70-68 win and its first Ohio Valley title in as many chances.
Rick Byrd's team has been to the NCAA Tournament plenty, but is still looking for that dream march through March. If there's any year for the Bruins to do it, this could be it, with a more favorable seed coming thanks to quality wins over Stanford and Middle Tennessee State, as well as a dominating conference record.
Missouri Valley Conference – (27-7, 13-5) – Coach Greg McDermott – RPI 34 – KenPom 15
Another team that was arguably safe regardless of the outcome, the Bluejays won a tight one against Wichita State on Sunday, 68-65. Junior Doug McDermott is one of the nation's best players, but he didn't have one of his best games in a test against the Shockers, which is a good sign for the 'Jays as they prepare for the Tournament.
This is Creighton's 12th MVC title and second in as many years. The Bluejays had wins over Wisconsin, Akron, Saint Joseph's, California and Arizona State this year and will be a trendy Sweet Sixteen pick when the brackets come out next week. Wichita State should also be in the field as long as this week's championship tournaments don't get too nuts.
Five more teams will earn at-large bids on Monday.
West Coast Conference: Saint Mary's vs. Gonzaga
Southern Conference: Charleston vs. Davison
MAAC: Manhattan vs. Iona
Sun Belt Conference: Western Kentucky vs. Florida International
Colonial Athletic Association: James Madison vs. Northeastern
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