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 363 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 Saint Peter’s stunned Kentucky in the first round a year ago, that wasn’t where their 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 (well, almost nobody, but we’ll get to that). 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 week and a half 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 32 conference tournaments that will 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 6” leagues plus the 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.
Here’s the current full schedule for Championship Week(s) 2023:
A handy TV guide can be found here.
NCAA Tournament Ineligible Teams
A year ago, Bellarmine won the Atlantic Sun conference tournament and cut down the nets in just their second season as a member of Division-I. The Knights’ victory resulted in Jacksonville State — a team which was defeated in the tournament semifinals — advancing to the NCAA tournament. Why? Because sometimes the NCAA decides to stand by the dumbest rules imaginable and there’s simply nothing anybody can do about it.
History could repeat itself this year as the top seed in the Northeast Conference, regular season champion Merrimack is still transitioning to Division-I.
So dumb. So, so sooooo dumb.
Here’s the full list of teams that were excluded from the madness before it even got started:
New Mexico State, WAC (canceled season)
Queens, Atlantic Sun (transitioning to D-I)
Bellarmine, Atlantic Sun (transitioning to D-I)
UC San Diego, Big West (transitioning to D-I)
Merrimack, Northeast (transitioning to D-I)
Stonehill, Northeast (transitioning to D-I)
Southern Indiana, Ohio Valley (transitioning to D-I)
Lindenwood, Ohio Valey (transitioning to D-I)
Texas A&M-Commerce, Southland (transitioning to D-I)
St. Thomas, Summit League (transitioning to D-I)
Utah Tech, WAC (transitioning to D-I)
Tarleton State, WAC (transitioning to D-I)
Five 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 this year than in most recent seasons), 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 North Carolina, Clemson, Wisconsin or any other team that might be sweating it out on Selection Sunday, here are the five teams you need to be rooting hard for over the next week and a half.
1. Gonzaga (West Coast)
For the first time since the 2018 tournament, the Zags won’t be a No. 1 seed, but Mark Few’s team is still very safely in the field.
2. Saint Mary’s (West Coast)
Like their co-WCC regular season champions, Saint Mary’s is a lock to hear its name called on Selection Sunday and will view it as a disappointment if they don’t play their way into at least the tournament’s second weekend.
3. Florida Atlanta (Conference USA)
The Owls are in the midst of a dream season that has seen them spend a solid chunk of time in the national polls and drop just three games to date. Even if they don’t cut down the nets in Frisco, they would still seem to be in solid position to earn an at-large bid.
4. Oral Roberts (Summit League)
The Golden Eagles are the only team in Division-I to run the table in their respective conference this season. They’d be an interesting case study if they fell in the Summit League tourney as all four of their losses are very understandable (at Saint Mary’s, at Houston, at Utah State, at New Mexico), but they have zero Quad I victories. Bubble boys should be pulling hard for Max Absmas and company to avoid this being a concern.
5. Charleston (CAA)
The Cougars are another team with a gaudy record (28-3) that will be firmly on the bubble if they slip up in their league tournament. Despite being nationally ranked for much of the season, Charleston wound up splitting the CAA regular season title with Hofstra and will be the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament.
5 Other Solid Favorites
These teams aren’t going anywhere but the NIT (maybe) if they get upset over the next 11 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. Colgate (Patriot League)
The Raiders absolutely dominated the Patriot League regular season, going 17-1 — with their lone loss coming on the road against American by a single point — and finishing a full six games ahead of their closest competition. Colgate turned heads with a 12-point road win over Syracuse in November, and should have another opportunity to produce some shock waves in March.
2. UNC Asheville (Big South)
Mike Morrell went 4-27 in his first season as UNC Asheville’s head coach back in 2018-19. Four years later, the Bulldogs won the Big South by four full games and set a new school record with 24 wins. Drew Pember has strong NCAA tournament legend potential, but he has to get his team into the Big Dance first.
