Championship Week has given us so many great stories. There are plenty more still to be written today alone, as Championship Saturday is the biggest one of them all. Friday night paved the way for it beautifully.
There was the Big East Tournament, where Seton Hall advanced to continue a great story for them. A year ago, the Pirates’ season ended in discord; they were in a bad place, and there was plenty of talk about who might not return this season, from underclassmen who might leave to the coach. Kevin Willard had a fairly prohibitive contract for the school, but the talk was there all the same. A year later, the Pirates once again started out with promise, but this time they have persisted through the ups and downs that come with a season. They will take on Villanova, who beat Providence earlier in the evening. This is a more mature team, and one that we’ll see playing later in the month.
There was the American Athletic Conference Tournament, which grew out of the Big East. Cincinnati and UConn played a quarterfinal game with clear implications and gave us all we could ever want – four overtimes, including a buzzer-beater by UConn freshman Jalen Adams to keep it going at the end of the third overtime, before the Huskies pulled it out 104-97 and kept their hopes alive. Adams finished with a career-high 22 points in support of Daniel Hamilton’s 31.
Then we had the Big 12 Tournament, where it looked like Buddy Hield had done it again. He hit a shot from about halfcourt right at the buzzer that would lift Oklahoma into the championship game so many would have loved because of an earlier game this season. But the shot didn’t count after much review, and West Virginia advanced to the Big 12 title game for the first time, to take on Kansas, who beat Baylor earlier. And in a fitting story for this week, birthday boy Jevon Carter led the Mountaineers with 26 points.
The SEC Tournament provided some drama as well in its final game. Georgia rallied to tie, then as they were down two once again, J.J. Frazier hit a tough runner in the lane to tie it. Then he made a big steal at the other end and made the first free throw to break the tie for the 65-64 win. This makes the conversation around both teams very interesting.
And then we have the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. Fortunately, this is one time that what happens in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas, as the Pac-12 gave us more great basketball. In the first semifinal, Oregon blew a 17-point lead and was still up by four in the final seconds, but Arizona sent the game to overtime after having a chance to win, before the Ducks pulled out a 95-89 win to advance to their second straight championship game. Not to be outdone, Utah got a buzzer-beater by Lorenzo Bonam to send their semifinal against California to overtime, then the Golden Bears were just 3-12 in the extra session as Utah pulled out an 82-78 win to get to take on the Ducks.
The great thing about the month is that there is still so much more to come.
Conference Tournament Round-Up
- North Carolina thumped Notre Dame 78-47 and Virginia held off Miami in the ACC semifinals.
- In other American Athletic Conference quarterfinal action, Temple beat USF 79-62, Tulane beat Houston 72-69 (more on that below) and Memphis dealt Tulsa a big blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes with an 89-67 win.
- In the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals, Dayton edged Richmond 64-59, Saint Joseph’s beat George Washington 86-80, VCU beat UMass 85-70 and Davidson rallied to beat St. Bonaventure 90-86 in overtime.
- In the Big Sky semifinals, Weber State needed overtime to beat North Dakota 83-78, then Montana beat Idaho 81-72.
- The Big Ten quarterfinals saw Michigan knock off Indiana 72-69 to greatly help their NCAA Tournament chances, while Michigan State and Purdue scored blowout wins over Ohio State and Illinois, respectively, and Maryland beat Nebraska 97-86.
- In the Big West semifinals, Hawaii beat UC Santa Barbara 88-76, then Long Beach State edged UC Irvine 77-72.
- In Conference USA semifinal action, Old Dominion beat Western Kentucky 89-77 behind a career-high 42 points from Trey Freeman, then Middle Tennessee beat Marshall 99-90.
- The MAC semifinals were both double-digit contests as Akron beat Bowling Green 80-66 and Buffalo beat Ohio 88-74.
- In the MEAC semifinals, it was two contrasting games as Hampton blew out Savannah State 89-55, then South Carolina State edged Norfolk State 67-55.
- In the Mountain West semifinals, San Diego State took care of Nevada 67-55 and Fresno State beat Colorado State 64-56.
- In the SEC quarterfinals, Texas A&M dealt Florida a blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes with a 72-66 win, while LSU beat Tennessee 84-75 and Kentucky rolled over Alabama 85-59.
