Champ Week: Setting up Week 2
Here is your quick conference tournament primer for the week from Monday to Selection Sunday:
Top seed: Duke (26-5, 13-3)
What's at stake in Greensboro, N.C.?
1. Duke can earn a No. 1 seed with a tournament title, though the Blue Devils may still get it without winning the tournament.
2. Georgia Tech can quell any fears of missing the tourney by beating North Carolina in the first round Thursday. Eleven losses against this lot may lead some to conclude that the Yellow Jackets don't belong.
3. Call me crazy, but the only bracket buster in the group is North Carolina. The Tar Heels have woefully underachieved this season, but they still have the talent to cause problems if they suddenly flip the switch, defend, and play with purpose and passion. Beating Georgia Tech, Maryland and then likely Florida State or Clemson is far-fetched, but it's not impossible.
4. A matchup that would be worth the wait is Round 3 of Duke-Maryland. The first matchup in Durham, N.C., was a rout, while the second in College Park, Md., featured intense drama. A win in a possible third matchup would shoot the Terps even higher in the NCAA bracket.
Top seed: Temple (26-5, 14-2)
What's at stake in Atlantic City, N.J.?
1. The Atlantic 10 has a lock on three bids with Temple, Xavier and Richmond. But there's a chance for more. Plenty of candidates are capable of making a deep run, including Dayton, Charlotte and Rhode Island. If any of the three wins the tournament, the A-10 can get the four bids it coveted months ago.
2. The team I'm most intrigued to see advance is No. 4 seed Saint Louis. I've known Rick Majerus for 20 years, and I've never seen a team he has coached receive less attention. He has quietly done one of the best coaching jobs in the country and is proving there was never any reason to doubt whether he could turn SLU around.
3. The team you can't dismiss is Dayton. Forget about the Flyers' No. 7 seeding. This squad can beat anyone in the league and earn its way back to the Big Dance. Expect the Flyers to knock out George Washington in the first round at home, setting up a showdown against rival Xavier in the quarterfinals.
4. The A-10 is playing its championship game Sunday on CBS, and if a bubble-busting team is in the field, the selection committee will have to come up with alternative plans. The seeding of a possible A-10 lock will also be held hostage by the start time.
Top seed: Kansas (29-2, 15-1)
What's at stake in Kansas City?
1. Kansas is already assured a No. 1 seed and might have already locked up the No. 1 overall seed. Winning the Big 12 tournament would likely cement that for the Jayhawks. Kansas State is still playing for a possible No. 2 seed and could help its cause with an appearance in the final or, at the very least, a loss to Kansas in the final.
2. Maybe I'll finally give up on Texas, but the Longhorns still have too much talent simply to disappear this postseason. They have to get past a suddenly confident Iowa State team -- fresh off a win at Kansas State -- to get a rematch with Baylor. But Texas is more than capable of making a deep run in this event to regain some confidence heading into the tourney.
3. Unfortunately, there are no bubble teams here, and I don't see a bubble-busting team in the field. Iowa State, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas Tech or Colorado can't win four games to steal the automatic bid. Don't see it happening.
4. If not Kansas, who? Look to the Baylor Bears. I know I just said Texas could be a hot squad, but Baylor is my pick if you're looking for a team not named Kansas to win three games. Baylor is playing loose and confident and can match up athletically with any team in the field.
Top seed: Syracuse (28-3, 16-2)
What's at stake in New York?
1. Let's not waste time discussing Syracuse. The Orange are a lock for a No. 1 seed -- if not the overall No. 1, the second No. 1. The issue here will be how the next highest seeds -- Pitt (No. 2), West Virginia (No. 3) and Villanova (No. 4) -- are seeded on Selection Sunday. Nova was in contention for a No. 1 seed two weeks ago before sliding down to fourth in the Big East. A Big East tournament title could shoot the Cats back up the bracket.
2. The Big East has the most interesting bubble discussions of any of the high-major tournaments. Or does it? If you subscribe to the argument that Louisville and Notre Dame are safely in the field, as I do, there may not be as much drama at Madison Square Garden as originally thought. Seton Hall believes it's a player for an at-large bid. That might be true if the Pirates beat Providence, Notre Dame and Pitt to reach the semifinals. Connecticut probably thinks it has a chance as well. But the Huskies better beat St. John's, Marquette and Villanova to be taken seriously. That's asking a lot. Cincinnati? Well, the Bearcats better beat Rutgers, Louisville and West Virginia. South Florida? Let's the see the Bulls beat DePaul, Georgetown and Syracuse.
3. Austin Freeman's remarkably quick turnaround after being diagnosed with diabetes is something. Freeman played superbly in the Hoyas' win over Cincinnati on Saturday. If he can maintain that level throughout the Big East tournament, the Hoyas could be trouble for top-seeded Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
4. Luke Harangody is going to be used off the bench in the Big East tournament. He's already showing what a great teammate he is by being unselfish and not demanding to regain his starting spot.
