NEWS AND NOTES
-Conference tournaments get underway tonight and will continue through Selection Sunday. Below I have a rundown of the tournaments that are getting underway early along with my picks on who I believe will win. I will write up the rest of them once all the standings are final.
Ive heard many people say that the NCAA awards automatic bids to the winners of the conference tournaments. Although that is mostly true, it is not ENTIRELY true. The NCAA awards bids to conference champions, and it is up to the conferences to collectively decide how they want to determine their champions. 30 of the 31 conferences determine that via a conference tournament, but there is no rule saying that it has to be done that way. Thats the decision the conferences collectively make. That being said, these are championship tournaments. I think people forget that sometimes, especially in the case of the major conferences. Georgetown did not win the Big East Championship when they beat Pittsburgh as many in the media claimed. Theyve finished first in the standings, but the winner of the touranament will be the official conference champion. Many conferences set up their tournaments in various ways to help out the first place team, especially the leagues that typically only send one team, but the first place team is not the conference champion unless they go on to win the conference tournament.
This means that the win and advance stage of the Road to the Final Four technically begins tonight. Out of the 337 div1 teams, 299 will be playing in conference tournaments and can qualify for the NCAA Tournament via the automatic bid. The Ivy League champion makes it an even 300. One fun way to look at this is that it is one big 300 team tournament. Granted, 34 teams will make the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid, which is why the regular season is so important, but for vast majority that arent in a position to get an at-large, the win and advance stage begins tonight.
BIG SOUTH QUARTERFINALS
-Charleston Southern @ Winthrop
-UNC Asheville @ Coastal Carolina
-Radford @ High Point
-VMI @ Liberty
The semifinals and finals will be played on Winthrops home floor assuming they beat Charleston Southern. If not it will be played on the home floor of the highest remaining seed. Winthrop is looking at a fairly decent seed if they win this tournament, and should get some discussion for an at-large if they dont, but all the other teams have a very bad RPI, and any loss will damage Winthrops resume if it were to happen.
OHIO VALLEY QUARTERFINALS
-Tennessee State @ Austin Peay
-Murray State @ Samford
-Morehead State @ Eastern Kentucky
-Southeast Missouri State @ Tennessee Tech
Austin Peay finished first in the standings, but theyre probably looking at a #16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, as is everyone else. The semifinals will be reseeded, and will be played in Nashville, TN.
HORIZON LEAGUE OPENING ROUND
-Cleveland State @ Wisconsin Green Bay
-Detroit @ Youngstown State
-Wisconsin Milwaukee @ Illinois Chicago (winner gets Loyola, IL)
Wright State and Butler have received byes into the semifinals, and Loyola, IL has received a bye into the quarterfinals due to where they all finished in the conference standings. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played on Wright States home floor, and the championship will be played at the better seeded teams home floor. Butler is pretty much a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but everyone else will need to win the conference tourney in order to get a bid.
OTHER HIGHLIGHTED GAMES
-BYU AT AIR FORCE (Mountain West). This is a very big game in the Mountain West between two teams who appear to have NCAA Tournament bids locked up barring a collapse, but are playing to improve their seed. Air Force is coming off a very bad loss to TCU, and a win tonight would go a long way in offsetting that. BYU is coming off a decisive loss to San Diego State, which ended an eight game winning streak. This would be one of the better road wins for the Cougars all year if they could pull it off. It would also clinch them at least a share of the regular season conference title.
-MICHIGAN STATE AT MICHIGAN (Big Ten). Michigan State had two huge wins last week against Indiana and Wisconsin, but has struggled on the road. Beating a decent team such as Michigan on the road would do a lot to improve the value of their resume. This is also a rivalry game, so it would give them some bragging rights as well. Michigan State appears to be pretty safe barring a collapse, but their seed will likely suffer due to their poor road play, which is why a win here would be so helpful.
-KANSAS STATE AT OKLAHOMA STATE (Big Twelve). Both of these teams have some work to do, which is why its so important for both of them. Oklahoma State has really fallen apart lately and even though they had some big wins early on, that will be deemphasized by the committee due to how theyve been playing recently. Kansas State is a pretty solid team, but they dont have any high signature wins and most likely need to win their last two games, as well as some games in the conference tournament in order to feel safe for a bid.
-WEST VIRGINIA AT PITTSBURGH (Big East). Yet another big rivalry game, and this one is hugely important. West Virginia is right on the bubble, and the biggest problem with their resume is their road play. This would be a high quality win and would most likely put them in. Pitt is a very solid pod system team who could be seeded as high as #2 if they can finish the season strong. Handing a loss to their bitter rival which could keep them out of the NCAAs has got to be motivation as well. This one should be fun.
-MINNESOTA AT PURDUE (Big Ten). Purdue is right on the bubble right now, and a loss to a low caliber team such as Minnesota would probably be enough to knock them right out of the picture barring an incredible showing in the Big Ten Tournament.
-FLORIDA AT TENNESSEE (SEC). Florida has been struggling lately, but that could be due to the fact that they know they have a good seed locked up and theyre just a little bored with the regular season. Tennessee has been playing well after going through a slump of their own, and they should be pretty pumped up for this game as well. Its an important game for Florida as far as holding onto a #1 seed is concerned, and its important to Tennessee in terms of adding another high quality win to their resume and improving their seed.