- In the Southland semifinals, Stephen F. Austin blew out Houston Baptist 104-68, then Texas A&M-Corpus Christi edged Sam Houston State 79-76.
- The Sun Belt quarterfinals saw UL Lafayette blow out South Alabama and UT-Arlington beat Texas State.
- The SWAC semifinals saw Jackson State beat Mississippi Valley State 74-68, then Southern beat Texas Southern 81-73.
- The WAC semifinals saw a pair of double-digit contests as New Mexico State beat UMKC 78-64 and CSU Bakersfield blew out Seattle 72-47.
Coaching changes continued on Friday, and early, as news broke that UCF parted ways with Donnie Jones after five seasons. Jones was asked if he felt his job was on the line coming into the Golden Knights’ season-ending 65-63 loss to Tulane in the first round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament. Previously the head coach at Marshall, Jones was 100-88 in six years there, but since joining The American, they have not won more than 13 games. We’ll get back to Tulane in a minute; you can follow all the coaching changes right here.)
Later in the day, Denver let Joe Scott go after nine seasons at the school. Scott, who was previously head coach at Air Force and then Princeton, was 130-117 with an NIT appearance in 2012-13, when they shared the WAC title in their only year in the conference before going to the Summit League. But that wasn’t all – news broke later that they already have his replacement, Rodney Billups. The younger brother of former NBA star Chauncey Billups, he is an alum of the school and has been at Colorado for the past six years.
Now, back to Tulane. ESPN.com reported that they are expected to fire head coach Ed Conroy. However, that report came out before the Green Wave rallied to beat Houston 72-69 to advance to the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament. Conroy was asked about it following the game and commented at length, noting that, “I know I had two guys behind the bench put their phone up and tell me ‘Hey, Coach you’re gone.’ So that was fun when you’re trying to come back from an eight-point deficit. Conroy went on to say this isn’t the first time something along this line has been said, but he has not been told he will be fired, adding, “It makes for good pregame speeches, though,” and ending with, “See what the story is tomorrow,” both of which got some laughs among reporters.
There is additional news about the Pac-12 Tournament – namely, that it will remain in Las Vegas for a few more years, though it will change venues. Starting next year and going for three years, the tournament will move to the new T-Mobile Arena, which opens on April 6. The tournament has done well there, selling out all four sessions for the first time this year, so the move to a bigger venue makes sense.
It’s a big day with 14 championship games on the slate, starting early and running late. Stay close to your television if you’re a fan.
- The America East gets it going with its championship as Vermont visits Stony Brook (11 a.m.)
- Next up is the MEAC championship game between South Carolina State and Hampton (1 p.m.)
- The Conference USA championship game has Old Dominion taking on Middle Tennessee (2:30 p.m.)
- The Big East championship game has Villanova facing Seton Hall (5:30 p.m.)
- In the Big 12 championship game, Kansas takes on West Virginia (6 p.m.)
- The Mountain West championship will match up San Diego State with Fresno state (6 p.m.)
- The SWAC championship game has Southern taking on Jackson State (6:30 p.m.)
- The MAC championship game will see Buffalo trying to repeat as champions against Akron (7:30 p.m.)
- The Big Sky championship game will pit Montana against Weber State (8:45 p.m.)
- A rarity this year is found in the ACC championship game, which is the top two seeds going for the title as North Carolina takes on Virginia (9 p.m.)
- The Southland Conference championship game is a clash of the titans as Texas A&M-Corpus Christi tries to unseat defending champion Stephen F. Austin (9:30 p.m.)
- The Pac-12 championship should be a nice late treat, featuring Oregon against Utah (10 p.m.)
- The WAC championship will match up CSU Bakersfield and New Mexico State (11 p.m.)
- Last, but certainly not least, the Big West championship closes out the day as Long Beach State takes on Hawaii (11:30 p.m.)
- In the American Athletic Conference semifinals, UConn faces Temple, then Tulane takes on Memphis.
- The Atlantic 10 semifinals start with Saint Joseph’s taking on Dayton, then VCU playing Davidson.
- The Big Ten semifinals start with Michigan taking on Purdue, then Michigan State battles Maryland.
- The SEC has its semifinals, which match up LSU and Texas A&M first, then Kentucky battles Georgia.
- Last, but not least, the Sun Belt semifinals have UL Lafayette taking on UALR, followed by UT-Arlington taking on UL-Monroe.