Early Predictions for the Champions of Every 2022 CBB Conference Tournament

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterFebruary 25, 2022

Early Predictions for the Champions of Every 2022 CBB Conference Tournament

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    Baylor guards James Akinjo (left) and Adam Flagler
    Baylor guards James Akinjo (left) and Adam FlaglerBrody Schmidt/Associated Press

    Conference tournaments are the appetizer for the Big Dance main course, the hailstorm before the hurricane.

    The drama spans all leagues, although these tourneys hold more value in the mid-major conferences, as an automatic bid is essentially the only way into the March Madness mothership.

    Here we've looked at all 32 league pictures, from the Mountain West to the Atlantic Coast, to bring you our early picks for each conference tournament champ. A big assist goes to TeamRankings, which provides odds breakdowns for each conference.

Mid-Majors Part 1

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    Tyson Jolly
    Tyson JollyIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    America East: Vermont (23-5, 15-1 conference)

    Odds to win: 82.8 percent

    Don't let that fluky loss to Hartford fool you. Vermont would still be unblemished in conference play if Hartford didn't make half its threes in that one-point overtime win. Make no mistake: The America East is Catamount country, as Vermont has whomped its competition by an average of 12.5 points per game, the 14th-largest margin in the nation.

                

    Atlantic Sun: Jacksonville State (19-9, 12-3 conference)

    Odds to win: 34.5 percent

    Liberty and Jacksonville State have been the two most consistently successful teams in the conference this season, but they've fallen on tough times of late, with the former being 2-2 in its last four and the latter being 4-3 in its last seven. Those stretches have allowed the Jacksonville Dolphins, winners in eight of their last nine, to jump into the breach. These three will need to sort it out eventually. Give the tiebreaker to the Gamecocks, who downed Liberty on January 29 and Jacksonville on February 5.

                     

    Big Sky: Montana State (21-6, 13-3 conference)

    Odds to win: 23.6 percent

    The Bobcats are on a tear, ripping off 12 of 13, and the only loss was an overtime nail-biter to Eastern Washington. Their most recent loss before that came to co-contender Weber State in December. The two split the season's home-and-home series.

          

    Big South: Winthrop (19-8, 12-2 conference)

    Odds to win: 24.0 percent

    It's a fairly crowded field in the Big South, with Winthrop and Longwood running neck and neck. But Winthrop is a battle-tested program, having reached the Big Dance last year. It returned several players from that team, including current leading scorer D.J. Burns. That experience will carry the Eagles through.

                  

    Big West: UC Irvine (13-7, 7-3 conference)

    Odds to win: 35.0 percent

    It's so nice to have the Anteaters back in our lives. They haven't always been stellar this season, as a rough nonconference schedule had led to several losses, but they haven't lost since January 22 and are vaulting up the rankings of a not particularly strong conference. Revenge games against CSU Fullerton and Long Beach State both loom.

               

    Colonial: Towson (21-7, 12-3 conference)

    Odds to win: 38.0 percent

    The Tigers are 7-1 going back to late January and are tied for the conference lead. Their success is due in large part to tandem shooting threats Nicolas Timberlake (14 ppg and 39.2 percent from three) and Jason Gibson (9.8 ppg on 43.4 percent shooting from deep).

              

    Conference USA: North Texas (20-4, 13-1 conference)

    Odds to win: 26.5 percent

    A recent win over top competitor UAB gave the Mean Green a 12-game win streak and a split of the season series. One would imagine it's a two-team race in this conference. North Texas' No. 38 NET ranking outpaces Middle Tennessee State's 100—which leads the East half of the conference bracket—by more than 60 spots. (UAB is closer but still 10 notches below at No. 48.)

    The Mean Green's key to victory is a stout defense that sits 19th in the country on KenPom.com's adjusted defense rankings.

