Conference basketball tournaments have the real potential to cause handicappers one more headache as they can easily add more wrinkles to the already daunting challenge of handicapping the NCAA Tournament. There are basically three things a college basketball team can do at their conference tournament. If they do pretty much what was expected of them we haven’t really learned anything from the performance to change our opinion of the team. Problems arise, though, when a team does solidly better or worse than they were expected to perform. That means we have to reassess whether what we thought about that college team still holds up or whether they are a different team than we thought they were. It’s particularly tough to do because there isn’t much time between conference tournaments and the real deal, so we have to act quickly. Here are three questions for college basketball handicappers to ask about conference tournament overachievers and four to ask about underachievers to help you quickly assess where they stand:
Who did they beat? – Before you get too impressed by a sports team who wins their conference tournament or goes deep you need to look at who they beat. If a conference favorite is upset early on then it is very possible for a team to go deep in the tournament without having to play a single really scary team. If the basketball team went deep while only beating teams we knew they were capable of beating because of regular season performance then they haven’t proven anything. If they do what they do by beating some highly regarded teams, though, then we might be dealing with a team worth looking at. At the very least we are dealing with a team that the public is going to pay a lot more attention to than they were likely to a week earlier.
How did they win? – If a college basketball team won by means that are hard to replicate time and again – such as particularly strong shooting or incredible play from a star player – then they might not be built for a tournament run. It’s reasonably easy for a team that gets hot in a conference tournament to stay hot throughout the tournament because they are likely playing a game every day so momentum can carry over and opponents can’t prepare to play the team as much as they otherwise would. Carrying that momentum over to the NCAA Tournament, though, is a much tougher task.
How much did it take out of them? – Teams that overachieve dramatically in their conference tournament probably had to win several games over a short period of time to do so. They also probably had to play at or near full throttle for all of those games in order to come out on top. If a team had to leave it all on the field in their conference tournament then they might not have enough left to give in the NCAA Tournament to win a game or two.
What did they need to do? – If a team lost earlier than expected they might not necessarily be too upset by it. If they are a very good team with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations, and if they have their seeding reasonably secure regardless of what they do in the tournament – then it might not be in their best interest to do everything possible to win their conference tournament. Winning the tournament requires them to win three or more games in about that many days, and that can tire them out before the tournament starts. These teams care far more about winning six games when the big show starts than they are about getting a conference title they don’t need. That’s not to suggest that they will throw the game, but it’s quite possible that they’ll put out less than full effort in the front of an intense challenge.
What does the coach typically do in the tournament? – Some coaches are very strong in the tournament – it’s like they own the last two weeks of March every year. Other coaches just can’t seem to translate strong season performances into strong tournament runs. In the same way, some coaches regularly approach the conference tournament like there is nothing more important, while others look at it as more than an annoyance than anything. What a college basketball coach has done in the past can tell you a lot about whether this year’s performance is a big deal or not.
Who did they lose to? – If they lost to another top level contender – one with deep tournament aspirations themselves – then that can mean different things than if they lost to a lousy team. A good team could beat the team in question if they weren’t playing at their best, while losing to a bad team is an indicator that their focus was really off, and is more of a concern as a result.
How did they play? – If a college team played a very good game and still lost then it could be a real concern – maybe they are not as good as you thought they were. If they played a lousy game and lost, though, then they probably just didn’t care and didn’t try as a result.