March 8-11 Summit Arena (Hot Springs, Ark.) | Bracket
This season, this is the most unfortunate and needless of the traditional one-bid conference tournaments. Middle Tennessee State is an excellent basketball team that destroyed this league over a full double-round robin, finishing at 19-1, a full five games ahead of South Alabama and an OT loss at Arkansas State early in January of a perfect league run.
The Blue Raiders' reward for being indisputably the best team in the league by a wide margin? Nothing, really. A 1-seed and a date in the quarterfinals, a starting point from which they need to win three more times against overmatched foes to claim the NCAA bid that obviously should be theirs. So silly.
Like any team, the Blue Raiders weren't as dominant away and a number of teams played them relatively close aside from the Red Wolves pulling the stunner. Could it happen once more and create a very difficult at-large decision for the NCAA selection committee?
Key Matchup: No. 2 South Alabama vs. No. 3 Arkansas State (possible semifinal)
If seeds hold, this is the semifinal opposite Middle Tennessee State's, and while the Jaguars had a better record in league play by two games, the Red Wolves played MTSU tougher home and away. MTSU preference likely would be for South Alabama to win this game if it happens.
Team to Watch: Arkansas State
The Red Wolves only finished at 12-8, but they went 3-1 against the top two seeds, splitting with MTSU and sweeping South Alabama. If they put it together on back to back nights, they clearly have the ability to make a run at the auto bid.
Hottest Storyline: Does MTSU have an at-large safety net?
Anyone who has watched the Blue Raiders play this year (and last, since this is virtually the same roster) knows this is a very credible basketball team. The problem is they didn't do anything in nonleague play, falling decisively to Florida in a semi-away game, and also losing at Akron and Belmont. The Sun Belt didn't have another RPI top-100 team this season, so how much stock will the committee put in 19-1 against a bunch of non-tournament-quality opponents? With how terrible the bubble looks right now, you can make a strong argument that MTSU would be a better team than a number of clubs who get in, but you might not be able to say they "deserve" to get in based on what they have accomplished.
The Pick: Middle Tennessee State
The Blue Raiders were stunned in last year's quarterfinals. That's not going to happen again, in any of the three rounds. They're too much better than anyone else.