Championship Week sets stage for March Madness

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Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Besides handing out 30 automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, Championship Week serves as a stage for elite teams trying to secure a quality tournament seed and gives bubble teams one last chance to prove they are worthy of the Big Dance. Here’s what to look for in this week’s major conference tournaments.

Big 12

After failing to lock up a signature win against an in-conference power during the regular season, the Longhorns will likely need to win at least their first matchup against Iowa State to make the NCAA tournament.

Arguably the toughest conference in the country, the Big 12 is likely to have at least five representatives in the NCAA tourney. With the Missouri Tigers leaving for the SEC next season, this tournament could provide one final classic between No. 5 Tigers and No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks. The Jayhawks erased a 19-point second-half deficit to even the season series against the Tigers. A possible rubber match between the two in the conference final would likely have a No. 1 NCAA tournament bid at stake.

Big East

The defending national champions, the Connecticut Huskies, find themselves on the bubble and in need of a couple of conference tournament wins to earn an at-large bid. Even with the toughest schedule in the nation, the Huskies need a strong showing this week along with fellow Big East bubble teams Seton Hall and South Florida.

The Syracuse Orange (30-1) are seeking their first Big East tournament title since the 2002-03 season. The Orange could seal the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament if they are the last team standing at Madison Square Garden.

ACC

Like the Big 12, the Atlantic Coast Conference could set the stage for a rubber match between two elite squads. North Carolina routed Duke on Saturday to avenge an earlier buzzer-beating loss to the Blue Devils at the hands of NBA prospect Austin Rivers. If they do meet for a third time, the winner will remain in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Suffering through a four-game losing skid in February, the NC State Wolfpack need a strong ACC tournament performance to gain an at-large bid. With a comeback win over Texas as their only noteworthy victory on their resume, the Wolfpack must rack up a couple of wins this week to impress the NCAA selection committee.

Big Ten

Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are hoping to make a case for superiority in the conference after the regular season ended with a three-way tie. The Big Ten is unlikely to produce a No. 1 seed, but separating from the pack will serve as enough incentive to win the conference tourney for the Wolverines, Spartans and Buckeyes.

The Northwestern Wildcats are within reach of their first “Big Dance” in school history. The Wildcats boast a solid resume with wins over Michigan State and Seton Hall, but would like another key win to feel safe about their chances of getting an invite to the dance.

SEC

With Syracuse on their heels, the Kentucky Wildcats (30-1) look to stay perfect in conference play and wrap up the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Sporting News magazine’s 2012 College Basketball Player of the Year, Anthony Davis, could lead this young team to an undefeated postseason run.

The Tennessee Volunteers are peaking at the right time ending the season with four consecutive wins, but will likely need to reach the Southeastern Conference final to make the field of 68.