3. Morehead State (Ohio Valley)
The OVC is licking its wounds a little bit after the losses of Murray State, Austin Peay and Belmont, a trip that represented 16 of the league’s 17 most recent regular season champions. Preston Spradlin’s Eagles have been the standout in the first year of the “new” Ohio Valley, going 14-4 and winning the league’s regular season three games clear of second place Tennessee Tech.
4. Iona (Metro Atlantic Athletic)
The Gaels have once again been the clear class of the MAAC, but all that earned them a year ago was a quarterfinal loss to Rider and a trip to the NIT. They’ll look to avoid the upset bug this year in what will more than likely wind up being Rick Pitino’s final season in New Rochelle.
5. Vermont (America East)
A perennial fixture on this list, Vermont bounced back from a surprisingly poor non-conference run to win the America East regular season title by a full three games. They enter the postseason riding a 12-game winning streak and are heavy favorites to make their fourth NCAA tournament since 2017.
BONUS: Toledo (Mid-American)
The MAC hasn’t wrapped up regular season play just yet, but the Rockets have already locked up at least a share of the regular season title thanks to a 14-game winning streak. They and second-place Kent State both own equally gaudy overall records of 24-6.
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 363 teams that are current members of Division-I, there are 36 that have never gone dancing and that are eligible to make this year’s field. 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. Youngstown State (Horizon League)
The Penguins (Penguins!) made the jump to Division-I back in 1981, but haven’t tasted a whole lot of success since. They’ve won 20 games in a season just twice since then (including their current 23-8 mark), and the regular season title they just captured in the Horizon League was their first conference title of any sort as a member of D-I.
Jerrod Calhoun is a rising star in the coaching ranks, and he has Youngstown as the No. 1 seed for this week’s Horizon League tournament. The bad news? The top seed has won the Horizon League title just once over the last seven years.
2. Kennesaw State (Atlantic Sun)
A Division-I program for just under a decade and a half, the Owls likely have their best chance at crashing the dance to date. They shared the regular season title in the Atlantic Sun with Liberty, but are the top seed for this week’s conference tournament. After squeaking past Queens, 67-66, in the quarterfinals, Kennesaw will face a dangerous Lipscomb squad (which knocked off fourth-seeded and fellow never been dancing club member Stetson on Tuesday) in Thursday’s semifinals.
It’s also notable that this is the penultimate A-Sun tournament for the Owls, who are off to Conference USA in 2024-25.
3. Grambling (SWAC)
The SWAC always seems to be one of the most wide-open conference in the country, but the Tigers currently sit at 20-8 overall, 13-3 in league play, and in a first-place tie with Alcorn State. Grambling has been playing D-I ball since 1977 and has yet to play a game in March Madness.
4. UMass Lowell (America East)
The River Hawks are in their sixth-year of tournament eligibility and as the 2-seed in the America East, they have easily their best shot yet at claiming an automatic bid. The team standing the most in their way would seem to be regular season champ and perennial league top dog Vermont.
New Hampshire (3-seed) and Maine (7-seed) are fellow America East squads that have never been dancing. Both of those programs have been waiting far longer for their moment than the River Hawks.
5. USC Upstate (Big South)
Upstate, which moved from the A-Sun to the Big South in 2018-19, has had some capable teams in recent years, but hasn’t been able to get over the biggest of humps. They’ve been the hottest team in the Big South over the last month, a run highlighted by a victory over 16-2 regular season champ UNC Asheville. They’ll be the 4-seed for this week’s tournament.
6. Army (Patriot League)
One of the “original four,” Army has played its way into the 4-seed for this week’s Patriot League tournament, but faces a tough road to its first Big Dance. They’ll take on trendy darkhorse pick Boston U. on Thursday, and then would likely face top-seeded and heavy favorite Colgate in the semis.
7. UT Martin (Ohio Valley)
As previously mentioned, the OVC was decimated my defections after last season, but the league’s loss could be UT Martin’s gain. The Skyhawks will be the No. 3 seed for this week’s tournament in Evansville. Make Lester Hudson proud.
8. Sacred Heart (Northeast)
The NEC is wide-the-hell open, and the fourth-seeded Pioneers are absolutely good enough to take advantage. They split the regular season series with top-seeded Merrimack, the team they’ll face in Saturday night’s first semifinal. SHU’s 67-55 quarterfinal win over Wagner on Wednesday was its first victory in the NEC tournament since 2009.
