Conference Tournament Finals: March 15

Selection Sunday is only a day away and 13 of the 68 teams have already punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. But by the end of the day, 14 more teams will have won their conference tournaments and earned automatic bids to the Big Dance.

There’s a mix of both small, mid-major, and major conferences awarding bids, so there will be a few teams losing today and still making it into the field of 68 tomorrow. I’ll explain each team’s chances of making it at-large below.

America East: (4) Albany vs. (2) Stony Brook, 11:30am (ESPN 2)

America East will only have one representative in the tournament, but they will be from New York. Albany is looking to make their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, while the Seawolves of Stony Brook will make the tournament for the first time with a win today.

American: (4) UConn vs. (2) Louisville, 6pm (ESPN)

The Huskies and Cardinals are already locks to make the tournament. The only remaining question is where they’ll be seeded, which will certainly be helped by a win today. UConn was academically ineligible for the tournament last year, but won the whole thing back in 2011. Louisville will come in as the reigning national champion and have the tools to make another deep tournament run.

Big 12: (4) Iowa State vs. (7) Baylor, 9pm (ESPN)

Neither Iowa State nor Baylor will stress too much about today’s game. The Cyclones practically punched their ticket weeks ago and have been ranked in the Top 25 all season long and have only lost to teams in the RPI Top 100. Baylor’s tournament chances have fluctuated throughout the season, but they’re a pretty safe bet at this point as well. It will only be the eighth tournament appearance for the Golden Bears, but they made it all the way to the Elite Eight in 2012.

Big East: (4) Providence vs. (2) Creighton, 8:30pm (Fox Sports 1)

This major conference final will be one to watch for a number of reasons. Of course, Creighton’s Doug McDermott will probably go for 30+ again as he cruises toward all of the Player of the Year awards he can get. His team has already assured themselves a spot in the tournament. But Providence needs a win today to guarantee themselves a spot in the field. Getting to the final helps, but beating a top team would have helped even more. ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan put it best:

Had Providence advanced to a Big East title matchup with Creighton by beating Villanova, we would be feeling a lot safer about the Friars’ at-large chances. Unseating a possible No. 1 seed tends to do wonders for your resume.

The Friars will make the tournament for the first time since 2004 with a win over Crieghton.

Big Sky: (1) Weber State vs. (2) North Dakota, 8pm (ESPN U)

The Wildcats of Weber State swept North Dakota during the regular season, but will need to win a third time to make their 15th tournament appearance. Since dropping the “Fighting Sioux” moniker in 2012, North Dakota has gone without a mascot. So the North Dakotans of North Dakota will make the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever with a win.

Big West: (7) Cal Poly vs. (5) Cal State Northridge, 10:30pm (ESPN 2)

The thought coming into the Big West tournament was that it was UC Irvine or UC Santa Barbara’s to lose. Well lose they did — along with the other top four teams — and now we get a matchup between Cal Poly and Cal State Northridge. Cal Poly swept the Matadors during the regular season, but they’ve never made the Big Dance. Cal State last made the tournament in 2009, but have never won a tournament game. There’s a 16-seed waiting for the winner of this one.

Conference USA: (1) Louisiana Tech vs. (2) Tulsa, 11:35am (CBS)

Conference USA’s tournament looked to be one of the more competitive on paper with four teams ending the regular season at 13-3 in conference. But top-seeded Louisiana Tech has handled it well so far, winning by an average of 19 points. Their final opponent is another 13-3 team in Tulsa. Both teams are looking for their first NCAA Tournament appearance in over ten years. The question is can the LA Tech Bulldogs make the tournament without the automatic bid? Hopefully, they won’t have to find out.

MAC: (1) Western Michigan vs. (2) Toledo, 6:30pm (ESPN 2)

If nothing else, remember the MAC as having one of the strangest conference tournament formats in the country. Despite having a logical number of teams (12), the one and two seeds bypass the first three rounds and skip right to the semifinals. So instead of looking something like that, it looks like this.

But Western Michigan and Toledo each won their lone game and now play for a spot in the tournament. After splitting the regular season series, they’ll look to make the field of 68 for the first time since 2004 (Western Michigan) and 1980 (Toledo), respectively.

MEAC: (1) North Carolina Central vs. (3) Morgan State, 6pm (ESPN U)

The Eagles of NC Central only suffered one loss during conference play this season, but beat Morgan State by just one point in their last meeting. They haven’t beat any teams with great RPIs this season, but guard Jeremy Ingram‘s scoring ability and their decent size made them look competitive against the likes of Wichita State, Cincinnati, and Maryland earlier in the season. Of course it won’t matter should they lose today.

Mountain West: (1) San Diego State vs. (2) New Mexico, 6pm (CBS Sports)

Looks like the Mountain West will get two teams in the tournament and here they are, making what will be their third consecutive appearances. Each team has a strong guard and forward presence. For the Aztecs of San Diego State, it’s Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard. The Lobos are led by Kendall Williams and Cameron Bairstow. Don’t be surprised if these teams are still playing after the first weekend of the tournament.

Pac-12: (1) Arizona vs. (2) UCLA, 6pm (Fox Sports 1)

Again, both teams are locks for the tournament. It’s certainly no surprise here, as they’ve each combined for 75 NCAA Tournament appearances and 12 national titles up to this point.

Southland: (1) Stephen F. Austin vs. (3) Sam Houston State, 8:30pm (ESPN 2)

Like the MAC, the Southland Conference sends their top two seeds straight to the semifinals. The difference is the Southland only has eight teams in its tournament. Stephen F. Austin went unbeaten in conference play and swept Sam Houston State during the regular season.

SWAC: (8) Prairie View A&M vs. (2) Texas Southern, 4:30pm (ESPN 2)

Though it rarely happens, the reality of Championship Week is that any team can make the Big Dance if they win their conference tournament. The Prairie View A&M Panthers are a prime example. They finished the regular season 11-22, but upset the tournament’s top seed on the way to the final. They split the season series with today’s opponent Texas Southern, with the loss coming on the road in triple overtime, so I’m saying there’s definitely a chance.

WAC: (5) Idaho vs. (2) New Mexico State, 10pm (ESPN U)

I expected to find two completely different tournament histories for these two teams. I thought that Idaho had recently made a tournament run, but their last appearance was made before I was even born (1990). I thought that this would be New Mexico State’s first appearance in quite some time, but it would be their third straight appearance should they win today and 23rd overall. The Aggies have received a lot of negative publicity lately, after the court storming fiasco last month.

Other Conference Tournament Games

Atlantic 10 Semifinals (Both games on CBS Sports)

(9) St. Bonaventure vs. (4) Saint Joseph’s, 1:30pm

(2) VCU vs. (3) George Washington, 4pm

ACC Semifinals (Both games on ESPN)

(1) UVA vs. (5) Pittsburgh, 1pm

(7) NC State vs. (3) Duke, 3pm

Big Ten Semifinals (Both games on CBS)

(1) Michigan vs. (5) Ohio State, 1:40pm

(2) Wisconsin vs. (3) Michigan State, 4:05pm

SEC Semifinals (Both games on ABC)

(1) Florida vs. (4) Tennessee, 1pm

(2) Kentucky vs. (3) Georgia, 3pm

Sun Belt Semifinals (Both games on ESPN 3)

(1) Georgia State vs. (4) Arkansas State, 3pm

(2) Western Kentucky vs. (3) UL Lafayette, 5:30pm

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