Monday, March 07, 2011

2011 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.

It feels like the entire ACC is on the bubble right now. Only UNC and Duke are locks for the NCAA Tournament at this point. FSU, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Maryland are all teams that could play their way into an at-large bid, but not all of them will. There will be elimination games. If BC beats Wake Forest they will get Clemson in the quarterfinals, and I don't think either team can afford a loss in that game. If Virginia Tech gets past Georgia Tech they'll play FSU in the quarterfinals, in what might be a must-win game for them (FSU might be able to withstand a loss in that game without falling into the NIT). Maryland, assuming they beat NC State in the first round, almost surely has to beat Duke in the quarterfinals to have a real shot at the NCAA Tournament.

Duke and North Carolina are both in the 1 seed discussion, although I can't see either team getting a 1 seed without winning the ACC tournament. If the two teams do end up playing the championship game, a 1 seed will likely be the reward for the winner. Among the five teams that have no chance at an at-large bid, the one that has the biggest chance of ruining the party is Miami. They probably have the third best starting backcourt in the conference (behind UNC and Duke) and are a team with a lot of talent that had high hopes in the preseason but got derailed with some early close losses. They will face a Virginia team in the first round that isn't an easy team for anybody to beat, but if Miami survives that they could pull a shocker in the ACC quarterfinals against North Carolina.

Big East:
I don't know if you've heard but there's a Big East Conference tournament that starts tomorrow. I've watched some small conference tournament games this past week where it seems like the ESPN announcers spent more time previewing the Big East tournament than analyzing the game they were supposedly calling. The Big East tournament is a lot of fun, but let's not lose perspective. That said, if there's one interesting wrinkle to the Big East tournament this season it's that it will likely have zero impact on the bubble picture. Ten teams are safely in the Field of 68, five teams are safely out, and only Marquette is even a question mark. But even if Marquette loses their first round game against Providence they still should be in okay shape unless the bubble gets much tighter.

Pitt will likely seal a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they reach the Big East tournament finals. Notre Dame probably needs to win the tournament to earn a 1 seed. The other eight Big East teams safely into the Tournament also will be playing for a better seed. We've seen many times that teams can jump several lines on the S-Curve by going on a mini-run in the Big East tournament, even if it doesn't result in a title.

The favorite to win the Big East tournament is Pittsburgh. In my opinion they're clearly the best team, and also the most well-rounded team. They have no weaknesses. Notre Dame and St. John's are getting a lot of hype coming in, but I actually like the chances of Syracuse and Louisville better. Syracuse, like Pitt, has historically had a lot of success at the Big East tournament. Certainly don't look for any team playing in the first round to win the tournament - there's no way a team will win games on five consecutive days. A sleeper team to do damage is Cincinnati. They've been playing really well of late (5 wins in their last 6 games) and have a nice draw for a 7 seed. The 10 seed they are matched up against is a Villanova team that is in a total tailspin with both of their "Two Coreys" fighting through injuries. And if Cincy survives that game they'll get Notre Dame as the 2 seed, which is a team I'd rather play than the 3 seed (Syracuse) or the 4 seed (Louisville).

Big Ten:
The Big Ten was probably the best conference in the nation this year, as they had zero bad teams. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rated all 11 teams from the Big Ten among the 85 best teams in the land. But that said, it was a two-tiered league, with Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin far ahead of everybody else. Those are also the only three Big Ten teams that are locked into the NCAA Tournament right now. If the season ended now, I think Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State would all be in the Tournament as at-larges, but all have work left to do. Penn State is right on the bubble as well. Michigan and Illinois will play in the Big Ten quarterfinals, with the winner probably punching their ticket into the Tournament. The loser will have to sweat out Selection Sunday. Michigan State and Penn State will play against Iowa and Indiana, respectively, in the first round. With a win they'll play Purdue and Wisconsin, respectively. I think both teams need to win that first game to make the Tournament. Michigan State can lose to Purdue in the quarterfinals and still be okay, but I don't see any path to the Tournament for Penn State that doesn't involve beating Wisconsin.

