For basketball fans, "March Madness" is the biggest and most important time of the year. Teams have already begun to play their way to a conference championship and qualify for the NCAA Division One Men's and Women's Basketball Tournament.
The Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers and Lady Toppers are heading into this week's Conference USA Tournament with some major questions. Both teams entered last week's regular season finales with an opportunity to win their respective Conference USA regular season championships, but both suffered tough road losses.
The Hilltoppers lost Thursday, March 1 to No. 24 ranked Middle Tennessee State 82-64, and Saturday, March 3 101-73 to University of Alabama-Birmingham. The Lady Toppers lost on the road to Southern Mississippi 69-63 Thursday, March 1 and 80-75 at Texas-El Paso on Saturday, March 3.
In the men's tournament, the No. 3-seeded Hilltoppers will face the winner of Wednesday's game between No. 6-seeded Alabama-Birmingham (19-12 overall, 10-8 in conference) and No. 11-seeded Florida Atlantic (12-18 overall, 6-12 in conference) at 9 p.m. Thursday, March 8. 1220 WFKN Franklin radio will join the Hilltopper/IMG Big Red Radio Network for the broadcast of the game beginning at 8:30 p.m.
Western Kentucky's No. 3 seed is its highest finish in its four years in Conference USA, as well as its highest finish overall since earning the No. 2 seed in the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
The Hilltoppers (22-9 overall and 14-4 in Conference USA) enter the tournament with their most wins overall, as well as their most league victories since their 2008 and 2009 appearances in the Sun Belt Conference.
The winner of Western Kentucky's quarterfinal matchup will advance to the second semifinal game at 3 p.m. Friday, March 9, in a contest broadcast nationally by CBS Sports Network. The championship will take place on Saturday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. and will also air on the CBS Sports Network.
The Hilltoppers split their games against the Blazers this year, with a 77-69 victory in Bowling Green in January and a 101-73 loss in Birmingham on Saturday, March 3. The Hilltoppers defeated Florida Atlantic 75-63 at home Feb. 8. Western Kentucky has advanced to at least the semifinals in their respective league's tournament in 11 of the last 13 seasons. The team is 21-6 with four championships in the last 10 conference tournaments overall.
The Hilltoppers are paired in the bracket with the No. 2 seed Old Dominion (24-6 overall, 15-3 in conference) and will face the winner of Wednesday night's game featuring the No. 7 seed North Texas (15-16 overall, 8-10 in conference) and the No. 10 seed Louisiana Tech (16-15 overall, 7-11 in conference).
Middle Tennessee, the top seed (24-6 overall,16-2 in conference) will play the winner of the game between No. 8 seed Florida International (14-17 overall, 8-10 in conference) and the No. 9 seed Southern Mississippi (14-17 overall, 7-11 in conference).
The Blue Raiders are paired with Marshall, the No. 4 seed (21-10 overall,12-6 in conference) and will play the winner of the game between the No. 5 seed Texas-San Antonio (18-13 overall, 11-7 in conference) and the No. 12 seed Texas-El Paso (11-19 overall, 6-12 in conference).
The Lady Toppers, who are the defending Conference USA Tournament Champions, are 21-8 overall for the season, 12-4 in conference play and the No. 2 seed. They will face the winner of Wednesday's game featuring the No. 7 seed Florida Atlantic (13-14 overall, 7-9 in conference) and No. 10 seed Texas-San Antonio, (8-20 overall, 6-10 in conference) in one of four quarterfinal games at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Alabama-Birmingham (24-5 overall and 13-3 in the conference) matched the program record for wins in a single season while breaking their record for conference victories. The Blazers are celebrating their first regular-season championship since 1994 and have clinched an automatic bid for the 2018 WNIT. The program will make its first appearance as the top seed in an 11 a.m. quarterfinal game on Thursday and will play the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 8 seed Southern Mississippi (15-14 overall, 7-9 in conference) and No. 9 seed Texas-El Paso (16-13 overall, 7-9 in conference).
No. 3 seed Louisiana Tech, 19-10 overall and 10-6 in conference, will head into the tournament with four straight road victories. They will open the tournament against the winner between No. 6 seed Charlotte (14-15 overall, 10-6 in conference) and No. 11 seed North Texas (15-13 overall, 6-10 in conference) at 2 p.m. on Thursday.
Fourth-seed Middle Tennessee, 18-11 overall and 10-6 in conference, will also receive a bye into its quarterfinal matchup at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday as they will play the winner of No. 5 seed Rice (20-8 overall, 10-6 in conference) and No. 12 seed Old Dominion (8-22 overall, 6-10 in conference).
Semifinal games for the women's tournament are scheduled for Friday, March 9 at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the championship game scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10, and will also be broadcasted on the CBS Sports Network.
The NCAA Division One Men's Basketball Tournament Championship Selection Show is scheduled for Sunday, March 11 at 5 p.m.on SuperStation TBS. The NCAA Division One Women's Basketball Tournament Championship Selection Show is scheduled for Monday, March 12 at 6 p.m.on ESPN.