We are on the home stretch of the college basketball season, with most major conferences holding their conference tournaments this week, leading up to Selection Sunday, this coming Sunday, March 11 (The Big Ten is the one outlier, with Michigan winning their conference title last week).
Two more teams punched their tickets to the Big Dance last night, with Iona (MAAC) and UNC Greensboro (SoCon) winning their conference title games over Fairfield and East Tennessee State respectively. Seven total teams have now clinched their spot in the NCAA Tournament:
Murray State Racers (OVC)
Radford Highlanders (Big South)
Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (MVC)
Lipscomb Bison (A-Sun)
Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Iona Gaels (MAAC)
UNC Greensboro Spartans (SoCon)
Five more teams will add their names to that list tonight, with a sixth title game taking place Wednesday night. Here’s a quick look at those six conference championships.
Horizon League Championship
#8 Cleveland State vs #2 Wright State
Tuesday 3/6, 7:00 pm ESPN
Wright State jockeyed with Northern Kentucky atop the Horizon standings all season, with the Raiders missing out on the regular season crown by one game. But they have defeated Green Bay and Milwaukee to reach the title game, where they will meet a true Cinderella in the 12-22 Cleveland State Vikings. They have made it here by playing three vastly different games. They defeated Youngstown State by a point in the opening round, then outscored #1 Northern Kentucky 89-80, and followed that up by outlasting #4 Oakland in a defensive struggle, 44-43. The Vikings would be without question one of the worst teams (record wise) to reach the NCAA Tournament, but I think Wright State is too talented, and should get the job done. One thing that should give Cleveland State hope though is a 77-74 victory over the Raiders back on February 1st.
#2 Northeastern vs #1 Charleston
Tuesday 3/6, 7:00 pm CBS Sports Network
The Huskies and the Cougars finished in a tie for the Colonial’s regular season crown, and I think it’s fitting that they will be able to decide which team is the true champion here tonight. Charleston was the 1-seed in the tournament by way of tiebreakers, and they defeated Drexel and William & Mary to reach this game. Northeastern has had an easy path, dismantling both Delaware and UNC Wilmington. Charleston swept the season series between these teams, and they say that it is extremely difficult to beat a team three times in one season. The Huskies played them close in the last meeting, so I don’t think it’s a case of the Cougars having their number. For that reason, I believe Northeastern will pull off the upset (they are 2.5 point underdogs) and move on to the NCAA Tournament.
#4 LIU Brooklyn vs #1 Wagner
Tuesday 3/6, 7:00 pm ESPN2
In what is most likely a battle for a 15 or 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Wagner Seahawks will host the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds. Brooklyn was 10-8 in NEC play this season, and they defeated St. Francis NY and Fairleigh Dickinson to reach the title game. Wagner has been the favorite to represent the NEC in the NCAA’s all season, and they have shown why in this tournament, easily dispatching Central Connecticut State and Robert Morris. The Blackbirds did score a win over Wagner in the regular season, but that was at home. The Seahawks get to host this game, and I think that makes the difference.
West Coast Championship
#3 BYU vs #1 Gonzaga
Tuesday 3/6, 9:00 pm ESPN
I was anticipating a third matchup between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in this WCC title game, but BYU had different ideas. The Cougars were quite simply the hungrier team last night, upsetting the Gaels 85-72 to earn a third crack at the Zags. Gonzaga has proved once again this season that they are a force to be reckoned with, and they are definitely a threat to reach the Final Four for a second consecutive season. The Zags dominated San Francisco last night 88-60 to get here. The Cougars have played Gonzaga tough in the past, but have not fared very well against them this season. The Zags are just too good, and they will win this game.
Summit League Championship
#2 South Dakota vs #1 South Dakota State
Tuesday 3/6, 9:00 pm ESPN2
As much as I love rooting for underdogs and seeing some crazy upsets, it’s always nice when we get to see the clear two best teams in a conference square off in the title game. That’s the case here in the Summit as it will be the battle for the Mount Rushmore State! The South Dakota Coyotes easily handled Omaha and Denver to get here, while the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State defeated Western Illinois and upended North Dakota State to reach another Summit title game, their fourth straight. SDSU’s Mike Daum is one of the best players that you don’t know anything about, and I think he could be the difference in this game. I’ll take the Jackrabbits to head to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.
Patriot League Championship
#2 Colgate vs #1 Bucknell
Wednesday 3/7, 7:30 pm CBS Sports Network
I have heard a few experts discussing Bucknell as a team with the potential to be this season’s Cinderella team in the NCAA Tournament, so this is surely a game that you’ll want to check out. The Bison struggled a little against Loyola MD in the quarterfinals, but responded with a 90-59 drubbing of Boston University in the semis. They’ll take on the Colgate Raiders here in the title game, a team that came within one point of beating them in Lewisburg back on February 12th. This game will take place on the same floor as that one. Colgate defeated Lafayette and Holy Cross to get here. I think Colgate could shock the system and pull off the upset here, but on their home floor, Bucknell is too good and should be able to score the Patriot title game victory.
