ACC: Georgia Tech (17-8)
The Yellow Jackets were a safe bet for an at-large bid anyway, but they officially ended their 11-year NCAA tournament drought with an 80-75 victory over Florida State in the ACC tournament final Saturday. After getting a pass on facing No. 1 seed Virginia in the ACC semifinals after a positive coronavirus test within the Cavaliers’ program, Coach Josh Pastner’s team will ride an eight-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament, where an eight or nine seed could be in the cards.
America East: Hartford (16-8)
Hartford’s conference championship win over UMass Lowell felt like the completion of a year-long mission for Coach John Gallagher, although his team’s NCAA tournament journey has yet to begin. Hartford had only been to the conference championship game once before, in 2008, when it lost to the UMBC. The Hawks were set to return last year but the coronavirus pandemic shut down the college basketball season. But neither UMass Lowell nor covid-19 could prevent the Hawks from earning their first Division I NCAA tournament appearance in school history Saturday.
Atlantic Sun: Liberty (23-5)
The Flames won the Atlantic Sun tournament for the third straight season and seem headed to a No. 13 or 14 seed. The previous time they played in the NCAA tournament, in 2019, they upset Mississippi State as a No. 12 seed. Liberty’s offense operates at one of the slowest paces in the country, but the Flames can shoot the lights out; as of this writing, they rank in the top 20 nationally in three-point shooting percentage, two-point shooting percentage and free throw percentage.
Atlantic-10: St. Bonaventure (16-4)
St. Bonaventure pulled off a double, winning the A-10 regular season title and the conference tournament, beating VCU Sunday. The conference tournament victory is the first since 2012 for the Bonnies, who are in the NCAA tournament for the first time since losing in the first round in 2018.
Big 12: Texas (19-7)
Matt Coleman recorded a career-high 30 points as the third-seeded Longhorns claimed their first Big 12 tournament title with a 91-86 win over No. 5 seed Oklahoma State on Saturday. Coach Shaka Smart’s team has overcome stops and starts because of coronavirus concerns to enter the NCAA tournament with eight wins in its past 10 games. The Longhorns last took part in the NCAA tournament in 2018, when they suffered an overtime loss to Nevada in their opening game.
Big East: Georgetown (13-12)
A 73-48 victory over No. 2 seed Creighton on Saturday capped the eighth-seeded Hoyas’ unlikely run to the Big East tournament title, which also included a quarterfinal upset of top seed and injury-depleted Villanova. Georgetown, which hasn’t competed in the NCAA tournament since 2015, was picked last in Big East preseason voting and opened the season at 3-8 before Coach Patrick Ewing led his alma mater to a record eighth conference crown.
Big Ten: Illinois (23-6)
The Fighting Illini held off a red-hot Ohio State squad in overtime for the Big Ten title, stating their case for a No. 1 seed. Illinois started the season as a top-10 squad but sagged a bit in the middle of the campaign before going on a 14-1 streak to finish off its conference tourney. The Illini are led by protective mask-wearing junior guard Ayo Dosunmu (20.9 points and 5.4 assists per game), a Chicago native who has spearheaded the resurgence of the program, which had not been to the NCAA tournament since 2013.
Big Sky: Eastern Washington (16-7)
With a 65-55 triumph over fifth-seeded Montana State in Saturday’s Big Sky tournament final, No. 2 seed Eastern Washington advanced to the NCAA tournament on the strength of 13 wins in its past 14 games. The Eagles, who are still looking for their first NCAA tournament win, previously booked tickets to the big dance in 2004 and 2015.
Big South: Winthrop (23-1)
The Eagles, whose one loss came by two points to UNC Asheville on Jan. 29, are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. Winthrop operates at a fast pace on offense and forces a whole lot of turnovers on defense, and it will be a trendy upset pick as a No. 12 or 13 seed.
Big West: UC Santa Barbara (22-4)
The Gauchos rode a big second half to a victory over UC-Irvine, which had won their two previous conference matchups. Santa Barbara earned the automatic bid with a 16-point win that ended the school’s 10-year drought in the NCAA tournament.
Colonial: Drexel (12-7)
The Dragons haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1996. A No. 6 seed in the CAA tourney, Drexel benefited from the fact that the team it beat in the final, eighth-seeded Elon, had previously knocked off top-seeded James Madison and defending champion Hofstra. It’s hard to imagine these Dragons as anything higher than a No. 15 seed.
