5 things to watch and know for conference tournaments

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta celebrates with guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. (32) after defeating the Michigan State Spartans at the Schottenstein Center. 

Greg Bartram

Five things to watch starting Thursday afternoon and through the weekend as Ohio teams chase NCAA tournament bids and seeding in their respective conference tournaments…

1. Ohio State is chasing momentum. The Big Ten tournament has been the Thad Matta Invitational for a long time, but over the last few years Matta has shown up with complete teams and comfortable seeding. This time around, the Buckeyes play Thursday afternoon against Purdue trying to set up a date with No. 4 seed Nebraska. No, that’s not a misprint. It’s been a crazy year in Columbus and across the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes bring all their flaws to Indianapolis with a chance to build on last week’s comeback win over Michigan State. A Purdue-Nebraska path could set up a Saturday date with Michigan, and Ohio State could go to next weekend with confidence and probably a No. 5 or 6 seed. Don’t rule anything out; don’t miss a game, either. Even when the Buckeyes have been bad, they haven’t been boring.

2. The American tournament has never been before — and with Louisville leaving for the ACC, it will never be this good again. But this is really good, potentially as good as any tournament anywhere. Host Memphis vs. UConn tonight is a quarterfinal, and if the seeds hold the winner gets Cincinnati tomorrow. SMU-Louisville is the other potential semifinal, and a Cincinnati-Louisville rubber match in the final would be fitting considering it took a coin flip to determine the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament. One thing to watch: Will Sean Kilpatrick carry a chip on his shoulder after Shabazz Napier was voted conference player of the year?

3. The Big East tournament still lives in New York City, and it already had a great moment Wednesday night when Depaul ousted Georgetown. There are unfamiliar faces in town, too, starting with Creighton and Everybody’s All-American, Doug McDermott. Xavier is making its debut, too, in a 3-6 game vs. Marquette Thursday night. The Musketeers are without Matt Stainbrook but need wins to solidify their NCAA tournament resume. The guess here is that Xavier is just on the right side of the bubble, but there’s still a lot to be settled this weekend. A Creighton-Villanova final would make for great television Saturday night, but Xavier, Providence and St. John’s also have at least something to play for over the next several days.

4. In Brooklyn, the Atlantic 10 tournament should be very good again despite being under the national radar, and a possible NCAA tournament elimination game looms Friday as Dayton (RPI: 39) could take on Saint Joseph’s (41). The Flyers can still get in the tournament if they lose that game — and maybe even play at home in the First Four — but they’d be best served winning and then taking another shot at Saint Louis. The A-10 seems guaranteed four NCAA bids but could get five or six, with Saint Louis and VCU especially looming as the kind of team none of the big boys wants to see on the first weekend. Maybe Dayton could join that bunch, too.

5. The MAC tournament in Cleveland is structured to reward regular-season perfomance in what’s been a one-bid league every year since 1999. Western Michigan and Toledo finished tied for first and get automatic byes to the semifinals. Toledo has been the favorite since January but Buffalo is coming on strong. Akron has been less than whole thanks to injuries and suspensions but might be rounding into form now; the Zips have played in seven straight conference championship games. Akron-Ohio tonight in the quarterfinals should be really good, and the winner might be favored to beat Western Michigan on Friday. Toledo enters with an RPI of 38 and a slim chance to be an at-large team if it wins Friday and loses Saturday. The MAC tournament usually includes an element of surprise and close games; chances are it’s a one bid league again, so high drama is on tap again.


Zac’s conference tournament picks

Big Ten: Michigan State

American: Louisville

Big East: Villanova

A-10: VCU

MAC: Buffalo