Bracketology: March 7

The first weekend of the 2016 postseason has come and gone, and with it, we have our first five tickets punched to the Big Dance. This past weekend, these five teams won their conference, securing their spot in the NCAA Tournament:

Yale (Ivy League, 4th NCAA Tournament, last was in 1962)
Austin Peay (Ohio Valley Conference, 7th NCAA Tournament, last was in 2008)
Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley Conference, 8th NCAA Tournament, 2nd straight)
UNC Asheville (Big South Conference, 4th NCAA Tournament, last was in 2012)
Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun Conference, 2nd NCAA Tournament, last was in 2013)

If the way these conference tournaments went down is any indication, we’re in for quite a week. Yale gets their bid by way of winning the regular season in the Ivy, but of the other four teams to punch their ticket this weekend, none of them were the 1-seed in their conference. Austin Peay won four games in four days as the 8-seed to win the OVC. Northern Iowa upset 1-seed Wichita State in the semifinals of the MVC, and defeated 2-seed Evansville in the finals. UNC Asheville, the 4-seed in the Big South, defeated co-regular season champions High Point and Winthrop in consecutive days to win the title. And Florida Gulf Coast knocked off top-seeded North Florida in the semis and Stetson, who was essentially playing for North Florida’s tourney hopes, in the championship to win the Atlantic Sun.

Three more automatic bids will be earned tonight, along with a few other important games, including a Tournament eliminator. Here’s a short preview of what to look for tonight:

Horizon League Semifinals (Detroit, MI)
#4 Green Bay vs #1 Valparaiso
7:00 pm, ESPNU
Valparaiso got a bye straight to the semis as the 1-seed, and they haven’t played since February 28, when they traveled to Green Bay and came away with a 70-68 win. The Crusaders are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, but they have played a lot of tight games down the stretch. Green Bay has won two games in as many days to get to this point, so they have momentum. It is very hard to beat a team three times in one season, so advantage Green Bay there. This should be a really good game, and could come down to the final seconds.

CAA Championship (Baltimore, MD)
#2 UNC Wilmington vs #1 Hofstra
7:oo pm, NBC Sports Network
This will be the first championship game of the season between the top two seeds in a field, with the co-regular season champions UNC Wilmington and Hofstra doing battle for a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Seahawks and the Pride split their two meetings during the season, with UNC Wilmington winning by three at Hofstra and the Pride getting revenge with a one point victory in Wilmington. Hofstra G Juan’ya Green is the best player in the conference, and he’ll look to lead his team back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.

MAAC Championship (Albany, NY)
#2 Iona vs #1 Monmouth
7:00 pm, ESPN
Not sure which will tip-off first, but there’s a chance that this will actually be the first championship game between the top two seeds. Interestingly enough, these teams also split the season series with each winning on their opponent’s home floor. Monmouth has a legitimate chance at an at-large berth, so Iona needs this game more. This is a toss-up for sure, with star guards A.J. English of Iona and James Robinson of Monmouth trying to lead their respective teams to the Big Dance.

WCC Semifinals (Las Vegas, NV)
#4 Pepperdine vs #1 Saint Mary’s
9:00 pm, ESPN
Saint Mary’s is considered the favorite to win the West Coast Conference Tournament after taking the regular season title, and they are probably a lock for the NCAA’s even if they can’t pull it out. That’s a good thing, because Pepperdine is the team that the Gaels can’t seem to solve. Two of their three conference losses this year came at the hands of the Waves, and a third here could cause some concern for the Gaels on Selection Sunday.

Southern Championship (Asheville, NC)
#2 East Tennessee State vs #1 Chattanooga
9:00 pm, ESPN2
So it turns out that the three conferences wrapping up tonight were the only ones so far to avoid the madness of March. Chattanooga will be a popular upset pick if they can reach the NCAA Tournament, but standing in their way is an East Tennessee State team led by three transfer players, Ge’Lawn Guyn (Cincinnati), Peter Jurkin (Indiana) and Deuce Bello (Baylor, Missouri). Chattanooga swept the season series, and a third win will send them to the Big Dance.

Horizon League Semifinals (Detroit, MI)
#3 Wright State vs #2 Oakland
9:30 pm, ESPNU
The Horizon League has had some entertaining games this year, and this will definitely be another one. Oakland is led by Wooden Award and Bob Cousy Award finalist Kay Felder, who is averaging over 24 points and 9 assists a game this season. He will look to get the Golden Grizzlies to the title game where a third meeting with Valparaiso is likely. But Wright State will definitely be motivated for this one, as they have two wins over Valpo this season, so they know that if they get to the championship game, they have a great shot to get to the NCAA Tournament.

WCC Semifinals (Las Vegas, NV)
#3 BYU vs #2 Gonzaga
11:30 pm, ESPN2
This is the first true NCAA Tournament eliminator of this postseason. BYU needs to win the conference tournament if they’re going to move on, so they can’t afford a loss. Meanwhile, Gonzaga is squarely on the Bubble, and a loss to BYU probably means they will miss the Tournament for the first time in 17 years. This game is super important for Gonzaga, and it will be interesting to see how they handle that pressure.

If you’re looking for something to watch on a Monday night, now you have a great slate of college basketball games as you begin to whet your appetite for next week. And with that, here is Bracketball’s new bracket projection.

*Projected auto-bids in bold, secured auto-bids in red, regions listed by 1-seed ranking*

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