Championship Week is the best, but only if you’re properly educated. Thankfully, this guide is here to help ensure that anyone who wants to experience the highest dosage of madness possible has the ability to do so.
Now if your only interest in March college basketball lies with the teams that have a “real” shot to win a national title, that’s fine — but this isn’t for you. Our time together is coming soon.
For the rest of you, it’s time for a thorough run through of everything you need to know to get the most of the “madness before the madness.” This is a time primarily for the leagues that don’t get the national spotlight, so focus in this guide is going to exclude the nine “major” (the “Power 5” leagues plus the Big East, AAC, Atlantic 10, and Mountain West) conferences.
The Pac-12 doesn’t get special treatment just because it’s flirting with being the first power conference ever to send just one team to the NCAA tournament.
Complete Conference Tournament Dates And Locations
It’s the most logical, if not exciting, jumping off point. We’ll go ahead and include all conferences here because it’s March and in March rules are fluid.
American: March 14-17, FedExForum (Memphis)
ACC: March 12-16, Spectrum Center (Charlotte)
America East: March 9, 12, 16, Campus sites
Atlantic 10: March 13-17, Barclays Center (Brooklyn)
Atlantic Sun: March 4-10, Campus sites
Big East: March 13-16, Madison Square Garden (New York)
Big Sky: March 11-16, CenturyLink Arena (Boise)
Big South: March 5-10, Campus sites
Big 12: March 13-16, Sprint Center (Kansas City)
Big Ten: March 13-17, United Center (Chicago)
Big West: March 14-16, Honda Center (Anaheim)
Colonial: March 9-12, North Charleston Coliseum (North Charleston, South Carolina)
Conference USA: March 13-16, Ford Center at The Star (Frisco, Texas)
Horizon League: March 5-12, Campus sites and Little Caesars Arena (Detroit)
Ivy League: March 16-17, Lee Amphitheater (New Haven, Connecticut)
MAAC: March 7-11, Times Union Center (Albany, New York)
MAC: March 11, 14-16, Campus sites and Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland)
MEAC: March 11-16, Norfolk Scope Arena (Norfolk, Virginia)
Missouri Valley: March 7-10, Enterprise Center (St. Louis)
Mountain West: March 13-16, Thomas & Mack Center (Las Vegas)
Northeast: March 6, 9, 12, Campus sites
Ohio Valley: March 6-9, Ford Center (Evansville, Indiana)
Pac-12: March 13-16, T-Mobile Arena (Las Vegas)
Patriot: March 5, 7, 10, 13, Campus sites
SEC: March 13-17, Bridgestone Arena (Nashville)
Southern: March 8-11, U.S. Cellular Center (Asheville, North Carolina)
Southland: March 13-16, Leonard E. Merrell Center (Katy, Texas)
Summit: March 9-12, Denny Sanford Premier Center (Sioux Falls)
Sun Belt: March 12-17, Lakefront Arena (New Orleans)
SWAC: March 12, 15-16, Campus sites and Bill Harris Arena (Birmingham)
WAC: March 13-16, Orleans Arena (Las Vegas)
West Coast: March 7-12, Orleans Arena (Las Vegas)
Just four Division I teams are ineligible to participate in the postseason in 2019, the same number we saw a year ago. Just two of those squads — Alabama A&M and Florida A&M — are ineligible because of subpar APR scores, the lowest total since the APR became a thing. At the moment, Alabama A&M is just 5-24 overall and 4-11 in the SWAC. The Bulldogs also missed out on the postseason in 2018 because of poor APR scores. FAMU is currently 8-7 in the MEAC.
The other two teams who can’t participate in the NCAA tournament because of non-performance reasons are Cal Baptist and North Alabama. Both teams are ineligible because they’re continuing to make their full transition from Division II to Division I. North Alabama did play in the Atlantic Sun tournament, falling in the quarterfinals to North Florida.
Here is the full list of teams that cannot dance this year:
Alabama A&M (SWAC)
Florida A&M (MEAC)
Cal Baptist (WAC)
North Alabama (Atlantic Sun)
Teams For The Bubble Boys To Pull For
Per usual, there will be a handful of tournaments this postseason where a heavy favorite goes down and a team no one expected to crash the Big Dance does so by claiming its conference’s automatic bid. In a few of these cases, the upset favorite will have a resume strong enough to still warrant inclusion in the field of 68. In those instances, the Cinderella league champion will wind up “stealing” a bid from a non-automatic qualifier that would have been in the field otherwise.
The list of mid/low-major teams who could make the NCAA tournament field without an auto-bid is much deeper and more certain at the top than it has been in years past. Squads like San Francisco and UNC Greensboro, who both appear to be on the outside looking in but at least have something resembling a legitimate case for an at-large, don’t even make the cut here.
