I'm just going to say it, and I don't care who listens: Damn is good to have a normal "Champ Week" back!
That's right, after virtually every tournament was cancelled midway through in 2020, and all were played with minimal fans in 2021, we are allllll the way back to normal in Champ Week 2022.
Fans in the stands. Bands playing the school fight song. Your least favorite coach arguing why his lousy 17-15 team should in the tournament.
We are so...damn... BACK BABY!!!!!
Yes, it's Champ Week, my single favorite week of the year, and there really is no way to better celebrate, than by ripping off a wall-to-wall tournament preview. I did one annually while I was at KSR the last few years and Fox Sports before that, but now it's time to dive in tournament-by-tournament, giving you everything you need to know, with all the key information and questions.
It's Champ Week, baby!
LET'S DO THIS!!!
WCC Tournament (Tuesday)
Already In: Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, San Francisco
On the Bubble: BYU
Biggest Question: Can Saint Mary's knock off Gonzaga again, and what would it mean for the No. 1 seed line? Can BYU sidle their way into the side-door of the NCAA Tournament?
The big story here is obviously the big story every year in the WCC: The 30,000 lb. in Spokane, known simply as "Gonzaga." This year is no different than any other year, as the Zags currently sit at 26-3 and have all but locked up a No. 1 seed in next week's bracket.
At the same time, there is also intrigue in this game as well because of the opponent, Saint Mary's, who just beat the Zags in Moraga a few weeks ago. Could Randy Bennett's club really go two-for-two in a three week stretch against the Zags, and if so, what would that mean for both teams? It would probably mean a seed-line bump for the Gaels. But could it also mean a Gonzaga fall from the No. 1 overall seed spot when the bracket gets released on Sunday? It seems at least possible, and with an Arizona win the Pac-12 Tournament, it seems feasible that the Wildcats could get the No. 1 overall seed.
The other big question in this one: Can BYU sidle their way into the side door of the NCAA Tournament this week?
Unlike just about every other bubble squad in America, BYU's season is done, and as things stand, they're currently in the "First Four Out" of Joe Lunardi's bracket. Meaning, they will basically be rooting for chalk in these conference tournaments and carnage for bubble teams like Indiana, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Xavier and others.
As the old saying goes, "So you're there's a chance" - yeah, just barely for the Cougars.
ACC Tournament (Tuesday-Saturday)
Already In: Duke, North Carolina, Miami, Notre Dame, Wake Forest
On the Bubble: Virginia Tech, maybe Virginia
Biggest Question: Will anyone emerge as a legit tournament threat behind Duke
Ah, it's been a season to remember in the ACC - if only because it's mostly been a season to forget. Duke has been solid across the board since opening night in November, while pretty much everyone else has stunk out loud for most of the first four months of their season. To their credit though, a few teams did enough in February to lock up bids coming into the ACC Tournament this week. Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Miami basically punched their tickets with solid play in late February, and North Carolina did the same after Saturday's win against Duke.
So now, the questions become two-fold.
First off, can any of those other four emerge as legit threats to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament outside of Duke? The most logical one remains North Carolina since, well, they are by far the most talented and just beat Duke. But with few really impressive wins outside of Duke, are we sure Carolina has turned a corner, or just got hot for one stretch on Saturday? Other candidates in this camp could also be Wake Forest and Miami who could meet in the quarterfinals, and then would get Duke in semis. A win by either over the Blue Devils would be a sign that maybe they're built for March (or ya know, that Duke is overrated).
In terms of the second question it's, "Can another team put themselves in position to get a bid?" Well, that's a bit more complicated. Virginia Tech is currently in Joe Lunardi's "First Four Out." They definitely need to win their opener (vs. either NC State or Clemson) to keep their hopes alive and would officially be interesting if they were to knock off No. 2 seed Notre Dame in the quarters. Win one more and advance to the title game and they'd definitely be in.
Then there's Virginia, and well, you can never count out the Cavaliers, who are in Lunardi's "Next Four Out." But at 4-4 in their last four, and up-and-down all season, they need to pile up wins, and hope for the worst across college hoops.
My guess is the ACC ends up with five bids when the bracket comes out Sunday.
(Read Zac Krull's ACC Tournament Gambling Preview here)
Big East (Wednesday-Saturday)
Already In: Providence College, Villanova, UConn, Marquette, Seton Hall
On the Bubble: Creighton, Xavier
Biggest Question: Xavier can't possibly blow this, can they?
First of all, let's just say this: Of all the conference tournaments in college hoops, the best environment on a day-to-day, game-to-game basis is probably in the Big East at Madison Square Garden. Cannot want to see that place rocking this week at 100 percent capacity (especially with the return of UConn fans for the first time since 2012).
But now that we got that first part out of the way, let's get to a more interesting question: Xavier can't possibly blow this, can they?
For those who haven't been following the plight of Xavier, well it's really a four-year deal since Travis Steele took over. The Musketeers hadn't finished below .500 in league play in 37 years before he arrived - 37!!!! They've now done it four straight years since he took over.
