Parity in Conference Tournament Weekend

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By Peter Christian

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Last year I confessed that I thought the next 60 days were the greatest two months of the sporting year. Whether you agree with me or not the fact remains the same: every day between now and the end of April will have something exciting going on in the sports world. The kick-off to the excitement is the conference tournaments in college basketball which then turns into Selection Sunday and then the NCAA Tournament. Last year I was extremely pumped because UCLA was in a great spot to contend for a national title, which they did (getting bounced in the National Semifinal by eventual champ Florida). This year, however I’m giddy for a completely different reason. I cannot recall a time in the past decade in which we were less than a month away from the National Championship and there wasn’t a majority favorite to cut the nets down. As we are set to see in the conference tournaments, the 2007-08 season will be remembered as a great year for college basketball. Unlike years past when every conference tournament had 1-2 teams that were pretty much locks to win the automatic bid, this season is wide open. Only the ACC and SEC look as if they are pretty locked up (sort of). Every other major conference looks to be at least a three horse race before even considering upsets. That translates into an ultra competitive week of basketball that will surely roll into the next three weeks.

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Also in years past there has been a lot of emphasis on the performance of the “bubble teams” during their respective conference tournaments. This year I have a feeling that a lot of those so-called bubble teams will be NIT bound. Why? Because the NCAA Selection committee isn’t going to have a whole lot of room to work with since the conference tournaments are going to be so competitive that the teams playing well this weekend will get a more serious look than those with a rough finish or an early conference tourney exit. Also, the committee has to have noticed that bubble teams typically don’t perform all that well in the NCAA Tournament when compared to teams that have a shakier resume but played their way well beyond expectations. High excitement equals good ratings, good ratings equals big bucks, big bucks equals success.

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For the first time in my life I can say that I am not dreading conference tournament week for the reason that only a handful of the games would prove to be memorable. Instead I am looking to this week as a perfect opening to the NCAA Tournament because the games with the expected outcomes are going to be in the minority. The level of competition is a lot more even throughout college basketball this season and it seems most teams (at least teams that are fighting for a tournament spot) have figured out their identity and are using it to their advantage. Conversely, the top teams are far from immortal. Every team that is currently atop the rankings has a major flaw that has been exposed at least once this season and can be exploited again. I don’t want to portray that I think there are going to be a ton of upsets this year, however I think that there are going to be plenty of games that go to overtime or come down to the last shot.

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This year, getting into the tournament is going to be a lot more important than the number next to the school name. Mark my words there is a team right now that would probably get seeded 11th or 12th that will end up with a five or six seed and vice versa. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if a team that is expected to get a five or six seed falls to the NIT if they duck out of their conference tourney with a poor performance because a team that seemingly has no chance makes an unbelievable run to their championship and gets rewarded for doing so. No matter what happens, it is official. The insanity starts now. The madness is underway. And we’ve still got four days until Selection Sunday.

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