On Friday night, the Monmouth Hawks became the first team this season to clinch the regular season conference championship. While a regular season title doesn’t really guarantee you anything beyond a trip to the NIT, and there’s still work to do to reach the ultimate goal of the NCAA Tournament. it’s still meaningful in a lot of ways to a lot of schools.
For that reason, we decided that it’s time to take our first look at who has clinched a regular season title and who is close to doing so among the Forgotten 5 conferences.
Who has clinched:
We already mentioned Monmouth, though actually Belmont clinched the Ohio Valley before that. Gonzaga also clinched the regular season title with a win against Pacific Saturday night, since Saint Mary’s is the only team that can catch them and the Gaels can only force a tie that they would lose on head-to-head.
I’m aware that would still give them a share of the conference title and the ability to hang a banner, but it’s meaningless as far as the postseason is concerned.
In addition, Bucknell (21-8, 13-3) defeated Boston University (16-12, 11-5) and are now the official regular season Patriot League champions due to holding the head to head tiebreaker over BU.
So close they can taste it:
This list is pretty long, so let’s get to it.
In the American East, Vermont (14-0, 24-5) can clinch with a win in either of their two remaining games against Albany and Stony Brook, and only misses out if they lose both, in which case Stony Brook (12-2, 17-10) could steal the crown.
In the Atlantic Sun, Florida Gulf Coast (11-2, 22-7) also has clinched at least a share of the crown, and will take it outright with a win over struggling Stetson. A loss there and a win by Lipscomb (10-3, 18-12) over Kennesaw State muddies the title a little.
In Conference USA, Middle Tennessee (14-1, 24-4) is right on the verge. Losing out while Louisiana Tech (12-3, 20-8) wins out is the only way MTSU doesn’t take the outright title. I’m confident they will, as their last tough test against UAB will be followed by easy matchups against FIU and FAU.
Up in the Northeast Conference, Mount St Mary’s (13-3, 15-14) is excruciatingly close to clinching their second-ever NEC regular season title and first since 1996. They can clinch with a win over LIU Brooklyn (11-5, 18-11) or with a win over last-place Saint Francis (NY).
As far as the Mid-American is concerned, Akron (12-2, 22-5) is a win away from at least a share of the regular season title, and two away from having it all to themselves. Their lone challengers are Ohio (9-5, 17-8) and Buffalo (9-5, 15-12), the latter of whom plays the Zips this week.
Making me very sad, the Ivy League bowed to peer pressure and will have a conference tournament this season. Princeton (17-6, 10-0) should be the top seed barring some sort of collapse of epic proportions. The Tigers would need to lose three of their final four games, including a visit from Harvard (16-7, 8-2) for the Crimson to sweep in and win the regular season crown.
The MEAC looks to be going to North Carolina Central (20-6, 11-1) with four games left on the slate. They defeated Norfolk State in the only meeting this regular season between the programs and only need to win three of four to end the season as the top seed. Pencil the Eagles in as three of the final four regular season games are against the bottom three of the MEAC.
Work left to do:
In the AAC, the top seed has come down to a battle between SMU (24-4, 14-1) and Cincinnati (24-3, 13-1). The Mustangs currently sit at 14-1 and lead the Bearcats by 0.5 games. Both teams have a chance to go 17-1 in AAC play and tied at #1. This is where it gets a bit tricky. The tie breakers then continue to fall until you get to a coin flip according to some. Others have it as a look at the RPI at that point. For what it’s worth, Cincinnati leads the RPI race.
The Atlantic 10 has finally turned into a two-team race with VCU and Dayton both sitting at 12-2 with four games left. If VCU gets by Rhode Island, the March 1 trip to Dayton will determine the #1 seed. Basically, sit tight and wait until the first day of March for the conference to settle.
Though they hold only a 0.5 games lead over Weber State, North Dakota is in prime position to win the Big Sky. They face three teams in the bottom half of the conference, while Weber State has to face off versus Eastern Washington on the road. Even if Weber State wins out, the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota hold the head to head tiebreaker.
After Winthrop defeated Liberty for the second time this season, the Flames are now the Big South spoiler. Their route to a top seed involves winning out and UNC Asheville dropping their last two games. UNC Asheville has a much easier path with to the top seed by winning out over Gardner-Webb and Liberty. Winthrop needs to win out and pray for a Liberty win over UNC Asheville. Only then will they have a shot at the title (unless UNCA loses out, of course).
The Big West is about the biggest possible mess we have at this point in the season. In a perfect world, UC Davis and UC Irvine both win out and face off in the regular season finale with the top seed on the line. Instead, there are still viable scenarios for six different teams to win the conference top seed. Hawaii is the longest shot, sitting three games behind in the loss column, but anything is still possible out west.