To sum up: if you’re a fan of Alabama, Clemson, TCU, Temple or any other team that might be sweating it out on Selection Sunday, here are the teams you need to be rooting hard for over the next 12 days.
1. Gonzaga (West Coast)
I don’t think this requires further explanation.
2. Wofford (Southern Conference)
Not only can the Terriers lose in the SoCon tournament and still hear their name called on Selection Sunday, they can lose in the SoCon tournament and still be a single-digit seed on Selection Sunday.
3. Buffalo (Mid-American)
Change the conference and you can make the exact same statement about Buffalo. The Bulls have been nationally ranked almost all year long, and enter the final week of their regular season with a top-15 NET ranking.
4. Saint Mary’s (West Coast)
At 20-11, Saint Mary’s already has the second-most losses any SMC squad has had since 2007. Even so, the Gaels are on the bubble thanks to a top-40 NET ranking and a shiny Quad 1 win at New Mexico State. If Gonzaga isn’t the team hoisting the WCC tournament trophy, bubble teams should hope that it’s Saint Mary’s.
5. Furman (Southern Conference)
All season long there’s been speculation that the top-heavy Southern Conference could wind up sending at least two teams to the NCAA tournament. Though they lost five games in league play, the Paladins — who were nationally ranked at one point this season — still have a chance at an at-large bid thanks to a non-conference resume that includes wins at Villanova and at Loyola-Chicago.
6. Belmont (Ohio Valley)
The Bruins will still have a shot even if they’re upset in the OVC tournament thanks to having no awful losses, non-con wins over UCLA, Lipscomb and Western Kentucky, a 13-point road win over Murray State, and a top-50 NET ranking.
7. Murray State (Ohio Valley)
Murray State’s tournament resume is worse than its OVC co-champ’s, but only by a smidge. The Racers, like Belmont, have only four losses, but they don’t have a Quadrant 1 win and are just 1-4 in Quad 1/Quad 2 games. Still, there’s a shot — however small it may be — that this is the year the committee decides a mid-major with an average resume but a superstar player is worth taking over a power conference team with 13 or 14 losses.
8. Lipscomb (Atlantic Sun)
The common thought is Lipscomb blew its shot at an at-large when it lost at Florida Gulf Coast on Feb. 20. But the Bisons have no other terrible losses, and a road win over TCU that speaks pretty loudly. Maybe loud enough to sway the committee if Casey Alexander’s team gets knocked off this week.
9. New Mexico State (WAC)
In what seems to be a recurring theme, New Mexico State will enter the postseason with a record that is more flash than substance. The Aggies are 26-4, but have played just one Quadrant 1 game — a 63-60 loss at Kansas. They are a respectable 2-1 in Quadrant 2 games, a fact which might be canceled out by a pair of Quadrant 3 losses. Just to be safe, however, bubble teams should be pulling for NMSU to get the job done in Vegas.
10. Old Dominion (Conference USA)
Old Dominion has the worst NET ranking of any team on this list, but it also has an impressive win at Syracuse and a 3-1 overall record in Quad 1/Quad 2 games. If who you’ve beaten matters more than who you’ve lose to, then the Monarchs could get an extended look from the committee if another team takes C-USA’s auto bid.
Six Other Solid Favorites
These teams aren’t going anywhere but the NIT if they get upset over the next 12 days. Still, they’ve established themselves as the top dog in their respective league and are on track to scare the hell out of a single-digit seed on the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend.
1. Vermont (America East)
The America East’s perennial powerhouse is back and out for blood after being stunned on its home floor by UMBC in last year’s AE title game. That Retrievers team, some may remember, would go on to some more stunning in its next outing.
Vermont’s only two conference losses this season have come to UMBC, a team which the Catamounts had beaten 23 straight times before Jairus Lyles broke hearts across The Green Mountain State last March. Stony Brook and Hartford will also enter the postseason with double-digit league victories.
2. Sam Houston State (Southland)
The Bearkats lost seven of their first eight games against Division I competition this season, but have rebounded to establish themselves as the dominant force in the Southland Conference. SHSU’s only loss in league play or since Dec. 22 was a 75-72 setback at Lamar on Feb. 16.
3. UC Irvine (Big West)
Irvine, which is 25-5 overall and has non-conference road wins over Saint Mary’s and Texas A&M, has won 11 straight and has tasted defeat just once in Big West play. The Anteaters will be the heavy favorites next week in the Honda Center. If they live up to that billing, they’ll lock up a bid to the NCAA tournament for just the second time in program history.
