College basketball’s conference tournament week is well underway, and of the matchups that already have been set for Thursday around the country three stand out in terms of the NCAA Tournament bubble (with conference tournament seeding):
*-No. 9 Alabama vs. No. 8 Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament in St. Louis
*-No. 5 Providence vs. No. 4 Creighton in the Big East Tournament in New York
*-No. 5 TCU vs. No. 4 Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City
We’ll start in order of start time. The Frogs and Wildcats tipoff from the Sprint Center at 12:30 p.m. ET with TCU likely to be a small underdog simply because K-State should have a huge edge in fan support in Kansas City. (Go here for the latest college basketball odds.) Coach Jamie Dixon has done a fine job with TCU – meanwhile, his former Pitt program is in shambles and went winless in the ACC – and that school will go Dancing for the first time this century regardless of what happens in this game.
NCAA Tournament Implications Abound for Alabama, Kansas State and Providence
Kansas State is listed among the “Last Four Byes” by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. The Cats have a mediocre RPI of 62 with no signature non-conference wins (losses to Arizona State and Tulsa). One thing in Kansas State’s favor was a regular-season sweep of another bubble team in Texas.
The Frogs and Wildcats split during the season, each winning and covering on their home court. The winner surely will lose in the semifinals to Kansas, which won its 14th straight regular-season title and was a combined 4-0 vs. these two schools. The Jayhawks are +200 favorites to win this tournament.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 6, 2018
At 1 p.m. ET, the Tide and Aggies tip off from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, somewhat of an odd place to hold the SEC Tournament but potentially good news for bubble team Missouri in terms of fan support. Probably no power conference tournament is wider open than the SEC as Auburn and Tennessee tied the regular-season title at 13-5 – the Tigers won the head-to-head tiebreaker and are +300 tournament favorites. There will be no NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed coming from the SEC. The Alabama-A&M winner will face Auburn.
The Aggies are in the NCAA Tournament but are an incredibly streaky team with losing streaks of five and three twice this season. They closed with three straight wins to get off the bubble. The Tide are listed among the “Last Four In,” which seems rather generous considering they lost their final five regular-season games despite having a likely 2018 NBA lottery pick in freshman guard Collin Sexton.
The Tide and Aggies split during the season. Alabama won at home back on Dec. 30, 79-57, when A&M was in a funk. They finished the season against one another in College Station, and the Aggies won 68-66. Bama shot just 4-for-21 from long range that day and A&M 5-for-24. I like A&M, which has a huge size advantage, to cover what should be around a 3-point spread here – Alabama heads to the NIT .(Line is currently A&M -1.5 or -2.)
In the Big East, PC-Creighton tips at 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday. The Bluejays will go Dancing, but Providence is listed among the “Last Four Byes.” The Friars have a decent RPI of 41 with solid non-conference wins over Washington and Belmont as well as conference upsets of regular-season champion Xavier and Villanova. The problem for PC is three horrible losses: Minnesota, UMass and DePaul.
The Friars and Bluejays split blowouts this season, each winning and covering at home fairly early in conference play. I expect Creighton to be about -5 here, but I’d take desperate Providence and the points. The winner likely faces Xavier, which is +275 to win the Big East Tournament a first time. Villanova is -150 to repeat.