Conference Tournament Championship Week: Breakdown and Preview of the Top Conferences

By Jason Lisk
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Championship Week is here. Here is a breakdown of what to look for this week in college basketball action.

ACC TOURNAMENT (March 12-16 in Charlotte)

The Favorite: #1 Seed Virginia (full Ken Pom odds). Virginia comes into this tournament at 28-2 and their only Kryptonite, Duke with Zion Williamson, is on the other side of the bracket and unless Zion plays at full strength is not getting back to them over the course of three days.

The Darkhorse: Status of Zion Williamson’s knee. Look, I could pick another team to win it, but this tournament is about what happens with Zion. If he doesn’t play, then the bracket looks completely different. Syracuse has a chance to make a run as the #6 seed. North Carolina’s odds of winning improve dramatically.

Key Bubble Game: #8 NC State vs. #9 Clemson, Wednesday at 12 p.m. ET. This one is massive. Both teams project as among the best 45 teams on balance, but have a lack of big wins. NC State is 3-8 against teams I currently have in the field (including a win over Clemson at home). Clemson is 2-10 by the same measure, thanks to the season-ending win over Syracuse. Winner adds a quality win, while the loser could suffer the same fate as Louisville a year ago.

AMERICAN CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT (March 14-17 in Memphis)

The Favorite: #1 Seed Houston (full Ken Pom odds). Houston ran through the American with only two losses, and are poised to potentially get a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they win out.



The Darkhorse: #5 Memphis. They get to play this tournament at home, giving them a fighting chance to pull the upset of UCF in the quarterfinals. They have no chance at an at-large but could use the Memphis venue to make a run in Penny Hardaway’s first season.

Key Bubble Game: #3 Temple vs. Wichita State/East Carolina, Friday at 8 p.m. ET. Temple could use this one to solidify a bid

BIG 12 TOURNAMENT (March 13-16 in Kansas City)

The Favorite: #2 Seed Texas Tech (full Ken Pom odds). The Red Raiders come into the Big 12 Tournament on a roll. They won their last nine games by an average of 19 points to get a share of the title with Kansas State.

The Darkhorse: #5 Seed Iowa State. I don’t really fancy any of the teams below the three top favorites (Kansas State and Kansas, along with Tech). And Iowa State closed the season with three straight losses. But if I were going to give any a chance to win it, it would be the Cyclones and their large fan base contingent coming down to Kansas City, and the offense clicking again.

Key Bubble Game: #8 TCU vs. #9 Oklahoma State, Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. ET; #3 Kansas vs. #6 Texas, Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. TCU got the big win at Texas but is still not safe, and a loss to OSU could sink them. Texas is 16-15 and cannot go into the tournament at 16-16 as an at-large.

BIG EAST TOURNAMENT (March 13-16 in New York City)

The Favorite: #1 Seed Villanova (??) (full Ken Pom odds). I’m not sure there is a favorite, but I guess Villanova to also win the tournament is the best guess. They lost 5 of the last 8 and still got the top seed, because Marquette lost their last four games.

The Darkhorse: A team not in the NCAA Tournament projected field winning it. If we include Creighton, who is right on the bubble but probably needs to do work, there is a 29.8% chance that a team that would not make the NCAA Tournament right now wins the Big East tourney. That’s higher than the individual chances of either Villanova or Marquette. It’s a league where eight of the ten members went between 9-9 and 7-11 in conference play, so expect chaos. The winner of the Xavier/Creighton game has a decent chance of going on to the title.

Key Bubble Game: #7 St. John’s vs. #10 DePaul, Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET; #4 Xavier vs. #5 Creighton at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. St. John’s has lost 4 of the last 5 games, all to teams that would be out of the field. A loss could sink them (though Arizona State basically did the same a year ago and improbably got saved by the Committee). Creighton needs big wins to separate at the bubble, and must start with a quarterfinal win over surging Xavier

BIG TEN TOURNAMENT (March 13-17 in Chicago)

The Favorite: #1 Seed Michigan State (full Ken Pom odds). The Spartans lead a loaded field where Michigan and Purdue and are also looking for glory and tournament top seeding. The Spartans were able to secure the top seed and keep Purdue and Michigan on the opposite side of the bracket.

The Darkhorse: #4 Wisconsin, if you can call a ranked team a darkhorse. But they held on in OT to get the double bye, and have won 11 of the last 14 in conference play.

Key Bubble Game: #8 Ohio State vs. #9 Indiana, Thursday at 12:30 p.m. ET. Winner is in, loser might have to sweat out Selection Sunday.

PAC-12 TOURNAMENT (March 13-16 in Las Vegas)

The Favorite: #1 Seed Washington (full Ken Pom odds). Washington won the Pac-12 by three games. The conference is way down this year, and the Huskies are the only lock for the NCAA Tournament (and a bad loss early might even call that into question.

The Darkhorse: #6 Seed Oregon. They came into the season as conference favorites. But they, along with the rest of the conference, underwhelmed and then they lost Bol Bol to injury. They have closed though with four straight wins, including over both Arizona State and Washington. They need to run the table to make the tournament but the opportunity is there.

Key Bubble Game: #2 Arizona State vs. UCLA/Stanford, Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. Arizona State is on the bubble, and cannot afford an early loss like they took last year. While they have some quality wins, none are like the wins they had over two #1 seeds a year ago that saved them at the bubble.

 

SEC TOURNAMENT (March 13-17 in Nashville)

The Favorite: #3 seed Kentucky (Full Ken Pom odds). Kentucky and Tennessee are really the co-favorites, and will play on the same side of the bracket in a Saturday semifinal if both advance that far. The winner is in play for a #1 seed, and potentially staying in Louisville for the Regional and Columbus, Ohio for the early games. I’ll take a slight lean to Kentucky in the rubber match.

The Darkhorse: #5 seed Auburn. The Tigers get a favorable draw, as the #4 seed is 16-15 South Carolina, who snuck into that position by one game over the two Mississippi schools and a tiebreaker with Auburn. LSU is the #1 seed, but will be coming to Nashville without Will Wade and with plenty of uncertainty. Auburn is poised for a deep run if they can continue recent form, which included a closing win over Tennessee.

Key Bubble Games: #8 Florida vs. #9 Arkansas, Thursday at 1 pm ET; #7 Ole Miss vs. #10 Alabama, Thursday at 7 pm ET. Florida has put themselves on the bubble, and cannot afford another loss to drop to 17-15. Alabama has plenty of work to do and it has to start with a win on Thursday.

 

OTHER KEY TOURNAMENTS

West Coast Conference: The championship game is Tuesday night, and it will likely be Gonzaga versus St. Mary’s, with the Zags playing to finalize the #1 seed in the West, and St. Mary’s trying to get a bid into the tournament.

Mid-American Conference: Buffalo is in, came someone else knock them off to get a 2nd bid for the MAC? The final is Saturday and Buffalo opens in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Mountain West Conference: Nevada is in and Utah State is likely in. Will they meet in the final or can a bid thief emerge? The final is on Saturday.

Atlantic-10 Conference: VCU is the only clear NCAA tournament team, but the A-10 always seems to produce an unlikely tournament run. Unless VCU wins it, the A-10 will result in a second auto bid and some bubble shrinkage. The final on Sunday could have some bubble team nervous



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