What To Watch For In The Mid-Major Tournaments

Photo by Russell Wilburn

Last weekend, only two college basketball conferences with Texas teams — the American and the SEC — had conference tournaments, which gave us a chance to go long on what to expect in those tournaments. This week is a little different, as all of the other conferences compete in their tournaments. Since we don't have the time to go as in-depth on all of these conferences, let's look at some of the key things to watch as these tournaments tip-off this week.

The Southland might be the most interesting mid-major conference in the nation

This is a bold take, but the top of the Southland is both very good and very, very bunched up, so there are a lot of storylines here that make it the conference that I'm personally keeping the closest eye on this week.

The first storyline is the double-bye. Two teams — Texas A&M - Corpus Christi and Stephen F. Austin — have earned automatic bids to the semifinals, while two more — Abilene Christian and Sam Houston State — have earned byes to the quarterfinals.

That extra bye could be huge for SFA, as it'll look to avenge an 88-62 loss earlier this month to Abilene Christian in a potential semis matchup.

The Wildcats of ACU have been hot lately, ending the season on a six-game winning streak. But the team also faces an upset challenger in their first matchup if Incarnate Word gets past Nicholls in the first round, because UIW has played ACU tough all year, beating them once and then taking them to overtime in the regular season finale. And UIW has played up to their competition when facing the best teams this year, so don't complete count them out in terms of making a huge, unexpected run in this tournament, though the structure of it does make that tough.

On the other end, A&M Corpus draws a potential semis matchup against Sam Houston State, who took a downward turn to end the year, losing to all three of the higher-ranked teams in a row to close the regular season. The Bearkats could be looking to avenge that, but it's also possible that there's a bit of a gap between them and the top three, as they went 1-5 against those teams this season.

Whatever happens, there will be exciting basketball played in this tournament. After a back-and-forth season, we have a slight bit of separation now — a four-way tie was possible until the past week — but not enough separation for it to feel like someone's going to run away with this thing. 

Prediction: I think Abilene Christian can be the best team in the Southland when firing on all cylinders, but I don't like how the bracket is shaping up for them, so I'm going with the chalky pick here: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Rice is back atop Conference-USA

It took a bit, but the Rice Owls defeated Old Dominion in the regular season finale, putting Erica Ogwumike, Nancy Mulkey and the rest of the Owls back in first place in Conference-USA.

Rice is one of the more dangerous mid-majors in the country and will have a chance to make NCAA Tournament noise should they make it there (which they could be able to do even without a conference tournament win, though it'd be close.)

None of the other Texas teams have a great shot here. UTSA missed the tournament after finishing 2-16 in conference play, though Mikayla Woods did land on the conference's All-Freshman team.

UTEP is the seven seed and should be able to defeat Florida Atlantic in the first round, but then a tough game against a very good Old Dominion team awaits, and that game likely represents the end of a collegiate career for senior Katarina Zec.

North Texas comes in as the 11 seed. The Mean Green underachieved this year after being picked to finished seventh in the preseason poll, but a seven-game losing streak in January and February doomed them. They did win three of their final four games, including a win over UTEP, and Anisha George did make the All-Conference Second Team.

Prediction: Sticking with the chalk picks here. Rice grabs the title and some momentum as we head into the NCAA Tournament.

Can UT-Arlington come out of the Sun Belt?

Tuesday night in Arlington, the two Texas squads in the Sun Belt face in a 3/10 matchup, with UT-Arlington taking on Texas State.

No offense to Texas State, but this game should be the Mavericks's to win. After a 20-10 regular season, UTA heads into the conference tournament with momentum on their side and a seven game winning streak that included a 20-point victory over Texas State on February 15th.

This team got break production from Marie Benson this year, as she averaged 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds on the season. The Mavs are good, and they're peaking at the right time, and they have that star player, which you need in times like these.

But as the third seed, they'd need to win two more games than the one or two seed would to win the tournament, and that's tricky.

Prediction: UTA struggled against Troy and Coastal Carolina, and I don't see that changing much. But I do think we see an upset in this one, with two seed Coastal Carolina taking down Troy. They beat them 124-103 the last time the teams faced, and while Coastal Carolina dropped some very winnable games to Arkansas State and Appalachian State, they're still an extremely good offensive team that can beat anyone.

Can Cynthia Cooper-Dyke get Texas Southern into the NCAA Tournament?

The eight-team SWAC tournament tips off on Tuesday, and Texas Southern goes in as the two-seed.

Let's just fast forward to a potential Jackson State/Texas Southern title game, because that's what really matters here.

In her first year at the helm down in Houston, WNBA legend Cynthia Cooper-Dyke has TSU at 19-10 on the year, but they've struggled to get over the hump against Jackson State, dropping both meetings, the first in overtime and the second by 11, but TSU didn't have Niya Mitchell in that game.

This time, can things be different?

Prediction: Yes. Jackson State is good, but Texas Southern is good too, and the combination of Ciani Cryor and Niya Mitchell are going to lead the Lady Tigers to the NCAA Tournament.

The WAC Tournament should be interesting

We've only got one Texas team in the WAC and tha's UT - Rio Grande Valley.

UTRGV finished just 13-16 on the year, but they have the fourth seed in this tournament. They won three of their final four games, and have three solid scorers in Trelynn Tyler, Amara Graham, and Jordan Agustus.

But this tournament feels like it's heading for a showdown between UMKC and Grand Canyon.

Kansas City has beaten UTRGV twice this year and has been the best team in the conference, but their only loss since January came 62-56 against Grand Canyon.

Prediction: UMKC

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