By the time Saturday concludes, 3 teams will have punched their ticket to the big dance. Action in the Big South, OVC, and A-Sun will take place over the next week. Despite these being smaller conferences, bubble teams need to take note. In all likelihood, Belmont is not going to get an at-large berth if they do not win the Atlantic Sun tournament, but that is not the case for Murray State. The Racers are a lock for the tournament, and if they fail to win the OVC tournament, it will mean one less at-large spot is available for the rest of the bubble. Here’s a look at who may prevail in each of the 3 tournaments:
Big South: The Big South is one of the few conferences that holds all its tournament games on campus sites. This obviously gives a major advantage to the highest seeds in the tournament, as if you are not the #1 seed, you must win a road game to make the NCAA Tournament. The past two years, Coastal Carolina has failed to get the job done at home in the championship game in one of the smallest gyms in the nation. The only thing I think we’ll see as a repeat this year is the winning team. UNC Asheville has experience in Matt Dickey and JP Primm, and they should be strong enough to get the job done and return to the big dance.
Atlantic Sun: This looks like it could be one of the most even tournaments this year. Even though Mercer is the 2-seed in the tournament, they will be playing all of their games at home. It would be highly surprising to not see a Belmont-Mercer final in this tournament. Mercer was 8-1 at home in conference this year… their lone loss being by a single point to Belmont just two days ago. If that does turn out to be the final on Saturday, it will be a great game. I think Belmont will eventually be too much for Mercer, but winning on the road in an elimination game is never easy. Also, keep an eye out for the Campbell Camels, who have arguably the best mascot in the country.
OVC: Murray State is a heavy favorite to win the OVC tournament, but it is not a given. Last year, the Racers entered the tournament as the #1 seed and were promptly upset. I don’t see that happening again in the semifinals, but a finals matchup against Tennessee State could prove daunting. Although, the Tigers don’t play their home games at Nashville Municipal Auditorium, they do play only a couple miles down the road. This could create a unique environment for Murray State. Tennessee State is the only team that has beaten the Racers this season. I just don’t see it happening again. Coach Steve Prohm is well aware that his team will be dancing even with a loss, but a second loss to Tennessee State could really impact seeding.
The start of Conference Tournaments gets me excited every year for March Madness. There should be some great championship games Saturday afternoon.