Danny’s can’t-miss games of the week: Conference championship predictions

FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2019, file photo, Duke's Zion Williamson (1) dunks during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Clemson, in Durham, N.C. Williamson was named both The Associated Press ACC player and newcomer of the year, Tuesday, March 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

The madness has begun. Well, kind of. We’re a week away from the actual tournament, but the conference tourneys are in full action. Many small-conference schools have already punched their ticket to the big dance next week, but the best is yet to come.

This weekend will be filled with thrilling semi-final and championship games with some of the best teams across the nation and, as we saw the other night when Saint Mary’s beat Gonzaga in the WCC title game, upsets are inevitable.

Instead of a typical “games of the week” column, I will be making my picks of the contestants and winners of the championship games for the biggest conferences this weekend. Most will likely be wrong because you can’t predict college basketball once the calendar changes to March. And that’s ok, because that is precisely what we love about it.

ACC Championship

Saturday March 16, 8:30 p.m. on ESPN

Matchup: Florida State vs. Duke

Winner: Duke

It was reported that Zion Williamson will be good to go for the tournament, and that should be all you need to know. Duke struggled towards the end of the season without him, but they are a different team when he’s on the floor.

Duke will most likely bump into North Carolina in semi-final game who they lost to twice, but both without Zion. I think they will get their vengeance when it counts.

Florida State is definitely not anyone’s favorite to win the conference, but they have been sneaky good this season. They started just 1-4 in conference play, but then they caught fire and won 12 of their last 13 games of the year.

I believe they will ride that hot streak deep into this tournament and possibly cause an upset in the semi-final over the top seeded Virginia.

However, I don’t see them beating a fully healthy Duke team. This is Duke’s tournament to lose, and when healthy, they are the best team in the country.

Side note: This will be probably the most entertaining tournament but the least important because no matter who wins, there will be a minimum of six ACC teams in the national tournament.

Big Ten Championship

Sunday March 17, 3:30 p.m. on CBS

Matchup: Wisconsin vs. Michigan

Winner: Wisconsin

These two teams have both had terrific seasons. Wisconsin showed all year they can hang with any team in the conference, and Michigan spent almost all season ranked in the top ten.

They split the season series 1-1. Wisconsin took the first game to snap the Wolverines then undefeated record, and Michigan came back with a big nine-point win a month later.

No team will be much of a challenge for Michigan on their road to the finals, in my opinion. Wisconsin will probably have to face Michigan State in the semi-finals, which will be tough, but Michigan State showed they could be vulnerable in the regular season and I think the Badgers can take advantage.

I see Wisconsin coming out on top in this matchup strictly by a gut feeling. It will go down to the wire without a doubt, though. If this is indeed the tale of the tape, it may be the best championship game of them all.

Big 12 Championship

Saturday March 16, 6 p.m. on ESPN

Matchup: Texas Tech vs. Kansas State

Winner: Kansas State

I usually hate to predict a No. 1 and a No. 2 seed meeting in any championship game, but that’s truly the way I see this one playing out. Kansas State has taken off this season to end Kansas’ run at the top of the Big 12, and I think they will ride that momentum all the way through to win their first conference tournament since 1980.

Speaking of Kansas, I don’t even think they will make it to the championships this year because Texas Tech is just a better team. They dominated the Jayhawks 91-62 in their most recent meeting and I think they will take care of business in the tournament too.

However, I think K-State may be too much for the Red Raiders to handle, and they will lose a tight game in the final. Regardless, I believe both teams have the potential to make a multiple round run in the national tournament next week.

SEC Championship

Sunday March 17, 1 p.m. on ESPN

Matchup: Mississippi State vs. LSU

Winner: LSU

This is probably my boldest prediction of them all considering I don’t have the No. 4 nor the No. 8 team in the country participating in this game. However, I think it’s fitting because the SEC has arguably been the most unpredictable conference in the country as far as the top teams losing.

Tennessee seems like the most vulnerable of the top teams, especially considering they just lost to Auburn in their regular season finale, and I think Mississippi State is in a good position to beat them in the quarterfinal round. Then, I think they could ride the high of that win into the next day and take down another top team that has lost more games than expected in Kentucky.

Every year, there’s always a team that makes a Cinderella run in the conference tournament to shock the world and get off the national tournament bubble. I think Mississippi State will be that team this year.

However, I believe their run will end against the top seeded LSU Tigers who have beat both of the previously mentioned teams. They have been terrific this season, especially in conference play. With a conference tournament win, LSU will have a great chance to be a No. 1 seed in the national tourney.


Danny Barletta is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.barletta@uconn.edu.