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.

belmont
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!

etsu
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 TriCitiesSports.com)

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).

96teambracket
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 AllKyHoops.com)

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!

Conference Championship Preview: March 12

If today is going to be anything like yesterday was, you had better get your popcorn ready. UConn and Cincinnati played an absolute classic, with the Huskies coming out on top in four overtimes after freshman Jalen Adams sunk a 60+ footer at the 3OT buzzer, 0.7 seconds after Cincinnati hit a three to take the lead. Oregon nearly handed Arizona a game when Arizona’s Mark Tollefson stole Chris Boucher’s inbound pass with 0.4 seconds left and his team down a point. He only made one free throw, and the Ducks survived in OT. Up one with 1.8 seconds left against Oklahoma, West Virginia’s Jonathan Holton went to the free throw line. He missed the first, and with the Sooners out of timeouts, conventional wisdom would be to miss the second on purpose (hint: nothing about yesterday was conventional). He would make the second free throw, and then Buddy Hield launched a one-hander from half court that banked in off the backboard, seemingly giving Oklahoma an improbable victory. But on video review, Hield was a split-second late releasing the shot, and West Virginia will head to the Big 12 Championship Game.

Yesterday was the perfect example of what March Madness is all about, and I can only hope that we get close to that again today. Here is a quick preview and prediction for all of today’s conference championship games!

America East Championship
#3 Vermont vs #1 Stony Brook
11:00 am, ESPN2
This is Stony Brook’s to lose. Their bugaboo in the America East Tournament the last few years was Albany, but they went down in the quarterfinals this year. Stony Brook must have been happy to see that. Superstar forward Jameel Warney is looking to end his incredible career with his first trip to the NCAA Tournament. These teams split their regular season meetings, with the Catamounts shocking Stony Brook on the road 76-62 in their regular season finale.
Prediction: Stony Brook

MEAC Championship
#3 South Carolina State vs #1 Hampton
1:00 pm, ESPN2
Hampton was the favorite to win this conference tourney coming in, and nothing has changed now. South Carolina State upset 2-seed Norfolk State 66-65 in the semifinals, while Hampton blew out 5-seed Savannah State. The Pirates are looking to advance to the NCAA’s for the second consecutive season, and to do so, they’ll need to avenge their 67-62 home loss to SC State during the regular season.
Prediction: Hampton

C-USA Championship
#5 Old Dominion vs #2 Middle Tennessee
2:30 pm, FOX Sports 1
UAB was the heavy favorite to secure C-USA’s auto-bid, but the Blazers were upset in the quarterfinals by Western Kentucky, who fell yesterday to Old Dominion. The Monarchs will look to win their fourth game in as many days, but they’ll have to contend with a tough defensive team in Middle Tennessee, who advanced to the championship following a 99-90 win over 3-seed Marshall. Old Dominion plays one of the slowest games of any team in the country, and they’ll have to keep the Blue Raiders out of transition if they’re going to win this one.
Prediction: Old Dominion

Big East Championship
#3 Seton Hall vs #1 Villanova
5:30 pm, FOX
Everyone knows that Villanova is one of the best teams in the country this year, but the questions about their postseasons struggles continue, no matter how well they play. Many were looking forward to the rubber match between the Wildcats and Xavier, but Seton Hall decided to spoil that party with a win over the Musketeers in the semis. Villanova swept the season series from the Pirates, but they only defeated them by a point in their last meeting, all the way back on January 20.
Prediction: Villanova

Big 12 Championship
#2 West Virginia vs #1 Kansas
6:oo pm, ESPN
It was a wild finish in Kansas City last night between Oklahoma and West Virginia, with the Mountaineers coming out on top by the skin of their teeth. Their reward? A match-up with the consensus top team in the country, the Kansas Jayhawks, who currently sport a 13-game winning streak. That streak includes a 10-point home victory over West Virginia, which avenged a 74-63 loss in Morgantown earlier in the year. This will probably be a fun, extremely fast-paced conclusion to the trilogy.
Prediction: Kansas

Mountain West Championship
#2 Fresno State vs #1 San Diego State
6:00 pm, CBS
Shocker, Steve Fisher has another good team at SDSU. Fisher is getting up there in age, but he definitely hasn’t lost his feel for the game yet. This year’s Aztec team will lock you down defensively, as they have given up 70 points or more just five times all year (Utah, West Virginia, Long Beach State, Kansas, New Mexico). A team that has given them trouble though is Fresno State. The teams split the season series, with SDSU winning by six in overtime and the Bulldogs winning the rematch by a point. This will be an exciting rubber match.
Prediction: San Diego State

