conference tournaments

Tyler Ulis, Derek Willis, John Calipari
AP Photo/James Crisp

Calipari’s suggestion made in jest should spark serious idea

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With the SEC managing to earn just three bids to this past season’s NCAA tournament, the strength of the conference’s basketball product was one of the items discussed at SEC spring meetings in Florida earlier this week. Some alterations were made, such as mandating that teams put together non-conference schedules with an average opponent RPI no lower than 175 (that will be raised to 150 in the future), but that wasn’t what grabbed the attention of the masses.

What did was Kentucky head coach John Calipari’s suggestion that the SEC move its conference tournament from March to November. As one would expect, the reactions within the meeting room were swift and in opposition to Calipari’s suggestion. But here’s the thing: the “suggestion” was more about the impact (or lack thereof) of SEC tournament results on NCAA tournament selections and seeding than it was actually moving the event.

Back in March Calipari expressed his surprise over the fact that Kentucky, winners of the SEC tournament, was given a four-seed while Texas A&M (the team they beat in the title game) received a three. A team’s overall résumé is of higher priority than late-season results when it comes to the selection process, but one can see why a coach would essentially question just how much of an impact winning a conference tournament can have on their placement within the NCAA tournament bracket.

There’s no way that the SEC would move its conference tournament to November, and Calipari knows that. But here’s a move that the league should consider: setting up the schedule so that the SEC tournament concludes on Saturday (the day before Selection Sunday) as opposed to Selection Sunday itself.

Currently the SEC is one of five conferences that plays its tournament final on Selection Sunday, with the American, Atlantic 10, Big Ten and Sun Belt being the others. The main reason for this is to ensure that your conference gets to play the game that determines its automatic bid recipient on national television, giving the conference a platform that won’t have much in the way of competition for viewers.

But there’s also the argument that playing this close to the announcement of the NCAA tournament field can hurt a conference when it comes to seeding and team selection. The selection committee does have its contingency brackets to account for a variety of scenarios, but would the processes of team and bracket evaluation be helped by there being no games played on Selection Sunday?

It’s something worth considering, but it’s highly unlikely to happen due to television networks’ desires for inventory and conferences looking for as much national exposure as they can get (this is especially true for smaller conferences).

Still without an associate commissioner for men’s basketball, there will be a lot for that person to address whenever SEC commissioner Greg Sankey fills that vacancy. Obviously moving the tournament to November won’t be one of those issues, but why not consider moving the tournament up a day? Who knows, it could help the SEC when it comes to the late evaluation of its teams.

Mountain West tournaments to remain at Thomas & Mack through 2019

Larry Shyatt, Craig Thompson
Associated Press
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Friday afternoon the Mountain West Conference announced that it would continue to hold its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas through 2019. The Thomas & Mack Center, which is also UNLV’s home building, has hosted the event every year since 2007 and the new deal comes as no surprise.

What is interesting about the announcement is the change to the Mountain West tournament bracket beginning with the 2017 edition. Both the men’s and women’s tournaments will be eight-team affairs, meaning that the bottom three teams in the league standings will remain home.

“The decision by the Board to feature the top eight men’s and women’s teams in the MW Basketball Championships is consistent with a broader Mountain West Conference initiative emphasizing performance-based competitive excellence,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said in the release.

“Similar approaches are being implemented in other MW championships based upon the best interests of those particular sports. This most recent action will increase the importance of our regular-season basketball competition and is a vehicle to enhance the overall success of our basketball enterprise.”

In recent years the Mountain West has been joined in Las Vegas by the WCC (played the week prior), Pac-12 and WAC in Las Vegas for conference tournament action. The WCC and WAC use the Orleans Arena for their respective conference tournaments, with the Pac-12 tournament being played at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

With the Las Vegas Arena (expected to seat 20,000 people) due to open this spring, there will be another facility for conferences to look into if they so choose.

MAAC announces change to conference tournament format

Hampton v Manhattan
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For conferences in which at-large bids to the NCAA tournament are tough to come by, the conference tournament is an incredibly important event. With that being the case, some leagues have looked give their top teams in the regular season an advantage when it comes to the conference tournament setup.

For some that advantage comes in the form of home court advantage, while others may do things such as advance their top seeds to the semifinals of the event. Thursday afternoon the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which in the past rewarded its top two seeds with a bye into the semifinals, announced that it has changed the format for its men’s and women’s conference tournaments.

Both tournaments, which are held at the same site (the Times Union Center, Siena’s home court in Albany, New York), will begin on Thursday, March 2 with three first round games in the women’s tournament followed by three games in the men’s bracket. The biggest change comes on Friday, with the top two seeds in both brackets taking the court against the winners of the 8/9 and 7/10 games respectively.

“The vote for the revised format was 9-1-1, with Manhattan opposed and Quinnipiac abstaining,” MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor said in the release.  “The format change has been accepted by the Times Union Center (Albany, NY) which is hosting the 2016 & 2017 championships under a current three-year contract.”

And the winners of those games get a day off ahead of Sunday’s semifinals, which could especially pay dividends for teams that aren’t especially deep. News of a format change was first reported by the Asbury Park Press on Tuesday, and the paper got some comments from Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello.

And it’s safe to say that he isn’t all too thrilled with the timing of this change.

