With college basketball’s regular season essentially over, it’s time for Championship Week. From now until next Sunday, 30 teams will earn automatic bids into the NCAA Tournament by winning their conference tournament. Just like last year, I’m here to help you keep track of all the madness.
Quick side note: 32 total automatics bids will be awarded this year. The Ohio Valley crowned their tournament champion yesterday (Eastern Kentucky) and the Ivy League awards the bid to their regular season champion (Harvard).
While no other college basketball event can match the excitement of the Big Dance, Championship Week still provides its own share of entertainment. The early tournament finals involve the smaller conferences, which normally get just the tournament winner into the Big Dance. But as teams from the larger conferences start play later in the week, that’s when the real drama begins.
For the teams “on the bubble”, an ideal Championship Week is one in which they make a deep tournament run and all of the automatic bids go to teams already projected to make the tournament. For example, should Indiana State win today’s Missouri Valley Conference final over Wichita State, that leaves one less spot for the bubble teams. Wichita State is guaranteed a spot in the tournament, regardless of whether they win today. Indiana State on the other hand only gets in if they earn the automatic bid.
The Missouri Valley conference final is the only one with bubble implications today, but there are still plenty of reasons to watch. These smaller finals are basically single elimination, with the winner entering the field of 68 and the loser going home. That always makes for great basketball.
Big South: (1) Coastal Carolina vs. (4) Winthrop, 12pm (ESPN 2)
Don’t let Winthrop’s tournament seeding fool you. They Eagles finished just a game behind Coastal Carolina in the conference and even swept them during the regular season. Coastal Carolina is coming off a four-point win to VMI in the semis, while Winthrop has knocked off the two top seeds on their side of the bracket, High Point and UNC-Asheville, in dramatic fashion.
Atlantic Sun: (1) Florida Gulf Coast vs. (2) Mercer, 2pm (ESPN 2)
Remember last year’s tournament darlings, Florida Gulf Coast? Or perhaps you know them as “Dunk City“. Either way, they’re a win away from another tournament bid this year. Remember Mercer? Probably not, but they were the top seed in the tournament last year until Florida Gulf Coast beat them on their home court to earn the automatic bid. This time around, it’s the Eagles playing at home with the Bears looking to play spoiler.
Missouri Valley: (1) Wichita State vs. (2) Indiana State, 2:05pm (CBS)
As alluded to earlier, Wichita State has beat everyone. That includes Indiana State twice already, and with a win over the Sycamores today, they’ll be the first team to enter the tournament unbeaten since UNLV in 1991. Detractors will say they haven’t played anyone great, but that didn’t seem to matter during last year’s Final Four run.
Other Conference Tournament Games
America East Semifinals
(1) Vermont vs. (4) Albany, 5pm (ESPN3)
(3) Hartford vs. (2) Stony Brook, 7:15pm (ESPN3)
(1) Delaware vs. (5) Northeastern, 2:30pm (NBC Sports Network)
(2) Towson vs. (3) William & Mary, 5pm (NBC Sports Network)