USA TODAY US Edition

Men’s tournament­s tipping off

- Erick Smith and Eddie Timanus

The expand-the-tournament crowd likes to argue that college basketball’s showcase event should be larger with more games. But sometimes too much of something great is a bad thing. Why water down the best event in sports with more mediocre teams in search of an unlikely upset?

This is where conference tournament­s come in. Except in a few leagues where spots are limited, these postseason events should be seen as an extension of the NCAA Tournament.

Teams have the opportunit­y to win their way into the field of 68 but in an environmen­t away from the bright lights and national television cameras. That’s for the smaller conference­s. In the bigger leagues, the fight mostly is for seeding, though there can be surprises from teams on the bubble. Without the Ivy League playing this season, there will be 31 tournament­s starting at the end of February and extending through Selection Sunday on March 14.

America East

Dates: Feb. 27-28, March 6, March 13 Favorite: Vermont

Other contenders: Maryland-Baltimore County, New Hampshire

It’s splitting hairs whether to choose the Catamounts or the Retrievers as the favorites, as they finished tied for first and split their regular-season series last weekend. Vermont has a slightly better NET ranking (101 to UMBC’s 126), but the Catamounts played no games outside the conference. UMBC claimed the top seed on tiebreaker­s and would host the final should it get there.

The top two have byes to the semifinal round, while the remaining seven participan­ts will play in pods hosted by No. 3 New Hampshire and No. 4 Hartford to determine the other two semifinali­sts. Vermont is led by Ryan Davis and Stef Smith, both of whom can heat up from long distance, while R.J. Eytle-Rock does a little of everything for the Retrievers.

Big South

Schedule: Feb. 27, March 1, March 4, March 7

Favorite: Winthrop

Other contenders: Radford, Campbell The Big South tournament will be contested as usual on school campus sites. This was one of the conference­s that managed to complete its league tournament in 2020 before the pandemic shutdown. The Eagles won the title and will be heavily favored to do so again after running away with the best record in the regular season. Chandler Vaudrin is the Eagles’ top scorer, rebounder and assist man, but he gets plenty of help with five other players averaging at least 6.7 points.

It is worth noting, however, that a potential semifinal encounter looms with fourth-seeded North Carolina-Asheville, the one team that managed a win against Winthrop during the regular season.

Horizon League

Dates: Feb. 25, March 2, March 8-9 Favorite: Wright State

Other contenders: Cleveland State, Northern Kentucky

Wright State and Cleveland State finished tied atop the standings. Although the Vikings have the No. 1 seed via tiebreaker­s, most analytics peg the Raiders as the favorites, led by the efficient inside-outside tandem of Loudon Love and Tanner Holden. It won’t be easy, though, as fourthseed­ed Northern Kentucky just gave them all they could handle in splitting the final regular-season series last weekend. The league’s seeding formula implemente­d due to COVID-19 causing schedule imbalances didn’t sit well with everyone, most notably Detroit Mercy. The Titans were seeded fifth despite an 11-7 league record and will have to play an extra game to reach the four-team championsh­ip round in Indianapol­is.

 ?? NATI HARNIK/AP ?? Thirty-one conference­s will send champions to the NCAA Tournament. League tournament­s have begun, with the Horizon on Thursday.
NATI HARNIK/AP Thirty-one conference­s will send champions to the NCAA Tournament. League tournament­s have begun, with the Horizon on Thursday.

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