Do you love March Madness? You probably wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t.
Well, the Southland is giving us the feel of March in early January with a unique way to open its conference slate, the “Tip-off Tournament.” Thursday through Saturday, the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas, will host a quadruple-header, matching the now eight-team league against one another in games that will not count towards the conference standings.
“It’s going to be a lot of basketball compressed in a six-day period,” former Southland commissioner Tom Burnett told Extra Points’ Matt Brown. “But we’ve had a lot of enthusiasm for it and you saw us get a little creative in how we selected the teams.”
Unlike a normal conference tournament, there will be consolation games like a preseason tourney, so all eight teams will play three games. That’s 12 games in a three-day period where there isn’t much else going on in the college basketball world. Needless to say, eyes will be on the Southland.
The Southland doesn’t have much going for it right now, ranked dead-last in KenPom.com’s conference rankings. So the juice from the in-season tournament is much needed. Last season it had 13 basketball members. This season, the Southland is down to eight as four left for the new and improved WAC, and another for the new ASUN.
Only two of its teams have a plus .500 record, with one ranking in the top 290 of the country on KenPom. Twenty-five of the league’s 41 wins were against non-DI schools, not all that impressive. Whoever comes out victorious in this event though will be able to pick up three more to add to its non-league resume.
The tournament was brought about because of the cut in league games with the abrupt departure of the programs. The Southland wanted more D-I opportunities, and here was the chance. Back in the day leagues like the Big 8 and Southwest Conference who had eight members had preseason tournaments, why not bring that back? The NBA has talked about a mid-season playoff just for funzies.
“We needed more games,” Burnett said, “We wanted more Division-I opportunities, so this is what that kind of serves as, in addition to trying to create something here that we haven’t seen before, or maybe not in a long time.”
The field was selected in a way that pro basketball fans see every year, almost like the NBA Draft Lottery. In late October, Burnett spun a lottery ball machine to fill in the field; all completely random. The women’s field was selected first (which ultimately got canceled because of COVID-19), then it was the men’s turn. Southeastern Louisiana was the first team out, pitting them against Houston Baptist in an 11 a.m. CST tip off. Incarnate Word was the last program out, pitting them against Nicholls in a 7:30 CST tip off. That lines up for approximately eleven hours of basketball. They’ll be doing that for three days straight.
All 12 games will be broadcast on ESPN+ with three of them as standalone games as of now (who knows with COVID). If you have some free time in your afternoon the next three days, I would highly recommend tuning in to this old-school idea that could soon be overtaking the country once again.