The picture of what exactly America is has never been murkier. The conversations necessary to clear that picture up have never been more difficult to facilitate. Maybe this is why I find myself now, perhaps more than ever before, despite everything, so drawn to college basketball’s postseason.
March Madness is America. Or at least America through my eyes.
It is deeply flawed.
There are inherent disadvantages that a majority of the participants will need a significant dose of both skill and luck to overcome if they want to become nationally known and respected. For some, one night of bad luck will completely undo four months’ worth of hard work and overwhelming success. For these programs, the fact one failure led to their demise while others were allowed to fail four times as often and still achieve their ultimate goals will be an impossible pill to swallow. It’s not fair, and it’s never going to be fair.
It is also more conducive to magic and excitement than anything in its realm.
Obtaining college basketball’s top prize is extremely unlikely for the vast majority of the 357 teams competing in Division I. At least it’s not impossible. At least the bottom-tier NET school that won its conference tournament gets the chance to prove itself on the sport’s biggest stage, and not inside a quarter-full stadium against a team that doesn’t really want to be there, in a game that, for all intents and purposes, has zero significance. At least when Loyola-Chicago upset Miami at the buzzer in the first round of the tournament in 2018, that wasn’t where the story ended.
This is the way it should be. Sure, some teams benefit from a head start, and others are dealing with unfair advantages they may not have earned, but at least nobody is disqualified before the race even gets started. Everyone has a shot at making a March memory.
I have an aunt who is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and as diehard a member of Big Blue Nation as you’re ever going to find. With the Wildcats relegated to the NIT in 2013, she began reading up on a team from her home city of Fort Myers that had begun to stir up some buzz. In the succeeding weeks, as Florida Gulf Coast won the Atlantic Sun tournament and then became the first 15-seed to ever advance out of the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend, “Dunk City” was all my aunt wanted to talk about.
Therein lies the other thing March Madness has that no other major American sport can claim. Whether it’s the school you graduated from, the school you grew up rooting for, or just the school that’s nearby, everyone has a team.
Every state in this country besides Alaska is home to at least one Division-I basketball program. That means just about every American has a team in their general area they can support or claim as their own during March Madness. We are a species that is wired to connect, and maybe as a direct result, there’s something comforting about the feeling that we’re all in this together. On different teams, sure, but all a part of the same grander experience.
Turn on your television (or internet stream) at virtually any hour over the course of the next couple of weeks, and you’ll be privy to sports theater at its very best. Sure, all these teams have an ultimate goal of winning their respective conference championships and advancing to the NCAA tournament, but there’s something even larger at stake.
In each of these games, at least some of the players on the court are playing to keep their athletic careers alive. It’s survive and advance on multiple levels, and when the buzzer sounds, you can see the joy and the relief on the faces of kids who know they get to wake up the next morning and still be able to call themselves college basketball players.
For the next 12 days we will be consistently bombarded by dream-fulfilling, career-ending, win-or-turn-in-your-jersey conference tournament action. All the elements that draw casual fans so completely into the first weekend of the NCAA tournament are inherent in each and every one of the 31 conference tournaments that will (knock on wood) take place over the course of the next two weeks. Quite simply, it’s high drama you can’t find anywhere else.
It is exhilarating, it is cruel, it is rewarding, and it is unrivaled. Let the madness wash over you.
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 blue-bloods and the power conferences, 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 excludes the nine “major” (the “Power 5” leagues plus the Big East, AAC, Atlantic 10, and Mountain West) conferences.
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.
As you might expect, there are a handful of format, location and scheduling changes this season. There may also be some changes to come! For instance, the Southland announced just Monday morning that its tournament would include 10 teams instead of the previously scheduled eight. As has been the case with pretty much everything for the best 12 months, nothing is really set in stone.
That said, here’s the current full schedule for Championship Week(s) 2021:
Here’s a nice way to keep track of all the madness via Heat Check CBB:
After a record low number of teams in this section a year ago, we’re back with (understandably) a record high in 2021. Included in this list are ell eight members of the Ivy League, the only Division-I conference to not hold a season in 2020-21. It also includes Bellarmine and North Alabama of the Atlantic Sun, who are ineligible for the NCAA tournament while they transition to D-I (an absurd rule in every year, but especially in 2021), but will still be participating in the A-Sun tournament.
