Top of the O26 Class: Horizon League, MAC, MVC, Summit

Posted by Adam Stillman on October 24th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Midwestern region of the U.S: the Horizon, MAC, MVC, and Summit. Previous installments include the Northeast region leagues

TOP UNITS

Horizon League

  • Green Bay – 2013-14 record: 24-7 (14-2) – Green Bay had Cinderella written all over it last season. There was only one problem — the Phoenix were upset in the Horizon League Tournament and were instead relegated to the NIT. The good news? Reigning Horizon Player of the Year Keifer Sykes is back, as are four of the team’s top five scorers. The loss of 7-footer Alec Brown certainly hurts, but Green Bay could find itself in the Big Dance comes season’s end and make up for last year’s abrupt (and disappointing) end.
Keifer Sykes and the Green Bay Phoenix are poised to have a big 2014-15 season. (USAT)

Keifer Sykes and the Green Bay Phoenix are poised to have a big 2014-15 season. (USAT)

  • Cleveland State – 2013-14 record: 21-12 (12-4) – If anybody will challenge Green Bay for Horizon League supremacy, it will be Cleveland State. Losing leading scorer Bryn Forbes is a big blow, as he’s moved on to play at Michigan State for the remainder of his career. However, first team preseason selection Trey Lewis (13.1 PPG) is back, as is Anton Grady (10.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG). Watch out for Creighton transfer Andre Yates, who could end up as the best guard on the team.

MAC

  • Toledo2013-14 record: 27-7 (14-4) – Toledo reeled off 12 straight wins to start 2013 and won a school-record 27 games in all last season. The Rockets faded down the stretch, settling for a NIT berth, but it looks like 2014-15 will be Toledo’s time to shine. With six of their top seven scorers back, led by all-conference guard Julius “Juice” Brown, the Rockets look to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980.
  • Western Michigan – 2013-14 record: 23-10 (14-4) – The Broncos were a nice story last season, making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade. Let’s forget that they were promptly blown out by Syracuse in the first round. WMU will miss the contributions of do-everything big man Shayne Whittington (16.3 PPG, 9.1 RPG), but star guard David Brown headlines five of the top six returning scorers.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 78, #1 Wichita State 76

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 23rd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early scored 31 points in a losing effort. (AP)

  1. It was the best game of the year. Kentucky and Wichita State played an absolute classic. Not only was it the best NCAA Tournament game this season, it will likely stay that way. And it easily topped any regular season game simply because all that was on the line. The Wildcats and Shockers threw punch after punch, made run and after run, until Fred Van Vleet’s three clanked off the rim at the buzzer. It’s unfortunate that one of these teams had to lose. This game was fitting of a national championship game rather than a round of 32 game, and it may have been the best round of 32 game in the history of the Big Dance.
  2. Wichita State belongs among the nation’s elite. The Shockers were counted out all year long. It seemed like half the nation thought they weren’t good enough. Well, the detractors need to close their mouths. I don’t care that they were the first #1 seed to lose. They played a magnificent basketball game they certainly could have won, and it’s a real shame the Shockers will be going home early. A brilliant season that started with 35 straight wins ended in disappointment. But that shouldn’t take anything away from what the Shockers accomplished this year. Wichita State can play with anybody.
  3. Kentucky played like 40-0 Kentucky. Remember before the season began when there was all that conversation about preseason #1 Kentucky going 40-0? Well, the Wildcats finally played like the team they were expected to be on Sunday afternoon. They were focused, they competed unbelievably hard for 40 minutes, they defended, and they hit shots. The heralded freshman class lived up to its preseason billing. They were absolutely terrific in scoring 68 of Kentucky’s points. From Julius Randle to the Harrison twins to James Young, they were magnificent — if, and it’s big if, but if Kentucky can continue to play at this level, there’s no reason the Wildcats can’t cut down the nets in Arlington, Texas, as national champions two weeks from now.

