Normally speaking, the early portions of the major conference tournaments don't mean a whole heck of a lot. Teams that play on Tuesday and Wednesday generally don't have much to play for, and they don't normally have the goods to upset the apple cart and actually steal a spot in the dance. But this year, with such a decaying bubble, there are a heck of a lot of teams with a lot left to do that could upset the entire balance of the NCAA Tournament.
Here's the good news in the ACC: There's no doubt that eight teams are dancing. But look at the bubbly ball right away on Tuesday in the first round! Clemson will surely need to beat N.C. State and Duke to have a shot at dancing. Wake Forest is in a must-win spot against Boston College and probably has to turn around and beat Virginia Tech to be in good shape. Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh will effectively be a bubble buster for both teams. The winner? It'll have a great shot against sliding Virginia, though there will be more work to be done at that point likely against Notre Dame. Let's not forget that Syracuse is no lock yet either, and it'll have to play Miami on Wednesday.
So yes, all of the great action in this tourney will involve favored North Carolina, Louisville and Florida State on Thursday, but it's Tuesday and Wednesday that will decide the most about the fate of a potential 11-bid ACC.Big Ten Tournament
Who's not in bubble trouble in the Big Ten? Things aren't looking good right now for Illinois, Iowa or Indiana, and Michigan and Michigan State are no locks either. As a result, Thursday's Michigan/Illinois duel could end up being an eliminator ( though Michigan would still look good for a bid regardless ), while Iowa/Indiana almost certainly is the same way. The winner of that one probably has to beat Wisconsin as well to have a good shot at breaking into the field of 68. Michigan State would be wise to not lose to Penn State/Nebraska winner on Thursday.
The bigger question in the Big Ten? Who actually wants to win this conference tourney? Purdue is favored, but most are convinced that this is the tourney that could produce once of those "WTH" winners.
Big XII Tournament
Welcome to Kansas' territory. The Jayhawks are the odds-on favorites to win the Big XII, and for good reason. West Virginia seems to be their only serious threat. Bubble drama? We've got a bunch of it. The biggest problem that the squads on the real outside of the bubble right now like TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State have is the fact that they all need multiple wins. For TCU, that means beating Kansas on Thursday. Good luck with that. For Texas Tech, that means beating West Virginia on Thursday. Equal good luck to you. Kansas State probably has the best shot here, and it also has the least amount of work to do. Beating Baylor on Thursday won't guarantee a spot, but the Wildcats would be looking good going into the Big XII semis.
The Pac-12 sort of is what it is at this point. It's got three legitimate Final Four contenders in Oregon, UCLA and Arizona in some order, and it's got two bubble teams in Cal and USC who don't really deserve to get in. If there's madness in Oregon's half of the bracket though, look out. Someone could ultimately steal a bid.
This feels like Kentucky against the field, and that's what the odds suggest. Florida and Kentucky are in. South Carolina and Arkansas have almost certainly done enough at this point. Aside from that? Vanderbilt surely needs a win over Texas A&M and might have to beat Florida a second time in the span of a week to really feel good about itself. Tennessee or Georgia will be knocked from the bubble for good on Thursday afternoon, but the winner would have to beat Kentucky on Friday and maybe do even more than that to dance. Aside from that? The drama comes from a presumed Kentucky/Florida finale in what would be the rubber match between these two great clubs.
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