It hasn’t taken long to be reminded of why March is the best month of basketball (or to me, the best month of the year). In another sense, we’ve been reminded why, as wonderful as the NCAA Tournament is, conference tournaments are college basketball at its finest.
And we’re still only just beginning. Not only that, but there was big news in games outside of conference tournaments as well, making it the biggest Friday night in a while.
We can start with a brief mention of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, where Adam Glatczak goes into more detail here and here. Top seed Wichita State got a scare from Loyola (Ill.), who played a lot of teams tough this year, before pulling out a 66-58 win as Ron Baker carried them at times. None of the other three games had quite as much drama in terms of late finishes, although it had a noteworthy upset as No. 6 Indiana State beat No. 3 Illinois State 65-57.
Next, the Big South Tournament, in a conference that has been tremendously competitive the last couple of years. Gardner Webb used a big second half, including a late rally, to beat two-time defending champion Coastal Carolina 69-65 and advance to the semifinals.
The CAA Tournament began for the final time under Tom Yeager, who is retiring in June. It started with a big finish as Drexel got a late jumper from All-Rookie guard Terrell Allen to beat Elon 57-56 and cap a season where Elon’s games were decided by single digits. After that, College of Charleston fended off a late rally by Delaware with a Cameron Johnson block of a potential game-tying field goal in the final seconds to beat the Blue Hens 67-63.
The Southern Conference Tournament continued the drama. In first round action, VMI and Samford needed overtime to decide their game. It was a close game throughout, tied at halftime as well as the end of regulation, but Samford went on an 11-2 run in the extra session to take this one by a 92-85 margin to advance to the semifinals. Later, Mercer got a layup in the final seconds to beat The Citadel 71-69.
And then we visit the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, which has been home to plenty of great finishes over the years, including last season. This time around, however, Belmont was on the wrong side of it, as the Bruins lost a heart-breaking 97-96 decision to Austin Peay in overtime. The Bruins had two chances in the final seconds, but couldn’t cash in, and the Governors will take on Tennessee-Martin in the championship game on Saturday night.
Perhaps the biggest story of all, however, came in the Ivy League, which clings to its tradition of not having a tournament. Yale held serve by blowing out Cornell 88-64, but the big news was in Cambridge, where Yale’s arch rival did them a favor. Harvard got 25 points and a late block from Patrick Steeves to beat Princeton 73-71. With that, Yale would clinch their first NCAA Tournament bid in 54 years with a win at Columbia on Saturday night. A loss, and they would have to see if Princeton wins out or loses either at Dartmouth tonight or against Penn on Tuesday night.
In other conference tournament action, Monmouth and Iona advanced in the MAAC Tournament, while Loyola Marymount held off San Diego to advance in the West Coast Conference Tournament by a 64-61 margin.
Kevin Punter Jr.’s college career is over, as the ailing Tennessee guard will have season-ending surgery to address the stress fracture in his right foot. The senior, who is 11th in the nation in scoring, has missed the last four games due to the injury and held out hope of returning before deciding it was time to go ahead with the surgery.
Tennessee’s arch rival, meanwhile, will get a player back from a similar injury on Saturday, as Kentucky will see Derek Willis return. The junior forward has missed the last three games with an ankle injury and will help the Wildcats with his perimeter shooting.
Conference tournaments lead the way as the first automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament go out today, but there is much more than that.
- The Big South Tournament has its semifinals, with UNC Asheville taking on High Point and Gardner Webb playing Winthrop.
- In the CAA Tournament, top seed Hofstra takes on No. 9 Drexel to start the day, followed by an intriguing 4-5 matchup between James Madison and William & Mary. The night session has No. 2 UNCW taking on No. 7 College of Charleston, followed by No. 3 Towson taking on No. 6 Northeastern.
- The Horizon League Tournament gets going in Detroit with Cleveland State taking on Green Bay, Northern Kentucky taking on Milwaukee, UIC taking on Wright State and Youngstown State taking on Detroit.
- The MAAC Tournament has the second half of its quarterfinals, with Manhattan taking on Siena and Fairfield taking on St. Peter’s.
- The semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament will have No. 1 Wichita State taking on No. 4 Northern Iowa, followed by No. 2 Evansville taking on No. 6 Indiana State.
- The semifinals of the Northeast Conference Tournament are on tap, with both games being close by: Mount St. Mary’s at Fairleigh Dickinson and LIU at Wagner.
- The Ohio Valley Conference championship game will match up UT-Martin and Austin Peay.
- The Southern Conference Tournament has quarterfinal action: Western Carolina vs. Wofford, Mercer vs. East Tennessee State, UNC Greensboro vs. Furman and Samford taking on regular season champion Chattanooga.
- Half of the quarterfinals are on the slate in the Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls, with South Dakota taking on IPFW and Oral Roberts taking on South Dakota State.
- In the West Coast Conference Tournament, quarterfinal action has Santa Clara taking on Brigham Young, San Francisco taking on Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount taking on top seed Saint Mary’s and Portland taking on Gonzaga.
- The latest matchup in the biggest rivalry in college basketball is on tap as Duke hosts North Carolina. In other ACC action of note, Virginia hosts Louisville.
- The Atlantic 10 is home to a dandy matchup with VCU visiting Dayton.
- Big 12 play is headlined by Baylor at West Virginia and Iowa State at Kansas.
- In the Big East, Marquette travels to Butler and Creighton travels to Xavier in key matchups.
- In Big Ten action, Michigan hosts Iowa and Michigan State hosts Ohio State.
- Also, as noted earlier, big Ivy League games are on tap as Yale can clinch with a win at Columbia, while Princeton is at Dartmouth hoping to still have life.
- A potentially good late-night matchup in the Mountain West has San Diego State hosting UNLV, opposite New Mexico visiting Nevada.
- Oregon visits USC to headline the Pac-12 contests, along with Oregon State at UCLA and Colorado at Utah.
- In SEC play, Texas A&M hosts Vanderbilt, Kentucky hosts LSU and Georgia hosts Alabama in three games with big bubble implications.