Among the many beautiful things about March Madness is the notion that any team can make it. Every conference gets one automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. Most automatic bids are awarded to the winner of each respective conference tournament. Each article will preview a different conference tournament with a full bracket breakdown.
9 McNeese def. 8 Southeastern Louisiana
7 Incarnate Word def. 10 Houston Baptist
5 New Orleans def. 9 McNeese
6 Lamar def. 7 Incarnate Word
5 New Orleans def. 4 Northwestern State
3 Sam Houston State def. 6 Lamar
1 Nicholls def. 5 New Orleans
2 Abilene Christian def. 3 Sam Houston State
2 Abilene Christian def. 1 Nicholls
The reigning Southland champions have put together not just a strong season in the standings, but a season supported by additional metrics. KenPom has the Wildcats inside the Top 100 most efficient teams and NET rankings put them 85th. Abilene Christian allows the 8th fewest points per game in the country and only allowed 70+ points twice in their 15 conference games. Other Southland teams have better shooting percentages than ACU, but the Wildcats capitalize on the offensive glass grabbing 29% of possible offensive rebounds (2nd best in Southland). The biggest advantage for the second seed is earning the triple bye meaning only two games are necessary to win. With surprisingly strong underlying stats, Abilene Christian is set for their second ever March Madness appearance after their 2019 debut.
Sam Houston State
Since the start of February, Sam Houston State has won six of eight games. They are 3-1 against the top two seeds in the conference and 10-0 against lower seeds. Where the Bearkats really beat teams is the three-point game. In Southland play, Sam Houston averaged a conference-high 9.6 triples per game while holding opponents to a conference-best 27.9% shooting from beyond the arc. They might catch a streaking Lamar in the quarterfinals but should be able to make it to showdown against favorite Abilene Christian. A three seed doesn’t normally present as a sleeper but there is such a gap between the Bearkats and everyone below them that Sam Houston is the potential surprise winner of this tournament.
Matchup to Watch
Abilene Christian vs Sam Houston State
Another slight cop out on the key matchup, the winner and sleeper square off in a winner takes it all match. These two teams split their season series with the Bearkats winning round one 64-57 and the Wildcats winning the second 86-72. The Bearkats have two of the top five players in points per game with Zach Nutall and Demarkus Lampley. Abilene Christian is led by experience with their top seven players in minutes per game all upperclassmen. The Southland conference doesn’t run very deep so the most intriguing games will be played Thursday and Friday.
Featured Image courtesy of acusports.com
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