The second midnight struck on Sunday, I swear I heard the all too familiar, sweet sound of the March Madness theme song running through my head. That means it is officially the best month of the year. Most teams around the country have one or two more regular season games left before survive-and-advance time is upon us. About half the field is unofficially “in,” but for the remaining 50%, conference tournament time will make or break their hopes of hearing their name called two Sundays from now. However, everyone is playing for seeding, in hopes of having the easiest path to Atlanta. March is here. Madness is coming. Here’s a preview of what’s going to unfold in the conference tournaments around the country.
The Big Ten once again proved itself as the deepest conference in the country, highlighted by Joe “Brackets” Lunardi’s projection of ten teams making the tournament (next highest has seven). I see eight of these as locks to make the tourney, leaving Rutgers, Indiana and Purdue with work to do. Rutgers has struggled mightily when they play anywhere outside of New Jersey so they need at least one statement tournament win and I don’t see them getting that. It’s March which means Tom Izzo has his team catching fire at the right time, and this year isn’t any different. Four wins out of their last five, including a massive road win against No. 9 Maryland. Cassius Winston is finally getting some with Rocket Watts finally showing why he was so highly rated out of high school. This momentum will set up a in-state rivalry final against Michigan, who will upset a struggling Maryland team on the way. A rematch of last year’s Big Ten Tournament final will have the same result; a victory for the Green and White. Iowa is my sleeper team as I don’t think anybody can guard Luka Garza, who’s dominance can overcome their lack of depth.
Winner: Michigan State
Hand down… #GoDucks #AlwaysUs pic.twitter.com/Tee8o2NTGJ
— Oregon Men's Basketball (@OregonMBB) February 28, 2020
In my eyes, the Pac-12 is the weakest conference at the top, but its depth gives it a chance to have 5-7 tournament teams. This is shown most evidently by UCLA, the team at the top of the conference standings being projected as a 12 seed. Colorado, Oregon and Arizona are the true best three teams in the conference. They all have serious consistency issues and a few bad losses on their resume. Come tournament time that’s all out the window. POY candidate Payton Pritchard and Oregon will meet the freshmen-laden Arizona in the final of the tournament. Oregon swept the season series against the Wildcats with a pair of one point wins, showing how evenly matched these teams are. Arizona has more raw talent than Oregon with their 5 star backcourt of Nico Mannion and Josh Green. Talent doesn’t mean as much in college as it does in the NBA, so the experience of the Ducks, as well as the slight coaching advantage Dana Altman holds over Sean Miller, will give Oregon a third win over Arizona, this time by double digits.
The best two teams in the country may reside in Big-12. Kansas and Baylor (Gonzaga, SDSU and Dayton are the others) are two of the only teams who have been consistent throughout the season. After those two, the conference takes a significant dip. West Virginia had an impressive out-of-conference run, racking up wins against Ohio State and URI, but struggled mightily in conference, going 7-9. I don’t question that Bob Huggins have his team ready for March and I could definitely see them upsetting one of the big dogs. They were beating Kansas for 30 minutes on the road back in January before barely falling by seven on garbage time free throws. Nobody wants to see a Shaka Smart team in March, especially with point guard Andrew Jones coming into full form after beating cancer just last year. The Longhorns have won four straight, including an impressive win over Texas Tech in Lubbock. They’ll be challenged, but the Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike led Jayhawks are too stacked to be upset by anyone in this conference.
Still sittin’ in the top spot ⬎ pic.twitter.com/FpzEs2mDZz
— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) March 2, 2020
Sleepers: Texas/West Virginia
In the beginning of the season I dubbed the ACC the best conference in the land, just for UNC, Virginia and Notre Dame to make me look dumb. Virginia is still a good team (21-7), but nowhere near the national powerhouse we’ve seen in past years. It’s a testament to Tony Bennett’s defensive schemes that they’re even this good given the bereft talent and amount of injuries to key players (Braxton Key). The clear top three are Louisville, Florida State and Duke, all of whom are still vying for a top-two seed. Louisville seemed a lock to be a one seed until they dropped three of their last six, all on the road. They need to find a consistent scorer to complement Jordan Nwora’s 20 a game and they’ll be fine. As they do every year, Duke has proved they can overcome their youth to be one of the best teams in the country. Tre Jones runs an offense nearly as well as any guard in the country, but he’s going to need freshman trio Cassius Stanley, Matthew Hurt and Vernon Carey to produce big time in order for Duke to be a championship team. Ryan Mcmahon is going to get hot from three and Steve Enoch is going to Neutralize the threat of Carey to give Louisville an ACC tournament win.
Sleeper: N.C. State/Notre Dame
Disappointment: Florida State
Perhaps the most unpredictable and competitive conference in the country, the Big East has seven or eight bids up for grabs. Depaul entered conference play looking like the team to beat with a 12-1 record. In what epitomizes the Big East this year, Depaul sits in last place after going an atrocious 2-14 in conference. No result in this league would be entirely shocking, as everyone has pretty much beaten each other. For people obsessed with transitive wins, you don’t have to go more than two derivations and everyone has literally beaten everyone. My pick to win the conference tournament is Creighton, who has one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Then again they lost by 20 last time out to second-to-last place St. Johns, which I think is more of a testament to the Big East than a detriment against Creighton. Seton Hall, Villanova, Xavier, Butler and Marquette all wouldn’t surprise me if they won the tournament either. Markus Howard and Myles Powell are capable of averaging 35 over the course of a tournament and single-handedly willing their teams to victory. This may come down to coaching; in that case the advantage lays with Villanova and Jay Wright. I have no clue with this conference and anyone who says they do is lying.
Sleeper: St. Johns
Tamir March is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.