Conference championship week primer: One last chance for state schools

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UNO wins 2017 SLC Tournament
The UNO Privateers cut down the nets as winners of the 2017 Southland Tournament to become the only Louisiana school in last year’s NCAA Tournament (Photo: Rick Yeatts/Southland Conference).

Conference championship men’s basketball tournaments begin in earnest Wednesday and Thursday for the nine Division I schools in Louisiana whose seasons are still alive.

Here’s what we know as the countdown continues to Selection Sunday…

Who’s Going On: While conferences’ automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament are decided by conference tournament winners, the conference regular-season champion – or the No. 1 seed in the tournament, in the event of co-champions – is guaranteed an NIT berth if it does not get an automatic or at-large NCAA berth.

Two Louisiana schools know they will be playing somewhere next week – the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, by virtue of their regular-season Sun Belt Conference title, and the Southeastern Lions, as co-champs of the Southland Conference but the No. 1 seed in this week’s conference tournament in Katy, Texas. Grambling would have been in the same situation in the SWAC, but it is ineligible for the postseason.

Best Chances to Join the Party: Of course, any of the nine state schools in their conference tournaments can go on a magical run this week and make the “Big Dance.”

Those opportunities aside, the best chance to earn a non-automatic berth belongs to LSU. Regardless of what happens against Mississippi State on Thursday in the SEC Tournament in St. Louis, the Tigers are in the NIT discussion. The NIT bracketology site NYC Buckets currently lists the Tigers as a No. 2 seed in the NIT.

Of those schools looking to win their way in this week, the best odds would point to Nicholls, the No. 2 seed in the Southland tournament. Like top-seeded Southeastern, the Colonels only need two wins to capture the tournament title in the league’s stepladder bracket.

Where and When: The men’s brackets in the Southland, SEC, Sun Belt and Conference USA get underway Wednesday, while the American begins Thursday. The SWAC opening round was played on campus sites Tuesday night – Southern advanced with a home victory over Jackson State – and the semifinals are in Houston Friday.

In the SEC, which is being played in St. Louis for the first time, LSU’s opening game against Mississippi State is at 6 p.m. Thursday on the SEC Network. Tulane’s opener with Temple in the American Athletic Conference in Orlando is also at 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPNU.

The Sun Belt, which once again is here in New Orleans at Lakefront Arena, has four games Wednesday beginning at 11:30 a.m. ULM will play the final game of the day at 7:30 p.m. against Arkansas State. The top-seeded Ragin’ Cajuns have a bye until Friday and will play the opening game of the day at 11:30. The Sun Belt final Sunday is on ESPN2; all other games are streaming on Watch ESPN.

The Southland opened with a rematch of last year’s tournament championship game between New Orleans and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and the Privateers managed to beat the Islanders for the third time this season to reach the quarterfinals Thursday. Nicholls and Southeastern join the party for the semifinals on Friday evening. All of the early round games are on Watch ESPN.

Conference USA action begins tonight at The Star in Frisco, Texas. LA Tech plays North Texas at 8:30 p.m. The C-USA Tournament is on Stadium and the CBS Sports Network.

Announcements: The NCAA field of 68 gets announced Sunday at 5 p.m. – make a note that TBS has the festivities this year and not CBS. The NIT bracket follows a couple of hours later.

Here’s a full rundown of all of the in-state Division I teams and where they stand heading into the week:

Team Conference (Seed) Record (Conf)
RPI Notes
Louisiana Sun Belt (1) 26-5 (16-2) 60
LSU SEC (10) 17-13 (8-10) 87
Nicholls Southland (2) 21-10 (15-3) 140
Southeastern Southland (1) 21-10 (15-3) 158
Tulane American (10) 14-16 (5-13) 160
LA Tech C-USA (10) 16-15 (7-11) 202
ULM Sun Belt (6) 15-14 (9-9) 220
New Orleans Southland (5) 14-15 (11-7) 234
Grambling SWAC 17-14 (13-5) 249 not eligible for postseason
McNeese Southland 4-25 (1-17) 297 not in conference tournament
Southern SWAC (4) 15-17 (10-8) 305
Northwestern State Southland 11-17 (8-10) 342 not in conference tournament
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Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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