Sunday, March 07, 2010

2010 Conference Tournament Previews: BCS Conferences

For the complete list of conference tournament previews, as well as a schedule of when all of these games will be played, please click here.

When all is said and done I do think that the ACC will end up with seven Tournament teams, but for the time being there are only two that have completely locked up their at-large bid (Duke and Maryland), so it should be a very exciting ACC tournament. Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are all in good position for an at-large bid, but need to win at least one game to avoid having to sweat out Selection Sunday. Georgia Tech has more work to do, after finishing with a poor 7-9 ACC record. They will face an absolute must-win in the first round of the ACC tournament against North Carolina. They will probably need to win not just that game, but also a second round game over Maryland to earn an at-large bid.

While Duke and Maryland split the ACC regular season title, there isn't any doubt that Duke was the better team this season. And Duke will lock up a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can win the ACC tournament. Maryland has obviously proved that they're more than capable of knocking off Duke, and I consider Clemson the best of the rest as far as taking a run at the ACC tournament title. The ACC tournament is always a lot of fun to watch, and with so many implications for every single game you really should try to watch as much of it as you can. We'll have to recalculate the bubble after just about every single game.

Big East:
The Big East heads into its tournament with five at-large bids locked up: Syracuse, Pitt, Villanova, West Virginia and Georgetown. They have seven other teams still fighting for an at-large bid: Notre Dame, Louisville, Marquette, South Florida, Seton Hall, UConn and Cincinnati. Obviously not all seven will get in, and I'd actually be surprised if more than three get in. Louisville and Marquette both look to be pretty safe for at-large bids, but could use another win to be certain. Notre Dame is likely being in the Field of 65 at the moment, but they still have work to do. South Florida, UConn, Seton Hall and Cincy all have quite a bit of work to do. The tournament opens on Tuesday, with South Florida, UConn, Seton Hall and Cincinnati all playing one of the bottom four teams in the conference, needing to win to stay alive. The at-large head-to-head elimination games will begin on Wednesday.

Syracuse enters the Big East tournament as the clear favorite, knowing that they probably only need one win to assure themselves a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia, Villanova and Pitt can all earn 2 seeds if they can win the Big East tournament. West Virginia can actually get themselves into the 1 seed discussion with a Big East tournament win and a little bit of help around the country. Georgetown and Marquette are sleeper teams. Although the way that the Big East tournament is designed it gives a huge disadvantage to the higher seeded teams. So you have to figure that the winner will most likely be one of the four top seeds. All 15 games will be on the ESPN networks, so they will be easy to find on your television.

Big Ten:
The Robbie Hummel injury has suddenly made the Big Ten tournament a wide open battle. Both Purdue and Ohio State are still in the 1 seed discussion if they can take the crown, but it will be a close battle with Michigan State and Wisconsin for the tournament title as well. All four of those teams will have great chances at Sweet 16 runs, but it's a big drop off to the rest of the conference. Illinois will enter their first Big Ten tournament game against Wisconsin knowing that they need to win to keep their realistic at-large hopes alive. While they still might be in the bracket at the time being, it's hard to see them earning an at-large bid without a win over Wisconsin. Although as weak as the bubble is right now, anything is possible. Minnesota also has at-large hopes that are still alive, but they'd need at least two wins in the tournament to have any chance. They will have to beat Penn State in the opening round and then Michigan State in the quarterfinals to have any hope of avoiding the NIT.

While Northwestern and Michigan do not have at-large hopes, both are better than their resumes and will have the potential to pull a quarterfinal upset (Michigan would play Ohio State, Northwestern would play Purdue). I also wouldn't sleep on Penn State, a team that seems to play everybody close and always seems to come up just short. They have the single worst Pomeroy Luck rating in the nation (347th). So don't be at all shocked to see Penn State put Minnesota out of their misery on Thursday night. But in the end, the champion will be Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin or Ohio State, four teams that are even harder to separate than normal because each team has lost one of their two best players to injury this season (Kalin Lucas, Robbie Hummel, Jon Leuer and Evan Turner, respectively). Nobody knows who will win this thing.

Big 12:
Kansas is the best team in the nation, and I expect them to take care of business here. They probably need just one win to assure themselves a 1 seed, and if they win the Big 12 tournament then they'll be the #1 overall seed. Kansas State will be the #2 seed in the Big 12 tournament, and can potentially get a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can knock off Kansas to win the Big 12 tournament. After those two teams there are five other teams that are all either at-large locks (Texas, Baylor and Texas A&M) or pretty safe at-large teams (Missouri and Oklahoma State). With no other bubble teams it seems pretty clear that the Big 12 will get seven NCAA Tournament teams, with Missouri and Oklahoma State just needing one more win to assure themselves a bid.

There is a big gap between the top seven teams in the conference and the bottom five, so it's unlikely that any of those bottom five teams will make much noise. Although Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Iowa State are all pesky enough that they can pull an upset. Assuming the seven top teams all make the NCAA Tournament and that Kansas takes care of business and wins the Big 12 tournament, the only games of interesting in the Big 12 tournament will be those with seed implications. Baylor and Texas A&M can work their way up to a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Texas can end up anywhere between a 4 and a 9 seed. And both Missouri and Oklahoma State have the ability to make a run at something like a 6-9 seed if they can play well here.

The Pac-10 is probably the worst BCS conference since the NCAA Tournament has expanded to 65 teams, and I don't even think there's much doubt about that. If the season ended now there's a decent chance that they'd only have one Tournament team (California), which is something that no other BCS conference has experienced in the modern era. Despite being in the bracket at the moment, California still has work left to do to lock up their at-large bid. I think they've got to win their Pac-10 quarterfinal game, although if the bubble dramatically improves then there's a chance that they'll need to make the Pac-10 championship game. Washington and Arizona State are the other teams with a shot at an at-large bid, and both are right on the bubble right now. The key game in the Pac-10 tournament could be a potential semifinal match-up between Washington and Arizona State, with a high probability that it will be an at-large elimination game.

California is the favorite to win the conference, of course. And with a win they actually have a chance to make a Sweet Sixteen run. I would expect them to be a 7-9 seed if they win the Pac-10 tournament. Washington and Arizona State are obviously the other key contenders for the Pac-10 tournament title. I would also throw out Arizona as a sleeper, as they won a game over Cal, Washington and Arizona State this season, and they put up a good fight against both Vanderbilt and Wisconsin back in November.

The SEC enters its tournament with three teams locked into the NCAA Tournament: Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Kentucky should lock up a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can win a game in this tournament. Both Vandy and Tennessee have the ability to make a run at a 3 seed if they can win the SEC tournament. If the season ended now I think Florida would also be in the NCAA Tournament, but just barely, and they definitely need at least one win in the SEC tournament to stay in the Field of 65. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are the other bubble teams in the SEC. Ole Miss is in the better position, knowing that they can possibly punch their ticket if they can beat Tennessee in the SEC quarterfinals. Mississippi State has a lot more work to do, and I'd be surprised if they make the NCAA Tournament without at least reaching the SEC tournament finals.

Kentucky is the favorite to win the SEC tournament, although obviously Tennessee and Vanderbilt have a great shot to pull off the upset. I'd be surprised to see any other team win. The three bubble teams are all good enough to pull off an upset or two. But it's also clear that Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia are pesky teams that have the ability on any given night to pull off an upset. So the SEC tournament should be one of the more unpredictable conference tournaments.

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