Predicting Which Conferences Will Send Most Teams to 2014 NCAA Tournament
Part of what makes the NCAA tournament so special is when teams from “lesser” conferences shock the blue-blood schools from the power conferences.
However, while that happens a few times almost every year, these power conferences ultimately send the most teams to the Big Dance. There is just more depth in leagues like the Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 than there is in the ranks of the mid-majors.
The 2014 NCAA tournament will be no different. Read on to see which conferences will send the most teams to the postseason.
The argument can be made that the Big Ten was the best conference in the country last year, and it figures to once again be one of the top leagues in the 2013-14 season.
Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin are basically locks for the NCAA tournament assuming good health. Furthermore, Iowa not only has postseason aspirations this year, but also has eyes on serving as a potential dark horse in the conference title race.
Illinois also figures to make a run at the NCAA tournament, as does Minnesota. While it may be a bubblicious February and early March for the Illini and Golden Gophers, it would be surprising if at least one didn’t get in.
That means as many as eight Big Ten teams could be playing in the Big Dance, and that’s assuming one of the lower-tier squads don’t make a surprising run.
The ACC is almost always one of the best conferences in the country, but after conference realignment, it is set up to be an absolute minefield of loaded teams in the coming years.
Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join the likes of Duke and North Carolina this season, with Louisville joining the party a year from now. As for the 2013-14 campaign, there should be plenty of ACC teams in the NCAA tournament.
The Orange, Blue Devils and Tar Heels are certainly making the field as high seeds, while squads like Pitt, Notre Dame and Virginia could make it comfortably as well.
Whether the ACC gets more than six teams in could come down to Maryland, which should be one of the more interesting bubble stories to follow down the stretch of the season. Alex Len may be gone, but Dez Wells has the talent to lead his squad to the postseason.
The SEC was laughably bad last year, but it should be a different story in 2013-14.
For one, flagship program Kentucky will go from first round NIT loss to one of the best teams in the country, thanks to the impressive recruiting efforts of John Calipari. The Harrison twins, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and company will have the Wildcats securely in the NCAA tournament this time around.
Furthermore, Florida seems to be a lock for the Big Dance and the closest thing Kentucky has to a legitimate challenger in the conference standings. Missouri may take a step back this year, but a postseason berth is certainly still a possibility.
Where the SEC will be better this year is by adding depth. Alabama could make the NCAA tournament, as could Tennessee. As for possible bubble teams keep an eye on Mississippi and even Arkansas.
Kansas has a stranglehold on the Big 12 standings, and with Andrew Wiggins in tow, few expect that to change in the 2013-14 season.
That being said, the battle between Wiggins and the Jayhawks and Marcus Smart and the Oklahoma State Cowboys could be one of the most entertaining ones of the year. Not only will a conference title and potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament be on the line, National Player of the Year honors could be the prize as well.
While the Jayhawks and Cowboys are locks for favorable seeds in the Big Dance, there will be other Big 12 teams joining them. Baylor and Kansas State figure to string together enough wins to make the field comfortably.
The most interesting bubble team in the Big 12 this year may be Iowa State. If there is a squad that deserves some breaks this year it may be the Cyclones considering some of the recent heartbreaking losses they suffered against Kansas and in the last tournament against Ohio State.
The 2013-14 Big East is not your father’s Big East. In fact, it’s not even your older brother’s version.
Long gone are the likes of Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. In their place come some of the mid-major darlings from recent years, including Butler, Xavier and Creighton. The Big East should still send a handful of teams to the Big Dance even without its old firepower.
Marquette and Georgetown are still in place, although the Golden Eagles look to be in stronger position than the Hoyas right now. Creighton is also a near lock to make the NCAA tournament assuming good health as long as Doug McDermott is still using his 40 years of collegiate eligibility.
Xavier and Villanova will be the most interesting bubble cases in the Big East this year. Look for both to find a way into the field by March.
The Mountain West received all the West Coast love during the regular season last year, but when almost all of its beloved mid-major darlings fell flat on their faces in the NCAA tournament it became clear that maybe the Pac-12 was slightly better.
The Pac-12 will send more teams to the Big Dance than the Mountain West this year, although squads like Boise State and New Mexico should be good again.
Arizona could challenge for a No. 1 seed following Sean Miller’s impressive recruiting efforts this offseason, while Oregon will look to build off its surprising NCAA tournament run. UCLA will also comfortably make the field, despite losing Shabazz Muhammad.
How many teams this league ultimately sends to the Big Dance will depend largely on Colorado, Arizona State, Stanford and Washington. Each could find themselves on the bubble down the stretch and will have to deliver come crunch time.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.
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