The conference tournament season tips off this week for the power conferences with the exception of the Big Ten, which completed their tournament over the weekend.
In this week’s column, I am going to highlight a bunch of teams that are in near “must win” mode this week in order to secure their place and participation in the NCAA Tournament. That doesn’t mean you should blindly bet on these squads but you want to be aware of them and potentially look for advantageous spots, prices and match-up edges to support these teams throughout the course of this conference tournament week.
Notre Dame is in need of some serious work to get in the tournament. The Fighting Irish had some of the “fight” taken out of them for much of the season when their senior forward Bonzie Colson was out for an extended period of time with a foot injury. Notre Dame was 11-3 with Colson on the floor and only 6-9 without him.
Now the Irish are fully healthy with PG Matt Farrell and Colson back for this team and Notre Dame knows what they need to do. They need at least a couple wins in the ACC Tournament against Pitt and Virginia Tech and that would put them in a position to possibly face Duke in the Quarterfinals, which would give them a chance at the signature, resume-building win Notre Dame will likely need to earn in order to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.
Syracuse is another team on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament entering this week and Jim Boeheim’s squad will need to go on a very deep run in the ACC Tournament. It will not take anything less than at least a victory over North Carolina in a potential second round match-up in the tournament to put themselves in the conversation of getting into the NCAA Tournament but that may not even be enough on its own. Needless to say, Syracuse, which has struggled to find consistent offense despite playing reasonably well on the defensive end of the court, will need to go on a run this week to guarantee themselves of their place in the tourney.
Oklahoma suffered through a very turbulent season on the heels of a dominant 10-1 start to the season in non-conference play. The Sooners got off to a 4-1 opening in Big 12 play but things mostly fell apart for them after that, going 4-10 SU, 3-11 ATS in their final 14 games of the Big 12 regular season. Oklahoma’s spot in the tournament is tenuous at best and they will likely need to earn at least one victory in the Big 12 Tournament to secure a bid and they will have to open up the tournament with their first game being in-state rival Oklahoma State.
Texas is another team that is sitting squarely on the bubble going into the Big 12 Tournament this week. The Longhorns likely helped their cause by taking down West Virginia this past weekend on their home floor but there is more work to be done for Shaka Smart’s squad. Texas could face Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament should they defeat Iowa State in their first round game. That would set the Longhorns up with a chance to pretty much guarantee their place in the NCAA Tournament if they can defeat the Red Raiders for a second time this season.
It looked like Avery Johnson’s Alabama Crimson Tide squad would be a shoe-in to be Dancing a couple months ago but the Tide have undone so much of the quality play they put together early in the season with a mediocre and disappointing finish to their SEC regular season campaign. Alabama enters this week on a five-game losing streak, going 1-4 ATS as well in those games, and they have quickly moved from in the tournament to firmly on the bubble and quite possibly out of the tournament altogether as things stand right now.
Alabama has only one high quality win in non-conference play and that was a home win against Rhode Island in December, and the Crimson Tide now find themselves in a situation where multiple wins this week may be required to ensure they are not left out on Selection Sunday. Mississippi State coached by Ben Howland, who formerly took multiple UCLA Bruins teams to the NCAA’s, is another squad that will need to do damage and notch multiple wins in the SEC Tournament this week to bolster their resume and cause for the Big Dance.
The Bulldogs’ chances took a massive hit with season ending back-to-back blowout losses to Tennessee and LSU and they will need to likely beat one or both of those same two teams in the SEC Tournament later this week to gain consideration for the tournament. Mississippi State will play LSU in the second round and should they win there they would take on the Tennessee Volunteers in the Quarterfinals.
This sets up to be a very exciting conference tournament to watch featuring a slew of teams that could either play themselves in or out of the NCAA Tournament based on their performance later this week at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Arizona State, Washington, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Utah are all squads that are no cinch to get in the Big Dance and all of them will greatly benefit from picking up at least a win or two in the PAC-12 Tournament to improve their chances of playing in the NCAA Tournament in a little over a week from now.
The above teams I listed are teams to be aware of because the motivation should be there for all of them to perform at a high level this week in a last gasp effort to make it into the NCAA Tournament. However, as I often say, “must win” doesn’t mean “will win.” You still must handicap the games, match-ups and spot as per usual to determine whether these teams can turn that motivation to make the tournament into positive and winning results on the court.