Here’s the full list of teams that were excluded from the madness before it even got started:
Maine, America East (opted out)
Bellarmine, Atlantic Sun (transitioning to D-I)
North Alabama, Atlantic Sun (transitioning to D-I)
Jacksonville, Atlantic Sun (opted out)
Charleston Southern, Big South (Covid pause)
UC San Diego (Big West, transitioning to D-I)
Harvard, Ivy League (no season)
Yale, Ivy League (no season)
Princeton, Ivy League (no season)
Columbia, Ivy League (no season)
Dartmouth, Ivy League (no season)
Cornell, Ivy League (no season)
Brown, Ivy League (no season)
Pennsylvania, Ivy League (no season)
Howard, MEAC (opted out)
Bethune-Cookman, MEAC (opted out)
Maryland Eastern Shore, MEAC (opted out)
Merrimack, Northeast (transitioning to D-I)
Arizona, Pac-12 (self-imposed postseason ban)
Auburn, SEC (self-imposed postseason ban)
Cal Baptist, WAC (transitioning to D-I)
Tarleton State, WAC (transitioning to D-I)
Dixie State, WAC (transitioning to D-I)
Chicago State, WAC (opted out)
5 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 (a much smaller number than usual this year), the beaten 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.
So if you’re a fan of Indiana, Stanford, Duke 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. BYU (West Coast)
The Cougars are also solidly in the field of 68 at the moment, and a loss this week in Las Vegas isn’t going to change that. The good news for the bubble boys is that the WCC gives its top two seeds a triple bye, meaning both Gonzaga and BYU will start their postseasons in the tournament semifinals. As long as one of them wins two games, no bid will be stolen here.
3. Loyola-Chicago (Missouri Valley)
The only other stone cold lock on this list is Loyola-Chicago, which enters the postseason with a 21-4 record and a NET ranking of 16.
4. Drake (Missouri Valley)
The Bulldogs’ at-large resume took a big hit with Saturday’s loss at Bradley. Still, Drake is squarely on the bubble, and if they fell in the championship game at Arch Madness, there’s still a very real possibility that they could hear their name called on Selection Sunday. If Loyola doesn’t prevail in St. Louis, this is the squad bubble teams have to hope is cutting down the nets.
5. Western Kentucky (Conference USA)
Any shot of the Hilltoppers making the NCAA tournament as an at-large likely disappeared when they took an 81-57 drubbing at Houston last week. Just to be safe, though, bubble teams should still hope WKU claims the C-USA auto-bid.
8 Other Solid Favorites
These teams aren’t going anywhere but the NIT (maybe) if they get upset over the next 12 days. Still, they’ve established themselves as the top dog in their respective leagues and are on track to scare the hell out of a single-digit seed on the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend.
1. Belmont (Ohio Valley)
The Bruins are once again the class of the OVC, but losses to Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State in the final week of the regular season ended their record 30-game conference win streak and also torpedoed their at-large resume in the process. Belmont is still undeniably the favorite to win their second straight OVC tournament title, but the status of injured leading scorer Nick Muszynski, who did not play in either loss last week, is a big, big deal.
2. Toledo (Mid-American)
The Rockets were an at-large threat for much of the season, but a trio of MAC losses ended that discussion. Toledo is one of the most electric offensive teams in the country, and their current Ken Pom ranking of 53 has them ahead of multiple power conference teams that are on the NCAA tournament bubble. This is a team fully capable of not just winning one game in the big dance, but advancing to the second weekend. They just have to get into the field first.
3. Winthrop (Big South)
Could a two-loss team with at least 20 wins really be left out of the NCAA tournament field in a year like this? It appears so. Winthrop heads into the postseason with a sparkling 20-1 record, but they haven’t played a single Quadrant 1 game and just a pair of Quadrant 2 contests. Further complicating the issue is that their lone loss of the year — at home to UNC Asheville — was a Quadrant 4 L. Despite their dominance through the season’s first three months (they won the Big South regular season title by a full five games), Winthrop needs to win the Big South tournament to go dancing.
4. UC Santa Barbara (Big West)
The Big West has been ravaged by pauses and cancelations this season, but it’s still very clear that the Gauchos are the class of the conference and a realistic threat to pull a first round upset in the NCAA tournament. Unless they take a stunning loss to Cal Poly this week, they’ll be the top seed for the Big West tourney.
5. North Carolina A&T (MEAC)
First-year head coach Willie Jones has the Aggies at 7-1 in league play and in solid shape to crash the Big Dance for the first time since 2013.
