This time of year there’s a lot of teeth gnashing and hand wringing when a top team struggles or gets upset in conference tournament play. Keep in mind that are very good reasons for this all to common “phenomenon.” And it’s not because these great teams suddenly stink.
The fact of the matter is that most top seeds don’t put a lot of emphasis, either consciously or subconsciously, on conference tournament games. Their work is done, for the most part, and elite teams usually have their eyes on a bigger prize.
A deep march in March.
Added in to the mix is the fact that usually these conference big dogs are playing a team that has begun its NCAA tournament in earnest. Not officially of course, but a team that’s on the bubble or on the outside looking in has to make a statement by beating a top 10 team or they have to win whole enchilada for an automatic berth.
Remember, underdog schools have scholarship athletes too, and they’re not intimidated by the top seeds in the conference because they play these guys twice a year.
So to recap, the four projected top seeds, Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, and Duke have either struggled or lost outright to an upstart looking to make a statement. Even potential two’s and three’s have struggled.
Duke scrapes by a hapless Cavaliers club and then holds on for dear life to hold off the seventh seeded Miami Hurricanes. Not only was game vs. Miami close and tied at halftime, but Coach K picked up an uncharacteristic technical while the cameras panned into the stands with shots of Mrs. Krzyzewski and family joining the fray.
That’s a lot of tension for a team you’re supposed to run out of the gym.
Top overall seed Kansas has yet to show up for a first half in its conference tournament. The Jayhawks led Texas Tech by a whole bucket to end the half in the first game and trailed Texas A&M by three at the break in last nights nail biter. If Jayhawks don’t come to play from the opening tip tonight, they’ll get beat by a KSU club looking for revenge.
Another potential 1 seed, Syracuse, was ousted by rival Georgetown. I think it actually helps them get ready for the big dance because now they can relax, lick their wounds, and look forward to getting out of the mix master that is the Big East conference. The Orangemen would rather play the Knicks at this point than a Big East club.
Down in the Bluegrass State, Ashley Judd and Wildcat fans were probably getting a bit worried yesterday. Kentucky got all it wanted from up and coming superstar coach Anthony Grant and his Alabama Crimson Tide. So much so that they came out and blasted Tennessee by thirty today after the temperature check.
Finally Ohio State needed a bomb from the hash to buzzer beat rival Michigan on Friday. Then the Buckeyes continued to ride Evan Turner today needing double overtime to vanquish an Illinois club fighting for its tournament life. After beating Michigan State and nearly upsetting OSU, I think the Illini will survive. But keep an eye on the Buckeyes, Evan Turner simply refuses to let his team lose. That’s a pretty important trait to have going into the tournament.
So again, upsets and grinders are typical this time of year. So don’t sweat it if the team you penciled in to make a deep tournament run has some close calls, or heaven forbid, gets beaten. There’s a likely a much better explanation other than the lazy “this team is overrated.” It’s probably that they’re just sick and tired of seeing conference foes especially ones that are already playing NCAA tournament elimination games.
Survive and advance is all you’ll care about next week.
This article originally appeared on March To March
Follow Kevin Berger on Twitter: @MarchToMarch