Saddle Up is our daily preview of the day's best basketball action. We're officially into that oh-so-awesome part of the season when a healthy portion of your daily hoops regimen will be happening, you know, during the day, necessitating Saddle Up's move to the morning. So let's do this.
Just like yesterday, here are five themes, numbers, concepts or jargon for you to mull as we begin another day of conference tournament play:
1. Good Big East games! At the risk of leading with the Big East two days in a row, it's fair to say that Thursday's slate of Big East matchups -- in which the four double-bye teams finally have to get up from their well-deserved couch breaks and play basketball again -- is the best on offer until the Big Ten and Big 12 tournaments get nearer to their close. There's No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 8 Georgetown, which is the third meeting between the two teams that have defined rivalry in the Big East for almost 30 years. There's No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 4 Villanova, one team improving its tourney chances by the day, the other worsening them by fading down the stretch. There's No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Pittsburgh, a rematch of a two-week old game that helped put Notre Dame back in the NCAA tournament. And then there's Cincinnati taking on West Virginia in the Nos. 3-11 late tonight, Cincinnati trying to win out and sneak into the NCAAs in a loaded conference tourney. All of these games are entertaining. All of them are important. All of them are on today. Man, this time of year is awesome.
2. Hey, same for the Big 12! It's somewhat convenient that the two best conferences in the country are similar in size, and thus necessitate an extra day (or two days, in the Big East's case) to settle their conference tournaments. That means all four top seeds in both tourneys start play on the same day, and while the Big Ten and ACC and SEC are still dealing with the dregs in the bottom of the conference, the two big boys can get the meaningful basketball underway in a hurry. Oklahoma State-Kansas State and Texas-Baylor are probably your two most intriguing match ups of the day, but watch for Kansas' progress -- a win by the Jayhawks would give the program 2,000 all-time wins, making Kansas the third team (behind Kentucky and North Carolina) to accomplish that feat in 2009-10. Oh, and don't sleep on Nebraska-Texas A&M, either. Can Doc Sadler's boys keep their faint hopes a'glimmer? Those and other poetic notions -- I might even read some Emily Dickinson during our chat -- later today in the Big 12!
3. The Mess-EC. Oh man do you see what I did there? Zing! In all seriousness, though, SEC, really: Your tournament is a mess. Because the SEC tournament is seeded according to the East and West divisions, Tennessee is in action today as the No. 3 seed, playing No. 6 seed LSU. Meanwhile, the state-sharing league mediocrities known as Ole Miss and Mississippi State received byes into the second round, where they will play the winners of LSU-Tennessee and Auburn-Florida, respectively. Sure, Tennessee should walk over LSU, but a game is a game, and the Vols will then have to turn around and play another game on Friday against a rested team in desperate need of a bubble win. How, exactly, is this fair? And how hard is it to just seed the teams based on overall record? Can someone tell my why that wouldn't work?
4. The Big Ten -- off not with a whimper, but with a bore. At its best, the 2009-10 Big Ten conference has teams that can play with anyone in the country, that score and rebound and defend in that unique Big Ten style, teams that should warrant consideration as you fill out your Final Four this Sunday night. At its worst, the Big Ten is none of those things, really. It's just sort of boring. Such is the case today, as six teams ranging from "mediocre" to "historically bad" compete for the chance to play Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan State in Indianapolis on Friday -- which is right about when you should really start caring about the Big Ten tournament.
5. Oh, geez, I almost forgot: The ACC. (More specifically: Georgia Tech and Paul Hewitt.) Unlike the Big Ten and Big 12 tournaments, the ACC actually has some bubble intrigue in its opening round, and that bubble intrigue belongs to none other than the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who after a solid start have done as much as possible to convince the committee they don't deserve an at-large bid come Sunday. Their coach, Paul Hewitt, is officially on the hot seat, which is the sort of thing that happens when you use Twitter to call out media and fans for "giving up" on your team, which to all appearances is itself in the process of giving up. (Or, to be as friendly as possible, is catching a few bad breaks down the stretch. Whichever.) Hewitt absolutely cannot afford a loss to abysmal North Carolina in the opening round of the tournament today. That would be bad, both for the Jackets' short-term tournament hopes and for Hewitt's long-term hopes of, you know, having a job.
Oh, yeah, bonus things: Come chat with us at noon ET, right here. We were there all day yesterday, and today should be even more fun. See you then. (And be sure to read the very detailed previews of today's games from the rest of our writers, which are just down the page. Use that scrolling finger, son.)