The 2018-2019 college basketball regular season has come to a close. Welcome to Champ Week. It is Conference Tournament time. Last week, 12 conferences began their Tournament play and a number of teams have already clinched spots in the NCAA Tournament field. Earlier this week I broke down the resumes of the 16 teams that enter Champ Week on the Tournament Bubble. We are less than a week away from Selection Sunday and 20 more tournaments will take place this week. Of those, 13 will be from Mid-Major leagues, which are all previewed here.
As we head towards Selection Sunday, make sure to bookmark our Conference Tournament Tracker to follow along with who has secured automatic bids and what teams are still alive in their respective tournaments.
Additionally, I’ll be updating my Bracket Projection much more frequently as we move closer to Selection Sunday.
March 9, 12, 16
Higher seed hosts game
Top Seeds: Vermont, Stony Brook
Tournament Format: 8 teams in a normal bracket, reseeded after the first round
Recent History: Last year UMBC won the America East Championship on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to upset top-seeded Vermont. The Terriers then went on to become the first 16-seed to defeat a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when they topped Virginia in epic and hilarious fashion. Last year was the first time in 7 seasons that a team other than Albany, Stony Brook, or Vermont appeared in the America East title game.
Vermont is the defending champions and have won 34 of their last 35 games against conference opponents. The Catamounts have appeared in the America East championship game each of the last two seasons. In the last six years, the America East Tournament has been dominated by three teams. The last time a team other than Albany, Stony Brook, or Vermont appeared in the conference championship game was 2011 when Boston University won the tournament.
Preview: Vermont is the top seed for the third straight season. The Catamounts have won 50 of their last 54 games against conference opponents and only 3 regular season games in the last 3 years. For full disclosure, this preview is being published after the first round of the America East Tournament took place, so we already know that Vermont, UMBC, Hartford, and 7th-seeded Binghamton are the four teams going to the semifinals. UMBC and Vermont have the top defenses in the conference, holding opponents under 64 points per game. Vermont’s Anthony Lamb leads the league in scoring (21.2 PPG) and rebounding (7.9 RPG). Hartford’s tandem of JR Lynch (16.4 PPG, 3.8 APG, 2.2 SPG) and George Blagojevic (14.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG) will make the Hawks a force. UMBC’s top two scorers from last year’s legendary team graduated.
Top Seeds: VCU, Davidson
Sleeper: Rhode Island
Tournament Format: 14 teams with the top 4 getting byes to the quarterfinals and the bottom 4 teams playing in two play-in games.
Recent History: The A-10 has been one of the most successful mid-major leagues at earning At-Large bids. Part of this is because the top seed has only won the tournament once in the last 8 years. Strangely, the most successful teams have come from the 4-seed, winning 5 of the last 10 titles. However, only once in the last decade has a team that did not get a first round bye (top 4 seeds) won the Tournament.
Preview: It has been a bit of a down year for the A-10 and top-seeded VCU is the only team with a legitimate chance for an at-large bid. Davidson is the highest-scoring team in the league (79 PPG) while Rhode Island and Dayton are holding opponents under 61 points per game. The Wildcats have a pair of 17 PPG scorers in Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady. The biggest surprise of this A-10 season might be Duquesne who is third in the league with 71 PPG and staged 6 double-digit comeback victories. VCU is the hottest team in the league, winners of 12 straight games entering the postseason. The Rams have gotten back to their defensive identity and average 9.5 steals per game.
Top Seeds: Montana, Northern Colorado
Sleeper: Weber St
Tournament Format: 11 teams with 3 play-in games between the bottom 6 teams
Recent History: Montana and Weber St have one of the best rivalries in the mid-major ranks. These two schools have dominated the Big Sky Tournament and at least one of them has appeared in each of the last 9 championship games. In that timespan the two schools have also faced off four times in the league title game. The Big Sky has been very successful at getting their top teams to the Big Dance. Only once in the last decade has a team outside the top 2 seeds won the the automatic bid. In fact, the top seed has won 7 of the last 8 tournaments.
