Early Predictions for the Champions of Every 2019 CBB Conference Tournament

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2019

Early Predictions for the Champions of Every 2019 CBB Conference Tournament

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Every year, at least a few deserving teams wind up on the wrong side of the bubble when the NCAA tournament bracket is revealed.

    There's only one sure way to avoid that disappointment: win your conference tournament.

    The Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament is the first to tip off (March 4), while a number of tournaments wrap up March 17. In between, all 32 conferences will stake claim to one automatic bid.

    Ahead you'll find our early predictions on who will be punching their ticket prior to the selection show.

Mid Majors

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    High-scoring Justin Wright-Foreman could make Hofstra a dangerous draw in the NCAA tournament.
    High-scoring Justin Wright-Foreman could make Hofstra a dangerous draw in the NCAA tournament.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    America East: UMBC (18-11, 10-4)

    The UMBC team that became the first No. 16 seed to ever knock off a No. 1 seed last year is looking to dance again. The Retrievers already beat conference leader Vermont twice, and they're 9-2 in their last 11 games.


    Atlantic Sun: Lipscomb (22-6, 13-2)

    Led by sharpshooter Garrison Mathews (19.9 PPG, 41% 3PT), the Bisons are still the best team in the Atlantic Sun by a wide margin despite two losses in their last four games. A Liberty team that beat them Feb. 13 will be their toughest test.


    Big Sky: Montana (20-7, 13-3)

    The Grizzlies won 10 straight before a two-point loss on Monday, and they've been there before after punching their ticket as a No. 14 seed last year.


    Big South: Radford (19-9, 11-3)

    The Highlanders are the only team in the Big South with a Top 25 win, as they beat Texas back on Nov. 30 when the Longhorns were ranked No. 17. Radford has made the NCAA tournament just three times in 34 years, one of which came last season.


    Big West: UC Irvine (23-5, 11-1)

    The Anteaters are one of the stingiest defensive teams in the country, holding opponents to 64.3 points per game while leading the nation in opponents' field-goal percentage (.403). They're also on a nine-game winning streak.


    Colonial: Hofstra (23-6, 13-3)

    With one of the nation's most prolific scorers in Justin Wright-Foreman (26.6 PPG, 43.3% 3PT) leading a high-scoring offense, Hofstra is a threat to make it out of the first weekend. The Pride also shoot a blistering 79.5 percent from the free-throw linetops in Division I.


    Conference USA: Old Dominion (22-6, 12-3)

    Senior and 2014 top 100 recruit B.J. Stith paces the Monarchs with 18.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. This is a good team that beat a tournament-bound Syracuse squad earlier this year.


    Horizon League: Wright State (18-11, 12-4)

    The Raiders have won six in a row, including a four-point victory over top challenger Northern Kentucky to split the season series.


    Ivy League: Yale (18-5, 8-2)

    The Ivy League is deep this year. Harvard and Princeton are both hot on the Bulldogs' trail, and the Penn team that beat Villanova earlier this year has to also be considered a threat. Still, there's little question Yale is the team to beat.


    MAAC: Quinnipiac (15-12, 10-6)

    Led by MAAC leading scorer Cameron Young (23.1 PPG)—who exploded for 55 points earlier this month against Sienathe Bobcats are looking to make their first NCAA tournament.


    MAC: Buffalo (24-3, 12-2)

    The Bulls sit at No. 16 in the NET rankings, and they're projected for a No. 7 seed in the most recent update to the Bracket Matrix. They're going to the NCAA tournament regardless, so bubble teams are hoping they can take care of business and claim the automatic bid.


    MEAC: Norfolk State (17-11 12-1)

    Norfolk State has made just one NCAA tournament appearance, knocking off No. 2 seed Missouri in 2012. The Spartans are the heavy favorites to represent the MEAC this year.

Mid Majors

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    Fletcher Magee is the leader of a sharpshooting Wofford team that could be a real threat.
    Fletcher Magee is the leader of a sharpshooting Wofford team that could be a real threat.Peyton Williams/Getty Images

    Missouri Valley: Loyola-Chicago (17-12, 10-6)

    With a 21-8 record, Drake has the best resume in the Missouri Valley. However, the Ramblers swept the season series, and they have a matching 10-6 record in conference play. This might not be the same Loyola-Chicago from a year ago, but it's still a talented squad.


    Mountain West: Nevada (25-2, 12-2)

    The Wolfpack rank in the top 30 in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency (28th) and adjusted defensive efficiency (23rd). Their only losses this season have come to San Diego State and New Mexico, so they haven't been untouchable in conference play, but they're still the clear favorites.


    Northeast: Fairleigh Dickinson (15-13, 10-6)

    After a shaky start to conference play, the Knights have gone 9-2 in their last 11 games. They rank seventh in the nation with a 39.7 percent three-point percentage, and leading scorer Darnell Edge (16.5 PPG) is hitting at a ridiculous 55.3 percent rate (47-of-85) from distance during conference play.