Ohio State is looking safe for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, even if they fall in the Big Ten tournament finals. I actually think Purdue might be the best team in the conference, though, and would have picked them to win the Big Ten tournament if it wasn't for the fact that they will likely have to face Wisconsin in the semifinals instead of Illinois or Michigan. Michigan State is also a brutal match-up in the quarterfinals. So with Purdue's tough draw in mind, Ohio State is the favorite to win this tournament. If Purdue can survive and win, however, they'll have a case for a 1 seed. Certainly I'll be pretty surprised is any team other than OSU/Purdue/Wisconsin wins the tournament.

Big 12:
The ACC might be the only conference with more teams on the bubble than the Big 12. At this point, only Kansas, Texas and truly safe. Missouri's resume isn't as good as people think, and if they lose in the first round to Texas Tech they could fall to the bubble. Kansas State also is in good shape if they don't fall on their face in the Big 12 tournament. Colorado, Nebraska and Baylor are all on the bubble and all need at least one win to make the Tournament. Baylor needs two wins at a minimum (Oklahoma and then Texas) to make the Tournament.

Texas won at Kansas and finished only one game out of first place in the conference, but they have swooned a bit of late and probably won't be too serious of a contender. If a team outside of Kansas and Texas shocks with a Big 12 tournament title it might honestly be Kansas State considering how well they've been playing (six straight wins) and the fact that Jacob Pullen has the ability to get white hot at times.

Kansas is the best positioned team in the nation, other than perhaps Ohio State, for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even if they fall in the Big 12 tournament finals they should still get one of those top seeds. Texas isn't out of the picture either, if they can win the Big 12 tournament.

Only Arizona is safely in the NCAA Tournament field, and there's a real shot that the conference will end up with only two NCAA Tournament teams for the second straight season. Considering that the bubble looks weak this season and we've got an expanded field, that's pretty embarrassing. UCLA looks to be in good shape for that second bid, although even they could fall to the bubble if they go one-and-done in the Pac-10 tournament. Washington, USC and Washington State all have a shot at earning a third bid for the Pac-10, although all three have a lot of work to do.

Washington is a team that has so much talent and just hasn't been able to run on all cylinders all season long. They're incredibly frustrating to watch. But let's recall that they did this last year and snuck into the NCAA Tournament and made a run all the way to the Sweet 16. They definitely have that potential again, not to mention their good shot at winning the Pac-10 tournament. Of course, with some poor results down the stretch, Washington could end up in the NIT as well. They really cannot afford a loss in the Pac-10 quarterfinals to Washington State, and Wazzu definitely can't have a loss in that game either or they'll definitely be heading to the NIT. I don't see USC or Washington State making the NCAA Tournament without reaching the Pac-10 tournament finals.

I talked extensively about my thoughts on who will win the SEC tournament here. Florida won the regular season title but I felt all along that Kentucky was the best team. They had some hard luck in close games, but they won two tight games to close the season to prove that they can win close games and that they can beat quality teams away from home. Florida is also likely to have a significantly harder path to the SEC tournament title than Kentucky will, so Kentucky is my pick as the favorite.

Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt are all safe for the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee is in good shape, but probably needs one more win to lock up that at-large bid. Georgia and Alabama are on the bubble, and both still have work to do. Georgia will play Auburn in the first round of the SEC tournament, and with a win there will play Alabama in the quarterfinals. The loser of that game will probably be heading to the NIT.

If the winner of the SEC tournament is not Florida or Kentucky, it will likely be Vanderbilt. They were the third best team in the SEC this season, and have a gifted path to the SEC semifinals, having to only beat LSU and Mississippi State.


Anonymous said...

Louisville is the 3 seed in the Big East tournament, and Syracuse is the 4 seed, not the other way around.

Jeff said...

You're right, I did get those backwards in that sentence... sorry about that. Shouldn't affect the actual analysis, though.