Editor’s note: This column will be updated as seedings become clearer for teams with remaining regular-season games.
Selection Sunday is fast approaching, but before we find out which bubble teams are left out among the 36 at-large bids, there are 32 automatic qualifiers to be determined.
That all starts to sort itself out this week as conference tournaments begin and Champ Week takes over on the ESPN networks. To get you excited for the madness to come, we decided to provide a glance at each of the 32 conference tourneys, using history as our guide. We will group them in terms of where recent history says you should expect the most and fewest surprises, based mostly on the success (or lack thereof) of specific seeds and/or teams.
Before we even start, we’re going to get one conference out of the way first, because it’s in a category of its own. Because of Gonzaga‘s incredible dominance over the past two decades, there is no conference tourney with less volatility from year to year than the the West Coast Conference. Here’s why:
• Gonzaga has won six straight championships and a remarkable 16 of the past 20. The four years the Zags didn’t win, they still reached the title game.
• You know what else doesn’t change? The seed matchups in the finals. Last year marked the first time in 10 years that it wasn’t 1 vs. 2 … instead it was 1 vs. 3 (Gonzaga over BYU).
• The last time a seed lower than a No. 3 reached the title game was 20 years ago, when No. 4 Santa Clara lost to — you guessed it — the top-seeded Zags.
• The last time a No. 1 seed failed to make the championship game was 1997.
I think you get the point. No conference can top the “Groundhog Day” WCC. And yeah, history is strong on the side of the No. 1 seed coached by Mark Few again this year.
Let’s get to the other 31 conferences. At the top of each league, we will list which teams history favors most (or in some cases, the least).
Many of the trends mentioned will take place within the past 10 years, except where noted.
Team that history favors most: No. 4 seed
Team that history does NOT favor: No. 1 seed
Welcome to the home of the bid-stealer. Over the past couple of years, this conference tourney has been about as hard to call as any.
Not only has a different team won the tournament each of the past four years, but each of the past five champions has been seeded third or worse.
This tournament has been tough on the top seeds through the years. How tough?
• The last No. 1 seed to win was Saint Louis in 2013, and last year was the first time since then that a No. 1 seed reached the championship game. In fact, in the past decade, the top seed lost in the quarterfinals — its first game — four times (2011, 2012, 2014 and 2017). Beware, VCU.
• Although the No. 2 seed finished as a runner-up five straight years from 2013 to 2017 (all versus lower-seeded opponents, of course), the last 2-seed to win the A-10 tourney was Temple 11 years ago.
• Interestingly, the seed to watch has been the No. 4. Over the past seven years, 4-seeds have accounted for four titles.
Team that history favors most: UC Irvine (if any)
• Talk about unpredictable — we have seen a different winner eight straight years. In addition, a different seed has won each of the past five years, and only twice in the past six years has the No. 1 seed reached the championship game.
• UC Irvine has been one of the few things you can count on in recent years, as the Anteaters have appeared in the title game three of the past four years, winning in 2015. They are the top seed in this year’s tournament, so we will see whether they can overcome recent history for No. 1s.
Teams that history favors most: none
Teams that history does NOT favor: No. 1 seed … maybe Nos. 2 and 3, as well
First of all, a brief history lesson.
In 2002, Butler appeared to be in decent shape for an at-large bid entering the Horizon League tourney with a 25-4 record, as long as the Bulldogs didn’t get tripped up early on.
Well, the Bulldogs did get tripped up by No. 8 seed Green Bay in their first game of the tournament and eventually were left out of the NCAA tournament.
The next season, the Horizon League, surely hoping to give its best teams a better chance at making the Big Dance, altered the tournament format to give the top two seeds a double-bye to the semifinals. That means they would need just two wins to earn the automatic bid.
The first 11 years of the double-bye format played out as many expected, with the No. 1 or 2 seed winning nine championships, and only four other seeds (all No. 3s) even reaching the title game. The sledding hasn’t been so smooth for the top dogs the past five years, though.
