Champ Week is here and conference tournaments are about to be in full swing. In a bit of a bracket warm up, here are my predictions for six conference tournaments. Michigan already wrapped up the Big Ten, so I am predicting the other four Power 5 conferences along with the Big East and the American (my apologies to the A-10).
These picks may fall apart by the weekend, but that’s a perfect appetizer for the Madness that lies ahead…
ACC: (Already underway, but the favorites don’t tip off until Thursday)
This conference is the deepest in the country and has three teams (Louisville, Notre Dame and Syracuse) needing to make runs in Brooklyn to either lock up a bid or give themselves a chance. Syracuse won’t have the firepower to overcome the Tar Heels, but Louisville and Notre Dame should be able to notch big quarterfinal wins over teams (UVA and Duke) who have their focus on the NCAA tournament. I don’t think North Carolina can put together a repeat national title run, but seniors Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson will carry them to a conference tournament championship, as Allerik Freeman and the underrated Wolfpack will run out of offense in the finals.
I foresee a chalk bracket in this conference. South Florida will knock off a Memphis team, where Tubby Smith has a dumpster fire on his hands, but the rest will go according to plan and give us a rubber match between the Bearcats and Shockers. Houston and Temple have the talent to derail Greg Marshall’s squad, but I think Landry Shamet and Co. take on all comers and beat Cincinnati going away to get the hype train rolling into Selection Sunday.
In this conference featuring two potential #1 seeds, I project less chalk. Providence probably needs a win to feel good on Selection Sunday and Marquette needs two wins to give themselves some hope. I think the streaky Golden Eagles put together the run they need and get past a Villanova squad looking to get healthy for the Big Dance. Butler has had an up and down season, but will thrive under the pressure of tournament basketball and put together three straight wins. Chris Mack’s Musketeers will fall short here, but will still be positioned to improve on last year’s Elite 8 run.
While Kansas has infamously just capped off their 14th straight conference title, they’ve only had six conference tournament titles in that span. I think they make it 50% for the last 14, as even with all the Jayhawks flaws they still outpace the other teams in this deep league. Texas and Baylor make the runs they need to lock up 8 bids for the conference, but Devonte’ Graham will win his second tournament MVP in three years and give the Jayhawks a trophy to go with their #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
It’s been a down year for this conference, but Arizona gives them a national title contender. The Wildcats will get their March off to a great start coming off a February filled with controversy. Making the week that much sweeter in Tucson will be watching Arizona State’s downward spiral continue, as the Sun Devils may see their once promising season end in a Selection Sunday sweat. Oregon needs to win the tournament to get to the Dance, but they won’t have enough to out duel DeAndre Ayton and the rest of Sean Miller’s talent-laden team. USC and UCLA are two teams with NCAA tournament potential, but I don’t know if they can put it together in Vegas.
The SEC has been one of the more exciting and surprising conferences all year and should be rewarded with 8, maybe even 9 NCAA Tournament bids. Yet, in an ironic twist, the conference tournament will end with a Kentucky-Florida duel between the two most predictably successful teams. Alabama is the most intriguing team here as they have lost five games in a row and need to stop the bleeding to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday. I think they get by the Aggies and stun their rival Auburn to make the committee’s decision easy. Another thing to watch will be Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. Will the potential lottery pick see the court? And can he flash his NBA star potential? The SEC has several fun, new things to watch, but it will end with another Kentucky-Florida battle and the Gators move to 3-0 against the Wildcats this season.