Following the Patriot League title game Wednesday, we won’t see another ticket punched until Saturday, when a large number of conferences hold their championship games. A few will be contested Sunday as well in advance of the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, which will take place Sunday night at 6:00 pm on TBS.
Now, let’s take a look at the major conference tournaments kicking off over the next three days!
Rhode Island is the 1-seed here despite faltering down the stretch, losing their last two games of the season, including a 30-point home loss to 4-seed Saint Joseph’s. A potential Davidson-St. Bonaventure semifinal could be the game of this tournament, with those two teams just playing on February 27th, a 117-113 triple-overtime thriller that went to the Bonnies. Mark Schmidt’s team has won 12 games in a row to end the regular season, and they’ll look to cap it off with a conference title.
My A-10 Prediction:
- Early Rounds – Upsets could be aplenty in the A-10 Tournament, as the teams in the bottom half of the league are all very close in talent. I like UMass and Fordham to pull off First Round wins, and I like Duquesne to upset Richmond and move on to the Quarters.
- Quarterfinals – Give me chalk here. I think St. Joe’s-George Mason could go either way (GM won both meetings this year by a combined five points), but the Hawks have been playing really good basketball down the stretch.
- Semifinals – Chalk again. Following the 30-point loss on their own home floor to the Hawks last week, Rhode Island will be out for revenge, and I think they beat St. Joe’s easy. Davidson-St. Bonaventure will be a much closer game, and could come down to who has the ball last.
- Finals – I believe St. Bonaventure will finish the season with 15 consecutive wins and a victory over Rhode Island in the title game, the Bonnies not leaving it up to the Selection Committee, instead securing the Atlantic-10’s automatic bid.
The addition of Wichita State to the American this year was a great move, and I think it benefited both the team and the conference. The Shockers finished 2nd in the standings, behind only a really good Cincinnati team. The Bearcats are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and they got a favorable draw here. Houston, along with Wichita and Cincy, are the only likely Tournament teams from the American, but there are a few teams that are capable of making a run and stealing a bid.
My AAC Prediction:
- First Round – Higher seeds should all win. UConn-SMU is a toss-up, but I like the Huskies. South Florida and ECU just aren’t good enough, and while Tulane has a win over Temple this season, the Owls are a different team now than they were in that game.
- Quarterfinals – Temple should not beat Wichita State, but the Owls beat the Shockers in OT at home this year, and led them big in Wichita at halftime before a furious comeback from Gregg Marshall’s team. Temple has played their way out of Tournament contention, so it would be a very Temple thing for them to upset the Shockers here.
- Semifinals – The run ends here for Temple, as they run into a Houston team that has been surging in the second half of the season, and are on their way to at least a 6 or 7-seed in the NCAA’s. Meanwhile, I think Cincy has too much defensively for Memphis to handle.
- Finals – The Cougars and the Bearcats split the season series, so the rubber match would be a very exciting way to end Championship Week (schedule lines up for the American to be the last conference to crown their champion). I really like the way Houston is playing right now, and they’ve put up points on Cincinnati this year. I think they outscore the Bearcats and take the crown.
The seeding in the ACC ended up strange. Virginia and Duke being 1 and 2 is no surprise, but you’d expect North Carolina to follow them. Instead, the Tar Heels are the 6-seed. Miami picked up wins over UNC and Virginia Tech to end the regular season, propelling them to the 3-seed. And then there’s Notre Dame, who just got Bonzie Colson back, and when totally healthy, is easily one of the top four teams in this conference. Yet, they are the 10-seed, and have to play in the First Round (they lead Pittsburgh in the 1st Half as I type this).
My ACC Prediction:
- Early Rounds – Boston College already defeated Georgia Tech, and I don’t think there’s any way ND and Syracuse don’t advance today as well. Louisville is fighting for their Tournament hopes, and I think that lifts them past FSU. Syracuse and Notre Dame could really use wins in the Second Round, but I think only the Fighting Irish get it done.
- Quarterfinals – Louisville would love to get another crack at Virginia after the way they blew the game against them last week, but I think Virginia plays better this time and gets the job done. Clemson is not the same team without Donte Grantham, and NC State is good enough to knock them off. Miami just beat UNC last week, but I like the Tar Heels to get some revenge. A Duke-Notre Dame quarterfinal is something college basketball fans should pray for. The Irish will fight, and they will be in this game at the end, but ultimately, I think Duke has too much firepower and moves on.
