Congrats to all the teams that have punched their tickets to the big dance so far, including the half a dozen who did so while I was typing this up last night. Special shoutout to Bellarmine, who won their conference tournament but were not eligible for the NCAA tournament because they’re still to fresh to D1. I’m not 100% sure why that should be a consideration, so if you understand it, please let me know in the comments.[Ed. note. Joel works mornings this week, so he needs sleep. Those six teams now dancing are Jacksonville St, Gonzaga, Delaware, Wright State, South Dakota State, and Bryant.]
The story of the night came in the NEC. Wagner travelled to Bryant to take on the one seed in the tournament final. When they arrived they walked a gauntlet of screaming students just to get into the gym. As the teams are rivals, things didn’t get better. With Bryant up 30 in the second half, their students started an “FU Wagner” chant. Super classy? No, but not meriting of the trash that was thrown their way by some theoretical adults behind the Wagner bench. That prompted some return fire, and before it was over Wagner’s Will Martinez had been ejected for going into the crowd to fight. Had Wagner shown that aggression while they were falling behind 36-6 to start the game, perhaps it wouldn’t have ended in a fight.
On to today’s games, as major conference tournaments start working their way up through the gears. Teams who have fought for four months can have their hopes validated or dashed in the span of 40 minutes. Here’s who’s on the hook for huge emotional swings today.
Butler v. Xavier, 4:30pm, Big East tournament, FS1
Right into it with the only one that matters to me today. Butler has been dead and buried for some time, but Xavier has - despite their best efforts - retained the distinction of controlling their own fate. After side-stepping a landmine game against Georgetown in the season finale, Xavier can all but punch their ticket with a win here.
Want to be really mean spirited? Cheer for the Demon Deacons to get upset here. Boston College would be a Q3 loss and would represent Wake’s second. With only one Q1 win, that could be enough to tip the scales should the come down to the Deacons and another bubble dweller.
Clemson v. Virginia Tech, 7pm, ACC tournament, ESPN2
I have to imagine maybe the ACC Network has retained the rights to this one? (ESPN picked it up.) Anyway, Va Tech is an interesting case, because their record isn’t horrible (19-12) and they have good computer numbers, but they’re only on 5 of the 141 entries in the Bracket Matrix. They’re just 5-10 in the top 2 quads and they have 3 Q2 losses. This would be a Q2 win for them and give them the chance to pick up another good win or two to get back into the conversation.
If you really squint, and I mean really, you can see a way in for a couple of other teams. Virginia appears on one bracket on the matrix right now. If they string together a serious run that ends in the final, that could be enough. The same goes for Oregon and Kansas State. All three start play today and all three will need to make deep runs and then pray. They probably need the auto bid, but it’s March, so we’ll indulge their hope.
So... still kind of building momentum here. In addition to these bubblicious matchups, the Patriot League will hand out an auto bid as Navy and Colgate face off at 7:30pm on CBSSN.