• 2014: The top two seeds (Green Bay and Cleveland State) lost their first games and the No. 3 seed (Wright State), playing at home as the highest-remaining seed, lost in the title game to the 5-seed (Milwaukee).
• 2015: The top seeds held serve for the final time in the double-bye format, as Valparaiso defeated Green Bay in the championship.
• 2016: The top two seeds (Valpo and Oakland) once again lost their first games, and No. 4 Green Bay beat No. 3 Wright State for the championship. This signified the end of the double-bye in the Horizon.
But it didn’t put an end to early exits for No. 1 seeds.
• In 2017, each of the top three seeds lost their first games and we got a 4-versus-10 matchup in the title game, as Northern Kentucky defeated Cinderella Milwaukee.
• And last year, top-seeded Northern Kentucky and No. 3 seed UIC lost their first games, but No. 2 Wright State survived and took care of business in beating unlikely finalist Cleveland State, the No. 8 seed.
All of this is to say it’s hard to have any confidence in picking a winner in the Horizon tourney these days. It’s been four years since a No. 1 seed won a game, and No. 2 seeds have lost their first game in five of the past seven years. This year, Wright State is the top seed, Northern Kentucky the No. 2 and Oakland the No. 3. They are on upset alert before the tournament even begins.
Only the top eight teams will take part in this year’s festivities, with the higher seeds hosting in the quarterfinals, before the tourney moves to Detroit for the semifinals and championship game.
There is as much parity in the conference tournament as there has ever been. For just the second time in OVC tourney history, there has been a different champion in five straight years (also 1984-88). And this year’s tournament promises to be another good one — not just because we can’t get enough Ja Morant. The top four seeds — Belmont, Murray State, Jacksonville State and Austin Peay — combined to lose just 12 conference games (eight of which came against each other).
• Despite instituting a merit-based bracket format in 2011 that gives the top two seeds a double-bye to the semifinals, last year marked the first time in five years that those top two seeds met in the championship game.
• Last year also was the first time in five years either of the top two seeds won the tournament, when No. 1 Murray State beat No. 2 Belmont. The previous four tourneys were won by a No. 3 (twice), a No. 4 and a No. 8.
• Murray State (three) and Belmont (two) are the only teams to win multiple championships in the past nine years.
• Belmont is the No. 1 seed this year, which sounds good until you learn that each of the past two times the Bruins were the top seed, they lost their first game to the eventual OVC tournament champ (2017 to No. 4 Jacksonville State, 2018 to No. 8 Austin Peay).
• A No. 2 seed hasn’t won the OVC tourney title since 2011 (Morehead State). Will Murray State put an end to this seed-related drought?
• Jacksonville State was 3-0 against the top two seeds, sweeping Belmont and defeating Murray State at home. The Gamecocks make for a dangerous 3-seed and coach Ray Harper always has his teams ready in postseason play.
Team that history favors most: Georgia State (if any)
The Sun Belt’s top dog has not represented the conference in the NCAA tournament very often in recent years. In fact, the top seeds have been just as likely to lose their first game as they have to win the tournament. All of the facts below are from the past 12 years:
• No. 1 seeds have won the title three times, but have also lost in the quarterfinals three times. The top seed has lost in the semifinals each of the past two years, as well.
• No. 2 seeds have won the tournament twice and lost in the quarterfinals twice.
• No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have reached the title game just five times each.
• In all, seven different seeds have won the championship (the Sun Belt seeded by division in 2011 and the fifth seed out of the West — Little Rock — won; as the team with the eighth-best record, they are considered an 8-seed for our purposes).
Entering the final week of regular-season play, just one game separates the top four teams: Georgia State, Texas State, Georgia Southern and UT Arlington. Since two matchups on Saturday will pit the teams against each other — Texas State at UT Arlington and Georgia State at Georgia Southern — seeding for this year’s tourney is up in the air.