    Ohio Valley: Belmont (23-4, 14-2)

    Murray State and future lottery pick Ja Morant have received the national attention, but it's Belmont that has looked like the best team in the Ohio Valley Conference for much of the year. The Bruins beat Murray State by 13 in their lone regular-season matchup.


    Patriot: Colgate (19-10, 11-5)

    The Raiders are riding a six-game winning streak that includes victories over fellow contenders Lehigh and Bucknell. Junior 6'10" forward Rapolas Ivanauskas is averaging 17.5 points and 6.9 rebounds during conference play, and he's a 42.7 percent three-point shooter.


    Southern: Wofford (24-4, 16-0)

    The Terriers have climbed all the way to No. 19 in the NET rankings. Led by senior Fletcher Magee (20.2 PPG, 41.4% 3PT), they rank among the top 10 nationally in made three-pointers (310, fifth) and three-point percentage (41.5%, second).


    Southland: Sam Houston State (19-9, 14-1)

    The Bearkats have been the class of the Southland Conference all season. Lamar is the one team that beat them, and the Cardinals have won five in a row, so keep an eye on them as a potential dark horse.


    SWAC: Texas Southern (16-11, 11-3)

    While the Tigers are still trying to chase down Prairie View A&M (15-12, 13-1) in the conference standings, they have plenty of momentum heading into March and an impressive resume to boot. They've won eight in a row and have non-conference wins against Baylor, Oregon and Texas A&M to their credit.


    Summit: South Dakota State (23-7, 13-2)

    As long as Mike Daum (25.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG) is still on campus, there's no reason to pick against the Jackrabbits. Sophomore David Jenkins Jr. (19.6 PPG, 46.8% 3PT) has also served as a dynamic Robin to his Batman.


    Sun Belt: Georgia State (19-9, 10-5)

    The Panthers are looking to make the field for the third time in five years. They beat a good Alabama team (NET: 53) at the beginning of December and split the season series with current Sun Belt leader Texas State. Junior guard D'Marcus Simonds (19.4 PPG) gives coach Ron Hunter a star he can lean on.


    West Coast: Gonzaga (27-2, 14-0)

    This might be the most talented team that coach Mark Few has had during a 20-year run at Gonzaga that includes 19 straight NCAA tournament appearances and a trip to the national championship game. It would be a shock if the Bulldogs don't run the table in conference play.


    WAC: New Mexico State (24-4, 12-1)

    The Aggies were a No. 12 seed last year during a 28-win season, and they're the clear favorites to represent the WAC once again. With a well-balanced offensive attack, a rotation full of upperclassmen and a good defense, they're set up to avoid a letdown.


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    Corey Davis Jr.
    Corey Davis Jr.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Predicted Winner: Houston Cougars (26-1, 13-1)

    A grind-it-out defensive game between Houston (60.3 OPP PPG, No. 12 adjusted offensive efficiency) and Cincinnati (61.5 OPP PPG, No. 31 AdjO) would make for quite the AAC championship game.

    The Cougars took the first meeting 65-58 at home, with the Bearcats set to play host in the regular-season finale March 10.

    Cincinnati star Jarron Cumberland had a tough game in the first matchup, scoring a game-high 27 points but doing so on 9-of-25 shooting. He's also been held to just 19 total points on 6-of-22 shooting.

    Without their leading scorer playing up to his potential, it would be advantage Houston.

    Of course, there's no guarantee it will be those two teams in the final.

    UCF (20-6, 10-4) has a talented squad, and Temple (20-7, 10-4) was the team that gave Houston its lone loss in early January. However, the Cougars avenged that with a 73-66 win in their second meeting.

    Regardless of who lines up across from them, this Houston team is the favorite to win the AAC tournament.

Atlantic 10

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    Jon Axel Gudmundsson
    Jon Axel GudmundssonPeyton Williams/Getty Images

    Predicted Winner: Davidson (20-7, 11-3)

    The Wildcats have already knocked off Atlantic 10 leader VCU once this year, and an easy schedule the rest of the way should allow them to build momentum heading into the conference tournament.

    La Salle (NET: 209), Fordham (NET: 234), St. Bonaventure (NET: 141) and Richmond (NET: 187)—four teams with losing records overall—are all that remain on their regular-season slate.

    Momentum isn't everything, but it can be a major factor during conference tournament time when teams have to deal with quick turnarounds.

    With Jon Axel Gudmundsson (17.0 PPG) and Kellan Grady (16.3 PPG) both capable of carrying the offense, and freshmen Luke Frampton (11.0 PPG) and Luka Brajkovic (10.7 PPG) gaining valuable experience, the Wildcats have a lot of weapons.

    VCU is in good shape to earn an at-large bid, so a Davidson tournament win would likely eliminate a bubble spot.


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    De'Andre Hunter
    De'Andre HunterRyan M. Kelly/Getty Images

    Predicted Winner: Virginia (24-2, 12-2)

    Duke, North Carolina and Virginia are all tied atop the ACC standings, and all three are slotted in the Top Five in the AP poll.

    Virginia has only lost to Duke this year. Would the third time be a charm?