9. Utah Valley (WAC)
Per usual, the WAC is loaded with teams that have never been to the NCAA tournament. The difference this year is that perennial power New Mexico State — which canceled its season after multiple off-the-court-issues — isn’t standing in anyone’s way. The team most poised to take advantage is Mark Madsen’s Utah Valley squad, which is currently 22-7 overall and on the verge of claiming the league’s regular season title. If the Wolverines can beat three teams in Nevada next week, they’re absolutely good enough to win a game in the Big Dance.
10. UC Riverside (Big West)
The Highlanders currently find themselves in a three-way tie atop the standings in the Big West, which has the potential to be one of the most fun tournaments of the second week of mini-madness. Riverside had never had a record above .500 in 19 seasons in the Big West before Mike Magpayo took over three years ago. Now, they could be on the verge of the most significant accomplishment in program history.
20 Players Who Will Be Heard From
1. Antoine Davis, SR, Detroit Mercy (Horizon League)
These aren’t necessarily in any particular order, but we’ll gave Davis the top spot here because of his shot at history.
After dropping 38 points in Detroit’s 81-68 win over Purdue Fort Wayne in the first round of the Horizon League tournament Tuesday night, Davis needs 26 points in Thursday night’s quarterfinal game against top-seeded Youngstown State to pass Pete Maravich and become the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer. The coach’s son and 5th-year senior is currently the nation’s leading scorer at 28.4 ppg.
2. Max Abmas, SR, Oral Roberts (Summit League)
That’s right, the darling of the 2021 NCAA tournament is still playing college basketball and still getting buckets for the Golden Eagles. His 22.3 ppg (6th most in the country) are the biggest reason Oral Roberts was the only team in D-I this season to run the table in conference play.
3. Darius McGhee, SR, Liberty (Atlantic Sun)
McGhee became just the second player in Atlantic Sun history to be named Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons when he picked up the honor earlier this week. The nation’s third-leading scorer at 22.5 ppg, McGhee hit nine three-pointers and scored 29 points in Liberty’s A-Sun tournament quarterfinal win over Bellarmine on Tuesday. He became the school’s all-time leading scorer earlier this year.
4. Jordan “Jelly” Walker, SR, UAB (Conference USA)
Few players in the country are more exciting than Walker, who has dropped 25 points or more 13 times this season. He scored 93 points in three C-USA tournament games last season to lead the Blazers into the field of 68. He’ll look to repeat those heroics next week in Frisco.
5. Drew Timme, SR, Gonzaga (West Coast)
The preseason favorite for national Player of the Year isn’t going to bring home that honor, but he is a likely First Team All-American who just earned his second straight WCC POY nod. Timme leads the WCC in scoring, averaging 21.2 points per game, and is second in field goal percentage at 61.6 percent.
Get your C- “he’s been in school so long” jokes out while you still can.
6. Jordan Dingle, JR, Penn (Ivy League)
The likely Ivy League Player of the Year is currently second in the nation in scoring at 23.4 ppg.
7. Jalen Slawson, SR, Furman (SoCon)
The SoCon Defensive Player of the Year a season ago, Slawson was the consensus pick for the league’s top honor this season after averaging 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.6 blocked shots per game for the regular season champs.
8. Taevion Kinsey, SR, Marshall (Sun Belt)
Kinsey leads the Sun Belt and ranks seventh in the nation in points per game at 22.2. He also averages 5.4 assists per game, which is good for 26th in the country. Kinsey’s 266 made field goals are the second-most in the country, and his average of 37:42 minutes played per game on the floor rank third.
9. Elijah Pepper, JR, UC Davis (Big West)
Pepper has scored at least 25 points in 10 of his team’s 17 conference games to date. He and the Aggies are a live shot in the wide open Big West.
10. Aaron Estrada, SR, Hofstra (Colonial Athletic Association)
Estrada is a near lock to pick up his second straight CAA Player of the Year award. His 20.3 ppg scoring average helped the Pride earn the No. 1 seed for the league tournament.
