Two league title games — the Big East and the Pac-12 — could produce immense complications. Those aren’t the lone games on a busy Saturday that will see 15 teams earn automatic bids, but they’re the ones with the greatest impact on the composition of the field.
With the committee’s work concluding within 36 hours, here’s a glance at the games on Saturday that will have the greatest influence on their business.
American semifinals: No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 5 Cincinnati (3 p.m., ESPN2); No. 2 Houston vs. No. 3 Memphis (5:30 p.m., ESPN2)
The parameters of this tournament didn’t change Friday. Houston is safely in the field, and Wichita State probably just has to avoid a head-scratching loss to secure an at-large (if necessary). Any other eventual champion would cost the edge of the field a berth. The likes of Drake, Saint Louis, Syracuse and UCLA will be rooting for the top two seeds to advance for a second consecutive day.
Mountain West final: No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 2 Utah State (6 p.m., CBS)
Let’s not overthink this. San Diego State is comfortably in the field, and it’s possible Utah State is, too, after beating Colorado State in Friday’s semifinals. But it wouldn’t hurt to finish the job, and there’s a long history of regular season champions falling short of a Mountain West tournament title. In the league tourney’s first 21 editions, the No. 1 seed has won just four times.
Big East final: No. 2 Creighton vs. No. 8 Georgetown (6:30 p.m., Fox)
The implications here are easy to size up. Georgetown’s run over the last three days represents an existential threat to a potential at-large’s postseason. The Hoyas (12-12) hadn’t won three games in a row all season, but they ripped Marquette, edged shorthanded Villanova and led Seton Hall much of the way to get this far. Creighton (20-7) is just playing for seeding; it lines up around the No. 4 and 5 lines for now.
Pac-12: No. 3 Colorado vs. No. 5 Oregon State (10:30 p.m., ESPN)
Oregon State is about as good a story as Georgetown. The Beavers (16-12) are making their first conference title game appearance since 1988, when a young guard named Gary Payton was an underclassman in Corvallis. They’ve won six of their last eight, including five in a row away from home, and have picked off UCLA and Oregon the last two days. Impressive as that is, their only path into the field of 68 is victory on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Borderline teams are eager to root for Colorado to dispatch the Beavers.
Other multi-bid league finals
Big 12: No. 3 Texas vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State (6 p.m., ESPN)
It’s a pairing of teams that find themselves right around the No. 3 line, though there’s a chance Oklahoma State could charge up to a No. 2 seed. The Cowboys (20-7) have won eight of nine behind star freshman Cade Cunningham, while Texas (18-7) advanced to the title game by default when Kansas exited the tournament with a positive virus test. Expect some entertainment; the Cowboys earned a regular season split with a double overtime victory in Feb. 6.
ACC: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 4 Georgia Tech, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
This isn’t the sort of ACC title game you see every day. It’s the first time since 1996 neither Duke nor North Carolina made it to the final. It’s the first time since 1990 no school from the state of North Carolina is in the ACC title game. And it’s the first time both schools in the ACC final were not part of the eight-team configuration that competed for the league’s first championship in 1953-54.
One-bid league finals
America East: No. 6 UMass Lowell at No. 4 Hartford, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Mid-Eastern Athletic: North No. 2 Norfolk State vs. North No. 3 Morgan State, 1 p.m. (ESPN2)
Metro Atlantic: No. 7 Fairfield vs. No. 9 Iona, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
Southwestern Athletic: No. 1 Prairie View A&M vs. No. 3 Texas Southern, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
Mid-American: No. 2 Buffalo vs. No. 5 Ohio, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Big Sky: No. 2 Eastern Washington vs. No. 5 Montana State, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Conference USA: No. 1E Western Kentucky vs. No. 3W North Texas, 9 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Southland: No. 1 Nicholls vs. No. 2 Abilene Christian, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Western Athletic: No. 1 Grand Canyon vs. No. 3 New Mexico State, 10 p.m. (ESPNU)
Big West: No. 1 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 2 UC Irvine, 11:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Last four included: Drake, Mississippi, Utah State, Saint Louis
First four on the outside: Syracuse, Colorado State, Boise State, Xavier
Next four on the outside: Seton Hall, Duke, Memphis, St. John’s
Conference call: Big Ten (9), Atlantic Coast (7), Big 12 (7), Southeastern (7), Pac-12 (4), Atlantic 10 (3), Big East (3), American Athletic (2), Missouri Valley (2), Mountain West (2), West Coast (2)
Moving in: Buffalo, Eastern Washington, Fairfield, Norfolk State, Utah State
Moving out: Colorado State, Coppin State, Saint Peter’s, Southern Utah, Toledo
West vs. East, South vs. Midwest
(1) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (16) NORTHEAST/Mount St. Mary’s-MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/Norfolk State
(8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Clemson
(5) Villanova vs. (12) Drake/Saint Louis
(4) Purdue vs. (13) MID-AMERICAN/Buffalo
(3) Kansas vs. (14) HORIZON/Cleveland State
(6) Missouri vs. (11) Michigan State
(7) Florida vs. (10) Virginia Commonwealth
(2) Ohio State vs. (15) COLONIAL/Drexel
The projected MEAC qualifier changes hands for the second day in a row. First it was North Carolina A&T, but its withdrawal from the conference tournament with a positive virus test left Coppin State as the top remaining seed. Then the Eagles fell, leaving Norfolk State as the team in the home jersey in the final against Morgan State. … Hand on my heart, I have no clue how the committee is going to treat Saint Louis, an only-in-2021 team, and neither does anyone else outside the deliberations. There just isn’t a historical comparison for a team that loses five weeks of games and then takes its two worst losses right as it returns. One thing about the Billikens’ profile that should make them uneasy: Just one true road victory, against lowly Fordham. …
Missouri’s seven Quadrant 1 victories should help provide a relatively high floor for its seeding. The only teams with more? The four projected No. 1 seeds, plus Iowa, Ohio State and Oklahoma State. … Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes might be locked into the No. 2 line already. Their numbers are slightly better than Arkansas’ across the board, and Oklahoma State’s two Quadrant 3 losses could be a differentiating factor in a comparison even if the Cowboys win the Big 12.
