Tip-Off Marathon: The O26 Menu

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2014

Tonight kicks off ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, a jam-packed, 24-plus hour slate of basketball featuring numerous mouthwatering options for O26 fans. And with many of these games serving as important resume-building opportunities, you better come hungry. Let’s check out the menu.

Appetizers/Starters

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

  • UC Santa Barbara at Florida Gulf Coast – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Tonight. We are not even sure if this is formally part of the Marathon, but what better way to whet your appetite than by watching Alan Williams take on Dunk City? After logging 22 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas on Friday, UC Santa Barbara’s 6’8’’ center gets a shot at the Atlantic Sun favorites in Fort Myers – the first of two contests between the Gauchos and Eagles this season. Florida Gulf Coast’s Brett Comer is among the better point guards in the country, while his running mate, Bernard Thompson, is a conference Player of the Year candidate. Both squads could wind up dancing in March.
  • Georgia State at #14 Iowa State – 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Tonight. Certain to be one of the most popular appetizers on the menu, this game features a loaded underdog taking on a top-15 team in one of college basketball’s best environments. The Cyclones better be prepared for Georgia State, which boasts a pair of Bluegrass State transfers – Ryan Harrow (Kentucky) and Kevin Ware (Louisville) – and arguably the Sun Belt’s best player, guard R.J. Hunter (18.3 PPG in 2013-14). Hilton Coliseum will be rocking, as always, but perhaps maybe its magic will work in the Panthers favor, instead of the other way of around.
  • #22 SMU at #13 Gonzaga – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tonight. This is one of those fill-you-up-before-the-entrée type items, a hearty match-up of Top 25 units with high expectations. SMU took a serious hit when forward Markus Kennedy, the team’s best player, was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester, so Gonzaga is in great position playing at home. Still, even though Mark Few’s bunch looked utterly dominant in its opener against Sacramento State (with newcomers Byron Wesley, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis combining for 44 points), the Bulldogs must come out and execute against Larry Brown’s defensively-tough Mustangs. Kevin Pangos vs. Nic Moore is one of the best point guard match-ups of the young season.

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Top of the O26 Class: C-USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC

Posted by Adam Stillman on November 3rd, 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 Southern region of the U.S: Conference USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region and Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region.

TOP UNITS

Conference USA

  • Louisiana Tech –2013-14 record: 29-8 (13-3) – Two straight seasons Louisiana Tech has won its conference (C-USA in 2014; WAC in 2013), and two straight seasons the Bulldogs have been upset in the conference tournament and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Is the third time a charm? Louisiana Tech is undoubtedly the favorite to take the C-USA crown, but can it come through when the games matter most? After flirting with some other opportunities, head coach Michael White is back, as are guards Alex Hamilton (14.5 PPG), Raheem Appleby (11.2 PPG) and Kenneth “Speedy” Smith (7.8 PPG, 7.7 APG). The big question mark is in the frontcourt. If the Bulldogs can get some decent play there, they might be able to finally break through.
Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C Bristow)

Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C. Bristow/AP)

  • UTEP –2013-14 record: 23-11 (12-4) – If there’s a team to challenge Louisiana Tech for the league title, it’s most likely UTEP. After a strong start with a win against Tennessee and a four-point loss to Kansas last season, the Miners stumbled down the stretch and were unable to win the league tournament on their home floor. There’s reason for optimism heading into 2014-15, though. Head coach Tim Floyd brings back a talented frontcourt duo of Julian Washburn (13.1 PPG) and Vincent Hunter (12.3 PPG), and talented recruit Omega Harris should help fill the void in the backcourt. Read the rest of this entry »
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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #27 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#27 – Where AND ONE!! Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 UCLA 77, #12 Stephen F. Austin 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa 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.