11. Nelly Junior Joseph, JR, Iona (MAAC)
The Nigerian native has been a near unstoppable force in the MAAC this season, averaging a double-double at 15.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. His inside presence has consistently represented the biggest mismatch in the conference.
12. RayJ Dennis, JR, Toledo (MAC)
There will be a lot of attention on Emoni Bates if Eastern Michigan is able to slip in to the 8-team Mid-American tournament field. With that being far from a guarantee, we’ll go with the best player on the league’s best team. The Boise State transfer flirted with a triple-double a few weeks ago and is the biggest reason why the Rockets have won 14 straight.
Last year I complained about Toledo's RayJ Dennis being left off the All-MAC teams. This year, he was also left off the preseason All-MAC teams.— Jordan Strack (@JordanStrack) February 19, 2023
It was insane then. It's insane now. He's the best player in the league. He should be the MAC player of the year. Period. pic.twitter.com/L2oO51WJZ2
13. Joe Bryant Jr., SR, Norfolk State (MEAC)
Bryant Jr. is in a solid position to repeat as MEAC Player of the Year thanks to a career-best 17.6 ppg scoring average.
14. Tucker DeVries, SO, Drake (Missouri Valley)
A year after being named MVC Freshman of the Year, DeVries earned the league’s top honor after averaging 18.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game for a Bulldog squad that finished second in the conference with a 15-5 record.
15. Drew Pember, SR, UNC Asheville (Big South)
Pember, who averages 20.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, just became the second player in Big South history to claim Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the same season.
16. Jr. Clay, SR, Tennessee State (Ohio Valley)
Clay led the OVC in both scoring and assists this season and was the biggest reason why the Tigers finished with a winning record in league play (10-8) for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
17. Trey Calvin, SR, Wright State (Horizon League)
The 20.1 ppg scorer hit a jumper at the buzzer to send the Raiders to the NCAA tournament a year ago, and hit a nearly identical shot at the buzzer to beat Louisville earlier this season. The senior guard is a stone cold killer.
18. Jamarion Sharp, SR, Western Kentucky (Conference USA)
The tallest player in the country at 7’5, Sharp leads the nation in blocked shots (4.3 per game), and second is shooting 62.5 percent from the field.
Jamarion Sharp— Random College Athletes (@RandomAthletess) January 11, 2022
Western Kentucky, Center 2021-2022 pic.twitter.com/1hNk5eV5cH
19. Isaac Mushila, SR, Texas A&M-CC (Southland)
The likely Southland Conference Player of the Year has been a double-double machine this season and carried the Islanders to the league’s regular season title.
20. Jeremiah Kendall, JR, Alcorn State (SWAC)
The Bronx native just dropped 33 on Texas Southern and has the Braves primed for a run to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002.
5 Title Games You Absolutely Want To Happen
1. Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s (West Coast)
One of the best rivalries in college basketball had dipped a bit in recent years thanks primarily to Gonzaga’s dominance in the series. That changed last season and has continued this year, with both teams spending almost all of the year ranked in the top 20 and splitting their regular season series.
One of the wildest Championship Week stats out there is that Gonzaga has played in every WCC tournament championship game since all the way back in 1997. The only three WCC tournaments the Bulldogs have not won since 2008 have all come via championship game losses to Saint Mary’s, the most recent of which coming in 2019.
A season series, a conference championship, rivalry bragging rights, and a better seed in the NCAA tournament will all be on the line if these two powerhouses meet for a rubber match in Vegas.
2. Toledo vs. Kent State (MAC)
Four teams in this conference already have 20 wins this season, but the Rockets and Golden Flashes (both 24-6) appear to be a cut ahead of the rest. The two teams met just once in the regular season, with Kent State — which is a perfect 14-0 at home — winning by 12 inside its home arena. Since then, Toledo has run off 14 consecutive wins and become one of the hottest teams in all of college basketball.
Kent State-Akron would also be an acceptable final given last season’s locker room drama.
