Conference Tournament Preview: 3/6/18

We are on the home stretch of the college basketball season, with most major conferences holding their conference tournaments this week, leading up to Selection Sunday, this coming Sunday, March 11 (The Big Ten is the one outlier, with Michigan winning their conference title last week).

Two more teams punched their tickets to the Big Dance last night, with Iona (MAAC) and UNC Greensboro (SoCon) winning their conference title games over Fairfield and East Tennessee State respectively. Seven total teams have now clinched their spot in the NCAA Tournament:

Murray State Racers (OVC)
Radford Highlanders (Big South)
Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (MVC)
Lipscomb Bison (A-Sun)
Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Iona Gaels (MAAC)
UNC Greensboro Spartans (SoCon)

Five more teams will add their names to that list tonight, with a sixth title game taking place Wednesday night. Here’s a quick look at those six conference championships.

Horizon League Championship
#8 Cleveland State vs #2 Wright State
Tuesday 3/6, 7:00 pm ESPN

Wright State jockeyed with Northern Kentucky atop the Horizon standings all season, with the Raiders missing out on the regular season crown by one game. But they have defeated Green Bay and Milwaukee to reach the title game, where they will meet a true Cinderella in the 12-22 Cleveland State Vikings. They have made it here by playing three vastly different games. They defeated Youngstown State by a point in the opening round, then outscored #1 Northern Kentucky 89-80, and followed that up by outlasting #4 Oakland in a defensive struggle, 44-43. The Vikings would be without question one of the worst teams (record wise) to reach the NCAA Tournament, but I think Wright State is too talented, and should get the job done. One thing that should give Cleveland State hope though is a 77-74 victory over the Raiders back on February 1st.

CAA Championship
#2 Northeastern vs #1 Charleston
Tuesday 3/6, 7:00 pm CBS Sports Network

The Huskies and the Cougars finished in a tie for the Colonial’s regular season crown, and I think it’s fitting that they will be able to decide which team is the true champion here tonight. Charleston was the 1-seed in the tournament by way of tiebreakers, and they defeated Drexel and William & Mary to reach this game. Northeastern has had an easy path, dismantling both Delaware and UNC Wilmington. Charleston swept the season series between these teams, and they say that it is extremely difficult to beat a team three times in one season. The Huskies played them close in the last meeting, so I don’t think it’s a case of the Cougars having their number. For that reason, I believe Northeastern will pull off the upset (they are 2.5 point underdogs) and move on to the NCAA Tournament.

Northeast Championship
#4 LIU Brooklyn vs #1 Wagner
Tuesday 3/6, 7:00 pm ESPN2

In what is most likely a battle for a 15 or 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Wagner Seahawks will host the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds. Brooklyn was 10-8 in NEC play this season, and they defeated St. Francis NY and Fairleigh Dickinson to reach the title game. Wagner has been the favorite to represent the NEC in the NCAA’s all season, and they have shown why in this tournament, easily dispatching Central Connecticut State and Robert Morris. The Blackbirds did score a win over Wagner in the regular season, but that was at home. The Seahawks get to host this game, and I think that makes the difference.

West Coast Championship
#3 BYU vs #1 Gonzaga
Tuesday 3/6, 9:00 pm ESPN

I was anticipating a third matchup between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in this WCC title game, but BYU had different ideas. The Cougars were quite simply the hungrier team last night, upsetting the Gaels 85-72 to earn a third crack at the Zags. Gonzaga has proved once again this season that they are a force to be reckoned with, and they are definitely a threat to reach the Final Four for a second consecutive season. The Zags dominated San Francisco last night 88-60 to get here. The Cougars have played Gonzaga tough in the past, but have not fared very well against them this season. The Zags are just too good, and they will win this game.

Summit League Championship
#2 South Dakota vs #1 South Dakota State
Tuesday 3/6, 9:00 pm ESPN2

As much as I love rooting for underdogs and seeing some crazy upsets, it’s always nice when we get to see the clear two best teams in a conference square off in the title game. That’s the case here in the Summit as it will be the battle for the Mount Rushmore State! The South Dakota Coyotes easily handled Omaha and Denver to get here, while the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State defeated Western Illinois and upended North Dakota State to reach another Summit title game, their fourth straight. SDSU’s Mike Daum is one of the best players that you don’t know anything about, and I think he could be the difference in this game. I’ll take the Jackrabbits to head to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.

Patriot League Championship
#2 Colgate vs #1 Bucknell
Wednesday 3/7, 7:30 pm CBS Sports Network

I have heard a few experts discussing Bucknell as a team with the potential to be this season’s Cinderella team in the NCAA Tournament, so this is surely a game that you’ll want to check out. The Bison struggled a little against Loyola MD in the quarterfinals, but responded with a 90-59 drubbing of Boston University in the semis. They’ll take on the Colgate Raiders here in the title game, a team that came within one point of beating them in Lewisburg back on February 12th. This game will take place on the same floor as that one. Colgate defeated Lafayette and Holy Cross to get here. I think Colgate could shock the system and pull off the upset here, but on their home floor, Bucknell is too good and should be able to score the Patriot title game victory.

Following the Patriot League title game Wednesday, we won’t see another ticket punched until Saturday, when a large number of conferences hold their championship games. A few will be contested Sunday as well in advance of the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, which will take place Sunday night at 6:00 pm on TBS.

Now, let’s take a look at the major conference tournaments kicking off over the next three days!


2018 Atlantic 10 Tournament for Blog

Rhode Island is the 1-seed here despite faltering down the stretch, losing their last two games of the season, including a 30-point home loss to 4-seed Saint Joseph’s. A potential Davidson-St. Bonaventure semifinal could be the game of this tournament, with those two teams just playing on February 27th, a 117-113 triple-overtime thriller that went to the Bonnies. Mark Schmidt’s team has won 12 games in a row to end the regular season, and they’ll look to cap it off with a conference title.

My A-10 Prediction:

Jayson's A10 Bracket

  • Early Rounds – Upsets could be aplenty in the A-10 Tournament, as the teams in the bottom half of the league are all very close in talent. I like UMass and Fordham to pull off First Round wins, and I like Duquesne to upset Richmond and move on to the Quarters.
  • Quarterfinals – Give me chalk here. I think St. Joe’s-George Mason could go either way (GM won both meetings this year by a combined five points), but the Hawks have been playing really good basketball down the stretch.
  • Semifinals – Chalk again. Following the 30-point loss on their own home floor to the Hawks last week, Rhode Island will be out for revenge, and I think they beat St. Joe’s easy. Davidson-St. Bonaventure will be a much closer game, and could come down to who has the ball last.
  • Finals – I believe St. Bonaventure will finish the season with 15 consecutive wins and a victory over Rhode Island in the title game, the Bonnies not leaving it up to the Selection Committee, instead securing the Atlantic-10’s automatic bid.



2018 AAC Tournament for Blog

The addition of Wichita State to the American this year was a great move, and I think it benefited both the team and the conference. The Shockers finished 2nd in the standings, behind only a really good Cincinnati team. The Bearcats are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and they got a favorable draw here. Houston, along with Wichita and Cincy, are the only likely Tournament teams from the American, but there are a few teams that are capable of making a run and stealing a bid.

My AAC Prediction:

Jayson's AAC Bracket

  • First Round – Higher seeds should all win. UConn-SMU is a toss-up, but I like the Huskies. South Florida and ECU just aren’t good enough, and while Tulane has a win over Temple this season, the Owls are a different team now than they were in that game.
  • Quarterfinals – Temple should not beat Wichita State, but the Owls beat the Shockers in OT at home this year, and led them big in Wichita at halftime before a furious comeback from Gregg Marshall’s team. Temple has played their way out of Tournament contention, so it would be a very Temple thing for them to upset the Shockers here.
  • Semifinals – The run ends here for Temple, as they run into a Houston team that has been surging in the second half of the season, and are on their way to at least a 6 or 7-seed in the NCAA’s. Meanwhile, I think Cincy has too much defensively for Memphis to handle.
  • Finals – The Cougars and the Bearcats split the season series, so the rubber match would be a very exciting way to end Championship Week (schedule lines up for the American to be the last conference to crown their champion). I really like the way Houston is playing right now, and they’ve put up points on Cincinnati this year. I think they outscore the Bearcats and take the crown.



2018 ACC Tournament for Blog

The seeding in the ACC ended up strange. Virginia and Duke being 1 and 2 is no surprise, but you’d expect North Carolina to follow them. Instead, the Tar Heels are the 6-seed. Miami picked up wins over UNC and Virginia Tech to end the regular season, propelling them to the 3-seed. And then there’s Notre Dame, who just got Bonzie Colson back, and when totally healthy, is easily one of the top four teams in this conference. Yet, they are the 10-seed, and have to play in the First Round (they lead Pittsburgh in the 1st Half as I type this).

My ACC Prediction:

Jayson's ACC Bracket

  • Early Rounds – Boston College already defeated Georgia Tech, and I don’t think there’s any way ND and Syracuse don’t advance today as well. Louisville is fighting for their Tournament hopes, and I think that lifts them past FSU. Syracuse and Notre Dame could really use wins in the Second Round, but I think only the Fighting Irish get it done.
  • Quarterfinals – Louisville would love to get another crack at Virginia after the way they blew the game against them last week, but I think Virginia plays better this time and gets the job done. Clemson is not the same team without Donte Grantham, and NC State is good enough to knock them off. Miami just beat UNC last week, but I like the Tar Heels to get some revenge. A Duke-Notre Dame quarterfinal is something college basketball fans should pray for. The Irish will fight, and they will be in this game at the end, but ultimately, I think Duke has too much firepower and moves on.
  • Semifinals – I’m not sure what it is, but I like NC State and I think they have what it takes to knock off a Virginia team that has not played its best basketball down the stretch. The Wolfpack’s pressure will give UVA fits. Another fun game would be a rubber match between Duke and UNC. This would be a toss-up for sure, but the Blue Devils are playing some of their best basketball right now, and that gets them to the title game.
  • Finals – Duke-NC State probably isn’t the ACC final most people are expecting, but I think it would be an exciting game. The Wolfpack beat Duke 96-85 at home in the teams’ only meeting this season, but that was a long time ago. Duke is a better team now, and I like them to win the ACC and take a ton of momentum into the Big Dance.