Star of the Game: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State. Yes, even in a losing effort. The senior forward poured in a game-high 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting. He went 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. Early pulled down seven rebounds, didn’t commit a turnover, and recorded a steal and a block. Early hit big shot after big shot in the second half, and threw down a monster posterizing dunk in the opening half. The only thing he did wrong was a missed layup with three minutes remaining in the tight contest that would have given Wichita State a three-point lead.

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Stanford 60, #2 Kansas 57

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 23rd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Powell May Have Saved the Cardinal Last Night

Dwight Powell was huge in Stanford’s upset of Kansas.

  1. Stanford pulls the upset. Who expected this? Sure, there was no Joel Embiid for Kansas, but the rest of the talented Jayhawks was there. And they laid an egg. Kansas was upset by a double-figure seed for the third time in the past five NCAA Tournaments. Stanford was better almost all game, a deserving winner. A #10 over a #2 is a big enough upset, made even bigger in what they were calling Allen Fieldhouse East. There was one section full of Stanford fans. The rest? Kansas fans or Wichita State fans rooting for the Jayhawks. March Madness, indeed.
  2. Andrew Wiggins was a disaster. It was a disappointing way for the freshman phenom to go out of his only collegiate season. The potential #1 pick in June’s NBA Draft was horrible in his last game in a Kansas jersey. Wiggins scored just four points while going 1-of-6 from the floor. He turned the ball over four times, including on a crucial possession with just less than a minute to play in the game. He missed opened threes and easy layups. Wiggins was invisible almost all game long. He rarely made an effort to get to the basket or create his own shot. Bill Self could have done a better job drawing up some plays for him, but Wiggins, like Duke’s one-and-doner Jabari Parker on Friday, picked the wrong time to have his worst game of the season.
  3. Stanford’s zone defense was terrific. The Cardinal might have taken some notes from Florida’s win over Kansas earlier in the season. Stanford used an mutating 1-3-1 zone to perfection, which made it extremely difficult to find driving lanes or get the ball into the post. Other than Tarik Black’s 18 points, Kansas’ other big men struggled mightily. Perry Ellis went 3-of-10 for nine points, while Jamari Traylor was 1-of-8 with three points. Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, Stefan Nastic and John Gage were fantastic on the defensive end. Kansas just never could get in a rhythm offensively.

Star of the Game: Dwight Powell, Stanford. After a horrible first round game against New Mexico, Powell came to play against Kansas’ imposing frontcourt. Despite frequent foul trouble, Powell finished with a team-high 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, while also going 5-of-6 from the foul line. The senior forward also pulled down seven rebounds and did a tremendous job on the defensive end limited Kansas’ drives to the basket and post play.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 56, #9 Kansas State 49

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

Julius Randle led Kentucky past Kansas State. (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

  1. Kansas State had no answer for Kentucky’s size. Starting big men Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson stand at 6’9″ and 7’0″, respectively. Then Willie Cauley-Stein comes in off the bench at 7’0 as well. That doesn’t include three guards who are 6’6″ each in James Young and Aaron and Andrew Harrison. UK’s quintet of talented freshmen didn’t have its best game, but their prodigious size was enough to get by. Kentucky dominated Kansas State on the glass, owning a 40-28 edge in rebounds. Not many teams in the country — if any — can compete with Kentucky’s size across the starting lineup.
  2. Limiting the backcourt. Kansas State’s strength lies with its guards, and Kentucky did its best to take them away. As a result, stud freshman Marcus Foster had a rough night shooting. He entered the game averaging 15.6 PPG on the season, but his 15 points tonight came on a rather inefficient 7-of-18 shooting. Shane Southwell added 11 points as well, but he also produced inefficiently on 3-of-10 shooting. Will Spradling picked up a garbage-time three while going 1-for-8. Without the interior heft to score on a regular basis in the post, Kansas State’s guards were forced to shoulder the load. They just couldn’t get that job done Friday night.
  3. Block party. Willie Cauley-Stein is one of the best shotblockers in the country, ranking 13th in the nation by blocking 12.2 percent of opponents’ shots. Tonight he spearheaded a team effort in protecting the rim, swatting four shots in the contest. The Wildcats blocked seven shots as a team, including six swats in the opening half. Even when Cauley-Stein wasn’t blocking shots, he was altering them or deterring Kansas State from driving the lane altogether. K-State didn’t have much success going to the rim all night long.

