The 2017-2018 college basketball regular season has come to a close. Welcome to Champ Week. It is Conference Tournament time. Last week, 13 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 22 teams that enter Champ Week on the Tournament Bubble. We are less than a week away from Selection Sunday and 19 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 3, 6, 10
Higher seed hosts game
Top Seeds: Vermont, UMBC
Sleeper: Stony Brook
Tournament Format: 8 teams in a normal bracket
Recent History: 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 was the last remaining unbeaten team in conference play this season, but suffered a 1-point loss to Hartford in late February. 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, Stony Brook, UMBC, and Hartford are the four teams going to the semifinals. Vermont plays a slow-tempoed game with an efficient offense that ranks in the Top 40 in the nation. The starting five for the Catamounts all average in double-digits, led by Anthony Lamb (15.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG) and Trae Bell-Haynes (15.1 PPG, 3.9 APG). UMBC features the conference’s second-leading scorer in Jairus Lyles (20.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.2 SPG) and leader in assists in KJ Maura (11.3 PPG, 5.3 APG, 2.0 SPG).
Top Seeds: Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure
Sleeper: St. Joseph’s
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 teams on the bubble have performed well in the conference tournament, such as last year when Rhode Island secured their spot by winning the automatic bid. Either the #4 or #5 seed has won the tournament in 5 of the last 6 years. 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: Rhode Island ran through the first half of the conference slate but showed some cracks in their armor down the stretch. After a 13-0 start, the Rams lost 3 of their last 5. St. Bonaventure has won 12 in a row and is fighting for their lives on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Bonnies have the highest-scoring offense in the league led by senior guard Jaylen Adams (20.5 PPG, 5.3 APG) who is one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation at nearly 48%. Davidson might be one of the hottest teams in the league after beating Rhode Island in the season finale. The Wildcats’ only loss in their last 6 games was in triple overtime agianst St. Bonaventure. Senior forward Peyton Aldridge leads the A-10 in scoring (21.3 PPG) and is in the top 5 in rebounds (7.8 RPG). St. Joseph’s beat Rhode Island last week and has the lucky 4-seed, which has produced 3 of the last 4 A-10 champions (including St. Joe’s twice).
Top Seeds: Montana, Idaho
Sleeper: Weber St
Tournament Format: 12 teams with the top 4 getting byes to the quarterfinals
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 8 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.
Preview: Another small conference that is loaded with offensively talented teams. Nine of the top ten teams in the league average over 75 points per game with Portland St (86.8 PPG) and Northern Colorado (80.3 PPG) leading the way. Montana won the regular season title by 2 games and featured the best defense in the league, holding opponents under 68 points per game. The Grizzlies are led by the trio of Ahmaad Rorie (17.0 PPG), Michael Oguine (15.2 PPG), and Jamar Akoh (13.6 PPG). Eastern Washington is the hottest team entering the tournament, winners of 6 in a row and have a talented point guard in Bogdan Bliznyuk (20.4 PPG, 4.1 APG). Perennial contender Weber St features the league’s leading scorer Jerrick Harding (22.1 PPG) and second-leading rebounder Zach Braxton (7.8 RPG). Northern Colorado’s Andre Spight (22.1 PPG) ranks in the top 15 in the nation in scoring. Portland St plays at one of the fastest tempos in the nation which could make the Vikings an upset threat.
Top Seeds: UC Davis, UC Irvine
Sleeper: UC Santa Barbara
Tournament Format: The top 8 teams in the conference play in a normal bracket
Recent History: With UC Davis winning the tournament last year, 9 different schools have claimed the Big West’s automatic bid in the last 10 years. 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: The Big West was one of the closest conferences in the nation this season. Defending tournament champion UC Davis won the regular season title by closing the season on a 5-game winning streak and beating UC Irvine in double overtime in the season finale. Six teams finished within 4 games of UC Davis, which should make for a wide open tournament. The Big West tends to be a defensive-minded conference with 5 teams holding their opponents under 70 points per game. Santa Barbara has the league’s best offense at 76 points per game while Irvine has the best defense, holding opponents to 67 points per game. UC Davis is led by Chima Moneke (18.4 PPG, 9.6 RPG) and point guard TJ Shorts II (15.2 PPG, 4.3 APG, 2.0 SPG) who ranks second in the league in assists and first in steals. Fullerton’s Kyle Allman leads the league in scoring at 19.4 PPG. Santa Barbara’s offense is led by the duo of Max Heidegger (19.4 PPG) and double-double machine Leland King II (15.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG). Long Beach St also has a solid inside presence in Gabe Levin (18.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG).