Big 12

2018 Big 12 Tournament for Blog

Top to bottom, the Big 12 is without a doubt the strongest conference in the nation this season. I think an argument can be made that nine of the ten teams should reach the NCAA Tournament. I don’t think that will happen, but just look at Oklahoma. A Top-10 team in the country at one point this season, they finished 9th out of 10 teams in the standings. That is crazy. This conference tournament could be a lot of fun.

My Big 12 Prediction:

Jayson's Big 12 Bracket

  • First Round – The downfall of Trae Young and the Sooners continues, as they will lose to Oklahoma State in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. This will leave Oklahoma seriously wondering if they are going to be one of the 36 at-large teams to make the Tournament. I think ultimately they do thanks to some great early season victories, but I would not be surprised to see them on the outside looking in.
  • Quarterfinals – OK State was the first team to sweep a season series from Kansas during Bill Self’s tenure. There’s no way they beat them a third time, right? Right. Kansas moves on. Texas Tech has not been the same team with Keenan Evans not at 100%, losing four of their last five games. This result hinges on the health of Texas’s Mo Bamba. If Bamba plays, I think Texas scores the upset and secures their spot in the Big Dance.
  • Semifinals – TCU was really close to beating Kansas this season, but fell just short on both occasions. Without Jaylen Fisher, I don’t think they can get it done the third time either. On the other side, West Virginia just lost to Texas to close out the regular season, but the Mountaineers are the better team, and they’ll exact some revenge on the Longhorns.
  • Finals – Kansas defeated West Virginia twice this season, coming from behind late in both games. West Virginia will not melt down this time. They finally put a full 40 minutes together against the Jayhawks and after losing two straight Big 12 title games, they get their first Big 12 Tournament Championship.


Big East

2018 Big East Tournament for Blog

If the Big 12 is the best conference top to bottom, then the Big East is second on that list. That’s the reputation you get when your 9-seed is able to boast back-to-back wins over Duke and Villanova this year. Xavier and the aforementioned Wildcats are both very likely to earn 1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and with at least four other teams likely to reach the Big Dance, this tournament could act as a gauntlet of sorts. It will be interesting to see who survives and earns a conference title.

My Big East Prediction:

Jayson's Big East Bracket

  • First Round – St. John’s has been such a strange team this season, losing their first 11 conference games before those wins over Duke and Villanova. They also defeated Marquette and Butler down the stretch. If star Shamorie Ponds plays on Wednesday, they beat Georgetown. If not, they lose. I think he plays and they defeat the Hoyas.
  • Quarterfinals – The Johnnies will not defeat Xavier though. Chris Mack probably has the best team he’s had at Xavier, and they are looking to make some major postseason noise. Providence is squarely on the Bubble, and I think they’ll play like they need some wins to secure their berth in the Tourney. That’s enough to get them past Creighton. Villanova always plays well in the Big East Tournament, so they’ll be too much for Marquette. Seton Hall-Butler is probably a toss-up, but the Pirates are close to home and they usually play well in this tournament. That will be enough for them to outscore the Bulldogs.
  • Semifinals – Xavier lost three Big East games this season: Villanova twice… and Providence. I don’t think the Musketeers would want to see a desperate Providence team. Give me the Friars to pull the upset and move on to the title game. Seton Hall took Nova to overtime just a week ago, but Big East Tournament Villanova is a different animal. Cats advance.
  • Finals – Providence reaching the finals would be a nice story, but they do not have enough to take the championship from the Wildcats. They beat Nova back on Valentine’s Day, but that was in the friendly confines of the Dunkin Donuts Center. In MSG, on the big stage, Villanova steps up and wins another Big East Championship.


Mountain West

2018 MW Tournament for Blog

It’s been a down year for the Mountain West. Nevada is one of the 20 best teams in the nation, and they have the talent to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA’s, if not further, but it’s a big drop off after the Wolfpack. Boise State is a Bubble team with an outside chance at earning an at-large bid. Everybody else needs to win this tournament to make their way to the Big Dance.

My Mountain West Prediction:

Jayson's MW Bracket

  • Quarterfinals – I’m expecting chalk in the First Round, so we’ll zip past that. UNLV does have a win over Nevada this year, but they played last week and the Wolfpack won 101-75. They’ll advance. San Diego State-Fresno State is a very even matchup, but the Bulldogs swept the season series. Remember how I mentioned earlier that it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season? That applies here. Aztecs move on.
  • Semifinals – With a win in the quarters, SDSU would have now won seven games in a row, including a win on Saturday over Nevada. They are peaking at the right time, and I think they knock off Nevada for the second time this year and move on to the title game. Meanwhile, Boise State knows their best chance at a berth in the NCAA Tournament is to secure the Mountain West’s auto-bid. They easily dispatch of New Mexico in search of that.
  • Finals – I think Boise State would be thrilled to see Nevada knocked off prior to the title game. The Broncos did just lose to San Diego State last week, but they split the season series, and Boise State will be extremely motivated to win this game. They refuse to leave their fate in the hands of the Selection Committee, end the Aztecs’ eight game winning streak and win the Mountain West title.


Pac 12

2018 Pac 12 Tournament for Blog

It’s also been a down year for the Pac 12. I guess outside of Gonzaga, it’s been rough for the entire West Coast. Arizona is a great team, but they have fallen well short of expectations. Outside of the Wildcats, there isn’t a single team who is a lock to reach the Tournament. Arizona State was a Top-10 team at one point, but they really struggled in conference play. Washington, USC, UCLA and Utah are all Bubble teams, and need wins in Las Vegas to improve their chances.

My Pac 12 Prediction:

Jayson's Pac 12 Bracket

  • First Round – I really wanted to take Colorado over Arizona State, but despite the Sun Devils’ struggles, I think they’re good enough to get the job done. Don’t be surprised if the Buffaloes move on though. They do have a victory over ASU this season. It should be chalk for the rest of the matchups.
  • Quarterfinals – The Sun Devils came up just short in both regular season meetings with Arizona, but I think that’s mostly because they are simply outmatched. Arizona makes it three victories over their in-state rivals. I do like one upset in this round, and it’s Oregon over Utah. The Ducks knew this year was going to be different than the last few, but I think they still expected to be better. They do have some potential, and could realize some of it in a victory over Utah, ending the Utes’ Tournament hopes.
  • Semifinals – Arizona has really rallied behind disgruntled coach Sean Miller, and they are playing some of their best basketball of the season right now, especially superstar freshman DeAndre Ayton. He dominates in a victory over UCLA, sending the Wildcats to the title game. USC is on the Bubble, but they could really use a trip to the Pac 12 Championship Game if they want to feel good about their Tourney hopes. The Trojans beat Oregon twice this season, but they were both close. I think the Ducks finally figure out USC and earn an unlikely trip to the title game.
  • Finals – This is where the adventure ends for the Ducks, as Arizona is just too good for them right now. Oregon needed overtime to defeat Arizona 98-93 on February 24th, but Sean Miller did not coach that game due to the FBI probe that he is involved in. With Miller on the sidelines, the Cats defeat Oregon and win the Pac 12 title.



2018 SEC Tournament for Blog

It’s been a fantastic year for SEC basketball, and it came from out of nowhere. Auburn was not expected to do anything of note this season, but Bruce Pearl has done a fantastic job, leading the Tigers to a regular season championship. They’ve struggled a little bit as of late, but they could do some damage in the postseason. Beyond them, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri and Texas A&M all look to be safely into the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi State and Alabama could very well join them when all is said and done.

My SEC Prediction:

Jayson's SEC Bracket

  • Early Rounds – Alabama desperately needs a few wins if they want to feel safe about their Tournament chances. Unfortunately, they draw Texas A&M. The Aggies entered the season with lofty expectations and fell way short of those. They are very talented though, and if they figure it out, they can do great things. That begins with a win over Alabama. LSU is another team that did not reach expectations, but I like them to upset Mississippi State and end the Bulldogs’ dreams of reaching the Big Dance.
  • Quarterfinals – Texas A&M was the only team to beat Auburn in their house this season, and I think they can double-down and knock a reeling Tiger team out of the SEC Tournament. I think LSU can continue as well if they get past Mississippi State. Tennessee has struggled down the stretch, and I could easily see them failing to win a game in this tournament.
  • Semifinals – I guess I just have a good feeling about Texas A&M. I watched them open the season with an absolute drubbing of West Virginia in Germany, and thought they should have been so much better than they are. I’m thinking they solve their issues in the postseason, beating Kentucky and advancing to the title game. On the other hand, LSU’s run will end in the semis, falling to a much more talented Florida team.
  • Finals – Could Texas A&M actually win this thing as the 8-seed? I say yeah, why the heck not? The SEC has been a mixed bag this year, so a little March Madness makes a lot of sense to me. The Aggies win a seesaw battle with the Gators, entering the NCAA Tournament with a ton of momentum.


That’ll do it for my Conference Championship preview, I hope you all enjoyed! And I hope you enjoy watching all of the Championship Week action even more!


Bracketology: 3/5/18

Championship Week has kicked off, and as we enter the busiest, most exciting week of the college basketball season, things are already crazy as ever!

Five teams have already punched their ticket to this year’s NCAA Tournament. Saturday night, Murray State defeated Belmont in the OVC Championship to become the first team officially into the field of 68. The Racers have reached the Dance for the first time since 2012 when they were a 6-seed.

Yesterday, four more automatic bids were earned. Radford’s Carlik Jones drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Highlanders a 55-52 victory over Liberty in the Big South title game. Radford is in the Tournament for the first time since 2009.

