Let the Madness Begin: Conference tournaments prelude to Big Dance for Louisiana hopefuls

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LSU-UGA basketball
(Photo: Jonathan Mailhes)

By this time next week, millions across America will be looking at papers or computer monitors, analyzing 5-against-12 matchups for potential upsets and asking “just who is Gardner-Webb?”

It’s nearly NCAA men’s basketball championship time, but first, the madness really begins with conference tournaments.

We know Louisiana will be represented by Southeastern Conference regular-season champion LSU, regardless of what the top-seeded Tigers do in this week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville.

For your television or live-streaming planning, LSU opens at noon Friday, and as long as the Tigers win, they will play at noon each day, including Sunday’s championship game. Each of LSU’s games will be on ESPN, though many of the tournament games are shown by the SEC Network.

As for the rest of the state? Let’s break it down.

Southland: Two of the state’s five Southland representatives made the eight-team tournament field in Katy, Texas – No. 3 seed Southeastern Louisiana and No. 4 seed New Orleans.

In the Southland’s dual stepladder brackets, the top two seeds get double byes to the semifinals and the third and fourth seeds get single byes to the quarterfinals, so the Lions and Privateers can sit back for one day, at least.

On Thursday, UNO meets the Houston Baptist-Lamar winner at 5 p.m. and SLU faces the Central Arkansas-Texas A&M Corpus Christi survivor at 7:30. The top two seeds, Sam Houston State and Abilene Christian, await Thursday’s winners.

The championship is at 8:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.

American: What has been a historically bad season for Tulane will almost certainly come to an end this week.

The Green Wave has lost 20 consecutive games and went 0-18 in conference play, and now faces the home team, Memphis, in the opening round of the American Athletic Conference tournament Thursday at 2 p.m. at the FedEx Forum.

In spite of Tulane’s struggles, this should be an intriguing tournament to watch. It looks like the top four seeds – regular-season champ Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and Temple – are all in good shape to reach the Big Dance. Could the home team make a run and crash the party?

Sun Belt: If you want a taste of March Madness, head to Lakefront Arena to check out Sun Belt action, with the women’s and men’s tournaments taking place Wednesday through Sunday.

Like the Southland, the Sun Belt uses the dual stepladder format, but takes it a step further. Ten teams are in the field, with two first-round games played on campus and those winners advancing to New Orleans. The top two teams are already booked in the semis, with Nos. 3-4 in the quarterfinals and Nos. 5-6 in the second round.

The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns are the No. 5 seed and already ticketed for New Orleans, where they will meet either South Alabama at 5 p.m. Thursday. Seventh-seeded ULM won at home Tuesday night against Appalachian State to earn its way to the Crescent City to play Coastal Carolina following the USA-ULL game Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

The two quarterfinal games are Friday night, with the semis – and the first action of the week for No. 1 seed Georgia State and No. 2 seed UTA – on Saturday at 3 and 5:30 p.m. The title game is at 1 p.m. Sunday.

SWAC: The SWAC offers the traditional style bracket, with eight teams. The winners of four first-round games on campus Tuesday night advanced to the semifinals Friday in Birmingham.

Grambling, the No. 4 seed, won a quarterfinal home game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, while seventh-seeded Southern has a road test against Texas Southern.

Prairie View is the top seed in the tournament, which concludes with the final at 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU.

Conference USA: LA Tech is the No. 8 seed in the tournament, which begins Wednesday at The Star in Frisco, Texas.

If the Bulldogs win their opening game Wednesday night against Florida Atlantic, they have a meeting with top-seeded Old Dominion next.

The C-USA championship is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS Sports Network.

All of this leads into the late Sunday afternoon announcement of the field of 68.

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

Sales/Content/Production

Lenny has been involved in college athletics since 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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