SWAC Championship
#4 Southern vs #3 Jackson State
6:30 pm, ESPNU
A battle-tested Texas Southern team, the SWAC regular season champs, were expected to be here, but Southern was able to knock them off in the semifinals 81-73. The Jaguars are looking to return to the Tournament for the first time since 2013, when they nearly pulled off the impossible as a 16-seed, losing to 1-seed Gonzaga by just six points. Jackson State was the beneficiary of a loss by 2-seed Alcorn State in the quarterfinals, and thus have had a fairly easy road to get to this title game.
Prediction: Southern

MAC Championship
#3 Buffalo vs #1 Akron
7:30 pm, ESPN2
Akron, the regular season champs, barely survived in the quarterfinals against 8-seed Eastern Michigan, and were rewarded with a semifinal against Cinderella hopeful, 12-seed Bowling Green, who they easily dispatched. Buffalo had a tougher opponent in 2-seed Ohio, but defeated them fairly easily, 88-74. Akron is one of the better offensive teams in the country, and they can stroke it from three-point range. They live and die from behind the arc, and they lived in two regular season victories over Buffalo.
Prediction: Akron

Big Sky Championship
#2 Montana vs #1 Weber State
8:45 pm, ESPNU
The top two seeds in this conference will do battle for the title, and both got to this point a little differently. Weber State survived tough tests from 8-seed Portland State and 5-seed North Dakota to get here, while Montana fairly easily breezed past 10-seed Sacramento State and 3-seed Idaho. Weber State took the only regular season meeting between these two teams by six at home, so the Grizzlies will be out for revenge. Weber State is looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, while Montana hasn’t been there since 2013.
Prediction: Montana

ACC Championship
#2 Virginia vs #1 North Carolina
9:00 pm, ESPN
It is refreshing and exciting to see the top two teams in a major conference like the ACC make it to the championship game. These two teams are both contending for a 1-seed in the Big Dance, and an ACC Tournament title would probably go a long way to achieving that goal. North Carolina drubbed Notre Dame in the semis, while Virginia was able to outlast a game Miami team. The Cavaliers and Tar Heels only met once during the regular season, with Virginia getting the 79-74 home victory on February 27. This will be a great rematch.
Prediction: Virginia

Southland Championship
#2 Texas A&M-CC vs #1 Stephen F. Austin
9:30 pm, ESPN2
Stephen F. Austin has had a couple good seasons thanks to the talent and leadership of star guard Thomas Walkup. After a blowout victory in the semifinals over Houston Baptist, the Lumberjacks are now 19-0 in conference play this season. Looking to ruin that perfect mark and represent the Southland in the NCAA’s is Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, who squeaked past Sam Houston State last night in the semis. These teams played twice in the regular season, with Stephen F. Austin obviously winning both, and a third victory seems highly likely.
Prediction: Stephen F. Austin

Pac 12 Championship
#2 Utah vs #1 Oregon
10:00 pm, FOX Sports 1
Neither of these teams got here very easily, but they’re here, and looking for a conference tourney title. Oregon nearly handed their semifinal game to Arizona (literally), but were able to survive in overtime. Meanwhile, Utah’s Lorenzo Bonam had to go coast-to-coast for a layup with 4.3 seconds left just to force overtime against California. The Utes would go on to outlast the Bears in the overtime period and advance. These are the two best teams the Pac 12 has to offer. Oregon swept the season series in rather impressive fashion, so you know the Utes will be out for blood.
Prediction: Utah

WAC Championship
#2 Cal State Bakersfield vs #1 New Mexico State
11:00 pm, ESPNU
For all of the “madness” that we saw during the first portion of Championship Week, many of the conference tourneys here near the end of Championship Week have been mostly void of the “madness.” This is one example, as we see 1-seed NMSU take on 2-seed CSU Bakersfield. According to KenPom, these are two of the most efficient defensive teams in the nation, so this could be a low scoring affair. The Aggies took both regular season meetings, and are led by star guard Pascal Siakam. Know that name, he could bust your bracket next week.
Prediction: New Mexico State

Big West Championship
#3 Long Beach State vs #1 Hawaii
11:30 pm, ESPN2
The last team that Hawaii wanted to see here was Long Beach State, but here we are. The 49ers took both regular season match-ups between these two teams, bothering the Rainbow Warriors with their speed. The other thing with Long Beach State is that they are not afraid of anybody. They traditionally play a brutal out of conference schedule, and this year was no different, as they faced off with the likes of BYU, Seton Hall, Virginia, Oklahoma State (twice), San Diego State, New Mexico State, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona and Duke. This team is ready for the NCAA Tournament, if they can get past Hawaii.
Prediction: Long Beach State

There is plenty of semifinal action tomorrow as well, with these conferences holding their championship games on Selection Sunday.

