Monday, March 05, 2012

2012 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's definitely been a down year for the ACC. The soft spot is in the middle of the league, where there just is a lack of overall talent. The bottom of the league isn't good, but it's not worse than last season. And at the top of the league, there is still a National Title contender (North Carolina) and a Final Four contender (Duke). Aside from those two, the one other team that is safe for an NCAA Tournament bid is Florida State. Virginia has spent most of the past two months ranked, but they've faded and haven't beaten another NCAA Tournament team since November, and they will need to win at least one game to stay in the Field of 68.

Miami and NC State both come into the ACC tournament on the bubble. If the season now I think NC State would be out, and Miami might be out as well, but both can get back in it if they can win a couple of games. Miami, if they beat Georgia Tech, will play Florida State in the quarterfinals. NC State, if they beat Boston College, will play Virginia in the quarterfinals. I think that both teams will need to win those quarterfinal games or they're liking heading to the NIT.

The sleeper team in the ACC tournament is, without question, Clemson. They only went 8-8 in ACC play, but they were a bit unlucky (3-5 in games decided by five points or less), outscored opponents during ACC play (by 0.03 PPP), and are coming in hot. They've won 5 of 7, with the only two losses coming on the road at Florida State and North Carolina. They have beaten Virginia and NC State over that stretch. If they get past Virginia Tech, don't be surprised to see them give Duke a battle.

North Carolina shouldn't have anywhere near as much trouble with their quarterfinal foe (either Maryland or Wake Forest). And North Carolina has an easier likely semifinal opponent (Virginia) than Duke does (Florida State). I've thought all season long that North Carolina is the best team in the ACC. Throw in this easier draw and they have to be considered the heavy favorite to win the ACC tournament.

Big East

It gets annoying at times how much more ESPN hypes up the Big East tournament than any other conference tournament, but there's no doubt that the Big East format is fun. It's going to be a shame the next few years as the quality of teams decreases. SMU? Houston? Eh. But for this year, there are all sorts of interesting side stories.

It feels like half of the conference is on the bubble. When the Big East tournament tips off, only Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville and Notre Dame are firmly in the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia, Cincinnati, USF, UConn and Seton Hall are all on or around the bubble. I don't think any of those five teams can feel comfortable heading into Selection Sunday if they haven't won at least one game here. If UConn beats DePaul (no given considering how poorly UConn has played the past few weeks), they will face a virtual-elimination game against West Virginia. The loser of that game is going to be in deep trouble.

Syracuse is, of course, the favorite. They are the best team, and also control their own destiny for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. At this point, they probably don't even need to win the Big East tournament to earn a 1 seed, though they could fall to a 2 seed if they flame out in the Big East quarterfinals. Georgetown and Marquette are the two best teams other than Syracuse, and they're the only two that have much of a chance to spoil Syracuse's party. The Orange will potentially have to play Georgetown in the semis and Marquette in the finals.

I don't think there are any sleeper teams with a chance to win this whole thing. None of the teams playing on the opening day have much chance of a long run. But if there's a sleeper team from the opening day to make a shocking run to the semifinals? My pick would be Pittsburgh. They're better than their record, particularly since their worst performances all came when Tray Woodall was hurt. They haven't given up mentally, and Pitt has always been good playing in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Big Ten

There's more of a clear separation in the Big Ten than there is in the Big East. Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana are all in the NCAA Tournament, and Purdue looks to be in good shape as well (though they should take care to beat Nebraska in the opening round to make sure they don't end up on the bubble). The only real bubble team in the league is Northwestern... again. If they're going to finally make the NCAA Tournament I think they need two wins. They have to get past Minnesota in the opening round, but after that they've gotten a break in drawing Michigan. The Wolverines went 6-2 in Big Ten games decided by five points or less, and clearly are the weakest of the top four seeds.

All season long I've felt that Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten, and they should be considered the favorites to win the conference tournament. If they do win, they'll probably earn a 1 seed. The only scenario where Ohio State might win the Big Ten tournament and still end up a 2 would be if Kansas and North Carolina both win their conference tournaments, though even then I think they'll get the nod over the Tar Heels. The Buckeyes will have a difficult quarterfinal opponent, assuming Purdue beats Nebraska. But I don't think they'll have too much trouble in the semis against either Michigan or Northwestern.

On the other side of the bracket, Wisconsin got an unfortunate draw with Indiana as a likely quarterfinals opponent. Indiana is a very good team, and should have great crowd support in Indianapolis. If Wisconsin has to play Indiana, Michigan State and then Ohio State to try to win a Big Ten tournament title, their odds will be pretty bleak. That's more of a murderer's row than any other team in the country really has a chance to face. The only comparison, I think, would be Baylor trying to get past Kansas State, Kansas and Missouri.