5. The more South Florida wins, the more you'll get to see of Dominique Jones. He is one of the more entertaining players in the country but has played in near-anonymity at USF.
Top seed: Ohio State (24-7, 14-4)
What's at stake in Indianapolis?
1. Illinois is playing for its tournament life in the quarterfinals. Can the Illini lose to Wisconsin twice in a week and still get a bid? We shall find out. I'm not convinced Illinois would be out (good road wins at Clemson and Wisconsin), but another win over the Badgers could give the selection committee more reason to include the Illini.
2. Ohio State could earn a No. 1 seed with a Big Ten tournament title. The Buckeyes should get by Michigan or Iowa and then will face Wisconsin or Illinois to get to the title game, where Purdue or Michigan State likely will be waiting.
3. Purdue. What to do with Purdue? The Boilermakers have an impressive body of work, but since Robbie Hummel's injury, the Boilermakers beat two lower-level teams in the Big Ten in Indiana and at Penn State. Is that enough to persuade the selection committee to give the Boilers a No. 2 seed? At the very least, it would help if Purdue were to knock off Northwestern or Indiana in the quarterfinals and play well against Michigan State in the semifinals.
4. The only possible bubble-buster is Minnesota. The Gophers have the talent (although it's a bit depleted) to topple some of the top teams. The problem is that the Gophers will face a recharged Michigan State in the quarterfinals if Minnesota beats Penn State. The Spartans looked like a league champ in Sunday's crushing defeat of Michigan. But if you're looking for a sleeper, keep an eye on the Gophers.
Top seed: UC Santa Barbara (18-9, 12-4)
What's at stake in Anaheim, Calif.?
1. It's a real shame that the Big West couldn't harness the good vibe it had in November when Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State scored wins over UCLA. But the league couldn't sustain the momentum. Do I think any of the eight could win a first-round game? Probably not. But UC Santa Barbara, Pacific and Long Beach State, the league's top three seeds, certainly have the talent to cause fits.
Top seed: UTEP (24-5, 15-1)
What's at stake in Tulsa, Okla.?
1. Memphis and UAB may both get into the field. But there is also a chance the two teams could play an elimination game in the semifinals, assuming that Memphis takes the winner of Houston-East Carolina and UAB defeats Southern Miss or Tulane. Memphis beat UAB twice. Can the Tigers go for three?
2. How seriously do we take Tulsa? The Golden Hurricane have fallen flat of late and now go home to host the event without any momentum. Tulsa has to play on the first day, Wednesday, against Rice, and then plays sleeper pick Marshall. Not good. But it is a home event, so don't be shocked if Tulsa is playing in the final.
3. If you're going to see one player in this event, make sure you get a good look at Marshall center Hassan Whiteside. Thundering Herd coach Donnie Jones found a hidden gem but has told me Whiteside is likely to be lured into the NBA draft.
4. A UTEP coronation could occur in Tulsa. The Miners have been the best team in the league throughout the season. They should be looked at as a real threat to win two games in the NCAA tournament. Winning the conference tournament, as Memphis did under John Calipari in recent years, would improve their seeding, too.
Top seed: Kent State (23-8, 13-3)
What's at stake in Cleveland?
1. Once again, one of the more competitive leagues in the country will go through another year without multiple bids. The league has struggled to get anything beyond its automatic bid in the past decade. High-level MAC players are now at Big Ten schools. The best chance for the MAC in the NCAA tournament is to ensure that its top team, Kent State, gets to the Dance. The Golden Flashes have a real shot to be trouble in the first round. I'm not sure any other team can cause problems.
Top seed: Morgan State (24-9, 15-1)
What's at stake in Winston-Salem, N.C.?
1. Morgan State won the conference title at 15-1 and won 24 games overall. To me, the MEAC is a classic example of when a league should abandon its conference tournament and nominate its regular-season champ for its automatic berth. Morgan State has a real shot to win a first-round game and get a decent seed for the MEAC (14 or 15). But the MEAC has been burned before when its regular-season champ doesn't win the conference tournament and the automatic bid is suddenly thrust into the opening-round game. That's not good publicity for a league that is starving for attention. Send your best to the Big Dance. This year, it's Morgan State.
Top seed: New Mexico (14-2, 28-3)
What's at stake in Las Vegas?
1. San Diego State is playing for its bubble life. The Aztecs must beat Colorado State to set up a semifinal showdown with New Mexico, assuming the top-seeded Lobos beat Wyoming or Air Force. Should that occur, and the Aztecs beat the Lobos, then the Mountain West may get four teams in the field. San Diego State split the season series with the Lobos, and the game it lost went into overtime.
2. New Mexico, conversely, can win the Mountain West tournament and make a strong case for a No. 2 seed. Did I just say that? Yes, the Lobos have had the kind of season to warrant inclusion in that conversation.