Team that history favors most: No. 1 seed
• The No. 1 seed has won three of the past four years, while the No. 2 seed has failed to make it to the title game in three of four years. This trend makes this week’s battle for the top seed between Houston and Cincinnati all the more important.
• Despite the tournament taking place in the city of an AAC school each year, that host team has never won the title, and only once even reached the final (UConn in 2015 as a No. 6 seed) in the five-year history of the league. That said, this year’s host, Memphis, has been a completely different team at home. The Tigers’ only losses at FedEx Forum have come to Tennessee and Cincinnati. Will this be the year a host wins the American tourney? If so, it would steal a bid from someone else.
• In the five-year history of the tournament, no championship-game matchup has been repeated.
• The high-level competitiveness of this conference carries over into the postseason as well. There has been a different winner in each of the past four years, and six different schools have won in the past seven years (Virginia is the only multiple winner, in 2014 and 2018).
• In that seven-year span, only once have the top two seeds met in the championship game (2016: North Carolina over Virginia).
• Virginia has been a top-two seed in four of the past five years, winning twice and losing in the finals once.
• North Carolina has made the finals six of the past eight years, but has just one championship to show for it (2016).
• The only two times Duke advanced to the finals in the past seven years was as a No. 3 and No. 5 seed. In this seven-year span, the Blue Devils have been a No. 2 seed four times, losing in the semis three times and the quarterfinals once.
• Here is a trio of teams that have struggled mightily in ACC tourney play:
Virginia Tech has won multiple games only once in its 14 years in the league and has never reached the finals.
Florida State has advanced to the semifinals only four times in its 27 previous tournaments.
Clemson is an abysmal 20-65 all time in ACC tournament play, and has won multiple games just once in the past 56 years (2008).
Teams that history favors most: Winthrop, No. 1 seed
• Four schools have won multiple Big South tourney titles over the past decade: UNC Asheville (three), Coastal Carolina (two), Radford (two) and Winthrop (two). Coastal Carolina moved on to the Sun Belt Conference.
• It has been 10 years since the top two seeds met in the championship game. However, under the current format in which the quarterfinals and semifinals are held at the site of the top seed — which has been the case in six of the past 10 years — that top seed has reached the final five of those six years (winning three times). Campbell is this year’s No. 1 seed.
• Upsets have long been a factor in the Big South, as we have seen at least one team seeded fourth or worse reach the championship game seven straight years now. Working from 2018 backward, the past four champs have been seeded second, first, fourth and third.
• Campbell’s only NCAA tournament appearance came as a member of the Big South 27 years ago, before it left for the Atlantic Sun in the mid-90s. The Fighting Camels returned to the Big South eight years ago and this is their best team in years, led by the nation’s leader scorer, Chris Clemons.
• Winthrop has the best tournament pedigree among the top contenders, having reached the finals four straight years (winning the title in 2017) before losing in the semifinals last year.
Team that history favors most: Michigan
Team that history does NOT favor: No. 1 seed
• The top seed has had it rough in recent years. The No. 1 lost its first game in 2016 and 2017, then lost in the semifinals last year. In all, the top seed has won the tournament just once in the past six years, after winning it three years in a row from 2010 to 2012. Currently, Purdue is the No. 1 seed heading into the final week of the regular season.
• The past two years, Michigan has won the tournament as a No. 5 and No. 8 seed. The Wolverines are the only team to reach the semifinals the past two years. They also made the semifinals as an 8-seed three years ago.
Team that history favors most: none
Team that history does NOT favor: Old Dominion
Let’s look at just the past four seasons, since Charlotte (2001) is the only school still in the conference to win the tourney prior to that.
• In those four years, the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds have reached the championship game just once each. The No. 4 seed has won the tournament in two of those years.
• Among the upsets to top seeds in recent years:
• This year’s favorite, Old Dominion, has been a top-three seed three times in the past four years. The Monarchs lost in the quarterfinals as a 3-seed in 2015 and 2017, and in the semifinals as a No. 2 last year.