Michigan State shouldn't have trouble in their quarterfinal game. But against either Wisconsin or Indiana they could get a battle, particularly now that Branden Dawson is done for the season. It's really going to test their front court depth. Overall, I don't think Michigan State's draw is any easier than Ohio State's. The Buckeyes are the favorites to win the Big Ten tournament.

Big 12

The Big 12 tournament won't affect the bubble much. Kansas, Missouri and Baylor clinched their at-large bids a long time ago. Kansas State and Iowa State aren't quite "locks" yet, though it's hard to see them falling to the bubble even if they go one-and-done. The only bubble team is Texas - they'll probably need to beat Iowa State to put themselves into the NCAA Tournament.

There is a big drop-off from the top six teams to the bottom four teams in the Big 12. It's awful hard to see any of those bottom four teams making much noise in the quarterfinals. If we have a team pull an upset or two to make a conference tournament run, it's much more likely to be Kansas State or Texas. Both are in basically toss-up games in the quarterfinals, and will have a fighter's chance in the semis against Kansas and Missouri, respectively.

The two top teams, of course, are Kansas and Missouri. Kansas is the better team, but Missouri has personnel match-ups that give them a good chance against the Jayhawks. The second best player on the Jayhawks is probably Jeff Withey (Tyshawn Taylor looks great at times, but also looks horrid at times - more often than not I'd rather have Withey on my team). But against Missouri, Withey just can't get on the floor. Missouri is just too small and quick. That's a huge disadvantage for Kansas.

I don't think there's any real difference in the tournament draw. Iowa State is a soft 3 seed, but Texas is a very strong 6 seed and they played Missouri very tight in both games this season. Certainly I think they'll give Missouri as much trouble as Baylor or Kansas State will give Kansas. Because of that, Kansas is my pick to win the conference tournament. They're simply the best team.


Ah, the Pac-12. The possibility of a one-bid league isn't likely, but it's still possible. A week ago, most people had three Pac-12 teams in the NCAA Tournament (California, Washington and Arizona). But losses by all three change that. Arizona is now out of the bracket and needs a pair of wins to have a chance at an at-large bid. Washington is a bubble team, and they need at least one win, and possibly two to earn an at-large bid. California is the best team in the conference, and the team best positioned for an at-large bid, but even they would struggle to overcome a one-and-done Pac-12 tournament. Oregon is a fourth team that can make a run at an at-large bid if they win a couple of games in the Pac-12 tournament.

It would be truly amazing if a BCS conference team earned an automatic bid to the NIT. We'll probably never see it again the rest of our lives, but it could happen this year if Washington loses their opening game. The good news is that they have a fairly soft opponent - either Washington State or Oregon State. The most interesting quarterfinal game will likely be UCLA vs Arizona. UCLA is a very underrated team. Here are the PPP margins in Pac-12 play for the top six teams:

+0.13 California
+0.11 Arizona
+0.10 Oregon
+0.10 UCLA
+0.06 Washington
+0.05 Colorado

Throw in the fact that UCLA is playing their best ball of the season right now, and that there's always a chance of the team responding to the "us against the world" argument that Ben Howland is going to be making after the Sports Illustrated disaster, and UCLA is the one team playing on the opening day that has a real chance to win the Pac-12 tournament.

Washington is the 1 seed, but I don't think that their semifinal opponent will be any easier than what California will face on the other side. California is the best team in the conference, and they already won a game at Washington this season. Cal is my pick to win the Pac-12 tournament.


The SEC, like the Big East, enters its conference tournament with a whole lot of bubble scenarios. Only Kentucky and Florida enter the SEC tournament safe for an at-large bid. Both Vanderbilt and Alabama are clearly in the Field of 68 at the moment, but either of those teams will potentially have to sweat out Selection Sunday if they go one-and-done. Meanwhile, Mississippi State and Tennessee both come in as bubble teams. Even Ole Miss and LSU are potentially bubble teams if they can win three games and get to the SEC tournament finals.

I think that both Mississippi State and Tennessee need to win a pair of games to have a real shot on Selection Sunday. Mississippi State will open against Georgia, and with a win will play Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals. Tennessee has a bye to the quarterfinals, where they will open against the winner of Ole Miss vs Auburn. If they win then they'll get the winner of Vanderbilt/Georgia/Mississippi State in the semifinals.

If Kentucky doesn't win the SEC tournament, who's the best likely team to take them out? Vanderbilt, I think. They've played better than Florida the past few weeks, and they played Kentucky tight both times they faced the Wildcats this season. And Florida's over-reliance on three-pointers makes them a streaky team unlikely to win three straight games against quality opponents. Kentucky is the favorite, of course, but their draw is about as difficult as it could be. Beating LSU, Florida and Vanderbilt (potentially) on three consecutive days will not be a gimme. But there's no way that, if offered even money, you'd bet against Kentucky here.

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