Top Seeds: Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion
Tournament Format: All 12 teams play in the tournament with the top 4 seeds receiving byes
Recent History: Since Memphis left Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference in 2013, Middle Tennessee has been a dominant force in the league. The Blue Raiders have won the last two tournament titles and reached three straight Conference USA Championship games. Middle Tennessee has won first round games in the last two NCAA Tournaments, upsetting #2 seed Michigan St and #5 seed Minnesota the last two years.
Preview: March has not been good to Conference USA. Entering the last weekend of the regular season, Middle Tennessee was running away with the conference and had a decent bubble resume and Western Kentucky was hovering around the edge of the bubble picture. Then MTSU lost to Marshall and Western Kentucky fell to UAB by 28. Marshall’s victory over the Blue Raiders completed a season sweep and vaulted the Herd into the 4-seed, which sets up a potential third meeting in the semifinals. Conference USA will likely now be a one-bid league as Middle Tennessee’s bubble hopes are on life support. The Blue Raiders are still a talented team capable of springing another first round upset with senior forward Nick King (21.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG) leading the way. Second-seeded Old Dominion has the top defense in the league, holding opponents to just 63 points per game. Marshall has the best offense, averaging 85 points per game while playing at one of the fastest paces in the nation. Thundering Herd guard Jon Elmore leads Conference USA in scoring (22.8 PPG) and assists (6.8 APG) while Ajdin Penava leads the conference in blocks (4.3 BPG) and is in the top five in rebounds (8.6 RPG). The Herd also have the league’s third-leading scorer in CJ Burks (21.0 PPG).
Top Seeds: Harvard, Penn
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 last season. This is the second year of the Ivy League having an official tournament, though they did have single game playoffs to determine the conference champion in 2 of the prior 6 years. Princeton, Harvard, and Yale have claimed the last 7 Ivy League titles.
Preview: Penn led the league for most of the season but has the #2 seed in the tournament after a late season loss to Yale cost the Quakers the tiebreaker with Harvard. Penn is hosting the tournament at The Palestra and is the overwhelming favorites to win the title with four players averaging in double figures. Three of the four Ivy league playoff teams average over 75 points per game with Harvard boasting the best defense at 67 points against per game. Yale closed the season on a 4-game winning streak as they look to get back to the Big Dance for the second time in 3 years. Cornell snuck in as the #4 seed and features 2 of the top 5 scorers in the conference in Matt Morgan (22.6 PPG) and Stone Getings (17 PPG, 6.7 RPG).
Top Seeds: Buffalo, Toledo
Sleeper: Miami (OH)
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 9 years, the #1 seed has only reached the NCAA Tournament twice. The only time the top seed won the tournament was when the MAC employed a non-traditional bracket where the top two teams got triple byes to the semifinals. Despite top seeds not faring well, the MAC Champions have received decent seeds in the NAA Tournament and only once in the last 9 years has the league winner been seeded lower than 14th.
Preview: Buffalo ran away with the MAC regular season title, winning the league by 2 games over Toledo and 4+ games over everyone else. The Bulls play an up-tempo game with an efficient offense that results in an astounding 85 points per game. Buffalo has a quartet of scorers averaging over 15 points per game in CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins, Jeremy Harris, and Wes Clark. Toledo finished second and also averaged 80 points per game, led by all-around talent Tre’Shaun Fletcher (18.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 4.5 APG). Eastern Michigan was the hottest team to end the year, winning their last 6. The Eagles have the best defense in the conference (67 PPG) and have a pair of talented big men in Robert Morris transfer and former WPIAL star Elijah Minnie (16.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.7 BPG) and James Thompson IV (15.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 1.8 BPG).
Top Seeds: Hampton, Bethune-Cookman
Sleeper: Savannah St
Tournament Format: 13 teams with the top 3 receiving first round byes
Recent History: Hampton and North Carolina Central have split the last four MEAC Championships. In the last decade, the MEAC Tournament has either been won by a favorite (7 times by the #1 or #2 seed) or a massive upset (3 times by the #6 or #7 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: Hampton won their last 8 games to finish in a 3-way tie atop the league standings with Bethune-Cookman and Savannah State. The storyline to watch here is Savannah State. Before the year the university announced that they would move down to Division II after this season. Not much was expected of the Tigers, but they played their guts out and finished tied for the regular season title. Savannah State has never made an NCAA Tournament before, but that would make for quite the ending to their Division 1 run. Savannah State averages 87 points per game but also has the worst defense in the nation at 95 points allowed per game. Howard has the two leading scorers in the conference in RJ Cole (23.7 PPG, 6.0 APG) and Charles Williams (20.5 PPG). Bethune-Cookman is a deep team with 5 players averaging in double-digits. These teams like to play fast, with 5 MEAC teams ranked in the Top 100 in possessions per game.
Top Seeds: Nevada, Boise St
Tournament Format: 11 teams with the bottom 6 competing in 3 play-in games.
