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6 Reasons To Watch Championship Week
Championship Week is one of the best 10-14 day stretches of the year. Championship Week starts with the smaller conferences (AKA: “low-major” or “mid-major”) and concludes with the Big Ten Championship game ending just a few hours before the release of the brackets.
The casual college basketball fan only really pays attention to the sport for about a month-and that month is mid-march through the early part of April during the NCAA tournament so they can follow who they blindly picked on their bracket sheet. Can you tell that I am bitter about always getting beat in the bracket game by someone who has watched 1/100th the number of games I have watched? That’s the beauty of this tournament, I guess. Where was I? Oh, yeah: You should watch more college basketball! I would suggest watching as much college basketball as you can but if you’re more of the casual fan, below are 6 reasons why you should watch Championship Week.
It is the mid-majors time to shine. The low-major and mid-major conference tournaments are definitely better than the “power 5” conferences during Championship week. The reason is because most teams have to win their conference tournament to get into the NCAA tournament. Most are not going to receive an “at-large” spot in the NCAA tournament no matter what the team has done during the regular season (with very few exceptions), so the team’s season basically comes down to 3 and 5 days in early March.
Most midmajor teams are upper classman that have been working for at least 3 years for this moment: to win their conference tournament and get a chance to be 'Cinderella' in the NCAA tournament. Plus, a lot of the players at the midmajor level have a chip on their shoulder: They feel that they were good enough to receive a scholarship to play at a power 5 school but that offer never came so they took the scholarship they did receive. Getting to the NCAA tournament and playing what will likely be a team from a power 5 conference would give these slighted players the opportunity to prove to the coaches that didn’t offer them a scholarship that they made a mistake.
To recap: every player is playing with a chip on their shoulder, You have veteran laden teams that have played with each other for multiple years working towards this moment, and almost every team in the conference has that same makeup and is fighting for the exact same thing. You put all of those factors together and what you get is players giving the game their absolute all. There is no tomorrow! This is why they have put on the jersey for 4 years: To win their conference tournament championship and get to the Big Dance. It is something special to watch.
Court-storming. A lot of the mid-major conference tournaments are held at either the home court of the team that received the #1 seed or the home court of the higher seeded team that is playing in the championship game. Most of these places are small gymnasiums and the teams playing in the Championship game pack in as many fans as the building can hold. When the final horn goes off and one of the teams is officially going to the NCAA Tournament, that team’s bench, coaches, fans, mascot, and anyone who wants to join in, runs onto the court and celebrates the team accomplishing the goal they set out to achieve. There is something very cool and special about the small conference court-storm. I have chills just thinking about it!
Everyone gets a 2nd chance. What is America great at? The correct answer is “everything” but what I am really looking for is giving 2nd chances. That is exactly what conference tournaments and championship week does. Except for a couple of conferences that only accept the top 8 or so teams from their league into its conference tournament (and the Ivy League, who for the first time will have a conference tournament consisting of the top 4 teams from the regular season this year), every team gets a 2nd chance to play their way into the field of 68. Each conference tournament receives an automatic bid. It doesn’t matter if the team is 18-0 in the conference or 0-18. If the 0-18 team gets hot and wins 3 games in 3 days or 4 games in 4 days to win the conference tournament, they are IN the NCAA tournament. Yay for 2nd chances! Yay for Championship Week. Yay for America!
So much movement for bubble teams. During the last 5 or 6 days of Championship Week, the power 5 conferences start their conference tournaments. While everyone would like to win their conference tournament, it is not that big of a deal for some coaches (ahem, Roy Williams) or teams who have done enough over the course of the regular season to guarantee themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament. However, for teams that are close to receiving an at large bid but are not guaranteed (AKA, bubble teams) the conference tournament provides opportunities to get more wins. The difference between bubble teams when compared against each other is very, very small. Multiple conference tournaments are being played at the same time, so there are numerous bubble teams playing at the same time; sometimes against each other. For example, bubble team “A” could be playing at 1pm in its conference tournament in Atlanta. Meanwhile, bubble team “B” is playing at the same time in its conference tournament in Indianapolis and bubble team “C” is playing its conference tournament game in Las Vegas. So on and so on it goes. The best thing is that this happens in some combination of teams and conferences throughout cities across the country almost all day because the first few rounds of conference tournaments have 3 or 4 games being played on the same day. Then, it happens all over again the next day when the winners of the previous day play one another.
Teams play in/out of tournament. To go along with reason 4 above, bubble teams will undoubtedly play themselves in or out of the NCAA tournament during its conference tournament. Let’s say Team A is just out of the NCAA tournament when their conference tournament begins. They get hot and beat 3 good teams in 3 days. Those 3 good, solid wins could be enough to take them from just out of the field of 68 to just making it in the field; depending on what happens to other bubble teams (remember, bubble teams aren’t just competing against the teams they are playing on the court, they are also competing against all of the other bubble teams across the country.) For team A, winning in the conference tournament got them into the tournament. On the flip side, teams can play themselves out of the NCAA tournament. Let’s say Team "B" is on the bubble but feels like if the season ended right then, it would earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. Remember, though, even the bad teams in the conference make their conference tournament. If Team “B” was to lose to the worst team in the conference, that would go down as a bad loss at the same time that Team “A” got those 3 good wins. Team “A” could very easily take team “B’s” spot in just 2 or 3 short days. This scenario will play out multiple times during Championship Week.
Championship Week could provide a glimpse of what happens in the NCAA Tournament. There always seems to be a team that is playing its best basketball during the conference tournament. In a single elimination tournament like the NCAA tournament, the “best” team doesn’t always win; it is sometimes the team that is playing the best at that particular time that wins it all. Championship Week could provide a glimpse of which teams are playing well at the right time and which teams are struggling. If a team gets hot in their conference tournament and wins it, that team could ride that momentum into the NCAA tournament and do real damage. You might take that team to go a little farther when filling out your bracket. At the same time, if a team that has been one of the best teams in the country all year long and gets knocked out early in its conference tourney, that could signal that they are getting tired and may not fare as well. You might be hesitant to have them go far in your bracket.
Do yourself a favor and watch Championship Week. It is great basketball for 2 weeks. From the smaller conference tournaments and seeing the elation on the player’s faces for reaching the goal they set out to way back in September to the power 5 tournaments where bubble teams experience joy for playing their way into the tournament or heartbreak knowing their season is over, it is great theatre. Then, when it is all over and you’re sad that it is over.... you get to fill out brackets and watch the best postseason in sport for the next 3 weeks!