5 Teams in Need of Good Conference Tournament Performances
We're finally here - conference tournament week. For many teams, this is their last shot at making the Big Dance. For others, they need a solid win or two to have a good enough resume to be selected as an at-large team. For the rest, it's all about seeding.
The selection committee will say that one week is no more important than another - early-season wins and momentum are just as much factors in a team's resume than conference tourney week. But it feels different, doesn't it? We're all guilty of being prisoners-of-the-moment at times, and why should we expect anything different from members of the selection committee?
That's what makes this week so exciting - anything can happen. Teams on the bubble can get in. A 2-28 team can make a movie-worthy conference tournament run and grab an NCAA Tournament bid.
Let's break down a handful of teams for which this week is a lot more important than others. These teams are on the bubble, and conference tournament time could make-or-break their seasons.
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Record: 23-8 (11-7)
nERD Rank: 18
numberFire Projected NCAA Tournament Seed: 12
First Conference Tournament Game: Thursday at 2:00 PM versus winner of Wake Forest and Notre Dame
Pitt is an interesting case study, as they have a respectable RPI rank (41) and an awesome nERD (18) and BPI rank (15). By the numbers, they should be an easy lock to make the tournament as an at-large team. So why are they on the bubble, and why do we project them as a 12-seed currently?
Well, it seems that the selection committee is going to put a lot of emphasis on quality wins. That's the one thing Pitt doesn't have - a win against a top-25 opponent. However, if you want to make a case for Pitt, you can look at fellow ACC team Virginia. They only have one (other than Pitt) top 25 win, and it came against a reeling Syracuse team last week. Other than that, they've lost all of their games against ranked teams - against VCU, Wisconsin, and Duke.
Further, Virginia has worse losses than Pittsburgh does, losing to both Maryland and Green Bay. Sure, Pitt doesn't have amazing wins that the committee wants, but their losses - Cincinnati, Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, Florida State, and NC State - are all respectable ones. The first four are currently ranked and the latter two have their own cases to get into the tournament. Not one of those is backbreaking, or at least they shouldn't be.
Pitt probably has enough to get in at the moment, but a win against either Wake Forest of Notre Dame would likely solidify that. A loss on Thursday? That would put them in a tough spot, and they'll likely sweat it out on Sunday evening.
Conference: Southeastern Conference
Record: 20-11 (11-7)
nERD Rank: 40
numberFire Projected NCAA Tournament Seed: 11
First Conference Tournament Game: Friday at ~3:30 PM (following the 1:00 PM game) versus winner of Arkansas and Auburn/South Carolina
Tennessee is in a similar place as Pitt in that they don't have that quality top-25 win the committee will be looking for. However, looking at their strength of schedule should give them a little more credit. While they lost to all of the ranked teams on their schedule - Wichita State, Kentucky, and Florida twice - all of them except the last Florida game were on the road.
They have certainly struggled at times in conference play, which won't bode well for them due to a down SEC conference this year. They dropped four of six in February, although all of those but the Florida game were on the road. That will be what their tournament resume comes down to - how much will they be penalized by the committee for their road losses in conference?
The last four games, for what it's worth, have been impressive. They beat Mississippi State on the road 75-68, destroyed Vanderbilt at home 76-38, did the same thing to Auburn on the road 82-54, and capped it off with a beat down of Missouri 72-45 this past Saturday.
To me, their resume is even more spotty than Pitt's, but we have them projected currently as an 11 seed in the Big Dance. However, I think if they drop their first game on Friday against either Arkansas, Auburn, or South Carolina, they'll be watching the tournament from home.
Conference: Big East Conference
Record: 17-13 (8-10)
nERD Rank: 57
numberFire Projected NCAA Tournament Seed: OUT
First Conference Tournament Game: Wednesday at 9:30 PM versus DePaul
Georgetown is a weird team. Just looking down their schedule this season, they're one of the most up-and-down squads in the nation. Take last week for example: they play great and upset #13 Creighton by 12, then a couple days later lose by 18 to #6 Villanova. They went through a stretch in January where they lost five straight, then their next game, they beat #7 Michigan State.
The one stat that works in Georgetown's favor is their strength of schedule, sitting at ninth in the nation. They have played seven top-25 teams (at the time, more if you count currently) this year, and while they're 3-4 in those games, they should still be rewarded for their schedule. Many top teams in big conferences won't schedule hard out-of-conference games, but Georgetown did with Oregon, VCU, and Kansas.
Georgetown currently sits at seventh in their conference, and at 8-10 on the year, that may not cut it for an at-large bid. They'll face off against DePaul tomorrow, who they already swept this year. If they win that game, they'll have another rematch with Doug McDermott and Creighton. As mentioned before, they beat them just last week.
That game will likely determine their season. If they can get another upset against Creighton, that may be enough to push them into the field. A loss tomorrow will almost definitely mean NIT.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Conference: Big Ten Conference
Record: 19-12 (8-10)
nERD Rank: 48
numberFire Projected NCAA Tournament Seed: 13
First Conference Tournament Game: Thursday at 6:30 PM versus Penn State
The Golden Gophers have had one of the most difficult schedules in the nation this season. They went through a stretch in January where they played four straight ranked opponents - #5 Michigan State, #11 Ohio State, #14 Iowa, and #9 Wisconsin. They managed to split that tough stretch 2-2, but then immediately lost three in a row to lesser opponents in Nebraska, Northwestern, and Purdue.
They went through the same hard stretch the last two weeks, but ended their regular season with a victory over Penn State, who will be their first-round opponent on Thursday in the Big Ten Conference tournament.
Their resume is iffy. They have some quality wins, and one of the best strength of schedule ranks. However, their impressive SOS is more due to the top of the Big Ten, rather than scheduling top non-conference teams. Syracuse was the only sure-fire tournament team they played in their non-conference schedule, and they lost to them at home.
Over their last 15 games (pretty much once they hit conference play), they are 6-9. We have them projected as a 13-seed right now and barely getting in, but that could easily not happen. If they can take down #12 Wisconsin on Friday after beating Penn State? That's a different story.
Conference: Southeastern Conference
Record: 21-10 (10-8)
nERD Rank: 29
numberFire Projected NCAA Tournament Seed: OUT
First Conference Tournament Game: Thursday at ~3:30 PM (following the 1:00 PM game) versus winner of Auburn and South Carolina
We have the Razorbacks ranked in the top-30 in nERD, yet they find themselves out of our projected tournament right now. Part of that, like Minnesota, is due to their non-conference schedule - they only played one top-25 team, Gonzaga at home, and lost by 10.
Starting conference play, they lost six of their first eight games, even though one of their wins was against #13 Kentucky. However, after that miserable start to SEC conference play, they really turned things around. They then went on to win eight of their last 10, with their only losses coming on the road against Missouri and Alabama.
Speaking of that Alabama loss - that may really come back to bite them this Sunday. One of the factors the committee looks at is a team's last 10 games, and Arkansas was one of the hottest teams in that stretch, including an overtime win over #17 Kentucky at Rupp Arena. But losing to a bad Alabama team by 25 in the last game of the season? That hurts. Bad.
The Razorbacks will get a chance at redemption on Thursday when they play either Auburn or South Carolina, teams they've already beaten this year. Just one win won't cut it though, and it may take two or three depending on who they face on Friday and possibly Saturday. If they want to breathe easy on Sunday, they'll most likely need to beat both Tennessee and probably Kentucky again.