Conference Championship Preview: March 12

If today is going to be anything like yesterday was, you had better get your popcorn ready. UConn and Cincinnati played an absolute classic, with the Huskies coming out on top in four overtimes after freshman Jalen Adams sunk a 60+ footer at the 3OT buzzer, 0.7 seconds after Cincinnati hit a three to take the lead. Oregon nearly handed Arizona a game when Arizona’s Mark Tollefson stole Chris Boucher’s inbound pass with 0.4 seconds left and his team down a point. He only made one free throw, and the Ducks survived in OT. Up one with 1.8 seconds left against Oklahoma, West Virginia’s Jonathan Holton went to the free throw line. He missed the first, and with the Sooners out of timeouts, conventional wisdom would be to miss the second on purpose (hint: nothing about yesterday was conventional). He would make the second free throw, and then Buddy Hield launched a one-hander from half court that banked in off the backboard, seemingly giving Oklahoma an improbable victory. But on video review, Hield was a split-second late releasing the shot, and West Virginia will head to the Big 12 Championship Game.

Yesterday was the perfect example of what March Madness is all about, and I can only hope that we get close to that again today. Here is a quick preview and prediction for all of today’s conference championship games!

America East Championship
#3 Vermont vs #1 Stony Brook
11:00 am, ESPN2
This is Stony Brook’s to lose. Their bugaboo in the America East Tournament the last few years was Albany, but they went down in the quarterfinals this year. Stony Brook must have been happy to see that. Superstar forward Jameel Warney is looking to end his incredible career with his first trip to the NCAA Tournament. These teams split their regular season meetings, with the Catamounts shocking Stony Brook on the road 76-62 in their regular season finale.
Prediction: Stony Brook

MEAC Championship
#3 South Carolina State vs #1 Hampton
1:00 pm, ESPN2
Hampton was the favorite to win this conference tourney coming in, and nothing has changed now. South Carolina State upset 2-seed Norfolk State 66-65 in the semifinals, while Hampton blew out 5-seed Savannah State. The Pirates are looking to advance to the NCAA’s for the second consecutive season, and to do so, they’ll need to avenge their 67-62 home loss to SC State during the regular season.
Prediction: Hampton

C-USA Championship
#5 Old Dominion vs #2 Middle Tennessee
2:30 pm, FOX Sports 1
UAB was the heavy favorite to secure C-USA’s auto-bid, but the Blazers were upset in the quarterfinals by Western Kentucky, who fell yesterday to Old Dominion. The Monarchs will look to win their fourth game in as many days, but they’ll have to contend with a tough defensive team in Middle Tennessee, who advanced to the championship following a 99-90 win over 3-seed Marshall. Old Dominion plays one of the slowest games of any team in the country, and they’ll have to keep the Blue Raiders out of transition if they’re going to win this one.
Prediction: Old Dominion

Big East Championship
#3 Seton Hall vs #1 Villanova
5:30 pm, FOX
Everyone knows that Villanova is one of the best teams in the country this year, but the questions about their postseasons struggles continue, no matter how well they play. Many were looking forward to the rubber match between the Wildcats and Xavier, but Seton Hall decided to spoil that party with a win over the Musketeers in the semis. Villanova swept the season series from the Pirates, but they only defeated them by a point in their last meeting, all the way back on January 20.
Prediction: Villanova

Big 12 Championship
#2 West Virginia vs #1 Kansas
6:oo pm, ESPN
It was a wild finish in Kansas City last night between Oklahoma and West Virginia, with the Mountaineers coming out on top by the skin of their teeth. Their reward? A match-up with the consensus top team in the country, the Kansas Jayhawks, who currently sport a 13-game winning streak. That streak includes a 10-point home victory over West Virginia, which avenged a 74-63 loss in Morgantown earlier in the year. This will probably be a fun, extremely fast-paced conclusion to the trilogy.
Prediction: Kansas

Mountain West Championship
#2 Fresno State vs #1 San Diego State
6:00 pm, CBS
Shocker, Steve Fisher has another good team at SDSU. Fisher is getting up there in age, but he definitely hasn’t lost his feel for the game yet. This year’s Aztec team will lock you down defensively, as they have given up 70 points or more just five times all year (Utah, West Virginia, Long Beach State, Kansas, New Mexico). A team that has given them trouble though is Fresno State. The teams split the season series, with SDSU winning by six in overtime and the Bulldogs winning the rematch by a point. This will be an exciting rubber match.
Prediction: San Diego State

SWAC Championship
#4 Southern vs #3 Jackson State
6:30 pm, ESPNU
A battle-tested Texas Southern team, the SWAC regular season champs, were expected to be here, but Southern was able to knock them off in the semifinals 81-73. The Jaguars are looking to return to the Tournament for the first time since 2013, when they nearly pulled off the impossible as a 16-seed, losing to 1-seed Gonzaga by just six points. Jackson State was the beneficiary of a loss by 2-seed Alcorn State in the quarterfinals, and thus have had a fairly easy road to get to this title game.
Prediction: Southern

