Monday, March 05, 2007

Conference Tournaments

First of all, let me just say that I'm not really a big fan of conference tournaments in college basketball. I think the concept is kind of stupid, and really doesn't prove anything, especially considering that almost all conferences allow all of their teams to reach to the tournament. It's even more meaningless in the Pac 10, where everyone plays everyone else twice, and the conference can crown a true champion in the regular season.

In small conferences, where they're only likely to send one team to the dance, it's not unheard of for one team to bust their asses all year to win the conference outright, only to lose in the conference tourney and be shut out of the NCAA tournament. I'm not going to look for examples right now because I'm lazy, but it's not a difficult concept to grasp. For large conferences, multiple teams are going to get invited, usually regardless of the outcome of the tourney (hell, the Big 10 conference tourney ends so late that they field really has to be set before the final game anyway). Best case scenario, there are no shake ups. Worst case scenario, you get an NIT bound team who goes on a run, wins the tourney, and sends another, more deserving, team home.

That's not to say conference tourneys aren't exciting. Some of the most exciting basketball I've ever seen was in 1999, when the last place Illini made an improbable run to the Big 10 championship game before losing to eventual Final Four team Michigan State. In that run, Corey Bradford was unconscious, almost singlehandedly willing the Illini to the championship game. It also featured probably the greatest play I've ever seen. Leading Ohio State in the final minute of the semi-final game, Damir Krupalija flew to the baseline to block a three point attempt (probably by Scoonie Penn, but I was probably drunk at the time, so I can't remember). Not only did he block the shot, but he controlled it, and while trying to call timeout as he was falling out of bounds, he was fouled. So what was once an open three turned into free throws for the Illini. Ohio State would later join Michigan State in the final four that year.

Anyway, my problems with conference tournaments aside, here's how I see them falling out in the Pac 10 and Big 10 this season.

Pac 10

Cal over OSU
Washington over ASU

UCLA over Cal
Stanford over U$C
Washington State over Washington
Arizona over Oregon

UCLA over Arizona (again)
Stanford over Washington State

UCLA over Stanford

I'd be absolutely fine with UCLA losing to Arizona or Oregon in that second round game. I think they're still a lock for the number one seed in the West, almost regardless of what happens in the tourney, but I'm pretty sure one win gets it done. And they could probably use the rest. Then again, last year they won the tourney and the extra games didn't seem to bother them.

I also wouldn't be surprised to Washington upset Wazzu, now that they apparently care about defense. I don't buy the "tough to beat a team three times" canard. If a team was that tough to beat, they wouldn't have lost the first two times.

Really, this conference has been so tough this year that I could see any of the top seven teams winning it. Nothing would surprise me outside of Cal, OSU, or ASU making a run.

Big 10

Michigan over Minnesota
MSU over Northwestern
Illinois over Penn State

OSU over Michigan
Purdue over Iowa
MSU over Wisconsin
Illinois over Indiana

OSU over Purdue
MSU over Illinois

OSU over MSU

If it shakes out that way, the question is who goes to the NCAA tournament. OSU and Wisconsin are locks. Indiana is probably in regardless of what happens. A trip to the final would get the job done for MSU. But would that be it? I would assume that two more wins would be enough for Illinois, but if Purdue advances as far, would the committee keep them out? Illinois would have two more wins, and they currently sit 10 spots above Purdue in the RPI. Still, something tells me that short of a run to the finals, Illinois is going to get left out. I know it's counter to what I've said all along, but call it a gut feeling. I said they needed to win one of their last two road games (which they did at Penn State), and one game in the tournament. But the sixth seed means that one win isn't very impressive. They probably need two, and it would really help if Iowa beat Purdue in the quarterfinals. Otherwise, the committee would have to take six Big 10 teams, and I can't see that happening.

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