NCAA Basketball: Predicting the Winners of the Top 9 Conference Tournaments
Tournament championship week is already underway and a lot of basketball is left to be played before the field of 68 is announced on Selection Sunday.
After taking a regular season title, teams, such as Arizona, Florida and Villanova will be fighting to receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A conference tournament title would likely make that happen.
On the other hand, teams sitting on the bubble need to make a lasting impression on the selection committee. Teams, such as Arkansas, California and Minnesota, must make runs in their conference tournaments or sit on Sunday with their fingers crossed.
There will be bubble teams that pull off a few wins this week, but regarding the conference title games, expect to see several rematches played during the final week of the regular season.
Tournament championship week provides the nation an appetizer before moving on to the main course of the NCAA tournament. With a lot on the line for the teams, here are predictions for the winners of the top nine conferences in college basketball.
American Athletic Conference
The AAC will hold its first conference tournament at the FedExForum in Memphis.
Louisville won nine of its last 10 games and clinched a second consecutive conference title with an 81-48 blowout victory over No. 19 UConn on Saturday.
Senior guard Russ Smith, who is averaging 17.5 points per game, leads a Cardinal offense that is scoring an impressive 81.8 points per game (12th in the nation).
Sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell and senior forward Luke Hancock continue to be key to the Cardinals' success. Harrell is averaging 14 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, while Hancock has averaged 11.9 points per game.
Louisville will enter the AAC tournament as the No. 2 seed because of a lost coin flip to AAC co-champion Cincinnati. The Cardinals will handle Rutgers in the quarterfinal round on Thursday, before facing off with a stingy SMU squad in the semifinals on Friday.
Louisville swept Larry Brown’s Mustangs during the regular-season and will get a third win over them prior to advancing to a third consecutive conference tournament title game.
The championship will pit Louisville against No. 1 seeded Cincinnati, a rematch of the 2012 Big East tournament championship game.
The teams split two regular-season games by a combined total of four points. It should be another close outing, but Louisville will come away with its third straight conference tournament title.
Finals Prediction: No. 2 Louisville over No. 1 Cincinnati
Atlantic Coast Conference
Duke’s big win over rival North Carolina on Saturday night puts it back in the hunt for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, despite being upset 82-72 at Wake Forest earlier last week.
Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils failed to win the ACC regular-season title for a fourth straight year and will be hoping to win its first conference title since 2011.
Freshman phenom Jabari Parker (19.2 points and nine rebounds per game) will have momentum heading into Greensboro after scoring a career-high 30 points against North Carolina.
While Parker will be critical to Duke’s success in the ACC tournament, teammates Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook must excel as well. Hood has been instrumental to Duke's success averaging 16.5 points per game. Cook is a playmaker who has averaged 11.6 points per game and 4.5 assists per game this season.
In the quarterfinal round, Duke should have no problem handling a Clemson team which it lost to back on Jan. 11. A win would match the Blue Devils against new ACC rival Syracuse in the semifinals. Both games between the two were as good as advertised and decided by a combined eight points.
With Syracuse appearing to be on a downward spiral, losing four of its last six games, Duke will take down the Orange and play in the championship game against old ACC rival North Carolina on Sunday.
Expect the Tar Heels to give the Blue Devils a tighter game than this past Saturday, but Duke will prevail and hope to see a No. 1 seed next to its name when the brackets are released Sunday evening.
Finals Prediction: No. 3 Duke over No. 4 North Carolina
Big East Conference
Creighton lost two games down the stretch giving Villanova its first Big East regular-season title since 2006. The Bluejays though are more than capable of winning the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Wooden Award finalist Doug McDermott scored a career-high 45 points and went over 3,000 career points (eighth player in Division I history) in his final home game at Creighton on Saturday night. McDermott also proves that he can be a player to rely on in big games, as he averaged 31 points in Creighton’s two games against Villanova.
With McDermott stealing the spotlight, teammate Ethan Wragge has been key as well, scoring 10.7 points per game.
Creighton will be the No. 2 seed in the Big East tournament and will battle Georgetown or DePaul in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The Bluejays should match up against Georgetown and avenge the loss they suffered to the Hoyas on March 4.
After likely knocking Georgetown out of NCAA tournament contention, Creighton will knock off a tough Xavier team, which it lost to 75-69 on March 1.
Once the Blue Jays have taken down two teams that it split meetings with during the regular season, they will look to defeat Villanova for a third time this season and win a third consecutive conference tournament title.
Finals Prediction: No. 2 Creighton over No.1 Villanova
Big Ten Conference
Michigan captured its first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 1986. Now it’s on to the Big Ten tournament, where the Wolverines have never won. They captured the Big Ten tournament in 1998, but that title has since been vacated.
Michigan enters the tournament in Indianapolis on a five-game winning streak and should be a threat in the NCAA tournament again after reaching the title game last season.
Sophomore guard Nik Stauskas, who is this season's Big Ten Player of the Year, leads the Wolverines with 17.4 points per game.
Along with Stauskas, sophomore guard Caris LeVert and sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III have been critical to the team’s success. Over the last five games, LeVert has averaged 15.6 points, while Robinson has averaged 15.4 points.
John Beilein’s squad will open up with its second consecutive game against Indiana. The Hoosiers made a comeback near the end of their game on Saturday, but the Wolverines pulled away in the end for an 84-80 victory. Expect the same result.
In the semifinals, Michigan will meet rival Ohio State, who it defeated 70-60 in Columbus on Feb. 11. With another win over the Buckeyes, the Wolverines will find themselves in the championship game against second-seeded Wisconsin.