Kyle Anderson (left), Zach LaVine, and Norman Powell had a lot to celebrate about as the Bruins easily advanced to the Sweet 16. (AP)

Kyle Anderson (left), Zach LaVine, and Norman Powell had a lot to celebrate about as the Bruins easily advanced to the Sweet 16. (AP)

  1. UCLA – Sweet Sixteen. Remember back when this program was absolutely rolling under Ben Howland in the middle of the last decade? That went away fast, sure. But, now for the first time since 2008, the Bruins are back in the Sweet Sixteen, this time under first-year head coach Steve Alford — who himself is back in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1999 at Southwest Missouri State. Picky UCLA fans did not take kindly to Alford upon his hire and they took an even longer time to come around to this fun and exciting young team. But this weekend in San Diego, UCLA fans traveled well, were enthusiastic throughout, and seem to be back on the bandwagon. Their biggest nemesis from the last decade – Florida – is once again in the way. And if things do not go well on Thursday in Memphis, there might be a lot of Bruins’ fans with broken ankles as they jump back off the bandwagon, complaining about an easy path to the Sweet Sixteen and other silliness. But for now, UCLA basketball is cool again.
  2. Stormin’ Norman. Under Alford, Norman Powell found increased minutes, an increased role, and a level of freedom that he clearly enjoys. For a guy who was rumored to be considering transferring at the end of last season, he turned into a difference-maker for the Bruins this season. And in the postseason (including Pac-12 Tournament play), he’s taken his game to a new level. He has regularly harassed his man on defense into off games (today for instance, he held Friday night’s star Desmond Haymon to 3-of-11 shooting), he got nine steals in five games, and he made countless highlight-reel plays. Today’s best was putting the ball behind his back in transition just prior to laying the ball in deftly between a couple of defenders for a hoop. And then, rather than celebrate his play, he got back on defense and knocked a pass out of bounds to kill an SFA transition attempt.
  3. Scrappy ‘Jacks. The Lumberjacks, led by sophomore forward Thomas Walkup, are a team that is hard not to like. The bulk of their team is between 6’3” and 6’6”, but they play bigger than their size, they get after it on defense, they sell out for loose balls and they’re just talented enough (seems like everybody can stroke a jumper and make a pretty pass) to play a little finesse game on offense. Walkup in particular won over quite a few fans this weekend. A 6’4” sophomore forward who plays bigger than his size and older than his age, he does just about everything well. He drew early fouls on the bigger UCLA frontcourt, he grabbed eight boards in the first 11 minutes of action he saw, he defended with passion, he was a facilitator for the squad in the high post, he knocked down jumpers; he did everything but hand out water bottles in the huddle. The ‘Jacks lose three seniors, but expect them to be a force in the Southland going forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #12 Stephen F.Austin 77, #5 VCU 75 (OT)

Posted by Andrew Murawa 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.

SFA Celebrates an Historic Win For Its Program

SFA Celebrates an Historic Win For Its Program

  1. Madness. With four minutes left, Stephen F. Austin was down 10 points, was having little success navigating VCU’s press, and looked to be wrapping up a nice but otherwise unmemorable season. And then a hard-earned late-clock layup from Thomas Walkup, followed by a forced turnover and a Jacob Parker three started a run. They still remained down four with 10 seconds left, sending VCU to the line for a pair of free throws, and all but left for dead. Two missed free throws later, a Desmond Haymon three dropped and he helped sucker an official into calling a foul on the shot. Following a timeout, he came back out and knocked in one of the most cold-blooded free throws you’ll ever see to force overtime. At that point, the Lumberjacks had the crowd fully on its side, dodged a last-second three from JeQuan Lewis that seemed to be dying to go through the rim, and improbably advanced to the round of 32. Oh, and like 10 other things that my disheveled brain can’t begin to process yet happened in the middle there too. Phenomenal.
  2. Who’s Stephen F. Austin? If you’ve looked for it, you’ve heard analysts from all over the college basketball world tell you since Sunday about the chances that Stephen F. Austin would have against VCU today. And you know what? Most of it was nonsense. How many people saw them play more than once or twice all season long? A handful? Well, we got to know this team quickly as a scrappy, undersized, hard-working bunch that features plenty of solid ball-handlers and good decision-makers — the type of team that could withstand VCU’s havoc and keep things close. In the first half, they quickly won over the Viejas Arena crowd and earned themselves a lot of fans, those same people who turned into assets late in regulation and in overtime. As we saw late in the game, this is also a team that has a little bit of magic on its side.
  3. Havoc. In the first half, Stephen F. Austin handled the VCU press about as well as could be hoped, turning it over just five times in 31 possessions. But things changed drastically in the second half as the Lumberjacks wilted under the Rams’ havoc.  They turned it over nine times on their first 17 possessions and a 10-point lead early in the second half turned into an 11-point deficit after a 24-3 VCU run between the 18:42 and 8:23 marks of the second half. SFA’s nine turnovers turned into seven layups, two dunks and a three for VCU, but in the final 8:23 of regulation plus the five-minute overtime, the ‘Jacks only turned it over three more times.

