Conference Tournament Preview, Part III

Just like that, the college basketball regular season is all but over! Only the Big Ten and AAC have games left on the schedule, and those will be played today. It’s time for conference tournament season to hit its stride, and along with it, I’ve got ten more conference tournament previews, with analysis from BracketBot about how likely each team is to reach each round, each team’s current BracketBot ranking as of today, and some of my own personal thoughts as well. This is part 3 of 4; the first two parts can be found here and here. Let’s get right into it!

A-10
All games in Brooklyn, NY
R1: Wednesday 3/13
R2: Thursday 3/14
QF: Friday 3/15
SF: Saturday 3/16
Final: Sunday 3/17

Standings:

The A-10 is one of the handful of conferences in which a bid thief is a real possibility. VCU is going to be in the tournament barring total catastrophe (even losing to Rhode Island probably wouldn’t do it, they’d probably have to lose to La Salle), so if they don’t win this tournament we’re looking at the probability of a 2-bid A-10. Both Davidson and Dayton are on the other side of the bracket and are the biggest threats to VCU superiority by far. Anyone else would be a decent surprise, with a combined probability of 90% for the top three seeds.

ACC
All games in Charlotte, NC
R1: Tuesday 3/12
R2: Wednesday 3/13
QF: Thursday 3/14
SF: Friday 3/15
Final: Saturday 3/16

Standings:

This conference is staring down the not-unrealistic possibility of having 3 1-seeds in the NCAA tournament. It’s happened before, but not a lot. Virginia is probably a #1 seed no matter what happens, Duke is going to depend on whatever’s up with Zion Williamson’s knee, and North Carolina is the team that has to actually do things in this tournament to get a #1 seed. Certainly, they have to win their first game over either Louisville, Georgia Tech or Notre Dame, and they might need to reach the final too (that’s going to depend on what the Big Ten and SEC tournaments look like). The probabilities listed in this chart assume that Duke is at full health; I have no idea how likely that is, so if not, adjust your expectations accordingly.

BIG SKY
All games in Boise, ID
R1: Wednesday 3/13
QF: Thursday 3/14
SF: Friday 3/15
Final: Saturday 3/16

Standings:

There are a few conferences that rather awkwardly have 11 members, but the Big Sky is the only one that still plays a 20-game double round robin schedule, which has always endeared them to me. There’s something about making sure everyone plays twice no matter how weird it is, so kudos to the Big Sky. As for this tournament, it should be an interesting one. Montana and Northern Colorado are a step above everyone else, but any of the top 6 teams have a real chance to win it.

CONFERENCE USA
All games in Frisco, TX
R1: Wednesday 3/13
QF: Thursday 3/14
SF: Friday 3/15
Final: Saturday 3/16

Standings:

Conference USA adopted a really interesting schedule format this season to give its top teams a chance to separate themselves, and I think it’ll be something that we see bigger conferences adopt soon. (Particularly, the Pac-12 and SEC seem like good matches.) After playing one game against each team, plus a second game against each team’s main rival/travel partner, C-USA split into three mini-leagues that played each other again. The top 5 teams, next five teams and the bottom four all split up and played another round robin for the final four games of the season. That top-five group were guaranteed top-five seeds in the tournament, and so on, which is why UAB is the 5 seed and Marshall is the 6, despite their conference records being reversed. (Marshall won all four games against the middle group, while UAB were 2-2 against the top group.) It won’t make any difference to how top C-USA teams are perceived this year as none of them are at-large quality, but it is fun and innovative so I’m a fan. This should be a wide-open tournament overall, with favorite Old Dominion only at a 26% chance of taking it home.

MAC
Rd 1: Monday 3/11, at higher seeds
QF: Thursday 3/14, Cleveland
SF: Friday 3/15, Cleveland
Final: Saturday 3/16, Cleveland

Standings:

Buffalo is the name team here, but this tournament is far from a lock for them. Toledo is really good for the nil amount of publicity they’ve gotten this year, and it was a good year for the MAC overall beyond those two. There’s not much difference made by having the first round played on-campus, but it’s a big boost for Central Michigan, who are the best of the teams playing in the first round by a wide margin.

MEAC
All games in Norfolk, VA
R1: Monday 3/11 or Tuesday 3/12
QF: Wednesday 3/13 or Thursday 3/14
SF: Friday 3/15
Final: Saturday 3/16

Standings:

Florida A&M are academically ineligible for postseason play, so they sit this tournament out and everyone has their seed elevated accordingly. The MEAC is pretty undecided at this point – it is typically the more competitive of the two primarily HBCU conferences (along with the SWAC, which is previewed below), and no different this year. If you’re looking for a serious Cinderella, look no further than Morgan State – they beat Navy and Towson in the non-conference so it was interesting to see them struggle in MEAC play.

MOUNTAIN WEST
All games in Las Vegas, NV
R1: Wednesday 3/13
QF: Thursday 3/14
SF: Friday 3/15
Final: Saturday 3/16

Standings:

This is one of the more compelling tournaments this year, especially outside the power conferences. Nevada is in the tournament, and Utah State’s standing has been steadily improving over the last few weeks so they’re looking safe as well as long as they can make it through their first game. The opportunity for a bid thief is there, primarily in the form of Fresno State, so I’ll be paying attention especially to a potential USU/Fresno semifinal.

SOUTHLAND
All games in Katy, TX
R1: Wednesday 3/13
QF: Thursday 3/14
SF: Friday 3/15
Final: Saturday 3/16

Standings:

The Southland is another conference that has adopted the ladder format. Both Sam Houston State and Abilene Christian have double-byes through to the semifinals, and only the top 8 teams will take part in this tournament at all. This is only the second year of postseason eligibility for ACU, and so to be where they are as the nominal favorites for this automatic bid is a neat story. I’ll be pulling for them throughout the week.

SUN BELT
R1: Tuesday 3/12, at higher seeds
R2: Thursday 3/14, New Orleans
QF: Friday 3/15, New Orleans
SF: Saturday 3/16, New Orleans
Final: Sunday 3/17, New Orleans

Standings:

The Sun Belt is also running the ladder format, another conference that has brought it back for this season. This is perhaps one of the downsides of a format that heavily rewards the top seeds in a conference where there hasn’t been one typically dominant team – you can have a team like UT-Arlington come in, take the tiebreakers over Georgia Southern and Texas State, and end up with a bye to the semifinals when there are clearly better teams in the conference. I’m reminded of the disaster that was the old MAC tournament format – in a 12-team conference, the top two teams got triple-byes to the semifinals, the next two got double byes to the quarterfinals, and the remaining eight teams started two rounds behind them. Well, when the top 5 or 6 teams in the conference were all within a game of each other one year, that wound up being an unfair way to seed a tournament, and they were back to a normal format the next year. Anyway, this is a really interesting set of teams at the top because they’re so close in skill, though Georgia State gets the biggest slice of the pie because of their top-seed status.

SWAC
QF: Tuesday 3/12, at higher seeds
SF: Friday 3/15, Birmingham
Final: Saturday 3/16, Birmingham

Standings:

Texas Southern is usually a team that’s leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of this conference, and while that’s kinda true this year too, they have a companion at the top. PVAMU had a tough non-conference season but absolutely ran through this conference season, losing only on the road at Texas Southern. Only the top eight teams were invited this year.

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