Star of the Game: Julius Randle, Kentucky. Randle didn’t come out and dominate from the beginning. In fact, it took him about seven minutes to record his first points of the game, but he sure got going after that. Randle finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go along with 15 rebounds and a block in 35 minutes of playing time. Aaron Harrison’s performance can’t be overlooked either, as the freshman guard went for 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Wichita State 64, #16 Cal Poly 37

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Wichita State's run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken)

Wichita State rolled past Cal Poly. (Peter Aiken)

  1. Wichita State did something Florida and Arizona couldn’t. The Shockers, the third #1 seed to play in this season’s NCAA Tournament, didn’t have much trouble with their allotted #16 seed. Florida and Arizona, however, couldn’t say that. Florida didn’t pull away from Albany until late in its game on Thursday, and Arizona was down 7-0 early and won by just single figures against Weber State. Wichita State dominated from the get-go, opening up a 21-5 edge and cruising the rest of the way. The 14-20 Cal Poly Mustangs never mounted any sort of legitimate challenge.
  2. The Shockers locked down defensively. After an 11-day layoff following their MVC Tournament title win, there was no sign of rust from Wichita State on that end. Instead, a fresh Shocker team hounded Cal Poly all over the floor, all night long. Cal Poly struggled to run any kind of offense, often having to settle for a contested three-pointer at the end of the shot clock. Cal Poly even had an 11-minute field goal drought in the first half. Cal Poly shot just 21 percent from the field for the game, going 12-of-58 from the floor. The Mustangs weren’t any better from three-point range, connecting on just 5-of-28 attempts (18 percent).
  3. There was one thing the Shockers didn’t do well. This is really nit-picking here, but if there was any concern for Wichita State on Friday night, it came at the foul line. The Shockers went just 12-of-21 (57 percent) from the charity stripe. Obviously it didn’t matter in a game of that nature, and probably is just an aberration for a team that shoots 73 percent from the foul line on the season.

Star of the Game: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State. How does 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting strike you? Oh wait, that was just in the first half alone. The Shocker forward played just five minutes in the second half before calling it a night, finishing with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting in 19 minutes of playing time. Early ouscored Cal Poly by himself in the first half, 19-13, and it took the Mustangs until the 13-minute mark in the second half to tie his output. The Mustangs finally broke the 20-point barrier at the 11:48 mark. Early went 3-of-8 from beyond the arc and also corralled seven rebounds.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Kansas 80, #15 Eastern Kentucky 69

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks pulled away from Eastern Kentucky late. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks pulled away from Eastern Kentucky late. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  1. Kansas avoided the biggest upset of them all. With Mercer taking down Duke, and Harvard, North Dakota State and Dayton picking up surprising wins in the NCAA Tournament’s first two days, it looked to be the year of the upset. Eastern Kentucky had Kansas on the ropes deep into the second half before Kansas finally used its athleticism to pull away late. Andrew Wiggins and Jamari Traylor were aggressive attacking the basket and the offensive glass down the stretch, leading to several second-chance opportunities, including two putback jams from the latter.
  2. Eastern Kentucky wasn’t scared. The Colonels took it right at the Jayhawks, not backing down one bit. The three-point ball kept EKU in it, as the Colonels hit 12 bombs from long range. Kansas went 0-of-7 from deep. Glenn Cosey scored 14 quick points while going 4-of-5 from beyond the arc to hand EKU an early 23-14 lead. EKU attacked the rim and stayed aggressive on defense while forcing 13 first half turnovers, as the game was tied at 32 heading into intermission. And just when it looked like Kansas would pull away in the second half — leading 45-38 — a 10-0 run from the Colonels put them back ahead. The Colonels cut another seven-point lead to just three before running out of steam down the stretch. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #10 Stanford 58, #7 New Mexico 53

