The argument can be made that the conference tournaments are about the little guy. We all know that the blue bloods are locks for the Big Dance, but for conferences such as Northeast and the Summit League, and teams on the bubble, winning Championship Week is the only way to punch their ticket to the dance, maybe for the first time in their school’s history. Either put on the slipper or it’s “good season men, see ya next year.” And an upset in a mid-major tournament is enough to give Joe Lunardi ulcers as he deciphers who belongs on the bubble.
But that’s not to say that the Power Five conferences take this week lightly by any means (you want to tell the UConn and Syracuse teams that went to six overtimes that these tournaments mean nothing?). For the bigger teams, winning their conference tournament is a pride thing–to be King of the ACC or King of the Big 12 is a pristine title–and it is a chance for teams stumbling into the postseason (i.e. Wisconsin, Duke) to catch fire heading into the tournament. But enough preamble, let’s take a look at what the week holds.
The ACC kicks off the major conferences in Championship week, and with 14 games on the schedule, there’s certainly no shortage of madness. The breaking up of the old Big East was a travesty–it was annually one of the best conference tournaments– but that addition of Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame has vaulted the ACC to the supreme conference in all the land. At the start of the season, Duke was the heavy favorite, dubbed with one of the best recruiting classes of all time. But the pieces of the metaphorical puzzle never came together, and they find themselves as the fifth seed. Let’s see what the ACC week holds.
Low seed that can make a run: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
It might sound crazy, but this team has the potential take down FSU and go to the ACC semifinal. They have to get through Virginia Tech first, but this team is on a three-game winning streak, and when a team is on the bubble, they tend to either fold or dig their heels in–the Demon Deacons are about to dig their heels in.
High seed that could struggle: Florida State Seminoles
This has nothing to do with the prediction above–in order to win in the ACC tournament, you have to win away from your home turf. All of the Seminole’s losses have come on the road; we’ll have to wait and see how they fare in New York.
Winner: Louisville Cardinals
Look for Donovan Mitchell to have a Kemba-esque performance as he leads Louisville to its first ACC title. The Cardinals know a thing or two about playing in New York, and should they win, they’d find themselves on the one-line.
You just kinda feel by now that Kansas will never lose another regular season title–they’ve now won the Big 12 regular season title 13 straight years–when you join the 70’s Bruins in any statistical category, you’re in elite company. However, in that span, they’ve only won seven conference tournament titles (still incredible, but it shows they can be beaten). The Jayhawks have a target on their back, and here’s how the week will play out.
Low seed that can make a run: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Nothing on paper say that Texas Tech can make a run. They’ve lost six of their last eight, and have had quite a porous Big 12 season. But should they make it past the Longhorns, they would find themselves matched up with the Mountaineers, a team they split with in the regular season, and would love a third crack at Huggy-Bear.
High seed that could struggle: Baylor Bears
In Baylor’s six Big 12 losses, they have shot somewhat poorly from three–when the three isn’t falling, get it to your double double big man! Motley should touch the ball every possession for the Bears, and if he’s off and they are turning the ball over, Baylor could be in for an early exit.
Winner: Kansas Jayhawks
Frank Mason is on a mission to go out with a championship, and not just a Big 12 title. The Jayhawks are looking to hoist the trophy on April 3rd, and that starts with running the Big 12 table.
Either Kentucky or Florida has made an appearance in the SEC championship each of the last seven years. When you think of SEC basketball, these two teams have carried the conference for a while. Occasionally Vanderbilt will sneak in there, maybe Ole Miss, but the large majority of this conference belongs to the Wildcats and Gators. Here’s how the SEC tournament will play out.
Low seed that can make a run: Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies have four players averaging double digits, two of which include fantastic big men Tyler Davis and Robert Williams. If they can dominate the boards, there’s a *shot* that the Aggies can win a couple. A shot.
High seed that could struggle: Florida Gators
The Gators are clearly the second best team in the SEC, but their first match-up in the tournament has the potential to be Vanderbilt, a team that swept them in the regular season. They say it’s tough to beat a team three times–that’s silly. If you can beat ’em twice, why not one more?
Winner: Kentucky Wildcats
This almost feels like a sure pick. Teams like Purdue and UNC are the “favorites” in their conference, but there are several teams that can dethrone them. In the SEC, there aren’t really any teams that can beat the Wildcats right now.
From the semifinals onward, this should be the best conference tournament in the nation. A potential UCLA-Arizona match-up, followed by a match-up with Oregon for the title? Yes, please. Depending on what goes on around the country, the Pac-12 has the potential for three one seeds. Incredible.
Low seed that can make a run: California Golden Bears
Although Cal is the 5th seed, we’re counting them as a “low” seed for relative terms, and they have earned this spot on our list somewhat by default–they are the only team with a chance to beat their second match-up, the Utah Utes. The Bears are on the bubble, and with some golden luck, they may have a shot to get to Oregon.
High seed that could struggle: Arizona Wildcats
Another placement by default. When your second round match-up is against the Bruins, it’s not so much a “struggle” as it is facing a hotter team. Look for a UCLA-Oregon title for all the Pac-12 marbles.
Winner: Oregon Ducks
Brooks refuses to lose to UCLA again, and will hit another game-winning shot to catapult the Ducks into the postseason as a number one seed. But if UCLA is placed below a two seed, the committee needs to reevaluate their criteria.
As mentioned before, the old Big East was something to marvel in. It was the best conference tournament, and now it’s dropped a few spots. But fret not, there’s still plenty of action in Madison Square Garden. This is exactly how the tournament will play out.
Low seed that can make a run: Seton Hall Pirates
Angel Delgado is a big boy. The Pirates’ fate rests on his shoulders, and if they are going to win a game or two, it will be through the nation’s leading rebounder.
High seed that could struggle: Butler Bulldogs
Butler is an abysmal rebounding team–325th in the nation with 32.2 per game. If they have to go up against Xavier, a solid rebounding team, they could find themselves struggling for second chance points and could be headed for the door sooner than expected.
Winner: Providence Friars
Providence is hot. They’ve won six in a row. It will be tough to beat Villanova, but it’s March–this kind of stuff is normal.
A down year in the Big Ten should make for an excellent Big Ten tournament–makes sense right? Many thought Wisconsin would run away with the conference, with Indiana and Michigan State in the second tier. But all three underperformed, and Maryland and Minnesota have taken advantage. Be prepared for an exciting tourney.
Low seed that can make a run: Northwestern Wildcats
Looking at you, Evanston! You’re going dancing, but don’t stop there – go win yourselves a couple Big Ten tournament games! The classic point-guard-carries-team-through-tournament trend continues here, as second All Big-Ten guard Bryant McIntosh has the potential to put this team on his shoulders.
High seed that could struggle: Minnesota Golden Gophers
One can’t deny the recent success Minnesota has had–eight wins in a row before the loss to Wisconsin. But a potential match-up with MSU, a team that swept them, burdens heavily on the fourth-seeded Gophers. This is a Tom Izzo team. Yes, they’ve struggled this year, but he took a seventh-seeded Spartans team to the Final Four in 2015. Watch out.
Winner: Wisconsin Badgers
This pick can be called a lot of things. Crazy is one of them, after the lackadaisical effort by the Badgers to end the season. But the Badgers showed fight on senior day, and they’re ready to bring by far the most experienced March Madness group of seniors in the country to the postseason. Starting with Zak Showalter, they were all-in, and the seniors on this team aren’t done yet. Purdue might be the favorite, but if Caleb Swanigan can be shut down, the Badgers are a likely winner in the Big Ten.