The Big Dance
Keep track of all the teams who are going dancing.
by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
It’s been a long, arduous journey through the college basketball regular season. From the monumental opener between Michigan State and Carolina to this week’s conference tournaments, the season was filled with upsets, buzzer beaters, huge dunks and arguably some of the best overall talent the game has seen in a decade.
Remember when hoops fans feared that the lockout would endure and negate the NBA season, leaving only college basketball to watch? Well, the pros may have resolved their problems, but you best believe that these “amateurs” put on a show, week in and week out.
Now, it’s time for teams to put up or shut up. Everything these teams accomplished during the regular season will not matter if they don’t win in March. Will Kentucky continue its dominance in post-season play? Or, will an under-the-radar team like VCU or Butler shock the world once again and sneak into the Final Four?
Before we find all that out, teams will battle it out in their respective conference tournaments for a shot at eternal glory. Some teams have already punched their tickets to the Big Dance and are hoping that glass slipper fits just right, while others are fighting for their lives on the bubble and living game-to-game throughout the week.
It’s the most exciting time of the year for hoops, and SLAMonline has got you covered. Keep up with all the surprises, net-cutting, big performances, and court rushing as we take you into Selection Sunday.
ACC: Florida State
The Seminoles will be a popular sleeper pick in this year’s Tournament, and with good reason. Sunday’s win over Carolina marked the second time they took care of the Tar Heels this season. The Noles also beat Duke two times this season, making them–big wins wise- the most dominating team in the ACC. FSU doesn’t score at a high rate, but they play tremendous defense and will wear down opponents throughout March.
America East: Vermont
The Catamounts won their fifth America East title in ten years out in Stony Brook to earn their automatic bid. Brian Voelkel grabbed 15 boards and dominated the game by doing all the little things right. The sophomore hit a huge 3 late in the game, grabbed a few tough rebounds than knocked down his free throws so help Vermont get the win. The Cats could potentially be playing in a play-in game and if not, will most likely garner a 16 seed.
Atlantic 10: St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies capped off a surprising A-10 tournament run by defeating Xavier in the championship game. They are lead by senior forward Andrew Nicholson who averages 18.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per. They have a tough opening round matchup against a hot Florida State team.
Atlantic Sun: Belmont
The Bruins are playing in March for the fifth time in seven years after beating Florida Gulf Coast 83-69 last Saturday. Belmont has been known to give teams fits in the first round, and this year should be no different. What they lack defensively, they make up for two-fold offensively; the Bruins can light it up.
Big 12: Missouri
Missouri will be leaving the Big 12 on a high note after defeating Baylor to claim the conference crown. Mizzou’s uptempo game was too much for Baylor to handle and Kim English took home tournament MVP honors after his 19-point performance. The Tigers will be seeded anywhere from 1-3 in their respective region depending on how the rest of the games around the country play out.
Big East: Louisville
Led by tournament MVP Peyton Siva, the Cardinals won four games in four days to claim the Big East throne. Louisville is riding serious momentum into the tournament and are finally healthy after an injury-plagued regular season.
Big Sky: Montana
Montana avenged their January 14 loss to Weber State by dismantling them in the Big Sky Conference final. The Grizzlies are heading back to the Big Dance for the second time in three years, and this may be one of their best teams of all time; they have won 14 straight heading into March Madness.
Big South: UNC-Asheville
The Bulldogs were the first team to punch their ticket to the Big Dance this year after they beat up on VMI in the Big South championship game. UNC-Asheville will most likely draw a 16 seed.
Big 10: Missouri
The Tigers turned a lot of heads this season and with good reason; they were completely under-the-radar heading into their first matchup and finished the season atop one of the toughest conferences in college basketball. The Tigers earned themselves a 2-seed on Selection Sunday and will face Norfolk State in the opener. They potentially have one of the easiest roads to the Final Four if all goes accordingly.
Big West: Long Beach State
Led by Casper Ware’s 33-points, Long Beach took care of UC Santa Barbara 77-64 to capture the Big West Conference Championship. The 49ers played a tough non-conference schedule and they are battle tested. Don’t be surprised if they give a team a run for their money in the early goings of the Tournament.
The Rams will probably get a higher seed than they deserve based on last year’s incredible run; but according to head coach Shaka Smart, this year’s version is even better. VCU knocked off Drexel, who was riding a 19-game win streak, to win their conference championship and are heading into the Tournament with momentum.
Conference USA: Memphis
The Tigers steamrolled their competition in the Conference USA Tournament and won the final game against Marshall by a score of 83-57. Memphis is rolling into the Big Dance riding a seven game win streak and will probably be a popular pick to make it to the Sweet 16.
Horizon League: Detroit
Led by super-talented point guard Ray McCallum, the Titans upset top-seeded Valparaiso 70-50. McCallum had 19 in the win, and Detroit is dancing for the first time since ’99. McCallum was a highly regarded recruit (he passed on both UCLA and ‘Zona to play for his father), so don’t be surprised if he has a big game in the first round of the Tournament.