Just a few weeks ago, UNC Wilmington looked to be running away with the Colonial Athletic Association regular season title. The Seahawks are still in control and need to only beat Towson and Northeastern to clinch the bid, but Towson is coming on strong late in the season and still have some hope. Charleston is sitting with the easiest final two games, but need some help from others. Basically, they need UNCW to lose out while they win out (according to my info, UNCW holds the tiebreaker).
In the Horizon League, Valparaiso is in great position to earn the top seed, but cannot afford to slip up in their final three games. After losing to Oakland for the second time on Friday, the Crusaders are out of luck in the head to head tiebreaker. Oakland finally bounced back from a tough mid-season stretch and will have a chance at the top seed if Valpo loses once and they win out. The other teams still in contention need quite a bit of help to earn the top seed.
With Wichita State (25-4, 15-1) and Illinois State (22-5, 14-1) both headed to one-loss MVC records and the head to head tiebreaker also tied, we take a look at the RPI. The Redbirds are currently sitting at #34 with the Shockers at #40. Neither team is expected to get too much of a jump from the final two games, so the MVC top seed is there for Illinois State as long as they win out.
The Southern Conference is now down to the final three with first place on the line Tuesday night in Johnson City, Tennessee. If East Tennessee State (22-6, 12-3) wins, they would only need to win their final two games to win the regular season title. Furman (20-9, 13-3) is virtually assured the title as well with a win over ETSU. The biggest wildcard is UNC Greensboro (20-8, 11-4). If ETSU wins over Furman and loses to UNCG, then the Spartans get the top seed.
Every time Texas Southern (15-11, 11-2) has a chance to put the SWAC to sleep, they screw it up. A recent loss to Jackson State has opened the door for Alcorn State (14-11, 11-3) and Southern (13-14, 9-5). Add in the fact that the Tigers still have five SWAC games left on the schedule and suddenly two-thirds of the conference is still alive for the top seed.
With two games left in the Summit regular season schedule, North Dakota State (18-9, 10-4) and South Dakota (19-10, 10-4) have turned it into a two team race. Neither should have trouble in the final week of the regular season, leaving the duo tied at 12-4 in Summit play. If that is the case, then South Dakota gets the nod due to being 2-0 versus third-place Denver while NDSU went 1-1.
Remember when it looked like New Mexico State (23-4, 9-2) was going to head to the tournament with the second longest winning streak in the nation? Well, forget about that with the Aggies losing two games and the WAC lead to CSU Bakersfield (18-7, 9-1). The Roadrunners can lose one of their final three games and still earn the top seed, as long as that loss isn’t to Grand Canyon. If Grand Canyon pulls the upset, leaving CUSB and NMSU ties at 9-2 in conference play, then it goes to the RPI with the Aggies holding the advantage.
Nearly everyone is alive:
I could list through a ridiculous number of “What if?” scenarios for how the Mountain West plays out, but it is a complete cluster at this point. Nevada (21-6, 10-4), Boise State (17-8, 10-4), and Colorado State (18-9, 10-4) all sit tied at the top with four games to go. Realistically, New Mexico (16-11, 9-6) and San Diego State (15-10, 7-6) have a chance to earn the top seed. Check back next week and we should have an answer.
If the MWC is a mess, I don’t even know what to think of the Southland. Teams have risen and fallen throughout the season, but New Orleans (16-9, 11-3) has constantly stayed at the top. If they win out, the Privateers are the top seed. That is a huge if due to the fact that UNO still has four games on the slate. They could end up #1, or drop as low as #4 depending on the next week. Stephen F. Austin (15-11, 10-4), Texas A&M-CC (16-9, 9-5), and Sam Houston State (18-10, 9-6) are all still in the hunt.
I am not about to attempt to break down the Sun Belt. The only thing we know for certain is that UT Arlington (20-6, 10-3) wins the top seed if they win out. BUT, every team has at least four SBC games left with the Mavericks, Texas State (15-10, 9-5), Troy (15-12, 7-6), and South Alabama (13-13, 6-7) still waiting to play five games. Paging Jeremy Harper to make sense of this.
- UT Arlington (20-6, 10-3)
- Arkansas State (19-8, 10-4)
- Georgia Southern (17-10, 10-4)
- Georgia State (16-10, 9-5)
- Texas State (15-10, 8-5)
- Coastal Carolina (13-14, 8-6)
- Troy (15-12, 7-6)
- South Alabama (13-13, 6-7)