15 automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament are on the line on Saturday, starting with a morning tip in Vermont. Boardroom breaks down the best matchups to watch.
The final few days of Championship Week are among the most underrated on the entire sports calendar. With a full lineup of college basketball happening, from the one-bid leagues that never get the spotlight to the powerhouses playing for seeding, all you have to do is plant yourself on the couch with your beverage of choice and don’t move for hours on end.
Saturday is one of the best days of them all.
It all starts at 11 a.m. ET with the America East championship game between UMBC (yes, that UMBC) and Vermont. Sure, the Ivy League semifinals start at the same time, but you want to be watching a championship game where the winner goes to the NCAA Tournament and the loser goes home. After that, you have some decisions to make, with the Big Ten and the SEC leading the way with 1 p.m. semifinals.
Lucky for you, there are no bad options and we are here to help you pick the best of the best games to watch.
America East Championship Game: UMBC vs. Vermont, 11 a.m. ESPN2
The America East title game has always been a favorite of diehard basketball fans. It gets a standalone TV window before the big guys take the stage and has a long history of thrilling finals. To make it better, America East does its tournament right, putting the championship game on the campus of the higher seed. That means if Vermont wins, we’ll get a court-storming and, either way, a downright raucous atmosphere.
Odds: Vermont -15, O/U 142.5
SEC Semifinals: Arkansas vs. Texas A&M, 1 p.m., ESPN
This isn’t the matchup we were supposed to get, but it’s intriguing nevertheless. The Razorbacks have won six out of seven after dispatching of LSU in the quarterfinals, but the Aggies have given them problems this year. A&M won in College Station back in January and took Arkansas to overtime on the road a couple weeks later. Texas A&M has something to play for, too — before knocking off top-seeded Auburn, it was probably on the wrong side of the bubble. A win over another surefire tournament team would probably sew up a bid to the dance for Buzz Williams’ program.
Odds: Arkansas -6.5, O/U 138.5
Second Screen: Big Ten Semifinals: Indiana vs. Iowa, 1 p.m., CBS
SEC Semifinals: Kentucky vs. Tennessee, 3 p.m., ESPN
Might as well stay in the SEC for what could be the game of the day. Kentucky boasts the No. 4 offense in the country, per KenPom, and Tennessee counters with the third-best defense. When these two teams played in January, the offense ruled the day with Kentucky putting up 107 points in a 38-point win. In the rematch, Tennessee held the Wildcats to 63 points on 34% shooting. In other words, good luck betting the over or under in this game. It might be a better use of your time to just enjoy national player of the year candidate Oscar Tschiebwe — he’s had a double-double in every game he’s played since Jan. 22.
Odds: Kentucky -2, O/U 138.5
Second Screen: Big Ten Semifinals: Michigan State vs. Purdue, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Big East Championship Game: Creighton vs. Villanova, 6:30 p.m., FOX
The Big 12 championship might be the more even matchup, but Saturday night at MSG is about as strong a tradition as there is in college basketball. For the 40th time, the last two standing in the Big East will meet at the World’s Most Famous Arena. This year, it’s 4 seed Creighton and 2 seed Villanova, which was the betting favorite to win the tournament when it tipped off on Wednesday. The two teams met twice in the regular season and both games were blowouts, with each team clobbering the other at home. This one figures to be different, however. The Bluejays have won nine of their last 11 games and bludgeoned top-seed Providence on Friday. Villanova will be a somewhat comfortable favorite, but perhaps Wildcats fans shouldn’t get too comfortable.
Odds: Villanova -7.5, O/U 130
Second Screen: Big 12 Championship Game, Kansas vs. Texas Tech, 6 p.m., ESPN
ACC Championship Game: Duke vs. Virginia Tech, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
You might be tired of hearing about this by now, but Saturday will mark Mike Krzyzewski‘s final ACC Tournament game. In a season of “last evers,” this one is significant because Coach K has simply dominated this event since he got to Duke in 1980, winning it 15 times. To get No. 16, the Blue Devils will have to overcome a Virginia Tech team that just beat the same North Carolina Tar Heels that ruined Krzyzewski’s final home game. These two teams haven’t faced each other since Dec. 22 when Paolo Banchero had 23 points to lead Duke to an eight-point win.
Odds: Duke -6, O/U 138.5
Second Screen: Pac-12 Championship Game, Arizona vs. UCLA, 9 p.m., FOX
Big West Championship: Long Beach State vs. CS Fullerton, 11:30 p.m., ESPN2
This is another one that the diehards love to tune into. It’s the last game of Saturday and carries into the wee hours of Selection Sunday. Long Beach State went 12-3 in conference, and that includes an 11-game winning streak from mid-January to mid-February. Their coach? Dan Monson — the guy who got the ball rolling at Gonzaga in the late ’90s. On the other side, Fullerton finished just a game behind Long Beach and enters the title game coming off an impressive defensive effort against Hawaii, where it held the Warriors to just 27% shooting and 46 total points.
Odds: CS Fullerton -1.5, O/U 137
Second Screen: WAC Championship Game: Abilene Christian vs. New Mexico State, 10 p.m., ESPNU