Championship Week Primer: Bid-Stealers and Teams to Watch

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 10th, 2015

Championship Week is upon us. And while some mid-majors have already locked up their spots in the Big Dance, it’s time for the major conference tournaments to get under way. Here’s a brief look at each of those upcoming tournaments with a description of one team in each that is primed to use the postseason as the catalyst for a run and one potential bid-stealer.


SMU is Flying Under the Radar Somewhat (USA Today Images)

SMU is Somewhat Flying Under the Radar (USA Today Images)

  • Team to Watch: SMU – This one might seem obvious as SMU is the top seed and the best team in the conference. But such is the state of the AAC that the Mustangs are really the only team with a shot to make some noise in March. Temple is an NCAA Tournament team but isn’t anything special, and the same could be said for Cincinnati and Tulsa, if either cracks the field of 68.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: UConn – Hey, we’ve certainly seen the Huskies get hot before. There haven’t been many indications that Kevin Ollie’s team can put together a run, but its draw is favorable — SMU is on the opposite side of the bracket — so a Sunday date with the Mustangs with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line is a distinct possibility.


  • Team to Watch: North Carolina – The Tar Heels have amazingly lost six of their last 10 games en route to a fifth-place finish in the ACC. But since an ugly loss to NC State a couple weeks ago, they’ve looked decent and are capable of exploding at any time. North Carolina has elite athleticism and a guard in Marcus Paige who is one of college basketball’s best when he’s locked in. The Heels — playing in front of the always-friendly Greensboro crowd — should be favored against Louisville in the quarterfinals before meeting a Virginia team that could still be at less than full strength.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Miami – Miami isn’t a bid-stealer, per se, because the Hurricanes don’t have to win the ACC Tournament to earn entry into the Dance. They probably only need two victories but they’ve been given an intriguing road as the #6 seed. Provided the Hurricanes win their Wednesday game against Wake Forest or Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and then potentially Duke await. Miami has already gone toe-to-toe with both this year in their buildings, and even beat Duke at Cameron. If Jim Larranaga’s team were to pull off those two upsets, anything could happen in the championship game.

Atlantic 10

  • Team to Watch: Dayton – The Flyers got their bad loss out of the way in their regular season finale against La Salle and are ready to follow up on last year’s Elite Eight run. Their road to the A-10 final is relatively smooth, with Rhode Island – which Dayton beat by 16 points last Tuesday – its expected semifinal matchup.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: La Salle – It seems like the A-10 is a perennial bid-stealer conference because it usually is a multi-bid league that rarely has elite teams at the top. La Salle has a shot to be that thief this year. As the #9 seed in Brooklyn this week, the Explorers would get top-seed Davidson in the quarterfinals, a team with which they match up fairly well. A winnable game against Richmond or a depleted VCU squad would be up next in the semifinals.

Big East

Matt Stainbrook Presents Unique Challenges for Opponents (USA Today Images)

Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook Presents Unique Challenges for Opponents (USA Today Images)

  • Team to Watch: Xavier – The Musketeers certainly aren’t playing their best basketball of the season heading into the Big East Tournament, but they’re a group with a plethora of capable, multi-dimensional scorers capable of catching fire at any time. Xavier’s quarterfinal matchup is with Butler, a team which they beat by 17 in late February, and its likely semifinal matchup would be with Georgetown, a team that it beat twice by a combined margin of 30 points. Might the Musketeers be able to outscore Villanova in the championship game?
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Seton Hall – Okay, yeah, sorry to waste your time; this probably isn’t happening. There isn’t really a sleeper in the Big East this year.

Big Ten

  • Team to Watch: Ohio State – The Buckeyes could enter the NCAA Tournament as a top-20 KenPom team but as a double-digit seed. They could also finally string together a few good performances in Chicago this week and ease a lot of worries about their inconsistency.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Northwestern – This is reaching pretty deep and it might even be considered dreaming, but the Wildcats ended the season by winning five out of seven games and their probable Big Ten Tournament games are against Indiana — Northwestern beat the Hoosiers in their lone meeting — and Maryland — the Wildcats were a Dez Wells buzzer-beater away from shocking the Terps in College Park. Even just those two wins would make Northwestern one of the best stories of the week in college basketball.

Big 12

Baylor (USA Today Images)

Baylor is Poised to Make a Nice Run This March (USA Today Images)

  • Team to Watch: Baylor – This could really be almost any team in the Big 12 as the top seven squads have the ability to get to Saturday’s championship game. The Bears, a team which hits the offensive glass better than any other group in the country, could take advantage of a suddenly vulnerable Kansas front line in the semifinals if they can survive West Virginia in the quarterfinals.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Kansas State – Kansas State will likely play Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals, but before you dismiss them, remember that the Wildcats have already beaten the Jayhawks and that Kansas is a little banged up (and suspended) right now. Furthermore, Kansas State has also proven that on the right night it is capable of beating any other team in the conference. Don’t count out a wild four-game ride from Bruce Weber’s group.


  • Team to Watch: Oregon – The Ducks are scorching hot. They’ve only lost once since January; they beat Utah by double-figures; and they won three straight road games to strongly close out the season and bypass Utah for the #2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon is a unique team — Dana Altman occasionally uses what is essentially a five-guard/wing lineup — that can be tough to contain when in attack mode. A rematch with Utah in the semifinals should be on the cards.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Stanford – Stanford is still a pretty good team but the Cardinal are on the wrong side of the bubble. When desperation mixes with good talent, funny things can happen.


  • Team to Watch: Georgia – Obviously Kentucky is the overwhelming favorite here, but the Bulldogs just gave the Wildcats a stern test last week. If Georgia can beat Arkansas (or Vanderbilt) in the SEC Tournament semifinals, it will earn its third shot at ruining perfection.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Vanderbilt – The Commodores are actually the fourth-best favorite to take home the SEC crown despite being the #7 seed this week. They ended the regular season on a five-game winning streak and have developed into one of the most proficient offenses in college basketball. They’re the trendy team right now in this conference, so don’t be surprised to see a Vandy-Kentucky matchup on Sunday afternoon in Nashville.
Henry Bushnell (39 Posts)

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