Tuesday is when the calendar will change from February to March. It’ll be just another day for most people. But for college basketball fans, it signals the start of the best month of the entire year.
So as we find ourselves two weeks away from Selection Sunday, it’s time to get ready for the conference tournaments. The six biggest leagues will hold their tourneys next week. So this week, the mid-majors get the madness of March underway. We mentioned the first seven of these tournaments on this week’s edition of INSIDE SPORTS as seen on Double G TV. Here’s a breakdown of the all of the tournaments and a thumbnail sketch of what to expect from them:
TOURNAMENTS THAT START AND END THIS WEEK:
- Atlantic Sun, March 2-5, Macon GA – Belmont is the prohibitive favorite having won 19 of 20 conference games and finishing with at 27-4 overall. With a 50 RPI they will still need to win the conference tournament to secure a spot in the NCAA’s. East Tennessee State and Jacksonville figure to meet in one semifinal.
- Big South, March 1, 3, 5, on campus – Coastal Carolina junior guard Desmond Holloway was the leading scorer in the Big South as the Chanticleers won the regular season title and are looking for their first conference tournament win since 1993. John Brown is a guard who averaged a double-double for Liberty, who figure to give Coastal Carolina the most trouble in the tournament. Don’t count out Winthrop as the fifth seed, for they have won nine of the last twelve tournament titles.
- Missouri Valley, March 3-6, St. Louis MO – For the first time in their 21-year history in the conference, Missouri State is the top seed in what the MVC refers to as ‘Arch Madness’. They and Wichita State enter the 10-team tournament as the top selections to win. Don’t overlook the fourth seeded Northern Iowa, which would become just the second team in conference tournament history to three-peat.
- Ohio Valley, March 2-5, Nashville TN – Murray State won the regular season championship in this conference. Normally you would look at this league, with five teams finishing within four games of each other, and declare it wide open. But because of how they reward the top two teams with byes into the semifinals, figure on Murray State and Morehead State to meet in the championship game.
TOURNAMENTS THAT START THIS WEEK AND END NEXT WEEK:
- America East – March 3, 5-6, 12, West Hartford CT and on-campus – This tournament begins this week with play at a neutral site and concludes a week from Saturday with the championship game on the home court of the higher remaining seed. Vermont and Boston University were the top two teams in this league, featuring two of the top five scorers in the league in John Holland from the Terriers and Evan Fjeld from the Catamounts. The 66-64 overtime win by the Terriers on Sunday in Burlington made it eight straight to finish the season.
- Big Sky – March 5, 8-9, on-campus – This league will end their season this week, with three teams in the mix for the number one seed: Northern Colorado is 11-3 entering play Monday with two games left; Montana, who won the conference tournament last season, is done at 12-4; and Weber State is 11-4 with one game left. This league has nine members, but only six go to the conference tournament, and only Sacramento State has been eliminated.
- Colonial Athletic Association – March 4-7, Richmond VA – George Mason came from this league four years ago and went all the way to the Final Four. The Patriots won the regular season title, but they know it won’t be easy. Old Dominion battled right to the end for the regular season title, and Hofstra features the league’s leading scorer in Charles Jenkins. Virginia Commonwealth and James Madison will also likely have a say during this tournament.
- Horizon League – March 1, 4-5, 8, on-campus – With a late push, UW-Milwaukee took the regular season title, and along with Butler (who lost the NCAA Title Game to Duke last season) grabbed first round bye. Cleveland State, which had been the best team for most of the season thanks to leading conference scorer Norris Cole (21.6 PPG), and Valparaiso will also be heavy factors in a league that is likely to send two teams to the tournament.
- MAAC – March 4-7, Bridgeport CT – The Fairfield Stags were the best team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference this season with a 15-3 conference record, in large part because they limited teams to just 58 points per game, lowest in the league. Rider’s Justin Robinson and Iona’s Michael Glover are two excellent scorers who could help their teams steal the bid from Fairfield.
- Northeast – March 3, 6, 9, on-campus – The Beatles once sang about Blackbirds singing in the dead of night. The Blackbirds from Long Island sing on the scoreboard, posting a league best 16-2 conference mark and averaging 82.7 points per game as a team, 7th best in the entire country. Ken Horton of Central Connecticut State and James Johnson from Quinnipiac have other ideas, with Robert Morris University also in the mix.
- Patriot League – March 2, 6, 11, on-campus – Bucknell lost just once in conference all season long. But that one loss came by 20 points to the team they face Wednesday in the quarterfinals in Army. So this could be a wide-open tournament, with American University also a top selection with the Bison.
- Southern – March 4-7, Chattanooga – The two divisions engage in SEC-style cross-division matchups in the conference tournament. The top two teams from each division get byes into the quarterfinals: College of Charleston snd Wofford shared the South Division at 14-4, while Western Carolina and Chattanooga finished 12-6 atop the North Division. Any of these four clubs, along with Furman, could come out of this conference tournament.
- Summit League – March 5-8, Sioux Falls SD – Greg Kampe’s Oakland squad has been one of the more consistent teams in the Summit League the last few years, and now they seek their third NCAA tournament appearance in six years. Paced by the presumptive conference player of the year in 6’11” senior center Keith Benson averaging 17.7 PPG and 10.2 RPG, the Golden Grizzlies are heavy favorites to win. Oral Roberts and IUPUI are the leading contenders to pull an upset.
- Sun Belt – March 5-8, Hot Springs AR – The Sun Belt also features a conference with two six-team divisions and cross-division play in the tournament. Florida Atlantic won the East Division by three games over Middle Tennessee, while Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette shared the West Division title. The Owls seem to be the most complete team, and if Mike Jarvis leads them into the tournament it’ll be the fourth different school he will have guided into the Big Dance.
- West Coast – March 4-7, Las Vegas NV – Once again, as in years past, the top two teams in this conference are Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. This year, the Gaels are the top seed ahead of the Bulldogs. SMC’s Mickey McConnell is tied for second in the league in points per game at 16.8 per contest, and leads the league with 6.1 assists per contest. San Francisco also won ten league games this season and could be a factor.
- Ivy League, no tournament – The Ivy League is still the only conference that uses the regular season champion to determine the identity of the club that will receive their automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Princeton begins the week with a ½ game lead on Harvard. The Tigers take on the Crimson on Saturday night in Cambridge, with the winner of that likely determining the league championship.
TOURNAMENTS THAT START AND END NEXT WEEK (which we’ll preview next week):
- Atlantic 10 – March 8, 11-13, Atlantic City NJ
- Big West – March 10-12, Anaheim CA
- Conference USA – March 9-12, El Paso TX
- MAC – March 8, 10-12, Cleveland OH
- MEAC – March 8-12, Winston-Salem NC
- Mountain West – March 8-12, Las Vegas NV
- Southland – March 8-12, Katy TX
- SWAC – March 9-12, Garland TX
- WAC – March 9-12, Las Vegas NV
BCS CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT DATES AND LOCATIONS
- ACC – March 10-13, Greensboro NC
- Big East – March 8-12, New York City
- Big Ten – March 10-13, Indianapolis IN
- Big 12 – March 9-12, Kansas City MO
- Pac-10 – March 9-12, Los Angeles CA
- SEC – March 10-13, Atlanta GA
Next week, we’ll project the brackets.
Jon Moncrief serves as the co-host and creative director of INSIDE SPORTS. Jon is the beat reporter covering both the Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Dodgers for Examiner.com, and also writes nationally for Examiner about the NHL. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.