College basketball’s conference tournaments this week serve as the appetizer for the main course of March Madness that begins this Sunday when the field of 68 teams for the NCAA Tournament is revealed.
With conference realignment continuing to shake up the college sports landscape, the tournaments also serve as a farewell to some schools that will be leaving their traditional homes (i.e. Syracuse from the Big East to the ACC, Missouri from the Big 12 to the SEC).
In addition to the automatic NCAA bid for the winners, the tourneys also give schools from power conferences a last chance at a few more wins as they try and polish their NCAA resumes for at-large berths to the Big Dance. Here’s a look at the major conference tournaments that conclude this weekend. All ticket prices are secondary market figures from ticket search site TiqIQ.com.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Thursday-Sunday, Phillips Arena, Atlanta
Average ticket price: $144
Outlook: Attendance problems in the ACC led to its tournament being moved from the cavernous Georgia Dome to Phillips Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. The seedings point to another Duke vs. North Carolina classic in the final on Sunday, with a top seed in the NCAA Tournament likely going to the winner. The Tobacco Road rivals split their two meetings this season: Duke won a buzzer-beater and UNC won easily this past Saturday. Miami and North Carolina State could use tourney wins to boost their NCAA chances. There are bargains to be had in the opening sessions. TiqIQ lists “get-in” prices for those as low as $4 to $5.
Tuesday-Saturday, Madison Square Garden, New York
Average ticket price: $212.14
Outlook: As the tournament celebrates its 30th anniversary at MSG, the mecca of basketball , it bids farewell to one of the conference’s charter members, Syracuse. The Orange (30-1), who with Pittsburgh will join the ACC next season, could earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament by running the table in New York. Ninth-seeded Connecticut, which began its improbable run to a national title last year with an unprecedented five victories in five days in the Big East tournament, could use some wins this week to punch another NCAA ticket. Early sessions also feature get-in prices at a cheap $3 to $7.
Wednesday-Saturday, Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO.
Average ticket price: $198.04
Outlook: Another realignment exit could be the story of this tournament. Missouri, which along with Texas A&M, is leaving for the Southeastern Conference. That means an end to its rivalry with Kansas. The Jayhawks, a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, beat the Tigers in overtime Feb. 25. A rematch, and the finale of the Border War, could come in the Big 12 final. Look for ticket prices to soar if that match-up becomes a reality. Meanwhile, Texas (19-12) could use a strong tournament run to make its NCAA case.
Thursday-Sunday, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Average ticket price: $98.99
Outlook: With five schools among the top 15 in the Associated Press poll and a three-way tie for the regular season title among No. 7 Ohio State, No. State, 8 Michigan State and No. 10 Michigan, this tournament appears to be wide open. In its 14-year history, eight Big Ten tournament champions have reached the NCAA Sweet 16. Keep an eye on Northwestern (18-12), which has never made it to the NCAAs. A couple of tournament wins could have the Wildcats in the dance for the first time. Their opener Thursday afternoon against Minnesota, another team on the NCAA bubble, has an average ticket price of $50.14, according to TiqIQ
Wednesday-Saturday, Staples Center, Los Angeles
Average ticket price: $125.84
Outlook: UCLA, rocked by a Sports Illustrated story last week that portrayed disarray in the once-storied program, will take on cross-town rival USC in its tournament opener Wednesday. The fifth-seeded Bruins (18-13) will need some tournament wins to reach the NCAAs and perhaps save coach Ben Howland’s job. Top seed Washington (21-9) edged California (23-8) for the regular season title. Those two are track to meet in the final.
Thursday-Sunday, New Orleans Arena, New Orleans
Average ticket price: $118.62
Outlook: It’s No. 1 Kentucky (30-1) vs. everyone else in this tournament. The Wildcats stormed through the SEC regular season at 16-0 and are a top seed in the NCAA Tournament no matter what they do in New Orleans this week. No. 2 seed Tennessee, No. 3 Vanderbilt and No. 4 Florida are among those who will try to slow the Cats down. Kentucky’s SEC opener Friday has an average ticket price of $173.35, according to TiqIQ. Tennessee (18-13) has won four in a row and will likely need to keep the streak going at least to the final Sunday to get an NCAA bid.