Conference Tournament Championship Week: Breakdown and Preview of the Top Conferences
By Jason Lisk
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.