6. Prairie View A&M (SWAC)
Fun fact: The SWAC has not had a shared regular season title since all the way back in 1996. That streak’s status could face an interesting question, as with three conference games to go for both teams, Prairie View sits at 10-0 while Jackson State is an unequally perfect 8-0. The only scheduled meeting between the two teams was postponed and will not be made up. Even if there’s a bizarro sharing of the regular season title, every metric would indicate that the Panthers will be the team to beat in the postseason.
7. Grand Canyon (WAC)
The WAC is another conference plagued by an uneven number of total games played throughout its conference standings. Some teams have played as many as 12 conference games, others as few as four. Despite all the confusion, the 8-2 ‘Lopes appear to be the clear team to beat.
8. Liberty (Atlantic Sun)
The Flames didn’t lock up the A-Sun title until their last game, but they did so in style, blasting D-I newcomer Bellarmine (94-78) in a de facto conference championship game. Their focus now shifts to trying to win the league tournament for a third straight year.
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 357 teams that are current members of Division-I, 42 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 were three days away from playing Vermont for the America East championship last year when the world stopped. While John Gallagher’s 2020-21 squad might not be quite as stellar as his 2019-20 group, fourth-seeded Hartford has already reeled off a pair of conference tournament wins over Binghamton and Albany to roll their way into the semis. They get top-seeded UMBC on Saturday to try and earn a second straight trip to a title game that will (fingers crossed) actually wind up being played this year.
2. UMass Lowell (America East)
Only three conference tournaments have played their first game, but Championship Week already has its first Cinderella in the form of UMass Lowell. Despite owning a losing overall record (10-11), the sixth-seeded River Hawks are into the America East semifinals for the first time in program history after a two-point win over Stony Brook in the first round and a 72-64 upset of third-seeded New Hampshire (another program that has never danced) in the quarterfinals. UMass Lowell faces perennial league powerhouse Vermont in the semifinals on Saturday.
3. UC Riverside (Big West)
Outside of UC Santa Barbara appearing to be the clear class of the conference, the Big West is pretty much impossible to figure out. Heading into the final week of the regular season, some teams have played eight league games, others have played 16. Riverside is in the middle of those two extremes, currently owning a 6-4 mark. Are they a live shot in the league tourney? Maybe. Who knows!?
4. Longwood (Big South)
The Lancers won five of their final six games of the regular season to even up their league record at 10-10 and earn the No. 5 seed for the Big South tournament. In Monday’s quarterfinals, they’ll take on a UNC Asheville team that they split their two regular season meetings with.
5. Bryant (Northeast)
The Bulldogs currently sit alone atop the NEC standings with a 10-4 mark. The NEC is only allowing four teams into its conference tournament this year, and all three games will be played at the home arena of the highest seed. Bryant, which transitioned to Division-I in 2008-09, has never played in an NEC title game and has only appeared in the semifinals once. The biggest issue for the Bulldogs right now is that they’re dealing with a positive Covid test within the program. They’ll need to get the all clear from the NEC before beginning postseason play on Saturday.
6. South Dakota (Summit League)
The Coyotes have fielded some strong teams since making the jump to Division-I in 2008, but have never been able to get over the hump in the Summit League tournament. They’re the No. 2 seed (despite winning more games than any team in the conference) for this year’s iteration, which gets underway on Saturday.
7. Grand Canyon (WAC)
It’s a bit wild that the first season where Grand Canyon hasn’t been able to utilize its biggest asset (its unbelievable home environment) could wind up being the first year where they make the NCAA tournament.
Follow-up note: Pretty much every team in the WAC outside of New Mexico State has never played in the Big Dance. With the Aggies really struggling this season, there is no conference more likely to send a first-timer in 2021 than the WAC.
8. Sacred Heart (Northeast)
As previously mentioned, the NEC tournament is just four teams deep this season, and 9-7 Sacred Heart has qualified for one of those four spots. Assuming Bryant’s Covid issue is cleared in time to participate, half of the NEC tournament field will be made up of teams looking to earn an NCAA tournament bid for the first time.
9. Kansas City (Summit League)
The Roos are the No. 6 seed in the Summit League tournament, but split a pair of regular season meetings with their quarterfinal opponent, North Dakota State.
10. Army (Patriot League)
Out of the four original D-I teams that have never danced, only Army seems to have a realistic shot at making some noise in the postseason. The Black Knights are the only team in the Patriot League to beat Colgate, and will be the No. 4 seed for the conference tournament.