Conference USA: North Texas (17-9)
A 61-57 win over Western Kentucky in Saturday’s Conference USA title game landed the Mean Green in the NCAA tournament for the fourth time, and the first since 2010. North Texas made it to March Madness on the strength of its stifling defense, having held opponents to 61.4 points per game this season — good for 10th among Division I schools.
Horizon: Cleveland State (19-7)
Tre Gomillion doesn’t just have a great name; the Vikings guard was his conference’s defensive player of the year while finishing second on his team in points and third in rebounds and assists. But yeah, he has quite a name, as does teammate Algevon Eichelberger. Cleveland State, which turned things around this year under Coach Dennis Gates after five straight 20-loss seasons, figures to settle into the NCAA bracket around the 15-seed range.
MAC: Ohio (16-7)
The fifth-seeded Bobcats knocked off No. 1 seed Toledo in Friday’s semifinal before besting No. 2 seed Buffalo, 84-69, in Saturday’s MAC tournament final. The victory ensured Ohio’s return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012, when a memorable run ended with an overtime loss to North Carolina in the Sweet 16.
MAAC: Iona (13-5)
Rick Pitino is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. The Gaels’ 60-51 MAAC final win over Fairfield on Saturday made him the third coach to take five different teams to the NCAA tournament. Pitino joined Tubby Smith and Lon Kruger as the only coaches to do so, having previously earned tournament berths with Louisville, Kentucky, Providence and Boston University. Pitino is also the first coach to earn an automatic bid from six different conferences, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Senior guards Asante Gist and Isaiah Ross led the Gaels in scoring against Fairfield and throughout this season — a season during which they played eight games in 24 days to open the season, did not play the next 50 days, then won four games in five days to claim the conference tournament title.
MEAC: Norfolk State (16-7)
Guard Joe Bryant Jr. scored 13 of his game-high 17 points in the second half, halting a late Morgan State rally to win the MEAC tournament final Saturday. Norfolk State could be relatively well rested for the dance, having advanced to the final after semifinal opponent North Carolina A&T withdrew following a positive coronavirus test within its program. In what will be NSU’s second NCAA tournament appearance, the team may look to the past for inspiration. There they would find one of the greatest upsets in tournament history, when the Spartans beat No. 2 seed Missouri as a No. 15 seed and a 21.5-point underdog in 2012.
Missouri Valley: Loyola Chicago (24-4)
Porter Moser has the Ramblers back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since their stirring Final Four run in 2018. Loyola possesses the nation’s top defense, per Ken Pomeroy, and won all three of its MVC tournament games by double digits. Big man Cameron Krutwig was named MVC player of the year and was a first-team all-conference pick for the third straight season. Expect to see the Ramblers in the No. 8 or No. 9 range.
Mountain West: San Diego State (23-4)
San Diego State captured the 2021 conference tournament crown Saturday, suffocating a Utah State program that won the title at its expense each of the past two seasons. The Aztecs’ frontcourt is spearheaded by leading scorer Matt Mitchell and forward Nathan Mensah, who registered at least eight points and eight rebounds for the fifth time this season Saturday.
Northeast: Mount St. Mary’s (12-10)
Look out for Damian Chong Qui, a 5-foot-8 Baltimore native and first team all-NEC point guard who can score (15.1 points per game) and dish (NEC-best 5.7 assists per game). The Mount, known for suffocating opposing offenses under Coach Dan Engelstad, could be a candidate for a 16 seed.
Ohio Valley: Morehead State (23-7)
The Eagles started the season 4-6 but have lost only once since the calendar turned to 2021. Big man Johni Broome (whose first name is pronounced “JUH-nye”) scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Morehead’s upset of Belmont in the OVC tournament final; he might be the best freshman in the state of Kentucky. The previous time the Eagles made the NCAA tournament, in 2011, they upset fourth-seeded Louisville as a No. 13 seed. Morehead seems likely to get a similar seeding this year.
Pac-12: Oregon State (17-12)
The fifth-seeded Beavers pulled off the upset of third-seeded Colorado, winning the Pac-12 tournament for the first time in school history. Furthermore, Oregon State had been picked to finish last in preseason. Take that, prognosticators. Maurice Calloo came off the bench to score a team-high 15 points, with Jarod Lucas and Gianni Hunt adding 14 and 10 points in Oregon State’s 18-point win.
