A Breakdown Of 7 Major Conference Tournaments

Many may argue conference tournament week is better than the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Every team in the country still has an opportunity of making the Dance at the start of the week, but as the days go by, more and more dreams are crushed. Teams have to win three, four and sometimes five straight games in as many days to claim an automatic bid in the field of 68.

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.

Bubble Watch:
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


Big 12
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.

Bubble Team:
West Virginia
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

Hit page 2 to checkout a preview of the Big 10…

Big 10
The Big 10 has proven it is one of the toughest conferences year in and year out. This season was nothing short of the same. The conference has solidified a minimum of five teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament and still has a chance to squeak in one or two more teams if they can knock off some of the topseeds this week.

Potential Key Matchups:
Nebraska vs. Ohio State
These two teams split this year, but Nebraska has won ten of its last 12 games and is sitting on the right side of the bubble entering the week. The Cornhuskers can solidify their spot into the NCAA Tournament if they can defeat the Buckeyes in a potential second-round matchup.

Wisconsin vs. Michigan State
Wisconsin has a very good chance of snagging the last No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a good showing in the Big 10 Tournament. However, a potential semifinal matchup with the Spartans will be a tough test for Bo Ryan‘s Badgers. Michigan State has struggled down the stretch, but they are just gelling back together after being decimated with injuries throughout the year. When healthy, Michigan State might be the best team in the nation and Tom Izzo knows how to get the best out of his team during this time of year.

Players 2 Watch:
Terran Pettaway, Nebraska
Pettaway has been a big part of the Cornhuskers late rush. He had 26 points in its win over Wisconsin, 23 points in a win over Michigan State and 18 points against Ohio State. If Nebraska wants to lock up a bid, Pettaway will have to lead the way.

Branden Dawson, Michigan State
Dawson missed games this season due to injury but has played in the past three games. Dawson is a solid all-around player that does all the little things to help the Spartans win. The junior forward will have to contribute on both ends and continue to make those hustle plays to help Michigan State survive and advance.

Bubble Teams:
Nebraska and Minnesota
According to bracket master Joe Lunardi of ESPN, Nebraska is currently in the field of 68. A win in the second round over Ohio State would most likely lock up an NCAA bid for the Cornhuskers. A loss and Nebraska will have to hold its breath Sunday evening. For Minnesota, they have to defeat a competitive Penn State team, knock off second seed Wisconsin and will probably have to play Michigan State tough in the semifinals to have a chance at a tournament bid. The Gophers have the fifth-ranked strength of schedule, but their rough end to the season will most likely cause them to miss the madness.

I think Michigan and Michigan State will face-off for a third time this season in the Big 10 Finals. However, the Spartans will prevail and be crowned Big 10 champions. Michigan beat Tom Izzo’s team twice this season, but neither time were the Spartans at full strength. Michigan State has the experience needed to win these single-elimination games and I think they’ll be a tough team to pick against when filling out your bracket on Sunday.

Big 10 Tournament Champion: Michigan State

Keep reading to get a look at the Pac-12…

Pacific 12 Conference
Arizona is the class of the conference and might be the best team in the country. Early in the season the Wildcats beat some big non-conference opponents and carried their winning ways into conference play even after the loss of Brandon Ashley. Colorado, Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA give the conference some depth. Bubble teams California and Stanford can make the field with some wins this week in the conference tournament.

Potential Key Matchups:
Colorado vs. California
California is on the bubble despite their No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. The Golden Bears just beat Colorado on Saturday, but will need to do so again to have any chance at making the NCAA Tournament. A win over the Buffaloes and Cal will have a chance to impress the committee if they can knock off top-seeded Arizona. However, Colorado is still not definitely in the field of 68. The Buffaloes have the 12th-ranked strength of schedule and are 30 in the RPI, but will need to beat Cal to receive an at-large bid.

Oregon vs. Arizona
Oregon, who was one out of the field after starting 3-8 in the Pac-12, has won seven straight games and upset Arizona on Saturday. The Ducks are rolling at the right time of the season and look like the team who started 13-0. Arizona has been strong all year and will be looking for revenge in the conference tournament finals.

