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Conference tournament preview, 3/10: Five bids are on the line Tuesday

Five mid-major championships are set to be handed out on Tuesday: the CAA, Horizon League, NEC, Summit and WCC.

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-BYU vs Saint Mary’s Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A whopping five mid-major conference titles are going to be handed out tonight! The Colonial Athletic Association, Horizon League, Northeast Conference, Summit League and West Coast Conference will all have champions crowned on Tuesday, making it the busiest day of title games until Saturday.

That’s not all! The America East tournament resumes and the MAAC, MEAC and SWAC all get underway. It makes for an extremely busy night of mid-major basketball, so let’s get to it.


America East

No. 3 Hartford at No. 2 Stony Brook, 7 pm
No. 4 UMBC at No 1 Vermont, 7 pm

The top seeds all held on at home during the quarterfinals, setting up an awesome slate of games in the America East semifinals. Both games will be played at the higher seed’s home court. UMBC is only 16-16 on the season, but one of those wins was at Vermont on Feb. 22, 66-64. Hartford defeated Stony Brook 65-54 when they last played on Long Island on Feb. 26, but the Seawolves were without America East first team guard Elijah Olaniyi. He returned for the quarterfinal against Albany and could make a big difference in this one.


Colonial

No. 6 Northeastern vs. No. 1 Hofstra, 7 pm, CBSSN

It may be a surprise that the Huskies advanced to the CAA title game as the No. 6 seed, but they were actually quite unlucky during conference play. Six of their nine losses came by three or fewer points. This game is a rematch of last season’s championship, which Northeastern won by eight to break the hearts of Hofstra fans. This should be a fun one between the league’s best team and one that has enough talent, including senior guard Jordan Roland, to make it a game.


Horizon League

No. 4 UIC vs. No. 2 Northern Kentucky, 7 pm, ESPN

UIC’s defense stifled top-seeded Wright St. in the semifinals last night and thus the Flames, who underachieved during the regular season, are set to take on the Norse for the chance to dance. KenPom gives NKU a 61% chance of earning the Horizon League’s automatic bid for a second straight season. The Flames will counter with a defense that ranked No. 1 in the conference in points allowed per possession in league play. Senior guard Tarkus Ferguson scored 25 points in the upset of WSU and is a player to watch for UIC.


MAAC

No. 9 Manhattan vs. No. 8 Fairfield, 5 pm
No. 10 Canisius vs. No. 7 Iona, 7 pm
No. 11 Marist vs. No. 6 Niagara, 9 pm

Everything about the MAAC tournament has changed this season. For one, it’s being played in Atlantic City. Secondly, it’s during the second week of championship fortnight. And thirdly, Iona is playing on the first night of the tournament. The Gaels are the 4-time defending MAAC tournament champion, but they have to play on night one after struggling to an 11-16 regular season record while head coach Tim Cluess missed most of the season due to health concerns. They’ll face off against a Canisius team that they swept during the regular season. Even though it’s a weird new look for the MAAC, one thing is for certain: there’s no way that the start times for the two later games are correct. Look for MAAC play to continue well into the night on Tuesday.


MEAC

No. 9 Maryland Eastern-Shore vs. No. 8 Delaware State, 6 pm
No. 10 Howard vs. No. 7 South Carolina State, 8:30 pm

The MEAC gets off to a slow start in Norfolk tonight with two play-in games for the quarterfinals. The winner of the first game will play the league’s top seed, North Carolina Central, in the next round. The favorite though according to KenPom’s computers is Norfolk St., but any of the top four seeds have a reasonable shot at taking home the tournament title.


Northeast

No. 2 Saint Francis U. at No. 1 Robert Morris, 7 pm, ESPN2

Despite a bunch of close calls, the NEC got exactly what every mid-major conference wants, a showcase between its top two (eligible) teams with an automatic bid on the line. The cherry on top of the sunday here is that these two teams also happen to be bitter geographic rivals. SFU and RMU split during the regular season, with each winning on their home court. The Red Flash are led by two awesome seniors, Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon, the last two NEC players of the year. The Colonials will counter with a grind-it-out offensive style that’s complemented by Andy Toole’s signature defensive effort.


Summit

No. 6 North Dakota vs. No. 1 North Dakota St., 9 pm, ESPN2

NDSU survived a scare in the semifinals against Oral Roberts to reach the championship game against their in-state rival. The Fighting Hawks start three seniors, including Kienan Walter, who scored 20 points in their semifinal victory over IPFW. NSDU put three senior guards on the Summit all-conference first team after going 13-3 during league play. The Bison have a 70% chance of taking home the victory and heading to the NCAA tournament, according to KenPom.


SWAC

No. 8 Alabama A&M at No. 1 Prairie View A&M, 6:30 pm
No. 6 Grambling at No. 3 Texas Southern, 8:30 pm
No. 7 Alabama State at No. 2 Southern, 8:30 pm
No. 5 Alcorn State at No. 4 Jackson State, 9 pm

The SWAC tournament opens with home quarterfinals for the top seeds. The top-seeded Panthers went 14-4 during the regular season and are the favorite, but they did lose their last two games of the regular season at Alcorn State and Southern. This is the only round at campus sites. The tournament moves to Birmingham, Alabama for the semifinals and finals on Friday and Saturday.


West Coast

No. 3 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 1 Gonzaga, 9 pm, ESPN

After two close semifinals, the Gaels and Bulldogs will play in the WCC finals for the second straight season. Last year Saint Mary’s needed the victory to be assured of an NCAA tournament bid, but that’s not the case this time around. Unless something crazy happens the Gaels and Bulldogs will join BYU in a 3-bid WCC. Hopefully Saint Mary’s can keep this one respectable. The Gaels fell by 30 points and 10 points in their two regular season games against Gonzaga.