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Let me just take a brief moment to say thank you to everyone who read (and hopefully utilized!) my weekend viewer’s guides for the latter part of this season. I was thrilled to be brought on as a college hoops contributor here at Cyclone Fanatic and hope to continue regular articles for you all, even though the regular season has wrapped up.
So without further ado, here’s a little primer for the major conference tournaments starting today. If you’re hoping for a Mountain West preview, I apologize (I’m kind of on a word count, you see). Plus, we all hate UNLV now anyway, right? Let’s just say I pick them to get blown out in their first game. And we love Larry Eustachy, so Colorado State it is!
In all seriousness, enjoy these conference tournaments as they carry us right on through to Selection Sunday. See you for the big dance!
American Athletic Conference (AAC) | Mar. 12-15 | Memphis, TN
Top Seed: Cincinnati | My Pick: (2) Louisville | Player to Watch: Russ Smith, Louisville
Kind of crazy that they actually flipped a coin to determine the top seed here. It was between Cincy and Louisville, and luck was a lady for the Cardinals. Russ Smith has been in full-on beast mode over the last month, capping off his senior season with a 13-assist performance against Connecticut. I like Louisville’s balance, and running the table in Memphis would be a great way to silence the haters who have condemned them for a weak schedule.
Dark Horse Scenario: (5) Memphis advances to the championship.
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) | Mar. 12-16 | Greensboro, NC
Top Seed: Virginia | My Pick: (3) Duke | Player to Watch: Jabari Parker, Duke
Don’t let the rumors fool you, this is Jabari Parker’s last hurrah. He’ll be off to the NBA, and if it weren’t for some cat named Doug McDermott, Parker quite possibly could have been National Player of the Year. Duke is 2-1 (and maybe should be 3-0) against UVA and Syracuse, the two seeds above them. The Blue Devils get a double bye, possibly a struggling Syracuse in the semifinals, all the while playing a stone’s throw from Durham. I like Parker and this offense to cut down the nets.
Dark Horse Scenario: (5) Pittsburgh nearly knocks off Virginia in the semifinals.
Atlantic 10 Conference (A-10) | Mar. 12-16 | Brooklyn, NY
Top Seed: St. Louis | My Pick: (2) VCU | Player to Watch: Treveon Graham, VCU
In November, I thought this conference would end up stacked and I was right. What I didn’t expect was the likelihood of the A-10 getting six tournament bids. These teams play the most entertaining basketball anywhere in the country and certainly the best defense. Treveon Graham is just one of maybe five or six guys I could tell you to keep an eye on, but he’s truly an NBA player-in-waiting worth a watch. I can’t say that my cup runneth over with confidence picking the Rams, but I’ll lock it in.
Dark Horse Scenario: Honestly, Massachusetts could win this tournament at the 6 seed.
Big East Conference | Mar. 12-16 | New York City, NY
Top Seed: Villanova | My Pick: Villanova | Player to Watch: Douglas Fresh McBuckets
Marquette coach Buzz Williams said recently that St. John’s roster is the most talented in the league (granted, having just lost to them by 16). So keep an eye on Steve Lavin and the Red Storm at the 5 seed, potentially facing Villanova in the semifinals. Short of that I don’t foresee a lot of parity here, and I’ll probably eat crow for saying that. America deserves another go-around between Nova and Creighton. If we get it, I have a hard time seeing Jay Wright falling to the Bluejays for the third time in less than 60 days. The Wildcats should be a tough out as they have their sights set on an NCAA Tournament 1 seed.
Dark Horse Scenario: (see above) St. John’s runs the table.
Big Ten Conference | Mar. 13-17 | Indianapolis, IN
Top Seed: Michigan | My pick: (2) Wisconsin, I guess | Player to Watch: Frank Kaminsky
I have no clue what to make of any of this. None. Zero. I’m picking Wisconsin maybe because I like Frank Kaminsky so much — I don’t know. There is no bigger enigma in all of college basketball than the Big Ten, I’m convinced nobody really wanted to win it, and despite being the champs, I’m not sure Michigan is even the second- or third-best team in the field! AND THEN THERE’S NEBRASKA. I don’t know. Have fun with this one. Kaminsky is a riot, Iowa could win the whole thing, what if Indiana decides to show up? I don’t know.
Dark Horse Scenario: I don’t know. How about (5) Ohio State to the championship?
Big 12 Conference | Mar. 12-15 | Kansas City, MO
Top seed: Kansas | My pick: (8) Oklahoma State | Player to Watch: Marcus Smart
Despite the loss at Iowa State, I like the direction Oklahoma State is heading, and I think a neutral floor against a KU team that’s down Joel Embiid is a perfect scenario for the Cowboys to capitalize on (although, Texas Tech comes first). What more can you say other than that this is a much different Oklahoma State team than we grew accustomed to midseason? They’re obviously underseeded, and Marcus Smart is a man with a plan. Should he lead his team past TTU and then Kansas, I don’t see much standing in his way. How about a little Bedlam for the Big 12 crown?
Dark Horse Scenario: (7) Baylor reaches the semifinals.
Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12) | Mar. 12-15 | Las Vegas, NV
Top Seed: Arizona | My pick: Arizona | Player to Watch: Nick Johnson
It’s amazing what the Wildcats have been able to do without one of their best players for the better half of conference play. The Pac-12 isn’t a juggernaut by any stretch, but Arizona has maintained hold of a top line projection all year despite losing Brandon Ashley, and all of their losses have been relatively close. UCLA has a shot but there shouldn’t be any bid thieves here. The Pac-12 was the Cats’ to lose from the git-go. Several impressive offenses showcased in this tournament so that should be a treat.
Dark Horse Scenario: Oregon makes a run to the final and challenges Arizona yet again.
Southeastern Conference (SEC) | Mar. 12-16 | Atlanta, GA
Top Seed: Florida | My pick: (4) Tennessee | Player to Watch: Jordan McRae
I’m sure I’ll catch heat for this, but you have to think the entire SEC is gunning for the Gators at this point. Tennessee is much better than their record shows and is simultaneously one bad loss away from the NIT and a good win or two away from the big dance. Twenty straight conference wins is damn near impossible, and a loss would likely not bounce Florida from the top line on Selection Sunday. It’s a long shot, but I’ll put my name on the Volunteers this week.
Dark Horse Scenario: Need I say more?