Without fail, each season, teams play their way in and out of the NCAA tournament. And while each conference tournament game doesn’t have more meaning than another game, the timing of playing a quality opponent this late season can either help or hurt a team.
Here’s what’s to watch on Saturday:
America East: UMBC is at Vermont for the league title at 11 a.m. on ESPN2. The Catamounts have a chance for a winnable double-digit seed with a win but UMBC probably does not. The best thing for the league is for Vermont to win and give itself a chance to pull off an upset in the first round.
Sun Belt: UT-Arlington and Louisiana are the two most talented teams in this league and will meet in the semifinals. The other semifinal game is Georgia Southern-Georgia State (both games are on ESPN3 at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.) Arlington and/or Louisiana have a real shot to pull off a first-round NCAA win. The winner of that game should be a trendy pick to do so next week if they can win the title Sunday.
Ivy League: Cornell-Harvard and Penn-Yale are on deck in the Ivy League playoff at the Palestra (12:30 p.m. ESPNU, 3 p.m., ESPN2). A Harvard-Penn final Sunday would be the best outcome since either one is more than capable of winning a game next week. If Penn were to win, it would be quite a run for Steve Donahue, who took Cornell to a Sweet 16, went to Boston College where it was a struggle to mimic the success, and has returned to his roots to excel.
Atlantic 10: The league got the teams it wanted in the semifinal. The Saint Joseph’s-Rhode Island (1 p.m., CBS Sports Network) game is a rematch of the Hawks stunning blowout road win in Kingston last week. The Davidson-St. Bonaventure (3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) semifinal is a rematch of the best game of the season — regardless of conference. The triple overtime game in Olean was a classic. Davidson is a legit bid stealer if the Wildcats can win this game.
American: Three of the four teams in the semifinals are going to the NCAA tournament and are working on seeding. Houston and Wichita State (3:30 p.m., CBS) split the two games this season. Memphis beat Tulsa at the buzzer in the quarterfinals and it will be interesting to see what it takes to push top-seed Cincinnati (1 p.m., CBS). Let’s assume Cincinnati wins. A final with the Bearcats against either the Shockers or Cougars Sunday would be well worth everyone’s time.
Goodnight pic.twitter.com/vjacHKCxBe— Wichita State MBB (@GoShockersMBB) March 10, 2018
Conference USA: Western Kentucky beat Purdue in the Bahamas. So, remember that if the Hilltoppers beat Marshall (8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) for the title. If this happens then Rick Stansbury would have had quite the comeback from his regular runs at Mississippi State before his departure and then subsequent stint as an assistant at Texas A&M.
Mountain West: Nevada got run by San Diego State Friday night, but the Wolf Pack should be fine for the tournament, due to its regular season title and the fact had to deal with a number of injuries. But that means there is an extra bid, for sure, coming out of the MWC. The turnaround this season by first-year coach Brian Dutcher with the Aztecs and the complete 180 by New Mexico’s Paul Weir this season is great news for the league. These are two proud programs. Having them play for the title is great news for the league going forward. They need them to be relevant.
Pac-12: Arizona won a thrilling Pac-12 semifinal over UCLA in overtime Friday night. USC outlasted Oregon. These have been the two most talented teams in the league all season and the final (10 p.m., FS1) shouldn’t disappoint. Both teams have weathered off-court chaos, but one team has Deandre Ayton and one does not. He’s going to be or should be the No. 1 pick for a reason in June. His dominance around the glass is hard to match.
WAC: New Mexico State had some cameos in the Power 36 for a reason. The Aggies can play. They have length, athleticism and would be a team that could pull off an upset in the first round. But that’s if they can beat Grand Canyon for the title (10 p.m., ESPNU).
Big West: Fullerton is the outlier here, but an upset over UC Davis puts the Titans on the verge of quite a run to a possible NCAA tournament berth. UC Irvine has been on lock down defensively and took out UCSB. The winner of this championship game (11:59 p.m., ESPN2) may not get an advantageous seed, but it’s good for the Big West to share the wealth and have a new rep in the NCAAs.
SWAC: Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Texas Southern finished in a four-way tie for second in the regular season. Both are under .500 overall since they have to play brutal non-conference schedules. This is their Super Bowl. Think about it -- Pine-Bluff lost its first 14 and Texas Southern dropped its first 13 games and they are playing for a bid. If Texas Southern wins then two teams that shared the same homecourt would be in the NCAAs (Houston is renting it during construction of its facility).
MEAC: This is great to see. Two teams in the MEAC final — Hampton and North Carolina Central (1 p.m., ESPN2) — with winning overall records. Hampton won the league, too. That doesn’t mean they won’t get a No. 16 seed, but it gives them a chance to be more competitive in the first round. And leagues should want its best teams in the field.
Big Sky: Montana has been the most consistent team in the Big Sky, winning the league by two games and then getting to the final with an overtime win over Northern Colorado. But the Grizzlies will have to deal with Eastern Washington’s Bogdan Bliznyuk, who scored a Big Sky-record 32 in a semifinal win over Southern Utah.
CHAMPIONSHIP BOUND!!! pic.twitter.com/nlRSlgLn3p— Montana Griz BB (@MontanaGrizBB) March 10, 2018
MAC: Well, now, the MAC ended up working out just right. The champs of the East (Buffalo) meet the winner of the West (Toledo) at 7 p.m., (ESPN2). Both teams finished with identical 13-5 records. And whoever wins should be taken very seriously in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This league needs to get more love. It has consistently been extremely difficult to win.
Southland: Stephen F. Austin has a culture of winning. The coaches have changed, but the winning does not. The Lumberjacks attempt to take their act to the NCAAs again, if they can get by Southeastern Louisiana (9 p.m., ESPN2), a team the Lumberjacks lost to by 11 earlier in the season.
SEC: Kentucky is next up to try and contain Alabama’s Collin Sexton (1 p.m., ESPN). The Tide freshman star has been sensational in the first two games of the SEC tournament. Why would anything change in the semifinals in St. Louis? The Tide are going to be in the field. Kentucky is playing for seeding. Arkansas tends to play its best basketball in the SEC tournament and the win over Florida in the quarterfinals was another example. Taking on co-champ Tennessee (3 p.m., ESPN) gives them another chance to improve their seed for next week. The Vols have been the most consistent SEC team and can make a strong case for a top 16 seed.
ACC: North Carolina could be playing for a top seed if it can knock off Virginia (8:30 p.m., ESPN) in the ACC tournament title. The worst is probably a No. 2 seed. Both of these teams are probably going to end up in Charlotte in the first round. The Cavaliers are likely the No. 1 overall seed, regardless of what happens in this game.
Big 12: The third edition of West Virginia-Kansas (6 p.m., ESPN) promises to be the best. Kansas got the best of the Mountaineers this season. And there is no way a Bob Huggins-coached team is going down quietly a third time. Expect this to be a wild affair in Kansas City. The Jayhawks top line seed could be on the line.
Big East: How much fun is it to watch Ed Cooley’s crew get through the Big East tournament? Providence beat Creighton in OT and then did the same to top-seeded Xavier. Now, the Friars have to find how much they’ve got left to pull off the trifecta and take down Villanova (6:30 p.m., FOX). The Wildcats could be playing for a No. 1 seed if they can pull out the title.