Three conference tourneys get underway tonight, and here's the lowdown on these early birds.
Big South. This is the time when normally we pencil "Winthrop" into the NCAA bracket. Not this year. It was a dogfight between Radford and VMI during the regular season with the Highlanders coming out on top. They had won 9 games in a row before losing their season finale at home to Liberty by 7...a team VMI decapitated by 37 not one week earier. Radford and VMI are the faves, but beware aforementioned Liberty (#3 seed) and familiar Winthrop, a team that has won five straight.
Horizon. Bubbleland is praying Butler comes through this bracket. And, while they will have the advantage playing at home if they win, there are plenty of worthy challengers. Cleveland State nearly missed getting them in Hinkle last weekend. UW-Green Bay (who beat Butler this season) and Wright State are also worthy challengers. UW-Milwaukee and even Loyola-Chi nipped the Bulldogs in the regular season. Butler is the clear favorite, but do not be suprised if one of the other quality teams in the Horizon gets through. And Bubbleworld will groan, because Butler will nab an AL bid if they lose.
Ohio Valley. While I follow the Sun Belt more closely, the conference with the closest geographical center to my residence is the OVC. Sure, the usual players have a good shot to dance, your Murray States, your Austin Peays, etc. But the theme this year in the OVC is "new blood." Morehead State led this league for a good stretch of the season and has had its best season in years. Tennessee state, once 3-9 in the league, has run off six straight wins at the end including a triumph AT Austin Peay! And, the 1-seed is UT-Martin, led by future NBA player Lester Hudson. UT-M has to be considered the slight favorite, but this one feels wide open.
In other news:
I LOCKed Texas after their win last night. A loss at Kansas and a first-round exit in the Big 12 tourney is not enough to knock them out at this point. Longhorns are IN.
Last Night's GOI
--Villanova 77, at Notre Dame 60. Irish are going to have to do it the hard way. They VERY hard way in the Big East tourney.
--at Texas 73, Baylor 57. Bears have a fork in their back. They will need to win the Big 12 tourney.
--Auburn at Alabama. I don't know how many people are paying attention to the Tigers, and they have little shot at an AL bid. But, they have won won 7/8 with the loss to LSU by 7. They beat Tennessee by one, and the other six wins have been by double digits, two of those on the road. Win here, and they will secure the West #2 seed in the SEC, gain a bye, and be a dangerous team in the SEC tourney.
--Florida State at Duke. A whole mess o' conference and NCAA seeding implications.
--Michigan State at Indiana. Sparty can clinch the Big 10 title with a win.
--Ohio State at Iowa. Buckeyes are not Bubble...but they will be if they lose here.
--Utah at New Mexico. Lobos can pull into a tie for the MWC lead with a win, and strengthen their AL case. Utes can clinch a share of the league title.
--Wake Forest at Maryland. Terps need wins to stay Bubble-IN. They have a must win coming up on Sat at Virginia.
--Kansas State at Oklahoma State. K-State needs it much more between these two Bubblers. Both need it, though.
--Cincinnati at South Florida. A loss here would be quite damaging to the smack-on-the-Bubble Bearcats.
--Georgetown at St. John's. Hoyas continue in must-win mode.