Team that history favors most: Iona
For those familiar with the MAAC, you may be wondering how it doesn’t fall under the “low volatility” header, when Iona seems to win the tournament every year. This answer lies in the weight given to more recent results, but let’s tip our caps to Tim Cluess’ club first.
The Gaels have won three straight MAAC tournament titles and have reached six straight championship games (winning four). What is interesting about Iona’s championship teams is that none of the four came as a No. 1 seed. In fact, two came as a 4-seed, another as a No. 3. However, Iona’s two losses in the title game during this streak came as the top seed.
And that’s where the volatility lies, as the competitiveness of the league is revealed every March. The No. 1 seed hasn’t won the MAAC tournament since 2010! That eight-year drought for the top seed is easily the longest currently among the 32 conferences, with the next closest being the Atlantic 10 at five years.
Last year, the top three seeds all lost in the quarterfinals. With no dominant team this season, this year’s tourney is certainly up for grabs. Oh yeah, and this year’s top seed? It’s Iona. Buckle up!
Team that history favors most: North Carolina Central (if any)
It’s been mostly hit or miss for No. 1s in the MEAC tournament recently.
North Carolina Central (2014, 2017) and now-Big South member Hampton (2016) are the only No. 1 seeds to win the championship in the past eight years.
The past three times the top seed didn’t win the MEAC tourney, the champs were a No. 6 (twice) and a No. 7 seed.
Even the most dominant top seeds haven’t been immune to the upset bug. In 2015, a 16-0 NCCU squad lost to Delaware State in the semifinals. In 2013, the top four seeds all lost in the quarters, including 16-0 Norfolk State and 15-1 NCCU. And in 2012, top-seeded Savannah State, which was 14-2 in conference play, lost in the quarterfinals.
This year’s top seed, Norfolk State, enters the final week of the regular season with just one conference loss and has the benefit of the tournament being played in Norfolk. Can the Spartans avoid joining the club above?
Your guess is as good as mine whether this is the year of the 1-seed or the dark horse in the MEAC. It could be neither and North Carolina Central could instead become the first team to three-peat since the 1980s.
Team that history favors most: San Diego State
This is the 20th season of Mountain West basketball, and the tournament has been held in UNLV‘s home arena, the Thomas & Mack Center, for all but three years (2004-06). Still, the Runnin’ Rebels have won the tourney title just three times, all as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. They are not expected to be a factor this year, as the likely No. 5 seed.
Conference membership has changed a bit through the years, but it’s worth noting that nine schools have won the tournament in the previous 19 years (including seven current conference members).
A different team has won the championship each of the past five years.
San Diego State is ever-present, having reached the championship game in eight of the past 10 years. However, the Aztecs have just three titles to show for it, struggling when the expectations are high. In this span, they are 0-3 in championship games as a No. 1 seed, 1-1 as a 2-seed, but 2-1 as a No. 4 or lower (including last year’s title as a No. 5).
One of the more glaring facts from any conference is that Air Force, despite being an original member of the Mountain West, has never advanced past the quarterfinal round. It is 0-15 in the quarters, including being the only top seed to lose its first game in MW tourney history and one of two No. 2 seeds to lose its first game.
Utah State is in the at-large NCAA tournament discussion, and can make a stronger case with a run to at least the title game. However, the Aggies are just 1-4 in the quarterfinals and are looking for their first championship-game appearance.
A top-two seed has won 11 of the past 14 titles. Overall, No. 2 seeds have won twice as many championships as any other seed, and are 8-2 in title games. No. 1 seeds are just 4-7 in the finals.
Nevada is attempting to be the top seed for the third straight year. In 2017, the Wolf Pack won the tournament, but last year, they were upset by San Diego State in the semis.
Team that history favors most: none
The higher seed hosts each game in the NEC tournament, and teams are reseeded after the quarterfinals. Those factors have historically helped the No. 1 seed reach the championship game, but very little else is easy to predict in this competitive league.