In the Arch Madness finale, Loyola-Chicago dominated Illinois State, winning 65-49 and punching their first ticket to the Tournament since 1985! The Ramblers will be a popular upset pick in the first weekend. Florida Gulf Coast was the team to beat in the Atlantic Sun all season, but the Lipscomb Bison were able to defeat them for the second time this season, taking the A-Sun crown with a 108-96 win over the Eagles. It will be the first NCAA Tournament appearance for Lipscomb.

In the marquee game of the day Sunday, it was the Michigan Wolverines finishing off an impressive run to win their second consecutive Big Ten Championship, knocking off Purdue 75-66. Isaac Haas scored 23 points in the loss, while Mo Wagner led the way for Michigan with 17 points. The Big Ten Tournament was held a week early this season, so the teams will have to sit around and watch everyone else play this week before finding out their fate. It will be interesting to see how the Big Ten fares in the Tournament after this layoff.

I have a new Bracket prediction as we kick off Championship Week, and you can view it by following the link below:

Jayson’s Bracketology 3-5-18

*Teams in color are projected auto-bids. Teams in red have clinched their spot in the Tournament.

Last Four Byes: Missouri, Arizona State, Syracuse, Texas

Last Four In: Louisville, Baylor, USC, Alabama

First Four Out: UCLA, St. Bonaventure, Penn State, Notre Dame

Next Four Out: Washington, Utah, Nebraska, Mississippi State

Notre Dame is going to be the most fascinating case for this year’s Selection Committee. With Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell in the lineup, the Irish were 12-4 this year, including a close loss at #1 Virginia to close the regular season. Without Colson, ND was 6-9. Without Colson and Farrell, they were 0-4. With those two guys healthy, they are very clearly a Tournament team, and they are healthy entering the ACC Tournament. I believe if the Irish can get to the quarterfinals, they have a chance. If they can reach the ACC semis, I think they should feel good about their chances, as that would mean wins over Virginia Tech and Duke to get there. If they find a way to reach the ACC title game, I think they’re a lock. I do not believe that they need to win the automatic bid.

Two more automatic bids will be earned tonight, first in the MAAC Championship Game, with 4-seed Iona taking on 6-seed Fairfield (7:00 pm, ESPN). This one could be a toss-up, with Iona the better team but Fairfield playing really well right now. I’ll take Iona and their postseason experience (they have reached the Tournament in four of the last six seasons) to pull out the victory and make it three straight Tourney appearances.

Then the Southern Conference will crown their champion when 1-seed UNC Greensboro takes on 2-seed East Tennessee State (9:00 pm, ESPN2). The Buccaneers are the defending SoCon champions, falling to Florida in the First Round of the Tournament last season. UNC Greensboro meanwhile has not reached the Dance since 2001. These two teams split their season series with the home team winning both. On a neutral floor, the better team has the advantage. I think that is ETSU, so I’ll pick them to make their second straight NCAA Tournament.

I’ll be back tomorrow with an extensive preview of the major conference tournaments that will kickoff tomorrow afternoon with the ACC Tournament, the rest starting either Wednesday or Thursday.

CBB Round-Up: 2/26/18

The calendar turns to March this week, which means the greatest time of year is upon us! March Madness baby! Some conferences kick off their postseason tournaments this week, while the rest are now in the final week of the regular season. With the sports world focused on college basketball for the better part of the next month, I have a packed post for the start of this week!

I want to start off with my thoughts on the FBI scandal that is rocking the landscape of Division I college basketball. I may have an extended post about this coming soon, but it’s something that I feel should be addressed at least in short.

To sum it all up, a report was released last week tying several high profile programs and players to an FBI investigation into improper benefits and illegal recruiting tactics. The biggest reveal was that an FBI wiretap caught Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller discussing a $100,000 payment to current player DeAndre Ayton. Miller did not coach in Arizona’s loss to Oregon on Saturday, while Ayton was allowed to play.

Most people know that this kind of thing happens in college athletics, as it’s no secret that money rules everything. It is unfortunate that there is now a black eye on the sport this season. It seems like everybody has an opinion as to how the NCAA should fix this issue. I have always been of the thought that these players are being paid, in the form of a college education, something that most of us have to pay for. That being said, the best and easiest way to solve this problem is to allow the players to be paid.

There are a lot of factors in play here. You could just allow the schools to pay the players, but that would open up a huge can of worms. You could allow the players to have agents and accept money through sponsorships, but they would no longer be amateur athletes, something the NCAA wants to hold onto.

It’s a really difficult situation, but the quickest way to end it would be to allow the players to receive money. I don’t think a lot of people would be a fan of that, but coaches and programs are going to continue to break the rules and hope to get away with it if it doesn’t happen.

That’s just my two cents, but we’ll move on to the more exciting stuff now. We’ll start with a new feature here on We Love Sportz, Dan’s Betting Corner! My brother Dan is an avid sports better, and he expressed interest in sharing some of his thoughts on games as we near the end of the season! For today’s edition, Dan would like to share his picks for three big games taking place tonight, Monday February 26th.

Dan’s Betting Corner

Duke (-5.5) @ Virginia Tech
7:00 pm, ESPN

This line interests me because in their previous game this season, Duke beat the Hokies by 22 at Cameron Indoor. Virginia Tech is better at home but they are a tough team to bet because they have been up and down all year. The line seems a bit low based on the previous result, so for that reason, I would lean towards Virginia Tech +5.5.

Texas Tech @ West Virginia (-7)
9:00 pm, ESPN2

This could go down as the most competitive game of the night but a tough one to bet on. Texas Tech is coming off a heartbreaking home loss to Kansas and West Virginia is riding a two game winning streak. Texas Tech secured a one point win in the previous meeting between these two. I would take the Mountaineers to win this one outright, but the line is inviting you to take Texas Tech. I see the game staying close the whole way, so I would lean towards the Red Raiders +7.

Texas @ Kansas (-10.5)
9:00 pm, ESPN

This line has already moved from where it started at Kansas -9.5. While the line is fairly high, everything points to Kansas winning with ease. They would secure the outright Big 12 regular season title with a victory, they rarely lose at home and superstar Texas freshman Mo Bamba may be out with a toe injury he suffered Saturday against Oklahoma State. Bamba was dominant in their previous meeting and the Jayhawks still won going away. If Bamba is ruled out I would definitely go with Kansas -10.5. If Bamba ends up playing I would still lean towards Kansas but it would certainly be a bit tougher.

Jayson’s Bracketology

One more week and March Madness will be in full swing. Our first automatic Tournament bids will be handed out this weekend, with the Ohio Valley title game on Saturday and the Atlantic Sun, Big South, Missouri Valley, and Big Ten title games on Sunday.

My #1 seeds remain unchanged from last week, with Kansas moving ahead of Xavier for the #3 overall seed. There was a lot of movement elsewhere though. Follow the link below to view this week’s Bracketology (teams in color are projected auto-bids):

Jayson’s Bracketology 2-26-18

Last Four Byes: Virginia Tech, Missouri, Louisville, Kansas State

Last Four In: Syracuse, Baylor, USC, Texas

First Four Out: Nebraska, St. Bonaventure, Washington, UCLA

Next Four Out: Mississippi State, Temple, Boise State, Notre Dame

Big Ten Tournament Predictions

Last but not least today, Dan and I have filled out our first brackets of the year! Yes, we realize the NCAA Tournament doesn’t start for a couple more weeks, but in order to hold the event at Madison Square Garden in NYC, the Big Ten has played a compressed regular season schedule and moved their conference tournament up a week this year. The Big Ten Tournament will kickoff on Wednesday evening, and here is the bracket:

2018 Big Ten Tournament for Blog

The Big Ten always has one of the more exciting tournaments of the college basketball postseason, and we get it a week early this year! Michigan is looking to repeat as champions, but they have a tough road, losing the tiebreaker with Nebraska for the last double-bye into the quarterfinals, meaning they’ll have to win four games instead of three in order to defend their crown.

Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and the aforementioned Wolverines are safely into the NCAA Tournament, while a number of teams in this conference are on the Bubble, and might need a deep run here to reach the Big Dance. That includes Nebraska, Penn State, Indiana and Maryland. The rest of the field will need an unlikely run to earn the Big Ten’s automatic bid.

Here is how Dan and I see the Big Ten Tournament playing out:

Dan's Big Ten Bracket Prediction

Jayson's Big Ten Bracket Prediction

Dan and I both believe that Purdue will end up winning the Big Ten Tournament, we just disagree on who they’ll beat in the Championship game. Purdue’s seniors have failed to win the Big Ten Tournament their first three years, including a quarterfinal loss to eventual champion Michigan last season. The leadership of those seniors is what I believe will lead the Boilermakers to a Big Ten title this year, getting revenge on Michigan in the title game. Dan likes them to triumph over regular season champs Michigan State in the championship game.

I’ll hopefully be back with another post around the end of the week, but in the meantime, enjoy the action! It’s time for some March Madness!!!

Conference Tournament Weekend Preview

This post will be a little longer than most, so I’ll keep the intro short and sweet. If you don’t enjoy watching college basketball this time of year, I’m not sure what is wrong with you. I got called off work yesterday and was able to just sit and watch games all day, and it was fantastic.

So many games, so many exciting finishes. March Madness it was indeed. I’m totally prepared for another day jam-packed with incredible action, and here’s a look at all of the games coming your way today.

America East Championship (Burlington, Vermont)
#3 Albany vs #1 Vermont
11:00 am, ESPN2
Vermont has been one of the most dominant teams in the nation this season. Granted, it has been against mostly poor competition, but you have to play the teams on your schedule, and Vermont has beaten most of them. The Catamounts have won 20 games in a row, and their five losses this season include games against Providence, Butler and South Carolina, all Tournament teams. Vermont beat Albany by double digits in both meetings during the regular season, but don’t sleep on the Great Danes. They have a win at Penn State this year, so they are definitely capable. But on their home floor, I’ll go with Vermont to get the win, their 21st in a row.

