Today's big winner: Maryland
Every once in a while, conference tournaments matter in a way that has nothing to do with the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland is not going to the NCAA Tournament -- maybe if they beat UNC today and make an improbable run to the ACC title game, they are part of the "First Four" in Dayton.
Duke is out of the ACC Tournament in the quarterfinals -- and yet this season is so shallow at the top that there is seemingly no way they lose their 1-seed status (another reminder the conference tournaments are largely vestigial).
And yet the mediocre Terps beating high-flying Duke yesterday was the highlight of Maryland's season -- and the two-year-old Mark Turgeon Era. It is the kind of win that fans relish not just for the year, but for years.
You could make the same argument for Syracuse -- the Orange are going to the NCAA Tournament. So is Georgetown. And so the win is entirely about pride, bragging rights... having the last word in one of college hoops' best (if soon-to-be-former) rivalries.
As both games wound down simultaneously -- and fans were hammering the "last channel" button on the remote or picture-in-picture function to flip between them -- it was the no-stakes portion of conference-championship week at its high-stakes best.
*Today: So many win-or-go-home automatic NCAA Tournament invites on the line, teams whose names you will know like the back of your bracket notes by Monday morning -- New Mexico State versus Texas-Arlington, Pacific versus UC-Irvine, Montana versus Weber State, Stephen F. Austin versus Northwestern State, Chicago State versus Houston Baptist, Morgan State versus NC A&T, Prairie View A&M versus Southern, Albany versus Vermont.
*There are some intriguing finals: Akron could still get an at-large if they lose the MAC final to Ohio, but they don't want to chance it. UNLV probably doesn't get in without upsetting New Mexico in the Mountain West final. Similarly, Southern Miss is must-win versus Memphis, which is in regardless. Oregon and UCLA are both in, regardless. Kansas and Kansas State are obviously both in, making this about in-state bragging rights (and Kansas getting a 1-seed if they win). Syracuse and Louisville are both in, too; if the Cardinals win, they stake a claim for a 1-seed. (Speaking of 1-seed contenders, Michigan State needs to knock off Ohio State in the B10 finals if they want to stay in contention for a 1-seed, which is on the table.)
*What about Kentucky? I think they are out. It's not like they kept it close versus Vandy. They got blown out and looked terrible in the process. Last weekend's supposedly season-saving win over Florida? Just not enough. I suspect that the NCAA and Selection Committee will conspire to push the profile of the typically ignored "First Four" by slotting Kentucky in that game against a notable fringe mid-major.
*My most intriguing bracket-previewing game of the day? Butler versus St. Louis in the Atlantic 10 semifinals -- both are tournament locks, but both have the moxie to make deep runs. This is a good litmus test, if not for them, then for your confusion over the bracket.
Enjoy the day!