4. Norfolk State (MEAC)
The Spartans haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2012, the same year they stunned second-seeded Missouri in the first round. That drought could end shortly, as Norfolk’s only loss in 2019 is an 84-76 road defeat at the hands of Bethune-Cookman.
5. Prairie View A&M (SWAC)
Like the previous two teams on this list, Prairie View is looking to make the field of 68 for just the second time in program history. Losers of 11 straight earlier in the season, the Panthers have been beaten just once in the SWAC.
6. South Dakota State (Summit League)
The Jackrabbits won the Summit League’s regular-season championship for the fourth time in five years, and are now looking to win the tournament title for the fourth straight year and the sixth time since 2012. Mike Daum and company flirted with pulling a first-round upset in 2016 and 2018, but SDSU is still searching for its first win in the Big Dance.
10 Teams That Could Dance For The First Time
One of the best parts of every March is seeing coaches, players, and programs that have never heard their name called on Selection Sunday celebrate the moment that all changes.
Of the 353 teams that are current members of Division I, 44 have never gone dancing. Four of those teams — Army, St. Francis (NY), William & Mary, and The Citadel — have been Division I programs since “Division I” became a thing in 1910.
Here are the 10 members of the “never been dancing” club that have the best shot at altering that status this month.
1. Hartford (America East)
The Hawks have fielded some competitive teams in recent years, including the 2017-18 team that went 11-5 in America East play and qualified for the CIT. This year’s Hartford team swept its regular-season series with reigning AE champion UMBC, and is one of only four teams in the league with double-digit conference wins. They’ll likely face another team that has never danced — UMass Lowell — in their conference tournament opener.
2. Gardner-Webb (Big South)
There are four teams in the Big South that have never played in the NCAA tournament, and three of them — Gardner-Webb, High Point, and Presbyterian — finished above .500 in conference play this year. Out of that group, the 10-6 Bulldogs would seem to have the best shot at upsetting Radford and/or Campbell and punching their March Madness ticket. Do it, and the program can finally be known for something other than being “that team that beat Kentucky that one time.”
3. William & Mary (Colonial Athletic Association)
As mentioned earlier, Bill & Mary is one of four original Division I programs that has never made the NCAA tournament. But they’ve come tantalizingly close in recent years.
The Tribe made it to the 2014 CAA title game and led by six with 1:20 to go before collapsing and allowing Delaware to score the game’s final seven points. They made it back to the title game in 2015 as a heavily favored No. 1 seed, but laid an egg in a 72-61 loss to Northeastern. In each of the past three seasons, William & Mary has suffered a competitive loss in the tournament semifinals.
For the third straight year, the Tribe will be the CAA tournament’s No. 4 seed. Elon, another team that has never gone dancing, will be the seven-seed.
4. Quinnipiac (Metro Atlantic Athletic)
Quinnipiac is the only member of the 11-team MAAC that has never been to the NCAA tournament. The Bobcats are three wins this week away from changing all that.
At 11-7, Baker Dunleavy’s (yes, Mike’s son ... and Mike’s brother) team finished the regular season in a four-way tie for second place. Quinnipiac will be the No. 3 seed this week in Albany for a tournament that appears to be as wide-open as any we’ll see this month.
5. Bethune-Cookman (MEAC)
The Wildcats currently sit in a tie for fourth-place in the league standings, but they’re the only team in the MEAC that has knocked off regular season champion Norfolk State.
6. Sacred Heart (Northeast)
The NEC is home to three schools that have never had a celebratory Selection Sunday, including another one of the original four, St. Francis of Brooklyn. The Terriers finished the regular season a solid 9-9 in league play, but they don’t have as good a shot to claim the NEC’s auto-bid as fellow first-time wannabe Sacred Heart does. The Pioneers will be the No. 3 seed for the NEC tournament, and will open up play against defending champion LIU Brooklyn on Wednesday.
7. Army (Patriot League)
The third member of the “original four” to either appear or be mentioned on this list (don’t hold your breath for a Citadel shoutout outside of this one), Army will look to break its lifelong streak of futility as the No. 6 seed in this week’s Patriot League tournament. In order to take the first step towards accomplishing that, they’ll have to upset a Lehigh squad that swept them in the regular season.
8. Abilene Christian (Southland)
This is just the second season Abilene Christian has been eligible for postseason play, and the Wildcats lost a tiebreaker that kept them out of the eight-team Southland tournament a year ago. Qualifying for the postseason won’t be a problem in 2019. Heading into the final week of the regular season, Abilene Christian sits alone in second place in the league standings with a 12-4 record.
9. Grambling (SWAC)
Given all its success in football, it’s hard to believe Grambling is the only SWAC program to have never played in the NCAA tournament. That could have changed a year ago when the Tigers won the league’s regular season title outright, but they were ineligible to participate in the postseason because of poor APR scores. With three conference games still to play, they’re currently tied for fifth in the SWAC standings.
