It's championship week in college basketball, capped by Sunday when the NCAA Tournament field of 68 will be announced. Here's one man's opinion on which schools this week could mean the most for around the country and their odds.
St. Francis (N.Y.)
Say what? I listed the Terriers, based in Brooklyn, on this list because it's one of five schools in Division I who have been in DI since it was instituted in 1948 to never have made an NCAA Tournament. If you are wondering, the only Power 5 Conference team on that list is Northwestern of the Big Ten. Top-seeded St. Francis plays in its first Northeast Conference Tournament final in 12 years Tuesday night, hosting No. 2 seed Robert Morris. St Francis is a 5.5-point opening favorite on BetOnline NCAA basketball odds. It split two regular-season meetings with Robert Morris, each winning a close one at home. The winner probably will be a No. 16 seed for the Big Dance and either in a play-in game or a second-round sacrificial lamb against a No. 1 seed.
Last week, the Indiana athletic director said that Coach Tom Crean's job was safe. I'm not so sure about that if IU misses the Big Dance. Right now, the Hoosiers are very much on the bubble. They are by most accounts on the outside looking in at 19-21 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten. Indiana was 15-4 and ranked in late January but closed the season with three straight losses, two at home. The Hoosiers 100 percent must beat Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament opener on Thursday in Chicago. Even that might not be enough -- it may take an upset of second-seeded Maryland in the quarterfinals as well. Northwestern won the only meeting with Indiana this season, 72-65 in Evanston on Feb. 25. IU is +2000 odds to win the Big Ten Tournament.
The Hurricanes (20-11, 10-8 ACC) are generally listed among the "first four out" for the NCAA Tournament. They will open the ACC Tournament on Wednesday as a No. 6 seed in Greensboro, N.C., against the winner of Tuesday's Wake Forest-Virginia Tech matchup, which I previewed here at SBR (I expect a Wake win). UM should beat either the Deacons or Hokies and it better or there's no chance of an NCAA bid. It might take the Canes beating third-seeded Notre Dame in the conference quarterfinals to get an at-large bid. Miami is +2800 to win the ACC Tournament.
Could the Bruins (19-12, 11-7 Pac-12) miss the Big Dance for the first time since 2012? Absolutely yes if they don't win probably a minimum of two games in the Pac-12 Tournament. Coach Steve Alford's team did end the regular season with three straight wins, but those were against patsies Washington, Washington State and USC and all were at home. The Bruins are a No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and will face the USC-Arizona State winner on Thursday in Las Vegas. That's a must-win. Alas, next up likely would be top-seeded Arizona. An upset there would surely get the Bruins in the NCAAs. A blowout loss probably keeps them out. UCLA is +1000 to win the Pac-12 tourney.
College Basketball Fans
I put this on the list simply because of No. 1 Kentucky. UK could lose its first game in the SEC Tournament and still would be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. So in reality it means little for Kentucky this week, and I'm willing to bet that secretly Coach John Calipari wouldn't mind a loss just to get the pressure off. But the Big Dance will be much more intriguing if Kentucky enters it unbeaten and trying to become the first team since Bobby Knight's 1975-76 Indiana team to finish a season without a loss. Kentucky is the third team in the last 15 seasons to outscore opponents by at least 21 points per game entering its conference tournament. The other two (2000-01 Duke and 2007-08 Kansas) both won the NCAA Tournament. UK remains the even-money NCAA Basketball pick favorite to win it all at sportsbooks. It is -400 to win the SEC Tournament.