Semifinal Saturday

By Jeff Lippman - March 08, 2008

Saturday sees action in 16 conference tournaments.

While the ACC and SEC are in their semifinals, another major conference is just getting under way in the Big East. And by the end of today two conferences will have crowned champions, earning automatic berths into the NCAA Tournament.

So where do we start? At the beginning, of course.

Big East - First Round
From Hartford, Conn.
No. 5 Pittsburgh vs. No. 12 Villanova (noon)
No. 8 Marquette vs. No. 9 DePaul (2 p.m.)
No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 St. John's (6 p.m.)
No. 6 Syracuse vs. No. 11 USF (8 p.m.)

For a conference that had as many as six or seven ranked teams at any given point this season, the Big East's first round finds itself very important, if not including the league's dominant programs like UConn and Rutgers.

If No. 9 DePaul can pull the slight upset of No. 8 Marquette today, eight Big East teams will have won 20 games this season, the usual benchmark for who makes the NCAA Tournament.

No. 5 Pitt had an excellent season and can rest easy knowing they have done enough to grab an at-large bid and should have no trouble with 15-14 Villanova regardless.

The Lady Orange should have no worries at 22-7 and 10-6 in conference, and again, should easily breeze past a South Florida team that stands at 15-14 in the nightcap.

Three Big East teams are playing for their tourney lives today, however, as No. 7 Louisville (21-8), No. 8 Marquette (16-13) and - especially - No. 9 DePaul (19-10) all have work to do before they can rest easy.

ACC Semifinals
No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 1 North Carolina (1 p.m.)
No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 3 Duke (3:30 p.m.)

Four NCAA Tournament locks collide Saturday to get to Sunday's final. Once again the ACC has produced its top four seeds into the semifinal round. No upsets were to be had this season.

And although last year saw NC State overtake then-undefeated and No. 1 Duke in a heart and gut-wrenching semifinal game, I don't see the same sort of thing happening this year. Virginia had a nice ACC season, but it ends today against North Carolina.

I think everyone and their mother wants to see a Maryland-North Carolina final Sunday and that is most likely what we're going to get.

SEC Semifinals
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Kentucky (5:30 p.m.)
No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Vanderbilt (8 p.m.)

The SEC doesn't get started with its semifinal round until later today when top-seeded LSU meets Kentucky, who put Georgia out of its SEC misery in the quarterfinals.

The SEC does keep its top four seeds, but not seeing Georgia in the semis just doesn't seem right. Oh well, Andy Landers and company definitely underachieved this year, but we'll see them again in the NCAA Tournament.

Look for LSU and Tennessee to handle their opponents today and meet in Sunday's anticipated final. My mouth waters as I think about one more - and possibly two more, down the road - matchup between Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker.

Atlantic Sun Championship Game
No. 2 Jacksonville vs. No. 1 ETSU (1 p.m.)

It looks like winner goes to the NCAAs, loser hits the WNIT as ETSU and Jacksonville collide for A-Sun supremacy Saturday.

East Tennessee had the more dazzling conference season with a record of 14-2, but at 20-11 overall, the Bucs probably won't get an at-large bid if they lose to the Dolphins, who actually have a better overall record at 23-8.

Look for the top seed to grab this auto entry.

Ohio Valley Championship Game
No. 4 Eastern Illinois vs. No. 3 Murray State (11 a.m.)

Saturday's first automatic NCAA Tournament entry won't go to a top seed. Only No. 3 Murray State and No. 4 Eastern Illinois remain for the OVC. Because SE Missouri State, the top seed, lost early, at 23-8, they probably don't grab an NCAA at-large, and neither would today's loser, most likely.

Big Ten Semifinals
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 3 Purdue (6 p.m.)
No. 9 Illinois vs. No. 5 Michigan State (8:30 p.m.)

The Big Ten is whittled down to four - and they aren't very big, if you ask me, and you are asking me because I'm the only one writing - as No. 2 Iowa meets No. 3 Purdue and No. 5 Michigan State collides with No. 9 Illinois, who upset No. 1 Ohio State yesterday (called it).

Iowa is in all likelihood into the Big Dance at 21-9 and a win today would only enhance that. Purdue struggled early this year and is only 16-14 on the season. A Boilermakers loss and it is all over. They probably have to win the whole Big Ten tourney to make the NCAAs.

So that's Iowa in, Purdue out. Illinois' only chance in hell of making the NCAAs would be selling their souls and continuing to upset teams all the way to the tourney title.

Michigan State, on the other hand, actually does need today's game desperately to gain at-large acceptance consideration. The Spartans struggled this year, the first for coach Suzy Merchant after Joanne P. McCallie's departure to Duke. A win today would give them 20 on the season and might be enough to earn that at-large bid. Just to be safe, they ought to try and win the Big Ten Tourney. I mean, come on, it's not that hard to do.

Other Tournament Action Saturday:

Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals
No. 1 Temple vs. No. 8 Richmond (noon)
No. 4 Charlotte vs. No. 5 Dayton (2 p.m.)
No. 2 George Washington vs. No. 10 Rhode Island (4 p.m.)
No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 6 Saint Joseph's (6 p.m.)

Conference USA Semifinals
No. 2 SMU vs. No. 6 Marshall (3 p.m.)
No. 5 Southern Miss vs. No. 1 UTEP (5:30 p.m.)

No. 1 UTEP looks to keep its undefeated conference season alive against the five seed today, while No. 2 SMU definitely needs another win at 22-8 to think about an at-large NCAA bid. Look for a one vs. two final for C-USA.

MAAC Semifinals
No. 2 Iona vs. No. 3 Fairfield (9:30 a.m.)
No. 1 Marist vs. No. 5 Saint Peter's (11:30 a.m.)

No. 1 Marist will continue to rule the MAAC in Albany Saturday.

NEC Quarterfinals
From Long Island, N.Y.
No. 1 Quinnipiac vs. No. 8 Mount St. Mary's (noon)
No. 4 Long Island vs. No. 5 Fairleigh Dickinson (2:30 p.m.)
No. 2 Robert Morris vs. No. 7 St. Francis (N.Y.) (5 p.m.)
No. 3 Sacred Heart vs. No. 6 Monmouth (7:30 p.m.)

The NEC Tournament gets underway from just outside New York City as No. 1 Quinnipiac looks to grab the conference crown. Robert Morris and host Long Island have their own ideas as to who is the best in the NEC.

Patriot League Quarterfinals
From West Point, N.Y.
No. 1 American vs. No. 8 Colgate (noon)
No. 4 Army vs. No. 5 Bucknell (2:30 p.m.)
No. 2 Holy Cross vs. No. 7 Navy (5 p.m.)
No. 3 Lehigh vs. No. 6 Lafayette (7:30 p.m.)

The best overall record in the conference goes to the No. 4 seed Army at 18-11. Suffice to say, there will be only one team from the Patriot in the Big Dance.

Sun Belt Quarterfinals
No. 1 Western Kentucky vs. No. 8 North Texas (12:30 p.m.)
No. 4 Arkansas State vs. No. 5 South Alabama (3 p.m.)
No. 2 UALR vs. No. 7 Florida International (6:30 p.m.)
No. 3 Middle Tennessee vs. No. 11 Troy (9 p.m.)

West Coast Semifinals
No. 2 Santa Clara vs. No. 3 San Diego (3 p.m.)
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 5 St. Mary's (5:30 p.m.)

Swap Saint Mary's for Loyola Marymount and all four top seeds still remain in the WCC. That is definitely an intriguing No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup. San Diego and Santa Clara both have what it takes to upend Gonzaga in tomorrow's final.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 10:53 AM on March 08, 2008

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