On to the conference tournaments!
Well, most conferences still have one week of the regular season left to play, with eleventh hour games to try to secure a bid, or climb the seed ladder. But the real excitement begins as conferences begin playing for the auto-bid in their league. Win or go home for most small conferences may mean ecstasy or heartbreak at the end of each game. For some players, this may be the last time they ever compete again. The last shot at making the Big Dance. The last shot at March glory.
Over the next two weeks, teams will get knocked out while the winners punch their tickets. Will we have schools make the tournament for the first time ever? Will a player catch fire and lead their team to the conference crown? So many tournament! So many story lines! The NCAA tournament is still weeks away, but the madness has begun!
ACC: Locks – Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Louisville, Syracuse Should be in – North Carolina State Work to do – Clemson
Syracuse had three huge opportunities in a row and went 0-3. Yet, I’m locking the Orange into the bracket due to the weakness of the bubble behind them. With just a game against Clemson left, the Tigers really need the W more than Syracuse. Even if the Orange lose that game and drop their first in the tournament, they have probably done enough to stay in the field. Clemson really needs the win over Syracuse, and probably another in the ACC tournament to add to their ONE good win on the season.
Big 12: Locks – Kansas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor Should be in – Oklahoma Work to do – TCU, Texas
Texas and TCU both had opportunities to knock off the co-Big 12 leaders yesterday and both fell woefully short. Texas sits at 16-14, which is an awful record and most years would mean they have no chance. TCU had lost six of their last seven to tumble to the cut line as well. And look at that, they get to face each other in the season finale! The team that loses that match-up is in serious jeopardy of missing the tournament.
Big East: Lock – Marquette, Villanova Should be in – St. John’s Work to do – Seton Hall, Creighton, Georgetown, Xavier
St. John’s has now lost three of their last four games and all three losses came against unlikely tournament teams. Most bracketologists have the Johnnies in a much more precarious position, but I think their 3-1 record against Villanova and Marquette will carry them into the tournament. The Big East tournament will have huge bubble implications, as they have St. John’s and Seton Hall just within the bracket, while Georgetown, Creighton, Xavier, and maybe even Butler all have a chance to play themselves into the field.
Big Ten: Locks – Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa Work to do – Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana
If Minnesota can beat Purdue tonight, they will feel a lot safer about their chances of making the tournament. Indiana is back into the bubble watch thanks to their season sweep over Michigan State. The Hoosiers have a terrible record, but are sitting on six Quadrant 1 victories, which probably carries a lot of weight with the committee. If they can win a couple more games in the Big Ten tournament, they may play themselves into the field.
Pac-12: Should be in – Washington Work to do – Arizona State
Not much to say about the Pac-12, and that pretty much sums up the conference as a whole this year.
SEC: Locks – Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn Should be in – Ole Miss Work to do – Florida, Alabama
Auburn finally picked up a second Quad 1 win against Mississippi State and should feel good about their chances. Florida had won five straight before their streak was snapped against lowly Georgia. The Gators need to make sure that loss doesn’t carry over, but have a chance to pick up two major wins against LSU and Kentucky before the SEC tournament. Alabama needs to win both their games against Auburn and Arkansas to position themselves within the field.
American: Lock – Houston, Cincinnati Work to do – UCF, Temple
UCF passed their first test in emphatic fashion by taking down Houston. They still get Cincinnati and Temple to close out the regular season and can start playing their way up the seed ladder. Temple is still hanging onto their lone good win against Houston, which lost a bit of its luster thanks to UCF. Unlike some brackets that have the Owls as one of the last teams in the field, I think they have a lot more work to do to be considered.
Others: Locks – Gonzaga, Nevada, Buffalo, Wofford Work to do – Utah State, VCU, Lipscomb, Furman, Murray State
Wofford finished the regular season without a loss in the Southern conference. The Terriers are likely to make the field even if they don’t nab the auto-bid. Speaking of the Southern conference, the top four teams (should they all make the semis) should make for one of the best semi-finals of any conference in basketball. Utah State grabbed the biggest win of the season by beating Nevada and now has a resume more similar to UCF and VCU, two other teams with few losses, but really just one big win to their names.
First Four Out: Indiana, Creighton, Furman, Murray State
*Large conference winners are in bold.
16. Norfolk State/Prairie View
5. Mississippi State
13. Old Dominion
7. Iowa State
15. Wright State
16. Sam Houston State
9. Utah State
5. Florida State
11. Arizona State
3. Texas Tech
2. Michigan State
4. Virginia Tech
14. South Dakota State
10. Ohio State
2. North Carolina
16. Iona/St. Francis (PA)
8. Ole Miss
12. Clemson/Seton Hall
4. Kansas State
13. UC Irvine
11. St. John’s
10. NC State
15. Georgia State