March is officially upon us after a crazy Thursday night of conference tournament action.
Presbyterian upset Radford (who beat the Georgetown Hoyas on the road earlier this season) on a last second put back in the Big South first round. American knocked off Boston University on the road and Holy Cross won a nail biter in three overtimes in the Patriot League quarterfinals. Stetson, a team that is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament because of their low APR, crushed Lipscomb while Florida Gulf Coast demolished the top seed North Florida in the Atlantic Sun tourney. Then there was Austin Peay knocking off a strong defensive team in Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley quarterfinals.
Some expected results did hold true to form, including Manhattan dominating Marist in the MAAC opening round, Morehead State defeating Murray State by nine in the Ohio Valley and Missouri State winning by two over Drake in the Missouri Valley.
And there's much more in store on Friday night with Monmouth, Evansville, Belmont, Coastal Carolina, Illinois State, Iona and Morehead State taking the court (there were some games played or currently being played this afternoon).
With NCAA berths on the line, this is a do or die scenario before next week's Selection Sunday.
Southern Conference (1st round)
No. 9 VMI vs. No. 8 Samford (in North Carolina) 5 p.m. ET on ESPN3
No. 10 The Citadel vs. No. 7 Mercer (in North Carolina) 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3
VMI and Samford should be a competitive game between two teams that finished 4-14 in conference play and spilt their season series. But the real reason to tune in is to watch Q.J. Peterson, who leads VMI in scoring at 19.6 points per game and shoots 41 percent from the field.
Mercer is normally amongst one of the top teams in the Southern Conference but this season they finished 8-10 in league play and lost seven in a row to end the season. Even though The Citadel is 3-15 in conference play and lost nine in a row down the stretch, it will be no easy task for Mercer. The Bulldogs can score with the best of them as they average the second highest points per game (86.6) in the country.
CAA (1st round)
No. 9 Drexel vs. No. 8 Elon (in Baltimore) 6 p.m. ET
No. 10 Delaware vs. No. 7 Charleston (in Baltimore) 8:30 p.m. ET
After losing Damian Lee to Louisville in the offseason, Drexel was expected to be headed down a rough road this season. That's exactly how the Dragons finished as they won just five games overall and three games in conference play. Meanwhile, Elon was only four games out of second place in a congested league that is headlined by UNCW and Hofstra.
Delaware had one of the longest longest streaks in the nation, losing 15 in a row, and currently have just seven wins with two of them against Drexel and South Florida. Charleston, who actually lost to the Blue Hens on the road in mid-February should have no issue if there balanced attack (four guys averaging in double figures) comes to play.
Big South (Quarterfinals)
No. 10 Presbyterian vs. No. 2 Winthrop (in North Carolina) 6 p.m. ET on ESPN3
No. 6 Gardner-Webb vs. No. 3 Coastal Carolina (in North Carolina) 8 p.m. ET on ESPN3
Presbyterian shocked Big South fans with their buzzer beating victory over Radfod but Winthrop is the real deal (at least amongst mid-major teams). They rank 10th in the nation in scoring, finished tied for first in league play and have one of the best players no one knows about in Keon Johnson.
No. 8 Rider vs. No. 1 Monmouth (in Albany) 7 p.m. ET on ESPN3
No. 7 Canisius vs. No 2. Iona (in Albany) 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3
Monmouth certainly has a chance to earn an at-large bid regardless of if they win the MAAC Tournament or not. But losing to Rider in the quarterfinals (their first MAAC conference tournament game) would be a major set back and would likely end their at-large hopes.
The Hawks have excellent guards, Justin Robinson (20.2 points per game), Micah Seaborn and Je'Lon Hornbeak, that can beat defenders off the bounce and they also possess two solid big men in Chris Brady and Zac Tillman. King Rice's unit has been playing without one of their best players, Deon Jones, and he is not expected to play tonight so that possibly opens up the door for Rider to pull of a shocking upset.
Then there's Iona, a team that has been much improved on the defensive side of the ball in the second half of conference play. They beat Monmouth on the road and have the best player in the league and a future pro, A.J. English.
Missouri Valley (Quarterfinals)
No. 7 Missouri State vs. No. 2 Evansville (in St. Louis) 7 p.m. ET on ESPN3
No. 6 Indiana State vs. No. 3 Illinois State (in St. Louis) 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3
Evansville has one of the strongest 1-2 punches in the conference in D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius. Balentine has averages 20.7 points per game while Mockevicius is a double double machine. Ultimately, they should have no problems with Missouri State.
In the late night game, Illinois State has the upper hand on Indiana State. The Redbirds are a true sleeper as they defeated Evansville on the road, Wichita State and Northern Iowa. DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, Paris Lee, MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins all score in double figures for the Redbirds and they brought back most of the players from the team that nearly shocked Wichita State in last year's tournament final.
Ohio Valley (Semifinals)
No. 8 Austin Peay vs. No. 1 Belmont (in Nashville) 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU
No. 3 Morehead State vs. No. 2 UT Martin (in Nashville) 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU
Belmont is a treat to watch and is the overwhelming favorite for the at-large bid out of the Ohio Valley Conference because of the presence of Evan Bradds and Craig Bradshaw. Bradds is one of the more efficient players in the nation while Bradshaw can score from anywhere on the perimeter. Add their star power to head coach Rick Byrd's experience and the Bruins should end Chris Horton and Austin Peay's cinderella run.
UT-Martin finished tied for first in the Ohio Valley-West standings, but Morehead State has won seven in a row and have a 20-10 overall record. The Eagles tested themselves during non-conference play by losing match-ups against Indiana, Pittsburgh and Davidson. They will be ready for tonight's match-up with an opportunity to stun Belmont in the final.
WCC (1st round)
No. 9 San Diego vs. No. 8 Loyola-Mary (in Las Vegas) 9 p.m. ET
Neither of these teams have much of a chance to challenge Saint Mary's, Gonzaga or BYU at the top of the league. San Diego and Loyola combined to win only 10 games in WCC play.