College Basketball Conference Tournaments Look To Crown NCAA Tournament Bids
It’s the first step to what some consider the best time of the sporting year. Across the United States, men’s basketball rolls out 32 conference tournaments that look to fill out the automatic qualifiers to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Five of those bids have already been handed out, with Harvard wining the Ivy League (the only conference that doesn’t have a tournament), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Mercer (Atlantic Sun) and Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley) winning their tournaments. Oh, and don’t forget the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament with an unblemished record – 34-0 Wichita State strolled through the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and will probably earn a #1 seed when the brackets are announced next weekend (the last time an unbeaten team entered the tournament was in 1990-91, when Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels did it).
That means that 27 other conferences will be determining their champions over the coming week. There are plenty of conferences that pretty much nobody will care about (do you really want to know who is coming out of the Summit League? How about the Mid-American Conference?), but there are battles that will be played out among the “power conferences” (re: the BCS schools) that should be entertaining.
We’re going to take a look at those conferences and try to determine who will be the eventual NCAA bid winner (we are going to leave out the American Athletic Conference, the new Big East and Conference USA simply because they have been diluted by defections).
Atlantic Coast Conference
Regular Season Champion: Virginia
Favorites: This is one of the few major college tournaments that appears to be wide open. Although Virginia seized the regular season crown about a week ago, their loss to Maryland on Sunday posits some questions about them. In reality, any of the top five teams – Virginia, Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina and Pittsburgh – could have a chance at winning the ACC Tournament.
Dark Horses: Unless you want to count Pitt as a dark horse, there is little to look at under the top five (those teams are probably guaranteed NCAA slots regardless of how they do in the ACC Tournament). Clemson and NC State MIGHT be teams to look at, but they have been inconsistent throughout the season (both have yet to break the 20-win plateau and have double digit losses). Below NC State is a cesspool of teams that have little to no shot at taking the tournament title.
Pick: I hate to do it, but I am going to go with Duke here. Duke needs this tournament championship badly to be considered for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (something that head coach Mike Kryzyzewski prizes) after some late season stumbles and they are keenly aware of this. They will either face Clemson, Georgia Tech or Boston College to get to the semi-finals, arguably one of the easier paths. Duke always plays well in the ACC Tournament and, hence, they get my pick.
Big 12 Tournament
Regular Season Champion: Kansas
Favorites: The Jayhawks are the overwhelming favorite here, but Texas and Iowa State bear some attention. Both teams have overachieved this year, but Texas has the easier route in the conference tournament. If they are able to get by West Virginia, they would face either Baylor, TCU or Oklahoma in the semi-finals. Iowa State has a tougher route, taking on Kansas State in the quarterfinals towards a potential showdown with Kansas in the semis.
Dark Horse: Oklahoma State. Since the return of G Marcus Smart from his three game suspension mid-season (the Cowboys lost all three games), the team has been on a tear. Winning four of their last five games (they did lose on Saturday to Iowa State in overtime), Oklahoma State has something to prove and may need a deep run in the Big 12 Tournament to secure a spot in the Big Dance.
Pick: Going out on a limb here and taking Oklahoma State. This is a team that NO ONE wants to see in the NCAA Tournament, but I believe they will have a deep run, if not win the tournament outright, and will be a troublesome team when the brackets are announced next weekend.
Big Ten Tournament
Regular Season Champion: Michigan
Favorites: The conference, as has been their history, has been beating up on itself all through the conference schedule. You could take any of the top three teams – Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State – to be the eventual conference tournament champion. Nebraska has also been a bit of a surprise; after struggling through their non-conference season, the Cornhuskers seized the fourth seed in the tournament.
Dark Horses: Ohio State and Iowa both bear watching in this tournament. They have both been ranked in the Top 25 at some point in this season but have faded a bit down the stretch. While they both are probably in the Big Dance as at-large berths, a conference tournament championship would improve their seeding.
Pick: They were in the Top Five at the start of the season, so I am going to go with Michigan State. The Spartans have been relatively consistent throughout the season and, despite some injuries, seem to be getting healthy at the right time. You also can’t go against Spartan head coach Tom Izzo, who always seems to have his teams ready for action at this time of year.
PAC 12 Tournament
Regular Season Champion: Arizona
Favorites: It would be too easy to take the Wildcats here, especially since there are at least three teams that will give them a fight. UCLA, Oregon and Arizona State will be in the mix for the conference title, with the best among those teams the Ducks from Oregon.
Dark Horses: Colorado and Stanford. Two teams that really need a deep run in the conference tournament to solidify a berth in the NCAA Tournament, they could win it all to erase any doubts about whether they will get in.
Pick: I’d really like to go with Oregon here but, with the tournament in Las Vegas, the Arizona contingent will be out in full force. Thus, I’ll take the Wildcats, but I do believe that they will have some trouble come the NCAA Tournament.
Regular Season Champion: Florida
Favorites: Along with the #1 ranked Gators, Kentucky bears watching in the SEC Tournament. While the Wildcats have been dangerously inconsistent this year, head coach John Calipari always seems to get his teams up for this time of year (last year being an outlier). Although they have lost both games to the Gators this season, Kentucky could be ripe for picking off the boys from Gainesville.
Dark Horses: More mentions of “Dark Horse” here than in a Katy Perry song. Tennessee is looking to enhance their resume, but they would have to run through Florida (presumably) to make it to the conference tournament championship game. Georgia and Arkansas also have formidable teams, but it is Missouri who needs this (a conference title win) worse than any of those teams.
Pick: A little risk here, but I will take Kentucky. It is tough to beat a team three times in a season and Florida might be prime for knocking off in a neutral-court setting.
Weekend picks: Went 4-1, with SMU falling to Memphis the only miss for the weekend.
Season: 21-12-1 and ready for the NCAA Tournament!
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