NCAA BK

Conference tourneys don't help top teams

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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining FOXSports.com. Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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ATLANTA

NC State got screwed.

ACC tournament officials basically abstained in the game-deciding final moments, an odd disappearance since until then officiating had been a PTPer in North Carolina's 69-67 victory against State. The game-winning bucket by UNC's Kendall Marshall was either a charge (my vote) or a block. Being neither was a ridiculous no-call.

"Can't talk about that or you'll get fined," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said when pressed on his officiating thoughts afterward, wisely refusing to part with cash to speak truth to what already has been decided.

Richard Howell already had registered State's disapproval when the forward went charging after officials after another no-call on his final shot.

On a night when it's almost impossible to feel sorry for North Carolina — the Heels got every call, walked away with a "lucky" W and will play for yet another ACC championship in less than 24 hours — I do. The Tar Heels are one the best teams in the country and cannot win in Atlanta.

Only lose.

What Carolina has to show from this ACC tourney is John Henson's injured wrist, a whiff of vulnerability based on what State almost did and a date with a Florida State team that slapped UNC around by 33 points in January. All this while trying to protect and keep a No. 1 seed the Heels spent the entire season earning.

How fun for Carolina, and really for Kansas and Syracuse and Kentucky and even Duke a little bit.

Conference tournaments are awesome for fans, bubble teams, awful teams happy for a last chance … for everybody except the best teams in the country. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams and Co. had wrapped up a No. 1 seed by virtue of what they did vs. Michigan State and Kentucky, Texas and Duke, day after day, week after week, all season long. This ACC tournament always was a no-win for them. All they could do in Atlanta was hurt themselves, literally in Henson's case.

Kentucky coach John Calipari perfectly summed up this zero-sum game when he told us all, again, how much he dislikes conference tournaments and how little winning helps them after his Wildcats beat Florida in an SEC semifinal on Saturday.

"I told them … if we had lost and played well, I would have been fine, and we walk on," Calipari said. "But now that you're in the championship game, you might as well play to win it. You're here. You gotta play the game. Let's go for it."

Carolina has a little more than that hanging on Sunday's ACC championship game against Florida State. There's talk bubbling of giving what had been assumed to be UNC's No. 1 seed to Mizzou or the Big Ten champion (Michigan State plays Ohio State on Sunday) if there is a stumble.

Mizzou stepped into this No. 1 seed talk by a) winning the Big 12 tournament on Saturday and b) by Kansas losing in the semifinals on Friday. The Tigers probably deserve a No. 1 seed after beating three tournament teams the past three days. Only Sparty has a better case of outside-looking-in teams.

Conference tournament action

MARCH-ING FORWARD

The Madness is already here as conference tournament play heats up. See the photos.

Coack K and Duke took themselves out of that conversation by losing to Florida State on Saturday, although a soft landing spot of a No. 2 seed in Greensboro, NC, probably awaits. But a chance to rest and heal probably helps more than a No. 2 seed hurts.

Who helped themselves in this ACC tournament are the States — Florida State and North Carolina State. The Seminoles established themselves as the team you most certainly do not want in your team's bracket. They are athletic and nasty around the glass.

Meanwhile, NC State firmly proved it is a tourney team. The Wolfpack are going to be a tough out for whoever plays them. UNC coach Williams was not just being nice when he plugged for State pretty hard after Saturday's semifinal.

This only underlines the point that conference tournaments are best to those with nothing to lose. It wreaks havoc on those already on top. With Kansas and Syracuse losing, and Kentucky and North Carolina having varying degrees of scares in the past couple of days, it is important not to overreact too much.

The thing about this time of year is the NCAA field should be pretty much set by now. All that should be left is plugging in automatic qualifiers and figuring out how much to reward the very best of the conference tournament winners.

Yes, you adjust for the teams like NC State and Mizzou.

What is unfair, though, is how little the Heels have to gain and how much they can lose. It's almost like they got screwed, too.

Tagged: North Carolina, Duke, Florida State, Kentucky, Florida, Kansas, John Henson

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