10. NJIT (Atlantic Sun)
NJIT has come a long, long way since going 0-29 in 2007-08 and 1-30 a year later. The Highlanders, who finally found a conference home in the Atlantic Sun in 2015, have 21 wins and are two more away from punching their first ticket to the Big Dance. They upset fourth-seeded Florida Gulf Coast 83-78 in the A-Sun quarterfinals on Monday, and will face top-seeded Lipscomb in the semifinals on Thursday.
BONUS: Almost every WAC team (WAC)
If New Mexico State is upset and doesn’t earn the WAC’s auto-bid, there’s a very good chance the team taking their place will be crashing the NCAA tournament for the very first time. The team’s currently occupying places 2-4 in the conference standings — Utah Valley, Grand Canyon, and Utah Rio Grande Valley — have never danced. Nor have UMKC, Chicago State, or Cal Baptist, which is still transitioning to Division I.
25 Players Who Will Be Heard From
1. Chris Clemons (Campbell/Big South)
The nation’s leading scorer at 30.1 PPG, Clemons is on pace to become the first Division I player to average 30 or more points over an entire season since 1997. The 5’9 bucket-getter will head into his final postseason as the No. 6 all-time scorer in Division I basketball history, and sitting at No. 9 on the list of most career made three-pointers. Clemons has scored in double figures in 111 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in NCAA history.
One of the only things Clemons hasn’t done in his college career is play in the NCAA tournament. He took Campbell to the Big South title game two seasons ago, setting the tournament’s scoring record in the process. With the Camels heading into the 2019 tournament as the top seed, Clemons may have saved his best chance to go dancing for last.
2. Ja Morant (Murray State/Ohio Valley)
A top-five pick in virtually any NBA mock draft you can find, Morant might be the most exciting player in college basketball not named Zion Williamson. The super athletic sophomore guard is the nation’s leader in assists (10.3 APG) and is also the country’s eighth-leading scorer (24.1 PPG). Morant is on pace to become the first player since assists became an official statistic in 1983-84 to finish a season averaging better than 20 points and 10 assists per game.
3. Mike Daum (South Dakota State/Summit League)
Joining Chris Clemons in college basketball’s elite 3,000-point club this season was Daum, who enters the postseason at No. 9 on the all-time Division I scoring list. Unless the top-seeded Jackrabbits are upset in the first round of the Summit League tournament, Daum seems like a near-lock to pass both Keydren Clark and Harry Kelly on that list, and end his career in no worse than seventh-place. Despite no longer being a national secret, the 6’9 sharpshooter enters his final postseason averaging a career-best 25.6 PPG.
4. Justin Wright-Foreman (Hofstra/Colonial Athletic Association)
The nation’s second-leading scorer at 26.8 PPG, Wright-Foreman has scored in double figures in 84 consecutive games, the second longest streak in the country. The only player with a longer streak is also the only player who’s averaging more points per game, Campbell’s Chris Clemons.
5. Antoine Davis (Detroit Mercy/Horizon League)
The son of Detroit head coach Mike Davis, Antoine Davis enters the postseason as the nation’s third-leading scorer at 26.0 PPG. He recently made national headlines for canning his 123rd three-pointer, breaking the NCAA freshman record set by Steph Curry. Davis will have to be hitting at a high clip for the seventh-seeded Titans to upset regular-season co-champ Northern Kentucky in the first round of the Horizon League tournament.
6. Jaylin Walker (Kent State/Mid-American)
He was only recently inserted into Kent State’s starting lineup, but Walker is the MAC’s leading scorer at 21.6 PPG. The Golden Flashes have struggled a bit in recent weeks, but the MAC tournament has a history of getting wild. Don’t be shocked if Walker — who is one of the most creative offensive players in the country — puts up some absurd numbers in consecutive games.
7. D’Marcus Simonds (Georgia State/Sun Belt)
Simonds’ number are actually down a hair almost across the board from his sophomore season, but he’s still the unquestioned star of a Georgia State team that’s tied for first in the Sun Belt standings with one game to play. His career average of 18.6 PPG is 14th-best among active Division I players.
8. Lamine Diane (CSU Northridge/Big West)
A native of Senegal, Diane is the best freshman in college basketball nobody knows about. With two regular-season games still to play, Diane has already set the CSU Northridge school records for points scored and field goals made in a single season. The breakout star is currently averaging 24.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game for Mark Gottfried’s team, which is 7-7 in the Big West.