The Badgers lost a heartbreaker at Nebraska on Sunday, but it was their first loss in nine games. It should be an entertaining game between two teams that have the potential to be No. 1 or 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Finals Prediction: No. 1 Michigan over No. 2 Wisconsin
Big 12 Conference
Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks have won 10 straight Big 12 regular-season titles and will be looking to win the Big 12 conference tournament for the seventh time in nine seasons.
Despite losing at West Virginia 92-86 on Saturday, freshman Andrew Wiggins scored a career-high 41 points and proved that he can put the team on his back.
Freshman center Joel Embiid will miss the entire Big 12 tournament. It’s a major blow as Embiid has averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
Kansas will get a first-round bye, then be contested by No. 8 seeded Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals. It will get revenge against the Pokes, after being upset by them 72-65 in Stillwater on March 1.
With a hard-fought victory over Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks will face in-state rival Kansas State in what should be an intense game in a loud Sprint Center in Kansas City. They have won eight of the last ten meetings against the Wildcats and will add another victory in the rivalry on Friday night.
In the Big 12 tournament championship, Kansas will face No. 7 seeded Baylor, which has won 10 of its last 11 games and will be looking for its first conference tournament title in school history.
The Jayhawks will defeat Baylor and hope to see themselves on the top line on Selection Sunday. Being without Embiid though could hurt the chances of Kansas to receive a No. 1 seed.
Finals Prediction: No. 1 Kansas over No. 7 Baylor
Florida is likely the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament at the moment after becoming the first SEC team to go undefeated in an 18-game conference schedule. Coach Billy Donovan's team is a heavy favorite to win its first conference tournament since 2007.
The Gators are led by senior All-SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin and senior forward Casey Prather. Wilbekin is averaging 12.9 points per game, while Prather has averaged 14.6 points per game. Michael Frazier II and Patric Young have been key for Florida too.
Florida will play its first tournament game in the quarterfinals against eighth-seeded Missouri, which will have defeated Texas A&M in the second round. After taking down the Tigers on Friday, the Gators will get rival Tennessee in the semifinals on Saturday.
Florida will extend its winning streak to 25 and face Kentucky, which will be coming off a close win over Georgia on Saturday, for a third a time this season.
The Gators should get their third win over the Wildcats and see themselves as the top seed in the South Regional.
Finals Prediction: No. 1 Florida over No. 2 Kentucky
UCLA finished the regular season with a 73-55 upset loss at a Washington State team that had won only nine games the entire season. The Bruins had a rough final stretch, losing three of their final five games.
This team is better than it has played recently, and should find itself playing for a second consecutive tournament title in Sin City.
Adams is averaging 17.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Anderson is averaging 14.9 points and a team-high 8.7 rebounds per game.
As a No. 2 seed, UCLA receives a first round bye.
It will get an interesting first contest against an Oregon squad which it lost to at home to on Feb. 27 without Adams and Anderson because of one-game suspensions. The Ducks will have won their last eight games leading into second round of the Pac-12 tournament, but UCLA will end the streak.
In the semifinals, the Bruins will knock off third-seeded Arizona State, which it defeated back on Jan. 12 at home, 87-72, and will play for the Pac-12 tournament title on Saturday.
UCLA lost earlier in the season to Arizona and will get another crack at the Cats in the championship game. Arizona will have survived another scare against Utah in the second round and defeated California in the semifinals.
Arizona hasn’t won a Pac-12 tournament since 2002, and it won’t once again. In a close game, the Bruins will capture their first conference tournament title since 2008.
Finals Prediction: No. 2 UCLA over No. 1 Arizona
Mountain West Conference
Steve Fisher coached San Diego State to its third regular season title in four years with a dramatic home win Saturday against New Mexico.
The Aztecs, who have won 27 games for the first time since 2010-11, have proven they can play with the best this season and will be a team to be reckoned with once the NCAA tournament rolls around.
San Diego State will face No. 8 seeded Utah State on the second day of the MWC tournament. It swept the Aggies during the regular season, with the first matchup going to overtime.
After another win over Utah State, the Aztecs will face fourth-seeded UNLV in the semifinals. The Runnin’ Rebels have home-court advantage and need a conference tournament title to advance to the NCAA tournament for a fifth consecutive year.
San Diego State will survive against a determined UNLV squad and reach the finals to face second-seeded New Mexico for the second time in a week.
The Aztecs and Lobos battled it out until the very end in San Diego for the regular-season title. It shouldn’t be any surprise to see these two in a barnburner again with San Diego State taking the tournament title.
Finals Prediction: No. 1 San Diego State over No. 2 New Mexico
VCU finished the regular-season with four wins and heads into A-10 tournament with hopes of winning its first conference title as a member of the A-10. Back in 2012, it won the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference tournament.
The Rams headed by fifth-year head coach Shaka Smart are led by junior guard Treveon Graham and senior forward Juvonte Reddic. Graham is averaging 15.6 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game. Reddic also has been key to VCU’s success with 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
VCU will potentially open up against Richmond in the quarterfinals on Friday. The Spiders have struggled down the stretch and likely need a conference tournament title to play in the NCAA tournament. VCU should handle business against them for a third time this season.
Next, the Rams will get third-seeded George Washington in the semifinal round. GW already is a lock in the NCAA tournament and should give Smart’s squad a run for its money. In the end, VCU will be too tough in the second half and make key shots to knock off the Colonials.
Saint Louis managed to get the win it needed to take the A-10 regular-season title, but it lost three of its last four games to end the season. That said, don’t be surprised to see the Dayton Flyers make their way through the A-10 tournament and land in the title game.
VCU dominated Dayton 80-66 back on Jan. 22, but the Flyers have won nine of their last 10. It will be a tight game, but the Rams will get their first A-10 tournament title.
Finals Prediction: No. 2 VCU over No. 5 Dayton