20 Players Who Will Be Heard From
1. Cameron Krutwig, Loyola-Chicago (Missouri Valley)
The Midwest’s favorite big boy is ready for one final (probably) March run with the Ramblers. He heads to Arch Madness averaging 15.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.
2. Antoine Davis, Detroit-Mercy (Horizon League)
The nation’s second-leading scorer (24.3 ppg) is back in the postseason after Detroit was forced to sit out last season’s Horizon League tournament because of subpar APR scores. He certainly made the most the opportunity, hitting 10 threes and scoring a Horizon League tournament record 46 points in the Titans’ first round win over Robert Morris.
The fifth-seeded Titans face No. 4 seed Northern Kentucky in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
3. Chandler Vaudrin, Winthrop (Big South)
It’s rare to see a 6’7 point guard outside of the power conferences, but Vaudrin is the exception. The lefty averages 12.3 points per game while also ranking seventh nationally in assists (6.7 apg) and third in the Big South in rebounds per game (6.8 rpg). Earlier this year, he became just the second player in Big South history to record two triple-doubles in the same season.
4. Tanner Groves, Eastern Washington (Big Sky)
Groves is the leader in scoring (16.7 ppg), rebounding (8.2 rpg) and blocked shots (1.1 bpg) for the Eagles, who currently sit atop the Big Sky standings with an 11-2 record.
5. Ryan Davis, Vermont (America East)
Just a year after being named the America East’s 6th Man of the Year, Davis was honored as the conference’s top overall player, making him the fifth straight Catamount to win the award. He heads into the postseason averaging 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 57.8 percent from the floor.
6. Terry Taylor, Austin Peay (Ohio Valley)
Austin Peay’s all-time leading scorer has once again put up absurd numbers (21.7 ppg/11.0 rpg) in what will be his final collegiate season, unless he uses the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA. His Governor’s are the No. 6 seed in this week’s OVC tournament.
7. Max Abmas, Oral Roberts (Summit League)
The nation’s scoring champ (24.7 ppg) will lead the fourth-seeded Golden Eagles into the Summit league tournament this week. Abmas has scored at least 30 points in four of his last five games, and has breached the 40-point mark twice over that span.
8. Colbey Ross (Pepperdine, West Coast)
At least a quarter of this section could be just Gonzaga players, so why not go somewhere else for those who are excited to tune in to the WCC tournament? Ross is one of the best pure scorers in America and also averages a cool 7.5 assists per game. His third-seeded Waves will begin postseason Saturday night in the WCC quarterfinals.
9. Davion Warren, Hampton (Big South)
The 6’6 senior has scored 20 or more points in 17 of Hampton’s 23 games this season. He’s the primary reason why the 7th-seeded Pirates have an opportunity to bring some madness to the Big South’s postseason.
10. JaQuori McLaughlin, UC Santa Barbara (Big West)
UCSB just wrapped up a program record 13-game winning streak, and McLaughlin was the biggest reason why. The senior guard is averaging 16.0 points and 5.4 assists per game for the first place Gauchos, who have the potential to be a very trendy (and wise) first round upset pick.
11. Jordan Burns, Colgate (Patriot League)
Burns flirted with an early exit to the NBA last spring before ultimately choosing to return to Colgate for his senior season. That decision has him averaging career-bests in points (17.1 ppg), assists (5.6 apg) and rebounds (4.5 rpg) for a Raiders team that has tasted defeat just once so far this season.
12. Gavin Kensmil, Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
The senior forward has been the best player on an SFA squad that is once again battling for the Southland championship. He’s averaging 15.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game heading into the final week of the regular season.
13. Charles Bassey, Western Kentucky (Conference USA)
The projected first round draft pick is having easily the best season of his college career, averaging 17.6 points, 11.6 rebound and 3.1 blocks per game. He’s the only player in the country this season to have three games of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.
14. Tyson Walker, Northeastern (Colonial)
The diminutive (6’0, 162-pounds) Walker is one of the most dynamic scorers in the country, and is playing his best basketball at the perfect time. He’s averaging 18.5 ppg for the season, but 26.5 ppg over Northeastern’s last four contests. Included in that run is a 27-point performance against North Carolina where he drilled 4-of-7 shots from beyond the arc.
15. KC Ndefo, Saint Peter’s (MAAC)
The nation’s leader in blocked shots (3.8 bpg) also averages a solid 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He has scored 20 or more points in three of the Peacocks’ last five games.