American Semifinals
#5 UConn vs #1 Temple, 3:00 pm ESPN2
#10 Tulane vs #6 Memphis, 5:00 pm ESPN2

Big Ten Semifinals
#8 Michigan vs #4 Purdue, 1:0o pm CBS
#3 Maryland vs #2 Michigan State, 3:30 pm CBS

SEC Semifinals
#4 LSU vs #1 Texas A&M, 1:oo pm ESPN
#6 Georgia vs #2 Kentucky, 3:00 pm ESPN

Atlantic 10 Semifinals
#4 St. Joseph’s vs #1 Dayton, 1:30 pm CBS Sports Network
#6 Davidson vs #2 VCU, 4:00 pm CBS Sports Network

Sun Belt Semifinals
#4 UL Lafayette vs #1 Arkansas-Little Rock, 2:00 pm
#3 UT Arlington vs #2 UL Monroe, 4:30 pm

Have a great day watching a lot of fantastic action! It’s March, does it get any better than this? I say it does not!

 

 

Conference Tourney Preview: March 8

Three more tickets were punched last night, with UNC Wilmington (CAA), Iona (MAAC) and Chattanooga (SoCon) earning bids to the NCAA Tournament by winning their conference tournaments. Four more teams will earn an invitation to the Big Dance tonight as these conference championship games will take place:

NEC Championship: #2 Fairleigh Dickinson vs #1 Wagner
Horizon League Championship: #4 Green Bay vs #3 Wright State
Summit League Championship: #5 North Dakota State vs #2 South Dakota State
WCC Championship: #2 Gonzaga vs #1 Saint Mary’s

Since our last conference tourney preview post, two more major conferences have their fields set, so today we’ll be previewing those tourneys, as well as the rest of the smaller conference tourneys kicking off this week.

American Tournament (Orlando, FL)
Opening Round: March 10
Game 1: No. 9 USF vs. No. 8 East Carolina, 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 2: No. 10 Tulane vs. No. 7 UCF, 6 p.m. (ESPNEWS)
Quarterfinals: March 11
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs. No. 1 Temple, 12 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 4: No. 5 Connecticut vs. No. 4 Cincinnati, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 5: Winner Game 2 vs. No. 2 Houston, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 6: No. 6 Memphis vs. No. 3 Tulsa, 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Semifinals: March 12 (ESPN2)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 3 p.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 5:30 p.m.
Championship: March 13 (ESPN)
Game 9: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 3:15 p.m.

Favorite: Temple
It’s really hard to pick a favorite in the American, as I could see any of the top five seeds here winning the tournament, but I’ll go with Temple based off of their 14-4 conference record, which includes at least one win over every other team in the conference, including SMU, who is ineligible for the postseason and therefore will not participate.
Dark Horse: Tulsa
The top five teams in the AAC are incredibly close as far as talent goes, but I think the one team with a shot to win this thing that is kind of laying in the weeds is Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane boast one of the more experienced groups in the country, and are looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season.
Most to Gain: UConn/Cincinnati
These teams will face each other in the quarterfinals, and they are in the same boat as it currently sits. Many experts believe this is an elimination game, and whoever wins it should also get a chance to knock off the regular season champs. I believe the team that wins this game will get in, and the loser will be left out.
Prediction: Tulsa
They’re the dark horse, but I think they have the easiest path to the title game of the top seeds, and if they can get there, I think they’ll be motivated enough to get the job done and reach the Big Dance.

