LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When I try to describe my thoughts about conference basketball tournaments, two words apply:
The games are often compelling. I can make the argument that winning the ACC or Big Ten Tournament is more demanding that winning the NCAA Tournament.
It's a treat to see all the teams from one league gather in the same arena. Coaches who excel at preparation and game-planning separate themselves from the competition.
There's always a chance for Shock the World moment.
But conference tournaments are far from perfect.
It's risky projecting carryover -- good or bad -- into the NCAA Tournament.
What a team achieves over 18 or 20 games can be tossed into the dumpster because of 10 bad minutes, particularly in the one-bid conferences.
Conference tournaments have added a splash of irrelevance to the regular season.
So, yes, it's complicated.
But they're not going away. The show must go on -- in Charlotte for Louisville in the ACC Tournament; in Nashville for Kentucky in the SEC Tournament and in Chicago (not New York or Washington D.C.) for Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament.
This is my chance to preview all three conference parties.
Atlantic Coast Conference
The Story: Virginia is a lock No. 1 seed. Lock. North Carolina is looking good. Duke was looking good and a lock until Zion Williamson got injured. If Duke wins the the ACC Tournament, can the ACC manufacture three No. 1 seeds?
The Big East -- 2009 -- is the only league to generate three No. 1 seeds in the same season.
The Local Angle: How many members of Murderer's Row can Louisville beat?
After facing either Georgia Tech or Notre Dame in their ACC opener, the Cards will be lined up to play North Carolina, Duke and Virginia on back-to-back-to-back days.
That's what I mean about being more difficult than winning the NCAA Tournament.
The Favorite: Virginia.
You remember the Cavaliers lost to UMBC in the NCAA Tournament last season. You forget they won the ACC Tournament.
Fab Five: R.J. Barrett, Duke; Zion Williamson, Duke; Kyle Guy, Virginia; De'Andre Hunter, Virginia; Cameron Johnson, UNC.
Player of the Year: Barrett (sorry, Zion, he played the entire season).
Freshman of the Year: Barrett.
Coach of the Year: Tony Bennett, Virginia.
Is there a guy on his roster that Duke or UNC recruited?
Coaches on the Hot Seat: Danny Manning, Wake Forest.
Bubble Teams: Clemson, N.C. State. Tigers and Wolfpack play in their first game. Winner stays. Loser heads directly to the NIT.
The Pick: Virginia.
There's only one way the Cavaliers can stop all the stories about the UMBC game.
The Story: Kentucky vs. Tennessee, Round 3 -- with a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed the likely reward for the winner.
The Local Angle: See above.
The Favorite: Kentucky.
I was tempted to say Louisiana State, but the Tigers come to Nashville as Team Turmoil. And Kentucky fans will outnumber Tennessee fans 5 to 1. Probably more. OK, definitely more.
Fab Five: P.J. Washington, Kentucky; Grant Williams; Tennessee; Tremont Waters, LSU; Daniel Gafford, Arkansas; Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State.
Player of the Year: Washington. Williams is also deserving, but Washington has checked every box -- offensive, defense, rebounding, toughness, leadership -- for the Wildcats down the stretch.
Freshman of the Year: Tyler Herro, Kentucky.
Coach of the Year: Vacated.
Coaches on the Hot Seat: Will Wade, LSU; Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M; Mike Anderson, Arkansas.
Bubble Teams: Florida, Alabama.
If the Gators lose to Arkansas, that will be four consecutive defeats, including a very ugly one to Georgia. Ditto for Alabama, if the Crimson Tide stumble against Ole Miss.
The Pick: Kentucky.
When in doubt, go with the home team.
The Story: Michigan State and Purdue shared the regular-season title. Can either break the tie with a knockout performance in Chicago this week?
The Local Angle: Indiana needs to win one, and maybe two games to ignite a firestorm of criticism while making the NCAA Tournament. Critics are already hyperventilating and spitting fire at the idea of a team that lost 12 of 13 games being rewarded with an NCAA bid.
Can the Hoosiers add a victory over Ohio State to their current streak of beating Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois and Rutgers?
The Favorite: Michigan State.
When in doubt, Tom Izzo is a reasonable selection.
Fab Five: Cassius Winston, Michigan State; Carsen Edwards, Purdue; Ethan Happ, Wisconsin; Bruno Fernando, Maryland; Zavier Simpson, Michigan.
Player of the Year: Winston. The man led his team to a share of the Big Ten title, down two starters.
Freshman of the Year: Romeo Langford, Indiana.
Coach of the Year: Matt Painter, Purdue.
He lost four starters and won a share of the league title with an undersized point guard, a forward without a jump shot, a project at center, a walk-on and a shooter who can’t guard anybody. Really?
Coaches on the Hot Seat: Tim Miles, Northwestern; Pat Chambers, Penn State; Richard Pitino, Minnesota.
Bubble Teams: Indiana, Ohio State, Minnesota.
The Pick: Purdue … Michigan State .. Michigan.
I can make a case for all three, but Michigan has won this thing in back-to-back seasons so I'll go with the Wolverines.
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