It’s a good night of college basketball Tuesday with four mid-major conference championship games: the Horizon League, Northeast Conference, Summit League and West Coast Conference will hand out their automatic NCAA Tournament bids.
Of the four mid-major conference championship games on Tuesday night, the most unlikely matchup is in the Horizon League from Joe Louis Arena in Detroit as Milwaukee (11-23, 4-14) plays Northern Kentucky (23-10, 12-6), which is a 6-point favorite on NCAA basketball odds.
Milwaukee would be one of the most surprising NCAA Tournament teams ever considering the Panthers finished last in the Horizon League with just those four regular-season conference wins and entered the tournament on a nine-game losing streak. Their 23 overall losses would be the most by a team in modern NCAA Tournament history. Milwaukee's biggest tournament shocker was over co-regular-season champion Valparaiso, 43-41 on Saturday. It certainly helped that Valpo was playing without Alec Peters, the Horizon League Player of the Year who averaged 23.0 points and 10.1 rebounds this season, due to a stress fracture in his right foot. Milwaukee then beat UIC 74-68 on Monday. The Panthers are looking for their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2014. They are the first-ever Horizon League No. 10 seed to claim even one victory in the conference tournament.
Northern Kentucky is the No. 4 seed and fairly new to Division I basketball. It joined the Horizon League prior to the start of the 2016-17 season and became NCAA Tournament eligible for the first time this season after completing its full transition to Division I. The Norse enter on a five-game winning streak and split with Milwaukee during the regular season.
In the Northeast Conference, regular-season champion Mount St. Mary’s hosts No. 4 St. Francis, with the Mount currently a 5-point favorite. Read a preview of that game here.
In the Summit League, South Dakota State (17-16, 8-8) faces Omaha (18-13, 9-7), in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. SDSU, an opening 1.5-point favorite, is the tournament’s No. 6 seed. It advanced to the final with a 74-71 upset win over South Dakota on Monday. Michael Orris scored 20 points and hit a go-ahead jumper with two seconds left. Then SDSU added two free throws after South Dakota’s inbounds pass on the next possession went out of bounds. The Jackrabbits are the defending tournament champions and put a scare into fifth-seeded Maryland in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Third-seeded Omaha crushed IUPUI 90-62 on Monday. Mitchell Hahn scored 21 points with 10 rebounds and Tre'Shawn Thurman had 15 points and 12 boards. The Mavericks have never been in the Big Dance. The 2015-16 season was the first in which they were eligible for the NCAA Tournament or the Summit League Tournament; they had been ineligible during the school's four-year transition from Division II to Division I, which began in the 2011–12 season. Omaha and SDSU split their regular-season meetings.
Finally, in the West Coast Conference, it’s top-seeded Gonzaga, ranked No. 4 in the AP poll, against second-seeded and 19th-ranked Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas. The Zags opened at -7 and you can find an in-depth preview here at SBR Forum.