Nearing the madness
League tourneys get rolling as teams battle for automatic bids
Conference automatic bids will be awarded in 12 of the 31 conferences this week as March Madness officially kicks into gear. Here’s a look at those conference tournaments taking place:
Atlantic Coast Conference
Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C., March 7-10
Despite losing All-America guard Chelsea Gray to a knee injury in late February, Duke remains the team to beat going into the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The Blue Devils enter tournament play as winners in 11 of the final 12 games, including going 3-1 without Gray. Were Duke to falter, North Carolina, Maryland, Florida State or Miami (Fla.) would be waiting to secure the automatic bid.
Atlantic Sun Conference
Hawkins Arena, Mercer, Ga., March 6-9
Blowouts were the custom in all of Florida Gulf Coast’s Atlantic Sun games this season, with the Eagles winning by double figures in all games, going 18-0 during the regular season. Winners of 19 consecutive games overall, Florida Gulf Coast is on the verge of claiming a second consecutive NCAA championship appearance. If the Eagles are to be stopped at the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, Stetson (21-8, 14-4) looks like the only team capable. However during the regular season, Florida Gulf Coast went 2-0 against Stetson, winning by an average of 18 points per game over the Hatters.
Big South Conference
HTC Center, Conway, S.C., March 6-10
Though Liberty has won 14 of its last 15 games, the Flames know they have a slim margin for error entering the Big South Tournament. Liberty (24-6, 16-2) will be chased by a handful of teams led by Winthrop (20-10, 14-4) and Presbyterian (19-10, 14-4). If it comes down to a final game with Presbyterian, Liberty would be facing a team that they lost to in the only matchup between the two teams this season, 51-49 back on Jan. 3.
Big Ten Conference
Sears Centre, Hoffman Estates, Ill., March 7-10
Behind Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas, Penn State (24-4, 14-2) secured its best conference record since going 15-1 in 2003-04. The Nittany Lions enter this week’s Big Ten tournament riding momentum following a season-ending win at second-place Nebraska that clinched the regular season championship for the second consecutive year. Nebraska, winners of 10 games in a row before the Penn State setback, is a team the Nittany Lions may have to beat again to win the tournament championship.
Big 12 Conference
American Airlines Arena, Dallas, Texas, March 8-11
Barring an upset, the Big 12 tournament looks to be Baylor’s show after the defending national champion Lady Bears went 29-1 this season and won 27 consecutive games after losing to Stanford on Nov. 16. Baylor is the first team to twice go through Big 12 play without a loss. The Lady Bears have won a record 46 consecutive Big 12 games, including tournament games. Baylor All-America center Brittany Griner comes into tournament action playing the best basketball of her sterling career. She totaled a career-high 50 points and had her 14th career dunk in the season finale against Kansas State. With 3,123 career points, Griner comes into the Big 12 tournament in second place on the NCAA career scoring list behind Jackie Stiles, who had 3,393 points for Missouri State from 1997-2001.
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
MassMutual Center, Springfield, Mass., March 7-11
Marist ran roughshod through the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference during the regular season and is the prohibitive favorite to again earn the conference’s automatic bid by week’s end at the conference tournament. Marist, 23-6 and 18-0, had only one game decided by less than 10 points in league play this season. Head coach Brian Giorgis is looking to lead the Red Foxes into the NCAA tournament for the ninth time in the last 10 years.
Ohio Valley Conference
Nashville Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee, March 6-9
With five teams fashioning conference records of 11-5 or better, the Ohio Valley tournament is wide open. Eastern Illinois, winner of the West Division, is the top seed with a 19-10 overall record, 12-4 in the OVC, while East Division winner Tennessee Tech is the No. 2 seed at 18-11 and 12-4. If either falters in Nashville, Tennessee-Martin, Eastern Kentucky and Belmont are all waiting in the wings ready to snare the conference tournament title.
