NEW ORLEANS — It’s easy to see why conference tournaments count for those in smaller leagues.
The Sun Belt's of the world.
The Horizon’s and the MEAC’s.
But take a gander at the SEC’s and the ACC’s and the Big 10’s and it’s harder to understand why they’re around.
Kentucky already owns a bid. So do Syracuse and Ohio State and Missouri and, well, you get the point.
There is a reason, though, for these postseason smorgasbords of basketball.
Ask Ole Miss how much this week’s tournament means.
Or ask Tennessee how much it’s going to rue losing in its tournament opener.
Mississippi State likely feels less comfortable today than it did two days ago.
So yes, the conference tournaments do mean something.
And while Vanderbilt is in the tournament, it’s playing for seeding. The deeper it goes, the better its seed will be come NCAA tournament time.
Friday night, those in the NOrena were treated to basketball that meant something.
While it wasn’t crisp and wasn’t clean and, honestly, it wasn’t good, it was energetic and heart-stopping.
Tennessee and Ole Miss were playing for their tournament lives, both squarely on the bubble.
You could see the jitters for the Vols, who started the game 3 of 21 and remained in it only because it was hitting free throws.
By the final three minutes, the tension had grown; both teams knew what was on the line.
And when Skylar McBee banked in a 3-pointer to tie the game at the end of regulation, the emotion poured out, his teammates rushing off the bench to congratulate him.
Five minutes later, the emotion from Ole Miss’ bench was greater, the Rebels holding on for the overtime win, bringing them one step closer to the coveted NCAA bid with two SEC tournament wins.
Georgia, meanwhile, had nothing but pride to play for, entering the tournament 14-16.
On Thursday night, they made their alumni base proud, upsetting Mississippi State to move into the quarterfinals.
That win likely knocked MSU out of the NCAA tournament; the line is that thin, the importance of each contest that high when you’re fighting to make your resume look prettier than everyone else’s.
A night later, the Bulldogs run ended against a Vanderbilt team that couldn’t afford to lose.
Sure, the Commodores knew their ticket was likely already punched. But lose to Georgia and a No. 4 or 5 seed suddenly become a No. 7 or No. 8 seed.
Vanderbilt, though, did what it had to do after a slumbering start, eventually taking a one=point halftime deficit and turning it into a 22-point win.
So yes, these postseason gatherings do count for something.
Enjoy the upsets and enjoy them for the emotion.
But more than anything, just enjoy them.