    The Cavaliers lead the nation in scoring defense (54.5 PPG) and three-point defense (26.5%), but they've had a hard time slowing down the Blue Devils' dynamic attack.

    Questions surrounding the health of Zion Williamson are enough to think it's advantage Virginia if the teams meet for a third time.

    With the three ACC leaders likely playing for two No. 1 seeds, there's plenty of incentive. The team that claims the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament will have a significant advantage, and the Cavaliers are well-positioned to do just that with a relatively friendly remaining schedule.

Big East

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    Markus Howard
    Markus HowardJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

    Predicted Winner: Marquette (23-4, 12-2)

    Since losing by 20 to St. John's in the conference opener, Marquette is 11-1 in its last 12.

    Golden Eagles star Markus Howard (25.3 PPG, 43.6% 3PT) is the kind of player who can catch fire and carry his team to a conference tournament title.

    Junior forward Sacar Anim has also stepped into a bigger role in his past six games, racking up 13.2 points per outing while averaging 34.3 minutes and knocking down nine threes in 14 attempts.

    Villanova can never be counted out, and St. John's has given the Golden Eagles their only two conference losses, but Marquette is the front-runner.

Big Ten

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    Cassius Winston
    Cassius WinstonDylan Buell/Getty Images

    Predicted Winner: Michigan State (23-5, 14-3)

    Michigan State made a statement Sunday with a 77-70 win over Michigan.

    Aside from a brief stumble a month ago where they lost three straight games to Purdue, Indiana and Illinois, the Spartans have been the best team in a loaded Big Ten.

    They lead the nation in assists (543), rank third in rebounds (1,164) and stand fifth in blocks (156). They're also in the top 50 in team offense (80.1 PPG, 35th) and defense (65.8 OPP PPG, 45th).

    Point guard Cassius Winston (19.2 PPG, 7.5 APG, 42.6% 3PT) leads the way, and eight players have logged at least 22 minutes per game since conference play started.

    With as many as eight teams from the Big Ten headed to the NCAA tournament—and others like Penn State, Nebraska and Illinois capable of beating anyone—this might be the toughest tournament to predict.

    That said, Michigan State is the most complete team.

Big 12

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    Jarrett Culver
    Jarrett CulverJohn Weast/Getty Images

    Predicted Winner: Texas Tech (22-5, 10-4)

    Texas Tech ranks first in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency.

    The Red Raiders are allowing just 61.2 points per game. They are also holding opposing teams to 39.2 percent from the floor and 31.5 percent from beyond the arc—both tops in the country.

    They're far from just a one-dimensional defensive team, though, as sophomore Jarrett Culver (18.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.6 APG) is an offensive star.

    Texas Tech has been playing its best basketball of late, going 7-1 in its last eight games. The one loss came to Kansas on Feb. 2, and that misstep was avenged with a 91-62 blowout of the Jayhawks on Saturday.

    Aside from Oklahoma State (10-17, 3-11) and West Virginia (10-17, 2-12), every team in the Big 12 is capable of getting hot and making a run to the Big 12 title game.

    Texas Tech is the pick thanks to a smothering defense and its momentum.


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    Luguentz Dort
    Luguentz DortDavid Becker/Getty Images

    Predicted Winner: Arizona State (19-8, 10-5)

    The Washington Huskies (22-5, 13-1) have all but wrapped up the regular-season Pac-12 title, but Arizona State might be the team to beat in the conference tournament.

    The Sun Devils earned a commanding 75-63 win over the Huskies on Feb. 9, and they also have impressive wins over Kansas and Mississippi State.

    Granted, they also lost to a bad Washington State (11-16, 4-10) team, which is the perfect example of how anything can happen in the conference tournament.

    Arizona State has six players averaging at least eight points per game. Remy Martin (40.3% 3PT) and Rob Edwards (40.2% 3PT) are both shooting lights-out from beyond the arc in conference play, providing excellent support for freshman leading scorer Luguentz Dort (16.4 PPG).

    In a down year for the Pac-12, the conference might get just two bids.


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    Naz Reid
    Naz ReidMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    Predicted Winner: LSU (22-5, 12-2)

    A young LSU team seems to finally be hitting its stride.

    The Tigers have won five of six, including a road win over Kentucky and a home win in overtime over Tennessee, who were both ranked No. 5 in the AP poll at the time.

    Their only two conference losses came by a combined six points, as they fell to Arkansas by one point and lost to Florida in overtime by five.

    Freshmen Naz Reid (14.1 PPG) and Ja'vonte Smart (11.5 PPG) have both upped their scoring in conference play. Reid had a season-high 29 points against Mississippi State on Feb. 6, while Smart matched that total Saturday against Tennessee.

    That said, neither first-year player is asked to shoulder the load. Sophomore Tremont Waters (15.7 PPG, 5.9 APG) is the team's leading scorer, while Skylar Mays (13.6 PPG) also makes an impact.

    Tennessee and Kentucky are both talented teams capable of beating anyone on the right night. This LSU squad just seems to be putting it together at the right time.


    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference unless otherwise noted.