There is one part of March Madness that sadly can’t happen this year

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Conference tournament week is a highlight to every season. It gives every team a chance to dream. Big East Tournament quarterfinal Thursday is my third favorite day of the season, right behind the first day of the NCAA Tournament and Selection Sunday.

But this year there should be no conference tournaments, as much as it pains me to admit. This season has been all about getting to March, about playing a tournament COVID-19 eliminated last year, about the big money March Madness produces at a time athletic departments are hemorrhaging cash.

Conference tournaments would not help that endeavor. If anything, they would hinder it. It’s a risk the sport does not need to take.

By not pushing the tournament back, by having the First Four on March 18, and the first round on March 19 and 20, the NCAA eliminated any wiggle room. The major conference tournaments are all scheduled to end on either March 13 or 14. The turnaround is just not long enough to withstand positive tests, especially since the NCAA has mandated that every player and coach on a team must test negative for seven consecutive days prior to traveling for the tournament. I’m sure there will be a few conferences that could create somewhat of a bubble for their postseason tournaments, but that doesn’t seem feasible for everyone. What does seem likely are teams contracting the virus, and having to miss the Dance, creating chaos.

Matt Norlander of CBS Sports recently polled 41 head coaches, and 27 percent of them felt there shouldn’t be conference tournaments. The minority was correct. The payoff doesn’t come close to outweighing the risk, having teams travel during a pandemic and potentially have to miss the tournament they have worked all season to qualify for.

This year, regular-season winners should receive the automatic bids. In recent years, the committee has weighed less and less how teams perform in high-major conference tournaments anyway. Why not reward the teams that have performed best during the regular season from one-bid leagues? It would only create better games.

The argument against this is it eliminates the postseason for many teams. It hurts conferences in their wallets, though with the limited amount of fans able to attend these tournaments, if any at all, the financial hit isn’t as great. It robs the sport of one of its most exciting weeks of basketball.

All may be true. But this isn’t a normal season by any stretch. Most games aren’t being played in front of fans. Several mid-major conferences are playing back-to-back games at a single site to minimize risk.

If college basketball is smart, there will be no conference tournaments. It’s the best way to avoid problems for the tournament that really matters.

Stacked Deck

Not every NBA player or coach fails in college. There are success stories. Eric Musselman reached the NCAA Tournament three times in four years at Nevada and is trying to replicate that at Arkansas.

But there are so many more examples of failure. Eddie Jordan couldn’t hack it at Rutgers. The same could be said for Chris Mullin at St. John’s or Clyde Drexler two decades ago at Houston. Even Patrick Ewing, who has recruited well, has yet to break through at Georgetown in this, his fourth season, owning a 20-40 Big East record.

Jerry Stackhouse is so far following their missteps at Vanderbilt, with a 3-20 SEC record in his second season. After the latest loss, he ripped into his team, saying: “Right now, we got some guys that don’t want to play no damn basketball.” He said his players “do the same dumb stuff.” Clearly, Stackhouse is growing frustrated. Throwing his players under the bus, though, probably isn’t the answer, particularly during a pandemic when so much sacrifice is being made.

The college game is just so different from the NBA. Coaches need to be teachers. They have to create strong relationships with their players and their families and handlers. Motivation is integral. It is a 12-month-a-year, seven-day-a-week job.

College is harder than the NBA, not easier, as some think it is when making the transition. Like Mullin, Stackhouse had no college coaching experience. It shows. 

Game of the Week:

No. 9 Kansas at No. 6 Tennessee, Saturday, 6 p.m.

Kansas has dropped three games in a row. Tennessee has lost two straight. There will be desperation in Knoxville, one of these teams prevailing for a much-needed confidence-boosting victory in this SEC-Big 12 Challenge showdown, the loser sinking to even further depths. While these programs have struggled, it should be noted they have each lost to quality competition. Tennessee lost games this past week to Florida and No. 19 Missouri. Kansas’ three setbacks were to No. 2 Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. All three were on the road.


1. Gonzaga, Baylor, Villanova, Michigan

2. Iowa, Texas, Houston, Alabama

3. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Texas Tech, Tennessee

4. Kansas, Illinois, West Virginia, Virginia

Stock Watch



Expectations were supposed to be lowered when AAC Preseason Player of the Year Caleb Mills opted to transfer in early January following an ankle injury. Instead, Houston has taken off, emerging as one of the best teams in the country. Sophomore guard Marcus Sasser has made a huge leap, forming a potent 1-2 punch with junior Quentin Grimes. The Cougars are one of just seven teams ranked in the top 20 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, and have responded to their lone league loss by winning six straight games, five by at least 14 points.

Champagnie Brothers

St. John’s sophomore Julian Champagnie leads the Big East in scoring. His twin brother Justin of Pittsburgh leads the ACC in scoring. Both forwards were named the player of the week in their respective conferences. The Brooklyn natives followed up those honors by leading their teams to big wins, Justin keying a victory over Duke and Julian shaking off a shoddy start by making big plays late in a win over No. 23 UConn. The Bishop Loughlin alumni have something else in common besides their bloodlines: They were both under-ranked three-star recruits who have made those rankings look foolish.



It has become an annual rite of the winter. Marquette starts off well, but by the time the weather begins to turn really cold, the Golden Eagles flounder, losing winnable games, failing to get the most of their talent base. We’re seeing it again this year. After early-season victories over Wisconsin and Creighton made this look like an NCAA Tournament team, Marquette blew an 18-point home lead against UConn, lost at the buzzer to Xavier and, on Saturday night, played its worst game of the year, dropping a home game to cellar-dweller DePaul. The last few years, Marquette merely hurt its seed by fading. This year, it could cost it a spot in the Dance.

Mike Krzyzewski

After a hard-fought loss at Louisville on Saturday night, Duke’s third straight loss, Coach K made headlines for the wrong reason. He turned an innocuous question from a college reporter — What’s next for this team after another defeat? — and turned it on him, asking the student what his major was and how he would feel if he was asked what’s next for him after a big final exam in his major. The question was completely fair. The response was not. Would Krzyzewski have responded in that same manner — with the same condescending tone — to a seasoned reporter? He likely would not have. He also didn’t answer the simple question he’s no doubt been asked, and answered respectfully, a few hundred times previously. 

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