A different team has won the championship each of the past four years.
In the past six years, No. 2 and No. 4 seeds have each won two titles.
Only one team seeded worse than fourth has reached the championship game in the past 13 years (No. 5 Mount St. Mary’s was runner-up in 2013).
While the No. 1 seed has reached the title game five straight years (and nine of the past 10), it hasn’t been able to take advantage, losing on its home court four of those past five years. This year’s top seed, Saint Francis (Pa.) hopes to avoid suffering the same fate. The Red Flash have just two finals appearances in 27 years, losing in 2017 and winning back in 1991 on the shoulders of sharpshooting guard Mike Iuzzolino (some of you NBA Jam fans may remember him).
Team that history favors most: Vermont
The tournament has been won by the No. 1 or 2 seed in 23 of the past 25 years. The only exceptions are 2013 and 2014, when No. 4 Albany hosted the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds and knocked off the No. 1 seed in the semis (Stony Brook in ’13, Vermont in ’14). Those are also the only two times in the past seven years anyone outside of the top three seeds even reached the championship game.
While the title game has always been held at the home court of the highest remaining seed during this entire span, in 2015 the conference adopted what is the current format, deciding to have all tourney games hosted by the higher-seeded team in each matchup.
In the four years since, the top seed has held serve on its home court three times. Last year is the only exception, when UMBC won at Vermont, before going on to make NCAA tournament history as a 16-seed. Vermont is once again the No. 1 seed this year.
If there is ANY volatility to speak of here, it’s that each of the past four years has seen a different winner (UMBC, Vermont, Stony Brook and Albany).
Team that history favors most: Lipscomb
The ASUN has been won by the No. 1 or 2 seed in seven of the past eight years. In each of the past five years, higher seeds have hosted each game in the tournament.
The top two seeds in this year’s tournament, Lipscomb and Liberty, respectively, split their head-to-head meetings this season, with each winning on the other’s home court. If things go according to seed, the second-seeded Flames will have to conquer Lipscomb in Allen Arena a second time in order to go dancing.
This week, we will find out whether Kansas can extend its Division I record of winning at least a share of regular-season conference title to 15 straight years (the Jayhawks are one game behind entering the week). To use the word “only” when stating that the Jayhawks have won the Big 12 tournament in only eight of those previous 14 years is just further proof of how amazing this run has been for Bill Self’s team.
Just because KU is “sharing” some of the limelight, it doesn’t mean there’s been much variety in the championship matchup, especially in recent years. There have been just two different winners in the past six tournaments, split evenly between Kansas and Iowa State. And in the past three years, the same team has been the runner-up (West Virginia).
The best of the conference has generally risen to the top in the tournament. Only once in the past nine years has a team seeded worse than fourth reached the championship game (No. 7 seed Baylor lost in 2014).
Despite the quality depth of the conference most years, only four current members have won the Big 12 tournament: Kansas (11 times), Iowa State (four), Oklahoma (three), Oklahoma State (two). The other six teams are a combined 0-15 in the title game (TCU has yet to reach the finals). Will the current top two seeds, Texas Tech and Kansas State, join the club?
Team that history favors most: Villanova
For a more apples-to-apples comparison, let’s focus mostly on the five years of the “new” Big East.
• Villanova has been the team to beat, as the No. 1 seed from 2014 to ’17 and the No. 2 last year. The Wildcats have reached the championship game four straight years, winning the title three times.
• While Nova has dominated the postseason conversation, more often than not a surprise team emerges to make a run to the title game. Providence won as a No. 4 seed in 2014 and lost in the finals as a No. 5 last year. Meanwhile, Creighton (2017) and Xavier (2015) were runner-ups as No. 6 seeds.
• Marquette is in a battle with Villanova for the No. 1 seed this year, but doesn’t exactly have a winning history in the Big East tourney (even going back to the “old” Big East for a moment):
The Golden Eagles have lost in the quarterfinals each of the past eight years.