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins reacts to a call during the first half of a second-round game against New Mexico in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Friday, March 21, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Much like their coach, the Cardinal played with an intensity that propelled them in the Round of 32. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  1. New Mexico flops again in March. Make it two seasons in a row that the Lobos have lost to a lower-seeded team in its first game of the NCAA Tournament. Last year, #3 New Mexico looked awful in an upset loss to #14 Harvard. The seed differential wasn’t quite as large this time around, but the loss (and the performance) were again really disappointing. For a team that came in winners of 15 of 17 and boasting a MW Tournament title, this is another stunning loss. The Lobos just looked awful all game long and certainly didn’t deserve to win it. What a waste of talent and potential.
  2. Stanford made its own momentum. The Cardinal raced out of the gate to a 20-4 lead just 6:22 into the game despite an early tip-off in front of a relatively small crowd. A 17-0 run did the trick. New Mexico went scoreless for 5:29 during that stretch and didn’t make a field goal for a period that lasted more than seven minutes. Stanford’s star guard Chasson Randle scored nine of his 11 first-half points during the early surge. Stanford had everything clicking for the first 15 minutes or so until New Mexico closed the half on an 8-0 run to make it a 32-27 ball game heading into the locker room. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Bracketbusting: South and Midwest Regions

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 18th, 2014

Sing it with me: It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The Big Dance is finally upon us. After a terrific regular season, we finally have the bracket in our hands. Before the inexorable slide into ripping them up in exasperation, we are left with hope for a couple more days — hope that we can pick the right Final Four and National Champion. Hope that we can suss out the nearly impossible task of selecting which upsets will actually come to fruition. Will there be another Dunk City-esque run in 2014? Which Other 26 conference team will become America’s next darling? Well, we here at the O26 microsite will try to help you out. Let’s take a look at the O26 teams — starting with the Midwest and South Regions — and discuss the likelihood that each has to advance this week.

MIDWEST

Regional Threats. These are the teams that could be second- and third-weekend squads.

Wichita State's run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken)

Wichita State, despite a tough road, could make another Final Four. (AP/Peter Aiken)

  • Wichita State (#1 seed) — The Shockers might be the most polarizing team in the nation. Some people love ‘em and want to see a repeat Final Four run, and others want to see them fall flat on their faces, validating their loud group of detractors. The fact is Wichita State is 34-0 and the first team since UNLV in 1991 to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated. Well, if the Wheatshockers can return to the Final Four, they’ll shut those detractors up. They have arguably the toughest path to the Final Four out of all the #1 seeds. Preseason #1 Kentucky in the round of 32, a criminally underseeded #4 Louisville team in the Sweet Sixteen, and then either #2 seed Michigan or #3 seed Duke in the Elite Eight. Woof. This is Wichita State’s opportunity to show the nation just how good it is. And the Shockers are plenty good. They boast a top-10 ranking in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. Star power forward Cleanthony Early also ranked seventh in KenPom’s player of the year rankings. With additional prospects in guard Ron Baker and point guard Fred VanVleet, the Shockers could find themselves in Arlington, Texas, in early April.

One and Done. These teams have a solid shot at winning their round of 64 game, but are unlikely to reach the second weekend.

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Conference Tournament Primer: Big Sky Conference

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 13th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with the last five conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.

Dates: March 13-15
Site: At regular-season champion (Weber State)

2014 big sky bracket

What to expect: About half the league could win the Big Sky’s automatic bid this year. Every team in the conference suffered at least six losses, led by regular season champion Weber State at 14-6. In an odd twist, only seven of the league’s 11 teams participate in the conference tournament. Montana, last year’s representative in the NCAA Tournament, along with Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado pose the biggest threats. But don’t expect too much from the Big Sky’s team in the Big Dance. The First Four in Dayton and an early exit seem in order.

Favorite: Weber State. Yes, I’m still making the Wildcats the favorite despite stumbling down the stretch. They lost two of their last three games, and four of their last seven. Yikes. But with the parity in this conference — every other team had at least eight league losses — the home court advantage here makes Weber State the favorite. The Wildcats lost just one home game in league play.

