Below is a preview of the seven major conference tournaments in college basketball.
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Atlantic Coast Conference
The ACC has four teams that have dominated the conference all season. Virginia, Duke, Syracuse and North Carolina are all tournament-bound and no team should be seeded lower than a five. After Pittsburgh looked like it would join them in the tournament earlier in the season, they now sit on the bubble. This conference tournament will be huge for seed alignment as Duke and Virginia fight to get the last No. 1 seed, and Syracuse looks to rebound after losing four of their last six games.
Potential Key Matchups:
Virginia vs. North Carolina
This game would be a great semifinal game and will consist of the two hottest teams in the conference. Maryland just snapped Virginia’s 13-game winning streak on Sunday; one day after Duke ended the Tar Heels’ 12-game winning streak. Both of these teams have played very good basketball the past two months and have a chance to make some noise in the tournament. I think Marcus Paige is a star and although Virginia’s defense is one of the toughest in the nation, UNC will upset the Cavaliers and advance to the conference finals.
Duke vs. Syracuse
Duke won on a bad call in Durham; Syracuse won on a no-call in the Carrier Dome. This matchup on a neutral court hopefully will resolve that issue and allow us to find out who the better team is. Both games were classics and I wouldn’t expect anything less than that in the ACC Semifinals. This is a tossup but Syracuse has struggled as of late and Mike Krzyzewski is almost unbeatable in the ACC Tournament.
Players 2 Watch:
T.J. Warren, North Carolina State
Warren won ACC Player of the Year on Tuesday and can score the ball better than anyone in the conference. His 24.8 pointers per game led the conference and he has the ability to carry the Wolfpack to a win or two this week.
Joe Harris, Virginia
Harris has been the catalyst for the Cavaliers this season and is a huge reason they earned the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. Harris is a floor general and will have to play well if Virginia wants to earn a one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Pittsburgh and Florida State
Pittsburgh was once 16-1 but a tough stretch in conference now has the Panthers barely holding onto a tournament bid. The Panthers must win a game in the ACC Tournament and try to avoid getting blown out by Carolina in the quarterfinals. Pittsburgh has won three of four after suffering three straight defeats, but those three wins were as non-impressive as they come. Florida State will need a miracle run in the ACC Tournament to avoid heading to the NIT. The Seminoles will have to beat Maryland, Virginia and probably North Carolina to get to the ACC championship game and make the NCAA Tournament. Anything less than a trip to the finals and I think their resume won’t hold up against other bubble teams.
The ACC Tournament will really be a tossup. Any one of the top four seeds can win the automatic bid and there should be some great matchups on the way to the finals. If the semifinals include all four of the top seeds, Virginia verse UNC and Duke/Syracuse, part three, the ACC will have the best slate of games this week. I think the Tar Heels will meet Duke in the finals and coach K’s team will do enough to win another ACC Tournament championship.
ACC Tournament Champions: Duke Blue Devils
The best conference in the nation has already locked up seven bids but will still be the most entertaining conference tournament to watch. One-seeded Kansas has the toughest draw out of any team in the tournament, having to most likely play Oklahoma State and Iowa State to get to the finals. The Jayhawks will be without Joel Embiid, forcing Andrew Wiggins to carry a majority of the load. The Big 12 Tournament champion will be a quality team no matter who takes home the crown.
Potential Key Matchups:
Oklahoma State vs. Kansas
No, this matchup won’t be in the conference finals, but rather the second round. Oklahoma State has come back from an awful seven-game skid and has won four of its last five, including a win over Kansas. This will probably be the best early round matchup of championship week and the winner will be rewarded with a game against Iowa State the day after. Marcus Smart has a chance to help seed the Cowboys a little bit higher to avoid a tough round two game in the NCAA Tournament. Right now the Cowboys are projected to be a 10 seed. Wiggins will try and surge Kansas to a No. 1 seed when the bracket is released on Sunday.
West Virginia vs. Baylor
Both of these teams lucked out seed-wise in the conference tournament. Kansas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State are all in the top portion of the bracket, leaving the bottom part of the bracket wide open. I think Juwan Staten and Eron Harris give the Mountaineers hope and could carry them all the way into the conference finals. I know, I am a WVU graduate… but Texas beat West Virginia twice this year and beating a team three times in one season is a tough task. The same goes for Oklahoma and Baylor, where the Sooners defeated the Bears both times they squared off this season. Give me either the Bears or Mountaineers to reach the finals.
Players 2 Watch:
Juwan Staten, West Virginia
Staten is probably the best player you haven’t heard of. Staten is averaging 18.2 points per game and shooting 49 percent from the field this season. He has great handles and quickness that gives him the ability to get to the rim at will. Staten had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists against Kansas, and those numbers have been consistent throughout the season. Don’t be shocked if Staten leads the Mountaineers to the finals of the Big 12.
Cory Jefferson, Baylor
Cory Jefferson has been a big part of the Bears’ late season run. He had 16 points against Kansas State Saturday and 21 points and seven rebounds in their win over Iowa State. If Baylor wants to continue winning, Jefferson will need to consistently play at a high level.
Baylor and Oklahoma State moved into locked status after a good finish to the season. The only bubble team that can win its way into the field is the Mountaineers. I think West Virginia can win some games and reach the conference finals where they will have an opportunity for an automatic bid. They’ll have to knock off a team such as Kansas or Iowa State again for that to happen.
Kansas without Joel Embiid is just another good team… not great. I think Iowa State will emerge from that part of the bracket and meet Baylor in the tournament championship. Iowa State has just too much firepower on offense for the Bears and the Cyclones will be crowned champions of the toughest conference in college basketball.
Big 12 Tournament Champions: Iowa State Cyclones