With some buzzer beaters over the weekend, it seems that the madness is in full swing already. Congratulations to Yale for earning their first tournament birth since the 1960’s and Northern Iowa for winning their conference tournament at the buzzer to once again reach the big dance.
Bids are being snatched up quicker than cakes on a griddle and championship week will go a long way to determining just who gets that golden ticket to the big dance. Of course, we know most of the teams who will make it, but for those procrastinating teams, it is all nail-biting and superstition following at this point. Sorry Kentucky, and A&M fans but I for one, and I am sure many would join me, want LSU to win the SEC tournament just to see Ben Simmons in the big dance to see what he can do.
The bracket will be revealed on March 13th and a lot of crazy things can happen between now and then so if your team is not in the picture right now, fear not because Championship Weekend can fix all. It is sort of the holy grail for a team. Conference tournaments include everyone in the conference so theoretically Boston College, who went winless in conference play, could win the conference tournament and make the tournament. One can dream can they not?
I see the Big 12 tournament as being just as brutal as the regular season was. It might not have the lore and tradition of the ACC in terms of basketball, however, it stacks up on a daily basis just as strong. Oklahoma and Kansas are the top dogs of this tournament having already played two incredible games and their mainstay in the AP top 10. West Virginia, when they play aggressively, seem to warrant that top 10 AP ranking and they can definitely make a run to the Big 12 title. Texas is the ever-present wild-card team in this conference. The Longhorns, under first-year head coach Shaka Smart, have yet again reached 20 wins and have some pretty good wins this season. Texas has beaten North Carolina, West Virginia (twice), Iowa State, and Oklahoma. Can the Longhorns make a run in March thanks to Shaka’s March Magic? Of course, however, I think that Shaka needs another year to really get the program in his image. Texas has to be annoyed that if they beat Baylor in the opening game then they face Kansas in the second game, too soon am I right? Overall, though, there should not be a surprise team to make the tournament out of the Big 12, we already know who is in.
The ACC tournament will be entertaining to say the least. North Carolina won their first outright league title since 2012 and looks to win the ACC tourney on their way to a #1 seed in the big tournament. Duke has been a disappointment after winning the title in 2015 and who knows which team will show up in the ACC tournament. I think the team that has gone under the radar despite their high-ranking is Virginia and the Cavaliers have the team to win the ACC tourney and go far in March with a #2 seed. UNC versus Virginia should be the deciding game for the ACC title and it is a clash of styles that I love to see. UNC is the high-flying team with the highly ranked recruits, whereas Virginia is the slow it down and grind it out type of team. This tournament is one where I can definitely see a variety of teams getting hot and winning it like Syracuse, or Notre Dame.
Up north in the Big 10 country, Indiana has just won the Big 10 regular season outright title. The Hoosiers have come with lower expectations to rise to the top of the conference and are playing very well in doing so. Despite that, I think the Spartans are the hottest team in the conference and in the country as well. Michigan State, once Valentine returned to health, has been blowing everybody out and impressively I might add. Michigan is an underdog team in this tournament so I would definitely keep an eye out for them because they can light it up from 3 point land. I like Ohio State’s grit but I do not see it being enough to overcome the scoring of a team like Michigan State, or Indiana.
How about the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12? The Ducks won their first regular season conference title since 2002 in a league with UCLA and Arizona. Oregon has been a surging program over the years in not just football but also basketball. This team has reached, thanks to former players like Joseph Young, the sweet 16 in recent years and this team is just as explosive offensively as any. The Ducks won their conference tournament recently in 2013. Head coach Dana Altman has slowly but surely built this team into a team ready to compete for conference titles and to go far in March. Arizona has been up and down this season but still finished at 24-7. Not a big volume shooting team, the Wildcats excel when they shore up that guard defense and are dangerous when their shots fall. Talent is never an issue at UA so never underestimate them in any tournament, conference or the big dance. UCLA has been a huge disappointment at 15-16 and out of the tournament. Like I said before, the Bruins could win the Pac-12 tournament and get in, I just cannot see it happening with the way they have been playing. Where are the Russell Westbrooks and Kevin Love’s here? I get concerned looking at a program like UCLA with their history and where they consistently find themselves in recent years. A gritty team this year for sure, but when you cannot back up gritty then you just get moral victories and tepid applause.
Division I basketball dwarfs the size of Division I football and thus I cannot talk about every team in every conference in this article but keep an eye out for surprises during Championship Week. It should be fun to witness and I cannot wait to get this tournament started so that I can cry when my bracket gets busted after the first game!