Ladies and gentleman of the Barber Shop Sports Nation it is time to talk about my favorite time of year, March Madness but before the brackets are set there is a key week for most teams around the country, Championship week. Because this year’s tournament is up for grabs there are plenty of capable programs out there waiting to become the next team to cut down the nets as the 2014 NCAA champion. Championship week is where just about every conference holds its tournament and to the winner goes an automatic bid into the NCAA field. Some have already started and others will start next week, so all week long there will be nothing but college basketball until selection Sunday.
Conference tournaments are a great way to get a preview of teams that could make the next Cinderella run in the bracket. Watching these games you get a chance to see these young men putting it all out on the line because this is their only chance to get to the big dance. Teams that struggled through the year get a chance to go on a magical run and represent their conferences. However small they may be for most college players this will be the apex of their basketball careers. Conferences most people don’t know like: Atlantic Sun, Sunbelt, Summit, Horizon and many, many more. Teams in these small conferences are trying to be this year’s Florida Gulf Coast. Championship week can be some of the most exciting basketball you will watch all season with classic rivals squaring off and then the winner gets the bid and the loser’s season is over.
Championship week is also the last week for teams on the bubble to get a win or two more to try and ensure there spot in the dance. Every year we hear about the bubble teams trying to make an impression on the committee and nothing says that you belong like a great run in your conference tournament. Some bubble teams that need to make statements are Florida State, Arkansas, Baylor, California, Minnesota and St. John’s just to name a few. Everyone should know by now that the only guarantees are the conference tournament winners and their automatic bids. Year after year you hear about teams that were snubbed from the dance but at the end of the day the blame should fall more on the teams than the committee. No matter the selections you cannot make everyone happy.
The other teams that have already locked in their place in the dance will be looking to improve their seed. Matchups are crucial when it comes to brackets and teams. Teams with the higher seeds will get more favorable matchups but that doesn’t always equal a guarantee. If the NCAA tourney has taught us anything it’s that seeds don’t matter it’s the game you play on that day. We have seen every lower seed get an upset win with the exception of a 16 seed. Now I’m not saying that it’s going to happen this year but it could be this year that a 16 seed finally beats a #1 seed. No team has shown they are head and shoulders above the rest of the competition and every team is coming in with questions marks even all the projected number 1 seeds. Florida has had a great year but they haven’t had the toughest of schedules and had a tough game versus Florida Gulf Coast. Wichita St has had an incredible run but they play in a smaller conference and some wonder if they have another final four run in them. Kansas has been up and down all year and Arizona lost one of their key players Brandon Ashley and also lost some games in a very weak PAC 12.
Now on a personal note there is small mid-conference team that I will be rooting for especially hard for from the Mid-American Conference and that team is the University of Buffalo. They are seeking their first bid ever in the NCAA Tourney. The Buffalo Bulls are led by senior forward Javon McCrea a player from my high school alum. I was fortunate to be able to watch him a couple times while he played at Newark, a small town in upstate New York between the cities of Rochester and Syracuse. While there he dominated the completion and led them to a state final his senior year where they lost to James-DeWitt a team led by one of the top centers in the nation Dajuan Coleman who is currently at Syracuse (out this year due to a knee injury). He is one of the most skilled big men in the country and the only reason he is not on most NBA scouts radar is because of his size 6-7. Despite being an undersized power-forward he has averaged 18.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game this season. So a special shout out to Javon and the Buffalo Bulls!
I know that everyone loves the first few days of the NCAA tournament but Championship week is just as exciting. You get to watch some of the best ballers in the country and teams fighting for their tournament life. From the pure elation and jubilation to the heart ache it is one of the most exciting times in all of sports. So sit back and enjoy the week, watch and take notes about the teams you think will be this year’s bracket busters.