A dozen automatic bids are at stake on the Saturday before Selection Sunday, with teams like the UC Irvine Anteaters, Grand Canyon Antelopes, Prairie View Panthers, and Western Kentucky Hilltoppers battling in their respective conference championships.

UC Irvine Anteaters
The UC Irvine mascot, Peter the Anteater, at the Big West Tournament in Anaheim, California. (Image: UC Irvine Athletics)

The America East, Big Sky, Big West, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Mountain West, Southland, SWAC, and WAC are playing down to its conference champions.

With the exception of #18 Buffalo playing in the MAC title game and Utah State in the Mountain West championship, the other participants are in a must-win scenario. If they lose, they won’t playing in March Madness. If they win, they advance to March Madness with a chance to win the national championship.

Saturday’s Automatic Bids
America East: UMBC vs. Vermont
MEAC: NC Central vs. Norfolk St.
MAC: Bowling Green vs. #18 Buffalo
Big Sky: Eastern Washington vs. Montana
SWAC: Texas Southern vs. Prairie View
Southland: New Orleans vs. Abilene Christian
Mountain West: SDSU vs. Utah State
C-USA: Western Kentucky vs. Old Dominion
WAC: Grand Canyon vs. New Mexico State
Big West: Fullerton vs. UC Irvine

The Big 12 and Big East are playing their conference championships, but all four teams are expected to make the tournament.

March Madness Cat Teams

The early game on Saturday tips off at 11 AM local time in Burlington, Vermont. The hippie enclave is most known as the home of Ben and Jerry’s and the band Phish. They are also the home to the Vermont Catamounts (26-6). They are trying to return to the Big Dance after missing out last season. Vermont and the three Duncan Brothers are the team to beat in the American East Championship. The Catamounts are 10-point favorites over UMBC (21-12).

In SWAC action, the Prairie View Panthers battle the Texas Southern Tigers. Both squads are 21-12 overall and the oddsmakers set this tough one as a pick’em. Texas Southern started out 4-8 but the Tigers are 17-4 since then.

The Southland title will come down to a battle between the Abilene Christian Wildcats and the New Orleans Privateers (19-12). Abilene Christian is 26-6 this season and the Wildcats won 10 out of their last 12 games. NOLA is a five-point dog against the Wildcats.

Left Coast Hoops

The Big West title game in Anaheim, California will come down to a fierce battle between the UC Irvine Anteaters (29-5) versus the Cal State Fullerton Titans (16-16). The Titans upset Santa Barbara last night. The Anteaters are a 10-point favorite and should easily hooker up the Titans.

The Montana Grizzlies (25-8) have their eyes on another March Madness berth. They were the team to beat all season int he Big Sky. Eastern Washington (16-17) is trying to play the role as Cinderella. The Eagles are flying high on a five-game winning streak, but they are 6-point dogs against the Grizzlies.

In the WAC Championship, the Grand Canyon Antelopes (20-11) take on the New Mexico State Aggies (29-4).The Aggies beat the Antelopes, they’ll reach the 30-win plateau and punch their ticket to March Madness. The Antelopes are 4-point dogs, but have been running out of control, particularly junior guard Carlos Johnson. He dropped a career-high 35 points in the semifinals against Utah Valley to put the Antelopes in the WAC finals.

Freerolling Buffalo and Utah State

Buffalo (30-3) has been ranked most of the season. The Bulls were always the team to beat in the MAC. There are in no matter what, but the selection committee won’t hook them up with a decent seed or anything like that. On the up side, the rest of the nation will get a chance to see Buffalo’s scoring machine CJ Massinburg light up opposing defenses.

The Utah State Aggies (27-6) won a boisterous game against Nevada late in the season. The Aggies are impossible to beat at home, but they’re vulnerable on the road. They expect to meet again in the Mountain West title game, except San Diego State (21-12) had other ideas. SDSU picked off Nevada in the semifinals in Las Vegas.

The #12 Nevada Wolfpack will be going to the Big Dance no matter what. Utah State was on the bubble but they controlled their own destiny. A win will nice a tidy for the selection committee. A loss to SDSU could be problematic for Utah State. The oddsmakers have Utah State as a 6.5-point favorite.

Would the NCAA like three Mountain West teams in the tournament this year? Or will they punish Utah State in this instance and squeeze the MW for only a pair of teams?

If St. Mary’s didn’t win the WCC and upset #1 Gonzaga earlier in the week, there might be an extra at-large lying around for a western team.

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