As it pertains to the present though, this year's meltdown might be the worst of all. After beating Butler (ironically, their first round opponent on Wednesday) the Musketeers were 16-5 and ranked No. 21 nationally. Since then, they have proceeded to go to 2-7 in their last nine, with a loss to DePaul and a season sweep by St. John's mixed in. Oh by the way, they're just 4-9 in their last 13 games.
Put simply, all the Musketeers probably need to do is just beat Butler in the opener, and it should be enough to make the field of 68. Beat Providence the next day and you've officially locked up a bid. At the same time, what have we seen the last few weeks that should make us confident that Steele and Co. actually will, you know, do what is needed to lock up the bid? Regardless, if they don't win Wednesday night, it's going to be a longgg few days of anxiety in Cincinnati.
Outside that, there's really no drama. Creighton is by technicality on the bubble. But they have five Quad 1 wins, which is more than most bubble teams (Indiana for example has three going into the week, Dayton two). Including in that is a pair of wins over UConn and win over, Villanova, which is much, much more than most bubble teams have going for them.
The Jays should be into the field, although a win over Marquette on Thursday certainly couldn't hurt.
Big 12 (Wednesday-Saturday)
Already In: Baylor, Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, TCU
On the Bubble: Oklahoma (maybe?)
Biggest Question: Can anyone emerge as a legit national title contender?
Of every major conference, the Big 12 seemingly has the lowest stakes of all. Of the nine teams (remember, Oklahoma State is ineligible) that will arrive in Kansas City this week, six have NCAA Tournament bids locked up. Two others (Kansas State, West Virginia) have no chance to make the Big Dance unless then win the Big 12 Tournament. Then there's Oklahoma, who at 17-14, probably needs to make the title game, just to be in the conversation for an at-large.
So, there's no real bubble drama to speak of here, which leads me to this question: Are we sure there's a threat in this group to win it all? Because I'm not sure there is.
Kansas seems to have peaked a month ago, going 2-2 in its last four, with the wins coming by four against TCU (which just beat them a few days earlier) and in overtime against Texas, and Baylor just can't seem to get and stay healthy. Texas and Texas Tech probably don't score enough to win six games when it matters, and TCU and Iowa State are good stories, who have, by any tangible measurement exceeded expectations this year.
Kansas and Baylor are battling for a No. 1 seed - but more important to me is, if either comes out looking good enough to win it all.
Mountain West (Wednesday-Sunday)
Already In: Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State
On the Bubble: Wyoming
Biggest Question: Does the league's dream of five tourney bids become reality?
First off, if you haven't watched the Mountain West this year, what are you doing? Their top four are all legitimately awesome; I truly believe that not only do Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State and Wyoming belong in the tournament, each could win multiple games once they get there. As things stand, Wyoming is the only one that is sort of on the bubble heading into this tournament. And for the Cowboys, I really think it's more about avoiding a bad loss to one of the league's bottom-feeders than it is accumulating wins in Vegas.
So if we're assuming the Mountain West gets four teams in, the only real question is this: Can one of the league's talented middle of the pack teams do enough to win the title, steal a bid, and send five teams dancing?
It feels at least a bit possible.
UNLV, led by first year coach Kevin Kruger (yes, Lon Kruger's son) has been rolling of late, winning seven of their last 11, which includes a series sweep of Colorado State and a win over Wyoming. So you know they're capable. Utah State still has a core that has qualified for the last three NCAA Tournament's (yes, they won the auto bid in 2020 before the tournament was cancelled). And Fresno State has an absolute monster in the middle in a kid named Orlando Robinson, who could drafted to the NBA this year.
First, the league needs to focus on Wyoming getting that fourth spot. But it isn't inconceivable the league could get a fifth team as well.
Already In: Arizona, UCLA, USC
On the Bubble: Oregon (kinda, sorta!?)
Biggest Question: I mean, umm, ah... man, I hope Bill Walton says something funny
So I'll be real: I'm a defender of West Coast basketball. But just one year after four Pac-12 teams made the Sweet 16 and three made the Elite Eight, this tournament is, umm, lacking some pizzazz.
There are three teams that are clearly in the NCAA Tournament picture - Arizona, UCLA and USC, and really zero that are in the bubble picture. The closest is Oregon. But after losing five of their final seven, Oregon is on the far fringes of bubble talk. Realistically, they probably need to win two games just to get onto the bubble. That would put them in a semifinal with Arizona, and I'm not sure a win there would even clinch a bid, although it probably would.
With that as a backdrop, it really only leaves two thoughts: One, if Gonzaga loses tonight, does Arizona somehow find its way to the top overall seed? If not, is there anything they can do to fall off the No. 1 seed line all together? That likely would take some sort of combination of "Losing their first game" along with "Kansas or Baylor winning the Big 12" and "Kentucky or Auburn winning the SEC" and I'm not even sure that's enough.
