Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NCAA Conference Tournament Preview Part 2

Championship Week is in full swing, with a number of teams that have already punched their tickets to the Big Dance. While last week was all about the little guys, teams from One-Big Leagues earning their way into the Dance, this week is about the big boys. All of the major conferences have their tournaments this week, and since 4 of the last 5 National Champions have won their conference tournament, this week will be a good indication of who is peaking at the right time.

March 10-13

Top Seeds: UNC, Duke

Outlook: At the beginning of the season, Duke and UNC were both considered Top 10 teams. UNC struggled out of the gate and since the installation of Kendall Marshall at point guard, have become that Top-10 team they were projected to be early in the year. Florida St, Boston College, Clemson, and Virginia Tech are still fighting for their NCAA tournament lives. Florida St should be in, but BC, Clemson and VaTech all need wins in the ACC Tournament to ensure their spots in the field.

Big East
New York
March 8-12

Top Seeds: Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse

Outlook: The Big East has been the best conference in basketball this year. Period. Right now, there are 11 teams with a legitimate shot to make the NCAA Tournament. Most of these teams are just fighting for seeding. Pitt should be a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament regardless of how they play in New York. Notre Dame could find themselves on the top line on Selection Sunday if they hoist the trophy this weekend. If you're looking for a sleeper, watch out for St. John's. The Johnnies will be playing in front of a favorable home crowd and were 12-3 in Madison Square Garden this season.

Big Ten
March 10-13

Top Seeds: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin

Outlook: Ohio St is playing better than anyone in the nation right now, but the story here is in the middle of the bracket. 4- and 5-seeds Michigan and Illinois could both use wins to secure their tournament spots, while 6- and 7-seeds Penn St and Michigan St need to avoid bubble-bursting upsets in the first round and then really need a marquee win in the 2nd round to help their tournament resumes. 

Kansas City
March 9-12

Top Seeds: Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Kansas St

Outlook: Kansas St has been the hottest team in the nation over the last month, reeling off upset wins over Kansas and Texas. In the middle of the season, Texas was under consideration for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, but after losing to Nebraska and Colorado, Texas is on the verge of falling to a #3 seed. The Longhorns demise paved the way for the Jayhawks to be regular season conference champions. Colorado is hovering around the NCAA tournament bubble but needs to avoid a disastrous first-round loss to Iowa St and could use a victory or two beyond the first round to lock up an NCAA Tournament bid.

March 10-13

Top Seeds: Florida, Kentucky, Alabama

Outlook: The SEC East dominated the SEC West this season, and the East will need to continue their show of dominance over the West in order for teams like Georgia and Tennessee to prove they belong in the Big Dance. Alabama won the terrible SEC West but thanks to a bad RPI and horrendous Strength of Schedule, coupled with some bad losses leaves the Crimson Tide sitting on the bubble. Bama will get a likely rematch with Georgia in what could be a winner-goes-dancing-loser-goes-to-the-NIT quarterfinal showdown.

Los Angeles
March 9-12

Top Seeds: Arizona, UCLA

Outlook: Beyond the top 2 seeds, no one here is safely in the tournament, and the Pac 10 could easily steal a bid to the Big Dance.  Teams like USC, California, or Washington St (who finished 4th-6th respectively in the conference) all have the ability to win the Pac-10 Tournament, which should make for an entertaining tournament out west.

Atlantic 10
Atlantic City
March 8, 11-13

Top Seeds: Xavier, Temple

Outlook: The Musketeers somewhat quietly dominated the A-10 this season. The A-10 tournament is always exciting and there are plenty of talented teams in the league this season. Richmond has been hovering on the edge of the bubble this year, their early-season win over Purdue keeping their NCAA tournament hopes afloat. Richmond could use a few wins in the A-10 tourny to solidify their spot in the field. Duquesne had an excellent start to the season but foundered late in the season and is out of the bubble picture. 

Conference USA
El Paso
March 9-12

Top Seeds: UAB, Tulsa, UTEP

Outlook: Conference USA has been one of the craziest conferences all season. There are currently have 6 teams in the Top 62 of the RPI, but will likely only get one team into the tournament because of the lack of quality wins and bad losses that pretty much defines every team in Conference USA.

Mountain West
Las Vegas
March 8-12

Top Seeds: BYU, San Diego St, UNLV

Outlook: San Diego St was a dominant team all season, but have been somewhat forgotten about because of their 2 losses to BYU. Those 2 losses? San Diego St's only defeats this season. BYU boasts National Player of the Year Jimmer Fredette, but stumbled since losing Brandon Davies to suspension for violating the honor code. UNLV is hosting the tournament and could be a surprise champion. All 3 of these teams should make the Big Dance.

Big Sky
Regular Season Champion hosts tournament
March 5, 8-9

Top Seeds: Northern Colorado, Montana

Outlook: I was a little late on getting this preview up, and the championship game is tonight. Northern Colorado joined Division 1 four years ago and now has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament with a win on their home floor against reigning champion Montana.

Big West
March 10-12

Top Seeds: Long Beach St, Cal Poly

Outlook: Long Beach St has easily been the best team in the Big West all season, but this could be anyone's tournament. None of these teams have been great and the tournament champion is most likely looking at a 16-seed.

Ivy League
No Tournament
Regular season Champion receives automatic bid to NCAA Tournament

The Ivy League doesn't have a conference tournament, but thanks to a tie atop the standings at the end of the regular season, Princeton and Harvard will meet in a one-game playoff to determine which team goes to the NCAA Tournament.

March 8, 10-12

Top Seeds: Kent St, Western Michigan

Outlook: This is a one-bid league but don't sleep on any team in this tournament. The MAC has been a competitive conference all season. This should be an entertaining tournament. Kent St, the best team in the conference, finished only 4 games ahead of 8th place team Buffalo. 

March 8-12

Top Seeds: Bethune-Cookman, Hampton, Coppin St

Outlook: This is a wide open conference tournament. Bethune-Cookman ended the season on a 7-game winning streak and is the hottest team in the league entering the tournament. However, the Wildcats only went 1-3 against the top 4 teams in the league with their only victory a double-overtime win over Hampton. Hampton is the best defensive team in the conference, holding opponents to just over 62 points per game. The Pirates haven't given up over 78 points to any opponent this season, but they also struggle to put the ball in the basket. Coppin St has the best offense but one of the worst defenses in the league. All that should come together to make for a great tourny.

March 8-12

Top Seeds: McNeese St, Northwestern St, Sam Houston St

Outlook: No one in this conference has been overly impressive this year, and this looks like a conference where the champion will be a 15-seed at best. Of the 12 teams in the conference, 6 finished within a game of the regular season league title. This is a wide open tournament that anyone could win.

March 9-12

Top Seeds: Texas Southern, Jackson St

Outlook: Of all the regular season conference champions, Texas Southern had the worst RPI, making the SWAC champion a prime candidate for one of the play-in games. The SWAC has been a standard on the 16-seed line over the past few seasons. I just wrote 2 sentences about a conference I know pretty much nothing about. Go me.

Las Vegas
March 9-12

Top Seeds: Utah St, Boise St

Outlook: Utah St has dominated the WAC this year and has an impressive 28-3 overall record. However, the Aggies only have 1 win over a Top 50 team (a victory over St Mary's in the ESPN Bracketbusters special). Their second best win (and only other Top 100 win) was over Long Beach St. No other team in the WAC has a Top 100 RPI so their chances of picking up a 3rd impressive win are limited. Despite their impressive record, the Aggies will likely need to avoid being upset in the WAC tournament in order to go dancing.

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