March Madness is finally here, as teams make their final push to shine and qualify for the NCAA tournament. Many of the usual suspects will be there, but there are a number of teams whose fate depends on how well they do this coming week.
Let’s look at the conferences, and take a peek at how the field is stacking up...
The Big East will probably get seven teams in, as it stands now. Georgetown is the regular season champion, but they are no lock to win the tournament. This year, they won quite a few close games that could have gone either way, which speaks to their experience and composure in pressure situations.
If they can run the table this coming week in New York, they have a shot at a No. 2 seed. If not, they will be a No. 3 seed.
Syracuse got a big win at home, against Marquette (in the top 25 at the time), but that is not going to be enough to get them in. They will need to win three more games and make it to the conference finals, to impress the committee. The fact that this conference is so strong, will work in their favor if they take care of business at Madison Square Garden.
West Virginia is 11-7 in the conference, which should be good enough to get them in. Notre Dame and Connecticut are definitely in.
Pittsburgh should be in as well, if they do the right thing in New York. Being 10-8 in the Big East, and 22-9 overall should be good enough.
I like the way Louisville is playing, even though they lost to Georgetown with the regular season championship at stake. Their style of play bothers Georgetown, and if they can get through to play them again, I would favor them to win.
North Carolina (UNC) and Duke are the cream of this conference, and UNC will get a No. 1 seed. Duke is more balanced in their attack than they have been in the past. They penetrate and kick to open three-point shooters very well. If they are not making them, they are in trouble because they don’t have a consistent low post option on offense.
UNC is as athletic and quick as ever, their bread and butter being Tyler Hansbrough, who is a beast on the inside. He opens it up for their talented perimeter players.
Miami (Fla.) has been a surprise this year, and is on the cusp of getting an unexpected at-large bid. They also need another win in their conference tournament to complete their résumé.
Clemson is in at 10-6 in the conference, and ranked inside the top 25. Virginia Tech is at 9-7 as well, and should get the benefit of playing in the ACC. Maryland is firmly on the bubble. They need a good showing in the coming week.
They should get five teams in, but a sixth team is not a lock. Many times, it comes down to strength of the conference as to whether or not, a border line team gets in.
The Big 12 has been very competitive this year. Kansas and Texas both have 13-3 conference records, and are in the top 10, but it doesn’t end there. Kansas State and Baylor have played pretty well, but Texas A&M has been somewhat of a mystery. They are losers of five of their last seven games, after starting the year with seven straight wins.
They did beat Texas this year, but they have lost to Texas Tech and Nebraska as well. Other than Texas, they have no wins against ranked opponents, and many of their wins came against lower-level Division I teams.
Considering their coaching situation with Kelvin Sampson and the circumstances around him leaving, Oklahoma has performed well, and I am betting that they can make the cut.
There is not that much separating the four teams after Texas and Kansas. I don’t think the Big 12 will get six teams in, so a good showing this coming week will be critical for Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
For the Big Ten, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue are definitely in. Ohio State is on the bubble, but has beaten Purdue and, most recently, Michigan State to make their case.
It’s going to come down to how the committee views the Big Ten as a whole. At 19-12, it’s going to be a close call.
Tennessee is the class of the SEC this year, and they showed everyone why, in their epic battle with Memphis earlier this year. They are fighting for a No. 1 seed. After the Vols, the only guaranteed spots I see are Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
Kentucky has won five of six, and beat Florida, another bubble team, to put them back in the mix. They are now 12-4 in the conference.
If Kentucky wins two games in Atlanta this week, it will be difficult to keep them out. Florida is at .500 in the conference, which won’t help because the SEC is having a down year. Short of running the table in Atlanta, they will not make it in this year.
Arkansas has wins over Baylor, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State. They have also lost to South Carolina, Georgia, and Appalachian State. They are no lock either, even though they have had a 20 win season.
Memphis went undefeated in conference play for the second year in a row and will secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. They are the class of that league, and I think the loss to Tennessee when they were ranked No. 1, was the best thing that could have happened to them.
It took the pressure off of them going undefeated, and now they can play under the radar. Derrick Rose is the most important piece of that team. He sets the tempo, doesn’t shrink in pressure situations, and from baseline to baseline, there may not be anyone faster in the college ranks.
UAB is firmly on the bubble after getting blown out by Memphis, even though they have 12 conference wins, and 22 wins overall. The rest of the conference is just too weak to say UAB will definitely get an at large bid. If they beat Memphis in their tournament then they will get in. If not, I don’t think they will.
Xavier is the class of the Atlantic 10 and will be a factor in the NCAAs. They are ranked in the top 10 and are for real. They boast a balanced attack, and will be a tough out. They will probably be the lone representative.
UCLA is in line to be a No. 1 seed, and Stanford is not far behind. They are a top 10 team and should get a No. 2, but no worse than a No. 3 seed. Washington State is in as well as USC, punctuating their regular season with a win over Stanford.
Arizona State has a chance to make it into the dance, and have wins against Xavier and Stanford on their résumé. It would help if they added a couple of wins in their conference tournament. Oregon has a chance, but is on the bubble.
West Coast Conference
Gonzaga, as usual, is the class of this conference. St. Mary’s did sneak into the AP top 25 for a while this year, but will be in the hands of the committee if they don’t win their tournament.
The conference is weak as a whole, so St. Mary’s needs to get to the finals and put up a good fight against Gonzaga.
We always look forward to the conference tournaments and the NCAAs, because of the drama and the finality of it. It is the one major college tournament where the smaller schools and the mid-majors get to line up against the power conferences and prove they belong.
The Austin Peays, Drakes and Belmonts will get their share of love and support as they attempt to knock off the big boys. We also want to see the best teams square off against each other as well. Let the games begin!