The Crimson are back in the Tournament for the first time since ’46 after Penn lost to Princeton–a win by Penn would have forced a one-game playoff between Harvard and Penn. Head coach Tommy Amaker had his team ranked earlier this season, and they upset Florida St. all the way back in November. Don’t sleep on the Crimson.
MAAC: Loyola (Maryland)
The Greyhounds are dancing for the first time in 18 years; head coach Jimmy Patsos is a bartender turned head coach and won MAAC Coach of the Year. They have all the makings of a Cinderella, but they will most likely flame out in the first round. Regardless, a tremendous story for a team that will enjoy every second of their time on the national scene.
In a contest that came down to the wire, the Bobcats were able to outlast Akron 64-63 to claim the MAC Championship. D.J. Cooper scored 23 points in a win that put Ohio in the Tournament for the second time in three years. Ohio won a school-record 27 games this season.
MEAC: Norfolk State
The Spartans are going dancing for the first time in school history after beating Bethune-Cooke in the final of their conference tournament. Norfolk State currently has five DI transfers on their roster and are currently on a seven game winning streak. The Spartans will probably make a first round exit, but than again, you never know.
Missouri Valley: Creighton
The Bluejays have one of the best scorers in the nation in 6-7 forward Doug McDermott–he is coming into the Tournament averaging 23 points and 8 boards per–who just dropped 33 on Illinois State in the MVC title game. Creighton was ranked for much of the season before skidding down the stretch, but they will be a problem in the tourney. Keep an eye on McDermott, this kid can play with anybody.
Mountain West: New Mexico
The Lobos snuck up on both San Diego State and UNLV to capture the Mountain West crown. This New Mexico’s first MWC title since 2005 and the Lobos are entering the Tournament with a huge chip on their shoulder after being overshadowed by both the Aztecs and the Runnin’ Rebels all year.
NEC: LIU Brooklyn
Where Brooklyn at!? With Spike Lee in attendance, the Blackbirds steamrolled Robert Morris 90-73 en route to an automatic bid. LIU Brooklyn run a fast-paced, high scoring offense and may cause some problems in their first round matchup.
Ohio Valley: Murray State
The Racers avenged their sole loss of the year by coming from behind and beating Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley championship game. Murray State has a high-powered, potent offense and with Isaiah Canaan running the show, they are a serious threat in this year’s tournament.
The Pac-12 had a down year, but that shouldn’t diminish the Buffs accomplishments. One year after losing their two best players, Colorado won a surprising 23 games and are in the Tournament. CU won four games in four days and ousted Arizona in the final. Will the Pac-12 be a one-bid conference?
Patriot League: Lehigh
C.J. McCollom is a potential upcoming draft pick and he will now have all eyes on him as he leads the Mountain Hawks back to the Tournament for the second time in three years. McCollom finished with 29 in the Patriot League final against Bucknell and will definitely be a kid to keep an eye on during the first weekend of tourney play.
Vanderbilt may have found a way to stop Kentucky in the tournament. The Commodores came out and punched the Wildcats in the mouth and never relented. By playing physical with Anthony Davis, Vandy frustrated the talented freshman and had Kentucky playing on their heels. They will be a popular pick to make a run in the tournament, and it is merited. They underachieved for much of the season, but look like they are playing some of the best ball in the country when it matters most.
SWAC: Mississippi Valley State
The Delta Devils (awesome name) earned their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance with a two-point victory over Texas Souther in the SWAC Final. MVSU will most likely get a 16 seed or play in the play-in round.
It took double-overtime for the Wildcats to finally put away Western Carolina in the Southern Conference final. Davidson could potentially cause some headaches; they knocked off Kansas earlier this season. They are also one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the nation, a crucial stat during March Madness.
After Pat Knight declared that his senior class was the worst one that he had ever been around as a coach, his team responded by winning six straight games and earning themselves a ticket to the Big Dance. Lamar had no problem with McNesse State as they defeated the Cowboys 70-49 in a rout.
Summit League: South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits earned their first ever NCAA Tournament berth after beating Western Illinois 52-50. Their Tournament berth may be the most monumental moment in South Dakota sports history.
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky
Only in college hoops can a team that started 5-14 and finish with a record under .500 and make it to the postseason with a chance to win it all. The Hilltoppers gutted out a come-from-behind victory over North Texas in their conference tournament game and will now, more than likely, take part in a play-in game early in the week.
WAC: New Mexico State
The Aggies finished the year on a four-game win streak and beat up on Louisiana Tech to win their conference tournament. Wendell McKines scored 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the win.
West Coast: St. Mary’s
The Gaels won the regular-season and postseason championships for the first time in school history. They defeated their bitter rival Gonzaga in a wildly entertaining overtime game for the conference championship. The Gaels didn’t play anybody too tough outside of Murray State and Baylor (both losses) but do have a great point guard in Matthew Dellavedova.