Big Ten Tournament (Indianapolis, IN)
First Round: March 9
Game 1: No. 13 Minnesota vs. No. 12 Illinois, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 2: No. 14 Rutgers vs. No. 11 Nebraska, 7 p.m. (BTN)
Second Round: March 10
Game 3: No. 9 Northwestern vs. No. 8 Michigan, 12 p.m. (BTN)
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. No. 5 Iowa, 2:30 p.m. (BTN)
Game 5: No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 7 Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs. No. 6 Wisconsin, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Quarterfinals: March 11
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. No. 1 Indiana, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs. No. 4 Purdue, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. No. 2 Michigan State, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs. No. 3 Maryland, 9 p.m. (BTN)
Semifinals: March 12 (CBS)
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 1 p.m.
Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 10, 3:30 p.m.
Championship: March 13 (CBS)
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs. Winner Game 12, 3:30 p.m.

Favorite: Michigan State
Indiana has been red hot, and there’s a reason they won the regular season title outright, but at this moment in time, there might not be a team in the nation playing better than the Spartans. Maybe Kansas, but that’s it. Tom Izzo’s bunch looks to be peaking at the right time, and I’ll be shocked if they don’t make it to the Final Four this year.
Dark Horse: Iowa
If you’ve watched this team play as of late, you’d think I’m crazy, but that’s exactly what makes them a dark horse. This team beat Michigan State twice this season. Think about that. Yes, they have not looked very good down the stretch, but if they can flip the switch and get back to their midseason selves, they could easily win this tournament.
Most to Gain: Michigan
You could put this team in the most to lose category as well, but they should get past Northwestern, and that would give them a chance for the marquee win that they desperately need against Indiana in the quarterfinals. Two wins in this tournament and Michigan will reach the NCAA’s. Less than that, and they’re probably headed to the NIT.
Prediction: Michigan State
Denzel Valentine guaranteed a national championship. That will put some pressure on the Spartans, but I think they are clearly the best team in this conference, and thus will be able to win the Big Ten Tournament, getting a 1-seed in the NCAA’s in the process.

Big Sky Tournament
March 8, 10-12
Reno, Nevada
Championship: Sat 3/12, 8:45 pm ESPNU
Weber State and Montana, the 1 and 2-seeds in the Big Sky respectively, jockeyed for the regular season conference crown all year, and they now have to be considered the favorites to reach the Big Sky final and battle for the league’s bid to the NCAA Tournament. They only played once during the regular season, with Weber State winning on their home floor 60-54. Weber State is the best defensive team in the conference, while Montana is one of the best offensive teams in the conference, so if they meet again in the final, it will be a strength versus strength battle. If anybody is to spoil the party, it would probably be Idaho, who defeated both Weber State and Montana this year, or Eastern Washington, last year’s conference champion, and the team with the conference’s most efficient offense according to KenPom.

Big West Tournament
March 10-12
Anaheim, California
Championship: Sat 3/12, 11:30 pm ESPN2
While anything is possible in March, I am very comfortable saying that one of three teams will win this conference tournament. 1-seed Hawaii, 2-seed UC Irvine and 3-seed Long Beach State are head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. 4-seed UC Santa Barbera could join that group, but I don’t see it. Hawaii has been the most consistent team all season long, and they took Oklahoma down to the wire early on this year. Two of their three losses in conference play were at the hands of Long Beach State though, and the 49ers played a tough out of conference schedule, so they’re battle tested. But two of their conference losses were to UC Irvine, who is looking to return the NCAA Tournament after nearly knocking off Louisville in the Round of 64 last year.

Conference USA Tournament
March 8-12
Birmingham, Alabama
Championship: Sat 3/12, 2:30 pm FOX Sports 1
This tournament is UAB’s to lose. Not only is the tournament being played in their home city, but they finished the regular season three games clear of second place Middle Tennessee, making them without question the best the C-USA has to offer. They are an extremely balanced team, ranking 3rd in the conference in offensive efficiency and 2nd in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. It will be a massive upset if anybody is able to keep UAB from heading to the NCAA Tournament, where they’ll look to pick up a huge victory for a second straight season.

MAC Tournament
March 7, 10-12
Cleveland, Ohio
Championship: Sat 3/12, 7:30 pm ESPN2
This tournament kicked off yesterday with two major upsets, as 12-seed Bowling Green and 11-seed Miami (OH) defeated 5-seed Kent State and 6-seed Ball State respectively, advancing to the quarterfinals, which take place on Thursday. This is another conference tourney with a clear favorite, as it will be a complete shock if anybody but Akron is able to win the MAC. The Zips went 24-7 overall this season, and won the MAC regular season title by two games over Ohio. They will look to get back to the Tournament for the first time since 2013.

