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Conference Tournaments 2017: What’s New

While it’s only February 27th, the first elimination action of the season tips off tonight with four ASUN quarterfinals. Before those games get going, it’s time to take a quick look at what’s changed about the Championship Fortnight since the 2016 edition.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Pennsylvania Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

And Then There Were 32

2017’s biggest change leads off, as the Ivy League will hold a conference tournament for the first time. The top four finishers in the regular season standings will head to the Palestra for semifinals on Saturday, March 11th and a championship game early on Selection Sunday afternoon. Currently, Princeton and Harvard are set to attend, with the third and fourth spots going to two from Yale, Columbia or host Penn depending on next weekend’s results and quite possibly some tiebreakers. (Thank you, @ivybball for the correction on the qualification scenario.)

This change means that the Ivy — normally one of the first conferences to award an auto bid, barring a one-game playoff (last employed in 2015) — will become one of the last.

Net-Cutting Schedule

Speaking when bids are awarded, here’s the rough order of championship games. You can get full schedule and broadcast details at Conference Championship Central.

Saturday, March 4: OVC

Sunday, March 5: Big South, MVC*, ASUN

Monday, March 6: SoCon, CAA*, MAAC

Tuesday, March 7: Horizon, NEC, WCC, Summit

Wednesday, March 8: Patriot*

Thursday, March 9 and Friday, March 10: NONE

Saturday, March 11: America East, MEAC, Big East*, MW*, Big 12, SWAC, MAC, C-USA*, Big Sky, ACC, Southland, Pac-12, WAC, Big West

Sunday, March 12: Ivy, A 10*, SEC, Sun Belt, Big Ten*, American

Note that 24 of the 32 championship games will air on an ESPN outlet, with the leagues marked with an asterisk the exceptions. Seven of those remaining eight will air on either CBS or CBSSN.

Who’s Newly Eligible

Northern Kentucky, which participated in last season’s Horizon Tournament and the 2015 A-Sun event as it was transitioning into Division I, is now fully eligible for the Horizon League’s automatic bid this time.

Who’s Ineligible

Four teams won’t participate in their respective conference tournaments because they’re in their final seasons of their transitions into Division I: Abilene Christian (Southland), Grand Canyon (WAC), Incarnate Word (Southland), and UMass Lowell (America East). All four will be eligible in 2018, just in time for California Baptist (WAC) and North Alabama (Atlantic Sun) to begin their quests to become Division I’s 352nd and 353rd teams.

Savannah State (MEAC) and Alcorn State (SWAC) are ineligible due to APR penalties imposed by the NCAA. The Braves were also banned last season, but participated in the SWAC Tournament as the No. 2 seed. It’s not clear if they will play in 2017’s edition, which will feature an altered format (more on that below).

Finally, last season’s Big West representative, Hawai’i, was barred from the 2017 postseason for NCAA rules violations. That means that all eight eligible Big West squads will participate in Anaheim. (Update: Since Hawai’i appealed the sanctions, it’s possible they’ll be able to play in the postseason after all.) It’s a similar story for Northern Colorado in the Big Sky, which will carry on with an 11-team bracket in Reno. (Thanks to Rocco Miller for reminding me of the Bears’ ineligibility.)

Site Changes

The American Athletic Conference was supposed to be in Orlando to wrap up a two-year run that began in 2016. However, with the Amway Center hosting the NCAA Tournament on its first weekend this season — a decision made after Orlando was awarded the 2016 and 2017 conference tournaments — Orlando punted its second opportunity to 2018 and Hartford’s XL Center will host instead. I’m already preparing for UConn to ruin my final projected bracket before the Selection Show.

This March and next, Brooklyn will take a two-year break from hosting the Atlantic 10 to host the ACC instead, with the A 10 shifting to Pittsburgh.

The Big Ten will hold its conference tournament on the East Coast for the first time, with Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center — host of last season’s ACC soirée — getting the honors. Next season, the event moves to Madison Square Garden, when it will be held one week early so the Big East can keep its traditional dates.

After a three-year run in Baltimore, the CAA Tournament shifts to North Charleston, S.C. for the next three editions.

The Pac-12 Tournament has been rather successful in Las Vegas since relocating there from Los Angeles in 2013. The event is on the move again, going from the MGM Grand Garden Arena to the new T-Mobile Arena on the Strip for the next three years.

Finally, this will be the second and final year that the Horizon League plays its event at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Next season, that tournament switches to the new Little Ceasars Arena, also in the Motor City.

Format Changes

While the SWAC’s semifinals and finals remain at Houston’s Toyota Center, the tournament is switching from a 10-team, five-day event to an eight-team one that features quarterfinals hosted by the top four seeds.

For the first time since expanding to 15 teams for the 2014-15 season, everyone will be heading to Brooklyn for the ACC Tournament. Remember that Syracuse sat out 2015’s event and Louisville skipped 2016’s due to self-imposed preseason bans. With 15 teams, Tuesday’s first round expands from two games to three for the first time.

Last season, the Big South moved its tournament from Coastal Carolina‘s campus in Conway, S.C. to Campbell‘s in Buies Creek, N.C. thanks to the Chanticleers’ pending departure for the Sun Belt. In 2017, the conference will switch to a format similar to the one employed by the Horizon League until that conference moved its festivities to Detroit last season. So, the seven and eight seeds will host the 10 and nine seeds, respectively, in an on-campus opening round on Tuesday, February 28th. The top seed, Winthrop, will host the quarterfinals and semifinals on Thursday and Friday, March 2-3. The Eagles are also in line to host the final on Sunday, March 5 should they survive. If not, the highest-remaining seed will have the honors.

Conference USA, which last year had 13 of its 14 teams (everyone but then-ineligible Southern Mississippi) play in Birmingham, will this season drop the two worst teams. Thus, only 12 squads will make the trip to Legacy Arena (long ago known as the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center) with the top four regular-season finishers earning byes.

Again, I have full details, and will be making regular updates, to Conference Tournament Central, over the next two weeks. If you’re interested in a more linear presentation, I’ll also have plenty of tourney info day-by-day in my TV previews.