Potential Chaos Teams in Men's College Basketball Power Conference Tournaments

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2021

Potential Chaos Teams in Men's College Basketball Power Conference Tournaments

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    Michigan State's Aaron Henry
    Michigan State's Aaron HenryJulio Cortez/Associated Press

    College basketball conference tournaments often don't go according to plan. Instead, chaos will disrupt what most analysts and fans expect from the final matchups before March Madness.

    In this case, chaos comes in many forms.

    The most obvious is a top-seeded team losing in an early round. But it also could be removing a potential quality win for a bubble team, or preventing a bubble team from even reaching the round of a conference tournament that offers a meaningful win.

    Yes, the list of power conferences, high-majors and mid-majors can be debated. Our focus is the traditional Power Five of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, plus the Big East.

ACC: North Carolina State Wolfpack

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    From the beginning of January to mid-February, North Carolina State endured a 2-8 slide. In a five-game winning streak since then, the Wolfpack have mostly dispatched low-tier ACC competition.

    But they also knocked out regular-season champion Virginia, which creates an interesting conversation.

    NC State begins its ACC tournament in the second round opposite Syracuse, a bubble team in desperate need of a few wins. If the Wolfpack eliminate the Orange, though, Jim Boeheim and Co. will likely be watching March Madness from home.

    The winner of that matchup will then take on Virginia in the quarterfinals. And if NC State springs another upset, it would get awfully interesting.

    While two victories wouldn't lift the Pack into the projected NCAA field, reaching the ACC tournament semifinals would put them on "bid-stealer" alert.

Big East: St. John's Red Storm

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    John Peterson/Associated Press

    Entering the Big East tournament, St. John's is clinging to a fraying thread of hope on the bubble. Two bad losses and a 2-6 record in Quadrant 1 games are plaguing the Red Storm.

    But they could be both a spoiler and sleeper at Madison Square Garden.

    St. John's opens against Seton Hall, which has dropped four straight games and is also teetering on the wrong side of the bubble. If the Red Storm win, Seton Hall will basically be out of NCAA contention.

    The winner will then presumably meet Villanova in the semifinals. Though the Wildcats won the regular-season crown, star guard Collin Gillespie is sidelined for the rest of the year because of an MCL injury. And without him, Villanova just lost to Providence.

    St. John's has a chance to eliminate Seton Hall, beat Villanovawhich it already did in Februaryand reach the Big East tournament championship with an auto-bid at stake.

Big Ten: Michigan State Spartans

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Not only is Michigan State about as "on the bubble" as a program can possibly be, but Tom Izzo's team has the potential to disrupt a second NCAA bid.

    The first part is obvious: The Spartans are included in 77 of the 103 projections listed on BracketMatrix.com. Among bubble teams, that's the second-lowest numberonly ahead of Xavier's 74before the sizable drop to Syracuse's 22.

    In other words, Michigan State is entering the Big Ten tournament with a razor-thin margin for error.

    The Spartans' first opponent, Maryland, isn't much different. Consecutive losses to Northwestern and Penn State have shifted the Terrapins from a likely NCAA team to a real question mark.

    If Maryland wins, the conversation will be all about MSU. But if the Spartans win (and fall to Michigan in the quarterfinals), both programs will be sweating out Selection Sunday.

Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Relative to the bubble, the Big 12 is the least interesting league among the six major conferences. Seven teams are locked into the March Madness field, and the other three are auto-bid or bust.

    So, let's talk perception.

    Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia will definitely be top-four seeds in the NCAA tournament. Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech all have that potential depending on what happens in the Big 12 and elsewhere during championship week. However, Oklahoma is struggling.

    While previous wins over West Virginia (twice), Kansas, Texas and Alabama have locked the Sooners into the field, they've lost four straight games. They're viewed as the seventh-best team in the 10-team league.

    But if the Sooners can beat Iowa State and upset Kansas, they'll regain some respect heading into March Madness.

Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Since no Pac-12 team is really on the bubble, the conference tournament is more about the potential riser.

    And for Stanford, it's all about health.

    Oscar da Silva, a potential first-team All-Pac-12 player, has averaged 18.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists this season. Stanford held a bubble-worthy 14-9 record with him in the lineup, but a foot injury sidelined the senior for the last three games.

    After a close loss to Oregon, the Cardinal fell to Oregon State 73-62 and USC 79-42. That's a clear indication of da Silva's value to Stanford, which beat Alabama, Arizona (twice) and UCLA during the regular season.

    If da Silva is available to play alongside top NBA draft prospect Ziaire Williams, Stanford at least has enough talent to make a run at a Pac-12 tournament title and steal an automatic bid.

SEC: Mississippi Rebels

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Speaking of talent, Kentucky is never short on that. However, execution has been the problem in 2020-21.

    Close finishes are a frustratingly familiar norm for the Wildcats, who are 9-15 overall and hold a 4-7 record in games decided by five points or less. Five NCAA-bound teamsKansas, Louisville, Missouri, Arkansas and Florida—have all edged past Kentucky.

    On one hand, the 'Cats have too many losses for March Madness at-large consideration. But it also suggests Kentucky could be a friendly bounce or two away from springing some upsets.

    Given what happened in the regular season, it's unwise to expect the Wildcats to suddenly flip the proverbial switch in the SEC tournament. But between Kentucky or Mississippi, we'll take UK's underperforming yet talent-filled roster as the potential chaos team.


    Statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.