- Semifinals – I’m not sure what it is, but I like NC State and I think they have what it takes to knock off a Virginia team that has not played its best basketball down the stretch. The Wolfpack’s pressure will give UVA fits. Another fun game would be a rubber match between Duke and UNC. This would be a toss-up for sure, but the Blue Devils are playing some of their best basketball right now, and that gets them to the title game.
- Finals – Duke-NC State probably isn’t the ACC final most people are expecting, but I think it would be an exciting game. The Wolfpack beat Duke 96-85 at home in the teams’ only meeting this season, but that was a long time ago. Duke is a better team now, and I like them to win the ACC and take a ton of momentum into the Big Dance.
Top to bottom, the Big 12 is without a doubt the strongest conference in the nation this season. I think an argument can be made that nine of the ten teams should reach the NCAA Tournament. I don’t think that will happen, but just look at Oklahoma. A Top-10 team in the country at one point this season, they finished 9th out of 10 teams in the standings. That is crazy. This conference tournament could be a lot of fun.
My Big 12 Prediction:
- First Round – The downfall of Trae Young and the Sooners continues, as they will lose to Oklahoma State in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. This will leave Oklahoma seriously wondering if they are going to be one of the 36 at-large teams to make the Tournament. I think ultimately they do thanks to some great early season victories, but I would not be surprised to see them on the outside looking in.
- Quarterfinals – OK State was the first team to sweep a season series from Kansas during Bill Self’s tenure. There’s no way they beat them a third time, right? Right. Kansas moves on. Texas Tech has not been the same team with Keenan Evans not at 100%, losing four of their last five games. This result hinges on the health of Texas’s Mo Bamba. If Bamba plays, I think Texas scores the upset and secures their spot in the Big Dance.
- Semifinals – TCU was really close to beating Kansas this season, but fell just short on both occasions. Without Jaylen Fisher, I don’t think they can get it done the third time either. On the other side, West Virginia just lost to Texas to close out the regular season, but the Mountaineers are the better team, and they’ll exact some revenge on the Longhorns.
- Finals – Kansas defeated West Virginia twice this season, coming from behind late in both games. West Virginia will not melt down this time. They finally put a full 40 minutes together against the Jayhawks and after losing two straight Big 12 title games, they get their first Big 12 Tournament Championship.
If the Big 12 is the best conference top to bottom, then the Big East is second on that list. That’s the reputation you get when your 9-seed is able to boast back-to-back wins over Duke and Villanova this year. Xavier and the aforementioned Wildcats are both very likely to earn 1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and with at least four other teams likely to reach the Big Dance, this tournament could act as a gauntlet of sorts. It will be interesting to see who survives and earns a conference title.
My Big East Prediction:
- First Round – St. John’s has been such a strange team this season, losing their first 11 conference games before those wins over Duke and Villanova. They also defeated Marquette and Butler down the stretch. If star Shamorie Ponds plays on Wednesday, they beat Georgetown. If not, they lose. I think he plays and they defeat the Hoyas.
- Quarterfinals – The Johnnies will not defeat Xavier though. Chris Mack probably has the best team he’s had at Xavier, and they are looking to make some major postseason noise. Providence is squarely on the Bubble, and I think they’ll play like they need some wins to secure their berth in the Tourney. That’s enough to get them past Creighton. Villanova always plays well in the Big East Tournament, so they’ll be too much for Marquette. Seton Hall-Butler is probably a toss-up, but the Pirates are close to home and they usually play well in this tournament. That will be enough for them to outscore the Bulldogs.
- Semifinals – Xavier lost three Big East games this season: Villanova twice… and Providence. I don’t think the Musketeers would want to see a desperate Providence team. Give me the Friars to pull the upset and move on to the title game. Seton Hall took Nova to overtime just a week ago, but Big East Tournament Villanova is a different animal. Cats advance.
- Finals – Providence reaching the finals would be a nice story, but they do not have enough to take the championship from the Wildcats. They beat Nova back on Valentine’s Day, but that was in the friendly confines of the Dunkin Donuts Center. In MSG, on the big stage, Villanova steps up and wins another Big East Championship.
It’s been a down year for the Mountain West. Nevada is one of the 20 best teams in the nation, and they have the talent to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA’s, if not further, but it’s a big drop off after the Wolfpack. Boise State is a Bubble team with an outside chance at earning an at-large bid. Everybody else needs to win this tournament to make their way to the Big Dance.
My Mountain West Prediction:
- Quarterfinals – I’m expecting chalk in the First Round, so we’ll zip past that. UNLV does have a win over Nevada this year, but they played last week and the Wolfpack won 101-75. They’ll advance. San Diego State-Fresno State is a very even matchup, but the Bulldogs swept the season series. Remember how I mentioned earlier that it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season? That applies here. Aztecs move on.