           

    Horizon: Cleveland State (19-7, 15-4 conference)

    Odds to win: 27.5 percent

    The conference-leading Vikings get the nod, but it's far from a runaway, with TeamRankings giving four squads at least a 12 percent chance to nab the Horizon League tourney.

    Cleveland State has stumbled lately, losing two of its last five, including a soul-crushing triple OT loss to Purdue Fort Wayne. Keep your eye on this one.

               

    Ivy League: Princeton (19-5, 9-2 conference)

    Odds to win: 39.9 percent

    Why does Princeton have a better shot to win the tournament than Yale, which sits atop the conference by a half-game?

    First off, Princeton just beat the Bulldogs to even the season series. Second, the Tigers have a markedly better record than 16-10 Yale, which has recorded losses to the likes of Southern Utah.

            

    MAAC: Iona (22-5, 14-2 conference)

    Odds to win: 46.8 percent

    This one's easy to sort out. Iona is the class of the conference and carries a sterling 11-0 mark when playing at home. It's led by the three J's: Tyson Jolly, Nelly Junior Joseph and Elijah Joiner, the stat-sheet-stuffing trio who combines for 39.4 points per game.

                

    MAC: Kent State (18-9, 13-4 conference)

    Odds to win: 11.7 percent

    Time to take a little flier.

    Kent State is only third in the conference and fourth on TeamRankings' list, but the Golden Flashes are riding a nine-game winning streak, the longest such active streak in the conference. Sincere Carry is emerging as a star, with the Duquesne transfer pouring in 18.5 points per contest. This includes 42 points on 10-of-16 shooting from three in a Tuesday win over Ball State.

                             

    MEAC: Norfolk State Spartans (18-6, 9-2 conference)

    Odds to win: 43.8 percent

    This conference isn't particularly close, even with Norfolk State's recent stumble at Morgan State. The team's major threat is North Carolina Central, the second-place squad that upended the Spartans in January.

    A pivotal game between the two will go down next week.

Mid-Majors Part 2

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    Drew Timme
    Drew TimmeYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    Missouri Valley: Loyola-Chicago (22-6, 13-4 conference)

    Odds to win: 40.0 percent

    Here's a fun tip: Never, ever bet against Loyola-Chicago. You don't do it!

    Everyone's favorite Cinderella (if you really want to call them that) is once again leading the way in the MVC. Recent setbacks to Drake and Bradley are concerning, but Loyola's NET ranking is still No. 29—73 spots higher than that of Northern Iowa, which is tied for first in the conference with the Ramblers.

             

    Mountain West: Boise State (22-6, 13-2 conference)

    Odds to win: 20.8 percent

    If you like mid-major action, the Mountain West is a good bet. Not only do five teams have at least a 10 percent chance of winning the tournament, but the conference's four leading squads—Boise State, Wyoming, Colorado State, San Diego State—are also within 10 spots of one another in the NET rankings. The Broncos get the nod for a 5-1 run of late and a fairly balanced attack that includes a 12th-place KenPom defensive ranking. They also recently completed a season sweep of San Diego State.

            

    Northeast: Wagner (19-3, 15-1 conference)

    Odds to win: 60.1 percent

    This is Wagner's conference to lose. One more tangle with second-place Bryant is on the horizon, but the Seahawks are nevertheless on cruise control. Alex Morales won the NEC Player of the Year award last year, and there's no reason he can't do it again this season. He's top-10 in the conference in scoring average (17.9), rebounding (7.6), field-goal percentage (52.1), assists (3.7) and steals (1.9) per game. 

                

    Ohio Valley: Murray State (26-2, 16-0 in conference)

    Odds to win: 56.6 percent 

    Like Loyola-Chicago and a few others, Murray State is not so much a Cinderella as it's just a solid mid-major program with a serious Big Dance pedigree.

    For the Racers, that spotless conference record, a No. 29 ranking on KenPom and a nifty No. 27 NET ranking all set them well apart from the rest of the OVC field. A 4-1 record over Quadrant 1 and 2 teams doesn't hurt either.