3. Iona vs. Manhattan (MAAC)
It would take a surprise run to the finals from the middle of the pack by Manhattan for it to happen (and a draw that has the two teams on opposite sides of the bracket), but boy would it be juicy.
This has been one of the best mid-major rivalries in the country for years, but an extra layer was added this season when Manhattan strangely fired head coach Steve Masiello right before the start of the year. Masiello was quickly picked up and added to the staff of his former boss, Rick Pitino at Iona.
If these two teams meet in MAAC Madness at any point, it’ll be spicy.
4. Army vs. Navy (Patriot League)
This might be the ultimate Championship Week dream, right?
Every year I look to see if this game happening is feasible enough to include in this space, and every year up until this one it hasn’t been. Navy being the 2-seed and Army being the 4-seed means this actually happening is more of a realistic possibility than it ever has been before. It’s likely going to take a Black Knight upset of top dog Colgate — the team that went 17-1 in the regular season — in the semifinals, but stranger things have happened.
Let’s do this.
5. Hofstra vs. Charleston (Colonial Athletic Association)
Both teams are more than capable of winning at least one game in the NCAA tournament, but there’s probably only room for one in the field of 68. Charleston has spent some of this season ranked in the top 25 but still enters its conference tournament as the 2-seed thanks to an 85-81 home loss to the Pride back on Jan. 28.
These two stellar squads not meeting a second time would feel like a crime.
Five Crazy Competitive Conference Tournaments
1. Big West
No conference in America has more clutter at the top right now than the Big West, which currently has three teams tied for the league lead at 13-5 and another two right behind them at 12-6. Overall, seven of the 11 teams in the conference have between 10-13 league victories.
The action in Henderson, Nevada next week should be wild. Throw a dart.
Also wild: Holding a conference tournament in Nevada for a league where all but one of the 11 members reside in California and NONE reside in Nevada.
2. Missouri Valley
Some of the names have changed, but Arch Madness has a chance to be better than ever in 2023. No team in the league finished with fewer than four conference losses, and seven teams — including newcomers Belmont and Murray State — won at least 11.
Texas Southern is the reigning champion and has claimed six of the SWAC’s last eight auto-bids, but the Tigers find themselves in the bottom half of the standings with a 7-10 record at the moment. The door finally seems to be open for the rest of the league.
One big thing to watch here: The SWAC has not had a true shared regular season championship since all the way back in 1996. Alcorn State and Grambling (which has never danced) sit tied atop the league standings with identical 13-3 records and two games each left to play.
4. Sun Belt
The top half of this league is so, so good, and whichever team winds up being the last one standing seems destined to become a trendy March Madness upset pick. The top six seeds in this tournament — Southern Miss, Marshall, Louisiana, James Madison, Troy and Old Dominion — all have 19 or more wins on the year.
Georgia State’s run of four consecutive title game appearances officially came to an end with a first-round loss to Texas State on Wednesday night.
New Mexico State — reigning champs and winners of nine of the last 12 WAC tournament titles — won’t be around for this year’s festivities. That opens the door for a number of teams who have never heard their names called on Selection Sunday, including regular season champion Utah Valley. Sam Houston, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Seattle and Grand Canyon all feel like live shots as well.
Three Conference Tournaments I’m Mad At
1. Big Sky
This is the only conference tournament in America where the No. 1 or No. 2 seed has cut down the nets in each of the last six seasons. It doesn’t stop there. The No. 1 seed has actually won the Big Sky tournament in 10 of the last 12 years, and the two times the top seed didn’t win, it was the No. 2 seed that took home the title.
Great news for Eastern Washington and reigning champion Montana State. Not so great news for anyone hoping to see some fireworks.
2. Ivy League
You know what? I’m starting to think that we’ve been overestimating the value of an Ivy League education for decades now. I’m basing this entirely off the fact that the conference holds a four-team tournament at a pre-determined on-campus location.
None of this works.
If you’re capping the field at four, you may as well go back to the old 14-game tournament days. And if you’re going to have play the games on a campus site, at least have the advantage for the host school be an earned one. Also, at least make sure the host school is actually going to be a participant in the tournament.