Sun Belt Semifinals (New Orleans, Louisiana)
#4 Texas State vs #1 UT Arlington (12:30 pm, ESPN3)
#6 Troy vs #2 Georgia State (approx. 3:00 pm, ESPN3)
Championship Game: Sunday 2:00 pm, ESPN2
The team to know here is the 1-seed, UT Arlington. The Mavericks are one of the better mid-majors in the country this season, boasting wins at Texas and Saint Mary’s, and a near miss at Arkansas. If they can win the Sun Belt, they’ll head to the Tournament likely as a 12-seed, and one that no 5-seed will want to play.

MEAC Championship (Norfolk, Virginia)
#2 Norfolk State vs #1 NC Central
1:00 pm, ESPN2
I won’t spend too much time on this game, mostly because I don’t know much about either of these teams. The winner of this game will almost definitely head to Dayton to play in one of the First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday. NC Central is the clear favorite here, as they are the only MEAC team ranked inside of KenPom’s Top-300. They are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, and I believe they will get the job done.

Atlantic 10 Semifinals (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
#9 Davidson vs #4 Rhode Island (1:00 pm, CBSSN)
#3 Richmond vs #2 VCU (approx. 3:30 pm, CBSSN)
Championship Game: Sunday 12:30 pm, CBS
Dayton was the best team in the A-10 all season long, and had pretty much clinched their spot in the Big Dance already, so they didn’t appear to have a whole lot to play for on Friday. It showed, as Jack Gibbs scored 34 points, leading 9-seed Davidson to the upset of Dayton. That leaves Davidson and the 2 through 4-seeds in the conference semifinals Saturday afternoon. Davidson and Richmond need to win the conference to reach the Tournament. VCU is most likely in already like Dayton. Rhode Island is the interesting case. They are squarely on the Bubble, and probably could have used a win over Dayton to improve their resume. I expect them to play as if they think they need to earn the automatic bid, and get to the finals, where I think they will meet VCU.

Big Ten Semifinals (Washington, D.C.)
#8 Michigan vs #4 Minnesota (1:00 pm, CBS)
#6 Northwestern vs #2 Wisconsin (approx. 3:30 pm, CBS)
Championship Game: Sunday 3:00 pm, CBS
Two of the best stories in college basketball right now are both going to be a part of the Big Ten semifinals. Michigan’s plane crashed off the runway on Wednesday, forcing them to fly to D.C. early Thursday morning. They didn’t even have their uniforms because they had to stay on the plane as part of the police investigation. Despite all of that, they defeated Illinois (while wearing practice jerseys), and then knocked out 1-seed Purdue en route to a matchup with Minnesota in the semifinals. Meanwhile, Northwestern, the only original D-I team from a major conference to never reach the NCAA Tournament, has won games against Rutgers and 3-seed Maryland, all but stamping their ticket to the Dance. They are two amazing stories, and it just feels right that they’ll both win their semifinal games and meet up in the title game, which would be a rematch of a game on March 1 that saw Northwestern win on a buzzer-beating layup. I’m all in for that rematch!

SEC Semifinals (Nashville, Tennessee)
#5 Alabama vs #1 Kentucky (1:00 pm, ESPN)
#7 Vanderbilt vs #3 Arkansas (approx. 3:30 pm, ESPN)
Championship Game: Sunday 1:00 pm, ESPN
It’s been a down year overall for the SEC, but the one constant all year has been Kentucky, so it’s no surprise that they are in the semifinals. They’ll take on an Alabama team that is finally starting to live up to expectations. They probably need to win the conference to make it to the Tourney, and I don’t see them getting by the Wildcats. On the other side, Bubble team Vanderbilt defeated Florida for the third time this season in the quarterfinals, making it pretty likely that they will make it to the Field of 68. Arkansas is likely going to the Tournament as well, but Vanderbilt is one of the hotter teams in the country, and I expect them to get another upset en route to the finals.

Ivy League Semifinals (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
#4 Penn vs #1 Princeton (1:30 pm, ESPNU)
#3 Yale vs #2 Harvard (approx. 4:00 pm, ESPNU)
Championship Game: Sunday 12:00 noon, ESPN2
The Ivy League has finally joined the postseason tournament party! Up until this season, the regular season champion in the Ivy would go to the NCAA Tournament, but this year, the league’s four best teams will play a two day tournament at the historic Palestra in Philly. Penn just barely got in, winning their regular season finale to earn the 4-seed, and now they’ll get to host 1-seed Princeton in the semis. Then it’ll be followed by the most historic rivalry in collegiate sports, Yale and Harvard. I think these games are both toss-ups, and I don’t even want to try to predict who will win them.

AAC Semifinals (Hartford, Connecticut)
#4 UCF vs #1 SMU (3:00 pm, ESPN2)
#6 UConn vs #2 Cincinnati (approx. 5:30 pm, ESPN2)
Championship Game: Sunday 3:15 pm, ESPN
The UConn Huskies in March, it’s about as sure a thing as death and taxes. The 6-seed knocked off Houston in the quarterfinals, and will look to keep their Tourney hopes alive with a win over Cincinnati in the semis. I don’t see it happening, though. The Bearcats are just too good. The other team that’s too good is SMU. They survived a late surge from 9-seed East Carolina yesterday, but I think that’ll be a wake-up call for them more than anything. UCF is a great defensive team, but they don’t have the talent to keep up with SMU.

Big East Championship (New York City)
#6 Creighton vs #1 Villanova
5:30 pm, FOX
The defending National Champions are back in the Big East title game for the third straight year. Seton Hall defeated them last year, but they got their revenge last night thanks to a Josh Hart follow of a missed Kris Jenkins shot with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. They didn’t play their best, but they got the job done. Creighton had to squeak out their semifinal as well, with Marcus Foster draining a 3-pointer with 6.5 seconds on the clock to defeat 7-seed Xavier 75-72. Both of these teams will make the Tournament, so it comes down to which team will want this game more. I think Villanova will come flying out of the gates and will hang on down the stretch to win their second Big East title in the last three years.

Big 12 Championship (Kansas City, Missouri)
#4 Iowa State vs #2 West Virginia
6:00 pm, ESPN
Iowa State is en fuego right now. After defeating Oklahoma State in the quarters, they blitzed TCU in the semifinals, and they have to be considered the favorites in this game, and they’ll be a very dangerous team in the Tournament. But don’t think for one second that West Virginia won’t at the very least give the Cyclones all they can handle and then some. Kansas State may have been playing for their Tournament lives last night, but the Mountaineers found a way to steal a 51-50 victory. West Virginia’s pressure will give Iowa State some fits, but I just love the way they are playing right now. Monte Morris and Deonte Burton will lead the Cyclones to their third Big 12 title in the last four seasons.

Mountain West Championship (Las Vegas, Nevada)
#2 Colorado State vs #1 Nevada
6:00 pm, CBS
How the mighty have fallen. Recent history has the Mountain West on the verge of being considered a major conference, sending multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament year in and year out. Not so much in 2017. This has become a one-bid league, and the winner of this game will likely be a 12 or 13-seed in the Dance. At least, for the conference’s sake, they’re going to send one of their best teams, as 1-seed Nevada and 2-seed Colorado State battle for the championship. These teams only played once in the regular season, and it was in the finale just a week ago, with Nevada winning 85-72 on their home floor. Revenge could be a factor for the Rams, but Nevada is the better team, and I think they will get the job done and advance to the Field of 68.

SWAC Championship (Houston, Texas)
#2 Alcorn State vs #1 Texas Southern
6:30 pm, ESPNU
Texas Southern is lead by former Indiana and UAB head coach Mike Davis, and he makes sure they are well prepared for this time of year with their non-conference schedule. They played their first 16 games of the season on the road, and that included games against Arizona, Louisville, Cincinnati, TCU and Baylor. The good thing for them is that they’ve already clinched their spot in the NCAA Tournament, as Alcorn State is ineligible for the Tournament this season. That makes this game pretty meaningless, but I think Texas Southern is the better team and will still win this game.

MAC Championship (Cleveland, Ohio)
#6 Kent State vs #1 Akron
7:30 pm, ESPN2
Kent State is the darling of the MAC Tournament, outlasting the country’s leading scorer Marcus Keene and Central Michigan in overtime in the opening round, then upsetting 3-seed Buffalo and 2-seed Ohio to make it to the title game and a shot at reaching the NCAA’s. They’ll have to go through 1-seed Akron, who survived an upset attempt by Ball State yesterday in the semifinals. Akron has easily been the best team in the conference this season, and their height could cause some problems for Kent State. These teams split their regular season meetings, so it’s anyone’s game, but I’ll take Akron to get the victory and move on to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.

Conference USA Championship (Birmingham, Alabama)
#6 Marshall vs #1 Middle Tennessee
8:00 pm, CBSSN
Middle Tennessee is looking to return to the Tournament for the second consecutive season, after picking up probably the biggest upset in last year’s Tourney, dominating 2-seed Michigan State in the First Round as a 15-seed. A lot of people had the Spartans picked to win the whole thing, and Giddy Potts, Reggie Upshaw and the rest of the Blue Raiders went in and ran Michigan State out of the building. They have kept the momentum from the end of last season going into this year as they are 29-4 with wins over UNC Wilmington, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. This is a very good, experienced basketball team that I would not want to face in the NCAA Tournament. Marshall is looking to play Cinderella here, having already knocked off 3-seed Old Dominion and 2-seed Louisiana Tech to get to this point. Can they get it done? I don’t think so. The Blue Raiders should get the victory.

Big Sky Championship (Reno, Nevada)
#3 Weber State vs #1 North Dakota
8:30 pm, ESPNU
The North Dakota Fighting Hawks won the Big Sky regular season title, but they have much loftier goals. The Hawks are looking to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history (they have been playing D-I basketball since the 2009-2010 season). To get there, they’ll have to defeat Weber State for the third time this season, which is a very difficult thing to do. The Wildcats reached the NCAA Tournament last season, knocking North Dakota out of the Big Sky Tournament in overtime in the semifinals along the way. That’s just extra incentive for North Dakota to play well, which I believe they’ll do, reaching their first NCAA Tournament.

