The Gophers may have nothing to play for, short of a miracle run through the Big Ten Tournament, but that doesn't mean March is any less interesting. Hey, maybe it even gives us a nice reprieve from suffering through the bubble and the ulcers that come along with that.
While we've been getting buried in the sand in conference play, there's plenty of intrigue elsewhere in the country, particularly at the mid-major level. A few teams have already punched their tickets to the Big Dance, but now that we've entered perhaps the greatest week of the year, it's a perfect time to review some particularly interesting conference tournaments and what they mean for the broader basketball landscape.
West Coast (Championship: 3/8 @ 8 p.m. CT on ESPN)
A two-bid league for most of the past 10 years, this is the first time in a while where the WCC faces the prospect of only sending a single team to the tournament. Likely, that comes down to St. Mary's or Gonzaga. Mid-Major Madness ranks the Gaels as the top mid-major team in the land, which bodes well for them, but the same can't be said for Gonzaga. Perennially a nationally relevant team, the Bulldogs just don't have the resume this year that they normally do. And, according to Joe Lunardi's Bracketology, they're currently on the outside looking in. That might change if they make it to the West Coast Conference championship, but anything less than an appearance there almost certainly would be a death knell. Given what's at stake for the conference, this tournament is of particular interest. A SMU/Zaga championship would be a goodie.
Atlantic 10 (Championship: 3/13 @ 11:30 a.m. CT on CBS)
Dayton and St. Joseph's pretty much have their bids locked up no matter what they do, but the same can't be said for VCU and St. Bonaventure. Both teams look like they're on the right side of the bubble today, but that can change in a hurry once things start getting weird in tournament land. Both teams secured the elusive double bye in the A10 tournament, which gives them a lot of breathing room, but it's never an easy path forward.
St. Bona is due for a matchup with a spooky Davidson team, should the chalk hold, while the Rams missed a huge opportunity against Dayton in the season finale that would have pretty much sewed up an appearance in the Big Dance. Now they gotta keep winning.
Sun Belt (Championship: 3/13 @ noon CT on ESPN2)
Normally the Sun Belt tourney is devoid of intrigue, populated by dime-a-dozen mid-majors who really are just among a sea of others vying for a shot at the Big Dance, with no particular separation. But this year there's a little more flavor, as Arkansas-Little Rock is actually gaining some attention on the national scale with a sneaky 50 RPI and road wins against San Diego State and Tulsa early in the year.
To add more intrigue, the Trojans lost their season finale to lowly Appalachian State, which may have sunk their at-large hopes, and put a deep run in Sun Belt conference tournament at a premium. Little Rock can reclaim some of what they lost with a run to the conference tournament championship, but winning the whole thing is the only sure bet these days.
Southland (Championship: 3/12 @ 8:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2)
The Southland doesn't bring any potential at-large teams to the table this year, but it does feature a couple of sneaky top-100 RPI teams in Stephen F. Austin and Texas A&M-Corpus Christie. SFA swept the season series, but you know what they say about beating a team three times in a season. And with a relatively high caliber squad TAMUCC brings to the table, you know a championship featuring these two teams would be electric.
Both teams are playing great ball recently, to boot. The Lumberjacks of SFA are 18-0 in the conference and haven't lost since December, while the Islanders have lost just once in the last nine games. The Jacks are the reigning Southland champion, and took Utah to the wire last year as a 12 seed, so it's no stretch to see either of these teams causing problems in the NCAA Tournament when it rolls around. They both locked up the double bye in the Southland Conference tournament, so they're each just single wins away from a championship date.