9. Jordan Davis (Northern Colorado/Big Sky)
In his senior season, Davis has become both Northern Colorado’s all-time leading scorer, and the second-leading scorer in the history of the Big Sky. Averaging 23.7 points and 4.7 assists per game, Davis also has Northern Colorado just a game behind first-place Montana in the Big Sky standings and dreaming legitimate dreams about the program’s second trip to the NCAA tournament.
10. Cameron Young (Quinnipiac/Metro Atlantic Athletic)
If Quinnipiac crashes the NCAA tournament for the first time ever, it’s a near-certainty that Young will be a significant part of the reason why. He’s the nation’s 12th-leading scorer at 23.2 PPG, and his 55 points in a triple-overtime win over Siena last month were the most by any Division I player in a game this season, and the third most of the last 20 years.
11. Frankie Ferrari (San Francisco/West Coast Conference)
You know all about the Gonzaga stars, but Championship Week is the time to get yourself acclimated with some of the WCC’s other top talent. The man with one of the best names in all of college basketball is a great place to start. Ferrari (14.8 PPG/5.6 APG) is the driving force behind a USF team that has already won 21 games this season. They’ll likely need to win three more in order to make their first NCAA tournament since 1998.
The man also isn’t afraid to steal your popcorn.
USF player ends up the baseline seats and grabs some popcorn, announcer goes nuts pic.twitter.com/YA6s7yfBE4— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 6, 2018
12. Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky/Conference USA)
A former five-star recruit and potential lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, Bassey has been as good as advertised in what will almost certainly be his only season at Western Kentucky. In C-USA play, the big man has averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds while blocking 34 shots and shooting 62.8 percent from the field. He ranks second nationally among freshmen in total rebounds (277), third in blocked shots (65), and third in field goal percentage (63.1 percent).
13. Fletcher Magee (Wofford/Southern Conference)
Often billed as “the best shooter in college basketball,” Magee has led Wofford to a perfect 18-0 mark in the tough Southern Conference and the second-longest active winning streak in the country behind Gonzaga. He is 15 made three-pointers away from breaking the NCAA Division I career record for most treys. That record is currently held by former Oakland University sharpshooter Travis Bader, who knocked down 504 of them.
14. Dylan Windler (Belmont/Ohio Valley)
Even with Morant’s absurd stat lines and SportsCenter highlights, there’s a case to be made for Dylan Windler as OVC Player of the Year. The Belmont star is the only player in Division I averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. In OVC play only, he’s been even better, averaging 23 points and 10.9 rebounds while shooting 58.4 percent from the floor and 48.1 percent from three.
15. JaKeenan Gant (Louisiana/Sun Belt)
Gant, who transferred in from Missouri after his sophomore season, is the only player in Division I averaging at least 20 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.75 blocks per game. He’s also the only Sun Belt player who ranks in the league’s top five in scoring, total rebounding, offensive rebounding, blocks, and field goal percentage.
16. Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga/West Coast Conference)
Look, I’m going with Hachimura here because he’s the team’s most well-known player and a likely lottery pick, but consider this an all-encompassing Gonzaga spot. If you like Brandon Clarke, or Josh Perkins, or whomever more than Hachimura, then feel free to insert them here in your mind. They’re all good. I’m not fighting you on this.
17. Nick McGlynn (Drake/Missouri Valley)
McGlynn is the star of a Drake team that was picked to finish second-to-last in the Missouri Valley and wound up sharing the league’s regular-season title with reigning national semifinalist Loyola-Chicago. At this week’s Arch Madness, the Bulldogs will go as far as their senior star can take them.
18. Jhivvan Jackson (UTSA/Conference USA)
The native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, is one of the nation’s most electric scorers at 22.8 PPG. Jackson hasn’t been held to a single-digit point total this season, and has scored more than 20 points in 11 of UTSA’s last 12 games. He and fellow sophomore guard Keaton Wallace (21.2 PPG) are the third highest-scoring duo in the country.
19. Jermaine Marrow (Hampton/Big South)
Marrow enters his first Big South tournament — this is Hampton’s first year in the conference — as the nation’s sixth-leading scorer at 25.3 PPG. It’s safe to say the Pirates go as their star goes. Marrow has either made or assisted on 48 percent of all his team’s field goals over its last five games, and has accounted for 46 field goals and 25 assists in those contests.
20. Grant Riller (Charleston/Colonial Athletic Association)
Riller is averaging 27.6 PPG over Charleston’s last five games, and enters the postseason with six performances of 30 points or more. He’s topped the 20-point mark 20 times in 31 games.
21. CJ Massinburg (Buffalo/Mid-American)
If you missed Massinburg in last year’s NCAA tournament — where he scored 19 points in Buffalo’s upset of Arizona and 18 against Kentucky two days later — you’ll have an opportunity to make up for it the 2019 Big Dance. The senior guard dropped 43 points in a road win over West Virginia at the beginning of the season, and is the only MAC player to rank in the league’s top-15 in points, assists and steals.
