For bubble teams like St. John’s, Minnesota, St. Joseph’s and Dayton, this week will make or break NCAA tournament hopes. In all the major conferences, teams with borderline tournament resumes will try to win several games and convince the tournament selection committee that they deserve to enter the Madness. Yet for every team who shines this week, another team’s bubble will burst. It seems crazy to obsess over teams who will likely lose early in the tournament, if they even make it. However, the 2011 VCU Rams made the Final Four after surviving the play-in game as one of the final bubble teams selected. This week, bubble teams are searching for signature wins against better teams, which will likely lead to some fantastic games.
The nation’s powerhouses also have a lot on the line this week, since seeding plays a massive role in determining how the tournament will play out. For Villanova, Duke, Kansas and Virginia, a conference tourney win could garner a top seed, while an embarrassing defeat could slide each squad down to a three seed. For teams on the edge of the Top 25 rankings, tournament seeding can fluctuate even more based on upcoming results. A four seed beckons for weekend overachievers, whereas a quarterfinal loss could lead to a dreaded eight seed and near certain death before the Sweet 16.
Finally, in small conferences like the MEAC with only one NCAA Tournament bid, the conference tournament takes on an even greater importance. If the regular season conference champion has a single bad game, its season gets ruined while an average team marches onwards. For the hardcore basketball fan, these conference tournament clashes are sometimes the best, because every game is do-or-die. Since my parents attended two small-conference California schools, I went to the Big West Conference Tournament often as a kid. Even though the teams were no better than Fordham, the games were played with an intensity that sometimes exceeds that of SEC semifinal games. If you get the chance, watch a couple small conference title games, most of which are on ESPN2.
Whether you fill out brackets or merely love basketball, be sure to watch this week’s madness before the Madness begins.
— Dominic Kearns
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