College Basketball: 5 Things to Know for Conference Tournament Week
The madness before the madness is here.
Nothing in sports can top the excitement and drama of the NCAA Tournament. But the week before it all begins, specifically, the six days that begin today and last through Selection Sunday, come close.
Over the next week, nearly every waking (and some non-waking) hour will be filled with postseason basketball games and various consequences. Automatic bids are on the line. Bubble teams are looking to add quality wins to their resumés. Others are looking to improve their seed line.
While the Big Dance might not begin until next week, the postseason is very much alive right here, right now. In a small way, each game played from now until the end of the year will have at least some impact on who ends up cutting down the nets in Houston on April 4. And that's pretty cool.
So, what should you be watching for across the final six days of Championship Week? We break it all down below.
Bubble Teams Should Root For Saint Mary's
In recent years, teams on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament have grown used to rooting for Gonzaga to win their conference tournament. Because the Bulldogs were going to make the field of 68 regardless of whether or not they had the WCC's automatic bid, bubble teams needed them to win the WCC Tournament to avoid a bid-stealer coming out of the league.
This year, it is Saint Mary's who is locked into the NCAA Tournament, while Gonzaga is currently on the wrong side of the bubble for an at-large bid. A Gael win in tonight's conference title game should allow one of those bubble teams to go dancing over Mark Few's club, but it is possible that both of them make it regardless of tonight's result.
Oregon State Can't Afford A Bad Loss
The Beavers appear to be in great position to grab their first bid since 1990 -- our latest Bracketology sees them as an 8 seed -- but they will have to avoid a bad loss against Arizona State on Wednesday to avoid a long wait until Selection Sunday. Oregon State has a top-30 RPI and has played the seventh toughest schedule in the country, but that 9-9 record in Pac-12 play is the reason for their spot on the bubble.
Wayne Tinkle and company could very well hear their names called regardless of what happens against the Sun Devils, but a second loss to the conference's second-worst team would not look good. They will be looking for revenge after getting blown out against Arizona State, 86-68, back on January 28 in Tempe.
The Winner of Syracuse-Pittsburgh Should Avoid Dayton
It's not often that ACC second-round games carry a lot of significance for two teams in one game, but the Syracuse-Pittsburgh matchup on Wednesday afternoon is the exception.
The winner of this one will not only clinch a quarterfinal berth but should slide safely into the field of 68. Expect the loser to make the NCAA Tournament still, but don't be surprised if they have to play in Dayton early next week as part of the "First Four." Our algorithms see both teams making the field of 68 as of now but Syracuse playing to get into the field of 64.
LSU Could Be That Team
Every few years or so, there is a power conference team that comes out of nowhere to win their tournament and sneak into the Big Dance. It's not that far-fetched to say LSU is this year's team.
The Tigers have superstar Ben Simmons, of course, and are as healthy as they have been all year. If the bracket holds to form, they would face Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and Kentucky en route to a championship -- all three teams the Tigers have already beaten this season.
The MAC Tournament Is Crazy Competitive
#MACtion isn't just limited to football. The conference's worst two teams have already won their first-round games, and we should expect the trend of craziness to continue into the later rounds. The MAC provided some of the most entertaining mid-major basketball throughout the regular season if only because each and every team could win on any given night, and there's no reason that will stop in the conference tournament.
Akron enters the week with the top seed and a bit of an advantage because the tournament is being played in Cleveland, but don't count out 3 seed and defending champion Buffalo.