Exciting Conference Tournament Games Serve As Tourney Appetizer

Although the NCAA tournament won’t kick off until a week from today, it hasn’t stopped the madness from starting. In the thick of conference tournaments, we’ve already seen several surprises and exciting games across the nation. Top seeds have been eliminated, bitter rivals are on a crash course, and game winners have been made – all imperative ingredients for a successful month of March.

The Big 12 regular season title has been decided for a while now, as Kansas established themselves as the cream of the crop on their way to a 13th consecutive regular season conference title. A one seed in the NCAA tourney is likely for the Jayhawks, but Bill Self’s team proved today that they aren’t completely invincible. Playing without Josh Jackson who was serving a one-game suspension for his part in a traffic related incident, Kansas fell to the eight-seeded TCU Horned Frogs in a tightly contested 85-82 classic.

TCU played a great game throughout, taking a one-point lead into halftime and battling back from a 12-point deficit in the second half. With just seconds left in the game, TCU’s Desmond Bane hit three clutch free throws that would eventually end up being the difference. Kansas junior Devonte Graham ended up getting a great look at the game-tying shot, but missed it just a bit long.

The Jayhawks will have to wait until next week to rebound from this disappointing loss, but it shouldn’t do much to their seeding in next week’s tournament. For the Horned Frogs, the victory is enormous and bolsters a shaky resume. TCU will face an Iowa State team that is coming off their own close win over Oklahoma State. The Cyclones and Horned Frogs split the season series during the regular season and will have the rubber match for a chance to play in the Big 12 tournament final.

Elsewhere around the nation, the ACC has set up a storybook semifinal match against bitter rivals. Top seeded North Carolina made quick work of a Miami team that looked flat out overmatched, while the Blue Devils had a blistering comeback victory over Louisville. UNC and Duke will meet for the third time this season, with each team winning on their respective home floor. With a neutral matchup in the Barclay’s Center impending, expect a tight battle between two of the oldest rivals in college basketball.

On the bubble watch, Michigan and Cal did wonders for their resume by picking up big wins in their respective conference tournaments. Michigan’s win almost surely solidifies any doubts of their tourney status. The Golden Bears would need an upset victory over Oregon in the semifinals to bolster their resume further.

Seton Hall’s win over Marquette might have the two squads switching spots, and could be detrimental to Marquette’s postseason hopes. The Pirates move on to the semifinals for a rematch of last year’s Big East tourney final against the Villanova Wildcats. Seton Hall hopes to recapture that Madison Square Garden magic and defeat the Wildcats for a second consecutive season.

Although there are several critics of the conference tournaments – citing that they render the regular season utterly useless – there has been plenty of action to droll upon thus far. Teams are playing with the urgency expected from basketball in March, and it’s getting us that much more excited for the coming weeks.

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