KeyArena, Seattle, Washington, March 7-10
After splitting two games during the regular season and sharing the Pac-12 regular season championship, the scene is set for a Stanford-California showdown at the Pac-12 tournament to decide things. It’s the first time since the 2003-04 season that the Cardinal hasn’t won the conference regular season championship outright (Arizona shared it with Stanford nine years ago). It could be one of the more competitive Pac-12 tournaments, with UCLA, Colorado and Washington also capable of winning three in a row to earn the automatic bid.
|WOMEN'S FINAL FOUR TICKETS|
A select number of individual all-session tickets to the 2013 NCAA Women’s Final Four in New Orleans are currently available for purchase by logging on to www.ncaa.com/tickets.
All-session tickets will enable the ticket holder to watch the two national semifinal games on April 7, beginning at 5:30 p.m. CT, and the national championship game on April 9 that tips off at 7:30 p.m. CT. All games will be played at New Orleans Arena.
Arena At Gwinnett Center, Duluth, Ga., March 6-10
Tennessee enters the Southeastern Conference (SEC) tournament as the No. 1 seed and regular season champion despite falling at Kentucky on the final day of the regular season. The SEC tournament appears to be as wide open as any in recent memory, with a number of schools capable of claiming the tournament championship. This includes the hottest team in the league, LSU, which closed the season with six consecutive wins that included victories against Georgia, Kentucky and Texas A&M.
US Cellular Center, Asheville, N.C., March 8-11
Winners of 16 games in a row, Chattanooga is the No. 1 seed entering the Southern Conference tournament. Only a loss to Elon on Jan. 7 ruined the Mocs’ opportunity at a perfect conference season. If Chattanooga, 26-3 and 19-1, is to be stopped from gaining the conference’s automatic bid, Davidson, 19-11 and 16-4 appears capable. Chattanooga won both regular season meetings against Davidson, but by only an average of 6.5 points per game in each of the victories.
Sun Belt Conference
Summit Arena, Hot Springs, Ark., March 8-11
Boasting three teams with 20-plus wins, the Sun Belt Conference tournament should make for an interesting four days in Arkansas. Middle Tennessee State, 22-7 and 17-3, won the East Division title, while the West Division was claimed by UALR, 22-7 and 14-6. Both teams have a tournament pedigree, with UALR winning the conference tournament last season, while Middle Tennessee State received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
West Coast Conference
Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada, March 6-11
Gonzaga, 25-5 and 15-1, is the top seed going into the West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas. San Diego Brigham Young and Saint Mary’s all have the potential to push the Bulldogs. A Big West Conference tournament championship would assure Gonzaga of getting to play on its home court for the first- and second-round of play in the NCAA tournament. A loss would leave Gonzaga hoping for an at-large bid.
With a 68-56 victory at home against South Florida on Feb. 26, Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer became the fourth women’s college basketball coach to reach 900 wins. Stringer joined Pat Summitt and Jody Conradt, as well as Sylvia Hatchell, who reached the mark on Feb. 7. Only three Division I men’s coaches have reached 900 victories - Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Jim Boeheim. Stringer holds a career mark of 900-330 for a .732 winning percentage ... Notre Dame senior Skylar Diggins recorded the 16th points-rebounds-assists triple-double in history by a Big East player (11th in Big East regular-season play), and the fourth in Notre Dame history with 17 points and game highs of 10 rebounds and 10 assists in an 84-56 win at DePaul on Feb. 24. Diggins also became just the fifth Big East player with multiple triple-doubles in her career. She added an exclamation point on Monday, leading Notre Dame to its second consecutive conference championship with a triple overtime victory against Connecticut. Diggins played all 55 minutes in the clinching win, scoring 29 points and pulling down 11 rebounds ... Central Arkansas senior forward Megan Herbert has recorded a double-double in 12 of 17 Southland Conference games this season and now has 82 double-doubles for her career. Herbert ranks first all-time in the Southland in rebounding (1,424) and second in scoring (2,283) for players who played their entire career in the conference ... Fairfield did not attempt a single free throw at Loyola (Md.) on March 1. It is the second time this season in which Fairfield did not attempt a free throw in a game.