Preview: Montana is once again the top seed but finished just a game ahead of Northern Colorado. The Grizzlies have done it with defense this season, holding opponents to 69 points per game in the high-scoring Big Sky. Only one Big Sky team finished under 70 points per game this season. Weber St led the way with an 80.2 PPG average, followed closely by Montana St’s 78.1. Northern Colorado’s Jordan Davis led the conference in scoring at 23.8 PPG. Montana State has a dangerous duo in Tyler Hall (20.5 PPG) and Harald Frey (17.4 PPG, 5.0 APG). Conference champion Montana spread the scoring around with 4 players in double-figures and the top 3-point shooting team in the league. The Big Sky has a number of talented teams that are capable of putting up a lot of points, which always makes for a fun tournament.
Top Seeds: UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara
Sleeper: Long Beach St
Tournament Format: The top 8 teams in the conference play in a normal bracket
Recent History: The Big West has the most parity of any conference in basketball. In the last decade, 9 different teams have won the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The only team to win it more than once was UC Santa Barbara’s back-to-back run in 2010 and 2011. The only school in the conference that has not made the NCAA Tournament in the last decade is UC-Riverside.
Preview: UC-Irvine ran away with the regular season title with a 15-1 conference record, winning the league by 5 games. However, the Anteaters are far from a guarantee to walk through the Big West Tournament. They rank in the middle of the pack in scoring offense (69.1 PPG) and are third in scoring defense (65.4 PAPG). Interestingly, the teams with the top offenses (Cal St Fullerton at 76.6 PPG and Cal St Northridge at 75.3 PPG) are also the teams with the worst defenses, both allowing over 74 PPG. Northridge has the top two scorers in the conference in Lamine Diane (24.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.1 BPG) and Terrell Gomez (19.2 PPG). Long Beach St was the only Big West team to beat UC-Irvine this season and only lost by 2 in their second meeting. If top-seeded UC-Irvine wins the tournament they could be a difficult out in the NCAA Tournament as they already have wins over Texas A&M and St. Mary’s this season.
Top Seeds: Old Dominion, Western Kentucky
Tournament Format: All 12 teams play in the tournament with the top 4 seeds receiving byes
Recent History: The first round bye has always provided a massive advantage in the C-USA tournament. The eventual tournament champion has come from the top 4 seeds in 10 of the last 11 years including 8 straight. However, the top seed has failed to win the tournament in 4 of the last 5 years (since Memphis left for the AAC in 2013). The Conference USA Champion has won first round games in the last three NCAA Tournaments. Middle Tennessee St upset #2 seed Michigan St and #5 seed Minnesota in 2016 and 2017 then Marshall defeated #4 seed Wichita St last year.
Preview: Old Dominion won the regular season title by 2 games. Second place was a 4-way tie between Western Kentucky, Southern Miss, defending tournament champion Marshall, and UTSA. FIU and Marshall both average over 80 points per game while Old Dominion rode a stifling defense (61.2 PAPG) to the league title. UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson led the league in scoring at 22.4 PPG. Before the season, many saw Western Kentucky as the league favorites. The Hilltoppers backed that up in non-conference play by beating Wisconsin, Arkansas, St. Mary’s, and West Virginia. Marshall enters the postseason on a 5-game winning streak, looking to replicate their hot shooting from last year’s tournament that got them to the Big Dance and sprung an upset on Wichita St.
New Haven, CT
Top Seeds: Harvard,Yale
Tournament Format: The top four teams play in a normal bracket.
Recent History: The Ivy League was the last holdout from having a conference tournament and held their inaugural four-team tournament in 2017. This is the third year of the Ivy League having an official tournament. Penn’s title last year was the first time a team other than Princeton, Harvard, and Yale won the Ivy League since 2010.
Preview: Penn, the defending tournament champions, snuck into last spot in the playoffs thanks to a victory over Brown in the season finale that secured a 3-way tiebreaker over Brown and Cornell. Old rivals Harvard and Yale are the top two seeds with Harvard sweeping the season series. Yale led the league in scoring (80.5 PPG) while the other 3 teams in the tournament held opponents under 70 PPG this season. With Cornell missing out on the tournament, the league’s leading scorer won’t be in New Haven. Penn’s AJ Brodeur ranks in the top 5 in the league in 4 categories (17.4 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 BPG) has a chance to lead the Quakers back to the Dance.
