The March to Madness

March Madness is here. One of the most intriguing aspects of the NCAA Tournament – and most stressful – is waiting to find out which teams that are on the bubble will make The Big Dance. It never fails. Every year, teams whose numbers look worthy of an NCAA Tourney bid reveal a soft schedule when you dig further, by their own doing or not. We’re beginning to see more teams take on bigger competition outside of their conference schedule as a result. Even if they’re losing some of those games, they can count more toward an NCAA Tournament resume than some wins.


Ultimately, all of that could be irrelevant. With a conference tournament win, the ticket is punched and all that’s left to be decided is the region and seed. Let’s examine which of the major conference basketball tournaments is most important to its league’s chances of being well represented on Selection Sunday, March 11, based on the number of teams locked into the tourney as well as on the bubble, and ticket prices.


American Athletic Conference

Virtual Locks: Cincinnati, Wichita State, Houston

On the Bubble: Tulsa, Memphis, UCF

Average Ticket Price for Conference Tournament: $59.06

Outlook: Cincinnati has had one of the best seasons in program history and Wichita State has been near the top of the polls most of the season, while Houston has made a late push into the Top 25. Tulsa, Memphis and UCF have had decent seasons but need to win the AAC Tournament to make The Dance. The conference has struggled against ranked competition as a whole this season, going just 11-43.


Atlantic 10 Conference

Virtual Locks: Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure

On the Bubble: Davidson

Average Ticket Price for Conference Tournament: $52.25

Outlook: Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure and Davidson have been head and shoulders above the rest of the Atlantic 10 this season. The Rams and Bonnie’s appear to be in the NCAA Tournament whether they win their conference tourney or not, despite heading in different directions recently. Rhode Island lost three of its last five to end the season – including a 30-point blowout by St. Joseph’s – and St. Bonaventure rebounded from a rough start to conference play, winning 12 straight to end the regular season after losing four of five early in league action. Davidson hung around in the conference standings but has key losses against North Carolina and Virginia. However, they will likely have to win the A-10 Tourney to advance further.


Atlantic Coast Conference

Virtual Locks: Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Florida State

On the Bubble: Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Boston College

Average Ticket Price for Conference Tournament: $244.88

Outlook: Typical ACC. The conference appears to have nine teams locked into NCAA Tournament spots, with the potential for double digits if a team or two make serious runs in the conference tournament. Louisville, Notre Dame and Syracuse each held their own in arguably the best conference in the nation despite controversy, but they could have solidified their stances a little more with stronger out-of-conference scheduling. Boston College helped itself by winning its first two games of the conference tournament, but seem like a longshot still. The four teams on the bubble will be hoping that there are no upsets in other conferences so that there aren’t any unexpected entrants in the NCAA Tournament taking up additional spots.


Big 12 Conference

Virtual Locks: Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas State, TCU

On the Bubble: Oklahoma State, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma

Average Ticket Price for Conference Tournament: $280.43

Outlook: The Big 12 is looking like a deep conference this year after they all beat up on each other throughout the season. Kansas kept its regular season conference title streak alive, but it wasn’t easy. Oklahoma State may sneak into the field based on how the Cowboys have played as of late, but a loss to the Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tourney may have halted that. Thanks to some very shallow conferences (looking at you, Pac-12), Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma could hear their names called as well.


Big East Conference

Virtual Locks: Villanova, Xavier, Creighton, Seton Hall

On the Bubble: Providence, Butler, Marquette

Average Ticket Price for Conference Tournament: $148.81

Outlook: Villanova has been at the top of the polls all season and Xavier is having arguably its best season in program history. Creighton and Seton Hall each have at least three wins against ranked teams so they should be locked in. Providence, Butler and Marquette may have punched their tickets with their conference tourney performances. Providence upset Creighton in its first matchup, while Butler topped Seton Hall. Marquette defeated DePaul before being routed by Villanova and appears to be the biggest uncertain of the trio.


Big Ten Conference

Virtual Locks: Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan (Tournament Champion)

On the Bubble: Nebraska, Penn State, Indiana, Maryland

Average Ticket Price for Conference Tournament: $52.25

Outlook: The four locks virtually ran the Big Ten for the majority of the season. Nebraska is one of the previously mentioned teams with nice credentials, but not much substance in the details. The Cornhuskers only faced the top four teams in the conference a combined five times – winning one – while feasting on the rest of the league. This is another instance where a stronger schedule outside of the conference would have helped.


Mountain West Conference

Virtual Locks: Nevada

On the Bubble: Boise State

Average Ticket Price for Conference Tournament: $141.32

Outlook: Nevada has surged into the Top 25 at the end of the regular season and appears to be in the tournament regardless of MWC Tournament finish. Boise State was ranked at one point but doesn’t look like it has enough strength in its schedule to receive an automatic bid. The Broncos’ biggest win was against a disappointing Oregon team, and a one-and-done trip in the Mountain West Tournament isn’t going to help their stance with the committee.


Pac-12 Conference

Virtual Locks: Arizona

On the Bubble: USC, UCLA, Arizona State

Average Ticket Price for Conference Tournament: $227.79

Outlook: Here’s another conference that hasn’t separated itself enough to feel comfortable at the beginning of March. Arizona State took the college basketball world by storm with a 12-0 start and wins over Xavier and Kansas before it hit the wall in conference action. Arizona is the only team that can sleep easy in the Pac-12. USC and UCLA have probably shown enough to squeeze into the field, and advancing to the conference semifinals probably solidified their spots. But the Sun Devils will have to sweat it out after a first-round loss.


Southeastern Conference

Virtual Locks: Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas A&M

On the Bubble: Mississippi State, LSU, Alabama

Average Ticket Price for Conference Tournament: $224.64

Outlook: One of the deeper conferences this year while looking like one of the weakest ones on some nights, the SEC is sitting pretty. Kentucky and Texas A&M went through some rough patches midseason but likely held on long enough to get in. Missouri played well considering the class’s No. 1 recruit in Michael Porter Jr. missed most of the season, but was upset by Georgia in its SEC Tournament opener. Alabama may get the call after going a league-best 5-2 against ranked teams this year and upsetting the Aggies and top-seeded Auburn in the conference tourney. Meanwhile, Mississippi State topped LSU in a battle of bubble teams.


West Coast Conference

Virtual Locks: Gonzaga (Tournament Champion), Saint Mary’s

On the Bubble: BYU

Average Ticket Price for Conference Tournament: $130.94

Outlook: Gonzaga reigns again as the King of the WCC. The Bulldogs topped BYU in the tourney final as they look to return to the Final Four for the second straight season. Saint Mary’s has an argument for a tourney spot in splitting their season series with Gonzaga. Despite making the conference tournament final, BYU didn’t do much outside of the West Coast Conference and is likely on the outside looking in.


The Verdict: The Pac-12 is the runaway winner here. Oregon was a disappointment this regular season after being one of the top few teams in the conference in 2017, and Arizona State’s promising start is likely ending with a trip to the NIT after losing in the first round of the league tourney. Arizona’s season could have been derailed in a hurry had soon-to-be NBA Lottery Pick Deandre Ayton or Head Coach Sean Miller been suspended after reports of alleged illegal recruitment. Allonzo Trier has already missed games this season due to suspension as well. The Pac-12 Tournament ticket prices were among the highest this year, possibly in anticipation of an upset champion if Arizona were to lose before the final.


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