Conference tournaments begin in earnest with plenty of teams on the NCAA tourney bubble

There were plenty of men's college basketball teams sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble Monday that saw Drake beat Indiana State for the Missouri Valley Tournament title and did not know whether that was a good thing.

Had the Sycamores done enough to earn at at-large bid? Would the Bulldogs have done enough if they lost?

As most conferences get underway with their own tournaments Tuesday and Wednesday, the focus will be just as much on those teams trying to play their way into the field of 68 as those ranked in the Top 25. And each day that passes, teams precariously on the bubble will be watching results around the nation and trying to decipher where exactly they stack up.

“The guys have been watching all these conference tournaments,” Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said, "and you see teams — Who was it? East Tennessee State was down 20 and came back and sent it to overtime and ended up winning? And you see the guys from Chattanooga, you know? They're crying, right? The season's over. The finality of it.

“What really helps in this time is, do these guys want to spend another day together? Do they love being with each other, and they don't want this thing to end, so you're going to do everything they can.”

For the Wildcats (18-13), who have three wins over top-10 teams after beating Iowa State on Saturday, that could mean winning at least a couple of games as the No. 10 seed. They opened the Big 12 tourney against Texas on Wednesday night.

Also on the bubble out of the Big 12 is Oklahoma (20-11), which will play TCU earlier in the day in a second-round game.

“That's what makes the Big 12 so great,” Tang said. “Every game is like an (NCAA) Tournament game, and I think every team right now — doesn't matter who you are — is playing like it's your last game, because it just means so much to you.”


There are a slew of teams in the ACC that are in the same bucket — Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Clemson and Syracuse — in that they should feel good about their NCAA chances but would feel a whole lot better with a win or two in Washington, D.C.

Virginia Tech is the team that is in desperation mode. The Hokies (18-13) play Florida State in a second-round game Wednesday and probably need to make a run to the championship game to have any chance of stealing at at-large berth.


There are few hotter teams in the nation than St. John's, that bunch that coach Rick Pitino bemoaned not-too-long ago. The Red Storm (19-12) have won five straight to climb onto the NCAA bubble heading into a brutally tough Big East tourney as the No. 5 seed, which means a second-round game against fourth-seeded Seton Hall — another bubble team — on Thursday.

Along with St. John's and Seton Hall (20-11), No. 7 seed Providence (19-12) will be trying to work its way into the field this week.


Purdue and Illinois know they're going to the dance. Everyone else? Starting with third-seeded Nebraska, there are eight teams with at least 18 regular-season wins, and each of them can earn an NCAA berth this week in Minneapolis.

Northwestern and Michigan State, along with the Huskers, should feel good about their chances already. But their hopes could get a little dicey if conference rivals such as Indiana, Iowa, Ohio State and Minnesota can string together some wins.


Utah (18-13) put its at-large NCAA hopes in peril with a pair of losses last week, dropping the Utes to the No. 6 seed and a first-round game against Arizona State in the final Pac-12 Tournament as it has been known. One more slip-up could be all Oregon (20-11) or Colorado (22-9) need to feel much more comfortable about its own NCAA Tournament aspirations.


While the Big 12 has rightfully earned a reputation as the nation's toughest league, the SEC has not been far behind this season, and that could be reflected in the NCAA tourney. Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida are locks heading to Nashville, while Mississippi State (19-12), Ole Miss (20-11) and Texas A&M (18-13) could give the league up to nine bids.


The Mountain West quietly has been one of the deepest conference in the nation, and San Diego State, Utah State, Nevada and Boise State have the quality wins and advanced metrics to merit at-large bids already. Colorado State and New Mexico could give the conference six spots in the field of 68, likely more than the Pac-12 or the ACC.

Other teams that could merit at-large bids if they fail to win their league tourneys include McNeese State (28-3) out of the Southland; Princeton (24-3) from the Ivy League; and Grand Canyon from the WAC.

James Madison (30-3) did all the bubble teams a favor by winning the Sun Belt tourney title Monday night.


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