Conference tournaments have been fairly normal so far. Only a couple of No. 1 seeds were knocked out, but the second seeds in those leagues picked up the slack.
Not in the Sun Belt. Sunday saw both Middle Tennessee and Arkansas-Little Rock – the top two seeds – fall in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Moreover, No. 4 seed Lafayette also lost over the weekend.
Where does that leave things?
No. 3 seed Denver is now the favorite to win the automatic bid, as the Pioneers have won five in a row and are the highest-remaining seed. They draw No. 7 seed Western Kentucky in the semifinals. The Hilltoppers have defeated Middle Tennessee and Arkansas-Little Rock in the past two weeks, so they won’t be an easy out anymore.
An intriguing team could be North Texas. The Mean Green have the league’s most dominant player, freshman forward Tony Mitchell. He is capable of carrying the team at both ends of the floor. Moreover, Mitchell struggled in the quarterfinals, but North Texas still had four players score in double-figures. The Mean Green face No. 9 Arkansas State in the semis on Monday.
The loss by Middle Tennessee also brings up another discussion point: are the Blue Raiders worthy of an at-large bid? Heading into last weekend, it would have looked like they had a chance, but they have since lost to Western Kentucky and Arkansas State, two teams with RPIs below 200. They have no marquee wins, with the best victories coming over Ole Miss, Belmont and Akron. The computer profile has also taken a huge hit with the recent losses. More than likely, Middle Tennessee is headed to the NIT.
-- Jeff Borzello