March Madness has arrived, and already I feel like I am taking crazy pills. Conference tournaments are getting underway all over the country. Invites to the big dance hang in the balance.
With so much meaningful basketball being played, it becomes difficult to prioritize.
This should help.
It’s virtually impossible to catch all the games, so it’s important to plan.
First, I’ll apologize to some of the smaller conferences. One bid leagues provide great drama and intrigue. The passion and intensity in these tournaments is unrivaled.
However, I consider myself unqualified to break down such events, so I left them out.
They are still wildly entertaining and certainly worth checking out.
I’ll instead stay with in my comfort zone, and rank the most intriguing, and potentially entertaining conference tournaments from among the bigger, more talent-rich leagues.
These rankings are based mainly on quality of games, teams, and match-ups and above all else, NCAA tournament implications.
So grab your remote, warm up the Tivo or DVR, and clear your schedule for the next 10 days.
The Phillips 66 Big 12 Conference Tournament
Kansas City, MO, Mar. 10-13
The Big 12 is arguably the best conference in all of college basketball. With the quality and depth of teams, the tourney promises to be entertaining.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t as much on the line. Seven teams will be playing for a better seed, but there are no bubble teams in the Big 12. Barring an unbelievable run through the tournament by a lower tier team, the event won’t generate the intensity of desperation, a trademark of March Madness.
Of course, since Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Missouri, and Oklahoma State are all involved, it’s definitely still worth the price of admission.
The Zappos.com West Coast Conference Tournament
Las Vegas, NV, Mar. 5-8
St. Mary’s is squarely on the bubble. Gonzaga has looked vulnerable. Portland is a live underdog.
The WCC tournament has all the elements you look for in a wild tourney, just in smaller doses. A team desperate for one more signature win. A potential Cinderella. A mid-major powerhouse.
There will be drama, excitement, and entertainment in large quantities.
With a lot on the line, a potential St. Mary’s/Portland semifinal is one to keep an eye on.
It also never hurts that the tournament is in Las Vegas.
The GMC Sierra Conference USA Tournament
Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mar. 10-13
The C-USA tourney will pit a couple of teams in good NCAA tournament shape against a couple of dangerous teams looking to steal a bid.
UTEP has dominated the regular season and will play the role of favorite. In order to take home the crown, they’ll have to fend off a handful of 20-win teams, specifically UAB, the no-longer-unfairly-superior-perennial-bully Memphis, under-the-radar Marshall, and home-town Tulsa.
It should be a competitive, spirited, bubble-bursting good time.
The Pacific Life Pac 10 Tournament
Los Angeles, CA, Mar. 10-13
The Pac 10 has been a punching bag all year long, but there are certain fan advantages to having a down year.
One such advantage: an uber-competetive conference tourney.
The Pac 10 is as wide open as any conference and there are probably a maximum of two bids on the line.
California is the only team in decent shape for an at-large bid, but even they can’t feel too comfortable. The tournament champion will be dancing, perhaps alone.
California, Washington, and Arizona State are the favorites, but with no juggernaut lurking at the top of the bracket, the title is very much up for grabs.
The SEC Tournament
Nashville, TN, Mar. 11-14
Anytime you can watch John Wall play, it’s worth tuning in. Here the young Wildcats will get to test their mettle in an tournament setting.
In addition to serving as an NCAA tuneup for an inexperienced Kentucky squad, a lot will be on the line in Nashville.
Vanderbilt and Tennessee will also be looking to build big dance momentum. Bubble residents Florida, Mississippi State, and Mississippi will be trying to punctuate their resumes appropriately.
Great teams, desperate teams, dangerous sleepers (Arkansas, South Carolina); the SEC tournament has all the bases covered.
The Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament
Greensboro, NC, Mar. 11-14
The ACC bubble is a big tangled mess. Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State, and Georgia Tech all find themselves in somewhat precarious positions.
A couple of wins should place them on solid footing in the field.
An early exit could be a kiss of death. From the opening game, the stakes will be sky high.
With only one top 20 team (Duke), the storylines aren’t as compelling at the top, but an upset of the Blue Devils could make things very, very interesting.
Duke will be the heavy favorite, but Maryland and the five bubblers will be gunning for them.
The Conoco Mountain West Conference Tournament
Las Vegas, NV, Mar. 10-13
I’m an MWC guy, but this is no homer pick.
This tournament provides everything a fan could ask for: two elite teams (BYU and New Mexico), a very dangerous challenger playing on its home floor (UNLV), and a desperate bubble team (San Diego State).
If all goes according to plan, the semifinals will be epic.
San Diego State will be dying for one more big scalp and taking on New Mexico. BYU and UNLV would square off in what is sure to be a crazed atmosphere and a scary game for the Cougars.
Throw in some bad blood (Alford vs. Tavernari, BYU fans vs. everyone else, UNLV fans vs. everyone else) and the intensity will be palpable.
If you haven’t paid attention to the MWC, start now.
The Atlantic 10 Tournament
Atlantic City, NJ, Mar. 12-14
The Atlantic 10 may be the most competitive conference in all of college basketball.
Xavier and Temple are the cream of the crop, but Richmond, Charlotte, Dayton, Rhode Island, and even St. Louis are all in the mix.
Each is looking to strengthen their resume, and a few could still need a couple of W’s to lock up a bid. Bubble teams facing off in conference tournaments guarantee excitement and electricity.
The A-10 will provide plenty of it.
The Big Ten Conference Tournament
Indianapolis, IN, Mar. 11-14
Here’s another conference with all the ingredients.
A few very good teams (Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin) a couple of very dicey bubble candidates (Illinois and Minnesota) and great players all over the place.
The top four will need to have their guard up if the come up against a bubbly band of desperados. That’s when March becomes mad.
The battle for the title is tantalizingly intriguing with no clear favorite and a handful of capable challengers.
Add National Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner on top and it just gets sweeter.
The Big East Championship
New York City, NY, Mar. 9-13
The Big East tournament is legendary:
16 teams, 5 rounds, 5 days.
Three top 10 teams and two other top 25 squads will try to fend off six bubble dwellers for the title.
NCAA Tournament Implications…Huge Check.
All of the conference tournaments are terrific, but no one puts it all together quite like the Big Bad East.
Fans may not be treated to another 6OT thriller, but disappointment isn’t in the cards.
Regardless of conference preference, tournament week is a basketball dreamworld; the perfect appetizer for the big dance itself.
The fun is already underway.