Two more NCAA Tournament bids will be awarded Sunday as conference tournament action picks up.
It’s conference tournament season!
The first Saturday of March saw one No. 1 seed, Murray State, claim the first ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Two other No. 1 seeds, Longwood and Bryant, inched one step closer to booking their first-ever Big Dance reservations. Saturday also saw three top-seeded teams claim the first tickets to the NIT, with Texas State, Northern Iowa and Liberty all falling out of their league tournaments early after winning regular-season titles.
With eight leagues revving up again on Sunday, here’s what to watch for in Sunday’s conference tournament action. All times Eastern.
Missouri Valley Conference — Championship
- (3) Drake vs. (4) Loyola Chicago, 2 p.m., CBS
Arch Madness is about to reach its boiling point, with both of last year’s finalists — and both of last year’s Missouri Valley reps in the NCAA Tournament — making it to Sunday’s championship game. Loyola won the 2021 edition of this game, leaving Drake to sweat bullets on Selection Sunday. The exact opposite scenario will unfold if the Bulldogs can pull off a three-game sweep over the Ramblers.
Loyola Chicago got off to a torrid start and briefly made its way into the Top 25 under first-year head coach Drew Valentine. Dating back to Jan. 15, though, the Ramblers have strung together a strange pattern of results — win, win, loss — that has repeated five times in a row. Since taking their last loss on Feb. 26, the Ramblers have cruised through two MVC Tournament games. Loyola must break the cycle, lest they spend next Sunday wiping sweat from its collective brow.
Drake, on the other hand, stumbled out of the gate relative to Loyola. The Bulldogs went 0-3 in their November MTE (albeit against Alabama, North Texas and Belmont) and squandered a December chance to beat Clemson in overtime. Now that the team is fully healthy and gelling again, Drake has recovered from a slowish start by reeling off seven straight wins since Feb. 16. That streak includes an 83-76 win over the Ramblers in Chicago — and Drake also won the first meeting in Des Moines, too.
Big South Conference — Championship
- (1) Longwood vs. (2) Winthrop, 12 p.m., ESPN2
Our first — and perhaps best — chance at some March magic comes in the form of Longwood, a school looking to make its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The Lancers currently rank No. 16 in the country in 3-point percentage (38.0 percent as a team) and every single player on the roster has an offensive rating over 100. Between top scorer Justin Hill, the frontcourt duo of Leslie Nkereuwem and Zac Watson, or the sharp-shooting pairing of DeShaun Wade and Isaiah Wilkins, the Lancers are deep and dangerous — and they are on the verge of making school history.
In the other corner, it’s Winthrop, who went to nine Big Dances from 1999-2010 but made just one appearance from 2011-2019. The Eagles went to the Big Dance last year — and won the Big South Tournament before COVID canceled March Madness in 2020 — and a semifinal win over Longwood was part of the run that got them there in 2021. This time around, first-year head coach Mark Prosser is looking to ride big man DJ Burns all the way back to the field of 68. Winthrop is the ultimate boss battle for Longwood.
This tournament has been lights-out so far, so hopefully the championship game is no different.
Southern Conference — Semifinals
- (1) Chattanooga vs. (4) Wofford, 4 p.m., ESPN+
- (2) Furman vs. (3) Samford, 6:30 p.m., ESPN+
For the first time in three years, the SoCon Tournament semifinals went chalk, and the result is two fantastic games for all of us on Sunday. First, regular-season champion Chattanooga takes on a Wofford team that edged past VMI by the skin of its teeth in a 66-65 quarterfinal win. The Mocs had some trouble of their own, using all 40 minutes to finally put away The Citadel by five points on Saturday. In two previous meetings this season, Chattanooga beat Wofford both times. Lamont Paris’ squad will be looking for the treble as they seek the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2016.
As for the other semifinal, Furman and Samford split their season series — so this one might be the more exciting of the two games. The Paladins absolutely destroyed Samford back on Dec. 29, laying a gobsmacking 81-49 scoreline in the league opener. Nearly two months later, the Bulldogs returned the favor by shooting nearly 60 percent from the field in an 83-75 win last week. While Furman has the higher seed, the Paladins are just 4-4 in their past eight games, compared to Samford’s 7-1 mark. Considering the overall trend and the recent game between these two, Samford may have the edge.
Sun Belt Conference — Semifinals
- (4) Troy vs. (8) Louisiana, 6 p.m., ESPN+
- (2) Appalachian State vs. (3) Georgia State, 8:30 p.m., ESPN+
The Fun Belt lived up to its name on Saturday, providing the first major upset of the conference tournament season when top-seeded Texas State fell to Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a much better roster than their No. 8 seed would indicate, as evidenced by the 31-point explosion by Jordan Brown. The former Arizona and Nevada big man set a new career high in the Cajuns’ 79-72 quarterfinal upset. Now, they face a Troy team led by its own sizable transfer in Efe Odigie, formerly of UTEP. The Trojans were the beneficiaries of No. 12 Little Rock’s upset of South Alabama, and now they dodge Texas State. Perhaps fate is with Troy as the team eyes just its third NCAA Tournament since the turn of the century.
The other side of the bracket features a chalky matchup of last year’s Sun Belt Tournament champ, Appalachian State, and one of the league’s most consistent programs of late, Georgia State. App State brought almost everybody back from last season’s run to the Big Dance, so these guys know exactly what it takes to get back. Georgia State, on the other hand, is looking to parlay three years of regular-season success under Rob Lanier into its first NCAA Tournament appearance since Ron Hunter left. These two teams split the season series, so anything could happen in this semifinal rubber match.