22. Jerrick Harding (Weber State/Big Sky)
Harding has been hobbled in recent weeks by an ankle injury, a fact which correlates directly with Weber State’s struggles in league play as of late. The junior sharpshooter has canned 55 three-pointers and is the Big Sky’s second-leading scorer at 22.0 PPG. If he’s 100 percent, the Wildcats may have the best shot of any team in the league at upsetting Montana and/or Northern Colorado.
23. Bryce Aiken (Harvard/Ivy League)
The same left knee injury that cut Aiken’s sophomore season short also forced him to miss the first 13 games of Harvard’s 2018-19 campaign. He eased into things over the first two weeks of his return, but has exploded as the Ivy League’s most dominant offensive player since the beginning of February. Aiken leads the conference in scoring at 21 PPG, but perhaps the area where he’s made the biggest name for himself has been in the final seconds of close games.
Need Bryce Aiken in the big dance more than I need air to breathe: pic.twitter.com/gF7zqCpPx2— Eli Hershkovich (@EliHershkovich) February 24, 2019
24. Anthony Lamb (Vermont/America East)
Averaging 21.1 points and 8 rebounds per game, Lamb is the leader of a Vermont team that just locked up its third straight America East regular season title. He’s also fully healthy this March, something which wasn’t the case when the Catamounts were stunned by UMBC in the AE title game a year ago.
25. RJ Cole (Howard/MEAC)
The reigning MEAC Rookie of the Year, Cole is averaging more assists, fewer turnovers, and shooting a higher percentage from every spot on the floor as a sophomore. He’s scored 27 percent of his team’s points this season, and has either made or assisted on 43 percent of all the Bison’s field goals over the last five games.
Five Title Games You Absolutely Want To Happen
1. Lipscomb vs. Liberty (Atlantic Sun)
The Bisons and Flames have pretty clearly been the top two teams in the Atlantic Sun all season. They finished tied atop the league’s regular-season standings, a full five games ahead of anyone else.
Oddly, each team won on the other’s home floor. Lipscomb hammered Liberty by 20 on Jan. 29, but the Flames returned the favor with a 74-66 upset two weeks later.
It’ll be a crime if we don’t get a rubber match.
2. Murray State vs. Belmont (Ohio Valley)
The OVC’s top dogs shared the league’s regular-season title, and once again appear to be on a collision course for the conference’s auto-bid. If that happens, Belmont may have the mental edge thanks to a dominant 79-66 road win over Murray in the only regular-season meeting between the teams.
Windler vs. a revenge-minded Morant is worth canceling any Saturday night plans for.
3. Siena vs. Quinnipiac (Metro Atlantic Athletic)
The MAAC appears to be as wide open as it’s ever been (even though Iona seems to win every year regardless of the league’s landscape) which means it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the fifth-seeded Saints and third-seeded Bobcats could play for the conference title. If that happens, it’ll be a rematch of one of the best games of the season: Quinnipiac’s 107-100 triple-OT win over Siena on Feb. 17.
In that first game, Quinnipiac senior guard Cameron Young set a conference record by scoring 55 points. The point total was the highest in Division I this season, and the third-highest of the last 20 years. Young is also the first player in at least 20 years to post a double-double of at least 55 points and at least 10 rebounds.
The performance of Young overshadowed a 46-point effort from Siena freshman Jalen Pickett. The two players combined to go 13-of-21 from beyond the arc and 30-of-37 from the free-throw line. They also came within 14 points of the record for most points scored by two players in the same game. That belongs to LSU’s Pete Maravich (64) and Kentucky’s Dan Issel (51) in a game played Feb. 21, 1970.
4. Harvard vs. Yale (Ivy League)
This is an up season for the Ivy League, which boasts five teams that appear fully capable of springing a first-round upset in the NCAA tournament. The best example of the strength of the league lies with the fact that Penn — which won non-conference games against Villanova, Miami, and Temple, among others — is in danger of not qualifying for the four-team Ivy tournament. With two games to go, the Quakers are 5-7 in league play, one game behind Brown for the final bid to the postseason.
Yale and Harvard appear to be the class of the league. The two teams — which have combined to win five of the last seven Ivy League titles — played a thrilling 88-86 contest on Feb. 23 that was won by the Crimsons in the closing seconds. Harvard also won a far less thrilling 65-49 game in the first meeting between the two on Feb. 1.
Get your smart kid jokes ready to fire. The Ivy League semis and title games are back in two weekends.