MEAC Tournament
March 7-12
Norfolk, Virginia
Championship: Sat 3/12, 1:00 pm ESPN2
Another tournament that kicked off yesterday with a big upset was the MEAC Tournament, which saw 11-seed Coppin State upset 6-seed NC A&T in double overtime to advance to the quarterfinals. The favorite to win the MEAC this year is the Hampton Pirates, who are looking to head to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season. The Pirates shockingly won the MEAC, and then upset Manhattan in a First Four game before losing to Kentucky. They are led by seniors Quinton Chievous and Reginald Johnson, who will look to lead their team back to the Big Dance. Standing in their way could be the Norfolk State Spartans, who are the highest ranked team in the conference according to KenPom and are looking to return to the Tournament for the first time since 2012, when they upset 2-seed Missouri in the Round of 64.

Mountain West Tournament
March 9-12
Las Vegas, Nevada
Championship: Sat 3/12, 6:00 pm CBS
Bubble teams and their fans will be keeping a watchful eye on this tournament, as 1-seed and odds-on favorite San Diego State is a bid-stealer if they are to go down in the MW Tournament. The Aztecs went 16-2 in conference play this year, as Steve Fisher continues to churn out really good teams. This San Diego State team isn’t as good as some in the recent past, but they rank 2nd in the nation in defensive efficiency according to KenPom, and they will be a trendy pick to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA’s, if they get there of course. 2-seed Fresno State is likely the biggest roadblock for the Aztecs, as the Bulldogs were one of the two teams to defeat SDSU in conference play this season.

Southland Tournament
March 9-12
Katy, Texas
Championship: Sat 3/12, 9:30 pm ESPN2
Of all the teams playing in conference tournaments, no team will be favored to win more than Stephen F. Austin in the Southland. The Lumberjacks were the only team in Division I this year to go undefeated in conference play, as they went 18-0 in Southland competition. The Lumberjacks are ranked as the 40th best team in the country by KenPom, and are led by senior Thomas Walkup, who will look to end his outstanding college career by advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the third time. They get it done on both ends of the floor, but mainly on the defensive end, as they lead the nation in turnover percentage. The definition of “March Madness” would be if Stephen F. Austin loses a game in the Southland Tournament.

SWAC Tournament
March 8-12
Houston, Texas
Championship: Sat 3/12, 6:30 pm ESPNU
Texas Southern, the 1-seed in the SWAC, is expected to cruise to the tournament championship and head back to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. Part of the reason for it is that coach Mike Davis, formerly the head coach at Indiana, tests his squad in the non-conference every year, and they are better prepared for the postseason because of it. They went just 1-11 in non-conference play this year, but they played teams like Creighton, Clemson, Mississippi State, Stephen F. Austin, Iona, Syracuse and Baylor. This team is battle-tested, and should win the SWAC fairly easily.

Sun Belt Tournament
March 10-13
New Orleans, Louisiana
Championship: Sun 2/13, 1:00 pm ESPN2
Last season, Georgia State was the favorite to win the Sun Belt, and they did. The Panthers then went on to the NCAA Tournament as a 14-seed and upset 3-seed Baylor in the Round of 64. The conference would love for a repeat of that, but this year, instead of Georgia State, it’s Arkansas-Little Rock that could do some damage here in March. The Trojans went 27-4 this season with wins over San Diego State and Tulsa, and they are going to be a trendy upset pick on many brackets if they are able to secure a bid to the Tournament. Louisiana Monroe, who defeated UALR once this year, is probably the biggest thing standing in the way of the Trojans and making their dream a reality.

WAC Tournament
March 10-12
Las Vegas, Nevada
Championship: Sat 3/12, 11:00 pm ESPNU
With Grand Canyon ineligible for the postseason as they transition toward Division I membership, this will be a two horse race between regular season champion New Mexico State and 2-seed Cal State Bakersfield. New Mexico State is led by star sophomore Pascal Siakam, who was unanimously voted WAC Player of the Year. The Aggies are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the 5th consecutive season. New Mexico State beat CS Bakersfield in both meetings this season, but one of those was in double overtime. A potential third match-up in the WAC final is expected, and should be exciting.

That does it for Bracketball’s preview of the rest of Championship Week. Just five more days until we find out the field for the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament. We’re going to see four winners from tonight on Selection Sunday, and I predict that it’ll be Wagner, Green Bay, South Dakota State and Gonzaga (So put your money on the teams they’re playing).