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In #5 vs. #12 Games, Avoid the Chic Picks

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 19th, 2014

They are extremely tempting. They are the most difficult picks on your bracket to make, and history says you should pull the trigger on at least one each year. I’m talking, of course, about #5-#12 matchups. Merely seeing the number 12 next to the name of one team, a centimeter or two below the number 5, next to the name of another team, gives you pause. This is natural. Picking #12-#5 games isn’t supposed to be easy. There’s often a gap in quality between the teams placed on the #4 and #5 lines. The latter quartet is usually decent, but a clear notch below the four teams seeded one line above them. Teams seeded on the #12 line usually fall into one of two categories: 1) the quality mid-major that piles up a lot of wins against so-so competition; 2) talented major conference team with major holes in its resumé. In some instances, the #5 will overwhelm the #12. But the #12 shocks the #5 more often than you might think — it’s happened 25 times since 1999. How many #12-#5 shockers will we see this season? That’s what I’m here to help you figure out. Below you’ll find some analysis on this year’s four compelling match-ups, with an emphasis on explaining whether each #12 seed is worth picking.

West 

With Braun leading the way, don't be shocked if NDSU ousts Oklahoma (AP).

With Braun leading the way, don’t be shocked if NDSU ousts Oklahoma (AP).

#5 Oklahoma vs. #12 North Dakota State. The Bison won’t be overwhelmed by a team from a major conference, as they won at Notre Dame earlier this season (when Jerian Grant was available, mind you). NDSU ranks in the nation’s top 20 in offensive efficiency and posted Summit League-highs in offensive and defensive efficiency during conference play. The Bison are shooting 56 percent from inside the arc, good for fourth in the country, and only have five percent of their shots blocked (first). Senior guard Taylor Braun (18.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.9 APG) is the Bison’s engine, and by the end of this game, you’ll definitely remember his name. To pull big upsets, smaller programs often need one guy to take over – to drop at least 20 points and hit a few big shots in crunch time — Braun’s that guy. NDSU also has one of the most efficient frontcourt players in the nation in Marshall Bjorklund, who is shooting 62 percent on his twos. Oklahoma can really score – it ranks 13th in offensive efficiency this seaon – but the Sooners haven’t been nearly as good on the defensive end. Whether NDSU pulls the upset, this game promises to be a fun watch. Don’t miss it.

Verdict: Neither NDSU nor Oklahoma play great defense. This sets up as a shootout, one I think the Bison will win.

South

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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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Bracket Prep: North Carolina Central, Western Michigan, Cal Poly, Stephen F. Austin, Weber State

Posted by Adam Stillman & Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2014

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As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

North Carolina Central

North Carolina Central is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. (ETHAN HYMAN/News Observer)

North Carolina Central is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. (ETHAN HYMAN/News Observer)

  • MEAC Champion (28-5, 18-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #104/#78/#84
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.9
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #14

