Top 10 Conference Tournaments To Watch
Top 10 Conference Tournaments To Watch
It’s that time of year again; in fact, some might say it’s the happiest time of the year. No, it’s not Christmas time. It’s championship week. It’s March, the regular season is winding to a close, and conference tournaments are about to kick into full swing.
To make sure you’re prepared for the days to come, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 conference tournaments to watch. The list isn’t quite as predictable as you think it might be. Not all of the major conferences are listed and not all of them are at the top. The conferences we have on this list are some of the competitive conferences in the country, the conferences where the tournaments have no heavy favorites, and the conferences where there is a lot to play for, in addition to an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
It’s in these ten conference tournaments that the madness of March will truly begin, as these wide open and competitive conference tournaments will set the stage for what should be a wide open and competitive NCAA Tournament that will be as unpredictable as they come. Adding even more drama to the slate of conference tournaments this year is the ever-changing conference landscape. Some teams in college basketball have joined new leagues and are participating in conference tournaments for the first time, while other teams are getting ready to leave their old league and will be playing in their conference’s tournament for the final time. The end of old rivalries and the formation of new ones will make these 10 tournaments even more compelling. So, without further adieu, here are the top 10 conference tournaments that you won’t want to miss this March:
Butler is gone from this league so there’s not as much star power, but there’s just as much intrigue for what is surely a one-bid league. The two teams that met in the finals last year, Valparaiso and Detroit, are the top two teams in the league and are on a crash course for a rematch in the finals again this year. The Titans embarrassed Valparaiso on their home floor to earn an NCAA bid last year, so this year the Crusaders will be motivated to avenge that loss and get back to the NCAA’s for the first time in a decade. Detroit could be poised to spring an upset if they can get back into The Big Dance; but they can’t overlook Valpo; nor can anybody forget about Wright State and Green Bay, who could factor into the conference tournament as well.
Ohio Valley Conference
In the past, Murray State has been the king of this conference, but the Racers have some competition this year, evidenced by their 10-6 conference record. The new kid on the block is Belmont, who transferred in this year from the Atlantic Sun, and has been to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons. Neither will get an at-large bid, although Belmont is 24-6 overall and 14-2 in the conference, so the conference tournament will be winner take all for both the Racers and the Bruins. If Murray State and Belmont manage to meet in the finals, it would headline the conference finals on the slate this Saturday. However, Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee State could turn into wildcards in this conference, especially Eastern Kentucky, who owns a 23-8 record and won at Murray State earlier in the season. As far as one-bid conferences go, the Ohio Valley should get pretty interesting.
West Coast Conference
Gonzaga has owned this conference during the regular season, but there are three other teams with over 20 wins on the season that feel like they have a chance to win the conference tournament. Saint Mary’s, like Gonzaga, will get an at-large bid, but both BYU and Santa Clara will be playing to get into The Big Dance. Those two teams should be plenty motivated while motivation could be an issue for Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. As long as the Zags make it to the finals they should be a lock for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, so they don’t need to win this tournament, but BYU and Santa Clara will bring everything they got to the WCC tourney, and both are good enough to pull a couple upsets and steal a bid from a bubble team.
The Pac 12
After an embarrassing season last year the Pac 12 is back and hoping to redeem itself. The league is expecting five bids this year, so there will be plenty of quality teams present. The top four teams in the standings are only separated by one game, so there’s no clear-cut favorite heading into the tournament, which should make things all the more interesting. The talent level between the top teams is so close that this tournament should come down to motivation and desire, and if the top teams fail to show any, look out for Arizona State, who is on the wrong side of the bubble and will be looking to make some noise to get into the NCAA Tournament.
Missouri Valley Conference
This tournament never disappoints, and this year should be no different. Both Creighton and Wichita State have 24 wins and should get at-large bids, but neither will be willing to take anything for granted, so they’ll be trying to win. Those two teams should be in line to meet in the finals if neither falters, which would be a must-see game. But what makes this conference so special is the number of teams capable of pulling off a couple upsets and stealing an NCAA bid. Northern Iowa, Evansville, Indiana State, and Illinois State are all teams to keep an eye on, as all four are capable teams and all four are just one win away from a semi-final matchup with either Creighton or Wichita State and a chance to earn their way into The Big Dance.
The Atlantic 10
As far as mid-major conferences go, the Atlantic 10 might be the best, especially now that they’ve added VCU and Butler. The league could get as many as five at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, and with a couple of those teams playing to secure a spot and the rest playing for pride, this should be an entertaining tournament, which will be played at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Teams like Saint Louis, VCU, and Butler will be on display before heading to the NCAA Tournament, where all three should be considered threats, but nearly all of the 12 teams in the A-10 tourney will have a winning record heading in and will be capable of making some noise, which will give the A-10 one of the more unpredictable conference tournaments out there.
Atlantic Coast Conference
It’s not been the prettiest year for the ACC, but year after year this is one of the more entertaining tournaments in the country. Miami and Duke have been at the top of the conference all season and both have their eye on a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, and both know they can secure one by winning the ACC Tournament, which means we could get a rubber match between the two teams in the finals. Meanwhile, Virginia, Maryland, and N.C. State are still trying to lockdown a spot in The Big Dance and will be looking for a marquee win against either Miami or Duke to solidify a spot, which should keep things interesting.
The Mountain West is usually one of the top mid-major conferences in the country, and this year they could be looking at four, possibly five NCAA tournament bids. New Mexico may be the best team in the nation that nobody knows about, and they’ll certainly be looking to showcase themselves during their conference tournament. Meanwhile, Colorado State and UNLV have both spent plenty of time in the top-25, but not enough people know how good they are. San Diego State is the fourth lock for the NCAA tournament from this conference, and Steve Fisher’s team will be looking to get geared up for another deep run in March. All four teams should be ready to put on a show in Las Vegas, and all fans should take a good look at each of them before filling out their brackets on Selection Sunday. The wildcard in this tournament is Boise State, who is still trying to punch their ticket to the dance. The Broncos aren’t known for their prowess on the basketball court, but they’ll be plenty motivated to win some games in this tournament and assure themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament. One final sleeper in this tournament is Wyoming. The Cowboys have stumbled down the stretch and had two separate four-game losing streaks, but they were great early in the season, including a win over Colorado, and they could be dangerous if they catch fire at the right time. There’s a lot going on in the Mountain West this year, and it should make the conference tournament interesting to watch.
The Big Ten
No other conference in the country has as many elite teams as the Big Ten. If the seeds hold, the quality of teams playing in the semi-finals will be second to none. There’s not much at stake as far as who’s in and who’s out of the NCAA Tournament, but with all the top teams involved, the winner of the Big Ten is likely going to get a number one seed, and we may even see two number one seeds come out of the conference. With a number one seed on the line, every team should bring their best effort, which should lead to an exciting and well-played tournament.
The Big East
This will be the swan song of The Big East Tournament as we know it, and it’s bound to magical. The Big East won’t be the same without Syracuse, and next year the Orange along with Pittsburgh are heading to the ACC, to be followed soon by Louisville and Notre Dame. The conference stands to send eight teams to the NCAA Tournament and all eight are capable of winning the Big East Tournament beforehand. History tells us that anything can happen in this tournament, and it usually does. Between the number of quality teams, the unpredictable nature of the tournament, the historical significance, and the fact that it’s played in the world’s most famous arena, The Big East Tournament is a can’t miss.