As we greet this Monday morning, each Division I men’s basketball team has wrapped up their regular season. With each team seeded in their conference tournament, upsets will surely ensue. This past week, North Carolina Central, the favorite to win their conference tournament, concluded their season with a loss to North Carolina A&T, a team that had not beaten a division I opponent all season. As I’ve mentioned before, conference tournaments are more exciting than the NCAA tournament due to the unforeseen upsets. The upset can remove a top seed that was destined to make the NCAA tournament and go toe-to-toe with a more recognized brand name in the college basketball world. It’s an exciting month for college basketball, and it’s just getting started. A few teams have even punched their ticket into the NCAA tournament already!
At this point, Jacksonville State, Florida Gulf Coast, Wichita State, and Winthrop have all won the auto-bid to the NCAA tournament. Today, we will see who joins the aforementioned teams from the Colonial, MAAC, and Southern conferences. In the Colonial matchup, the top seed UNC-Wilmington plays against the 2-seed College of Charleston.
In the MAAC, Monmouth suffered an eerily, disappointing result similar to last year. As the top seed, they lost to Siena, the host site for their tournament, in the semifinals. Siena will play Iona for a chance to represent the MAAC in the NCAA tournament this year.
The Southern Conference will see top seed UNC-Greensboro take on 3-seed East Tenneessee State. This game will be competitive! UNC-Greensboro owns bragging rights for sweeping ETSU during the regular season, however, the Spartans won those matchups by 4 and 6 points.
The Bulldogs finished their season with a loss at home to Seton Hall. The Pirates look to be in the mix for making the tournament this year, potentially being part of seven teams from the Big East to be invited to the NCAA tournament. It’s unusual for Butler to lose games where they go on scoring runs of 15-0 and 10-0, yet Seton Hall kept the game close and eventually Desi Rodriquez took over, making difficult shots to put the Pirates in a position to pull off a great upset.
For Butler going forward, quick starts to games will be their friend. If the Bulldogs can find good, efficient shots early in a game, it will force the opponent to adjust their defense. The ever-evolving adjustments during a game requires the mental capacity to identify and communicate, something people take for granted.
Before the season, Butler was picked to finish sixth in the Big East. The Bulldogs, used to embodying the role of underdog, played their way to second place at the conclusion of the regular season. A lot of the success the team saw during the season came from transfers and current players meshing well and humbling themselves, placing the importance of the team before the individual self. The result was arguably one of the best seasons a Butler basketball team has put together. It’s always difficult to watch seniors talk to the crowd on Senior Day because they voice how special it’s been to play at Butler.
I enjoy watching each player because they possess a unique skill set that meshes well. Beyond their ability to play collegiate basketball at a high level, each of the seniors seem like great guys. They are well spoken, reflective, and driven.
Moving forward, the Bulldogs will play the winner of the 7/10 matchup between 7-seed Xavier and 10-seed DePaul. Xavier is reeling as of late and are at risk of losing an invitation to the NCAA tournament. I think Xavier beats DePaul in a game closer than they would like. That would pit them against Butler on Thursday, March 9th at 7pm. Butler is still looking for their first win in the Big East tournament since joining the conference in 2013.
For me, it will be reassuring to see the Bulldogs make it to the Big East final, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. It’s important to focus on the next game. Good luck to all Big East teams competing at Madison Square Garden!