Thursday, March 8, 2018

7-MAR Bracket Projections: Previewing the Most Exciting Day of the Year

Tomorrow is peak college basketball. The Thursday before Selection Sunday is the most underrated day of the season.  It begins around noon eastern time and is typically non-stop drama for about 14 straight hours.  It’s the most active day of the two weeks of Conference Tournaments, and most of the larger leagues have weeded out the weaker teams to present a formidable set of neutral site games.  The NCAA Tournament is always awesome, but the quantity of games tomorrow brings it.  Enjoy the day.

Bethune Cookman was upset in the MEAC quarterfinals on Wednesday by Morgan State.  It will now mean the Wildcats have zero appearances in the 38 years since they joined Division I.  Eight teams are still active in their conference tournaments and looking to move off the Futility list.  Thus far, only Lipscomb has managed to secure such a feat.  Central Arkansas was the only other team in action today from this grouping, and they live to see another Southland day.

Fordham was eliminated in the opening round of Atlantic 10 Tournament play tonight, and the Rams have now tallied a 26 year drought as a result.  FIU’s misery will hit year 23, as they dropped out of CUSA postseason play tonight.  Coming in right behind FIU will be both Colgate and San Jose State in much different circumstances.  Colgate lost in the Patriot Finals tonight (by a metric ton), taking the hope that nourished in the previous tournament rounds and just amplifying the torment.  San Jose State garnered no such hope.  They came in as the bottom seed, and got ran off the court by middle of the pack Wyoming in the opening round action in the Mountain West.  Arkansas State’s last NCAA Tournament team will remain the 1999 squad, as they lost in Sun Belt play today.  Lastly, Florida Atlantic also was eliminated in CUSA action tonight.

Of the top 100 teams listed on the Drought link, 23 remain in contention in their conference tournaments.

Conference Tournaments
Fifteen conference tournaments will have games tomorrow.  There are no championship games scheduled, and three are in their opening rounds.  It will be the busiest day of games for the week before whittling away the field with each passing day.

The American Athletic Conference has four first round games.  East Carolina has not been to the tournament since 1993, and will take on UCF in their backyard.  Mike Dunleavy will be trying to get Tulane back into the dance for the first time since 1995.  The Green Wave have drawn Temple. 

The Big West’s first round will feature eighth seeded UC Riverside.  The Highlanders have been Division I since 2001, but have never earned an invite.  They will need to get past UC Davis to make that possible this year. 

The Western Athletic Conference eight team tournament is the remaining new tournament beginning tomorrow. Five teams have never made the NCAA field.  The lone matchup featuring two such teams is third seeded Grand Canyon (Division I since 2013) and UMKC (Division I since 1987).  Second seeded Utah Valley are in their fifteenth year, and will be looking to get past Cal State Bakersfield to setup an all-Futility semifinal with the winner above.  Chicago State is fresh off their first Division I win and hoping to parlay that into three additional wins for their first appearance after missing the field in their last 33 tries.  However, the longest mark belongs to what is now called UT Rio Grande Valley.  Over their existence and various names, the Vaqueros have not made the dance since their debut in 1969.  Their opponent tomorrow has 11 appearances, but the last was also in 1969 when Seattle made the Tournament.

The MAC is back with quarterfinal games in Cleveland.  Toledo is the second seed and has the longest drought in the conference missing the last 37 NCAA Tournaments, and will play Miami OH.  Eastern Michigan is looking to avoid seeing their drought hit 20 years, and they get the team and the coach who have both owned this Tournament on their own separate merits.  Akron is an eleven seed, but nothing would surprise me here given John Groce's track record in March with Ohio.  Ball State is the four seed and gets the defending tournament champions Kent State.  The Cardinals have not made the field since 2000. 

The Big Sky also returns with four quarterfinal games.  Idaho secured the two seed, and are looking to snap 27 years of tournament misses.  The Vandals have Southern Utah on the schedule.  The Thunderbirds meanwhile are looking to establish a postseason winning streak and ultimately return to the brackets for the first time since 2001.

We have two quarterfinal matchups in the Southland, one of which is more relevant here.  Central Arkansas survived Lamar on Wednesday and will now take on the three seed Stephen F. Austin.  The Bears have never made an NCAA Tournament. 

The Atlantic 10 has four second round games on Thursday.  Keith Dambrot has brought some additional energy to Duquense, but they faded to a ten seed in the latter half of the season.  They get Richmond in the evening session as they try and snap the 16th longest active drought with misses in the last 40 NCAA Tournaments.

The MEAC concludes their quarterfinals tomorrow with the final two games in those brackets.  Savannah State will take the court for the first time, and after reports surfaced where they received an APR waiver and are eligible for post season they surged to qualify for the three seed.  The Tigers joined Division in 2002, and have announced their intention to move to Division II for financial reasons.  They have never made the NCAA tournament and their final opportunities are this season and next.  Savannah State gets North Carolina Central tomorrow.

Conference USA has four quarterfinal games on Thursday.  Marshall will take on UTSA in the 4/5 seed matchup.  The Thundering Herd have not made the NCAA Tournament since 1987.  Louisiana Tech upset North Texas and now gets second seeded Old Dominion.  The Bulldogs drought goes back to 1991. 

The Mountain West has four quarterfinal games tomorrow, including fringe bubble team Boise State.  Same goes for the Big Twelve, and TCU will begin quarterfinal action on the day against Kansas State.  The Horned Frogs own the league’s longest active drought.  Their last appearance came in 1998.  The SEC will have four second round games, while the Big East, ACC and Pacific 12 will have 4 quarterfinal games.

Notable Games (predictions in italics, 1-4 tonight, 0-0 from pending games previous night, 89-61 overall, 0 game pending from tonight)
Thursday's top five as I see them:
#5 Louisville vs Virginia- Virginia 68, Louisville 64
#4 Notre Dame vs Duke- Duke 76, Notre Dame 72
#3 UAB vs Western Kentucky- Western Kentucky 74, UAB 73
#2 San Diego State vs Fresno State- San Diego State 73, Fresno State 72
#1 North Carolina vs Miami FL- North Carolina 75, Miami FL 74

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