ACC Championship (Brooklyn, New York)
#5 Duke vs #3 Notre Dame
9:00 pm, ESPN
I guess it makes sense that the two hottest teams in the conference would end up meeting in the title game, but I have to say that I’m a little shocked at this matchup. Duke came from behind in the second half to defeat rival UNC 93-83. The Blue Devils are finally showing the form that everyone has been waiting to see from them this season. They are arguably the most talented team in the country, and they are starting to live up to expectations. Don’t sleep on the Irish though. Mike Brey has done an amazing job with this team, picked to finish 7th in the ACC in the preseason. Bonzie Colson is the league’s leading rebounder at 6-5, and the team has been shooting the lights out from distance. If the Irish get hot, they can certainly get the win here, but Duke is just playing too well right now. I like the Blue Devils to go into the Tournament with the momentum of an ACC championship.

Southland Championship (Katy, Texas)
#2 Texas A&M-CC vs #1 New Orleans
9:30 pm, ESPN2
Another 16-seed is on the line in this game, and it should be a really good one. New Orleans and Corpus Christi faced each other just once in the regular season, and it was a 73-72 overtime home win for New Orleans. I did not see that game, but based on those facts, I’m sure Corpus Christi easily could have taken it had the ball bounced their way one or two more times. It’s a relative toss-up, and I’ll go with Corpus Christi to pull off the mild upset and advance to the NCAA Tournament.

WAC Championship (Las Vegas, Nevada)
#2 New Mexico State vs #1 CSU Bakersfield
11:00 pm, ESPNU
It was on really late, and you could only access the broadcast via WatchESPN, but I hope I wasn’t the only one who got to watch the end of CSU Bakersfield’s FOUR OVERTIME thriller with Utah Valley in the semifinals last night. I didn’t catch it until the overtimes had started, but that was clearly the most exciting part of the game. Utah Valley gave the Roadrunners everything they could handle, but Bakersfield was able to survive and advance. They’ll take on a New Mexico State team that routed UMKC in the semis, making them the fresher team if you will. That could be a big advantage, but I’m a believer in momentum, and the momentum from a 4OT victory will put Bakersfield over the top and into the NCAA Tournament.

Pac-12 Championship (Las Vegas, Nevada)
#2 Arizona vs #1 Oregon
11:00 pm, ESPN
West Coast basketball is back! The top three teams in the Pac 12 have been fantastic this season, and we’ll see the two best do battle for the championship late tonight. Could this game be for a 1-seed in the Tournament? It’s certainly possible, but at the very least, the winner of this game will get to stay in the West Region while the loser will have to travel elsewhere in the Tournament. These teams played just once in the regular season, with Oregon dominating the game in every facet, winning 85-58 in Eugene. Arizona will be out for revenge, but I love this Oregon team. They are extremely balanced, and they have a star in Dillon Brooks that can take over any game. They also have more postseason experience than a young Arizona team. I like the Ducks to win their second consecutive Pac 12 title.

Big West Championship (Anaheim, California)
#2 UC Davis vs #1 UC Irvine
11:30 pm, ESPN2
The final game of conference tournament Saturday will be for the Big West championship between 1-seed UC Irvine and 2-seed UC Davis. Both had difficulties getting to this point. UC Irvine held off Long Beach State 62-57, while UC Davis needed overtime to take out Cal State Fullerton 66-64. These teams split their season series, but the last game was exactly a week ago, and it was a 30-point Irvine victory. You’d think that would make them the easy pick, but Davis beat them in the other meeting, and the wound from that 30-point loss is still fresh. I think revenge will play a bigger role here than in other games, fueling UC Davis to an upset victory and a trip to the Big Dance.


How to Fix Conference Tournaments

Let me just start by saying that the title of this post may be a little misleading, as I do not think the conference tournaments need fixing. I very much enjoy the current set-up, with leagues handing their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to the winner of their conference tournaments.

Does that ultimately result in a few regular season champions being left heading to the, for all intents and purposes, meaningless NIT? Yes, it does. Do I feel somewhat bad for teams like Belmont and Monmouth, who dominated their league competition during the regular season, only to slip-up in the tournament and miss out on a trip to the Big Dance? I genuinely do.

But on the other hand, if your team is that good, and that dominant, then I am of the belief that you should be able to win the games when they matter the most. Especially when some conferences give their regular season champs advantages in their conference tournaments. Belmont got a bye to the semifinals. All they needed to do was win two games against teams that they had already beaten at least once this season. They couldn’t get the job done.

Rick Byrd’s Belmont Bruins dominated the OVC all season long, but they couldn’t get the job done when it counted the most (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

The system has its flaws, I can admit that. Despite the loss, Belmont is the team that would have best represented the Ohio Valley Conference in the NCAA Tournament this season. That is not a knock on Jacksonville State, the eventual champion, but more praising how good Belmont was this season. This is just one example, and we get at least one just about every season.

Many complain that the regular season is basically meaningless in the current set-up. I don’t feel that way, but I understand the viewpoint. Another widespread complaint is that the conference tournaments are just a money grab. In a sense, yeah, that’s exactly what they are, but you can’t blame conferences for doing something that will get them more money. That’s the world we live in, get used to it.

The reason I do not think the system needs to be changed is that it can create magical moments and unbelievable excitement. Championship Week is must-see TV for any college basketball fan. I spend most of this week in front of televisions, laptops, tablets and cellphones, watching multiple conference tournament games.

Just last night, at 7:00 pm, I had the Horizon League championship game on my TV, the NEC title game on my tablet and an ACC first round game between Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh on my laptop, watching all three simultaneously. Why? Because these games were all win and advance, lose and go home, and I didn’t want to miss anything amazing. And that is what we get this time of year. Amazing moments. Go on YouTube and type “March Madness” into the search bar. There is no end to the amount of incredible games and shots that have occurred during March throughout the last 50 years, and even prior to that.

For those reasons and more, I think “March Madness” is fine just the way it is. Is it perfect? Not by any stretch, but it is extremely exciting, and it is a wonderful time for basketball fans. Championship Week is the perfect lead-in to the NCAA Tournament, with teams fighting and clawing their way towards the chance to play in the Big Dance.

champ week
Championship Week is massive for ESPN and other networks every season, meaning it’s not going anywhere fast (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Despite how I feel about it, many basketball people are clamoring for a change. ESPN’s Jay Williams said two nights ago that he hates conference championship tournaments because they devalue the regular season. His word choice might not have been the best (I doubt he actually hates these games), but I see his point.

Some have given their ideas for how to fix the system. CBS’s Gary Parrish thinks that one-bid conferences should give their regular season champs a bye to the championship game, so that winning the regular season means something great, but it still gives the other teams a shot to make it to the NCAA Tournament. I would not be completely against that proposal. He also said that the 1-seeds should be given a 10-0 lead to start off the championship games. That I’m not so crazy about.

The overwhelming problem that basketball people have with the current system is that it renders the regular season somewhat meaningless. I don’t feel that way completely, but I see what they are getting at. I do not think we need to change anything, but since a lot of people do, I have an idea that I believe would be good for just about everybody involved. Regular season champs in one-bid leagues, tournament champs in one-bid leagues, Bubble teams and conference figureheads would all benefit from my idea. There are a lot of people who would be opposed to my idea, for reasons that I definitely recognize, but you can’t make everyone happy. My idea, is to increase the number of teams in the NCAA Tournament from 68 to 96.

This has been discussed as a possibility in the past, recently in years where the Bubble seems to be strong, and teams that deserve to make it to the NCAA Tournament are left out. Talk of increasing the number of teams in the Big Dance has not been as prevalent in the last few seasons, but I think it is the best way to make the regular season meaningful while maintaining the luster and excitement that surrounds Championship Week. Here is how this whole plan would work:

The regular season champions in each of the 32 Division-I conferences would receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. This solves the issue of the regular season not meaning very much. Some people wish that the conferences would do it this way in the current setup, but there is just too much money in conference tournaments for this to happen. Remember, money will always come first.

By increasing the number of teams in the NCAA’s to 96, you can give an auto-bid to the regular season champs AND the conference tournament champs. I’m honestly surprised that I haven’t seen an idea like this discussed. It certainly may be out there somewhere on the interwebs, but I have not seen it. This way, a 1-seed can lose in the conference tournament and still make it to the NCAA Tournament by way of having the best record in the regular season.

Now, I realize there are a few kinks in this plan that would need some figuring out. For example, what happens when there’s a tie at the top of the conference, like in the SoCon this year, where UNC Greensboro, Furman and East Tennessee State all finished with a 14-4 record in league play. My plan would be to leave it up to the conferences. The conferences are not required to give their automatic bid to the team that wins their postseason tournament. They choose to do so. The Ivy League has given the regular season champ the auto-bid every year until this season, finally joining the postseason tournament party. Let the leagues decide how to deal with a tiebreaker. In the case of a two-way tie, head-to head could be used, or best overall record. Or you could even have a playoff game prior to the conference tournament, with the winner earning the regular season championship. There’s another opportunity for more money right there!

East Tennessee State entered the SoCon Tournament as the 3-seed despite having just as many conference wins as Furman and UNC Greensboro. They won when it counted though (Photo courtesy of

Three-way ties could be handled similarly. Do a round-robin tournament between the three teams, with a point-differential system being used in the case of each team winning one game. It could be similar to how soccer uses aggregate scoring. There are many ways this could be done, this is just one example.

Another pitfall would be if the regular season champion also wins the conference tournament. What would happen then? Some would argue that the regular season champion would have no reason to even play in the conference tournament since they already earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament. That’s a fair assessment, and again, I believe you could leave it up to the conferences to decide how they want to handle it. Maybe you give the regular season champion the option of playing in the conference tournament. If they would choose not to, then you have the other teams in the league battling for one more spot in the Big Dance.

But if the regular season champion chooses to play in the conference tournament and wins it, I have two potential ideas. The first would be for the team that reached the championship game and lost to be given the league’s second auto-bid. The problem with this would be the conference championship game would then be pretty meaningless if both teams are going to advance to the NCAA’s no matter who wins. I could see losing viewers if that were the case.