“I can’t recall a time when some changes happen within eight, nine months. Why not wait until the next contract?,” Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello told the Asbury Park Press via phone on Thursday afternoon.

“Basically, to have this changed, I have yet to get an answer why, which is what I find very puzzling. I think maybe people are tired of Manhattan and they don’t want to talk about that elephant in the room, our style and our depth. We’ve been to three title games in three years, back-to-back winners in two. I have a feeling that people didn’t like that because maybe we weren’t supposed to be there.”

The MAAC’s contract with the Times Union Center runs through the 2017 MAAC tournaments. Next year’s MAAC tournament schedule breaks down as follows:

Thursday, March 
Women’s First Round
9:30 a.m. 8 seed vs. 9 seed
11:30 a.m. 7 seed vs. 10 seed
1:30 p.m. 6 seed vs. 11 seed

Men’s First Round
5:00 p.m. 8 seed vs. 9 seed
7:00 p.m. 7 seed vs. 10 seed
9:00 p.m. 6 seed vs. 11 seed

Friday, March 4
Women’s Quarterfinals
12:00 p.m. 1 seed vs. 8/9 winner
2:30 p.m. 2 seed vs. 7/10 winner

Men’s Quarterfinals
7:00 p.m. 1 seed vs. 8/9 winner
9:30 p.m. 2 seed vs. 7/10 winner

Saturday, March 5
Women’s Quarterfinals
12:00 p.m. 3 seed vs. 6/11 winner
2:30 p.m. 4 seed vs. 5 seed

Men’s Quarterfinals
7:00 p.m. 3 seed vs. 6/11 winner
9:30 p.m. 4 seed vs. 5 seed

Sunday, March 6
Women’s Semifinals
11:00 a.m. 1/8/9 winner vs. 4/5 winner
1:30 p.m. 2/7/10 winner vs. 3/6/11 winner

Men’s Semifinals
4:30 p.m. 1/8/9 winner vs. 4/5 winner
7:00 p.m. 2/7/10 winner vs. 3/6/11 winner

Monday, March 7
Women’s Championship 
Semifinal winners, Time TBD

Men’s Championship
Semifinal winners, Time TBD

Conference USA basketball tournaments returning to Birmingham in 2016

Jerod Haase
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Friday afternoon Conference USA announced that its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will once again be held in Birmingham next season, marking the second straight year in which the city has hosted the events. While the men’s tournament is played at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, the women’s tournament is played on the UAB campus at Bartow Arena.

“Birmingham is a wonderful location for our basketball championships,” conference commissioner Britton Banowsky said in the release. “We appreciate the two great arenas and the city’s proximity to many of our fans. The downtown development is impressive, but most of all, we appreciate the spirit of the community. We look forward to another great tournament week in 2016.”

Also of note in Conference USA’s announcement is that all 14 teams will participate in the tournament. Last season only the top 12 teams qualified, meaning that Southern Miss (already ineligible due to a self-imposed postseason ban) and FAU missed out on the men’s tournament with North Texas and FIU not qualifying for the women’s tournament.

UAB, led by head coach Jerod Haase, won the men’s tournament as the four-seed last season and top seed Western Kentucky won the women’s tournament last season.

Big 12 Tournament to remain in Kansas City through 2020

Bob Bowlsby, Fred Hoiberg
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Since the Big 12 came into existence in 1996, 14 of its men’s basketball tournaments have been played in Kansas City with Kemper Arena hosting seven and the Sprint Center hosting seven with an eighth scheduled for next season. Thursday afternoon the Big 12 announced the sites for multiple conference championships, which includes the decision to leave the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City through 2020.

The league’s contract with the Sprint Center was due to expire after the 2016 edition of the event.

“We are thrilled to announce the future sites for the championships,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in the release. “Every city that submitted a bid did a phenomenal job – making our decision very difficult. We look forward to growing the success of our men’s basketball championship in Kansas City, while also exposing fans throughout our footprint to our postseason competitions.”

The Big 12 tournament has been well-attended during its time in Kansas City, with the conference noting in the release that the average per session attendance for tournaments at the Sprint Center have exceeded 18,000. Of the 14 Big 12 tournaments played in Kansas City, Kansas has been the most frequent winner as the Jayhawks have won seven of them.

Iowa State, which has won the last two Big 12 tournaments, has won three (2000, 2014, 2015) of the 14 staged in Kansas City with Oklahoma (2001, 2002) winning two and Oklahoma State (2005) and former member Missouri (2012) winning one apiece.

MEAC tournament to remain in Norfolk through 2018

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
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After holding its annual conference tournament at the Norfolk Scope from 1991-1993, the MEAC took its event to other locales and did not return to the area for twenty years. 2015’s event will be the third straight held at the Norfolk Scope, and on Thursday the MEAC announced that its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will remain there for another three years through 2018.

“I would like to thank Mayor Paul Fraim, the City Council, Norfolk City Manager Marcus Jones and city staff for their continued support of the MEAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament,” MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas said at an event announcing the news.  “We are elated to extend this great partnership for another three years.”

The Scope will continue to host both the men’s and women’s basketball tournament as part of the deal. North Carolina Central won last season’s men’s basketball tournament title and in each of the last two years, Morgan State has reached the title game only to fall short of its goal of earning the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.