March Madness is officially underway. Following the weekend's action, each major conference's bracket was set for their impending tournaments. All of these conferences figure to provide highly contested matches and star-studded fields that are sure to provide memorable moments to each viewer fortunate enough to see the action.
Certain conferences contain teams that have dominated all season long and figure to have the greatest chance to take home the title. However, there will be other tournaments that feature late-blooming teams on the rise that will make an impact by upsetting more recognized clubs.
Plenty of enticing scenarios will be in play as conference-tournament action gets underway. Let's take every aspect into consideration and predict which teams will come out on top of their respective tournaments.
This figures to be one of the most exciting tournaments this year. With five top-25 teams in the field, the AAC title is most certainly up for grabs.
When it comes to tournament play, one of the most important factors for each team is entering with a head of steam and an exuberant amount of confidence—Louisville may have the most of each.
After losing to Memphis on March 1, the Cardinals had a daunting task of playing two more ranked teams to finish the season. They successfully rebounded and beat No. 18 SMU and No. 19 Connecticut in decisive fashion.
Upon the conclusion of Saturday's 81-48 drubbing of the Huskies, Russ Smith shared the chances he's made in his game with the press, which included ESPN.com:
It was just getting the ball to my teammates to get the ball movement going. When I looked at the film after the first UConn game, I was very sloppy with the rock. I wasn't handling the ball as well as I should have. I negated any discrepancy about turning the ball over. I just kicked it out to other teammates.
The drive and maturity that Smith and his teammates have shown over recent games is what will carry them to the AAC title.
The ACC boasts another star-studded cast, as four teams are ranked within the top-14 in the nation. Plenty of teams are in contention for the title here; however, it is the Duke Blue Devils that will take it home.
Duke had a roller-coast end to its season, losing to North Carolina and faltering against Wake Forest. Still, this team has shown persistence when faced with adversity.
After losing to UNC, Duke came right back and defeated No. 1 Syracuse. Following the Wake Forest upset, the Blue Devils came right back and handed UNC a big 93-81 loss in their season finale.
Good story by Jeff Benedict on Jabari Parker's star-studded night against North Carolina: http://t.co/KAWcLDoH0s— B.J. Schecter (@bjschecter) March 9, 2014
Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker have been phenomenal for Duke this season, but it appears that they saved their best for last, finishing with a flourish against UNC. After the game, head coach Mike Krzyzewski praised his two stars during a press conference with ESPN.com.
I just thought [Parker] had his best spirit to score tonight that he's had all season, because they're really good, and at times he just wasn't going to be denied. And then, boom, boom, boom, you hit those 3s (and) that lead can go to double digits quick. Jabari was sensational, and so was Rodney. This is the first game where the two of them were sensational together. They've both been good together, but they were sensational together.
Expect Hood and Parker to continue to dazzle on their way to the ACC title.
Big Ten: Michigan
Michigan continues to step up when it matters most. Against ranked conference opponents, the Wolverines manged to find it within themselves to produce at a high level on a big stage.
The Wolverines split the season series with Wisconsin and Iowa. They also defeated Michigan State twice and won their lone meeting with Ohio State. These are the top teams in the conference, and Michigan can be confident in its ability to get through the field, as the team has proven they can match up with each.
Yesterday was a terrific celebration for both the team and our fans. See you in Indianapolis. Recap: pic.twitter.com/RNLjZWQGRN— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) March 9, 2014
Riding a hot hand into the tournament, the Wolverines won their last five regular-season games. They'll ride the perimeter shooting of Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert all the way to the championship.
Big 12: Kansas
After dropping two of its last three games to unranked opponents, a fire should be lit under this Kansas team heading into the Big 12 tournament. These losses should remind the Jayhawks that they simply cannot let up at this point in the season, as the toughest contests are yet to come.
Despite these losses, Kansas has dominated the Big 12 this season. Beating Iowa State and Baylor twice each in decisive fashion proves that Kansas is the team to beat here.
'Went too quick' - Wiggins on Kansas career: http://t.co/X2ufoYUXxV— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 6, 2014
Averaging 79.6 points per game due to the All-Star cast of Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks offense will prove to be too much to handle for conference opponents throughout the tournament.
Big East: Creighton
Creighton has been sensational in conference play this season. The team's toughest competition is arguably Villanova—but don't tell the Bluejays that; they crushed Nova twice this year by a combined 49 points.
After faltering late in the season with losses to Xavier and Georgetown, Creighton rallied when it mattered most.
In the season finale against Providence, Doug McDermott put on a fantastic one-man show, scoring 45 points and surpassing 3,000 points for his college career.
Doug McDermott's career-high 45 points put him in the 3,000-point club and moved him past 2 legends. pic.twitter.com/LoKdYFOA50— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 9, 2014
After the game, Providence head coach Ed Cooley had plenty of praise for McDermott during a press conference with ESPN.com:
We've played in hostile environments, and it was a special night for them. Doug is one of the more electrifying players in college basketball, arguably the best player in college basketball. You're going to have days where a player is going to have a night like that. He had his on Senior Night. Congratulations to him.
McDermott and Co. will continue their upward trend all the way through the Big East tournament.
Yes, the overwhelming favorite here is Arizona; however, the Oregon Ducks proved on Saturday that they have what it takes to dismantle the Wildcats.
During these team's first meeting on Feb. 6, Oregon hung with Arizona for the duration, falling just short and losing by a score of 67-65. Then, on Saturday, they continued to gain momentum, beating Arizona 64-57 after a late comeback.
The Ducks now have a seven-game winning streak heading into the Pac-12 tournament. They struggled midseason but regrouped just in time to rise from the ashes and be a major factor in tournament play.
Oregon and Oregon State have played an NCAA record 341 times, but next Wednesday will be the first time meeting in the conference tourney.— Oregon Basketball (@OregonMBB) March 9, 2014
Joseph Young, Mike Moser and Jason Calliste continue to improve and figure to be a formidable trio for any of Oregon's opponents as we get deeper into March.
It's hard to bet against the Gators here. They have dominated the SEC all season long and finished off in style by bludgeoning Kentucky to the tune of 84-65 in their season finale. Florida finished the regular season with a perfect conference record of 18-0.
GATORS RUN THE TABLE! No. 1 Florida beats Kentucky, 84-65 . Finish a perfect 18-0 in the SEC. They have not lost since Dec. 2nd.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 8, 2014
Florida is now riding a 23-game winning streak, with its last loss coming on Dec. 2 against Connecticut. Throughout its winning streak, Florida has defeated four ranked opponents and won all but one game in regulation.
The Gators are a well-rounded team that can put points on the board; however, they flourish on the defensive side of the ball as well. Ranked fifth in the nation, allowing just 58.5 points per game, Florida's defense makes it difficult for any opponent to keep up.
It will come as no surprise when the Gators walk away with the SEC title.