                

    Patriot: Colgate (19-11, 15-2 in conference)

    Odds to win: 65.9 percent

    Colgate is a big favorite for a reason. One intangible for the Raiders is their resilience. They've avenged each of their conference losses with impressive, lopsided wins in the second go-around. Just after New Year's, they lost to Lehigh by four but won by 16 a month later. A four-point loss to Boston University in late January preceded a 19-point win last week.

    A 1-3 record against the top two quadrants won't do the Raiders any favors, but that could mean they'll be that much more motivated in the conference tourney, which doesn't offer nearly the same level of competition.

             

    Southern League: Chattanooga (23-7, 13-4 in conference)

    Odds to win: 30.7 percent

    The league-leading Mocs are a victim of self-inflicted wounds. Conference losses to last-place Western Carolina and middling UNC Greensboro have left their sting. But they've played well against the top squads, and their adjusted strength of schedule is significantly better than those of second-place Furman and third-place Samford.

             

    Southland: Nicholls State (18-9, 8-2 in conference)

    Odds to win: 43.0 percent

    This is not a good league. According to TeamRankings, it clocks in at No. 30 of the 32 D-I conferences in RPI. Not what you want to see if you're a Southland Conference fan. 

    The Colonels almost take it by default, with their 200 NET ranking putting them 36 slots ahead of New Orleans, which sits atop the conference and owns a win over Nicholls. The Colonels will get revenge over New Orleans in their regular-season finale and ride that wave to an automatic bid.

                

    SWAC: Texas Southern (13-11, 11-4 conference) 

    Odds to win: 34.7 percent

    Remember a second ago when we decried the poor quality of the Southland Conference? Well, the SWAC would like to see that ranking and raise you, as it checks in all the way at the bottom of the conference RPI standings.

    Honestly, yikes. The conference-leading Tigers of Texas Southern started their season with a seven-game losing streak. They didn't win a game until after Thanksgiving. 

    Give them credit for coming on in conference season, including winning eight of their last nine. Sure, they're 1-5 against the first two quadrants. But they don't have to worry about that in the conference tourney. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

             

    Summit: South Dakota State (25-4, 16-0)

    Odds to win: 60.6 percent

    It's a walkover in the Summit League, with the Jackrabbits jack-hammering their way toward a perfect conference season.

    The mascot name is apropos. Only Gonzaga scores more points per game at 89.5 than SDSU's 86.6. And they lead the nation with a 45.2 shooting percentage from deep behind do-it-all sophomore guard Baylor Scheierman. This team was built for March, be it in its own conference or beyond.

           

    Sun Belt: Texas State (20-6, 11-3 in conference)

    Odds to win: 16.8 percent

    There are significant unknowns in the Sun Belt Conference, which must be why five teams have a double-digit-percent chance of winning the conference tourney.

    Texas State and conference rival Georgia State own one Quadrant 1 or 2 win between them, and thanks to a COVID cancellation, they won't play each other this regular season. Still, an eight-game winning streak, the longest active such streak in the conference, puts the Bobcats in the driver's seat.

                

    WAC: New Mexico State (23-4, 13-2 in conference)

    Odds to win: 39.2 percent 

    The Aggies look pretty comfortable in the WAC, even with Stephen F. Austin streaking up the rankings behind them. No matter what happens from here, New Mexico State has a sweep of second-place Seattle under its belt, not to mention a 2-0 record over Quadrant 1 opponents.

                  

    WCC: Gonzaga (23-2, 12-0)

    Odds to win: 81.5 percent

    We saved the best, and least dramatic, for last.

    The Bulldogs will win another round of WCC regular-season and tournament championships. That's never been the challenge for the consensus No. 1 team in the nation and the NET rankings; winning the big one is the white whale. But in the meantime, Gonzaga keeps rolling over the Pepperdines of the world, hoping to sharpen its edge as much as possible once the real season begins for the lads from Spokane, Washington.

