Potential top seeds, bubble teams look for breaks in conference tournaments

Wednesday March 12th, 2014

C.J. Fair Will the ACC tournament give us a third matchup of Duke-Syracuse, one of the best series in college basketball this season? (Grant Halverson/Getty)

On Wednesday and Thursday, the power conferences get down to the business of beginning their league tournaments, all of which will determine the top seeds in the NCAA brackets and many of which will determine what teams end up on the preferred side of the tournament bubble.

Here's a primer on each event, the favorites and the storylines to watch:


Status: Runs Wednesday-Saturday.

The favorites: Cincinnati and Louisville had to flip a coin to determine the No. 1 seed – the Bearcats won -- but both tied for the regular season title.

The outlook: The first AAC tournament should be intensely competitive, at least at the top: Cincinnati, Louisville, SMU, Memphis and Connecticut spent the season throwing haymakers at one another. There is the very notable advantage for the Tigers -- the event is on their home floor, the FedEx Forum. But it will be most interesting to see if the Cardinals, who have won nine of 10 coming in, are rekindling the type of late-season run that brought them an NCAA title a year ago.


Status: Runs Wednesday-Sunday.

The favorites: Virginia earned the No. 1 seed, but Duke, North Carolina and a healthier Syracuse will be threats.

The outlook: A (somewhat) new era of the ACC tournament begins Wednesday, in somewhat representative fashion: First-year league member Notre Dame opens the event against original ACC member Wake Forest at the very familiar Greensboro Coliseum. But it will be another newcomer, Syracuse, most primed to shake up the proceedings. A healthy Jerami Grant might make enough difference for the Orange to return to national-title contender status. The biggest prize might be a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, depending on what happens elsewhere: Virginia, Duke and Syracuse will all have arguments for that honor with a championship run this week.

Atlantic 10

Status: Runs Wednesday-Sunday.

The favorites: Saint Louis won another regular-season title but struggled toward the end of its run.

The outlook: Another almost impossible-to-predict bracket. The Billikens won the regular season finale at Massachusetts on a last-seconds Jordair Jett layup, and that may have jolted them out of their late funk that had seen them lose their three previous games. They're a veteran crew that is difficult to bet against, and they have a somewhat favorable draw: VCU, George Washington and Massachusetts – three of the teams with the most success over the course of the regular season – are in the opposite half of the bracket. Shaka Smart's Rams have won four in a row, though, including a win over Saint Louis at home. They could cut through to a tournament title.

Big East

Status: Runs Wednesday-Saturday.

The favorites: Villanova enters as the No. 1 seed, but Doug McDermott will fuel Creighton in his first and only conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.

The outlook: Another something-old, something-new tournament thanks to conference realignment, but the event may only have a marginal impact on its top teams. Villanova can lock up a No. 1 seed, yes, and the Garden may be one of the few gyms left that can actually enhance McDermott's burgeoning legend. But teams like Providence, St. John's and Georgetown have the real work to do, as their performance this week will dictate which side of the NCAA tournament bubble they occupy on Sunday.

Big Ten

Status: Runs Thursday-Sunday.

The favorites: Michigan and Wisconsin earned the top seeds.

The outlook: Anyone attempting to figure out what will happen in this tournament needs a HAZMAT suit or a stiff drink. The Big Ten has been raucous all season, with almost every top team swinging from contender to dead-in-the-water and sometimes rising back again. Michigan has been the most consistent team and Wisconsin is renewed, having won eight in a row before a loss at Nebraska in the regular season finale. But, of course, the wildest card is Michigan State. At full strength, the Spartans have Final Four potential. But can they get to full strength by the end of the week -- or at all this season?

Big 12

Status: Runs Wednesday-Saturday.

The favorites: Kansas won the regular season title by two games ... but did so with a mostly healthy Joel Embiid.

The outlook: For a team that emerged as regular-season champion of the league with the No. 1 conference RPI, Kansas still has a lot to prove. Embiid, the Big 12's defensive player of the year, won't play in the event as he recovers from the stress fracture in his back. Will the Jayhawks show the NCAA tournament committee members enough to earn a No. 1 seed? Their path is blistering, with a possible quarterfinal matchup against surging Oklahoma State and then a semifinal with either Iowa State or Kansas State. So could an Oklahoma or Baylor steal the trophy from the other side of the bracket?


Status: Runs Wednesday-Saturday.

The favorites: Arizona, and, well, that's it.

The outlook: Possibly the least intriguing conference tournament, with the Wildcats appearing to be far and away the class of the league and few teams scrambling to get on the preferred side of the bubble. About the only mystery is whether UCLA or Oregon can rev up enough to be convincing as an NCAA tournament contender. The Ducks defeated Arizona at home last weekend to inspire at least a little curiosity.


Status: Runs Wednesday-Sunday.

The favorites: Florida, Florida and Florida. The outlook: This looks like both slightly more than a two-team tournament and slightly less, if that's possible. The Gators didn't lose an SEC game all season and haven't lost any game since early December. The distance between them and the rest of the SEC requires a passport and plane ticket to cover. So they'll be a No. 1 seed almost regardless of what happens and are a clear-cut favorite to win this event. But the league also is no longer viewed as a two-bid conference: Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas are all trying to make statements during the tournament. The Wildcats are in the Big Dance, of course, despite going from preseason No. 1 to unranked in the final AP poll. They can create some momentum, finally, toward becoming the team many anticipated they'd be. Or they can tumble into the NCAAs and a likely early exit. No shortage of drama there.

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