California Baptist won the Western Athletic Conference tournament and regular season championship, but was ineligible for the N.C.A.A. tournament while on a probationary period as it transitions to Division I.
Instead, Utah Valley, which lost in the WAC tournament to Grand Canyon but was the second seed in the conference, was given a chance to play in Texas. The program, which was founded in 1978, had never made the tournament before this season.
“This is a little bit different N.C.A.A. tournament than normal, but from the minute we took this job we talked about getting to this point, and to get here any way we can is just amazing,” Wolverines head coach Dan Nielson told reporters this week. “I am really happy for our team to get to have this experience.”
California Baptist was the only team in the nation to go undefeated through the conference tournament. The Wolverines were 10-4. California Baptist is now 25-0 after making the third round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament with a win against San Francisco on Friday.
The Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 led the way with a combined 17 of 32 teams into the second round of the N.C.A.A. men’s tournament entering Sunday.
The Southeastern Conference has four teams remaining, while the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East each have a pair.
The Big Ten began with the highest number of teams, nine, and six of them have now advanced — including a pair of No. 1 seeds in Michigan and Illinois. The others still in the tournament from the conference are Iowa, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Maryland. Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue are out.
With the loss by No. 3 seed Texas to No. 14 seed Abilene Christian on Saturday night, the Big 12 totaled six of a possible seven teams advancing: Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia.
All five Pac-12 schools remain alive in Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, U.C.L.A. and Southern California. Oregon advanced over Virginia Commonwealth when V.C.U. was forced to withdraw from the tournament because of multiple positive coronavirus tests.
The round of 32 breaks down this way among the conferences:
Six teams: Big Ten, Big 12
Five teams: Pac-12
Four teams: SEC
Two teams each: Big East, A.C.C.
One team each: American Athletic, Conference U.S.A., Mid-American, Missouri Valley, Southland, Summit, West Coast
It has been a good year to be slotted no better than a No. 13 seed: Four of those teams will play in the men’s tournament’s second round, a record.
The first two games of the women’s tournament, both slated to tip off at 12 p.m. in Texas, feature three teams that practically live beyond the arc. No. 5 Iowa, No. 12 Central Michigan and No. 7 Virginia Tech are all among the ten most prolific 3-point shooting teams in the nation — combined, they make nearly 30 per game.
The most efficient of them is Iowa, which makes 40.4 percent of its deep shots thanks to a young trio of sharpshooters that includes sophomores Gabbie Marshall and McKenna Warnock. Their leader — the fearless freshman Caitlin Clark — has attempted 254 3-point shots this season, the most in Division I. Accordingly, she is its best scorer with an average of 26.7 points per game.
Central Michigan, the Hawkeyes’ opening opponent, has a similar offensive strategy: let the shooters shoot. It is the only team in the nation with two players averaging over 20 points per game, Micaela Kelly and Molly Davis.
Neither of these teams play much defense, but who can blame them for focusing on their strengths?
The Hokies, who will face a more traditional offense in No. 10 Marquette, rely on senior Aisha Sheppard. She averages 3.7 made 3s per game, and in Virginia Tech’s biggest win of the season — an overtime victory over No. 1-seeded North Carolina State — she made four on her way to 28 points. Sheppard hopes for similar fireworks this afternoon as she fights to keep her college career alive against battle-tested Marquette, who played No. 1 UConn close during the regular season.
In the second No.1 seed matchup of the day in the men’s tournament, Baylor will face No. 9-seeded Wisconsin. The Bears beat Hartford, 79-65, and Wisconsin beat North Carolina, 85-62, to advance to the second round.
Baylor, a first-time No. 1 seed, is going to provide a defensive challenge for the Badgers. The Bears are one of the best shooting teams in the league, making 41.4 percent of shots from 3-point range. They rebound well offensively, averaging 12.9 a game, which makes stopping them difficult.
In the Badgers’ first round game, they relied heavily on their five seniors for scoring, as they have all season. Wisconsin will need that energy again in order to compete with Baylor’s stellar offense.
The Big Ten finished the first round 6-3, and Wisconsin’s chance to represent the conference in the round of 16 relies on its ball movement and ability to slow down Baylor’s offense.
The state of Illinois gets the spotlight at the start of Round 2 in the men’s tournament as Illinois and Loyola-Chicago play in the first game on Sunday.
The Illini defeated Drexel, 78-49, and the Ramblers beat Georgia Tech, 71-60, to advance. This is going to be a battle of which team can beat the other at its own game as both of these teams are strong defensively.
Loyola has the best defense in the league, holding opponents to an average of 55.7 points per game. This is going to be key to its success because Illinois has a large presence in the paint in 7-foot tall Kofi Cockburn. In order for the Ramblers to slow down the pace, they are going to have to limit his ability to get easy baskets down low.
The Illini are great at moving the ball and getting it to their two leading scorers, Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu. They proved their resilience through the Big Ten season and if they are able to push the pace and force Loyola to keep up, the round of 16 spot is theirs for the taking.