Conference Tourney Preview: March 6

After the final Saturday of the 2016 regular season, we now have the seedings set for most major conference tournaments. The American and the Big Ten still have some games today, so those tourneys won’t be set until tomorrow, but for today’s post, I’ll be giving you a preview of all the other major conference tournaments, including the favorites, the dark horses, the teams that can gain the most, and my prediction for who will win these conferences and get automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. Make sure to check the blog on Tuesday to view previews for the American and the Big Ten Tournaments, as well as short previews for all of the mid-major tournaments kicking off this week.

 

ACC Tournament (Washington, D.C.)
First Round: March 8 (ESPN2)
Game 1: No. 13 Wake Forest vs. No. 12 NC State, 12 p.m.
Game 2: No. 14 Boston College vs. No. 11 Florida State, 2:30 p.m.
Second Round: March 9
Game 3: No. 9 Syracuse vs. No. 8 Pittsburgh, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. No. 5 Duke, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 5: No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. No. 7 Clemson, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs. No. 6 Virginia Tech, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Quarterfinals: March 10 (ESPN)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. No. 1 North Carolina, 12 p.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs. No. 4 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m.
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. No. 2 Virginia, 7 p.m.
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs. No. 3 Miami, 9:30 p.m.
Semifinals: March 11 (ESPN Networks)
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 7 p.m.
Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 10, 9:30 p.m.
Championship: March 12 (ESPN)
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs. Winner Game 12, 9 p.m.

Favorite: North Carolina
There are a lot of good teams in the ACC this season, but you have to look at the Tar Heels as the favorite here, entering the postseason coming off a huge win over rival Duke at Cameron Indoor. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson will look to close out their careers as undisputed ACC Champions.
Dark Horse: Miami
It might be a stretch to call the 3-seed in this tournament a dark horse, but I don’t think anybody is considering Miami a threat to win this thing. They should be though. A potential semifinal with Virginia would be an exciting game, and we know that the Hurricanes can be Virginia, they just did a couple weeks ago.
Most to Gain: Florida State
The Seminoles are on the wrong side of the Bubble as it stands today, but with a lengthy run in this tournament, they could get some attention from the committee. Wins over Boston College and Virginia Tech could get them to a quarterfinal against Miami, where a win is certainly not out of the question. They’d be playing with momentum at that point, and I could see FSU having an outside shot to get to the final if they can get it together.
Prediction: Virginia
The Cavaliers are balanced, they’re experienced, and they’re playing like one of the best teams in the nation right now. They are on a quest for a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and I think they’ll get it after winning the ACC Tournament.

 

Atlantic 10 Tournament (Brooklyn, NY)
First Round: March 9
Game 1: No. 13 Saint Louis vs. No. 12 George Mason, 6:30 p.m.
Game 2: No. 14 La Salle vs. No. 11 Duquesne,  9 p.m.
Second Round: March 10 (NBC Sports Network)
Game 3: No. 9 Richmond vs. No. 8 Fordham, 12 p.m.
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. No. 5 George Washington, 2:30 p.m.
Game 5: No. 10 UMass vs. No. 7 Rhode Island, 6:30 p.m.
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs. No. 6 Davidson, 9 p.m.
Quarterfinals: March 11 (NBC Sports Network)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. No. 1 Dayton, 12 p.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs. No. 4 Saint Joseph’s, 2:30 p.m.
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. No. 2 VCU, 6:30 p.m.
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs. No. 3 St. Bonaventure, 9 p.m.
Semifinals: March 12 (CBS Sports Network)
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 1:30 p.m.
Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 10, approx. 4 p.m.
Championship: March 13 (CBS)
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs. Winner Game 12, 12:30 p.m.