Recent History: Nevada is the defending tournament champion after becoming just the second #1 seed in the last decade to win the Mountain West tournament. The #2 seed has won the tournament in 7 of the last 11 years. San Diego St has reached the championship game in 7 of the last 9 years.
Preview: Nevada won the regular season title and should be able to earn an at-large bid if the Wolfpack fail to win the Mountain West Tournament. This figures to be a high-scoring tournament as 4 of the top 8 teams average over 80 points per game and 7 of 8 are over 77 points per game. Nevada sits at the top at 84 points per game with Caleb Martin (19.5 PPG) and Jordan Caroline (17.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG) leading the way. Boise St has the best defense in the league (68.5 PPG) but also boasts the league’s leading scorer in Chandler Hutchinson (19.5 PPG). San Diego State won 6 in a row to end the season, including a victory over Nevada, and New Mexico won their last 5. Wyoming could be a threat to make some noise with 2 of the top 5 scorers in the league in Justin James (19.1 PPG) and Hayden Dalton (18.1 PPG).
Top Seeds: Southeast Louisiana, Nicholls St
Sleeper: Stephen F Austin
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 benefitted the Southland Conference. The top seed has won each of the last 4 tournaments and one of the teams receiving a double bye has won the tournament in all 5 years since the conference moved to this format. Before New Orleans won the title last year, Stephen F. Austin had won the last 3 championships.
Preview: Southeastern Louisiana finished the season on an 8-game winning streak to claim a share of the league title. Nicholls St led the league for most of the season and paced the field offensively averaging 83 points per game. Stephen F Austin and Central Arkansas both averaged nearly 82 per game, which should make for a fun Southland Tournament as only the top 8 teams advanced to the postseason. Central Arkansas features Jordan Howard, the nation’s third-leading scorer at 25.8 PPG. While Nicholls and Central Arkansas have won with offense, SE Louisiana, Stephen F Austin, and Sam Houston St have won with defense, holding their opponents under 69 points per game.
Top Seeds: Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Prairie View A&M
Sleeper: 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 6 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 5 SWAC titles.
Preview: Previously, postseason-ineligible teams had been permitted to take part in the SWAC Tournament. That changed this year as regular season champion Grambling State will not take part in the tournament, giving Arkansas-Pine Bluff the top seed after the Golden Lions won a 3-way tie with Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern. No SWAC team entering the tournament has a winning record overall, which means the tournament champion is likely destined for a play-in game in Dayton. Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern ended the season on 4-game winning streaks and are the only teams averaging over 71 points per game. Jackson St has the best defense in the league and is the only team that has held their opponents under 70 per game.
Top Seeds: Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia St
Tournament Format: All 12 teams qualify with the Top 4 receiving byes
Recent History: No tournament has been as rife with upsets as the Sun Belt. Over the last 7 years, more teams that finished lower than 5th have qualified for the NCAA Tournament than teams seeded in the top 3. Troy won the Tournament from the 6-seed last year, the second 6 seed to win it in that time. The Sun Belt has also been won by a #7-seed and #9 seed. In the two years when the top seed did win the tournament, that team sprung a first round upset in the NCAA Tournament. Five different teams have won the Sun Belt in the last 5 years.
Preview: Louisiana-Lafayette dominated the regular season and had a 5-game lead atop the conference before they lost their regular season finale to last place Little Rock. That loss shattered any hopes the Rajin Cajun’s had of an at-large bid, which means the “Fun Belt” will be a one-bid league once again. Louisiana averaged a league-high 84 points per game thanks to the quartet of Frank Bartley IV (17.4 PPG), JaKeenan Grant (14.7 PPG), double-double machine Bryce Washington (106. PPG, 10.7 RPG), and Johnathan Stove (10.6 PPG). Georgia St has the league’s leading scorer in D’Marcus Simonds (21.5 PPG, 4.5 APG) while UT-Arlington’s Kevin Hervey is second in both points (21.1 PPG) and rebounds (8.7 RPG).
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 6 of the last 8 WAC titles and appeared in 6 straight championship games. One of the top 3 seeds has won the last 9 WAC Tournaments.
Preview: New Mexico State rode an efficient defense to another WAC regular season title. The Aggies held opponents to just 63 points per game and got off to a roaring 9-0 start before losses to Utah Valley and Seattle. New Mexico St closed strong, winning their last 3 games. The tandem of Zach Lofton (19.3 PPG) and double-double machine Jemerrio Jones (10.9 PPG, 12.7 RPG) have made the Aggies a formidable opponent. Utah Valley has the best offense in the conference at 78 points per game while Grand Canyon also has a stifling defense at 64 points per game. There isn’t a lot of offense in the WAC, so expect a relatively low-scoring tournament.