photo by Ray Acevedo, Valpo Athletics

The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 8 preview

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The NCAA Tournament doesn’t get going until March 19, but for the real college hoops fans, the days leading up to Selection Sunday is when the madness really begins. Over the next two weeks teams will fight for the postseason lives. Bubbles will burst and tickets will be punched, and Cinderellas will be born. This is the real March Madness.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

Here’s what to watch for on Tuesday.

Game of the Night: North Dakota State vs. South Dakota State
It’s a good ole fashioned border war in the Summit League finals as the Fightin’ Nate Wolters of South Dakota State take on the Fightin’ Taylor Brauns of North Dakota State. The two squads split the regular season series, with both teams holding serve on their home courts. SDSU likes to get out and run, NDSU wants to turn this into a dogfight.

Player to Watch: Ryan Broekhoff, Valparaiso
The senior forward has the driving force behind Valparaiso’s recent success during his collegiate career and is coming off of a 25-point performance against Green Bay in the Horizon League semifinals. But Broekhoff is still looking for his first trip to the NCAA dance. If he can put the Crusaders on his back once more, he will finally be able to get fitted for dancing shoes.

Miscellaneous Madness:
The Mountain West Conference tournament tips off tonight with Wyoming versus Nevada. Most of the pundits agree that the MWC tournament has the potential to be the most entertaining and unpredictable championship week event. Do not miss a minute of this.

Saturday Schedule:

Big East Conference First Round
7 p.m. – South Florida (13) vs. Seton hall (12)
9 p.m. – DePaul (14) vs. Rutgers (11)

Horizon League Finals
9 p.m. – Wright State (3) at Valparaiso (1) ESPN

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference First Round
4 p.m. – Coppin State (9) vs. Bethune-Cookman (8)
6:30 p.m. – Florida A&M (10) vs. North Carolina A&T (7)
9 p.m. – Howard (11) vs. Delaware State (6)

Mountain West Conference First Round
8 p.m. – Nevada (9) vs. Wyoming (8)

Northeast Conference Finals
7 p.m. – Mt. St. Mary’s (5) at LIU-Brooklyn (3) ESPN2

Summit League Finals
9 p.m. – North Dakota State (3) vs. South Dakota State (1)ESPN2

Western Athletic Conference First Round
9 p.m. – Seattle (10) vs. Texas State (7)
11:30 p.m. – UT-San Antonio (9) vs. San Jose State (8)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.