You people baffle me. You spend all your money on these fancy conference tournaments, you surround yourself with ‘em, and they’re the wrong fuckin’ conference tournaments.
All that said, any championship game featuring two out of the top tier trio of Princeton, Yale and Penn should be pretty fun.
3. West Coast
The West Coast Conference sent three teams to the NCAA tournament last season and has been trying to distance itself from the reputation of being “always Gonzaga, sometimes Saint Mary’s, and then everybody else.”
So if you’re one of the powers that be leading the conference, surely you’re going to set up your tournament in a manner that ensures that the maximum number of games are played so that you can get maximum exposure for your league’s relatively unheard of stronger teams in the middle, right?
Get this all the way out of my face.
If you have that many consecutive days with no more than two games being played, you’re probably doing something wrong. More games, more daytime basketball, more opportunities for glory; That’s what march is all about.
For five years, the West Coast Conference went away from this step ladder bracket and made Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s play more than two games to win a conference tournament championship. It was cool. In 2019, they went back.
Here’s the thing: Gonzaga won every single one of those tournaments and played either Saint Mary’s or BYU in the title game each time. So it’s not like compressing the tournament hurt the league when it came to the likelihood of it sending its top dog(s) onto the NCAA tournament.
You’re depriving us of the over-saturation we crave, and you’re doing it for no reason.
10 Dangerous Non-Top Seeds That Could Claim A Bid
1. UAB (Conference USA)
The Blazers received some preseason top 25 love, but saw their dreams of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament go up in flames with a three-game conference losing streak in early January. They finished the regular season with six conference losses, but four of those game in overtime and the other two were both by just two points. They won this thing last year, they’re riding a five-game winning streak, and they have one of the most exciting players in the country. There has rarely been a more live 3-seed in the C-USA tournament.
2. North Carolina Central (MEAC)
The MEAC still goes through LeVelle Moton’s program, which has won four conference tournament titles since 2014. The Eagles have won six straight since getting off to a 3-4 start in conference play.
3. Liberty (Atlantic Sun)
This is a cop out because the Flames shared the regular season title and were the betting favorites going into the tournament, but hey, they’re not the top seed so they belong.
4. Winthrop (Big South)
Beware of a team with a championship pedigree and a little bit of momentum heading into March. The Eagles are both of those things, having won 11 conference tournament championships since 1999 and heading into the Big South quarters riding a four-game winning streak. Beware of the 6-seed in Charlotte.
5. Cal State Fullerton (Big West)
As mentioned before, the Big West is wide the f open. Fullerton is currently tied for fourth place in the league standings, but they’ve been beaten just once since Jan. 21. Dedrique Taylor took this team to the tournament in 2018 and then again last season. Don’t be shocked if he gets the job done again next week.
6. Montana State (Big Sky)
Eastern Washington won the league, but the Eagles lost their final game of the regular season to runner-up Montana State, which enters the postseason on a five-game winning streak. The No. 1 or No. 2 seed has cut down the nets in this tournament in each of the last six seasons, and the Bobcats have a great shot at making it back to the Big Dance for the second year in a row.
7. South Dakota State (Summit League)
Yes, Oral Roberts is a behemoth, but the Jackrabbits have claimed four of the last six auto-bigs out of the Summit League and nearly took down the Golden Eagles in the regular season finale for both teams last week. Perhaps the third time will be the charm for the No. 2 seed.
8. Santa Clara (West Coast)
It would be unwise to wager on anyone other than Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s to claim the WCC tournament title, but if you had to ... Herb Sendek’s team has won seven straight and gets a double bye into the quarterfinals.
9. Sam Houston (WAC)
The second-seeded Bearkats have won six in a row and 11 of their last 12. They dropped their only meeting to regular season champion Utah Valley, but that was on the road and all the way back on Dec. 29.
10. UMass Lowell (America East)
Another 2-seed to pay very close attention to. The River Hawks split their season series with league champion Vermont, but trounced them by 15 in their home victory. They’ve won seven of their last eight, with a road loss to the Catamounts serving as their only blemish.
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.