2021 NCAA Tournament automatic bids: Rick Pitino a game away from Big Dance, has Iona in conference title game

The number of teams with automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament clinched will more than double on Saturday as 15 conferences are scheduled to crown tournament champions on what should be a wild day in the sport. Entering the day, 11 tickets to the Big Dance had already been punched, but that tally will rise rapidly, starting with the America East Tournament title game in the morning

By the time the Big West crowns a champion late Saturday night, 26 teams will have their names in ink among the 68 teams that will ultimately comprise the NCAA Tournament field. The final five conferences will then provide champions on Sunday, leading into Selection Sunday on CBS when 37 at-large bids are announced. One of the weekend’s particularly compelling storylines will be in the MAAC.

When Rick Pitino was fired at Louisville before the 2017-18 season amid an FBI probe involving the program, it seemed a likely bet that he would never coach a team in the NCAA Tournament again. But after his No. 9 seed Iona Gaels knocked off No. 5 seed Niagra 70-64 in a MAAC Tournament semifinal game on Friday, Pitino is just one win away from returning to the Big Dance.

The Gaels will play in the MAAC championship game on Saturday against No. 7 seed Fairfield. If Iona wins, Pitino will join Lon Kruger and Tubby Smith as one of only three coaches to ever lead five programs to the NCAA Tournament.

While Pitino deserves credit for guiding the Gaels this far in his first season at the helm, it’s a program plenty familiar with postseason success. Iona made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances between 2016 and 2019 under former coach Tim Cluess, whose resignation due to health reasons opened the door for Pitino to return to the Division I ranks.

Iona played just 13 regular season games to enter the conference tournament with an 8-5 record, and their spot as the No. 9 seed in the MAAC Tournament was a bit misleading. Instead of seeding its teams based on conference winning percentage like most leagues, the MAAC opted to seed teams by their total number of league victories. That meant Iona was relegated to No. 9 of 11 teams in the bracket and missed out on a first-round bye. The Gaels began their run with a win over No. 8 seed Quinnipiac on Tuesday and knocked off No. 1 seed Siena Wednesday to reach Friday’s semifinal round. Now, they have a chance to win it all.

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We’re keeping up with the various tournament schedules and automatic qualifiers here as the madness of March begins to heat up.

Friday’s conference tournament schedule, scores

All times ET

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2021 conference tournament schedules

Conference Tournament site Dates Championship Game, Time, TV AAC Fort Worth, Texas March 11-14 March 14, 3:15 p.m., ESPN ACC Greensboro, N.C. March 9-13 March 13, 8:30 p.m., ESPN America East Campus sites Feb. 27-28, March 6,13 March 13, 11 a.m., ESPN2 Atlantic 10 Richmond,/DaytonMarch 3-6, 14 March 14, 1 p.m., CBS ASUN Jacksonville, Fla.March 3-7 Liberty (23-5) Big East New York March 10-13March 13, 6:30 p.m. FOX Big Sky Boise, Idaho March 10-13 March 13, 8 p.m., ESPNU Big South Campus sites Feb. 27, March 1,4,7 Winthrop (23-1) Big Ten Indianapolis March 10-14 March 14, 3:30 p.m., CBS Big 12 Kansas City March 10-13 March 13, 6 p.m., ESPN Big West Anaheim March 9, 11-13 March 13, 11:30 p.m., ESPN2 Colonial Washington D.C. March 6-9 Drexel (12-7) Conference USA Frisco, Texas March 9-13March 13, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network Horizon League Indianapolis Feb. 25, March 2, 8-9 Cleveland State (19-7) Ivy League

No Tournament in 2021 MAAC Atlantic City, N.J. March 9-13March 13, 4 p.m., ESPNU MAC Cleveland, Ohio March 11-13 March 13, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2 MEAC Norfolk, Va. March 11-13 March 13, 1 p.m., ESPN2 Missouri Valley St. Louis March 4-7 Loyola Chicago (24-4) Mountain West Las Vegas March 10-13March 13, 6 p.m., CBS Northeast Campus sites March 6 & 9 Mount St. Mary’s (12-10) Ohio Valley Evansville, Ind. March 3-6 Morehead State (23-7) Pac-12 Las Vegas March 10-13 March 13, 10:30 p.m., ESPN Patriot Campus sites March 3, 6, 10 & 14March 14, Noon, CBS Sports Network SEC Nashville, Tenn. March 10-14 March 14, 1 p.m., ESPN Southern Asheville, N.C March 5-8 UNCG (21-8) Southland Katy, Texas March 9-13 March 13, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2 Summit Sioux Falls, S.D. March 6-9 Oral Roberts (16-10) Sun Belt Pensacola, Fla. March 5-8 Appalachian State (17-11) SWAC Birmingham, Ala. March 10-13 March 13, 6 p.m., ESPNU WAC Las Vegas March 10-13 March 13, 10 p.m., ESPNU West Coast Las Vegas March 4-6 & 8-9 Gonzaga (26-0)

Published: 2021-03-13 13:46:11

Tags: #NCAA #Tournament #automatic #bids #Rick #Pitino #game #Big #Dance #Iona #conference #title #game

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