Viewing guide: Conference tournament championship Sunday
The NCAA tournament bracket is almost set, but the committee has to Goldilocks it a little more until it's just right. The field of 68 is pretty much locked in, and there aren't any more bid-stealers left to be found, so it's a matter of seeding now. With five games left to be played on Selection Sunday, there's still plenty to look forward to before the brackets are revealed at 6 p.m. ET.
Following all of today's action won't require the dexterity from the past few days, but this is more of an all-out sprint to the finish. All five of Sunday's conference championship games will be split between three major networks, requiring judicious use of the last channel button.
Stay hydrated, stay positive and remember it's always important to stretch.
ACC Championship: No. 7 Duke (26-7, 13-5 in conference) vs. No. 6 Virginia (27-6, 16-2 in conference)
How to watch: 1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why you should watch: The last number one seed is still up for grabs, and there's a chance the Blue Devils or Cavaliers could make a claim to it. Duke was challenged by N.C. State in Saturday's ACC semifinal, but the Wolfpack couldn't play with the kind of effort for a full 40 minutes that they needed to beat the Blue Devils. Against Virginia, Duke will have to get the same kind of balance it got on Saturday. In games when Jabari Parker has been ineffective, there have been times this season where the team hasn't been able to pull it together. But if Rodney Hood keeps playing at this level and the Devils can get something out of guards like Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook, they'll be tough for the Cavs to defend.
Virginia is operating at peak Virginia right now. The pack-line defense is strong, Joe Harris is getting his teammates involved, Malcolm Brogdon continues to play at a high level and even Anthony Gill has been playing better of late. The Cavaliers will always be identified by their defense, but Tony Bennett knows his team has to be able to score in the NCAA tournament, and he has the pieces to do that.
Atlantic 10 Championship: Saint Joseph’s (23-9, 11-5 in conference) vs. No. 23 VCU (26-7, 12-4 in conference)
How to watch: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS
Why you should watch: VCU's "Havoc" style of play is entertaining for just about anyone, whether you're used to it or you're seeing it for the very first time. Head coach Shaka Smart recruited exactly the players he wants for this system and it has led to great results this season. The Rams are a top 10 team in KenPom, hold the highest steal percentage and turnover percentage in the nation and have the second-best adjusted defense. They're long, they're lanky and they don't let up.
Saint Joe's didn't really have a spectacular non-conference slate, with its best win coming probably against Vermont, but it took care of business in conference play and made the league's championship game. The Hawks are safely in the field but can improve their seeding a line or two with a win over VCU on Saturday. This is just a solid, veteran basketball team on both ends of the floor.
Sun Belt Championship: Louisiana-Lafayette (22-11, 11-7 in conference) vs. Georgia State (25-7, 17-1 in conference)
How to watch: 1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why you should watch: Because the Sun Belt is the Fun Belt.
HAIL TO THE SUN BELT/SURE IS A FUN BELT/ RA RA RA
— Holly Anderson (@HollyAnderson) September 16, 2012
A win by Georgia State today will make the Panthers a popular ]upset pick (they're currently projected to be either a 13 or a 14 seed) in the Big Dance. Ron Hunter's team takes care of the basketball and runs a pretty efficient offense.But before it can be considered any sort of world-beater, Georgia State is going to have to get past the Ragin' Cajuns.
SEC Championship: Kentucky (24-9, 12-6 in conference) vs. No. 1 Florida (31-2, 18-0 in conference)
How to watch: 3:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why you should watch: This is the SEC championship everyone (okay, except for the bubble teams in the league) wanted to see. The results of this one -- especially this late in the day -- won't really affect Florida. The only way the Gators won't be a No. 1 seed is if they lose 100-2 and all their players befall some sort of Simpsons "Homer At The Bat"-style catastrophe.
Things are a bit more interesting for Kentucky. Just a few days ago it looked like the Wildcats were on life support and heading for a flatline. Whatever "tweak" -- the word head coach John Calipari says he made to his callow club -- they've made has worked, though, at least in the SEC tournament. Kentucky is playing a bit more free and doesn't seem like it's overthinking as much. That's a good thing. On sheer talent alone the Wildcats should be able to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAAs, but if they get bogged down too much or lose confidence, they could be picked off by an opportunistic team. Winning the SEC wouldn't be a cure-all for their up-and-down season, but it would definitely help further boost their fortunes.
Big Ten Championship: No. 22 Michigan State (25-8, 12-6 in conference) vs. No. 8 Michigan
How to watch: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Why you should watch: It's the last conference championship before the brackets come out and like Christmas morning you're just going to be too excited to sleep (or do chores). The depth of the Big Ten this year means regular season champion Michigan has the inside track for at No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, and the Wolverines can eliminate any doubt by beating the Spartans. On the other hand, a loss by Michigan would allow the ACC champion to possibly slide in and steal the last number one.
The Wolverines barely survived both Illinois on Friday and Ohio State on Saturday to reach this game, and their hot shooting will need to continue against an MSU team that maybe kind of a little bit looks healthy. People have been saying it all year: The Spartans are a Final Four contender if healthy, but that qualifier has been hard to come by. That being said, Tom Izzo is still the coach, so regardless of the result of this game, please remember to take Michigan State one round further than you think it'll go. It's a smart rule to follow.
And of course . . .
How to watch: 6:00 p.m. ET, CBS Why you should watch: Because this is what we've been waiting for all season. The Madness has arrived.