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Head coach LeVelle Moton began shedding tears in the waning minutes of North Carolina Central’s MEAC Championship victory over Morgan State on Saturday, and why not? The former NCCU player had just clinched his alma mater’s first NCAA Tournament birth in school history, capping off an outstanding 28-win campaign that has the chance to get even better. It was the Eagles’ 20th win in a row, a 71-62 outcome that featured many of the same components that made them so tough throughout the regular season: great defense, lots of free throws and lots of Jeremy Ingram.
  2. NCCU dominated the MEAC this season and its defense is a big reason why. The Eagles hold opponents to the fifth-lowest effective field goal percentage in the country and force a bunch of mishaps – their 24.0 defensive turnover rate trails only VCU, Louisville, Stephen F. Austin and Eastern Kentucky. They make life difficult for ball-handlers, rarely find themselves out of position and crowd the paint when opponents try dumping the ball inside. In fact, aside from some sub-par defensive rebounding numbers – due in part because of their limited size, in part because they force a lot of outside shots (and thus long rebounds) – NCCU is well above average in most other defensive categories.
  3. The Eagles start three seniors and two juniors and their top reserves are both upperclassmen, altogether making up a roster that’s the fourth-most experienced in America. The leader among them is Jeremy Ingram, a 6’3’’ guard who averages 20 points per game and just about always gets his fill, even on off-nights. He scored at least 14 points in 27 of 33 games this season, including six 30-plus point outings, and does large chunk of his damage from the free throw line. Ingram attacks the basket and draws fouls when he doesn’t finish – he shoots 76 percent from the stripe – but he’s also the best outside shooting threat on a team that doesn’t shoot many threes. Still, NCCU might be at its best when other guys step up alongside Ingram. He scored 37 in the team’s nonconference loss to Wichita State, but no other player reached double figures. In the Eagles’ upset of North Carolina State? Ingram dropped 29, but there were strong offensive contributions across the board. Undersized big men Jay Copeland and Jordan Parks are also crucial for NCCU – they each rank among the better offensive rebounders in the nation and will need to continue generating second-chances if the Eagles are going to do damage next week.

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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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O26 Superlatives, Part III: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt & WAC…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2014

In Part III of our three-part series (click here for Part I and Part II), we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from six different O26 conferences: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt and WAC. In alphabetical order: 

Big Sky

Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)

Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)

  • Team of the Year – Weber State (17-11, 14-6). After winning 55 games in the previous two seasons, this was the year – the most parity-driven in recent memory – that Weber State outlasted Montana and won the Big Sky. The Wildcats now host the conference tournament, which could mean a return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2007.
  • Player of the Year – Davion Berry – Weber State. Narrowly edging out Montana’s Kareem Jamar and North Dakota’s Troy Huff for our Player of the Year, Berry averaged 19 points per contest, distributed the ball effectively, shot almost 40 percent from long range, and led his team to a title.
  • Coach of the Year – Tyler Geving – Portland State. Portland State was picked to finish ninth in the conference, an outlook that became even worse when senior Aaron Moore, averaging nearly 12 points per game, was dismissed from the team in early January. After the Vikings lost four straight close games in the middle of the Big Sky season, Geving deserves credit for leading his guys to a 5-1 finish and a fifth-place tie in the league.
  • Upset of the Year – Northern Colorado over Kansas State, 60-58. Until last Saturday, Kansas State was pretty much unbeatable at home this season: Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, and George Washington — all these teams left Manhattan without a win. But you know who did manage to leave Manhattan with a win (aside from Baylor)? BJ Hill’s Bears. Gotta love early November.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Jaron Nash – North Dakota. Nash goes baseline, emphatically stuffs it with one hand, then salutes the home crowd. Great stuff.

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Conference Tournament Primer: Southland Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine 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: Merrell Center (Katy, TX)

Sthland

What to expect: It would be shocking if Stephen F. Austin fails to win this tournament. The Lumberjacks are one of only three teams to go undefeated in conference play this season, dominating Southland opponents by more than 16 points per game and winning 12 of their 18 league contests by double-figure margins. In fact, Brad Underwood’s club has not lost a game of any kind since before Thanksgiving, a streak of 26 straight. They are the most offensively and defensively efficient team in the conference and rank 101 KenPom spots higher than any other Southland member. Put simply — SFA should further extend its impressive winning streak and punch a ticket to the Dance here, its first since 2009.

FavoriteStephen F. Austin. For all the reasons mentioned above, the Lumberjacks are the overwhelming, odds-on favorite in Katy this weekend.

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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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