American Athletic Conference: Houston (23-4, 12-2)

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    Kyler Edwards
    Kyler EdwardsJustin Rex/Associated Press

    Odds to win: 60.7 percent

    Although they're arguably known for their defense, Kelvin Sampson's Houston Cougars are a balanced club, sitting at 13th in offense, 16th in defense and sixth overall in the KenPom ratings. They hold opponents to just 59 points per contest—good for eighth in the nation—and their offensive attack is balanced, with five players averaging double figures in scoring. 

    More importantly, though, is their sky-high No. 4 NET ranking. They made up for an 0-3 record against Quadrant 1 opponents with a 7-1 mark against those in Quadrant 2.

    Houston also suffered back-to-back setbacks earlier this month against SMU and Memphis, the conference's second- and third-place teams, respectively. In the coming weeks, the Cougars will have regular-season rematches with both.

    Houston has won three straight and should have no trouble righting the ship for another run to rival last season's run to the Final Four.

Atlantic 10: Davidson (23-4, 13-2)

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    Foster Loyer
    Foster LoyerBrian Westerholt/Associated Press

    Odds to win: 19.4 percent

    For a second it looked like Davidson might be good enough to gain an at-large berth, but that ship may have sailed. Either way, the Wildcats will lock up their bid at the end of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

    VCU is their top adversary, and they split their home-and-home series by a combined four points. That will be a fun matchup should it reemerge in the postseason.

    The Wildcats enjoy a NET ranking of 44 and have a respectable 2-1 record against Quadrant 1. It's the same as it ever was at Davidson: offense, offense and more offensive. The Wildcats rank fifth nationally with a 39.4 three-point shooting percentage and 10th in field-goal percentage with a mark of 48.7.

    Hyunjung Lee leads the team with 16.7 points per game, while Foster Loyer scores 16.5 per night and shoots a whopping 43.8 percent mark from three, but four players on the team average double figures in scoring.

ACC: Duke (24-4, 14-3)

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    Paolo Banchero
    Paolo BancheroGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    Odds to win: 47.3 percent

    With "only" five teams projected for the Big Dance, per B/R's Kerry Miller, it's a fairly down year for college basketball's most storied conference. 

    League-leading Duke is still a national power, even if it's not quite within the inner circle this season.

    The Blue Devils sit No. 12 in NET ranking and are starting to jell. Super frosh Paolo Banchero is finding his groove during the team's five-game win streak. Wednesday night, the vaunted Virginia defense held him to eight points on 2-of-13 shooting, but as it was only his second game in which he was limited to single-digit scoring, it's likely an aberration.

    With Banchero bottled up, the team showed its depth in leveling its regular-season series with UVA, as all but one active roster member got on the scoreboard in a tight 65-61 ballgame.

    Duke also has the advantage of a relatively soft schedule heading into the postseason. It will face a tough Syracuse squad on the road before traveling to Pittsburgh for one more game. Then it will send off Mike Krzyzewski in style at Cameron Indoor against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

    There's no way Duke loses that game. Then it'll ride that emotion full bore into the conference tournament.

Big East: Villanova (21-7, 14-4)

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    Collin Gillespie
    Collin GillespieIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Odds to win: 36.7 percent 

    The Villanova Wildcats' No. 8 NET ranking is eight places higher than the next Big East team, UConn. But those are high numbers, emblematic of a strong conference that Miller predicts will land seven teams in the Dance. 

    In other words, there's a lot of talent density here. This in turn makes the tournament an Alamo of sorts for teams that need hardware to redeem their Big Dance resumes. 

    But Villanova is still a sensible pick, even as it sits behind Providence in the conference standings. Interestingly, Providence's NET ranking is No. 28, a full 20 below Villanova's. The Wildcats don't do anything with amazing results, but their offense is deep and balanced, making them the sixth-most efficient offense in the land, per KenPom. Assuming top scorer Collin Gillespie is healthy, the Wildcats will be a tough out come March.