They have reached the semifinals just twice in 13 all-time Big East tournament appearances, and have never played for the championship.
They are hoping to be the No. 1 seed for the first time. They were a No. 2 seed in 2012, but lost to No. 7 Louisville in the quarters.
Teams that history favors most: Montana, No. 1 seed
There aren’t many sure things in life, but you can pretty much count on Montana or Weber State reaching the Big Sky finals. At least one of the two schools has been there in each of the past nine years, combining for six titles (Montana four, Weber State two). In four of those nine years, they met each other in the championship game.
Another thing you have been able to bank on is the top seed representing the conference in the NCAA tournament. In seven of the past eight years, the No. 1 seed has won the championship. The lone exception came in 2015, when Tyler Harvey and No. 2 seed Eastern Washington knocked off top-seeded Montana, back when the top seed hosted the tournament. This year, it will be held at a neutral site in Boise, Idaho.
One not-so-bankable Big Sky note: A different team has won the tourney each of the past four years (Montana, North Dakota, Weber State and Eastern Washington).
• As competitive as this league typically is, upsets to the best teams have generally been avoided.
No. 1 seeds have reached the title game nine of the past 10 years and 16 of the past 18.
The top seed has won 11 of the past 17 tourneys.
The only time in the past 25 years that a top-three seed didn’t win the CAA tournament title was 2000, when No. 4 seed UNC Wilmington, led by Brett Blizzard, earned the auto bid.
In the past 10 years, it’s been No. 1 vs. No. 2 five times (including each of the past three years) and No. 1 vs. No. 3 four times in the finals.
• While you could argue for some volatility due to seven different winners in eight years, two of those teams (Old Dominion and VCU) were former conference powers that have moved on to different leagues. Things would likely be very different had one or both remained in the CAA. This year’s top seed, Hofstra, is not among those seven winners, for what it’s worth.
• For the third straight year, the tournament will be held in North Charleston. In each of the past two years, the College of Charleston has reached the finals (winning in overtime as the No. 1 seed last year and losing as the No. 2 seed in 2017).
Team that history favors most: Buffalo
It’s been 20 years since the Mid-American Conference last received an at-large bid — remember Wally Szczerbiak leading Miami (Ohio) to the Sweet 16? — but that drought would very likely come to an end if, and only if, Buffalo were to lose in the MAC tournament.
The Bulls have won three of the past four conference tourneys, once each as a 1, 2 and 3 seed, and are favored to do so again this year. But top seeds haven’t been so great at sealing the deal in recent years.
No. 1 seeds have reached the MAC championship game in eight straight years, but have just three wins to show for it.
A No. 2 or No. 3 seed has been the opposition in the title game six of the past seven years. In 2017, sixth-seeded Kent State became the only non-top-three seed to reach the finals since 2012. The Golden Flashes took the championship that year by beating archrival and No. 1 seed Akron.
The two teams considered the biggest threats to Buffalo are Bowling Green and Toledo. The Falcons are the only current member of the MAC to have never won the conference tournament. And the Rockets … well, they have the longest championship drought, with their only title coming way back in 1980.
Teams that history favors most: Nos. 1 and 2 seeds
Despite its reputation as a competitive league, the top seeds have dominated the spotlight in what is affectionately known as Arch Madness.
In the 42-year history of the MVC tourney, 39 champions have been either 1, 2 or 3 seeds.
However, if ever there was a season to predict a winner from a lower seed, this year might be it. Loyola-Chicago and Drake shared the regular-season title with a 12-6 record, the most losses by a regular-season champion in Valley history.
The last team seeded worse than fourth that reached the championship game was No. 5 Bradley in 2006.
History says not to count on a top-two seed losing its first game. It has happened just once in the past 29 years (No. 7 Bradley over No. 2 Creighton in 1998).