- Semifinals – With a win in the quarters, SDSU would have now won seven games in a row, including a win on Saturday over Nevada. They are peaking at the right time, and I think they knock off Nevada for the second time this year and move on to the title game. Meanwhile, Boise State knows their best chance at a berth in the NCAA Tournament is to secure the Mountain West’s auto-bid. They easily dispatch of New Mexico in search of that.
- Finals – I think Boise State would be thrilled to see Nevada knocked off prior to the title game. The Broncos did just lose to San Diego State last week, but they split the season series, and Boise State will be extremely motivated to win this game. They refuse to leave their fate in the hands of the Selection Committee, end the Aztecs’ eight game winning streak and win the Mountain West title.
It’s also been a down year for the Pac 12. I guess outside of Gonzaga, it’s been rough for the entire West Coast. Arizona is a great team, but they have fallen well short of expectations. Outside of the Wildcats, there isn’t a single team who is a lock to reach the Tournament. Arizona State was a Top-10 team at one point, but they really struggled in conference play. Washington, USC, UCLA and Utah are all Bubble teams, and need wins in Las Vegas to improve their chances.
My Pac 12 Prediction:
- First Round – I really wanted to take Colorado over Arizona State, but despite the Sun Devils’ struggles, I think they’re good enough to get the job done. Don’t be surprised if the Buffaloes move on though. They do have a victory over ASU this season. It should be chalk for the rest of the matchups.
- Quarterfinals – The Sun Devils came up just short in both regular season meetings with Arizona, but I think that’s mostly because they are simply outmatched. Arizona makes it three victories over their in-state rivals. I do like one upset in this round, and it’s Oregon over Utah. The Ducks knew this year was going to be different than the last few, but I think they still expected to be better. They do have some potential, and could realize some of it in a victory over Utah, ending the Utes’ Tournament hopes.
- Semifinals – Arizona has really rallied behind disgruntled coach Sean Miller, and they are playing some of their best basketball of the season right now, especially superstar freshman DeAndre Ayton. He dominates in a victory over UCLA, sending the Wildcats to the title game. USC is on the Bubble, but they could really use a trip to the Pac 12 Championship Game if they want to feel good about their Tourney hopes. The Trojans beat Oregon twice this season, but they were both close. I think the Ducks finally figure out USC and earn an unlikely trip to the title game.
- Finals – This is where the adventure ends for the Ducks, as Arizona is just too good for them right now. Oregon needed overtime to defeat Arizona 98-93 on February 24th, but Sean Miller did not coach that game due to the FBI probe that he is involved in. With Miller on the sidelines, the Cats defeat Oregon and win the Pac 12 title.
It’s been a fantastic year for SEC basketball, and it came from out of nowhere. Auburn was not expected to do anything of note this season, but Bruce Pearl has done a fantastic job, leading the Tigers to a regular season championship. They’ve struggled a little bit as of late, but they could do some damage in the postseason. Beyond them, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri and Texas A&M all look to be safely into the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi State and Alabama could very well join them when all is said and done.
My SEC Prediction:
- Early Rounds – Alabama desperately needs a few wins if they want to feel safe about their Tournament chances. Unfortunately, they draw Texas A&M. The Aggies entered the season with lofty expectations and fell way short of those. They are very talented though, and if they figure it out, they can do great things. That begins with a win over Alabama. LSU is another team that did not reach expectations, but I like them to upset Mississippi State and end the Bulldogs’ dreams of reaching the Big Dance.
- Quarterfinals – Texas A&M was the only team to beat Auburn in their house this season, and I think they can double-down and knock a reeling Tiger team out of the SEC Tournament. I think LSU can continue as well if they get past Mississippi State. Tennessee has struggled down the stretch, and I could easily see them failing to win a game in this tournament.
- Semifinals – I guess I just have a good feeling about Texas A&M. I watched them open the season with an absolute drubbing of West Virginia in Germany, and thought they should have been so much better than they are. I’m thinking they solve their issues in the postseason, beating Kentucky and advancing to the title game. On the other hand, LSU’s run will end in the semis, falling to a much more talented Florida team.
- Finals – Could Texas A&M actually win this thing as the 8-seed? I say yeah, why the heck not? The SEC has been a mixed bag this year, so a little March Madness makes a lot of sense to me. The Aggies win a seesaw battle with the Gators, entering the NCAA Tournament with a ton of momentum.
That’ll do it for my Conference Championship preview, I hope you all enjoyed! And I hope you enjoy watching all of the Championship Week action even more!