It’s Championship Week. To be sure, plenty of results will affect the composition of the NCAA Tournament and the brackets which will be revealed next week on Selection Sunday. Hundreds of conference games will shape how the non-conference matchups of the Big Dance will be arranged.
However: Not all conference tournament results are honored. Many aren’t.
Start with the team which has been included in two of the previous three NCAA Tournaments when many bracketologists felt, on the merits, that it didn’t deserve to get in: Syracuse. The Orange did not do well at the ACC Tournament in either 2016 or 2018, when they busted into the field of 68 as a surprise entrant, especially in 2016 when Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh beat Cuse in the 8-9 game of the ACC tourney.
It didn’t matter that Syracuse came to a neutral site in a high-stakes conference tournament… and lost a game just about everyone felt it needed to win to get into the Big Dance.
Let’s continue and move to last season for other examples.
West Virginia reached the final of the Big 12 Tournament. Remember: The Big 12 is annually one of the nation’s toughest conferences. If you’re making the Big 12 final and finished in the upper tier of the league as the Mountaineers did (two games behind league champion Kansas), you should be rewarded. The Mountaineers were given a No. 5 seed AND shipped to San Diego AND put in Villanova’s region. That was a sh** sandwich, not a reward for doing good work in the Big 12 Tournament.
In last year’s Pac-12 Tournament, Bobby Hurley and Arizona State arrived at the situation Syracuse and Jim Boeheim faced in the 2016 ACC Tournament: The Sun Devils had to play an 8-9 game in the first round, a game generally viewed to be necessary to make the tournament.
To be more precise about the matter, most people felt that if ASU beat Colorado in that 8-9 game, it would be safe… but that if it lost, it would be in huge trouble. It was a fairly simple proposition, as it is for so many bubble teams each year in conference tournaments: Win at least one “battleground” or “bubble leverage” game at a neutral site. You don’t have to go on a three-game tear and make the final, but at LEAST win one damn game under pressure.
Yes, these are 30-to-35-game resumes, not just one-game resumes or six-game resumes (your best wins) or eight-game resumes (your worst losses), but can we acknowledge that when we get to these power conference tournaments, the reality of the bubble is such that we should reward teams which win under pressure on neutral courts, one week before the Big Dance?
At the mid-major level, the purpose of the conference tournament is to produce the league’s representative in the NCAA Tournament. At the power conference level, the process of separating NCAA Tournament teams from NIT teams is one of the two main reasons for having a conference tournament, the other one being to establish seeding for the NCAA Tournament teams in that conference.
One other detail about last year’s Pac-12 Tournament: USC, which finished second in the Pac-12 in 2018, then won two games in the Pac-12 Tournament. USC won two more neutral-court games than Arizona State did, and this was AFTER finishing seven places higher in the standings than the Sun Devils (second compared to ninth).
The fact that Arizona State made the field wasn’t all that outrageous. Arizona State did beat a pair of No. 1 seeds, Kansas and Xavier, the kinds of wins other bubble teams (including USC, which had a soft non-conference profile) lacked. ASU being included was reasonable. (Syracuse being included was more questionable than ASU. Naturally, Syracuse beat ASU in the First Four in Dayton, because SPORTS.)
However: Arizona State being included while USC was also excluded seemed to be a classic case of ASU’s two huge wins overshadowing a 40-game body of evidence in which USC went 14-7 in the Pac-12 over 21 games (including its three conference tournament games) and Arizona State went 8-11 in 19 games.
Very clearly, in various power conference tournaments from recent years, you can see that results simply have not mattered.
I plead with the selection committee this year — and this next week: Make these results count.
The N.C. State-Clemson loser in the ACC second round does not deserve to get in.
Florida needs to be forced to win at least one game at the SEC Tournament, if not two. Same for Alabama.
Arizona State needs to at least make the Pac-12 final if it doesn’t get the automatic bid.
Texas needs to beat Kansas.
TCU needs to win at least one game, if not two, in the Big 12 Tournament.
If Ohio State does lose later on Sunday to Wisconsin, then the Big Ten Tournament should be an occasion in which both Ohio State and Minnesota have to win at least one game to both get in. If OSU loses to Wisconsin, the Buckeyes ought to be expected to win at least one game in Chicago. One could make a reasonable argument that the same should be expected of the Gophers, but I am more focused on Ohio State at this point, should it lose to Wisconsin.
Make conference tournament results matter. Some would say, “Don’t overreact to one game.” I counter with this response: Why have these tournaments if not to resolve fundamentally close small-margin bubble competitions and comparisons?
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