The little guys have had their fun. Now, it's the big guys' turn.
While schools like St. Francis of Pennsylvania, Northeast Louisiana and Coastal Carolina assured themselves of NCAA berths Wednesday, several major conferences were preparing for their tournaments.The Big East, Metro, Southeastern and Southwest are among the conferences which begin their tournaments today, while the Atlantic Coast, Big Eight and Big West get under way on Friday.
Three more teams earned NCAA berths in Wednesday night's play-in games.
St. Francis, the Northeast Conference winner, downed Fordham, the Patriot Conference champion, 70-64 for its first-ever trip to the tournament. Northeast Louisiana of the Southland Conference ripped MEAC champ Florida A&M 87-63 and Coastal Carolina, the Big South titlist, won at Jackson State, the SWAC winner, 78-59, also earning its first NCAA berth.
In the semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, Middle Tennessee beat Eastern Kentucky 83-66 and Murray State downed Morehead State 89-61. San Diego State beat Air Force 58-51 in the opening round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
Georgia State beat Texas-San Antonio 94-84 and Arkansas-Little Rock took Centenary 80-63 in the Trans America tournament semifinals. Idaho beat Weber State 60-54 and Idaho State beat Boise State 73-69 in the opening round of the Big Sky tournament.
In the only Top 25 action, Purdue upset second-ranked Ohio State 72-67 and No. 25 DePaul defeated Miami of Florida 75-58. It was only the second loss of the season for Ohio State, which needs a victory over Iowa or a loss by second-place Indiana to win the Big Ten championship outright.
Three more NCAA berths will be decided tonight. Duquense visits Penn State for the Atlantic 10 title, Middle Tennessee faces Murray State for the Ohio Valley crown and Georgia State meets Arkansas-Little Rock for the Trans America championship.
The Big East tournament begins with Villanova, the eighth-place team, facing last-place Boston College at Madison Square Garden. The winner faces top-seeded and fourth-ranked Syracuse in Friday's quarterfinals.
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, whose team faces Georgetown on Friday, believes Syracuse is the favorite but that several other teams could win.
The opening game of the Southeastern Conference tournament pits Mississippi (9-18) against Tennessee.
NCAA play-in games
St. Francis, Pa. 70, Fordham 64
St. Francis of Pennsylvania raised its home record to 17-1 and made the NCAA tournament for the first time as Joe Anderson had 32 points for the Red Flash (24-7).
NE Louisiana 87, Florida A&M 63
Anthony Jones scored 21 points and had five key steals as Northeast Louisiana (24-7) routed visiting Florida A&M (17-13).
Coastal Carolina 78, Jackson St. 59
DuWayne Cheatam and Robert Dowdell each scored 19 points as visiting Coastal Carolina (24-7) led all the way to earned its first NCAA tournament.
Purdue 72, No. 2 Ohio State 67
Purdue improved its chances for an NCAA tournament berth by beating the Buckeyes for the sixth straight time at Mackey Arena.
Jimmy Oliver scored 27 points, including nine of Purdue's final 15 as the Boilermakers (16-11, 8-9) won their third straight game and fifth of their last six.
Ohio State (25-2, 15-2) missed a chance to lock up its first outright Big Ten title since 1971.
No. 25 DePaul 75, Miami, Fla. 58
Melvon Foster scored all 10 of his points during a 20-2 second-half run as DePaul beat Miami of Florida.
DePaul (19-8) has won 11 of its last 12 games and seven straight at home.