As the regular season winds down, the teams that are in contention for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament have separated themselves from the pack.
For teams whose tournament hopes are going to be contingent on winning their respective conference tournaments. With only a few weeks left to go until conference tournaments, we’ll see a lot of jockeying in the standings to solidify seeding and brackets.
Some conference races are mostly locked up. Gonzaga has a stranglehold on the WCC. Nevada is going to run away with the Mountain West. Wofford is on the verge of locking up the SoCon.
But there are plenty of races that have a lot left to be decided, which should make for an exciting finish in the days leading up to the end of the regular season.
Here are five conference races you should be keeping an eye on down the stretch.
If the Missouri Valley hasn’t been the most confusing conference this season, it’s at least in the conversation. Right now, Drake and Loyola Chicago are currently tied in first at 10-5. The Bulldogs have won four straight to get back in the mix, while the Ramblers have dropped two of their last three to relinquish the cushion that they had built. Missouri State sits a game back of the leaders, but two of its last three games are at home, including a season finale tilt against Drake. Even Northern Iowa, who sits two games back at 8-7, could get in the mix if things break right. With a favorable schedule down the stretch that includes a home matchup with Loyola Chicago, the Panthers are not written off yet.
Further down in the conference, four different teams are tied at 7-8. With just a week and a half until the season ends, we’ll likely see that standings get shuffled repeatedly.
From a drama standpoint, CUSA isn’t the most exciting race around. Old Dominion holds a two game lead thanks to an 11-3 record, but the intrigue comes from the inaugural usage of the Bonus Play scheduling format.
Under the bonus scheduling format, the league has been separated into groups based on the standings as of last weekend. For the final four games of the year, teams will play the other teams in their respective groups. In doing this, the hope is that can improve its postseason standing, whether it be improving the metrics of the champion to bump up a seed line in the NCAA Tournament or getting an additional team or two into the NIT. Coaches and administrators from different mid-major conferences across the country should be paying attention to how this plays out in the first year as it could potentially provide a similar benefit to them in the future.
The MAAC has six (6) teams that all have nine wins. Canisius technically has a half game lead on Monmouth, Quinnipiac, Siena, Rider and Iona, but that’s because they’ve played in one less game than the rest of that bunch. KenPom projects five (5) of those teams to finish 11-7, which sounds like an absolute nightmare for whoever has to figure out tiebreakers in that scenario.
There isn’t home court advantage at play as the MAAC Tournament is being held at Siena’s arena in Albany for the fifth straight year. There is, however, significant ramifications for how the bracket will look by the time the tournament rolls around. It’s very rare to have a scenario in which you can that it’s anyone’s league to win. This is one of those times.
The Horizon League race looks like it’s going to come down to a battle between the league’s last two NCAA Tournament representatives: Northern Kentucky and Wright State. Both teams sit at 10-5, and have split the head to head matchups. As travel partners, the two also have the same opponents down the stretch: home games against Youngstown State and Cleveland State, and road games against Milwaukee and Green Bay. Both teams have separated themselves as the teams to beat, and it’ll be fun to watch to see if either of them slip up down the stretch.
Further down the standings, there’s competition for the chance to host a quarterfinals game. The top eight teams will make the Horizon League tournament, and the top four get to host a first round game on their home court before the semifinals and finals move to Detroit. Right now, IUPUI is the last team in at 6-8, while Green Bay and UIC round out the top four at 8-6. Essentially, we could see a ton of movement in the last couple of weeks with almost every team still in contention for home court advantage, and even an outside shot at a top seed to an extent.
The OVC has been one of the most top heavy leagues in the country for a reason. Belmont, Murray State, Jacksonville State and Austin Peay are all really good. Belmont and Murray State are tied in first at 12-2, while Jacksonville State and Austin Peay are a game back at 11-3. Belmont owns the head to head tiebreaker of Murray State, so they’ll claim the title if they can win out (which they should, given their easy schedule down the stretch).
For Murray State, Jacksonville State or Austin Peay to usurp the Bruins, they’ll have to hope for a Belmont team that has won nine straight to slip up against the rest of the league. Despite the lack of matchups down the stretch, it’ll be fun to watch these four teams that have been a clear cut above the rest of the league try to maintain the dominant play that’s put them in this position for the last few weeks.