Despite the tournament champ coming from among the top seeds almost every year, the No. 1 seed has won just once in the past four years. You may remember Wichita State losing to No. 4 seeds in the semifinals in 2015 (Illinois State) and 2016 (Northern Iowa) after suffering just three combined losses in conference play those seasons.
Team that history favors most: No. 1 seed
It doesn’t get much lower in volatility than five consecutive 1-vs.-2 matchups in the finals, which is exactly what we’ve seen. The No. 1 has won three of those five meetings, including last year, when Arizona beat USC.
• In each of those past five tournaments, either Arizona or Oregon was the No. 1 seed.
• There does appear to be some new blood in terms of the top seeds, though, which could lead to a few surprises. None of the players on most of this year’s top seeds have ever won a game in the Pac-12 quarterfinals:
No. 1 seed Washington hasn’t won a quarterfinal game since 2011, when the conference was called the Pac-10. The last time the Huskies were seeded better than sixth was 2012, when they were also a No. 1 seed. That year, the Huskies were upset by No. 9 Oregon State in the quarterfinals.
Arizona State hasn’t won a quarterfinal game since 2009.
Oregon State hasn’t won a game in the quarters since the 2012 upset of Washington mentioned above. In fact, that is the Beavers’ only semifinal appearance in the past 13 years. The last time they were seeded higher than fifth was 1990 — the final Pac-10 tournament before it was revived in 2002 — when they were upset in the quarterfinals as the No. 1 seed.
Utah hasn’t won in the quarters since 2016. It was upset in 2017 and 2018 as a No. 4 and 3 seed, respectively.
Teams that history favors most: Bucknell, No. 1 seed
Playing tournament games at the higher seed is a way to reward your top seeds for a strong regular season. The Patriot League has been doing this is in a couple of different forms since 2005, and the top seeds have fared well overall.
• In the past 14 years, the No. 1 seed has won nine championships and failed to reach the title game just twice (2015, 2016).
• Eight of those 14 matchups have been 1-versus-2, three have been 1-versus-3.
• Bucknell had been the top seed the previous four years and six of the previous seven. The Bison are looking for a third straight tourney title, but this year they’ll have to do it as the No. 2 seed.
• One potential matchup to watch for: A low-seeded Holy Cross (No. 10) against a highly seeded Bucknell, which could happen in the quarterfinals. Why, you ask? The past two times they have met in the Patriot League tournament, the Crusaders acquitted themselves quite well, despite the seed differential:
In 2016, No. 9 Holy Cross knocked off No. 1 Bucknell in double-overtime in the quarterfinals en route to a surprising tournament title.
In the 2015 quarters, No. 8 Holy Cross also went to OT with No. 1 Bucknell, only to fall by seven points. The Bison, however, would lose their next game to No. 4 Lafayette, which also went on to win the tournament.
• Colgate, last year’s runner-up and this year’s top seed, has reached the championship just twice since its last Patriot League tournament title with Adonal Foyle back in 1996.
• Lehigh, which lost in the 2016 and 2017 finals, last won the Patriot crown in 2012. The Mountain Hawks are the No. 3 seed.
Team that history favors most: Kentucky
Teams that history does NOT favor: Tennessee, LSU
Kentucky. Kentucky. Kentucky. Kentucky.
Those are your past four SEC tournament champions. The Wildcats have also been in eight of the past nine title games. Kentucky is an amazing 42-2 all time in the semifinals. It’s hard not to pen them into the finals these days. What else has been pretty predictable?
Until last year, when Kentucky won as a No. 4 seed, a top-three seed had won eight straight tournaments.
Also until last year, the No. 1 seed had reached the title game in eight straight years. This includes the team with the best conference record in 2010 and 2011, when the tourney seeded by division.
The other two potential favorites to win the SEC tournament this year are Tennessee and LSU, two schools not exactly familiar with SEC tourney success. The last time LSU won the tourney was the only time, in 1980. And Tennessee’s last tourney crown came the year before that. While Tennessee lost in last year’s final, LSU hasn’t made the championship game since 1993.