(1) Illinois vs. (16) SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC/Prairie View A&M
(8) North Carolina vs. (9) LSU
(5) PAC-12/Colorado vs. (12) CONFERENCE USA/Western Kentucky
(4) Virginia vs. (13) ATLANTIC SUN/Liberty
(3) BIG 12/Texas vs. (14) PATRIOT/Colgate
(6) BYU vs. (11) UCLA
(7) MOUNTAIN WEST/San Diego State vs. (10) Rutgers
(2) SOUTHEASTERN/Alabama vs. (15) SUMMIT/Oral Roberts
Even if it claims a Pac-12 title, the No. 4 line is probably a stretch for Colorado. The Buffaloes have three Quadrant 3 losses (Utah, at California, at Washington), just like Creighton, but they have half as many Quadrant 1 victories (three) as the Bluejays (six). … With Toledo losing in the Mid-American final, Western Kentucky moves up to the No. 12 line. The Charles Bassey-led Hilltoppers will be a popular upset pick if they defeat North Texas on Saturday in the C-USA final. …
Texas will be rested — well, relatively so — after receiving a pass into the Big 12 final with a positive virus test from Kansas. Strange but true: The Longhorns are 0-6 all-time in the Big 12 title game. … With both Iowa and Illinois winning Big Ten quarterfinals and advancing to meet each other, whatever path to a No. 1 seed Alabama might have had is gone. The Crimson Tide will settle for being a No. 2 seed for only the third time (1987, 2002).
(1) Baylor vs. (16) METRO ATLANTIC/Fairfield-SOUTHLAND/Nicholls State
(8) Wisconsin vs. (9) ATLANTIC 10/St. Bonaventure
(5) Florida State vs. (12) Mississippi/Utah State
(4) BIG EAST/Creighton vs. (13) BIG WEST/UC Santa Barbara
(3) Arkansas vs. (14) OHIO VALLEY/Morehead State
(6) Oregon vs. (11) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Wichita State
(7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Georgia Tech
(2) Iowa vs. (15) AMERICA EAST/Hartford
Baylor took its second loss of the season on Friday, but it isn’t departing the top line. The Bears are probably going to be the No. 2 overall seed, and the No. 3 overall seed at worst. … The wait begins for Mississippi, which could have created a bit more daylight between itself and the edge of the field with a defeat of LSU. The Rebels still have a solid profile for a borderline team. … Has Utah State done enough? Given its pluckiness while winning the last two Mountain West finals, it wouldn’t be surprising if that question is moot by day’s end. …
Repeating from Friday: Does Wichita State get in as an at-large if it doesn’t win the American? There’s a really good chance. The Shockers beat the one lock-solid NCAA team in their league, beat borderline team Mississippi on the road, didn’t absorb a Quadrant 3 or 4 loss (assuming a defeat of Cincinnati on Saturday). The worst thing they’ve done is play only 18 games, and the committee rightfully isn’t holding virus pauses against teams. … Not sure Iowa can still get to the top line, but if it has a chance, it needs to beat Illinois in Saturday’s Big Ten semifinals.
(1) BIG TEN/Michigan vs. (16) SUN BELT/Appalachian State
(8) MISSOURI VALLEY/Loyola Chicago vs. (9) Virginia Tech
(5) Tennessee vs. (12) BIG SOUTH/Winthrop
(4) West Virginia vs. (13) SOUTHERN/UNC Greensboro
(3) Oklahoma State vs. (14) BIG SKY/Eastern Washington
(6) Southern California vs. (11) Louisville
(7) Connecticut vs. (10) Maryland
(2) Houston vs. (15) WESTERN ATHLETIC/Grand Canyon
Tennessee noses up a seed line with its victory over Florida, coupled with Southern California’s loss to Colorado. The Volunteers probably can’t climb too much higher, though defeats of Alabama and possibly Arkansas the next two days might severely test that theory. … Winthrop (23-1) is likely to become the first one-loss or undefeated team to land a double-digit seed since the tournament was first seeded in 1979. The current lowest-seeded one-loss team is 1980 Alcorn State, which was 27-1 in the regular season under College Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Davey L. Whitney, landed a No. 8 seed and split two games as part of a 48-team field. …
With Friday’s victory over Baylor, Oklahoma State has beaten everyone in the Big 12 at least once — except for eighth-place TCU. The Cowboys are 9-2 since the Horned Frogs completed a season sweep of them on Feb. 3. … Louisville is probably keeping a wary eye on the Big East and Pac-12 finals. The Cardinals are no sure thing to avoid a play-in game, and victories by Georgetown and/or Oregon State make such a fate more likely.