Hoops America: Hate to burst your bubble

first_imgFor some teams, conference tournament week is a magical time of year. It’s when Northwestern and Virginia Tech celebrate their newfound chances to make the NCAA tournament despite finishing mediocre regular seasons. Conversely, it’s also the most nerve wracking, potentially devastating time of the year for those aforementioned postseason hopes.See, 31 of the 65 NCAA tournament bids automatically go to the winners of each conference tournament. That means if Georgia suddenly decides to stop playing like a rec-league team and instead makes a miracle run to the SEC tournament title as it did last year, it goes to the Big Dance, 12-19 record and all. That’s bad news bears for the teams that had legitimate hopes to make the NCAA tourney.The problem is every “undeserving” team that gets an automatic bid potentially eliminates a bubble team like Michigan from making the tourney. It’s great for Cleveland State that they upset Butler to win the Horizon League; it’s also very bad for Creighton and Maryland. Butler is ranked No.16 and was a lock to get a bid regardless of whether or not it won the Horizon League title game. For Cleveland State on the other hand, this was their only chance and they made the most of it, to the dismay of bubble teams everywhere.Life as one of those bubble teams is frantic this week. For those still alive in their league tourneys, the focus on just winning their next game. Those that dropped out early have to gut it out until Sunday to see just how much they screwed up. That’s four long, stressful days to hope and pray that the rest of the No. 1 seeds win out as they’re expected. Unfortunately for the bubble teams, this isn’t the best year for predictable results.The regular season proved no team is invincible (see Maryland over UNC, Providence over Pittsburgh), and the little guys were very capable of raining on better teams’ postseason hopes. Case in point, Tuesday, DePaul got its first Big East win against Cincinnati in the first round of its conference tournament, breaking an 18-game losing streak. While that didn’t mean much for DePaul, it did affect Providence, who beat the Blue Demons yesterday. A hypothetical win against Cincinnati would have helped Providence’s tournament resume, while the actual win over DePaul didn’t mean much more than beating a high school team. In this case, nobody won.The truth is conference tournaments produce a lot more losers than winners, as far as NCAA bids are concerned. Creighton won 10 games versus teams in the top 100 RPI rankings, which stands out on tournament resumes. Unfortunately, their loss to Illinois State in the Missouri Conference tournament semifinals was probably their last game this season.Obviously every conference has one or two obvious favorites to win their tournaments, but judging by the results of the regular season, surprises shouldn’t be expected. Unfortunately for bubble teams, unless they happen to be the ones dishing out those surprises, this is mainly a bad thing. In the Big Ten, Michigan State looks like it has the talent and integrity to win the conference title to go with its regular season crown. However, three of the Spartans’ five losses were to teams currently on the bubble: Maryland, Northwestern and Penn State. Should Northwestern beat Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, it would face Michigan State in the quarterfinal. With an NCAA bid on the line, the 17-12 Wildcats would surely be fired up for that game, besides the fact they know they can beat the Spartans.On the west coast, St. Mary’s players must be tearing their hair out every time Northwestern and DePaul win postseason games. The 25-6 Gaels are 45th in RPI and were ranked in the top 25 before losing their best player to injury. The player in question, Patrick Mills, returned in time for the West Coast Conference tournament, where St. Mary’s was crushed by Gonzaga. Now the Gaels are on the bubble and unfortunately not in control of their own fate. The fact Cleveland State won the Horizon League automatic bid did not sit well with St. Mary’s, or Creighton, or Penn State, or Florida or about 20 other teams that probably deserve to be in the tournament more.Of course, “deserve” is subjective in this sense; the rules are every conference tournament winner gets to be in the NCAA tournament, so by that definition, Cleveland State deserves its bid. On the other hand, do the Vikings have a realistic shot against the three or four seed they’ll probably play in the first round? Or at least a better shot than St. Mary’s would? Not to take anything away from them, but their presence in the tournament means a team that already knows it can win a game against a big time opponent, such as Boston College, doesn’t get that chance.While the fact that conference tournament season means everyone gets an extra life as far as NCAA bids go, in the end, every underdog that takes gets spot also takes away some of the excitement of the Big Dance itself. I’m happy Morehead State made their first NCAA tournament since 1984; I’m less than thrilled however, about the 19-15 Eagles’ (17-15 if you only count Division I wins) chances against a No. 1 seed in the first round. Granted, the theme of this year has been unexpected upsets and parity, but in that case it’s probably just wishful thinking.So for all you bubble teams, make like Journey and don’t stop believing. Until the main event actually starts, I’ll be rooting for the top seeds to win the conference tourneys right along with you. I mean, I’ll never get to know if Michigan can beat UCLA or Duke again if the Wolverines are stuck playing in the NIT. Let’s save the upsets and dark horse wins for next weekend.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *