At the end of the regular season, Purdue’s basketball team was firing on all cylinders. Even without injured star forward Robbie Hummel, the team climbed its way to an impressive record that boasted a seven-game Big Ten win streak nearing its regular season finale.
But when the Boilermakers had a shot at a shared Big Ten title, a hardworking Iowa team handed Purdue a loss. Fast forward one week to the Big Ten Tournament, and, once again, the Boilermakers were embarrassed by a decisive Michigan State victory in the quarterfinals, their first game.
Å pre-Dance slump in conference tournaments and late-season play isn’t only a problem for the Boilermakers. Even the Big East, the NCAA tournament’s most prominent conference with 11 teams, is having its share of misfires.
Among those teams, Villanova and Georgetown lead the pack. The Villanova Wildcats posted a list of Big East wins in January but have recently taken a turn for the worse. Villanova’s team is on a five-game losing streak entering NCAAs as a No. 9 seed, not exactly the momentum of choice.
Likewise, the Hoyas also have a host of losses marking their schedule as a precursor to the tournament. Four straight drops for Georgetown, including a recent loss to UConn in the Big East Tournament, makes the need for a turnaround a necessity.
Even No. 1 seed Pitt lost in the quarterfinals on a last-second basket by the same surging UConn team that drove to a Big East Championship. While this wouldn’t necessarily send the Panthers into the slump category, playing just one game certainly didn’t give the team the confidence or practice against big NCAA contenders that a championship run would have — especially with 11 league teams joining the pool this year.
What history shows
Four of the five past NCAA national champions clinched their respective conference tournaments before going on to a victory at the national level. But a loss in conference tourneys doesn’t immediately knock these teams out of the bracket. North Carolina was able to beat those odds in 2009, when the Tar Heels lost to Florida State in the ACC semifinals and went on to cruise to a national title.
Sure, a conference title displays achievement and skill, but the tournaments aren’t the end of the road for 68 teams competing in the NCAA Tournment.
With teams like UConn playing on a mission, and underdogs eager to earn national attention, slumping teams have two options: Either the schools continue disappointing season finishes with a similar exit in the Big Dance, or they change the pattern. There’s just one shot to rediscover chemistry, and that begins now.
With conference tourney woes recorded as history, the fresh start of an NCAA Tournament is underway. They call it Madness for a reason.