By Ed Greif
Today is March 1, which means March Madness is just around the corner and the beginning of conference tournaments. Conference tournament champions get automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament or "big dance," as many call it.
With wins over Florida (12-3, 22-5) and Auburn (3-12, 9-19), Tennessee (9-6, 17-10) and Alabama (11-4, 19-9) improved their resumes and position in the SEC tournament, which begins March 13 in Nashville.
SEC teams have three or four games remaining to improve their position for post-season, as the top four teams get double byes in the 14-team tournament. A lower seeded team has to win five-straight games to earn the championship. Some say no more than three SEC teams will make the NCAA Tournament.
These conferences received automatic bids are American East, ACC, Atlantic Sun, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big Sky, Big South, Big 10, Big 12, Big West, Colonial Atlantic, Conference USA, Great West, Horizon League, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Northeast, OVC, PAC-12, Patriot League, SEC, Southern, Southland, SWAC, Summit League, SunBelt, West Coach and WAC. The Great West didn't have any women's teams listed.
With conference re-alignment, some of these conferences will change, especially the SunBelt, Conference USA and Big East, which is losing seven non-football schools into a separate conference.
The NCAA women's tournament has 31 automatic bids and 33 at-large bids. There may be more women's teams qualify from the SEC to the "big dance" than men's.
Kayla Christopher and her UTC Lady Moc teammates (18-1, 25-3) are going to be top seeds in the SoCon Tournament after notching another regular season championship. Davidson (15-3, 18-10) and Appalachian State (12-5, 18-7) should get at-large bids to the tournament with good runs in the SoCon Tournament.
What helps the Lady Mocs is wins over Tennessee, Alabama and UAB.
Expect Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M to punch their tickets to the "big dance," while Vanderbilt, MTSU, Belmont, UT-Martin and Tennessee Tech could earn bids with good runs in the post-season tournaments.
The regular season SEC women's champion is going to be determined this week, as the Lady Vols face both Texas A&M and Kentucky. They win one or both Holly Warlick's team is the regular season champion.
The basketball teams from both CCHS and SMHS ended their seasons in region tournaments.
Coach Neil Capps' SMHS Panthers went the farthest, losing to Knox Fulton Tuesday night in the Region 2AA semi-finals. Capps loses two seniors — Brock Rowan and Matt Troino, who have two state tournament berths to their credit. He will have four starters back — Gage Spence, Luke Matthews, Justin Simmons and Tyler Yoder.
Coach John Walker's Lady Panthers lost to Gatlinburg-Pittman in the region opener last Friday. He, too, has two seniors, Makayla Kington and Emily Bryant.
Coach Will Foster's Jets lost to Cleveland last Saturday in the Region 3AAA opener. Seniors Tayler Houston, Bryan Young, Jon Elmore, Cameron O'Rourke, Dylan Qualls and Stephen Thompson, director of basketball operations, have two district championships to their credit.
Coach Radhika Miller's Lady Jets lost to Bradley Central in the region opener, but she will have one junior, six sophomores and 10 freshmen returning next year. Sloane VanWinkle was the lone senior.
A big change next season will be in District 6AAA, which gains Rhea County and SMHS, while losing Coffee County to District 8AAA with Tullahoma, Columbia Central, Franklin County, Lawrence County, Shelbyville and Lincoln County.
With SMHS' move to 6AAA, District 4AA has just five teams —Kingston, Alcoa, Christian Academy of Knoxville, Knox Catholic and Scott County. Loudon moved into District 5AA with Collegedale Academy, McMinn Central, Polk County, Sequoyah and Sweetwater.
East Hamilton replaced Rhea County in District 5AAA.
Spring sports practice for baseball, softball, boys soccer, tennis and track and field is now under way at both CCHS and SMHS. The regular season starts the week of March 11, weather permitting. This will be the final season for both schools to play in their current districts.
The Cumberland County junior cross country league will be opening their season in March. The league is sending students to both high school cross country programs. Both high schools have elementary baseball teams. CCHS is having a middle school softball team.
(Ed Greif is the Chronicle sports editor and his column appears periodically.)