MAC Championship
#3 Buffalo vs #1 Akron
7:30 pm, ESPN2
Akron, the regular season champs, barely survived in the quarterfinals against 8-seed Eastern Michigan, and were rewarded with a semifinal against Cinderella hopeful, 12-seed Bowling Green, who they easily dispatched. Buffalo had a tougher opponent in 2-seed Ohio, but defeated them fairly easily, 88-74. Akron is one of the better offensive teams in the country, and they can stroke it from three-point range. They live and die from behind the arc, and they lived in two regular season victories over Buffalo.
Prediction: Akron

Big Sky Championship
#2 Montana vs #1 Weber State
8:45 pm, ESPNU
The top two seeds in this conference will do battle for the title, and both got to this point a little differently. Weber State survived tough tests from 8-seed Portland State and 5-seed North Dakota to get here, while Montana fairly easily breezed past 10-seed Sacramento State and 3-seed Idaho. Weber State took the only regular season meeting between these two teams by six at home, so the Grizzlies will be out for revenge. Weber State is looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, while Montana hasn’t been there since 2013.
Prediction: Montana

ACC Championship
#2 Virginia vs #1 North Carolina
9:00 pm, ESPN
It is refreshing and exciting to see the top two teams in a major conference like the ACC make it to the championship game. These two teams are both contending for a 1-seed in the Big Dance, and an ACC Tournament title would probably go a long way to achieving that goal. North Carolina drubbed Notre Dame in the semis, while Virginia was able to outlast a game Miami team. The Cavaliers and Tar Heels only met once during the regular season, with Virginia getting the 79-74 home victory on February 27. This will be a great rematch.
Prediction: Virginia

Southland Championship
#2 Texas A&M-CC vs #1 Stephen F. Austin
9:30 pm, ESPN2
Stephen F. Austin has had a couple good seasons thanks to the talent and leadership of star guard Thomas Walkup. After a blowout victory in the semifinals over Houston Baptist, the Lumberjacks are now 19-0 in conference play this season. Looking to ruin that perfect mark and represent the Southland in the NCAA’s is Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, who squeaked past Sam Houston State last night in the semis. These teams played twice in the regular season, with Stephen F. Austin obviously winning both, and a third victory seems highly likely.
Prediction: Stephen F. Austin

Pac 12 Championship
#2 Utah vs #1 Oregon
10:00 pm, FOX Sports 1
Neither of these teams got here very easily, but they’re here, and looking for a conference tourney title. Oregon nearly handed their semifinal game to Arizona (literally), but were able to survive in overtime. Meanwhile, Utah’s Lorenzo Bonam had to go coast-to-coast for a layup with 4.3 seconds left just to force overtime against California. The Utes would go on to outlast the Bears in the overtime period and advance. These are the two best teams the Pac 12 has to offer. Oregon swept the season series in rather impressive fashion, so you know the Utes will be out for blood.
Prediction: Utah

WAC Championship
#2 Cal State Bakersfield vs #1 New Mexico State
11:00 pm, ESPNU
For all of the “madness” that we saw during the first portion of Championship Week, many of the conference tourneys here near the end of Championship Week have been mostly void of the “madness.” This is one example, as we see 1-seed NMSU take on 2-seed CSU Bakersfield. According to KenPom, these are two of the most efficient defensive teams in the nation, so this could be a low scoring affair. The Aggies took both regular season meetings, and are led by star guard Pascal Siakam. Know that name, he could bust your bracket next week.
Prediction: New Mexico State

Big West Championship
#3 Long Beach State vs #1 Hawaii
11:30 pm, ESPN2
The last team that Hawaii wanted to see here was Long Beach State, but here we are. The 49ers took both regular season match-ups between these two teams, bothering the Rainbow Warriors with their speed. The other thing with Long Beach State is that they are not afraid of anybody. They traditionally play a brutal out of conference schedule, and this year was no different, as they faced off with the likes of BYU, Seton Hall, Virginia, Oklahoma State (twice), San Diego State, New Mexico State, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona and Duke. This team is ready for the NCAA Tournament, if they can get past Hawaii.
Prediction: Long Beach State

There is plenty of semifinal action tomorrow as well, with these conferences holding their championship games on Selection Sunday.

American Semifinals
#5 UConn vs #1 Temple, 3:00 pm ESPN2
#10 Tulane vs #6 Memphis, 5:00 pm ESPN2

Big Ten Semifinals
#8 Michigan vs #4 Purdue, 1:0o pm CBS
#3 Maryland vs #2 Michigan State, 3:30 pm CBS

SEC Semifinals
#4 LSU vs #1 Texas A&M, 1:oo pm ESPN
#6 Georgia vs #2 Kentucky, 3:00 pm ESPN

Atlantic 10 Semifinals
#4 St. Joseph’s vs #1 Dayton, 1:30 pm CBS Sports Network
#6 Davidson vs #2 VCU, 4:00 pm CBS Sports Network

Sun Belt Semifinals
#4 UL Lafayette vs #1 Arkansas-Little Rock, 2:00 pm
#3 UT Arlington vs #2 UL Monroe, 4:30 pm

Have a great day watching a lot of fantastic action! It’s March, does it get any better than this? I say it does not!

 

 

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