16. Loudon Love, Wright State (Horizon League)
Love became just the sixth player to earn multiple Horizon League Player of the Year awards when he was given the honor for the second straight year on Feb. 23. The 6’8 senior averaged 16.7 points and 10.3 rebounds for a Wright State team that shared the Horizon League regular season title with Cleveland State and is the No. 2 seed in the league tournament.
17. Loren Cristian Jackson, Akron (Mid-American)
Toledo may have the MAC’s most talented team, but it’s Arkon that has the MAC’s most talented player. The 5’8, 150-pound senior had an opportunity to be a graduate transfer at a more prominent program this season, but chose to stick it out for one last run with the Zips. He’s averaging career-highs in scoring (21.4 ppg), assists (6.4 apg) and rebounds (3.0 rpg).
18. MJ Randolph, Florida A&M (MEAC)
The Rattlers’ senior star figures to be the most talented player in a MEAC tournament that will feature just seven teams this year.
19. Isaiah Miller, UNC-Greensboro (Southern)
The SoCon’s most electrifying player is averaging a career-high 18.9 ppg while remaining one of the most fearsome on-ball defenders in the entire country. He helped the Spartans to the NCAA tournament as a freshman in 2018, and now he’ll be trying to lead them back there as a senior. UNCG is the top seed for the SoCon tournament, which gets underway on Friday.
20. Stanley Umude, South Dakota (Summit)
If the Coyotes make the NCAA tournament for the first time, it’s likely that Umude will have been the biggest reason why. The 6’6 senior is averaging 21.4 ppg and dropped 39 in the regular season finale against North Dakota State on Sunday.
6 Title Games You Absolutely Want To Happen
1. Loyola-Chicago vs. Drake (Missouri Valley)
Not only are these the two best teams in the conference and two of the best mid-majors in the entire country, but there’s bad blood here.
After Drake knocked off Loyola in overtime to earn a regular season split last month, the Bulldogs and Ramblers had some choice words for one another. Neither team left the floor for a full two minutes, and multiple members of each coaching staff were involved in the exchanges.
Here’s how Loyola head coach Porter Moser described the postame:
“Look at the tape yesterday when we won, walking off the floor,” Moser said of how his team handled beating Drake the day before. “And then look at their players and one of their assistant coaches. Look at them when we were walking off the floor. Two different scenarios when we won walking off the floor and something that was said by one of their assistants and a handful of their players. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Loyola vs. Drake round three is the only appropriate end to this year’s Arch Madness.
2. Colgate vs. Navy (Patriot League)
The best way to sum up the state of college basketball at the moment is this: Colgate is currently the No. 9 team in the entire country according to the NET Rankings, but will be the No. 2 seed in the Patriot League tournament. The Patriot League divided the conference into three divisions this season, and Navy went 12-1 in the South Division, while Colgate went 11-1 in the North. Which team had a tougher road to earn their sparkling record? There’s pretty much no way of knowing, but we need to see these once-beaten teams battle it out for the Patriot’s auto-bid.
3. Monmouth vs. Iona (MAAC)
Things have always gotten weird when these two rivals square off.
Pretty nice slap to the at the end of the Monmouth-Iona game. pic.twitter.com/FmiOnKNtxB— Mike (@mike5_5_5) January 16, 2016
Monmouth coach King Rice with some parting thoughts for the Iona crowd. pic.twitter.com/X1U6Gmtcjo— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 16, 2016
Now you toss in two of the biggest personalities in the sport in Rick Pitino and King Rice, and a meeting with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line could be tremendous March theater. The teams met twice during the regular season, and Rice didn’t even make it to halftime of the first game before being ejected.
4. UMBC vs. Vermont (America East)
The regular season co-champions are the class of the America East, and a meeting on Selection Sunday Eve would drum up memories of the 2018 thriller that set the stage for UMBC to make history a week later.
5. James Madison vs. Northeastern (Colonial)
James Madison will be the No. 1 seed for the CAA tournament, but Northeastern — which shared the regular season title with the Dukes — might be the favorite. The reason for that being the knee injury that will force JMU star Matt Lewis (19.1 ppg) to miss the remainder of the season.
The two teams split their regular season meetings and lost just one conference game to other CAA foes.
6. Wright State vs. Cleveland State (Horizon League)
This is yet another league where the teams that split the regular season championship also split regular season series. Both Wright State and Cleveland State went 16-4 in the Horizon League, putting them two games clear of the next best team in the league. The Vikings won a narrow game (66-64) at Wright State back on Jan. 15, and then promptly lost by 36 the next day.
