Will anyone win a ticket to the Big Dance?

DIVISION CHAMPS: The Lady Techsters clinched their C-USA West Division title Saturday at home.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

College basketball hits its peak this week with Division I conference tournaments being staged to identify the automatic entrants into next week’s March Madness, the NCAA Tournament.‘

A few leagues have already begun, and some have even finished, their events. In other divisions and affiliations, league tourneys have already happened. Locally, LSUS won the Red River Athletic Conference men’s title, Bossier Parish Community College won its first Region XIV Tournament men’s game in program history, and Centenary hung up the uniforms for the last time.

The LSU women were knocked out of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in their first game by Kentucky, who won the whole thing. Coach Kim Mulkey was not especially eager for her team to grind through the conference tourney while resting an injured starter, and got her druthers, not without blessing us with one of the season’s most dynamic protests while drawing a technical foul.

ULM’s men and women bowed out in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament last week.

As for the other state colleges of local interest, here are their outlooks:

LOUISIANA TECH

Who saw the Lady Techsters as the Conference USA West Division champions, especially after an 0-4 start to league play? Brooke Stoehr surely is a lock for CUSA Coach of the Year. Her Techsters earned a double bye in the C-USA Tournament and begins Thursday against Western Kentucky or UAB (Western is the likely survivor). Only the tournament winner from Frisco will make the NCAA field.

The Bulldogs have the goods to make a tournament run but there are some formidable teams ahead of them in the league. Kenneth Lofton Jr. and crew tip off the C-USA Tournament Wednesday against the FIU-Marshall winner, with Western Kentucky waiting in the quarterfinals of the 14-team bracket.

Like the other area leagues, this is also a do-or-cry tournament for the NCAAs, although on both sides, the best leftover C-USA teams, including both from Tech, will get other postseason opportunities.

NORTHWESTERN STATE

This is the time of year Mike McConathy’s Demons typically shine. This year’s team has shown flashes, but not consistency. Anybody can beat anybody on the men’s side of the Southland Conference but Northwestern will have to win four straight in Katy. McConathy’s tourney history is a plus: 13-3 in openers, and seven tournament title games. NSU opens against McNeese Wednesday night, then would face UNO. It split vs. those foes in the regular season.

The Lady Demons got the best win in two years under coach Anna Nimz in Saturday’s season finale, 56-51 over a Southeastern Louisiana team that beat NSU by 34 in the first meeting. SLU is next if NSU can put away a bad UNO team Tuesday evening. The Lady Demons hammered UNO once, and stumbled badly against the Privateers two weeks ago at home.

It’s Cinderella or season over for both NSU teams.

GRAMBLING

Very similar to the Northwestern State outlook, both Grambling teams have had their moments this season but navigating a three-step SWAC bracket path is unlikely, and there are no other postseason options.

The G-Men finished 9-9 in league play and meet third-seeded Southern Thursday afternoon in Birmingham. The Tigers swept their arch-rivals this season. Second-seeded Texas Southern is the likely semifinal foe.

The Grambling women are seeded seventh despite a 10-8 SWAC record. No. 2 Alabama A&M is the first-round foe, a team that split with Grambling and only beat them by 4 at home last week. But Jackson State is 18-0 in league play and the obvious favorite to go dancing.

LSU MEN

Will Wade’s Tigers have played one of the tougher schedules in the country, but they’re just 9-9 in the SEC. They don’t need to be one-and-done in the SEC Tournament, which might make Selection Sunday tense for LSU. They open against the Ole Miss-Mizzou winner (Ole Miss) on Thursday in Nashville.

Photo by KYLE KAVANAUGH