Patriot: Colgate (14-1)
Colgate advanced to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in the school’s history, stopping Loyola Maryland’s bid for its first NCAA berth since 2012. The Raiders are riding a hot streak, with their 13th straight victory taking them to the tournament for the second time in three years. Colgate has never won at the Big Dance.
SEC: Alabama (24-6)
The SEC title game offered controversy before it even started, with the Crimson Tide and LSU scrapping 20 minutes before tip-off. The teams battled throughout the game, with 'Bama winning 80-79 as LSU failed to score as the clock ran down. The Crimson Tide won the conference tournament for the first time since 1991 and the seventh time in school history.
Southern: UNC Greensboro (21-8)
The Spartans are making their fourth trip to the NCAA tournament since joining the D-I ranks in 1991, and they are still looking for their first win (they’ll be somewhere around a No. 13 seed this year). Senior guard Isaiah Miller is the first player to lead the SoCon in scoring while helping his team to the conference title since some guy named Stephen Curry did it for Davidson in 2008.
Southland: Abilene Christian (23-4)
The Wildcats came into the game with the NCAA’s eighth-ranked scoring defense and routed Nicholls, holding the Colonels to 34 points below a 79.8-point season average that ranked 27th in the NCAA. It’s the second straight conference tournament win for Abilene Christian. For the first time, four teams from the state of Texas clinched automatic bids, with Texas, Texas Southern and North Texas State joining Abilene Christian. Houston can make it five with a win Sunday.
Summit: Oral Roberts (16-10)
The Golden Eagles hit a buzzer-beater to oust top-seeded South Dakota State in the conference semifinals, then survived a massive comeback to beat North Dakota State by three in the final. Summit League player of the year Max Abmas led the nation with 24.3 points per game and was third with an average of 3.7 made three-pointers. He and Kevin Obanor have combined for 1,060 points, most of any pair of Division I teammates. Look for the Golden Eagles to be a popular upset pick as a 14 or 15 seed.
Sun Belt: Appalachian State (17-11)
Going into their conference tournament, the Mountaineers had just one win since the start of February, partly because of coronavirus-related cancellations, but they got hot at the right time. Finally getting to play unfamiliar foes — the Sun Belt’s response to the pandemic was to have its teams play only within their divisions, resulting in App State playing just four conference opponents a total of 15 times in the regular season — the Mountaineers knocked off top-seeded Texas State in overtime in the quarterfinals, and then Coastal Carolina and Georgia State to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000. There’s a chance we see the Mountaineers in a play-in game.
SWAC: Texas Southern (16-8)
In the shadow of former coach Mike Davis’s dominance at Texas Southern, the school ceded conference hegemony to bitter rival Prairie View A&M, winner of the past three regular season titles, in recent years. But the Tigers loosened that grip Saturday, defeating the Panthers to win their first title under third-year coach Johnny Jones. Texas Southern, which has won five of the past seven SWAC tournaments, punched its ticket for the first time since 2018, Davis’s last year before departing for Detroit Mercy. Jones’s Tigers ride a nine-game winning streak into the tournament, propelled by senior guard Michael Weathers, who is averaging 19.6 points per game during the run.
WAC: Grand Canyon (17-6)
The Antelopes, a.k.a. the Lopes and the conference’s top seed, earned their first automatic berth in their eighth year in Division I hoops. Grand Canyon beat New Mexico State for the third time this season, marking the first time it had beaten the Aggies more than one time in a season. Previously, New Mexico State thwarted the Lopes’ hopes of a tournament berth in 2018 and 2019 by winning the WAC.
West Coast: Gonzaga (26-0)
Gonzaga survived its stiffest test of the season in the WCC final, but the Bulldogs rallied to beat BYU and enter the NCAA tournament as the first undefeated team since Kentucky in 2015, and they should get the overall No. 1 seed. Gonzaga trailed by 12 at halftime but managed to win by 10 (88-78), meaning that all but one of its games were double-digit victories. Now it’s just a question of whether the talented squad can win the first national championship in school history. That would also make it the eighth undefeated national champion in NCAA men’s basketball history and the first since Indiana (32-0) in 1976.