The other possibility would be for that league’s second auto-bid to become an extra at-large bid. There are flaws with this as well, as the conference, in all likelihood, would lose the chance to send two teams to the Tournament, but a more deserving team would probably end up making it in this scenario.

An NCAA Tournament with 96 teams would be set up mostly the same, with the First Four games in Dayton becoming the First Round, with the top eight seeds in each region getting a bye to the Second Round. Each region would now have 24 teams. The 16-seed would play the 17-seed with the winner facing the 1-seed in the Second Round. The 9-seed would face the 24-seed with the winner facing the 8-seed in the Second Round. You could set it up as simply as that, resulting with an extra two days of 16 games each. Hey, that’s more money (see what I’m getting at).

Could this be the future look of the NCAA Tournament bracket? It would solve a lot of problems people have with the current setup (Photo courtesy of

You could also re-seed after the First Round, allowing the 1-seed to play the lowest remaining seed in their region. So if the 24-seed would upset the 9-seed, they would automatically face the 1-seed in the Second Round, and then the Tournament would play out just like it does now from there on out. I personally just don’t see the NCAA balking at the idea of adding 32 more games to the Tournament when they consider the potential increase in revenue.

Let me reiterate, I am totally fine with the set-up the way it is right now. With the conference tournament champions going to the Big Dance, and 68 teams in total making it to the Tournament. But if so many people have a problem with it, and change needs to be made, I think expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams would be the best way to make as many people happy as possible. You can’t make everyone happy, but I can’t figure out who wouldn’t be happy with this.

2017 Conference Tournament Preview: Part Two

Championship Week is just heating up, and the list of teams who have clinched their spots in the Big Dance looks like this:

Jacksonville State (OVC)
Winthrop (Big South)
Wichita State (MVC)
Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun)
UNC Wilmington (CAA)
East Tennessee State (SoCon)
Iona (MAAC)

Four more automatic bids will be handed out tonight, and we also now have a look at what the American and Big Ten Tournaments will look like, with those tourneys kicking off on Thursday and Wednesday respectively.

American Tournament (Hartford, CT)

First Round: March 9
Game 1: #9 East Carolina vs #8 Temple, 3:30 pm (ESPNU)
Game 2: #10 Tulane vs #7 Tulsa, 6:00 pm (ESPN NEWS)
Game 3: #11 USF vs #6 UConn, 8:30 pm (ESPN NEWS)
Quarterfinals: March 10
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs #1 SMU, 12:00 pm (ESPN2)
Game 5: #5 Memphis vs #4 UCF, 2:30 pm (ESPN2)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #2 Cincinnati, 7:00 pm (ESPNU)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #3 Houston, 9:30 pm (ESPNU)
Semifinals: March 11 (ESPN2)
Game 12: Winner Game 8 vs Winner Game 9, 7:00 pm
Game 13: Winner Game 10 vs Winner Game 11, 9:30 pm
Championship: March 12 (ESPN)
Game 14: Winner Game 12 vs Winner Game 13, 9:00 pm

Favorite: SMU
You could flip a coin between SMU and Cincinnati to decide who the favorite is in this tournament, because in the American this year, it’s those two teams, and then everybody else. They split the season series, but SMU lost by just two points at Cincy, and that was their last loss, entering the postseason on a 13-game winning streak. For that reason, SMU has to be considered the favorite here.
Dark Horse: UConn
Boy oh boy, what a disappointing season it’s been in Storrs. The preseason pick to win the American enters the conference tourney as the 6-seed with a losing record and a 4-game losing streak. Despite all of that, they are basically hosting this tournament, and the Huskies usually tend to play well in the postseason. Stranger things have happened…
Most to Gain: Houston
SMU and Cincinnati are locks to make the NCAA Tournament. After that, there isn’t a team here that deserves to get in without the league’s auto-bid. I guess you could argue Houston’s case, so I’ll highlight them as the team with the most to gain. A win over Cincinnati in the semifinals will improve their resume, but I doubt that would be enough to get them in.
Prediction: Cincinnati
SMU is easily one of the most underrated teams in the country, and I think they have a legit shot to advance to the second weekend (or further) of the Tournament. I think they’ll enter the Tourney coming off a loss to Cincy in the American title game though. The Bearcats are underrated as well, and they’ll play with a chip on their shoulder this postseason.

Big Ten Tournament (Washington, D.C.)

First Round: March 8
Game 1: #13 Penn State vs #12 Nebraska, 4:30 pm (ESPN2)
Game 2: #14 Rutgers vs #11 Ohio State, 7:00 pm (BTN)
Second Round: March 9 
Game 3: #9 Illinois vs #8 Michigan, 12:00 pm (BTN)
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs #5 Michigan State, 2:30 pm (BTN)
Game 5: #10 Indiana vs #7 Iowa, 6:30 pm (ESPN2)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #6 Northwestern, 9:00 pm (ESPN2)
Quarterfinals: March 10 
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #1 Purdue, 12:00 pm (ESPN)
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs #4 Minnesota, 2:30 pm (ESPN)
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs #2 Wisconsin, 6:30 pm (BTN)
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs #3 Maryland, 9:00 pm (BTN)
Semifinals: March 11 (CBS)
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 1:00 pm
Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs Winner Game 10, 3:30 pm
Championship: March 12 (CBS)
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs Winner Game 12, 3:00 pm

Favorite: Purdue
The Boilermakers absolutely earned the outright Big Ten regular season title down the stretch, closing the season having won eight of their last nine games. They look like the Big Ten team with the best chance to make a deep run in the Tournament, and as such, they have to be considered the favorites to win the Big Ten Tournament.
Dark Horse: Michigan
That one loss Purdue suffered? That was in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines. Michigan closed strong, winning six of their last eight, with the two losses coming in overtime at Minnesota and on a last second prayer at Northwestern. This team has a ton of momentum heading into the postseason, and I would not be surprised to see them make a deep run in this tournament.
Most to Gain: Iowa
No team has vaulted themselves up the Bubble faster than Iowa here at the end of the season. They lost three in a row in early February, seemingly ending their Tournament hopes, but they have responded with a four-game winning streak to end the regular season, including wins at Wisconsin and Maryland. I still think they need to get to the Big Ten title game to have a chance at an at-large bid, but they are set up to improve their resume with potential games against Wisconsin in the quarters and Maryland or Northwestern in the semis.
Prediction: Michigan State
Are you going to bet against Izzo in March? I’m still not, even though they burned me in the Tournament last season. They have a decent draw here, and their last two games were close road losses, so I’m discounting them. It’s hard to rationalize this pick, just feels right to me. Don’t be shocked when Sparty makes a run to a Big Ten Tournament title.

Five more automatic bids will be given out over the next two nights as well, in these conference championships:

Horizon League Championship
#10 Milwaukee vs #4 Northern Kentucky
Tuesday 3/7, 7:00 pm, ESPN
I promise you, that is not a typo. 10-seed Milwaukee, the last place team in the Horizon League during the regular season, has won three straight games against 7-seed Detroit, 2-seed Valparaiso and 6-seed Illinois-Chicago to reach the conference championship game with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line. If they win, they will enter the Tournament with a 12-23 record, becoming one of the worst teams in history to reach the NCAA Tournament. It’s still an incredible story, considering that this team won just four conference games in the regular season, and might win four straight in the conference tournament. And if they don’t already have the confidence/momentum, their opponent here, Northern Kentucky, is one of the four teams that Milwaukee defeated in the regular season. They played them tough in the second meeting as well. I’ll honestly be rooting for Milwaukee, but you know what they say, the cream rises to the top, and Northern Kentucky, the better team, should win this game and advance to the Big Dance.

Northeast Conference Championship
#4 St. Francis (PA) vs #1 Mount St. Mary’s
Tuesday 3/7, 7:00 pm, ESPN2
KenPom has the Northeast as the third worst conference in college basketball this season, so this will be a battle for a 16-seed in the Tournament, likely in one of the First Four games. Mount St. Mary’s was the regular season champion of the league, led by guards sophomore Elijah Long and 5-5 junior Junior Robinson. They will take on 4-seed St. Francis (PA), who made it here thanks to an acrobatic, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from freshman Keith Braxton, knocking off 3-seed Wagner 71-70. Sophomore Isaiah Blackmon scored 20 to lead the way in that game for the Red Flash. I admittedly do not know much about either of these teams, so I’ll go with the favorites and pick Mount St. Mary’s to come out on top, probably getting themselves a trip to Dayton where they’ll play for the chance to lose to a 1-seed next Thursday or Friday.

West Coast Conference Championship
#2 Saint Mary’s vs #1 Gonzaga
Tuesday 3/7, 9:00 pm, ESPN
There isn’t much I should have to say to convince you to watch this game, but I’ll give you a little something anyway. Gonzaga is on it’s way to the NCAA Tournament for the 18th straight season, which is incredible. Even more amazing, though, is that this might be the best team in Gonzaga’s history. This team has a legitimate chance to reach the Final Four. Saint Mary’s was expected to be the biggest challenge to the Zags in the WCC this season, but the Gaels were beaten rather easily in both meetings with Gonzaga this season. Both of these teams are going to the Tournament, but a 1-seed is likely for Gonzaga with a win here. A loss, and that could be less certain. That will be all the motivation they need to win this game.

Summit League Championship
#4 South Dakota State vs #3 Omaha
Tuesday 3/7, 9:00 pm, ESPN2
The Summit was a very tight league this season, with six teams finishing at least .500 in conference play, so it’s no real surprise that the 1 and 2-seeds were knocked out prior to the championship game. 4-seed South Dakota State knocked off 1-seed South Dakota 74-71 on a last-second 3-pointer from senior guard Michael Orris. 3-seed Omaha was able to avoid 2-seed North Dakota State, instead dominating 7-seed IUPUI in the semifinals. This game will pit what most consider to be the league’s two best players in SDSU sophomore Mike Daum and Omaha senior Tra-Deon Hollins. Daum is second in the nation in scoring at 25 points per game, while Hollins is one of the best two-way guards in the nation, being the team’s main scoring threat and best lockdown defender. This should be a great game, but I think experience will play a factor. SDSU won the Summit League last season, reaching the NCAA Tournament, and I expect Daum to lead them there once again.

