Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2013 Conference Tournament Previews: BCS Leagues

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.

With their strong finish to the regular season, Duke controls their own destiny for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Win the ACC tournament title and that's what they'll have. Come up short, though, and they'll probably drop to a 2 seed. Miami is still not out of the running for a 1 seed, but they'll need to win the ACC tourney and then get a bunch of help.  North Carolina won't be anywhere near a 1 seed, but they're safe to be the ACC's third NCAA Tournament. NC State is a fourth ACC team safe for the Tournament.

That leaves Virginia and Maryland to contend for a fifth (or possibly sixth) NCAA Tournament bid. Virginia is in much better position, though their crazy resume makes them impossible to predict. I think they'll be in okay shape if they win their quarterfinal game (presumably against NC State). If they can win that game and then knock off Miami in the semifinals, then they'll be a lock. Maryland is going to have to beat Wake Forest and then Duke to have a realistic case for an at-large bid.

Miami, despite being the 1 seed, is not the favorite to win the ACC tournament (in my opinion). I think Duke is the better team, and I don't think Duke really has the tougher draw, despite the lower seed. Neither team should be too seriously tested in the quarterfinals, and I don't think that playing Virginia is significantly easier than playing North Carolina.

Can any team stuck playing in the first round make a run deep in the tournament? NC State is obviously the favorite there. They will have a very winnable game against Virginia, should they make the quarterfinals. If we want to go for a deeper sleeper, I'll go with Boston College. They are better than their record and have gotten significantly better as the season has progressed. If they get past Georgia Tech, they should at least be able to give Miami a competitive game in the quarterfinals. But like I said, Duke is the favorite to win the title.

Big East:
The Big East tournament will open with five locked NCAA Tournament teams (Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown and Pitt) and a sixth that seems pretty safe (Notre Dame). Cincinnati needs one Big East tournament win to get themselves in a pretty safe position for a seventh bid. Villanova needs one win to be in decent shape on Selection Sunday, though they probably need two to feel somewhat safe. That's probably it (St. John's and Providence are both very long shots to get back into the bubble discussion).

The obvious Big East title game is Georgetown/Louisville. Those have been the two best teams down the stretch, and they're both in contention for a 1 seed. Should they play in the title game, it's likely that the winner will earn a 1 seed and the loser will get a 2. Outside of those two, Pitt has been playing better than any other Big East team lately, and Jamie Dixon's boys are drawn to potentially face Georgetown in the semifinals. Louisville shouldn't have quite as much trouble with a hypothetical semifinal match-up against Marquette.

Of the teams that do not get a double bye, the most dangerous team has to be Syracuse. They've played like crap down the stretch, but the talent that they have is the same. When Michael Carter-Williams is a distributor instead of a shooter, they can beat anybody. And Syracuse always has the most fan support in Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament. Their problem is that even if they get to the quarterfinals, they're going to have to play a very underrated Pitt team that always seems to play well at the Garden as well.

Notre Dame doesn't have a ceiling as high as Syracuse in terms of talent, but they have the easier draw. I'd much rather play Marquette than Pitt in the quarterfinals. A hypothetical semifinal game against Louisville will be awfully tough, but the Irish already beat them in that 5OT epic. I'd also keep an eye on Cincinnati. The Bearcats have played poorly down the stretch, but with a very strong defense and a guy in Sean Kilpatrick who can go nuts on the offensive end, they have the ability to knock off almost anybody when they're playing at their best.

Can any team from the first round make a run? In short, no. The action really gets going in the second round, when Cincinnati, Villanova, Syracuse and Notre Dame open up. The favorite to win the whole thing, in my opinion, is Louisville. They're the best team.

Big Ten:
I think a lot of college basketball fans are already drooling at the thought of a semifinals consisting of Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State and the Wisconsin/Michigan winner. Before we get to that, though, I want to run through the at-large possibilities. Obviously those aforementioned five teams are in, but no other team is certain. The Illinois/Minnesota first round game looms large, because the winner of that game will be pretty safe for the NCAA Tournament, but the loser is going to be in trouble and is going to have to sweat out the rest of Championship Week. Iowa is the other bubble team. They need at least one Big Ten tournament win to get in, and need to pull the upset of Michigan State to really feel good about their chances.

Indiana is playing for a 1 seed, of course. The Selection Committee really doesn't like giving 1 seeds to teams to go one-and-done in their conference tournament, so IU needs one win to be safe. Michigan State also can earn a 1 seed if they win the Big Ten tournament and get a little bit of help.

So which of those teams playing in the first round can make a run? I think Minnesota is the best bet. They have struggled down the stretch, but they're a much better team than their record. They've already beaten Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State, and are clearly battle hardened by their brutal schedule. I also wouldn't totally sleep on an Iowa team that actually had a +0.02 PPP efficiency margin in conference play (for comparison, Ohio State was +0.07 PPP and Michigan State was +0.09).