Favorite: Dayton
You could make a really good case for any of the top four teams in this conference as the favorite, but I’ll go with Dayton, who defeated VCU yesterday to earn a share of the conference regular season title and the 1-seed in this tourney. They have had some struggles down the stretch, but they’ve been the most consistent team in the conference, and they are the only team in the A-10 that is a lock to make the NCAA’s.
Dark Horse: Rhode Island
Watch out for the Rams. Prior to the season, they had hopes of making the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t performed at that level at all this season. That being said, a potential quarterfinal match-up with VCU is very winnable, as is a potential semifinal against Davidson or St. Bonaventure. Rhode Island needs to win the A-10 to make the Big Dance, but I could definitely see it happening.
Most to Gain: St. Joseph’s
The Hawks were looking like a good bet to make the Tournament, but then they lost at home on Senior Day to Duquesne, the 11-seed in the A-10. That was not a good way to enter the postseason, but the Hawks should get a couple opportunities for good wins here. A potential quarterfinal against a solid George Washington team could be followed by a semifinal against Dayton. I think St. Joe’s is in right now, but you can put a stamp on it if they can get to the A-10 title game.
Prediction: St. Joseph’s
I’m taking a little shot in the dark here, but I think the home loss to Duquesne to end the season might have been a blessing in disguise. I think Phil Martelli will have his team thinking they need to win the conference to make the Tournament, and they are definitely good enough to get it done.

 

Big 12 Tournament (Kansas City, MO)
Opening Round: March 9 (ESPNU)
Game 1: No. 9 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Kansas State, 7 p.m.
Game 2: No. 10 TCU vs. No. 7 Texas Tech, 9:30 p.m.
Quarterfinals: March 10
Game 3: No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 4 Texas, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. No. 1 Kansas, 3 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 5: Winner Game 2 vs. No. 2 West Virginia, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 6: No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 3 Oklahoma, 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Semifinals: March 11 (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7 p.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 9:30 p.m.
Championship: March 12 (ESPN)
Game 9: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 6 p.m.

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.
Dark Horse: Iowa State
Speaking of beating Kansas, Iowa State just nearly pulled off a massive upset on the road against Kansas, but the Jayhawks went on a late run to get the win. Iowa State is the 6-seed in this conference, but they’re a really good team. Nobody will be surprised if the Cyclones make a run to a conference title.
Most to Gain: Texas Tech
I know the extra game is against TCU, but the more wins the better for a Bubble team like Texas Tech. A potential quarterfinal against West Virginia would be a huge opportunity for the Red Raiders to add one more finishing touch to their Tournament resume.
Prediction: Texas
Call this a hunch, but I just think Texas is an underrated team, and they are more than capable of putting together a run to a conference title. I think they’ll avenge a bad loss to Baylor in the quarters, and then stun Kansas in the semis. They’ll use that momentum to get a win in the conference title game. Shaka Smart has done an incredible job in his first year at Texas, and this would be part of the icing on the cake (Texas will now lose it’s first game to Baylor. You can mark it down).

 

Big East Tournament (New York City)
Opening Round: March 9 (FS1)
Game 1: No. 9 DePaul vs. No. 8 Georgetown, 7 p.m.
Game 2: No. 10 St. John’s vs. No. 7 Marquette , 9:30 p.m.
Quarterfinals: March 10 (FS1)
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs. No. 1 Villanova, 12 p.m.
Game 4: No. 5 Butler vs. No. 4 Providence, 2:30 p.m.
Game 5: Winner Game 2 vs. No. 2 Xavier, 7 p.m.
Game 6: No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 3 Seton Hall, 9:30 p.m.
Semifinals: March 11 (FS1)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 6:30 p.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 9 p.m.
Championship: March 12 (FOX)
Game 9: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 5:30 p.m.

Favorite: Villanova
Jay Wright has another spectacular team, and they’ll look to couple their Big East regular season title with a tournament championship. This is one of the best teams in the country, but the recent postseason struggles still loom large. They’ll have to overcome that, and they have the team this year to do it.
Dark Horse: Providence
The Friars have two of the most talented players in the conference in Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but they were very inconsistent during conference play. That being said, they did beat Villanova once this year, and a possible semifinal rubber match is very intriguing. They won the Big East Tournament two years ago, and would love to do it again.
Most to Gain: Creighton
This team was looking like a possible at-large team before closing the regular season by losing four of their last five games. But they have a draw that could help them work their way back into the conversation, with a quarterfinal game against Seton Hall and a potential semifinal against Xavier, two teams that the Bluejays have beaten this season.
Prediction: Villanova
It’s certainly not going to be easy, but I think Villanova is underrated due to their postseason struggles. This is one of the more balanced teams in the country. They can shoot the lights out and lock you down defensively. I don’t know how they’ll do in the NCAA’s, but I like them to win the Big East Tournament.