March 11, 14-16
Top Seeds: Buffalo, Toledo
Sleeper: Bowling Green
Tournament Format: 12 teams with the top 4 seeds receiving byes to the quarterfinals
Recent History: Top seeds have not fared well in the MAC Tournament. In the last 10 years, the #1 seed has only reached the NCAA Tournament 3 times. Last year was the first time the top seed won the tournament with the MAC using a traditional bracket since 2008. The other victories by the top seed were with a non-traditional bracket where the top two teams got triple byes to the semifinals. Last year, MAC Champion Buffalo upset #4 seed Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by 21 points.
Preview: Buffalo ran away with the MAC regular season title for the second straight season. The Bulls have been so good they are not only a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but could be in line for a seed in the top half of the bracket. Buffalo led the league in scoring with 85 PPG and ended the year on a 9-game winning streak. Akron finished as the top defensive team (63.3 PAPG). Bowling Green was the last team to beat Buffalo this season but dropped their last two games to fall into third place in the conference. Toledo won 5 in a row to finish second in the league. Kent State’s Jaylin Walker (21.9 PPG) led the league in scoring while Central Michigan’s Larry Austin Jr was 5th in scoring (17 PPG) but led the conference in assists (5.8 APG) and steals (2.2 SPG).
Top Seeds: Norfolk St, North Carolina A&T
Tournament Format: 11 teams with 3 play-in games between the bottom 6 teams
Recent History: Hampton and North Carolina Central have won the last five MEAC Championships. In the last 11 years, the MEAC Tournament has either been won by a favorite (7 times by the #1 or #2 seed) or a massive upset (4 times by the #6 or #7 seed). This includes last year when NC Central won the MEAC from the 6-seed. While generally thought of as one of the lower-tier mid-major leagues, the MEAC has produced 3 of the biggest NCAA Tournament upsets in the last 20 years (Coppin St over South Carolina in 1997, Hampton over Iowa St in 2001, and Norfolk St over Missouri in 2012). The MEAC owns 3 of the 8 15-over-2 upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
Preview: With Hampton moving to the Big South, Norfolk St and North Carolina A&T dominated the league this year, finishing at least 3 games ahead of the rest of the competition. That said, as we have learned in the past, never sleep on North Carolina Central who is the two-time defending tournament champions and won it from the 6-seed last year. Savannah State will be playing their final D1 game in this tournament as they are dropping down to D-II next year. Howard is the hottest team in the league, winners of 4 straight, and features the league’s top two scorers in RJ Cole (21.7 PPG, 6.3 APG) and Charles Williams (18.4 PPG).
Top Seeds: Nevada, Utah St
Sleeper: San Diego St
Tournament Format: 11 teams with the bottom 6 competing in 3 play-in games.
Recent History: The Mountain West Tournament has not been kind to top seeds. In the last 12 years only two #1 seeds have won the tournament while the #2 seed has won 7 times. San Diego State has been the most successful at navigating the bracket, reaching the championship game 8 times in the last 10 years, including winning the automatic bid from the 5-seed last year. Nevada was the regular season champion each of the last two years and reached the Sweet 16 last year.
Preview: Nevada won the regular season title for the third straight season and is in solid position for an at-large bid if the top seeds continue their string of bad luck in Vegas. The Wolfpack have a loaded lineup led by the Martin twins Caleb (19.6 PPG) and Cody (11.6 PPG) and Jordan Caroline (17.7 PPG, 9.6 RPG). This conference is loaded with offensively talented teams, led by Nevada (81.6 PPG), Utah St (79.1 PPG), and Fresno St (77.1 PPG). Nevada and Utah St, who tied atop the regular season standings and split their head-to-head games, both held opponents under 67 points per game. Wyoming’s Justin James and Utah State’s Sam Merril both average over 21 points per game. Fresno St is the top 3-point shooting team in the league and is capable of getting hot and going on a run as they did in 2016.
Top Seeds: Sam Houston St, Abilene Christian
Sleeper: Southeastern Louisiana
Tournament Format: The top 8 teams in the conference qualify for the tournament. The top 2 seeds get double byes to the semifinals and the #3 and #4 seeds get byes to the quarterfinals.
Recent History: The non-traditional bracket has benefited the Southland Conference. Before last year, one of the teams receiving a double bye had won the tournament in all 5 years since the conference moved to this format. Last year, Stephen F Austin came from the #3 seed to win their fourth title in five years.
