Wednesday and Thursday have a number is proof that the precipice of March is upon us. Aside from big games that include the likes of Gonzaga vs. St. Mary’s and perhaps for the last time Syracuse vs. Connecticut, there are games all across the country that could have serious implications on conference tournament seedings and more importantly the at-large aspirations of some.
Wednesday plays host to a couple of games that have teams needing to right ships and prove things to themselves. UNLV and Air Force do battle, the Rebels who are in good position to get an at-large bid desperately need to prove they can win outside the friendly confines of the Thomas and Mack Center, something they have done just three times in conference play over the last two seasons. The game with Air Force is their last chance to get a win over a top-tier conference on the road before the conference tournament.
After a five game winning streak that got the Falcons in the at-large discussion they suffered back-to-back losses to New Mexico and a .500 Nevada team. They have four games remaining with the teams ahead of them in the conference three of which are at home (a place they have only lost once all season) including the game with the Rebels on Wednesday. The Falcons could use a win to spear head the momentum of an at-large bid.
The once-ranked Creighton Bluejays have gone just 3-4 in their last seven thus turning the Missouri Valley into a three team race that includes Wichita State and Indiana State. They travel to Cedar Falls to face a Northern Iowa team that is no pushover, just ask Wichita State St., Mary’s who fell to the Panthers and Indiana State and Evansville who barely escaped with victories. Creighton is still a dangerous team to deal with but they could use a win to reclaim its stake as the team to beat in the Valley.
On Thursday the smaller conferences take center stage as a number of top teams do battle.
In the Metro Atlantic Athletic conference Canisius travels to Maryland to take on defending conference champion Loyola, in a game that pits the two 9-5 teams that sit just one game behind conference-leading Niagara. Both team have split with Niagara winning on the road and losing one-point games at home. The game is a little more important for Loyola as Canisius already scored a home win over the Greyhounds giving them a slight leg up in any tie breaker scenarios.
In the Atlantic 10, if you haven’t noticed the UMass Minutemen are 16-6, 6-3 in the conference and sit just a game behind second-place VCU. UMass travels to the other Commonwealth of the conference to take on the Rams. With a win over LaSalle in their back pocket and games with Xavier and league leader Butler still to come the Minutemen have a chance to further separate themselves from the likes of Temple, Xavier, LaSalle and Charlotte bunched up in the conference.
Further down the eastern seaboard, Southern Conference Davidson travels to Charleston to take on the Cougars. A win would not only give the Wildcats a sweep of Charleston but would all but wrap up the #1 seed in the North division. At this point the Wildcats must win out in order to make the NCAA Tournament because the rest of their profile has very little meat on its bones and despite the possibility of a 25+ win season, the lack of a Southern Conference Tournament title would likely mean a trip to the NIT.
As we head west there is a marquee game in the Summit League as league leading Western Illinois travels to North Dakota State to take on the second place Bison. Despite holding a slim lead over NDSU and the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, the Leathernecks are in a must win scenario as they have already lost the first match ups with the Bison and SDSU, who they play on Saturday. All season the Leathernecks have hung their hats on defense surrendering a measly 52.4 points per game good enough for 3rd in the country and that’s good because they score the ball at a clip of 61.3 points one of the lowest in the country. This week will go a long way in determining the top three seeds in the Summit League tournament.
As we head west towards the Rockies, in Big Sky country the top two teams in the conference do battle as undefeated Montana travels to Weber State to take on the 10-2 Wildcats. With these two teams having separated themselves from the rest of the conference and Montana having scored a two-point win over the Wildcats, a win by Montana would all but give them the regular season title and the right to host the conference tournament.
So as conference tournaments quickly approach things will slowly come into focus and the focusing should begin in earnest this week.