By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
CHAMPIONSHIP Week is the prelude to the NCAA Tournament’s “Selection Sunday” with several Bahamians and their respective universities attempting to earn automatic bids into the eventual 68-team field.
Conference tournament winners earn an automatic bid to the tournament, while nationally ranked teams and contenders traditionally earn at large bids.
Two Bahamians were in action last night in conference tournament play, while others were eliminated last week and the final group begins play in their respective brackets today.
After he claimed his litany of awards Monday, Deandre Ayton and the Arizona Wildcats begin defence of their PAC-12 title to add to their tournament résumé which already includes the conference’s regular season title.
The nationally ranked No.15/17 Wildcats are the top seed in the PAC-12 bracket and will face the winner of the Arizona State Sun Devils/Colorado Rams matchup at 2pm local time today in the quarter-final round at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Arizona comes into the tournament with the momentum of the programme’s fourth regular season conference title in the last five years and the fifth in nine seasons for head coach Sean Miller.
Ayton claimed the PAC-12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honours. He was also named to the All-Conference First Team, All-Defensive Team and All-Freshman Team.
He finished the regular season ranked in the top five of the conference in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocks. He was a two-time Pac-12 Player of the Week after numerous record-breaking performances and averaged 19.9 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
Dwight Coleby and Western Kentucky are the third seeded team in the Conference-USA tournament, which began yesterday.
They will face the winner of the UAB Blazers/ FAU Owls matchup tonight at 10pm local time.
The Hilltoppers’ quarter-final matchup on tonight will be streamed online on Facebook via Stadium from Ford Center at The Star, the training facility of the Dallas Cowboys.
The third seeded ranking is the highest for the Hilltoppers during their C-USA tenure.
With a win, the Hilltoppers can advance to the semi-final on Friday which will be broadcast live at 3pm on CBS. The C-USA championship will be hosted March 10 at 7:30pm, also carried live on CBS.
Nathan Bain and the Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks also have a first round bye in Southland Conference tournament.
They are ranked No.3 in the tournament and will face the winner of the Lamar/Central Akansas matchup tonight at 8:30pm at the Leonard E Merrell Center in Katy, Texas.
Travis Munnings, Calvin Anderson and the ULM Warhawks opened play in the Sun Belt conference tournament last night against Shaquillo Fritz and the Arkansas State Red Wolves. However, results were unavailable up to press time.
The Warhawks, ranked sixth in the bracket, faced the 11th seeded Arkansas State in a rematch of the regular season finale last week. “It’s a tough loss, but you have to move on to the next day,” Munnings said to ULMWarhawks.com following the loss to the Redwolves. “We can’t keep this on our mind and beat ourselves up over this game. We’ve got a good chance to go to the tournament and win four games. We’ve just got to stay locked in and stay true to our team.”
Munnings was named a Second Team All Sunbelt selection and leads ULM in scoring (16.2 points per game), rebounding (7.2 per game) and minutes played (34.3 per game). He ranks among the Sun Belt leaders in minutes played (third), field-goal percentage (sixth at .460), rebounding (eighth), scoring (10th) and 3-point field goals made (10th at 2.2 pg.).
Munnings played as well as anyone down the stretch, averaging 19.0 points and 8.2 rebounds over the last 11 games as ULM posted an 8-3 record over the last six weeks of the regular season. He has led the team in rebounding 14 times and scoring 11 times.
“We just need to continue to do what got us this far,” Munnings said. “Shoot the ball with confidence and get our groove back. Once we get our defence back right, we should be good.”
The winner will move on to face Georgia Southern on Friday.
In the head coaching ranks, Yolett McPhee-McCuin, Shlonda Neely and the Jacksonville Dolphins hosted the North Florida Ospreys in the Atlantic Sun semi-finals last night. Results were unavailable up to press time.
The Dolphins have earned a trip to the ASUN Tournament in each of the last five years under head coach McPhee-McCuin, and it is the second time in the past three years that the Dolphins have been the second seed in the bracket.
Other Bahamian players have already completed their conference tournament runs.
Lashann Higgs and the nationally ranked No.8 Texas Longhorns lost to the No.2 ranked Baylor Bears Big 12 Tournament final, 93-87. Higgs finished with six points and three rebounds.
Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr and the nationally ranked No.2 Michigan State Spartans were upset in the Big 10 semi-finals with a 27-7 loss to the Michigan Wolverines.
Both the Spartans and Longhorns are assured at large bids to the tournament once the field is announced on Sunday.
Charles Bain and the Robert Morris Colonials lost in the Northeast conference semi-finals, 75-64 to Wagner. Jaron Cornish and the Stony Brook Seawolves suffered a 70-51 loss to the Vermont Catamounts in the America East Tournament and Lynrick Moxey and the Western Illinois Leatherniecks lost to South Dakota State, 66-60 in the opening round of the Summit League Tournament.