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O26 Resume Review: Atlantic 10, Conference USA, BYU & Green Bay…

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 13th, 2014

We’re just a few days from Selection Sunday. Let’s take stock of how the O26 conference teams and their resumes stack up in the final days before that fateful day.

Atlantic 10

  • Locks: Saint Louis, VCU, Massachusetts, George Washington
  • Work to do: Dayton, Saint Joseph’s

The Atlantic 10 seems looks to be a safe bet for five bids to the NCAA Tournament, with six being a very real possibility. And this is coming a year after the league lost Butler, Temple, Xavier and Charlotte to realignment. It’s been a banner season for the A-10. But is there a Final Four threat in the bunch? I don’t think so. The league has a lot of good teams, just no great ones. I think the Sweet 16 is the ceiling for any of the A-10’s NCAA Tournament teams.

Dayton is living on the bubble. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Dayton is living on the bubble. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Dayton (22-9, #39 RPI). The Flyers seem to be one of the few bubble teams — in any league in the country, really — that actually want a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Dayton is scorching hot right now, having won nine of its last 10 games. Three of those wins are against surefire locks in SLU, UMass and George Washington. If the Flyers get past their first-round game against Fordham, they’ll get a date with Saint Joseph’s in the A-10 quarterfinals Friday in what could be a play-in game to the NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the flyers third in his “Last Four In” category.

Projected seed for now: #12

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Conference Tournament Primer: SWAC

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 12th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with yet 10 more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Southland, SWAC, Mountain West and Atlantic 10.

Dates: March 12-15
Site: Toyota Center (Houston)

2014 swac bracket

What to expect: The most bizarre conference tournament you’ve ever seen. Four of the league’s 10 teams are ineligible for postseason play due to low APR scores yet the SWAC is allowing that quartet to compete in the conference tourney. That means that the eligible team that advances the furthest in the bracket will win the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. In case of a tie — multiple eligible teams advancing to the same round but no further — the highest-seeded team — second-seeded Texas Southern is the leader in the clubhouse — would advance to the Big Dance. Crazy, right? Just imagine how weird it will feel if a team loses in the tournament championship game and still gets to celebrate an NCAA Tournament bid. The SWAC hasn’t won a non-play-in game in the NCAA Tournament since Southern beat Georgia Tech in 1993.

Favorite: Texas Southern. I guess I’ll go with the favorite to make the NCAA Tournament. This is all so confusing. Top-seeded Southern, the team that won a game by 104 points earlier this year, should actually win the SWAC Tournament. But thanks to APR issues, the Jaguars aren’t eligible for the Big Dance. So Texas Southern is the favorite to go dancing.

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O26 Storylines: Regular Season Champs and Potential Cinderellas

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 11th, 2014

Championship Week is in full swing. For the O26 conferences, it’s more than halfway over. Eight automatic bids have already been handed out as of Monday night. Let’s take a look at this week’s storylines before Sunday’s Selection Show.

Belmont is just one of many regular-season champions that will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. (GASTON GAZETTE)

Belmont is just one of many regular-season champions that will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. (GASTON GAZETTE)

Should one-bid leagues send their regular-season champion to the NCAA Tournament?

It’s in the best interest of one-bid leagues to send their best team to the Big Dance. That increases the likelihood of an upset, and thus more exposure for the school. We’ve already seen seven teams that won their respective conference’s regular-season title fall in the conference tournament. Enjoy the NIT, fellas. Belmont (Ohio Valley), Davidson (Southern), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Green Bay (Horizon), High Point (Big South), Iona (Metro Atlantic) and Vermont (America East) all were #1 seeds in their conference tournaments, and all probably were legitimate threats to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, those leagues will be represented by weaker teams that don’t have much upset potential. Those top seeds aren’t rewarded for season-long excellence. Instead, they’re being punished for one slip-up. It won’t change because there’s no way any league’s going to want to lose the exposure that comes along with their tournament title game being broadcast on ESPN. It’s just a shame we won’t get to see those teams dancing, and as a result, we have a watered down NCAA Tournament field. Matt Norlander made an interesting argument here.

Which one-bid leagues boast NCAA Tournament representatives that could pull upsets?

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