Preview: The biggest story this year is that defending champion (and winner of 4 of the last 5 Southland Conference Tournaments) Stephen F Austin is not in Katy. The Lumberjacks lost their last 4 games and finished in 9th place to miss the tournament by one game. This opens the door for regular season champions Sam Houston State or Abilene Christian who just moved up to Division 1 in 2013. Lamar is the league’s hottest team, winners of 8 in a row. Houston Baptist, the 8th seed in the tournament, has the league’s best offense (82.3 PPG) and worst defense (82.9 PAPG). Abilene Christian has the best scoring margin thanks to their league-leading defense (63.1 PAPG) and being the best 3-point shooting team in the league. Stephen F Austin boasted the top two scorers in the league, so without the Jacks in the tournament the top scorers in the postseason are Houston Baptist’s Ian DuBose (17.4 PPG) and Southeastern Louisiana’s Moses Greenwood (17.3 PPG).
March 12, 15-16
First round at higher seed, semis and finals in Birmingham
Top Seeds: Prairie View A&M, Texas Southern
Tournament Format: The top 8 teams qualify in a normal bracket
Recent History: The top seed has won the SWAC in 4 of the last 7 years. Since 1999, the only time the SWAC Champion did not receive a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament was 2015 when Texas Southern got a 15-seed. Either Texas Southern or Southern have won the last 6 SWAC titles. Texas Southern has claimed the last two SWAC crowns and 4 of the last 5.
Preview: Prairie View A&M dominated the SWAC with a 17-1 run through conference play. The Panthers only loss came against second-place and defending tournament champions Texas Southern. Only 3 teams in the SWAC enter the conference tournament with above-.500 records on the season which will almost assuredly land the champion on the 16-seed line once again. This tournament should come down to Prairie View and Texas Southern (who finished 4 games ahead of third place Jackson State). Those were the top two scoring teams in the league, both averaging over 75 points per game. Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Martaveous McKnight was the only SWAC player to average over 20 points per game.
March 12, 14-17
Top Seeds: Georgia St, UT-Arlington
Sleeper: Texas St
Tournament Format: Top 10 teams qualify with the tip 2 seeds receiving byes to the semifinals, the 3rd and 4th seeds getting byes to the quarterfinals, and the 5th and 6th seeds getting first round byes.
Recent History: No tournament has been as rife with upsets as the Sun Belt. Over the last 8 years, half of the tournament winners were seeded lower than 5th. Troy and Western Kentucky have won the “Fun Belt” from the 6th seed and a #7-seed and #9 seed have also claimed the title. The top seed has only won the Sun Belt 3 times in the last 10 years, but in all three of those seasons that team sprung a first round upset in the NCAA Tournament.
Preview: The slew of upsets, including top-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette getting knocked off in the semifinals last year, prompted the Sun Belt to change their tournament format. They employed a non-traditional bracket to give their top teams byes all the way to the semifinals to try to cut down on the likelihood of mid-level conference teams getting hot and upsetting their way to the automatic bid. Georgia State won the regular season title by one game over UT-Arlington, Georgia Southern, and Texas State. Georgia Southern and Louisiana have explosive offenses that average over 82 points per game. Texas State has a shut-down defense that has held opponents to 64 points per game, a full 6 points fewer than all other teams. Louisiana’s JaKeenan Grant is in the top 5 in the Sun Belt in points (20.4 PPG), rebounds (8.5 RPG) and blocks (2.7 BPG). Arkansas St’s Ty Cockfield leads the conference in scoring with 22.4 PPG.
Top Seeds: New Mexico St, Utah Valley
Sleeper: Grand Canyon
Tournament Format: 8 teams in a normal bracket
Recent History: New Mexico State has won 7 of the last 9 WAC titles and appeared in 7 straight championship games. One of the top 3 seeds has won the last 10 WAC Tournaments.
Preview: New Mexico State rolled to another WAC regular season title. The Aggies are winners of 16 in a row and their only conference loss came against California Baptist who is not taking part in the tournament because they are ineligible for the postseason due to a transition from D-II. New Mexico State finished 3 games ahead of Utah Valley but both teams averaged 77.5 PPG. Grand Canyon is also a team to keep an eye on thanks to their tough defense (67.9 PPG) which is second only to New Mexico State’s (64.6 PPG) in the WAC. Grand Canyon played New Mexico State the closest of anyone this season, losing by 2 and 3 points. Utah Valley is also the top three-point shooting team in the conference, which could be the equalizer if they want to knock off New Mexico State.