Five Crazy Competitive Conference Tournaments
We’re scrapping the “boring tournaments I hate” section this season, because if a league wants to limit its tournament to four teams or advance its regular season champion all the way to the semis under these circumstances, it’s hard to have a problem with that.
I’ll be back for that throat again next year, Ohio Valley.
The league is trying to simplify things by basing its seeding for the tournament solely on conference wins. That seems a little unfair when you consider that 6-3 Iona will be seeded lower than 7-9 Niagara, but hey, there’s no perfect formula here. The league standings are a mess and the tournament will be impossible to predict.
Toledo is fantastic and has every piece necessary to be a surprise second weekend team in the Big Dance, but getting there is going to be an issue. Akron, Kent State, Buffalo and Bowling Green are all loaded with firepower as well, and the MAC tournament has a lengthy history of getting wild.
As has been the case for the last couple of years, the SoCon semifinals and title game are going to be appointment television. While maybe not as stellar overall as they were the last two years, the league’s headlining trio of UNC Greensboro, Furman and Wofford are all fully capable of springing a memorable March upset after winning the conference’s auto-bid.
Nicholls, Sam Houston State, Abilene Christian and Stephen F. Austin all have two conference losses. Only two of them have the same record. Who knows what that means, but it sure seems like there’s serious potential for a pair of great tournament semifinals.
5. Sun Belt
Texas State has the best record in the league at 12-3, but really you could throw a dart at the Sun Belt standings right now and have about the same chance of correctly picking the tournament champion as you would by analyzing any sort of data. Nine of the 12 teams in the conference have won between 7-10 league contests, and no team has won fewer than four.
10 Dangerous Non-Top Seeds That Could Claim A Bid
1. Morehead State (Ohio Valley)
Belmont is the team with the bigger national reputation and also the one that nearly ran the table in the OVC, but Morehead finished just behind them in the league standings at 17-3, and oh yeah, beat the Bruins in the regular season finale for both teams (89-82). Preston Spradlin has done a tremendous job over four seasons at Morehead, and now has the Eagles within striking distance of their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011.
2. Iona (MAAC)
The biggest sign that something terrible was about to happen last March was that the Gaels actually lost in the MAAC tournament. Because the tournament never wound up being finished, Iona is still owner of the MAAC’s last four automatic bids. They’ve been ravaged by Covid all season and played just five games in 2021, but come on, it’s Rick Pitino in March and Iona in the MAAC tournament. No team in that conference wants to see them in Atlantic City.
3. Campbell (Big South)
It’s hard to bet against 20-1 Winthrop in the Big South, but if you want to go that route, Campbell seems like your best option. The Camels won their final seven games of the regular season to earn the No. 3 seed for the conference tournament. Chris Clemons approves.
4. Georgia State (Sun Belt)
Like I said earlier, the Sun Belt is a total crap shoot, but Georgia State might be playing the best ball of any team in the conference right now. The Panthers, who started their season with a double overtime win over a Georgia tech team that is now flirting with the NCAA tournament, have won six in a row.
5. Marshall (Conference USA)
Dan D’Antoni’s team is never an easy out come March, and they have the offensive firepower necessary to duel with the likes of Western Kentucky, Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech.
6. Bowling Green (MAC)
Kent State and Akron seem like the more logical threats to Toledo, but I’m taking a flyer on the Falcons. They seem to have steadied themselves after a six-game swoon in the middle of conference play, and even though he hasn’t shot the three as well as he would have liked to in his senior season, Justin Turner is capable of going into full March hero mode.
7. Weber State (Big Sky)
Even though they’re a game behind Eastern Washington and Southern Utah at the moment, the Big Sky champion typically has to go through Randy Rahe’s club to get there.
8. UC Irvine (Big West)
UC Santa Barbara is the team to beat in the Big West, but pedigree matters in March, and this has been Irvine’s conference since 2014. The Anteaters also swept their regular season series with the Gauchos, even though it took place back in late December.
9. Drexel (Colonial)
Covid resulted in Drexel playing just one game since Feb. 7, but that one win was a road victory over regular season champ James Madison, so who knows? Camren Wynter could be an unexpected March hero for the Dragons.
10. New Mexico State (WAC)
I don’t care if they’re 4-6 in the league and haven’t been able to play or practice in their home state this season, it’s still New Mexico State and it’s still the WAC tournament they’ve won seven of the last eight years. I’ll believe they aren’t going to win it when I see them get knocked out. Until then ...
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.