-SAN DIEGO STATE AT UTAH (Mountain West). San Diego State appears to be right on the bubble, and have been playing extremely well lately. They still arent safely in by any means. In fact, they still have some work to do. A loss to a poor RPI team like Utah will probably mean they need to win the conference tournament to get in.
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT PREDICTONS, PART 1
-AMERICA EAST (pick-Vermont). Vermont has clearly looked like the best team, and in the event they advance to the championship game theyll get to host it on their home floor. Albany is pretty good as well, but they were beaten rather handily by Vermont this year on two occassions.
-ATLANTIC SUN (pick-East Tennesssee State). ETSU is 14-1 in their last 15 games, and have been winning by rather large margins. They are hosting this tournament, and as well as theyve played on their home floor I dont see anyone beating them.
-BIG SKY (pick-Weber State). This conference has not quite completed regular season play, but Weber State has already clinched the regular season title and will host the tournament. Theyve won five of their last six games, and have beaten Northern Arizona twice already this season, who is the second place team. There is quite a bit of parity in this conference, but playing at home gives Weber an advantage.
-BIG SOUTH (pick-Winthrop). Winthrop ran the table during the regular season, and is clearly better than everyone else. Theyre also hosting the tournament, and have quite a bit to play for. If they can make it to the NCAAs they will likely be in a position to advance to the second round.
-COLONIAL ATHLETIC (pick-VCU). There are a lot of tough teams in this conference, and this should be one of the more exciting tournaments. Old Dominion and Drexel are both in position to get an at-large bid. VCU is as well, and even though they finished first in the conference standings, they dont have the big OOC wins that Drexel and Old Dominion have. They do, however, have home court advantage, where they have lost just once all season, and beat every conference foe they faced. There are three or four teams that have a good chance of winning this one, but I believe VCU will get it done.
-HORIZON LEAGUE (pick-Wright State). Wright State really stubbed their toe in their final regular season game against Youngstown State, and appeared to have cost themselves home court advantage for the conference tournament, but then Butler unexpectedly lost their final regular season game at home to Loyola, IL. Wright State defeated Butler the last time the two teams met, and Butler has just been looking sluggish lately. Butler is most likely in the NCAAs regardless of what happens in this conference tourney and they know it, so that is another reason they may be kind of sluggish. Wright State won nine in a row before losing their final regular season game, and I think they will carry that momentum into the tournament and pull off the upset. The rest of the league has really been struggling against Wright States motion offense as well.
-METRO ATLANTIC (pick-Siena). Marist won the regular season title, and defeated Siena twice during the season, but both wins came in overtime. Siena had won seven in a row before the overtime loss in their final regular season game. Marist byes into the semifinals because they finished first in the standings, and are positioned to face Siena in their first game. A team with an axe to grind, and with the momentum of already having won a game can be very difficult to beat. I think Siena surprises some people and wins the automatic bid.
-MID CONTINENT (pick-Oral Roberts). Oral Roberts finished first in the standings, and has proven that they are a good team by some of their wins during the regular season. Theyre hosting the tournament and with the support they generally get from their fans they will not be an easy team to beat.
-MISSOURI VALLEY (pick-Creighton). Southern Illinois is clearly the best team in this conference, and will likely be seeded as high as #3 if they win this tournament, but they are also a lock for a good seed regardless of what happens. Creighton, the second place team, really looked good in their final regular season game, and has played well at several points during the season. They also have lost to Southern Illinois twice in the final seconds, and I dont see them losing a third time if the two were to meet in the finals.
-OHIO VALLEY (pick-Eastern Kentucky). Austin Peay finished first in the standings, but hasnt looked all that good lately. Some of that may be due to the fact that they clinched first place long ago, but Eastern Kentucky finished the season really strong and could be able to pull the upset on a neutral floor.
-PATRIOT LEAGUE (pick-Holy Cross). Holy Cross has just one conference loss, and that was to Bucknell, who is also an excellent team. Both teams tied for first in the conference standings, but Holy Cross won the tiebreaker due to their better RPI, and as well as theyve played at home I think they win this tournament.
-SOUTHERN (pick-Appalachian State). Davidson is a very good team as well, and lost just one conference game, but that loss came to Appalachian State. Appalachian State has won 11 of their last 12, including a big win at Wichita State in the Bracket Buster. Theyve really been playing well, as has Davidson. I really hope the two teams meet in the final because I think it would be a fanstastic game. Both Davidson and Appalachian State will be very tough teams to beat in the NCAA Tournament if either of them can win the automatic bid.
-SUN BELT (pick-Western Kentucky). South Alabama clearly looked like the best team about a week ago, but they lost their last three regular season games, which was rather surprising considering how bad the teams were. Western Kentucky is athletic, but they are inconsistent as well. Nevertheless, I feel they are one of the most talented teams and will win this if they play up to their potential.
-WEST COAST (pick-Santa Clara). Santa Clara has captured a bye into the semifinals along with Gonzaga, and although they were upset by LMU and Pepperdine recently, Ive still been very impressed with their play. Part of that may have been that they were looking ahead to the conference tournament as well. They won decisively at Gonzaga the last time the two played each other, and I dont expect the result to be all that much different if they two face each other again. Theyve also been winning their games by more impressive margins than Gonzaga, which is an indication that theyre a better team.
-More to come from the other conference once the standings become final.
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