Championship week is upon us, and The Sports Fan Journal has you covered with everything you need to know. From which conference tournaments will provide the best entertainment to which league has the most at stake, we give you all the information you need as the Madness gets underway.
The ACC was expected to be the deepest conference in the country, and it did not disappoint. The conference is currently projected to get 10 bids to the NCAA Tournament, while a couple of teams remain on the fringe, hoping a deep run can move them off the bubble and into the field of 68.
The depth of the ACC will lead to an exciting and important tournament. Teams like Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson will have ample opportunities to get key wins in the loaded field. Unlike some conference tournaments that feature meaningless early games or top seeds beating down bottom-feeders, the ACC will feature intense, meaningful basketball right from the start. Georgia Tech finds itself in an opening match-up with Pitt, a team that has managed wins over Virginia, Syracuse and Florida State. Meanwhile, Clemson opens against N.C. State, which beat Virginia Tech and Duke. You won’t have to wait for the later rounds to see uber-important basketball in the ACC.
Adding to the entertainment value of this tournament is the bevy of big-time match-ups likely from the quarterfinals through the championship. North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State will all be awaiting their match-ups as they look to improve their seeding.
Finals prediction: UNC over FSU
The Big 10 season got off to a chaotic start, as injuries and surprises turned the standings upside down. Since the tumultuous start, some normalcy has returned to the conference. But there are still questions to be answered.
This tournament gets particularly interesting on day 2. The second round will feature two teams desperately clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes (Illinois and Iowa) and two teams who expect to be dancing that wouldn’t mind a win or two to strengthen their position (Michigan State and Northwestern).
Illinois will face Michigan, while Iowa gets Indiana. A devastating loss to Rutgers greatly damaged Illinois’ NCAA hopes, but a win over Michigan will earn them a date with regular season champion Purdue and an opportunity to make a statement. Meanwhile an Iowa victory over Indiana would set up a showdown with Wisconsin, and the Hawkeyes have to feel that getting those two wins pushes them off the bubble.
Northwestern is looking to earn the first NCAA Tournament bid in school history, and the Wildcats are feeling good at 21-10. They await the winner of Rutgers-Ohio State, and a victory in that game should ensure their invite. Michigan State has a lot to lose, as many expect them to be in the field of 68. However, at 18-13, a few wins in the conference tournament would ease the tension on Selection Sunday. A loss to the Penn State-Nebraska winner could disrupt the Spartans’ dancing plans (Michigan State lost to Penn State during the season).
Prediction: Purdue over Maryland
The Big 12 looks to have five teams solidly in the field of 68: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. A decent showing from Kansas State could earn them an invite, while Texas Tech clings to faint tournament hopes, although anything short of a run to the final is probably not enough for them. Despite wins over West Virginia, Kansas State and Baylor, a 6-12 conference record will be tough to overcome.
Texas Tech opens against last-place Texas, and a victory over the Longhorns would set up a meeting with West Virginia. Should the Red Raiders get those two victories, they can at least start to entertain hopes of being invited to the Big Dance. Kansas State opens in the quarterfinals against Baylor, a team they defeated in the regular season. A win in that matchup combined with at least a solid showing in the semifinals might be enough to get them off the bubble.
Kansas will look to put an exclamation point on their record thirteenth-straight regular season title, while Baylor and West Virginia aim to improve their seeding.
Prediction: Kansas over West Virginia
Things got off to a great start in the Big East with Villanova and Xavier occupying the AP Top 10. Creighton eventually found their way to the top 10 as well, while Butler put together an impressive resume. Perhaps more impressive than the performance at the top of the league has been the action in the middle of the pack. Ed Cooley has done an excellent job guiding Providence through the losses of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, and Seton Hall and Marquette have put together impressive campaigns. The Big East has a chance at sending 70% of their 10-team league to the tournament. But there is still work to be done.
Xavier has been in a freefall since losing Edmund Sumner to injury. The Musketeers have gone just 1-6 in their last seven games, and have gone from the preseason top 10 to being the team with the most to gain in Big East Tournament play. Xavier will open against DePaul. A loss in that game could put an end to the Musketeers' NCAA hopes. A win would set up a date with Butler and an opportunity to secure an invite.
Marquette and Providence would also feel much more comfortable with another win or two, and each have interesting opening games. Marquette opens against Seton Hall, with whom they split the series with in the regular season. Providence will get Creighton. Those teams split in the regular season as well. Each of those games will have major implications.
Prediction: Butler over Villanova
The Pac-12 was incredibly strong at the top, with Oregon, UCLA and Arizona all expecting top-three seeds in the NCAA Tournament. USC, Cal and Utah each have legitimate NCAA hopes.
Utah has earned a bye into the quarterfinals. USC will open against Washington, where a victory would set up a showdown with UCLA. Cal kicks things off against Oregon State, and a win would send them into a huge matchup with Utah.
While Utah, USC and Cal look to strengthen their NCAA hopes, Oregon, UCLA and Arizona are fighting to bump their seed up to a two, and more importantly for the right to stay home in the West Region.
Prediction: Oregon over UCLA
The SEC was expected to be Kentucky and then everyone else. Although the Wildcats won the regular season title with a two-game cushion, the league produced more quality than expected. The conference is looking at four teams solidly in the field of 68, with four more with some hope of playing their way in.
Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina all appear to be safely in the field. That leaves Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Alabama fighting for their tournament lives. Georgia will have the toughest time, as an opening round victory over Tennessee would lead to a matchup with top-seeded Kentucky. Many think Vandy will be in the field, but a win over Texas A&M to start the tournament would give them a boost, as would a strong showing against Florida in the quarterfinals.
Ole Miss and Alabama are a bit more interesting. At 19-12, the record looks solid for Ole Miss, but they lack a signature win. The Rebels are 67th in RPI and 64th in SOS. This could be problematic come Selection Sunday. But they have a more favorable opportunity to do damage in the SEC Tournament. They will await the winner of Auburn-Missouri, with Arkansas waiting in the quarterfinals.
Alabama finds itself in a similar situation. The Crimson Tide sit at 17-13, and just 88th in RPI and 83rd in SOS. They clearly have work to do, but will have a chance to make it happen. Alabama awaits the LSU-Mississippi State winner, and would be looking at a quarterfinal matchup with South Carolina. Should they be able to win both those games, a likely meeting with Kentucky in the semifinals would give the Crimson Tide an opportunity to state their case.
Prediction: Kentucky over Arkansas
There should be plenty of entertainment as the conference tournaments get underway this week. The big dogs will battle for NCAA Tournament seeding as they try to add hardware to the trophy case. Bubble teams will aim for some resume-padding wins as they look to play their way into the tournament and ease some Selection Sunday tension. On the flip side, teams that had seasons go awry will leave it all on the floor as they make one final push to steal a postseason berth. Enjoy the Madness and be sure to check back with The Sports Fan Journal for everything you need to know heading into the Tournament.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.