Dallas Colleges: 2014conferencetourneys

Tournament preview: Big 12

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
8:30
AM CT

The sun rose. And Kansas won its 10th consecutive Big 12 title.

There’s more, though.

The 2013-14 campaign for the Big 12 orchestrated a shift in the conference hierarchy. The Big Ten has been the king of regular-season college basketball for years. But the Big 12 can make that claim this season. The league will enter its tournament with seven teams positioned to earn at-large NCAA bids. That’s 70 percent of the conference.

No conference can match that depth. And if the hoopla in Kansas City, Mo., is anything like the movie we witnessed in a thrilling round of conference play, then we’ll need a lot of popcorn this week because anything could happen.

What’s at stake?

[+] EnlargeKansas Jayhawks
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBill Self's Jayhawks will have NCAA seeding to play for at the Big 12 tournament.
Kansas is still fighting for that fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament but will have to do so without the services of Joel Embiid. After Embiid met with a spinal specialist in California, the initial stress fracture prognosis was confirmed and he was ruled out of the Big 12 tourney and is unlikely to play the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

"Based on that, this weekend [in the Big 12 championship] is out," Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement. "Next weekend, we feel like is a longshot, but the doctors are hopeful that if Joel works hard in rehab and progresses that it is possible that he could play in the later rounds of the NCAA tournament if our team is fortunate enough to advance."

So this week, for a few reasons, could be significant for the Big 12 champs.

A few wins in Kansas City would solidify the Jayhawks’ campaign, if a top seed is their best scenario. Maybe it’s not. Kansas could end up in a No. 2 slot opposite in-state enigma Wichita State. Perhaps that’s preferable. Regardless, this week could ease or complicate KU’s potential path to the Final Four.

But the Jayhawks are not alone.

Melvin Ejim, the Big 12's player of the year, and Iowa State could use this week’s tournament to attain some much-needed momentum after dropping two of three. A successful stretch would also help Texas and Oklahoma secure favorable second-round matchups on Selection Sunday.

But Baylor and Oklahoma State are the two teams that really need this tourney. Just two weeks ago, both looked as if they’d fallen out of the NCAA tourney pool.

Then Baylor won seven of its final eight regular-season games. And Marcus Smart led Oklahoma State out of a ditch, too. His return from a suspension fueled a rally of four wins in its last five games.

Both of those teams could win this tournament. Or they could stumble early. Their Thursday matchups -- potentially Baylor against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State against Kansas -- could be their toughest, assuming they’re successful in Wednesday night meetings with TCU and Texas Tech, respectively. A run in Kansas City could also position both teams to avoid dicey seeds in the Big Dance.

Baylor and Oklahoma State look good right now. But when they were bad, they were horrid. Oklahoma State endured a seven-game losing streak, and Baylor lost seven of eight during one ugly Big 12 stretch.

Additional quality wins would make it easier for the selection committee to consider the present instead of their collective, rocky past.

Team with the most to gain

What if West Virginia makes a run? On its best days, the Mountaineers have competed against the best teams in the league. And the 9-9 Big 12 squad enters the conference tourney following a whipping of Kansas over the weekend.

Juwan Staten would be a major star in any other league. A run would help him attract the praise he deserves. It’s not crazy, either. West Virginia opens the tourney against a Texas team that’s lost four of its past six. A win would lead to a matchup against Baylor or Oklahoma, two teams that split their season series with the Mountaineers. And Kansas might be waiting in the title game.

There’s nothing sexy about WVU’s 83 RPI or its 5-12 record against top-100 teams. But if you’re looking for a dark horse that could steal a bid and shake up the field, check out the crew in Morgantown.

Tournament preview: American

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
8:00
AM CT
video
The regular season in the American Athletic Conference was so tight, it came down to a coin flip. Cincinnati and Louisville won on each other’s home courts in games decided by a combined four points. They shared the regular-season title, but the Bearcats took the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament after winning the coin toss.

There’s not much that separated the top five finishers in the conference. In fact, fifth-seeded Memphis swept its meetings with Louisville. Both No. 4 seed UConn and No. 3 seed SMU beat Cincinnati. It would come as no surprise if any of those teams won the league tournament.

[+] EnlargeJosh Pastner
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsMemphis coach Josh Pastner, who is 1-3 coaching in the NCAA tournament, needs a big showing from his team in the American Athletic Conference tournament.
The 10-team league has what promises to be one of the best quarterfinal matchups of any league tournament when the Tigers face UConn. The Huskies swept the regular-season matchup but needed overtime to win at Memphis.

As for the bottom five teams, March doesn’t contain enough madness to describe the reaction if Houston, Rutgers, Temple, UCF or USF emerge as champion. At 16-15, the Cougars are the only team among the five with a winning record.

The inaugural AAC tournament is held at FedEx Forum in Memphis, meaning the Tigers will have the unofficial advantage of being on their home court. As a member of Conference USA, they won the last five league tournaments that were held in Memphis. The last time the Tigers didn’t win a league tournament they hosted was in 2005, when they lost in the title game to Louisville.

What’s at stake?

Defending national champion Louisville, short of winning the American tournament and defeating two more ranked teams in the semifinals and title game, can expect to get a seed that won’t match the way it’s currently playing. The Cardinals didn’t have any marquee nonconference wins, and they lost their first four games against ranked opponents. Now they’ve won three of their past four against ranked foes, including an 81-48 smashing of UConn in the regular-season finale. Could it be too late for the tournament committee? Possibly. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Cards listed as a No. 4 seed, which isn’t entirely bad. Coach Rick Pitino guided the Cards to the Final Four while seeded fourth in both 2005 and 2012.

SMU got a wakeup call with its loss to Louisville in the home finale. The Mustangs had been unbeaten at home this season, but they showed signs of inexperience from a program new to winning. It’s not enough for an early lead and a raucous crowd to win games. SMU has been free of expectations and winning big for some time now. But its third-place finish in coach Larry Brown’s second season is clearly a sign of progress. The looming question for the Mustangs: Will they be content with what they’ve already achieved?

Teams with most to gain

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin and Memphis coach Josh Pastner could both use a little momentum going into the NCAA tournament. Cronin and the Bearcats advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2012. Pastner, who has a 1-3 NCAA record, has yet to get the Tigers out of the first weekend. Both teams seemingly have the main ingredient for success in the postseason -- experienced backcourts. Winning the American tournament could be a springboard for NCAA success.

Some have loosely compared UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier to former standout Kemba Walker for his ability to come through in the clutch. If Napier really wants to cement his legacy with the Huskies, he’ll need to come through in the postseason.

Walker carried the 2011 Huskies on an unprecedented run winning five games for the Big East tournament title before winning six games to capture the NCAA title. Napier’s job isn’t nearly as tough. He’d only have to win three games for a conference title. Napier has the ability to make his teammates better and take control of a game when needed. And the Huskies will be looking to rebound after their most lopsided loss in more than two decades.

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