Beyond that, I guess the only other semi-intriguing thing would be if UCLA or USC rips through the tournament and puts us on notice that they're a Final Four threat.
So yeah, there's not a ton going on here.
But hey, at least we've got Bill Walton on most of the calls, right?
Big Ten Tournament (Wednesday-Sunday)
Already In: Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State, Iowa
On the Bubble: Michigan, Indiana, Rutgers
Biggest Question: Is Thursday's 8-9 game between Michigan and Indiana a "loser leaves town" game?
There are interesting stories among all the top teams, but to me the most interesting storylines come on the bubble. Two teams enter needing at least one win to feel good about their tourney chances. And another needs even more.
Let's start with Thursday's second round game between Michigan and Indiana, which feels like a potential disastrous loss for whoever can't find a way to get the win (I mean we all know it's going to be Indiana, right). Michigan is currently in Lunardi's "Next Four In" meaning that a win here probably officially punches their ticket, while a loss would have them feeling queasy from Thursday-Sunday evening. As for Indiana, well, poor Mike F***ing Woodson seems to be running into the same problems that Archie Miller did throughout his tenure with a group unable to close out close games. The Hoosiers definitely need a win just to stay in the bubble picture, and would probably need a win over No. 1 Illinois on Friday to officially clinch a bid. A loss would be devastating for the Hoosiers in this spot.
In other bubble news, Rutgers is in the weird position of having a Top 4 seed in this tournament and double-bye into the semi's, but - thanks to a few bad losses early - probably need to win one game to comfortably be into the field of 68.
In terms of interesting stories from the other games, they include Is Johnny Davis healthy for Wisconsin? Can Purdue do anything to convince us that they are something more than a "fun but flawed" team? And can a guy like Keegan Murray, Jaden Ivey, Davis of Kofi Cockburn put his team on his back, and lead them to a deep run here, and in the big tournament next week?
AAC Tournament (Thursday-Sunday)
Already In: Houston
Bubble: Memphis, SMU
Biggest Question: Does Memphis continue its second-half ascendance?
This article is running long, and if you want a deep dive on the AAC bracket, I'm guessing there are better places you can get it at this point, so let's get right to it. Houston is in but struggling. SMU is in virtually everyone's last four in, and probably needs to pick up a minimum of two wins to feel good about their tourney chances, and also hope for carnage for other bubble teams like Indiana, Xavier, Virginia, Virginia Tech on and on.
So let's skip all the cute stuff and get right to the team that moves the needle in this league: Memphis. To his credit, Penny Hardaway has the Tigers rolling with nine wins in their last 10 games, including a season sweep of Houston. At this point, Memphis, please, for the love of God, just don't lose to the Central Florida-South Florida winner in this bracket and you're probably in just fine.
The question then becomes: Can the Tigers get on a run and end up as one of the most dangerous teams in the country heading into the bracket? It certainly seems like, since as mentioned, they've won nine of 10 and beaten league stalwart Houston twice.
Should the Tigers get into the field of 68, they officially become the hot, dangerous team in the 8-12 range that no one wants to play.
They've just got to get there first.
SEC Tournament (Wednesday-Sunday)
Already In: Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU, Alabama
Bubble: Texas A&M, Florida
Biggest Question: Who cuts down the nets in Tampa?
Finally, let's wrap with what just might be the single most intriguing conference tournament, the SEC in Tampa. We've got four Final Four contenders at the top, two dangerous mid-level teams in the middle and two bubble teams fighting for their lives at the bottom. Oh, and coaching drama too! What more could you ask for?
Let's start from the beginning and Wednesday's play-in games, where there is plenty of drama in coaching carousel circles. We know this is Tom Crean's last stand at Georgia - does he go out with anything but a whimper? And what about the futures of Cuonzo Martin (Missouri), Ben Howland (Mississippi State) and maybe Frank Martin (South Carolina) and Kermit Davis too)? I wouldn't expect all of them to be out in the coming weeks, but wouldn't expect all to be back either.
Speaking of drama, how about this: Florida and Texas A&M are both in Joe Lunardi's "Next Four Out" meaning they both need multiple wins, just to be in consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid. Just one problem: Well, they play each other in Round 1 on Thursday, which means one's NCAA Tournament hopes will be dashed, and the other probably needs a win over Auburn in Round 2 to feel good about themselves.
Then there's the main bracket where we have four teams that I truly believe are good enough to get to a Final Four: Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. Which of the four (and I believe it will be one of them) will rip through the bracket and announce to the world that they are to be feared in the Big Dance? And can Will Wade and the bad boys of LSU ruffle some tailfeathers and pull off an upset (they beat Kentucky and Tennessee earlier in the year, but that was when both were completely different teams). Alabama of course has been hot and cold all year, but maybe they can make a run too.
Ultimately, the SEC has been the best and most exciting conference in college basketball all year. I see no reason why that changes at the conference tournament in Tampa this week.
It really does just MEAN MORE!
Enjoy the college hoops this week everyone!
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