College Basketball Handicapping: Conference Races
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 2/26/2010
Just about any team in college basketball has the ability to play itself into the NCAA Tournament no matter how bad it played in the regular season, just as long as it wins its conference tournament. Earning the top seeds in those conference tournaments usually helps a lot and more so in the smaller conferences than anywhere else.
A No. 1 seed in the Big East might give a team a double bye, but three other teams also get a double bye and the games are all on neutral courts. In the smaller conferences, conference tournaments are usually held on the home court of the top seed, giving them a huge advantage. And in most of those conferences, no matter how many games you won in the regular season, you will have to win the conference tournament to get to the Big Dance.
The No. 1 seed is crucial for the teams in the smaller conferences. Here is a look at the races for that top seed in various conferences around the country as championship week approaches.
The Atlantic 10 race is as tight as any in college basketball with three teams heading into the final weeks of the regular season tied with an 11-2 conference record. Richmond, Temple and Xavier are all fighting for the top seed. The tournament is held on neutral court in Atlantic City but the top seed will be able to avoid the second and third seed until the championship game. This race is Xavier’s to lose. They host Richmond and then play last-place Fordham and struggling St. Bonaventure.
A logjam at the top of the conference looks to be cleared after Jacksonville has won five straight conference games to at least clinch a share of the regular-season conference title. Jacksonville (14-5) is one misstep away from a slew of tiebreakers being put in place to determine the top seed. Lipscomb, Belmont and Campbell are all 13-6. Jacksonville controls its own destiny just needing a win at home over East Tennessee State Saturday.
This race is all but over. Barring a UC Santa Barbara collapse, they will have the No. 1 seed in the Big West Tournament. UC Santa Barbara (11-3) needs to win only one of its next two games to clinch. The only team who can catch them is Pacific, who would need to win out against Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge on the road. If UC Santa Barbara stumbles against Cal Poly on Saturday look for them to clinch the No. 1 seed at home against last place UC Irvine on March 3.
Colonial Athletic Association
Northeastern’s loss to Hofstra dropped it to 13-4 and opened the door for Old Dominion (14-3) to clinch the No. 1 seed Saturday at home against Virginia Commonwealth.
This No. 1 seed will almost certainly come down to the regular season finale between Kent State (11-3) and Akron (11-3). The game is in Akron and no other team can catch those two teams. Kent State won the first meeting, 87-70, and the Golden Flashes have gone on an 11-1 run after starting 0-2 in the section.
The race in the Mountain West Conference is between New Mexico (12-2) and BYU (11-2). Just like the MAC showdown, Saturday’s game between New Mexico and BYU, in Provo, Utah, will likely decide the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
Two-time defending champion Robert Morris enters Saturday with a chance to claim yet another No. 1 seed in the NEC Conference Tournament and with it a home-court game with ticket to the Big Dance on the line. It will come down to Saturday when Robert Morris (15-2) plays red-hot Mount St. Mary’s (11-6). A Robert Morris win would clinch the top seed while a loss will open the door for Quinnipiac (14-3), who would just have to defeat Fairleigh Dickinson (10-7) to earn the No. 1 seed based on a head-to-head win over Robert Morris earlier this year.
This tournament is played entirely on campus sites, and getting the highest seed is crucial. Lehigh (9-4), Lafayette (8-5) and Bucknell (8-5) are all neck-and-neck near the top of the conference standings. A Lehigh win over Holy Cross on Saturday will give it the No. 1 seed but a loss and a Lafayette win will give it the top seed based on the RPI tiebreaker. Bucknell is mathematically eliminated from getting the top seed based on the RPI tiebreaker.
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