Big Ten: Illinois (19-7, 12-4)

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    Kofi Cockburn
    Kofi CockburnIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Odds to win: 20.7 percent 

    Time to take a small flier on a team that will be ensconced in the Big Dance but will likely compete for a better seed when the Big Ten tourney tips off.

    Oftentimes an individual star will take over games in these tournaments, and Kofi Cockburn could be well positioned for an Illinois hard carry. According to Sports Reference, Cockburn leads the Big Ten in rebounding (11.2 per contest) and usage percentage (33.1 percent), in addition to a wealth of other leaderboard appearances.

    With apologies to the John Harrars and Zach Edeys of the world, I wouldn't wager on anyone stopping Cockburn once the postseason begins, especially after last season's unceremonious second-round tournament exit.  

Big 12: Baylor (23-5, 11-4)

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    Adam Flagler
    Adam FlaglerJohn E. Moore III/Getty Images

    Odds to win: 28.6 percent

    These Baylor Bears might not be as loaded as last year's national championship squad, but the cupboard is far from bare.

    They've not only survived a brutal schedule but thrived, racking up an eye-popping 10-4 record against Quadrant 1 teams and 5-1 against Quadrant 2, landing them comfortably at No. 6 in the NET rankings. A deep, experienced backcourt led by junior Adam Flagler (13.7 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.2 spg) is carrying the load for Baylor.

    With Miller projecting them as a No. 2 seed in the Dance, the Bears could be playing for a coveted top spot once the Big 12 tourney rolls around. That means extra motivation for a team that doesn't seem to need much in the first place.

Pac-12: Arizona (24-2, 14-1)

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    Ben Mathurin
    Ben MathurinAssociated Press

    Odds to win: 52.3 percent 

    The Arizona Wildcats sit atop the Pac-12 and rank No. 2 in the nation, and it will be a tall order to stop them from barreling through the conference tournament. Sure, UCLA and a couple of other upstarts stand in their way, but this is a weak conference, as Miller only projects three teams will earn bids.

    Arizona sits No. 2 not just in the AP poll but also in the KenPom and NET rankings and carries an impressive 11-2 record against Quadrants 1 and 2. The Wildcats have only lost once since the calendar flipped to 2022, losing at Pauley Pavilion to the then-No. 7 Bruins in late January. 

    As long as they keep their heads, the Wildcats should provide a serious mismatch for any other team in the Pac-12, where they lead in points per game (84.8), field-goal percentage (49.1), rebounds per game (43.1) and assists per game (20.4).

    Sophomore guard Ben Mathurin has been a revelation, beefing up his production from last year in essentially every statistical category save his shooting efficiency. But the team is deep and versatile, and that’s a hard combination to deal with in the one-and-done format.

SEC: Tennessee (20-7, 11-4)

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    Kennedy Chandler
    Kennedy ChandlerMichael Woods/Associated Press

    Odds to win: 19.72 percent

    Auburn and Kentucky have both put in major work and are slated for No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, per Miller. And although TeamRankings gives each team a better chance to win the SEC tournament than Tennessee, the Vols may have more on the line, making them a more dangerous team.

    The lads from Rocky Top have been far from idle, of course, and are a lock for the tournament regardless, as they sit ninth in NET rankings. They can likely move up from the four line in the Big Dance with a conference tournament victory.

    High-quality guard play is a must in either tournament, and Tennessee has it. Kennedy Chandler and Santiago Vescovi each score exactly 13.6 points per game, or more than a third of all the Volunteer output on average.

    Tennessee's real path to victory, however, usually comes on defense. It ranks 17th nationally with 16.6 turnovers forced per game and 28th with only 62.8 points allowed per contest.

    The Vols might be looking up at the SEC's two marquee teams, but that doesn't mean they can't upend the favorites and break through for a conference tournament title—and better placement for the Big Dance.

                

    Additional statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and NCAA.com. All data current as of the start of play Thursday.

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