There’s always talk this time of the college basketball season that the conference tournaments — especially in the power ones — are nothing more than reasons for, as the late Marquette and Utah coach Rick Majerus used to say, “four-day cocktail parties.”
Yes, they are fun and great reasons for alumni to get together in a city that usually has multi-star restaurants.
But the tournaments are the chance for those teams that didn’t have great regular seasons to improve their resumes and impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
Take Indiana, for example. The Hoosiers entered the Big Ten Tournament with a 19-12 record and a resume that wouldn’t exactly assure a place in the 68-team field.
They beat Northwestern in the second round, not a great win in itself but a chance to face No. 8 Maryland in the quarterfinals. A win there over a team with an RPI in the top 10 would be why coaches never want to get rid of the tournaments.
It didn’t happen for the Hoosiers on Friday and a 75-69 loss might not be enough to get them that bid. Indiana started the day with an RPI of 53, a ranking behind other bubble teams such as Oklahoma State, LSU and Old Dominion.
The Hoosiers made just 7 of 31 shots in the second half to finish at 36 percent for the game. They went 6:14 without a field goal and missed nine consecutive shots before hitting a meaningless 3-pointer with 4 seconds left.
Tom Crean stated his team’s case, just as he did after the win over Northwestern.
“When you look at the body of work and factor things in — I really hope our league gets factored in,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of really good teams in this league. What I’m encouraged about now (is) we’re getting better.”
ACC ACHES: It’s been pretty much a given for a while now that the Atlantic Coast Conference would have a great chance at having two No. 1 seeds — Virginia and Duke. Both of those teams lost Friday, Virginia to North Carolina, and Duke to Notre Dame in the tournament semifinals.
Suddenly, Arizona, which advanced to the Pac-12 championship game, and Wisconsin, which is in the Big Ten semifinals, are very solid contenders along with Villanova, which is in the Big East final, to join top-ranked and undefeated Kentucky as No. 1 seeds.
Virginia has lost two of three and the Cavaliers are trying to assimilate leading scorer Justin Anderson back into the lineup after he missed eight games due to a finger injury and an appendectomy. They gave up an uncharacteristic 71 points in the 4-point loss to North Carolina, which shot 55 percent from the field.
“They showed great heart and fight to claw their way back into it, to have a chance to maybe tie it or extend the game,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “So I like that. But what we try to hang our hat on was really porous.”
NO BUBBLES: Forget the conference tournaments for a minute. On Saturday night the Ivy League — the only conference that doesn’t have a postseason tournament — gives us an old-fashioned, winner-moves-on, loser-is-crushed playoff game.
Harvard and Yale — names that have been a college rivalry before many of today’s current schools even existed — meet to break the tie at the end of the season. The winner gets the conference’s NCAA berth, the loser might get a chance at the NIT but that wouldn’t ease the emotion of losing a classic like this.
To make it even more dramatic, the game will be played in the Palestra in Philadelphia, one of college basketball’s best venues, a building that oozes history.
TOUGH ROAD: Success in a conference tournament doesn’t always translate into waiting for word on Selection Sunday.
Take the Auburn Tigers. They beat LSU 73-70 in the Southeastern Conference quarterfinals, their third win in as many days in Nashville, Tennessee. The run is most probably over for the 13th-seeded Tigers because top-ranked and undefeated Kentucky is up next in the tournament. The trio of wins gives Auburn a 15-19 record and even a win over the Wildcats wouldn’t be near enough to earn an at-large berth.
The only way Auburn will keep playing is to win the SEC tournament and that would mean five wins in as many days.
The team Auburn beat Friday is definitely on the bubble. LSU (22-10) has lost two of its last three and coach Johnny Jones knows his Tigers don’t control their own destiny anymore.
“We have been in a tough conference and we’re hopeful on Sunday that our name is called,” Jones said.
LONGEST WAIT: There can’t be many long fingernails left around the Murray State basketball program.
Last Saturday, an excruciating six days ago, the Racers lost 88-87 to Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship game. The loss ended Murray State’s 25-game winning streak and was its first to an OVC team this season.
What has most pundits saying there’s little chance for an at-large bid is that the Racers’ RPI is in the low 60s and their strength of schedule was 233rd out of the 351 Division I schools.
Plan B? Every regular-season conference champion gets a bid to the NIT so they have that going for them.
HONEST ED: Providence coach Ed Cooley had just gone through an excruciating 63-61 loss to No. 4 Villanova in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. He was asked if the tough loss would help the Friars with their seeding when the field is announced.
“First of all, I don’t know what that committee thinks. I really don’t,” Cooley said. “All I can tell you is we’re playing pretty good. We’re excited to play next week. I don’t know the ins and outs. That’s why people are paid to bracket it the right way, fair and equitable.
“I don’t know. We’re just excited to be playing. Just invite us to the dance so we can have a party.”
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