Patriot League — Semifinals
- (1) Colgate vs. (4) Lehigh, 2 p.m., CBS Sports Network
- (2) Navy vs. (3) Boston U., 4 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Last season, the Patriot League Tournament felt like a bit of a formality, as Colgate tore through three games on their way to a near-upset of Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament. This time around, the Red Raiders might face more pushback — especially considering Lehigh picked up a win over Colgate back on Jan. 4. In fairness to Colgate, Matt Langel’s team is 17-2 since that loss to the Hawks.
Navy and Boston U. face off in the other semifinal, with the Midshipmen holding the higher seed. Navy swept the regular-season series, thanks in part to a top-50 defense anchored by Richard Njoku inside. The Terriers go the other way — an offensive-minded team that rates right around the top 100 in shooting percentage from all three spots on the court. Navy’s defense should win the day, though.
America East — Quarterfinals
- (2) UMBC vs. (7) UMass-Lowell, 1 p.m., ESPN+
- (3) New Hampshire vs. (6) Binghamton, 1 p.m., ESPN+
- (1) Vermont vs. (8) NJIT, 2 p.m., ESPN+
- (4) Hartford vs. (5) Albany, 2 p.m., ESPN+
Because the AEC decided to stick to its guns and blackball Stony Brook from the tournament, UMBC slides up into the No. 2 seed. The Retrievers will take on UMass-Lowell, which made a run to the America East Tournament final last season. If you’re a fan of the little guy, 5-2 Darnell Rogers is a fun one to follow, but teammate Keondre Kennedy has been UMBC’s top player this year.
Jayden Martinez is one of the more underappreciated players nationally, but he could help lead New Hampshire to a deep AEC tournament run. Binghamton is having its best season in over a decade, though, thanks to first-year coach Levell Sanders. Could the Bearcats pull off an upset here?
In the second window of tip times, regular-season champion Vermont takes on lowly NJIT. The Highlanders could make headlines by pulling off the upset here, but it’s not likely. The Catamounts have been the class of the conference all year long, and Vermont even has some Cinderella potential brewing between Ryan Davis, Ben Shungu and the rest of the squad.
Wrapping things up, Hartford is looking for a repeat of last season’s remarkable league tournament title — which led to the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Standing in the Hawks’ way is Albany, which has shown gradual improvement under first-year head coach Dwayne Killings. This one is a toss-up; these two teams split the season series, with each team winning by double digits on the road.
Colonial Athletic Association — Quarterfinals
- (1) Towson vs. (9) Northeastern, 12 p.m., FloSports
- (4) Drexel vs. (5) Delaware, 2:30 p.m., FloSports
- (2) UNC Wilmington vs. (7) Elon, 6 p.m., FloSports
- (3) Hofstra vs. (6) Charleston, 8:30 p.m., FloSports
With Saturday’s opening-round game out of the way, the FloSports festivities can truly begin. The first few rounds of the CAA Tournament will be played under the cover of expensive darkness, but thankfully at least the championship will be on regular TV. (Kind of. It’s CBS Sports Network.) So who’ll be there?
Towson is the top team in the league and should be able to dispatch Northeastern without much trouble. Cam Holden is the top option among a lot of good ones for the Tigers, and they will likely be too much for the Huskies.
Drexel represented the league in the NCAA Tournament last year after being the No. 6 seed, and the Dragons will have another tough path to the Big Dance with Delaware in their path. While Drexel is driven by Camren Wynter, the Blue Hens rely on a balanced starting five — and Jyare Davis is an underrated sixth man.
UNC Wilmington jumped out to a hot start in the CAA but eventually ceded its position to Towson. Still, the Seahawks pose a threat to win the league tournament behind Mike Okauru and Jaylen Sims. Their first opponent — Elon — is looking for its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. While the Phoenix struggled in league play, they do own a win over UNCW.
In the final matchup in the quarterfinals, it’s a battle of first-year head coaches as Speedy Claxton of Hofstra and Pat Kelsey of Charleston go toe to toe. Hofstra is propelled by Aaron Estrada, one of the best mid-major players in the country. The Pride won both regular-season matchups, but the combined margin was just eight points. Expect a close one.
Summit League — Quarterfinals
- (4) Kansas City vs. (5) South Dakota, 7 p.m., ESPN+
- (3) Oral Roberts vs. (6) Western Illinois, 8:30 p.m., ESPN+
The Summit League began its tournament on Saturday, with both of its top seeds advancing. South Dakota State and North Dakota State get a day of rest after their wins, as Sunday’s quarterfinal action starts off with Kansas City and South Dakota. While the Coyotes are a top-20 team from beyond the arc, the Roos swept the season series behind big games from their own sharpshooter, Evan Gilyard. It’s tough to beat a team three times in one season, though, so Kansas City can’t rest on its laurels.
The last quarterfinal pits Oral Roberts against Western Illinois, with two of the league’s best scorers on full display. You probably know about Max Abmas already — and for good reason. The ORU star led the team to a Cinderella run last March, and he’s one of the country’s top scorers once again. On the other side, Trenton Massner is averaging nearly 18 points per game in Summit League games, to go along with 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists. The Golden Eagles should advance, but WIU has some upset potential.