Believe it or not we have reached the final Saturday before the start of conference tournaments. Now would be a good time to look at five key mid-major games on today’s slate.
Wichita State (30-0, 17-0) vs. Missouri State (19-10, 9-8) 2pm Eastern
This is the last hurdle for last year’s Final Four participant to finish off an undefeated regular season. The Shockers are 30-0 and are shooting to become the first team to finish the regular season 31-0. The game may be a bit more than an expected coronation based upon the first meeting with the Bears. Wichita State trailed by 18 at halftime and by as many 19 in the 2nd half before forcing overtime and squeaking out a 72-69 win. The Shockers should be a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament but because of the level of competition still have their doubters. A win and a perfect regular season should erase all doubt.
Gardner Webb (17-13, 10-5) at UNC Asheville (15-14, 9-6) 4:30pm Eastern
The Big South has been a giant mosh pit and with the final day of regular season play upon them there are still seven of the conference’s 12 teams separated by two games, which makes for a tiebreaking nightmare. This however is the only game between two of those log-jammed teams. The Bulldogs of Asheville won the first meeting between these south division rivals 81-77. How important is this game? Gardner Webb is tied with Coastal Carolina for the division lead at 10-5 and both Winthrop and Asheville are just a game back at 9-5 and the top two teams in each division get an extra day of rest and don’t have to play until the quarterfinals.
Eastern Washington (14-14, 9-8) at North Dakota (13-14, 10-7) 3pm Eastern
The Big Sky doesn’t end its season until a week from today but this and virtually every remaining game on the conference schedule will be vital. The conference only allows the top seven of the 11 teams into the conference tournament. Besides Weber State who has three-game cushion at the top and Southern Utah who is winless at the bottom of the conference, the remaining nine teams are separated by just three games. North Dakota won the first meeting between the two teams 73-61. The truth is I could have put any two teams here, every Big Sky game from here on out is crucial.
Saint Louis (25-3, 12-1) at Virginia Commonwealth (21-7, 9-4) 6pm Eastern
Like the Big Sky, the Atlantic 10 doesn’t end its season for another week but this is a big conference showdown. The last time these two met the Billikens held off VCU for a 64-62 win. At the time it was Saint Louis’ 17th straight, they won two more after that before falling surprisingly to Duquesne at home on Thursday. For the Rams, getting the best of Saint Louis this time around could separate them from the likes of Saint Joseph’s, UMass and George Washington come selection time.
Western Michigan (19-8,12-3) at Toledo (23-5,11-4) 6pm Eastern
Western Michigan won the first meeting between the top two teams in the MAC West 87-76. Despite having divisional play during the season the MAC doesn’t seed by division for the conference tournament. This is important because the top two seeds receive byes into the semifinals. Both the Broncos and Rockets are battling Buffalo (11-4) for those top spots and this could very well serve as the last chance for either Toledo or Western Michigan to grab a bye while keeping a competitor at bay.