5. Northern Kentucky vs. Wright State (Horizon League)
The Horizon League tourney has a history of getting super funky, super fast. Here’s hoping that trend doesn’t extend to the top seeds this season, because NKU and Wright State are pretty clearly the conference’s two alphas. They shared the regular season title at 13-5, and played two terrific games in the regular season, with each pulling off a narrow victory on the other’s home floor.
Five Crazy Competitive Conference Tournaments
Heavy favorites are typically the norm on Championship Week, but this isn’t an across the board deal. There are a number of leagues this season where the regular-season champ appears vulnerable, and a few where parity reigns so supreme that it’s not hard to see a scenario where a team that finished near the bottom of the league standings could reel off three or four wins in a row.
Here are the five leagues that may prove to have the wackiest of wacky postseasons.
1. Conference USA
It’s not hard to make the case that this will be the most competitive and difficult to predict of the 32 conference tournaments that will take place over the next two weeks.
Conference USA is a league loaded with talented teams that have either underachieved a bit or simply cannibalized one another. The result is that 11 of the 14 teams in the conference have won at least seven games, and there are seven teams sandwiched in the middle of the standings with either eight or nine wins.
Old Dominion is the regular season champ, Western Kentucky is perhaps the most talented team, and Marshall is the reigning champion that returned a solid amount from the squad that upset Wichita State in the NCAA tournament. If none of that sways you ... throw a dart.
The SoCon may not fit the bill of a conference that has the potential to get “wacky” (Wofford went 18-0, after all), but I’m still including it here if only so I can make this point: You need to watch the SoCon semifinal games. I’m serious. You just need to. Do it. Do it. Watch the SoCon semifinal games.
Wofford, Furman, UNCG, and East Tennessee State are all teams fully capable of winning at least one game in the Big Dance, and three of them have legitimate at-large bid aspirations. Assuming all four win their quarterfinal games, Sunday’s semifinals have the potential to be of as high a quality as any mid/low major conference tournament semifinals we’ve ever seen.
Find a way to watch the SoCon semis. You won’t be disappointed.
Also watch the championship game the next night. That’ll be good too.
3. Metro Atlantic Athletic
As alluded to a couple of times earlier, the MAAC is wide-ass open in what has been a very down year overall for the conference.
Iona won the regular-season title outright despite losing six games. Four teams tied for second place with 11-7 records, and no team in the league finished worse than 6-12.
On the surface, this feels like anyone’s to win. In reality, Iona has won this tournament the last three years and has played in the championship game six straight times. Regardless of what their seed is, the MAAC title always goes through the Gaels.
4. Missouri Valley
Arch Madness is almost always the showcase tournament of the postseason’s opening week, and 2019 should be no different.
Drake and Loyola-Chicago shared the league’s regular season title with matching 12-6 records, and seven of the conference’s 10 teams finished at 9-9 or better. Cellar-dweller Evansville finished 5-13, but defeated both of the co-champions.
Plus, this year there’s the added interest in a Final Four participant from last season attempting to make its way back into the field of 68.
Sister Jean may or may not warrant at least one mention during the week in St. Louis.
Nationally-ranked Buffalo will be the clear favorite, but this is a conference with eight teams in the top 150 of the current NET rankings, and two in the top 60. This is also a league tournament that has a history of getting weird. In fact, the regular-season champion has come away with the league’s auto-bid just once since 2014. Of course that one team was Buffalo last season, but still ... the point stands.
Three Less Exciting Conference Tournaments
1. Ohio Valley
The OVC is might be the only tournament we’re tackling here that has the potential to produce a pair of semifinal games that can compare with the SoCon. We’ve talked about Belmont and Murray State, but Jacksonville State and Austin Peay finished just behind those two in the final league standings, and are really good in their own right.
Even so, the OVC demands to be admonished here.
First, while so many other conferences have moved away from the
smart cowardly “start your best teams in the semifinals to give them the best chance at playing in the NCAA tournament” setup, the OVC has held firm. The result was a pair of dominant Belmont teams being upset in the semis in back-to-back years before seeding finally held and the Bruins played Murray for the title last season. Not only is starting your two best teams on the third day of a four day tournament less fun, it doesn’t seem great at achieving its intended purpose.
Second, what’s up with capping the field at eight? There are 12 teams in your conference. That makes for an incredibly easy tournament to draw up. Instead, your way has left us with one of the most exciting players in the country — Eastern Kentucky’s Nick Mayo — ending his career without the chance to play a single postseason game. This year, his Colonels finished in a four-way tie for seventh, but the tiebreaker gods left them on the outside looking in. That’s dumb, and it goes against everything this sport is supposed to be about. To make matters worse, Mayo had a potential game-winning buzzer-beater rim out on the final day of the regular season, a miss which he now knows ended his college career. For shame, OVC. For shame.