Players 2 Watch:
Nick Johnson, Arizona
Johnson has been the go-to-guy for Arizona on offense this season. He averages 16.1 points a game and is shooting 43.9 percent from the field. If Arizona wants to cap off its great season with a conference championship, Johnson will have to play well throughout the week.

Jason Calliste, Oregon
Calliste has played great in the Ducks surge to the madness. He had 18 points in Saturdays upset win over Arizona. He has scored double-figures in six of Oregon’s seven straight victories. His play will determine the outcome for the Ducks this week in the conference tournament.

Bubble Watch:
Colorado, Arizona State, California and Stanford
Colorado and Arizona State look like they will make the tournament despite still being on the bubble. Colorado has a strong resume and Arizona State has that marquee win over Arizona. California will need to make a run in the Pac-12 Tournament and Stanford has a pretty good argument to make the field even without a deep run this week. Stanford is 43 in the RPI and has the 15th-ranked strength of schedule. Wins over UCLA, Connecticut and Oregon are more than impressive compared to other teams on the bubble.

Oregon is streaking into the conference tournament and Arizona doesn’t look like a team that will collapse after one loss. The Wildcats are just too efficient on both ends of the floor to get upset early. I expect Oregon to give Arizona a tough test but Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and company will be too much to handle.

Pacific 12 Conference Tournament Champion: Arizona Wildcats

Southeastern Conference
The Southeastern Conference has proven that it is very much a football conference this year. Besides the Florida Gators, the SEC has proven it is by far the weakest out of the big six conferences. For much of the season Florida and Kentucky were the only two ranked teams from the SEC, but with Kentucky’s recent collapse (losing four of last seven games), they too are no longer in the Top 25. Tennessee and Arkansas are the conference’s only hope of sending a third team into the NCAA Tournament.

Potential Key Matchups:
Tennessee vs. Arkansas
If there is one game to tune into during the SEC Tournament, it will definitely be this game. If Arkansas can win its second-round game and meet up with Tennessee in the quarterfinals, this game will be for an NCAA bid. Arkansas and Tennessee are the only two SEC teams remaining on the bubble. The winner will get a chance at Florida and will help its chances of receiving an invitation. The loser will be NIT bound.

LSU vs. Kentucky
The Tigers have given Kentucky some issues this season. LSU knocked off the Wildcats in Baton Rouge and took them to overtime at Kentucky. John Calipari has seen his team slip all the way out of the Top 25 and lose four of its last seven games. If Kentucky falls early to LSU in the SEC Tournament, the Wildcats might be looking at an eight seed on Sunday.

Players 2 Watch:
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
If the Volunteers have any hope of making the tournament, it starts with the play of Jarnell Stokes. He has been sensational in Tennessee’s four-game winning streak. Stokes has 18 double-doubles this season and he will need a few more this week.

Andrew and Aaron Harrison
The Harrison twins’ play makes or breaks Kentucky. When they are playing well and with confidence, Kentucky is tough to beat. When they are struggling, their immaturity shows and they let it affect them on the floor. The Wildcats will go as far as the Harrison twins let them.

Bubble Watch:
Tennessee and Arkansas
Tennessee has the better resume between the two teams. They have a huge win over Virginia, the 16th-ranked strength of schedule and beat Arkansas earlier in the season. Arkansas’ best win, at Kentucky, is now fading a little bit with their recent struggles. I think Tennessee has the inside edge of getting a bid based on their resume, but the winner of their potential matchup will determine who gets an NCAA bid.

Florida will have to hold off an upset-hungry team in the quarterfinals, but I think they will survive. Florida is just too good in all phases of the game and has too much experience to slip up. I think Kentucky will fall short of reaching the tournament finals and a team like Ole Miss led by Marshall Henderson can get hot and get back to the SEC Finals.

SEC Tournament Champions: Florida Gators

Keep reading for a look at the Big East…

Big East
The Big East is not what it has been in years past, but still contains quality basketball teams. Villanova and Creighton have sat atop the conference throughout the year and have helped keep the conference respectable this season. A couple of teams have a chance to join them in the Dance with an impressive week.

Potential Key Matchups:
St John’s vs. Providence
This is a win-or-go-home scenario for both of these teams and the loser will definitely have its bubble popped early in the week. The Red Storm split with the Friars this year but their 1-7 record against the RPI top 50 gives Providence a stronger resume. St. John’s will need at least two wins in the tournament to have a chance come Sunday; Providence with a win and a good outing verse Villanova can find itself dancing.

