Most conferences still have regular season games left to play before their league tournaments begin next week. But the first NCAA Tournament tickets will be punched Saturday when the Ohio Valley and Mountain West conferences crown their champions.
Those conference tournaments are just two of a handful that start this week as the insanity of March begins with mid-major programs jockeying for automatic qualification to the Big Dance. Here are some storylines to watch as the college basketball postseason gets underway all over the country.
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Can San Diego State solidify itself?
This week is not only about the small programs hunting automatic qualifiers. No. 5 San Diego State will be using the Mountain West Tournament to try and lock up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and get back on the right track. The Aztecs have looked a little shaky as of late. First, they lost at home to UNLV, then they had to sweat it out in close victories over Colorado State and Nevada. Their first game in the Mountain West Tournament will come Thursday against the winner of Wednesday's game between Fresno State and Air Force. A potential championship game meeting between the Aztecs and Utah State or Nevada on Saturday could be a great test of where this Aztecs team is entering the NCAA Tournament.
Is Liberty legit?
Can Liberty tear through the Atlantic Sun Tournament? If so, watch out, because the Flames are a veteran-led team that won an NCAA Tournament game last season. Liberty blew a chance to be outright regular-season champions of the ASUN by losing at Lipscomb on Saturday. But that loss may simply motivate a team that has slipped off the NCAA Tournament bubble, according to CBS Sports Bracketology expert Jerry Palm. The Flames enter the postseason with a 27-4 record and the experience to be an NCAA Tournament bracket-buster if they can secure the ASUN's automatic qualifier. The journey begins Tuesday against New Jersey Tech, and Liberty hopes it will culminate Sunday in the conference championship game.
Can Wright State and Scott Nagy keep rising?
Scott Nagy has Wright State on the cusp of its second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last four years, which would be an unprecedented accomplishment for the Dayton, Ohio school with just three NCAA Tournament appearances in program history. Could Nagy, a former South Dakota State coach, parlay a strong finish with the Raiders into consideration for a high-major job? Don't rule it out if the Raiders can win the Horizon League Tournament and get back to the Big Dance. The tournament begins Tuesday, but the No. 1 seed Raiders won't play until six days later as they enjoy a double-bye. If they make the NCAA Tournament, Palm has them projected to play cross-town neighbor Dayton in a first-round game.
Is the Missouri Valley Conference a two-bid league?
Northern Iowa begins the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on the right side of NCAA Tournament bubble, according to Palm. So does that make the MVC a two-bid league? It would take a Northern Iowa loss. But even then, there's no guarantee the Panthers make it as an at-large team. The other team to watch here is 2018 NCAA Tournament darling Loyola-Chicago. The Ramblers are the No. 2 seed in the MVC Tournament, which begins Thursday and ends Sunday.
Could the OVC produce an NCAA Tournament menace?
The winner of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament is currently projected to be a No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to Palm. But be honest. Would any potential No. 2 seed out there feel good about drawing Murray State or Belmont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament? Both teams made the Big Dance last season and have reputations for messing with the big boys. Sure, Murray State no longer has Ja Morant and legendary coach Belmont coach Rick Byrd has retired. But if your favorite team is projected to be a No. 2 seed, it might be worth rooting for an unexpected winner in the OVC Tournament, lest you end up having to sweat it out against the Racers or Bruins on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.