Conference tournaments are a last-gasp effort for many college basketball programs on the NCAA tournament bubble. These four teams need to put together impressive runs in their league’s postseason and possibly win it all to make the field of 68.
Illinois Fighting Illini (21-11 SU, 11-17 ATS)
Key wins: Butler, Gonzaga, Ohio State, Indiana
The Illini looked like an NCAA lock a few weeks ago, but a season-ending slide and some upsets in the smaller conference tournaments have Illinois biting its nails entering the Big Ten tournament. The Fighting Illini open the first round versus Minnesota – a game that could determine which Big Ten program gets the NCAA nod. After that, Illinois would run into Indiana and another victory over the Hoosiers would go a long way on Selection Sunday.
Stanford Cardinal (18-13 SU, 13-15-1 ATS)
Key wins: Cal x2, Oregon
Conference wins just won’t cut it in the Pac-12 this year. Top teams can fall to bottom teams on any given night. Stanford played some tough non-conference foes – NC State, Missouri, Minnesota – but didn’t come away with a resume win. The Cardinal will likely have to roll all the way to the Pac-12 tournament championship to get into the Big Dance. It’s not impossible at +700. They’ve won two in a row heading into a matchup with Arizona State in the opener before a possible meeting with UCLA in the second round.
Arkansas Razorbacks (19-12 SU, 12-11 ATS)
Key wins: Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, Kentucky
The biggest jab against Arkansas is that it can’t win on the road. All of its marquee wins came inside Bud Walton Arena while the Hogs fell flat on the highway, going 1-9 SU. The SEC could send as few as three teams to the tournament and with Florida and Missouri locked in, that leaves Arkansas fighting Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Alabama for the final ticket. The Razorbacks are set up well as a No. 7 seed, taking on Vanderbilt before a matchup with Kentucky and possibly Ole Miss beyond that.
Temple Owls (23-8 SU, 14-15 ATS)
Key wins: Syracuse, Villanova, Saint Louis, La Salle, VCU
Want to see how good the A-10 is this season? The conference is projected to send at least five teams to the tournament. That’s on par with many major conferences and more than leagues like the ACC and SEC will likely send to the NCAA. The unfair part though, is if the mid-major leagues continue to have upset winners, the first conference getting its at-large bids chopped is the A-10. The Owls have a great resume and a ton of momentum heading into the conference tournament. Add to that the fear of not making the field of 68 and there is solid value with Temple at +600 to win the A-10 tournament.