Finally, having no more than two games on any day/night of your tournament is incredibly lame. This is the season of excess. Serve us with the gluttony we demand or feel our wrath.
In conclusion OVC, please take some time during the offseason to reconsider the way that you are.
2. West Coast
After five years of starting its top two teams in the quarterfinals like most everyone else, the WCC is going back to its
smart cowardly roots and auto-advancing its top two teams all the way to the semis. Because less Gonzaga is what the people have been begging the WCC to give them for years.
Also, Gonzaga won every single one of those tournaments and played either Saint Mary’s or BYU in the title game each time. So it’s not like compressing the tournament hurt the league when it came to the likelihood of it sending its top dog(s) onto the NCAA tournament.
You’re depriving us of the over-saturation we crave, and you’re doing it for no reason.
There are a billion teams with fantastically weird nicknames in your conference (actually 13), and you’re only going to let EIGHT play in the tournament? That’s even worse than the OVC. Also worse than the OVC is the fact that you not only cut five teams out of the postseason, but you also auto-advance the top two seeds to the semis. So you took the worst parts of the OVC and the WCC, and made them both your own.
If this cut had resulted in the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Islanders missing the postseason, then we would have been forced to boycott this whole damn thing.
10 Dangerous Non-Top Seeds That Could Steal A Bid
1. North Florida (Atlantic Sun)
This is cheating a little bit since we have the benefit of knowing that the Ospreys advanced to the A-Sun semis with a 76-66 win over North Alabama Monday night. Even before that performance, North Florida had a claim to be the hottest team in the A-Sun. They’ve won seven straight heading into Thursday night’s semifinal against second-seeded Lipscomb, a team North Florida upset on Feb. 23.
2. Hartford (America East)
Heading into their regular season finale against Stony Brook Tuesday night, the Hawks have won four straight and six of their last seven. Hartford’s only loss over that span is a narrow 77-75 defeat at the hands of league champion Vermont.
3. Long Beach State (Big West)
The Beach is currently under .500 in league play at 7-8, but they’ve won four straight and are the only team in the Big West that’s knocked off 13-1 UC Irvine. They nearly swept the Anteaters, but fell at home in the rematch by a narrow final of 82-80.
4. William & Mary (Colonial)
The Tribe is hot. They’ve won five straight since a 93-87 loss at regular-season champ Hofstra on Feb. 9, giving hope to William & Mary fans that this might be the year they could exit the dubious group of four original D I members that have never made the NCAA tournament.
5. Marshall (Conference USA)
The Thundering Herd has underachieved all season long, but there’s still too much offensive talent on Dan D’Antoni’s roster to totally discount the possibility of a postseason run similar to the one we saw a year ago.
The world needs at least one last helping of Jon Elmore unconsciously draining a series of 26-footers in March.
6. Penn (Ivy League)
The Quakers have to make the four-team Ivy League tournament first, but if they do, there’s no doubt they have the ability to play spoiler. This is a team that beat Villanova, that won at Temple, that swept the Big 5, and that beat Miami and won at New Mexico. It’s also a team that has lost four games in overtime, three of which have come in conference play.
7. North Carolina Central (MEAC)
Watch out for LeVelle Moton’s Eagles in the MEAC. The two-time defending conference tournament champions are getting hot at the right time. They’ve won five of their last six, with their lone loss over that span coming via a competitive 75-71 road defeat at the hands of regular season champion Norfolk State. None of the five wins for NC Central have come by fewer than eight points.
8. Southern Illinois (Missouri Valley)
The Salukis are a dangerous three seed in the Missouri Valley. They were impressive in victory in their last three games, a stretch that included a 10-point win over regular-season co-champ Loyola-Chicago. Armon Fletcher has been red hot in recent weeks, and is fully capable of making himself an Arch Madness legend.
9. Lamar (Southland)
The Cardinals began conference play 1-4, but are in the midst of a seven-game winning streak. Included in the streak is a 75-72 upset of Sam Houston State, the Bearkats’ only league loss this season.
10. Texas Southern (SWAC)
Winners of four of the last five SWAC tournaments, the Tigers find themselves in the unfamiliar spot of not being the league’s top seed heading into the postseason. Still, first-year head coach Johnny Jones’ team has won road games against Baylor, Oregon, and Texas A&M, is the only team in the SWAC to knock off 14-1 Prairie View A&M, and is currently in the midst of a 10-game winning streak.
There it is.
If you didn’t read every word and just scrolled down here to say how this thing was wrapped up, well, now you don’t get fill out any NCAA tournament brackets. Those are the rules. I don’t make them.
Happy March, everybody.