It's hard to find a clear favorite in the Big Ten tournament just because there are so many good teams. Wisconsin and Michigan are clearly at a disadvantage because of their draws. Barring an upset, Ohio State will have the softest quarterfinal opponent. But in the end, I think that the favorite has to be the best team, and that's Indiana.

Big 12:
Death. Taxes. Kansas winning the Big 12. It's a remarkable streak of success for Bill Self. His team will be the 1 seed here, from where they will be the favorite to win the Big 12 tournament. And with a tournament title, they will not be a lock for a 1 seed on Selection Sunday, but they'll have a very good case. Elsewhere in the conference, Oklahoma State and Kansas State are the other two Tournament locks. Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor are all on the bubble. Iowa State and Oklahoma will both be in decent shape if they can win a single game, and will be near-locks if they can win two. Baylor has more work to do. They probably need to win two games to feel good about their at-large chances.

Obviously the winner of a hypothetical Oklahoma State/Kansas State semifinal game will be a tough test for Kansas. Who else does Kansas need to fear? The fourth best team in the league, in my opinion, is Iowa State. With an efficiency margin of +0.08 PPP, they were fourth in that category as well, and they took Kansas to overtime twice this season (and if you recall, in that most recent match-up, they lost a chance to win in regulation because of a blown call late). So if they get past Oklahoma, they'll be a scary semifinal opponent for the Jayhawks.

While Baylor looked great against Kansas, they so rarely play at their best under Scott Drew that it's asking a ton for them to be serious contender to beat Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Kansas on consecutive days. Of the teams playing in the first round, Texas is obviously the biggest danger because of Myck Kabongo. Kabongo hasn't been a magic elixir, though. They are only 5-3 since getting him back in the lineup, with two of those wins coming over bottom-feeders TCU and Texas Tech. So realistically, Kansas is the heavy favorite.

I think seven different teams looked like the Pac-12 favorite at some point in this crazy season. In fact, we came very close to 9-9 Stanford leading the league in efficiency margin (in the end they finished a narrow second to Arizona). So UCLA earned the regular season title and the 1 seed, but they are far from a clear favorite.

Despite being the 4 seed, Arizona is the only safe NCAA Tournament team in the Pac-12. UCLA and Oregon are likely in the Field of 68 at the moment, but either could fall back out if they fall on their face in Vegas. California and Colorado are both firmly on the bubble, and need at least one win to earn an at-large bid. Arizona State is close to the bubble, but probably can't make the Tournament unless they win a pair of games. Stanford is an even longer shot at-large team - they probably need to make the Pac-12 title game to have a case.

So who are the favorites to win the Pac-12 tournament? I've felt all season that UCLA and Arizona are the two Pac-12 teams with the highest ceiling. In my opinion, they're the two favorites, with the edge going to Arizona. The thing is, UCLA's schedule is going to be pretty tough. They could have to play that very underrated Stanford team in the quarterfinals, and then Arizona in the semifinals before playing a team like Colorado Oregon or California in the title game.

It's worth noting that California has somehow found themselves with the easiest draw in the Pac-12 tournament. A short-handed USC team or Utah in the quarterfinals will be a pretty easy game, and the worst they can see in the semifinals is Colorado. I still think Arizona is the favorite to win the tournament, but California is a good sleeper title contender because of their soft schedule.

I've already spent a lot of time talking about Florida. You all know how I feel about Florida. They're the heavy favorite to win the SEC tournament. Let's move on. What makes the SEC tournament most fascinating is that half the league seems to be on the bubble. Missouri isn't really a bubble team at the moment, but they should try to avoid a one-and-done performance. Kentucky is probably in the Field of 68 at the moment, but they can easily fall out if they lose their quarterfinal game. Alabama, Ole Miss and Tennessee are all on the bubble right now. All need at least one win, and probably two wins, to feel good about their at-large chances. Arkansas is a longer shot at-large team that can get in the bubble discussion if they take out Kentucky and Ole Miss.

So who is the most dangerous team playing in the first round? It has to be Texas A&M. They were better than their record and took out Kentucky, Missouri and Ole Miss already this season. They won't contend to win the SEC tournament, but they could easily take out Missouri a second time.Of the teams playing in the second round, don't sleep on Arkansas. It's been a frustrating, difficult season for the Razorbacks, but Mike Anderson's style of play is perfectly built for a one-and-done tournament.

Can any SEC team seriously challenge Florida for the title? They lost four times in the regular season, but of those I think Kentucky and Missouri are the two most likely to do it a second time. Kentucky obviously has a ton of talent even without Nerlens Noel. Missouri is an underrated team - despite finishing 6th in the standings they are Top 20 in Pomeroy. Florida gets a break from the fact that Kentucky and Missouri are both on the other side of the bracket.

But if Florida ends up in a tight SEC title game, I don't care how "unclutch" they are. They're the favorite.

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