Team that history favors most: Wofford
The competition at the top of this league is fierce year after year. While there are still upsets in the tournament nearly every season, a team with at least a share of the best conference record has snagged the SoCon’s automatic bid in nine of the past 10 years. The only exception was Wofford, which finished tied for third in 2014.
This year, the conference office might be fine if the best team doesn’t win the tournament, because it would likely result in multiple bids for the first time ever. Wofford appears to be a sure at-large selection after a perfect regular-season record in conference play, and its only losses are to three surefire NCAA tournament teams (North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi State) and one bubble team (Oklahoma).
• In the past nine years, Wofford has four tournament titles. The only other school with more than one in that span is Davidson, which is now a member of the Atlantic 10.
• It is worth noting that a different team has won the tournament the past four years.
Teams that history favors most: Stephen F. Austin, No. 1 seed
In 2013, the Southland altered its tournament format to give the top two seeds a bye to the semifinals. In the six years since, there have been very few surprises, to say the least.
• No seed lower than third has reached the finals in this six-year span. The No. 1 seed has reached the finals all six years, winning four championships.
• Last year, No. 3 seed Stephen F. Austin won the tournament title, snapping a string of four straight championships for the No. 1 seed.
• Stephen F. Austin has won four of the past six championships, and only two other teams have reached the championship game multiple times in that span (Sam Houston State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi).
• The semifinals have been comprised of the top four seeds in five of the past seven years, and the only two exceptions featured a No. 5 seed (2017) and No. 6 seed (2013).
Team that history favors most: Texas Southern
This tournament has been almost exclusively about Texas Southern for the past five years.
• The Tigers have won four of the past five championships, twice as a No. 1 seed, once as a No. 2 and last year as a No. 3.
• The only other team to win a title in the past six years is Southern, which has two championships in that span.
• Prairie View A&M is on track to be the No. 1 seed. Of the nine SWAC members that have won a tournament championship, the Panthers own the longest drought. Their only title came back in 1998. Grambling is the only conference school without a championship to its name.
Team that history favors most: South Dakota State
The Dakotas have been ruling the Summit League tournament for some time now.
• Each of the past seven championships have been won by either South Dakota State (five) or North Dakota State (two).
• In that seven-year span, no other team has even reached the championship game more than once.
• The top seeds have fared very well in this tournament historically. In the past 25 years, dating back to the Mid-Continent Conference days, the No. 1 or No. 2 seed has won the title 23 times. The only exceptions came in 2017 (No. 4 South Dakota State) and 2005 (No. 7 Oakland). This year’s top two seeds are South Dakota State and Omaha.
Team that history favors most: New Mexico State
Death, taxes and New Mexico State getting the auto bid in the WAC. This conference tournament has been owned by the Aggies for a while now.
• New Mexico State has won six of the past seven championships. Against current members of the conference, the Aggies are 11-1 in tournament play. That one loss came to CSU Bakersfield in the 2017 championship game.
• No seed worse than third has reached the title game since 2014.
• The only somewhat surprising development in the WAC is that the No. 1 seed has won just two of the past seven tournaments. All that does is offer further proof of how tournament-tough New Mexico State has been, regardless of seed. The bad news for other WAC teams? The Aggies are the top seed this year.
• The top threats to New Mexico State are Grand Canyon, which reached the title game in its first season of eligibility last year, and Utah Valley, which is still seeking its first trip to the finals in its sixth season in the conference.
TOO EARLY TO TELL
Team that history favors most: none
This is just the third year in which the Ivy League is holding a four-team tournament to determine its automatic qualifier. While the top seed has won both tourneys so far, we have seen four different finalists in the first two years of the event. Last year, Penn beat Harvard in a battle of the top two seeds. In 2017, Princeton upended third-seeded Yale. This year, the tournament will be held on Yale’s home court, where the Bulldogs have lost just twice this season, once on a buzzer-beater by Harvard’s Bryce Aiken. Will we get a rematch?