College basketball tourney tracker: Liberty looks like a potential Cinderella once again

Yahoo Sports
Liberty is heading back to the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/Lee Luther Jr.)
Liberty is heading back to the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/Lee Luther Jr.)

Between Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 15, 32 men’s college basketball teams of all shapes, pedigrees and sizes will celebrate championships. Thirty-two teams will secure invites to the 2020 NCAA tournament. They’ll do so in all sorts of fashions, some with blowouts, some with buzzer-beaters. And this, right here, will be your one-stop shop for all of them.

As March Madness hopefuls book their trips to the Big Dance, we’ll update this page with the most dramatic moments, the latest info, the best stories. After Sunday, five of 32 auto bids have been claimed

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Liberty, Bradley, Winthrop are dancing

Sunday didn’t quite match Saturday for drama. It did, however, offer up a couple potential Cinderellas. All three higher-seeded teams won. Two could be dangerous in the NCAA tourney.

One definitely will be. Liberty stomped Lipscomb in the Atlantic Sun final to reach 30 wins for the first time in program history and get back to the Big Dance. Last year, once there, the Flames ousted Mississippi State in a classic 12-5 upset. This year, with stars Scottie James and Caleb Homesly still in the mix, they’ll be a similarly tough out.

Elsewhere, Bradley beat Valparaiso to win the Missouri Valley. Which was hardly the best case scenario for the MVC, whose top three seeds all fell in the quarterfinals. The Braves are nowhere near the upset threat that Northern Iowa would have been. They did, however, give Michigan State all it could handle in a 2-15 game last year after a surprising Arch Madness run. With a more favorable draw this year, they could make more noise.

And finally, Winthrop topped Hampton in the Big South. None of the three games came down to final possessions. But Saturday gave us our fill.

Belmont’s backdoor magic

Belmont and Murray State have met five times in the Ohio Valley title game since the Bruins joined the conference back in 2013. Heading into Saturday, each had won twice. And heading into Saturday’s final 10 seconds, only one point separated them. It was Murray State 75, Belmont 74, clock at 9.5, NCAA tourney bid on the line.

And Belmont claimed it with an exquisite backdoor play to get Tyler Scanlon a title-winning layup:

These Bruins aren’t as good as last year’s squad, which nabbed an at-large bid and got legendary coach Rick Byrd the first NCAA tournament win of his 43-year career. Byrd then retired. Casey Alexander, who played under Byrd at Belmont in the 90s, took over. And with Byrd watching on from the stands Saturday, Alexander made the play-call of his life to reclaim the OVC crown.

Utah State stuns San Diego State in Mountain West

No. 1 of 32 was the winner of a Utah State-San Diego State Mountain West final with wide-ranging NCAA tourney implications. Utah State entered the showdown as a bubble team. San Diego State entered as a No. 1 seed.

The Aztecs left Las Vegas as a No. 2, because Utah State star Sam Merrill did this:

Merrill’s dagger shrunk the bubble by one spot, and confirmed the Aggies as our first Big Dance participant.

This page will be updated between now and Selection Sunday every time an automatic qualifier punches its ticket.

Utah State head coach Craig Smith twirls a cut-down net after his team's upset of San Diego State in the Mountain West title game. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Utah State head coach Craig Smith twirls a cut-down net after his team's upset of San Diego State in the Mountain West title game. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

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