Patriot League Championship
#3 Lehigh vs #1 Bucknell
Wednesday 3/8, 7:30 pm, CBS Sports Network
Despite Lehigh being the 3-seed, this is a matchup between the top two teams in the Patriot League this season, and they’ll battle Wednesday night for a berth in the Big Dance. Lehigh needed double overtime to get a win at Boston U in the semifinals, and they’ll look to carry that momentum into another road game in the conference championship. Bucknell might be the best team, but Lehigh has the best player in the league in senior forward Tim Kempton. Kempton had 31 points and 13 rebounds in the semifinals, and he is being fueled by the fact that he has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament, after the Mountain Hawks lost to Holy Cross in the title game last season. Bucknell has been the best team in the conference this year, and they even have wins over Richmond and Vanderbilt to their name, but they lost to Lehigh twice during the regular season. Can they get over the hump and finally knock off Lehigh? I don’t believe so. Kempton is on a mission to get to the Big Dance, and this is his last chance. His supporting cast will help him out enough to send the Mountain Hawks back to the Tournament for the first time since 2012, when they defeated 2-seed Duke in the First Round.

That concludes Part Two of my Conference Championship Preview! I’ll be back later this week with a new edition of Bracketology. In the meantime, enjoy all of the basketball over the next week, leading into the best four days of the calendar year starting next Thursday!

2017 Conference Tournament Preview: Part One

The season began back in mid-November, and after four months of action, we have finally reached Championship Week in the 2016-17 college basketball season.

The first four automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament were given out this weekend, and they went to the following teams:

Jacksonville State (OVC)
Winthrop (Big South)
Wichita State (MVC)
Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun)

Over the next week, 28 more teams will punch their tickets to the Big Dance. Selection Sunday is less than a week away, but there is still so much yet to be determined!

For Part One of my Conference Tournament Preview, you’ll see the brackets for six major conference tournaments, and I’ll give you who I believe is the favorite, a dark horse, which teams have the most to gain in the tournaments, and also who I believe will come out on top. At the end, I also have short previews for three conference title games taking place on Monday night, which will get us to seven official teams in the NCAA Tournament.

We’ll kick it off with the tournament that has had no shortage of excitement over the last few seasons.

ACC Tournament (Brooklyn, NY)

First Round: March 7
Game 1: #13 NC State vs #12 Clemson, 12:00 pm (ESPN2)
Game 2: #15 Boston College vs #10 Wake Forest, 2:30 pm (ESPN2)
Game 3: #14 Pittsburgh vs #11 Georgia Tech, 7:00 pm (ESPNU)
Second Round: March 8
Game 4: #9 Miami FL vs #8 Syracuse, 12:00 pm (ESPN)
Game 5: Winner Game 1 vs #5 Duke, 2:30 pm (ESPN)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #7 Virginia Tech, 7:00 pm (ESPN2)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #6 Virginia, 9:30 pm (ESPN2)
Quarterfinals: March 9 (ESPN)
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs #1 North Carolina, 12:00 pm
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs #4 Louisville, 2:30 pm
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs #2 Florida State, 7:00 pm
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs #3 Notre Dame, 9:30 pm
Semifinals: March 10 (ESPN)
Game 12: Winner Game 8 vs Winner Game 9, 7:00 pm
Game 13: Winner Game 10 vs Winner Game 11, 9:30 pm
Championship: March 11 (ESPN)
Game 14: Winner Game 12 vs Winner Game 13, 9:00 pm

Favorite: North Carolina
The ACC is stacked once again, and figures to send at least nine or so teams to the Big Dance, but one of the hottest teams in the conference the second half of the season, and one of the hottest teams in the country, is North Carolina. They have wins over Virginia, Louisville and Duke all within the last two weeks. Their side of the bracket is going to be tough to get through, but if they get to the title game, it will be hard to pick against them.
Dark Horse: Notre Dame
Hard to call a 3-seed in a league as tough as this one a dark horse, but when people talk about the top teams in the ACC, you hear UNC, Duke, Louisville, Florida State and Virginia most often. A lot of people, yet again, are sleeping on Notre Dame. They have been to the Elite 8 two year in a row, and I believe they are talented enough to get there yet again this season. They have the postseason experience that can make all the difference in a conference tournament.
Most to Gain: Georgia Tech
Wake Forest could have gone in this spot as well, but I look at Georgia Tech as the team best positioned to improve their Tournament resume. If they get past Pitt in the opening round, they’ll face 6-seed Virginia, who is a good team, but is very beatable. Get past Virginia, and a quarterfinal match-up with Notre Dame awaits. Wins over Virginia and ND probably would be enough to put the Yellow Jackets onto the right side of the Bubble.
Prediction: Louisville
A new venue for the ACC Tournament could play a much bigger factor than you may think. When the tourney was in Greensboro or Washington D.C., it gave teams like Duke and North Carolina an advantage. With it moving to Brooklyn this season, that advantage might be no more. Whichever team gets out of the top half of this bracket will have earned it. After wins over Duke and North Carolina, the Louisville Cardinals will win the ACC Tournament, and have their fans campaigning for a 1-seed in the Big Dance (but they’ll settle for a 2-seed).

Atlantic 10 Tournament (Pittsburgh, PA)

First Round: March 8 (American Sports Network)
Game 1: #13 St. Joseph’s vs #12 Massachusetts, 6:00 pm
Game 2: #14 Duquesne vs #11 Saint Louis, 8:30 pm
Second Round: March 9 (NBC Sports Network)
Game 3: #9 Davidson vs #8 La Salle, 12:00 pm
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs #5 St. Bonaventure, 2:30 pm
Game 5: #10 Fordham vs #7 George Mason, 6:30 pm
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #6 George Washington, 9:00 pm
Quarterfinals: March 10 (NBC Sports Network)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #1 Dayton, 12:00 pm
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs #4 Rhode Island, 2:30 pm
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs #2 VCU, 6:30 pm
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs #3 Richmond, 9:00 pm
Semifinals: March 11 (CBS Sports Network)
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 1:00 pm
Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs Winner Game 10, approx. 3:30 pm
Championship: March 12 (CBS)
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs Winner Game 12, 12:30 pm

Favorite: Dayton
Death, taxes, Dayton at the top of the Atlantic 10. It’s certainly been that way for the last four years. Seniors Charles Cooke, Kendall Pollard and Scoochie Smith lead this team, which has been to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years. They enter the postseason coming off a loss to George Washington, which could be the fuel that they need to go out and win the A-10 Tournament.
Dark Horse: George Washington
This was tough, as I don’t think there are many teams that have a legit chance to win this tournament this season, but I’ll go with a GW team who has won six of seven to finish the regular season, including a big win over 1-seed Dayton to cap it off. I also believe that they have the easiest road to the semifinals of any team that did not receive a double-bye. Don’t be surprised if the Colonials make a run.
Most to Gain: Rhode Island
The Rams are squarely on the Bubble right now, with some experts having them in and some having them out. Right now they are ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s first team out of the field. They’ll need to win their first game here, likely against St. Bonaventure, but then they will probably get another crack at Dayton in the semifinals. A win there and I think they can get into the Tournament without the auto-bid.
Prediction: Dayton
The Flyers are the best team in the conference, and I expect them to prove that by beating Rhode Island for the third time this season in the semis, then taking the rubber match against VCU in the finals.

Big 12 Tournament (Kansas City, MO)

First Round: March 8 (ESPNU)
Game 1: #9 Oklahoma vs #8 TCU, 7:00 pm
Game 2: #10 Texas vs #7 Texas Tech, 9:30 pm
Quarterfinals: March 9
Game 3: #5 Oklahoma State vs #4 Iowa State, 12:30 pm (ESPN2)
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs #1 Kansas, 3:00 pm (ESPN2)
Game 5: Winner Game 2 vs #2 West Virginia, 7:00 pm (ESPNU)
Game 6: #6 Kansas State vs #3 Baylor, 9:30 pm (ESPNU)
Semifinals: March 10 (ESPN2)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs Winner Game 4, 7:00 pm
Game 8: Winner Game 5 vs Winner Game 6, 9:30 pm
Championship: March 11 (ESPN)
Game 9: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 6:00 pm

Favorite: Kansas
“Not only is Kansas the favorite to win the Big 12 Tournament, but right now, they’re the favorite to win the National Championship. The Jayhawks have looked borderline unbeatable the last few weeks. If any team can beat Kansas, that will be mighty impressive.” -Me, in this same post from last season. New year, same Kansas. They might seem a little more beatable this year, but I’ll still be impressed if anybody beats them.
Dark Horse: Oklahoma State
They lost their last two regular season games (at Iowa State and vs Kansas), but before that, the Cowboys had won 10 of 11 games with the only loss coming by three against Baylor. This is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and if they can get hot, they can go on a run. They face Iowa State in the quarterfinals, and it’s very hard to beat a team three times in one season, which is what the Cyclones will look to do. A win, and they’d get another shot at Kansas, who would also be looking to beat OK State for the third time this season. Look out for the Pokes.
Most to Gain: Kansas State
Another Bubble team with a massive opportunity thanks to their conference tourney draw. The Wildcats will take on Baylor in the quarterfinal, and a win over the Bears could be enough to get Kansas State into the field of 68. But just in case, a semifinal win over West Virginia would definitely get them in. Bruce Weber’s team controls their own destiny in my opinion at this stage.
Prediction: West Virginia
I’m not even sure why exactly I didn’t go with Kansas here, but the potential for a Kansas-West Virginia grudge match in the championship game is intriguing to me, and if it comes down to that, I like the Mountaineers to avenge their absolutely deflating overtime loss to the Jayhawks back on February 13th by stealing the Big 12 Championship.