 

Pac-12 Tournament (Las Vegas, NV)
Opening Round: March 9 (Pac-12 Network)
Game 1: No. 9 Stanford vs. No. 8 Washington, 3 p.m.
Game 2: No. 12 Washington State vs. No. 5 Colorado, 5:30 p.m.
Game 3: No. 10 UCLA vs. No. 7 USC, 9 p.m.
Game 4: No. 11 Arizona State vs. No. 6 Oregon State, 11:30 p.m.
Quarterfinals: March 10
Game 5: Winner Game 1 vs. No. 1 Oregon, 3 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs. No. 4 Arizona, 5:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. No. 2 Utah, 9 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs. No. 3 California, 11:30 p.m. (FS1)
Semifinals: March 11
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 9 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Game 10: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 11:30 p.m. (FS1)
Championship: March 12 (FS1)
Game 11: Winner Game 9 vs. Winner Game 10, 10 p.m.

Favorite: Utah
Yes, Oregon is the 1-seed and they won the regular season title outright, but if you look at how these teams are playing right now, Utah has to be considered the favorite to win this conference tournament. Jakob Poeltl has been an absolute force, and he could easily put the team on his back and win this tourney.
Dark Horse: Washington
This is a very, very dark horse, but the Huskies had a great start to the season, but struggled a good amount down the stretch. But you look at the start they had to this season, and you see a team that could compete for a conference title. If they can find that success here again in the postseason, you could see Washington make an unlikely run to the conference title game.
Most to Gain: Colorado
Many experts think Colorado is safely in, but I think they could still be on the Bubble. A loss to Washington State would be brutal, but if they win that one, they get another match-up with Arizona, whom they just beat a little over a week ago. A win there and they’d play Oregon in the semis. The draw is set up for Colorado to really improve their tourney stock.
Prediction: Arizona
Despite recent losses to Colorado and Utah, this Arizona team is probably playing better now than that have at any other point this season. They are healthy, and they are really talented. I could see eight different teams having a legit shot to win this thing, but I like Arizona.

 

SEC Tournament (Nashville, TN)
First Round: March 9 (SEC Network)
Game 1: No. 13 Auburn vs. No. 12 Tennessee, 8 p.m.
Second Round: March 10 (SEC Network)
Game 2: No. 9 Arkansas vs. No. 8 Florida, 1 p.m.
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs. No. 5 Vanderbilt, 3:30 p.m.
Game 4: No. 10 Alabama vs. No. 7 Ole Miss, 7 p.m.
Game 5: No. 11 Mississippi State vs. No. 6 Georgia, 9:30 p.m.
Quarterfinals: March 11 (SEC Network)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs. No. 1 Texas A&M, 1 p.m.
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. No. 4 LSU, 3:30 p.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs. No. 2 Kentucky, 7 p.m.
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. No. 3 South Carolina, 9:30 p.m.
Semifinals: March 12 (ESPN)
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 7, 1 p.m.
Game 11: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 9, 3:30 p.m.
Championship: March 13 (ESPN)
Game 12: Winner Game 10 vs. Winner Game 11, 1 p.m.

Favorite: Kentucky
For the first half of the season, Kentucky looked like a team that had a lot of talent, but little-to-no chemistry. Most people weren’t sure if this team was for real. But in the second half of the season, they’ve figured out the chemistry thing, and they now look like a team that can compete for a National Title.
Dark Horse: Vanderbilt
Not sure if they’re exactly a dark horse given the way they’ve played down the stretch, but this team struggled for much of this season, and it’s a minor miracle that they’re even being considered for the NCAA Tournament field. Led by NBA prospect Wade Baldwin IV, this team is definitely good enough to win the SEC Tournament, something they haven’t done since 2012.
Most to Gain: Florida
The Gators need all the help they can get if they’re going to make it to the Big Dance. They have a very winnable second round match-up with Arkansas, and if they win that, they’ll face 1-seed Texas A&M, which would be a huge opportunity. That’s a win that could get them in the NCAA Tournament, but with a win there, they’d have a really good shot at getting to the title game.
Prediction: Kentucky
The way the SEC standings ended up gave Kentucky a really good draw in this tournament. Their biggest roadblocks (Vanderbilt, LSU, Texas A&M) are all on the opposite side of the bracket. I expect them to breeze to the championship game, where I think they’ll just be too much.

Be sure to come back to the page tomorrow for my latest edition of Bracketology, which will include the first five automatic bids earned this postseason!