Xavier vs. Creighton
Xavier has been on the verge of solidifying itself into the tournament but two straight losses have put them back on the fence. The Musketeers defeated Creighton just a few weeks ago and has wins over fellow bubble buddies, St. John’s and Providence. A spot in the Big East Finals will lock up a spot in the field of 68.

Players 2 Watch:
D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s
Harrison needs to play well in order for St. John’s to win. In their two previous wins, Harrison went for 20 and 25 points and both resulted in Red Storm victories. Before those two wins, St. John’s lost back-to-back games where Harrison recorded 15 and four points. He is averaging 17.6 points per game this season and will need to shine this week to earn the Johnnies a bid.

Bryce Cotton, Providence
Providence is another team that is knocking at the door of the madness. Cotton does it all for the Friars, scoring 21.7 points per game and leads the team in assists with 5.9 a night. He has scored 20-plus points in seven straight games, and will need to continue to play at a high level if the Friars want to go dancing.

Bubble Watch:
Xavier, St. John’s and Providence
St. John’s, Providence and Xavier all sit on the bubble heading into championship week. The key to these teams getting into the Dance is to defeat the lower seeds so that they have the opportunity of snagging a late marquee win over Villanova or Creighton. I only see one of these teams making the field and the Musketeers have the best chance, already proving they can defeat the Blue Jays as they did ten days ago.

I think the Big East is a top-heavy conference, and Villanova and Creighton will kick it into high gear at this time of year. I expect the Wildcats to get another chance at Doug McDermott and after getting beat by 49 points combined in their two meeting this season, they will get revenge. Villanova will have a very good chance of getting the last No. 1 seed and have some tough non-conference wins that can put them ahead of teams like Virginia or Duke.

Big East Conference Tournament Champion: Villanova Wildcats

Keep reading for an inside look at the American Conference…

American Athletic Conference
This conference has displayed some great basketball this season and has some intriguing teams heading into the tournament. The top half of the conference has beat up on each other all year and has already locked up five teams with NCAA bids. Louisville and Cincinnati are potential Elite Eight teams and Connecticut and Memphis will be tough teams to beat next week. Larry Brown has resurrected Southern Methodist and has them in the tournament for the first time since 1993.

Potential Key Matchups:
Connecticut vs. Memphis
Connecticut swept the season series but Memphis is a very tough team to beat. The Tigers have some big wins, including two over Louisville, one over Oklahoma State early in the season and fell to Florida by only two points. However, I think the Huskies will respond after getting embarrassed in their previous game against Louisville. Expect Shabazz Napier to carry Connecticut deep into the weekend.

Louisville vs. Connecticut
The conference tournament finals could be a matchup of two old Big East foes. The Cardinals beat the Huskies both times they played them this season but it’s tough to beat a team three times. Louisville has flown under the radar this season and all five of their losses have come to ranked opponents. The play of Montrezl Harrell has been huge down the stretch. He recorded a double-double in three of the past six games, all against ranked opponents.

Players 2 Watch:
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell is the key to Louisville’s success and will need to continue to be if the defending champions want to win the conference tournament. Harrell has averaged 14 points and eight boards a night for the Cardinals and has scored 20-plus points in four of the Cardinals past five games.

Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
The Cincinnati senior can light it up, averaging 20 points a night. He is the only Bearcat player that can really score the basketball. Cincinnati is ranked 226th in points per game and if they want to make a deep run this weekend, Kilpatrick will need to score a lot of points.

Bubble Watch:
Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis, Connecticut and Southern Methodist have all locked up their bids to the NCAA Tournament. There won’t be any bubble teams sneaking into the tournament from this conference unless there is a Cinderella story. This league has been dominated by the upper half of the conference and has some teams that can potentially make a deep run in the tournament.

Louisville is playing very good basketball and has been consistently good all year. I think they have the experience and leadership to return to the Elite Eight. Connecticut has a star in Napier, but relies on him too heavily at times. Give me Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell to cut down the nets in the conference’s first season before they jet to the ACC next year.

AAC Conference Tournament Champions: Louisville Cardinals

Which tournament are you most looking forward to?

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