March Madness is here. The conference tournaments have given us plenty of excitement this year, and some teams have already played their way into the NCAA Tournament. A couple mid-major teams that were likely on the wrong side of the bubble took their fate out of the Selection Committee’s hands by winning their conference tournament, and some teams with 50-50 resumes in big conferences picked up a big win or two to stamp their ticket. Let’s take a look at some of these teams.
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Murray State – The Racers had a very small chance of getting to the NCAA Tournament if they lost to Belmont in the OVC Championship Game. Their resume was iffy at best, and they were likely to be leapfrogged by other teams with strong conference tournament showings as the bubble shrank.
Fortunately, Ja Morant took over in the second half of the OVC Championship Game to take Murray State into the Big Dance. Morant is one of the top players in the country and he exploded for 36 points against Belmont last week. Now, we get to see one of the best young players in college basketball when the prospects of seeing him in March Madness were dicey beforehand.
Saint Mary’s – One of the more interesting bubble teams was set to be the Gaels. They had a sterling NET rating before their win over Gonzaga in the WCC Championship Game, but their lack of a signature win and failure to be competitive against the Bulldogs in the regular season made their candidacy a toss-up.
That victory is likely to make Saint Mary’s a dangerous No. 11 or No. 12 seed. The Gaels play very good defense, and their ability to slow down a game could frustrate an opponent and lead to an upset in the first round.
Seton Hall – Some analysts believed that the Pirates were already in the NCAA Tournament thanks to a solid end to the season that included wins over Villanova and Marquette, but they left no question after they routed Georgetown on Thursday night. Myles Powell scorched the Hoyas for 29 points in the first half, and a lot of insanity would have to happen for Seton Hall to not get a bid now. They are currently on the No. 10 line according to Joe Lunardi and could rise higher with a victory over Marquette on Friday.
Minnesota – The Golden Gophers avoided what would have been a disaster if they had lost to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday. They escaped with a victory and notched their 20th win of the season in the process, and that is likely good enough to get the Golden Gophers in. Minnesota already has wins over Washington, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue to their credit, and those Quad 1 wins are enough to consider this team firmly in the dance.
Utah State – Not everyone will agree with this, but I think the Aggies’ win over New Mexico was enough for them to get in the field too. Utah State just needed to avoid disaster in their first MWC tournament game, and they are now on an eight-game winning streak. The MWC has been a strong conference this year, and they deserve to send two teams with the Aggies sitting at 26-6 with wins over Nevada and Saint Mary’s.
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