Ranking the best conference tournaments
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
A dizzying lineup of 30 men’s basketball conference tournaments will begin to tip off Tuesday, perhaps providing much-needed clarity to one of the most unpredictable seasons in the history of the sport.
But more likely, coast-to-coast thrilling finishes and inexplicable outcomes will continue to leave fans, coaches and players slack-jawed in the days leading up to the March 17 unveiling of the 68-team NCAA tournament field. Consider how atypical the season already has been:
The most anticipated ACC tournament matchup is not Duke-North Carolina. The nation’s top-ranked team, Gonzaga, still could be squeezed out of a No. 1 seed. The First Four in Dayton could include Kentucky, the defending national champion. And the Big East will stage its final tournament in its current form before selling off its name to a new league.
“The whole season has been a little crazy already with the best teams losing,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams told USA TODAY Sports in a telephone interview Monday. “The word upset is so overused, it is ridiculous. I think we’ll see some other occasions where the higher-seeded team may lose during their conference tournament.”
To cut through the craziness of the next 13 days, here are the most important conference tournaments to keep an eye on, ranked in order of most intriguing:
1) Big East
Expect Madison Square Garden to be awash in nostalgia, with coaches stirring memories of Lou Carnesecca’s sweaters, John Thompson’s larger-than-life persona and Rollie Massimino’s unmistakable voice.
After this season, the Catholic 7 will depart for its new league and Pittsburgh and Syracuse will be off to the ACC. Perhaps the conference that played such an integral role in the growth of college basketball the past 34 years will produce another indelible memory before the curtain falls on the league as we know it.
UConn will not be competing because of a poor Academic Progress Rate. But Louisville and Georgetown are vying for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Villanova is clawing for one of the final at-large berths. And the tournament is sure to showcase Georgetown’s Otto Porter, a strong contender for national player of the … [For more on March commencement: Ranking the best conference tournaments, click here.]