The Final Major

By Jeff Lippman - March 15, 2008


One more major conference crowns its champion Saturday as the Big 12 reaches its championship. Eight other conference tourneys will come to a close today, as the total number of automatic bids swells to 24 out of 31.

We're just two days away from Selection Monday, with many teams sitting on pins and needles waiting to find out where their tourney fate takes them. If you are Maryland or LSU right now, you're wondering if you'll get that two seed and where you'll have to travel. If you are Temple or Auburn, however, you are wondering if you will have some place to travel at all.

On Sunday, She's On Fire will examine the field of 64, predict the at-large bids and tell you who's in and who needs to find accommodations for the WNIT.

The way I see it, Utah, Wisc.-Green Bay and Bowling Green locked up some prime pieces of real estate by failing to win their conference tournaments. These schools all won at least 25 games and deserve at-large bids, but that leaves the number of remaining spots for bubble teams lacking in quantity. More on this tomorrow...

Big 12 Championship
No. 4 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State (6 p.m.)

The way the Big 12 shook out this season, it's no surprise to see these two battling it out for the conference championship. As far as overall win totals are concerned, at 25 these two programs were tops in the Big 12.

The Aggies were supposed to be an elite team this season, but early struggles - losing four of their first five Big 12 contests - forced A&M away from the spotlight. Well, other than a two-point loss at Oklahoma on Feb. 12, Texas A&M has been unbeatable and are currently on an eight-game winning streak.

The Cowgirls, in the opposite regard, were not expected to challenge for a Big 12 title this season. Their star, sophomore guard Andrea Riley, wasn't supposed to shine this bright, this quickly. We all knew she was a burgeoning superstar, but after averaging over four assists and almost 23 points a game this year and willing her team to wins at some points - including a 45-point effort to end a 17-game losing streak against in-state rival Oklahoma in early January - Riley has arrived and might be the best player in the conference not named Paris.

Both these teams are in the NCAA Tournament. The two split the season series, each winning on their opponent's home court. This game means more for OK State, though. For coach Kurt Budke, who two years ago suffered through an 0-16 conference season with his Cowgirls, this is what he's been building towards.

As the three seed, that's the highest Big 12 seeding the Cowgirls have ever received, but with another win today and the conference's biggest prize securely in Budke's grasp, OSU could be looking at another three seed. This time in the NCAA Tournament.

MAC Championship
East No. 2 Miami vs. East No. 3 Ohio (1 p.m.)

Bowling Green is going to get some nasty letters from Iowa State and Virginia Commonwealth among others. The BGSU Falcons were by far the class of the MAC with 25 wins on the year and a 13-3 conference record. Their year was good enough to earn them an at-large bid to the Big Dance, and therein lies the problem.

The Falcons lost in the MAC semis to Ohio. Now, it's Miami of Ohio versus Ohio for all the marbles and it looks like the little MAC will get two bids into the NCAA Tournament.

Mountain West Championship
No. 4 New Mexico vs. No. 6 San Diego State (4 p.m.)

The Mountain West is about as silly as the MAC. Two teams helped screw it for all the bubble squatters. Utah was ranked this year. So was Wyoming. TCU won 21 games. None of them made it to Saturday's final.

You can't argue with Wyoming and Utah's accolades this year. They belong in the tournament with 10 total losses between them. TCU won't gain an at-large bid, however, as the bubble burst on the Frogs when they lost to the Aztecs Friday.

Three bids from the MWC sounds like a lot, and it is one too many if you ask me. Whoever wins today's championship doesn't really belong as far as their records would indicate, but that's what March Madness is all about.

Big Sky Championship
No. 3 Montana State vs. No. 1 Montana (7:05 p.m.)

All of Montana will be watching as the top-seeded Lady Grizzlies - yeah, because women are OK with being called Grizzlies... - look to fulfill their tournament destiny. Look for junior guard Mandy Morales, who dropped 31 on Portland State in the semis, to lead the Grizz to their 17th NCAA Tournament appearance and 13th Big Sky title.

Big West Championship
No. 1 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 2 UC Davis (3 p.m.)

The top two Big West seeds survived to the championship, a rare feat this conference tournament season, as the battle of the UC's decides who dances.

At 15-1 in conference this year, Santa Barbara has the inside track at taking home the hardware.

MEAC Championship
No. 1 North Carolina A&T vs. No. 2 Coppin State (1 p.m.)

Another battle of one versus two as the conference's only two teams to win 20 games square off for the MEAC's lone NCAA bid. Even if A&T doesn't win, 25-7 in the MEAC shouldn't be enough to warrant an at-large bid. The bubble teams don't have to pay attention to this one.

Southland Championship
No. 3 Texas-San Antonio vs. No. 4 Lamar (4 p.m.)

There will be no at-large bids in the Southland. At 22-9 and with the conference's best overall record, UT-San Antonio looks to be the favorite in this one. The Roadrunners - great nickname - however, lost to Lamar at home in their only meeting this season.

SWAC Championship
No. 2 Jackson State vs. No. 1 Prairie View A&M (4 p.m.)

At 22-10, PVAMU is the only team with 20 wins from the SWAC this season. That also makes them the favorite to take the conference crown and only bid into the Big Dance.

WAC Championship
No. 1 Fresno State vs. No. 3 New Mexico State (3 p.m.)

The last alphabetical conference crowns its winner today as the Bulldogs and Aggies do battle. At 21-10 overall, Fresno State may have the conference's top seed, but New Mexico State has the better record at 23-8.

More Conference Tournament Action Saturday:

America East Semifinals
No. 1 Hartford vs. No. 4 Albany (5 p.m.)
No. 2 Vermont vs. No. 3 Boston Univ. (7 p.m.)

This may be the first instance of all four top seeds advancing to the semifinals in any conference tournament this season, except for the ACC...

Big South Semifinals
No. 1 Liberty vs. No. 4 High Point (6 p.m.)
No. 2 Radford vs. No. 3 Winthrop (8:30 p.m.)

...And with that said, here's another with all four top seeds.

Colonial Athletic Semifinals
No. 2 James Madison vs. No. 3 VCU (noon)
No. 1 Old Dominion vs. No. 5 Towson (2:30 p.m.)

Bubble teams will be studying today's game between Old Dominion and Towson. Should the Monarchs not win the CAA Tournament, they will definitely gain at-large acceptance to the Big Dance, meaning another bubble bursts for someone.

Missouri Valley Semifinals
No. 1 Illinois State vs. No. 4 Creighton (2 p.m.)
No. 2 Evansville vs. No. 3 Drake (4:30 p.m.)

Three semis with all four top seeds...now I feel dumb for making that comment above. Should I go back and change what I said? Nah, it's still been pretty rare.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 11:11 AM on March 15, 2008
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