3. Brigham Young shouldn't be forgotten here. If Jimmer Fredette is healthy (he's had mono and stomach issues), the Cougars should reclaim their role as a potential champ. The Cougars should dispatch TCU but then could face a tough matchup with UNLV or rival Utah, which would like nothing more than to play spoiler.
4. The matchup I'd want to see again is BYU-New Mexico. Their two previous meetings were too good to receive as little national attention as they did. Putting the third game on Saturday afternoon would be a good watch.
Top seed: California (21-9, 13-5)
What's at stake in Los Angeles?
1. Cal won the league title outright, and winning the conference tournament would do wonders for its image and the league's chances of getting a decent seed. The Bears were upstaged in the first round of the NCAA tournament a year ago and have the talent to stick around for a round or two at least this season. Winning the conference tournament and finding a consistent streak would help.
2. The Pac-10 has a real shot at multiple bids if Arizona State and Washington were to meet in a semifinal. That's assuming, of course, that the Huskies dispatch Oregon State and ASU takes care of Stanford. If that happens, don't be stunned to see the winner in the tourney field, even if it loses in the final.
3. The sleeper pick to upset this entire tournament could be Arizona. The Wildcats certainly have a late-game changer in Nic Wise at point guard and a host of youthful talent led by Derrick Williams. Arizona gets UCLA first and might get the Golden Bears in a semifinal matchup. Arizona already beat the Bears once this season.
4. Oregon and Washington State meet in an opening-round game Wednesday night. Embattled Oregon coach Ernie Kent could be coaching his last game, or he could go down swinging with a deep run. Neither would surprise me. Kent has pulled his career out from the depths multiple times when it appeared he was close to being run out.
Top seed: Kentucky (29-2, 14-2)
What's at stake in Nashville, Tenn.?
1. We don't have to worry about Kentucky. It's a foregone conclusion that the Wildcats will be a No. 1 seed. Kentucky should use this week to strengthen its bench and get sharp for a run to Indianapolis.
2. Along with Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt are both in, so which teams have to play their way into the field? Florida has to beat Auburn. The Gators may be in the field in some brackets, but losing to Auburn would give the selection committee another reason to leave the Gators out for a third straight season. Florida probably should then beat Mississippi State for good measure.
3. Are there spoilers in the group? I wouldn't be stunned to see the winner of Georgia-Arkansas cause fits for Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals, and South Carolina isn't dead yet after winning at Vanderbilt to end the regular season. If the Gamecocks get past Alabama, who's to say they can't catch Kentucky napping, giving them a chance to play their way into the tourney? OK, I might be reaching here, but the SEC has enough spotty teams that a bubble team could make a deep run and cause some nervous moments for others.
4. Are we dismissing Ole Miss and Mississippi State? At this point, both teams have to win games. If Ole Miss were to beat Tennessee and then give Kentucky fits in the semifinals, would that be enough? What if Mississippi State were to beat Florida and then knock off Vanderbilt? What would that do for the selection committee?
Top seed: Sam Houston State (22-7, 14-2)
What's at stake in Katy, Texas?
1. The best-case scenario for the Southland is for Sam Houston State to win the tournament. Sam Houston comes in as the top seed with a decent RPI of 79. The Southland doesn't want to find itself in the opening-round game with an upset. Stephen F. Austin won the East Division and is dangerously close with an RPI of 162.
Top seed: Jackson State (19-11, 17-1)
What's at stake in Shreveport/Bossier City, La.?
1. Unfortunately, even if top seed Jackson State were to win the conference tournament, it could find itself playing in Dayton in the play-in game. Jackson State has an RPI of 189 but did clean up in the league race with a 17-1 record. So, like the MEAC and other one-bid leagues with no hope of getting multiple bids, the best-case scenario is for the top team to get into the Big Dance. The SWAC needs to put its best foot forward, and that would be Jackson State, or at the very least second-place Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Top seed: Utah State (25-6, 14-2)
What's at stake in Reno, Nev.?
1. Utah State has a real case to get into the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the WAC tournament. Utah State won 25 games, went 14-2 in the league, won it by three games, and has an RPI of 32. That's good stuff. But the Aggies probably don't have the nonconference wins, save BYU, to lock them into the field. So beating Boise State in the quarterfinals would do wonders for silencing some of the doubts concerning their at-large chances. Having to knock off Louisiana Tech or Fresno State in a possible semifinal game would help as well.
2. Nevada lost a game at Hawaii, when there was a fear of a tsunami. That was the Wolf Pack's one slipup of late as Nevada charged to finish with the No. 2 seed after beating New Mexico State earlier in the week. The Wolf Pack and the Aggies are on a collision course for the final. Nevada certainly could win this event at home to put the Aggies in a state of anxiety and possibly steal a bid from another bubble team.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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