The NCAA conference tournaments are almost here. Just the sound of those words get me excited because, as any college basketball fan can attest, these tournaments can be as unpredictable and exhilarating as March Madness itself. And, at the very least, it’s a sign that the Big Dance is almost upon us!
For those of you who are unfamiliar, each of the 31 NCAA Division I conferences (with the notable exception of the Ivy League) will partake in a post-season tournament to determine the conference champion. This is important is because the winner of each tournament will earn an automatic bid into March Madness. For teams “on the bubble” or completely out of the postseason picture, these tournaments provide one last-chance to punch that valuable ticket for postseason play.
While all conferences provide some breathtaking moments, there are several in particular that are huge sellers on StubHub and stand out above the rest. The Big East, Big Ten, and the SEC conferences stand to be the marquee events this season. Needless to say, the Big West tournament, which will prominently feature my 5-23 University of California Davis Aggies, didn’t make the list. But, there’s still several reasons why the Big East, Big Ten and SEC conferences are a must-watch!
The Big East
If you only have the stamina to watch one conference tournament, watch the Big East. This is annually one of the best conference tournaments in the nation, taking place with 16 teams over the course of five days in the historic Madison Square Garden. The tournament is also celebrating its 30th year at the Garden, the most ever at one site.
Last season is a prime example of why these tournaments matter. Connecticut limped into the Big East Tournament ranked 9th in the Big East, and then proceeded to win five games in five days (a feat never done before), including four wins against teams ranked in the AP Top 25. The Huskies then used that momentum to win six more consecutive games in route to a third national title.
The Huskies were also involved in one of the most memorable games in Big East Tournament history: a six-overtime 2009 thriller against Syracuse. As the dust cleared, UConn actually came on the opposite end of that 127-117, four hour marathon against the Orange, but it just goes to show you that the drama runs high at the Garden!
This year is poised to be another classic for the Big East as the top-seeded Syracuse Orangemen look primed to continue their amazing season in route to a Big East Championship. However, Marquette, Georgetown, South Florida and the only team this year to defeat Syracuse, Notre Dame, stand in their way. Regardless, if you love college basketball, there’s no better atmosphere than MSG in March. And, check this out, guess who is currently ranked ninth in the Big East … that’s right, Connecticut. Anything can happen!
The Big Ten
Although relatively new to the conference tournament scene (first started in 1998), but still rich in history, the Big Ten Conference Tournament is another one to make sure you catch. If anything, the Big Ten Tournament has been a pretty good barometer of future March success. Out of the 14 years this tournament has been in existence, eight of its champions have gone on to reach the Sweet Sixteen. And for the first time, the University of Nebraska will join the festivities as the tournament grows bigger and better.
This year may mark the most balanced collection of quality Big Ten teams yet, as the conference currently has five teams ranked above the Top 20. Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana all have a realistic shot of winning this title. It also features several notable teams fighting for their tournament lives in Purdue and Northwestern. It’s worth saying that Northwestern has never made the NCAA Tournament. Ever. Here’s to hoping this is their year!
Normally noted as a football power, the SEC also maintains a strong basketball presence. The conference boasts 12 teams, but most years it’s just 11 teams chasing Kentucky. The Kentucky Wildcats have won a staggering 27 SEC Tournaments and once again, the Wildcats are favored. Kentucky is ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation and has steamrolled through an undefeated SEC schedule. They boast a talented lineup of stars, including freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who I would recommend watching when you get a chance because both of those guys will be balling in the NBA next year. Hopefully on the Warriors!
This year’s edition is going to be exciting to see if anyone can catch Kentucky. Several teams like Florida, Vanderbilt and Alabama, while certainly not as talented at Kentucky, are definitely positioned to catch lightning in a bottle and pull off the upset.
The rest of the conferences have tournaments that are also worth checking out, especially to see which teams get
s hot. A little homework now will pay off in a big way when you go to fill out your bracket in a few weeks. I’ll be back later in March to give you some of my favorite theories to help pick those brackets, with a little data from StubHub to back up those claims. I’m here to help everyone win those office pools! March Madness has always been one of my favorite times of the year and these conference tournaments will give all of us a little taste of the fun to come.