Big East Tournament (New York City)

First Round: March 8 (FS1)
Game 1: #9 Georgetown vs #8 St. John’s, 7:00 pm
Game 2: #10 DePaul vs #7 Xavier, 9:30 pm
Quarterfinals: March 9 (FS1)
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs #1 Villanova, 12:00 pm
Game 4: #5 Seton Hall vs #4 Marquette, 2:30 pm
Game 5: Winner Game 2 vs #2 Butler, 7:00 pm
Game 6: #6 Creighton vs #3 Providence, 9:30 pm
Semifinals: March 10 (FS1)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs Winner Game 4, 6:30 pm
Game 8: Winner Game 5 vs Winner Game 6, 9:00 pm
Championship: March 11 (FOX)
Game 9: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 5:30 pm

Favorite: Villanova
The defending National Champions have won the Big East regular season title for the fourth straight season, establishing themselves a one of the favorites to win the National Title yet again this year. The Wildcats won the Big East Tournament two years ago, but the other two years, they were knocked out by Seton Hall (quarters in 2014, finals in 2016). Avoid them and Butler, who swept Nova this season, and they have a great shot to win this tournament.
Dark Horse: Seton Hall
Speaking of Seton Hall, they have quietly put together a nice stretch to close the regular season, winning five of their last six, with the lone loss there coming against Villanova. The Pirates are the defending Big East Tournament champs, and they’ll meet Marquette in the quarterfinals in a rubber match, and with a win, they will get a chance to eliminate Villanova from the Big East Tournament for the third time in the last four seasons.
Most to Gain: Providence
Despite six wins in a row to finish the regular season, the Friars are still on the Bubble (in fact, they weren’t even on the Bubble prior to the beginning of this winning streak), and they received a draw that appears designed to improve their Tournament resume. They get likely Tournament team Creighton in the quarterfinals, and if they get past them, they’ll probably face Butler in the semis. If Providence can get to the Big East Final, they’ll get into the Tourney no problem. A loss prior to that, and they might sweat it out on Selection Sunday.
Prediction: Villanova
It won’t be easy, but it just feels like Villanova is on a mission this year despite coming off a National Championship, and I like them to enter this year’s Tournament with the momentum of a Big East Championship. They’ll get over the Seton Hall-Big East Tournament hurdle in the semis, and then they’ll finally get the best of Butler this season in the Title game.

Pac-12 Tournament (Las Vegas, NV)

First Round: March 8 (Pac-12 Network)
Game 1: #9 Stanford vs #8 Arizona State, 3 p.m.
Game 2: #12 Oregon State vs #5 California, 5:30 p.m.
Game 3: #10 Washington State vs #7 Colorado, 9 p.m.
Game 4: #11 Washington vs #6 USC, 11:30 p.m.
Quarterfinals: March 9
Game 5: Winner Game 1 vs #1 Oregon, 3:00 pm (Pac-12 Network)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #4 Utah, 5:30 pm (Pac-12 Network)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #2 Arizona, 9:00 pm (Pac-12 Network)
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs #3 UCLA, 11:30 pm (ESPN)
Semifinals: March 10
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs Winner Game 6, 9:00 pm (Pac-12 Network)
Game 10: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 11:30 pm (ESPN)
Championship: March 11 (ESPN)
Game 11: Winner Game 9 vs Winner Game 10, 11:00 pm

Favorite: UCLA
The Bruins are ranked #3 in the AP Poll for a reason. Despite not having a Tournament resume normally befitting of a highly ranked team at this point in the season, UCLA is playing it’s best basketball of the season right now, and that makes them the Pac-12 Tournament favorites in my eyes.
Dark Horse: Arizona
I know, it’s a major stretch to call a 2-seed a dark horse, but I think most people believe UCLA and Oregon are the top two teams in this conference, and Arizona is a pretty large step below those two teams. I tend to agree, but that doesn’t mean this team can’t go and win the Pac-12 Tournament. I’d love to see a UCLA-Arizona rubber match in the semis. That would be a fun game.
Most to Gain: California
Even though their opener is against lowly Oregon State, the win will still help a little bit. They have to beat Utah in the quarterfinals, and then they might even need to beat Oregon in the semifinals to earn a trip to the Tournament. That all seems unlikely, but Cal is the team in the Pac-12 with the most to gain.
Prediction: Oregon
The Ducks are the most complete team in the Pac-12, and they have the easiest path to the Championship game. A final against UCLA or Arizona will be a great game late next Saturday night, but on a neutral floor, I like Oregon to defeat either of those teams.

SEC Tournament (Nashville, TN)

First Round: March 8 (SEC Network)
Game 1: #13 LSU vs #12 Mississippi State, 7:00 pm
Game 2: #14 Missouri vs #11 Auburn, 9:30 pm
Second Round: March 9 (SEC Network)
Game 3: #9 Tennessee vs #8 Georgia, 1:00 pm
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs #5 Alabama, 3:30 pm
Game 5: #10 Texas A&M vs #7 Vanderbilt, 7:00 pm
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #6 Ole Miss, 9:30 pm
Quarterfinals: March 10 (SEC Network)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #1 Kentucky, 1:00 pm
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs #4 South Carolina, 3:30 pm
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs #2 Florida, 7:00 pm
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs #3 Arkansas, 9:30 pm
Semifinals: March 11 (ESPN)
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 1:00 pm
Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs Winner Game 10, 3:30 pm
Championship: March 12 (ESPN)
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs Winner Game 12, 1:00 pm

Favorite: Kentucky
The young Wildcats have had their ups and downs this season, but they enter the postseason having won eight games in a row, and they definitely look like a National Championship contender. I personally can’t say that for any other team in the SEC (sorry Florida), so Kentucky is my favorite here.
Dark Horse: Vanderbilt
The Commodores were my dark horse in the SEC Tournament last year, but they were upset by Tennessee in a nail-biter. They have a little more momentum this year, having won five of their last six in the regular season, including a victory over South Carolina and a second win this season over Florida. A chance to beat Florida a third time will come in the quarterfinals if they get past Texas A&M. Vandy needs a run to get into the Tournament. I think they can do it.
Most to Gain: Georgia
Easily could have put Vandy here as well, but I’ll go with the Bulldogs. They’ll face fellow Bubble team Tennessee in the second round, and if they get the win there, they’ll take on Kentucky in the quarterfinals. They gave Kentucky all they could handle this season, losing in overtime in Rupp Arena and then by just five points at home back on February 18. Georgia needs to make a deep run if they want to go to the Big Dance, and quality wins are there on that path.
Prediction: Vanderbilt
There’s usually at least a little bit of craziness among the major conferences this time of year. I’ve watched a lot of Vanderbilt over the last few weeks, and I really like what I see. I’ll make a bold prediction, saying they knock off Florida for a third time in the quarters en route to a title game victory over Kentucky to win the SEC and take things out of the Selection Committee’s hands.

On Monday night, three more auto-bids to the NCAA Tournament will be handed out in the following conference championship games:

Colonial Athletic Association Championship
#2 College of Charleston vs #1 UNC Wilmington
7:00 pm, CBS Sports Network
This game should be extremely fun, as the teams split their two regular season meetings, each winning on the other’s home floor. UNC Wilmington won the CAA last season and went to the NCAA’s as a 13-seed, giving 4-seed Duke everything they could handle in the opening game of the First Round, eventually falling 93-85. Three of the Seahawks’ four leading scorers from that game are back this season, and looking for a return trip to the Big Dance. Standing in their way are the Cougars of Charleston, who have been knocked out of the CAA Tournament by UNC Wilmington the last two seasons. The Cougars haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1999, and are seeking their 5th trip all time. On a neutral floor, this will be a true rubber match, but I think UNC Wilmington is the more talented team, and should win this game. They’ll be a dangerous 12 or 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Southern Conference Championship
#3 East Tennessee State vs #1 UNC Greensboro
7:00 pm, ESPN
UNC Greensboro is the higher seed, but East Tennessee State is the team you’ll want to pay attention to here, as they are the team more likely to bust your bracket if they make it to the Big Dance. The Buccaneers are ranked 66th on KenPom, and are a very experienced group led by seniors TJ Cromer, Wichita State-transfer Tevin Glass and Indiana-transfer Hanner Mosquera-Perea. The Bucs are looking for their first trip to the Tournament since 2010. The Spartans of UNC Greensboro have been a thorn in their side this season though. They beat ETSU in both meetings in the regular season en route to a three-way tie at the top of the league’s standings along with ETSU and Furman. UNC Greensboro is looking to return to the NCAA’s for the first time since 2001, when they were coached by current Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. I’ve discussed already how difficult it is to defeat a team three times in one season, and I think that will rear it’s head in this game. East Tennessee is the better team, and I expect them to get over the hump and defeat UNC Greensboro, stamping their ticket in the process.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Association Championship
#4 Siena vs #3 Iona
9:00 pm, ESPN2
Monmouth was the overwhelming favorite to win the MAAC and head to the Tournament. Siena was having none of that, or maybe more specifically, Siena senior Nico Clareth, who came off the bench to score 27 points on 7-9 shooting from 3-point range in the massive upset of Monmouth in the semifinals. Oh yeah, and all of that scoring came in the second half of the game. Clareth didn’t score in the first half. He only took one shot before halftime. It was an incredible performance, something that really shouldn’t be that surprising because, well, March. Clareth and the Saints will look to ride that momentum to their first trip to the NCAA’s since 2010, when Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery was at the helm. Hey, wait, I feel like I recently mentioned McCaffery… Anyway, Iona is the team that will try to keep them from making that trip, and a fair amount of the Gaels’ players knows what it takes to get there, having won the MAAC Title last season, and going on to the NCAA Tournament, falling to Iowa State 94-81. Iona is led by senior Jordan Washington, who played second-fiddle to AJ English last season, but has emerged as the go-to guy for Coach Tim Cluess this season. A win would result in the 12th trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history. The teams split the season series, each winning on the road, so this could go either way. I truly believe in momentum as a major factor this time of year, and for that reason, I expect Siena to pull off another *upset* and advance to the NCAA Tournament.

That’s it for Part One of my Conference Tournament preview, stay tuned very soon for Part Two! I hope you all enjoy a week chock full of college basketball, a nice appetizer for the real “Madness” next week!