Saturday, March 8, 2014

College Basketball Conference Tournament Predictions

American - Louisville
The American Conference has been an absolute mess this year, with none of the tope five teams being able to truly dominate the top of the league.  Right now, Cincinnati and Louisville are tied for best in the standings, but Connecticut, SMU, and Memphis all have at least one win against the top two. Thus, it's very difficult to predict a winner of the conference tournament because these teams have beat up on each other all year with no distinct pattern.  However, I'm going to go with Louisville to win the tournament for several reasons.  First off, in conference tournaments, there is nothing more important than having a clutch late-game scorer, and the Cardinals have one of the best in Russ Smith.  Only Shabazz Napier and Sean Kilpatrick even compare to Smith in this category, but they certainly don't exceed him.  Also essential for a team to make a run in the conference tournament is an established big man who can take some of the scoring stress off of the guards, but can also dominate the boards. For Louisville, that would be Montrezl Harrell, who is currently averaging 13.8 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game.  Lastly, I think that coach Rick Pitino gets his team ready for big games like none other.  Sure, they have lost five of their seven games to ranked teams this year, but their two wins have both come in their last four games - that is what we like to call an upward trend.  This trend should continue as I see them winning the American Conference Tournament.

Atlantic 10 - Dayton
In the Atlantic 10, there are truly six teams in contention to win the conference tournament, Saint Louis, Massachusetts, VCU, George Washington, Saint Josephs, and Dayton.  This tournament has huge NCAA tournament implications, because all of these teams probably deserve to make it to the bag dance but chances are slim that the committee would accept six teams from the A10.  Dayton may have the most to gain or lose out of anybody; they have some great wins against Gonzaga, Cal, George Washington, and more recently against Massachusetts and Saint Louis.  However, they don't have a spectacular conference record at 9 and 6, so the conference tournament will be an incredible opportunity to prove themselves.  Without much space between these top six teams, I think the winner of this tournament will come down to who wants it most, and Dayton will certainly want it a lot.

ACC - Virginia
I'm choosing Virginia to win the ACC for the simple reason that they have been absolutely dominant in the conference this year.  They have a record of 16 wins and just one loss in the ACC, they only loss coming near the start of conference play to Duke.  There is no doubt that there is a lot of competition at the top of the ACC, but Virginia have won 13 straight in-conference, including wins against UNC, Pitt, and Syracuse.  All season long, Virginia have been called a poor offensive team, which is true - they rank 289th in points per game.  However, this certainly hasn't stopped them from winning big games, as evidenced by their recent defiling of Syracuse.  Any team that goes 16 and 1 in the ACC is a good bet to win the conference tournament in my book.

Big 12 - Oklahoma State
The Big 12, outside of TCU and Texas Tech, is one of the deepest conferences in college basketball this year, but there are no absolutely dominant teams at the top, which makes the conference tournament very difficult to predict.  Kansas would like to say that they are top of the conference, and though they are record-wise, they have lost two of their last three to Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Thus, I am going with Oklahoma State to win the conference tournament.  NO, they don't have a great conference record, but they have recovered well from loosing seven straight in the conference to win their last four.  For conference tournaments, it is often times not the best team that wins but the hottest team, and with the return of Marcus Smart, there probably is not a hotter team in the conference right now.

Big East - Villanova
The sole reason for my choice of Villanova to win the conference tournament (outside of their absolutely remarkable season) is the fact that they, being the number one seed, will be on the other side of the bracket from Creighton, the number two seed.  Creighton have been Villanova's kryptonite this year, but Creighton themselves have been undermined by several middle-of-the-standings Big East teams.  Thus I would expect a final of Villanova, versus some team that is not Creighton, and Villanova have a perfect record against teams fitting this description so far.  Additionally, Villanova has three or four different players that game make huge shots near the end of the game, which is always an important aspect of a conference tournament winning team.

Big Ten - Wisconsin
Here, my choice of Wisconsin to win the Big Ten conference tournament is based off of a common theme come tournament time: it isn't the best team that wins, it's the hottest.  Michigan and Michigan State would both probably argue that they have better players than Wisconsin, but Wisconsin has won eight straight games, including wins against Michigan, Michigan State, and Iowa.  If you take out a small six game stretch in which Wisconsin lost five of six, they are 24 and 0, with wins coming against Florida, Saint Louis, Virginia, and the in-conference opponents that I mentioned previously.  Heck, who knows, maybe Wisconsin does have better players than Michigan and Michigan State - they don't put points up like those two, but they can sure play defense.  Now that I am looking back at their resume, I don't see why they shouldn't be in contention for a one seed, and I certainly don't see any reason why they wouldn't be considered favorites for the Big Ten conference tournament.

Missouri Valley - Wichita State
I really shouldn't have to say anything about this one, but I will.  Wichita State are yet to lose a game through 32 contests, and they even have a few impressive wins in non-conference play against Saint Louis, BYU, and Tennessee.  Put them in one of the weakest conferences in college basketball and I think its a fairly sure bet that they will win the conference tournament.

Mountain West - New Mexico
San Diego State still has a better overall record than New Mexico does, but with a 14 point win over the Aztecs, New Mexico pulled level with them in the conference.  Despite San Diego State's more impressive resume, New Mexico are much hotter at the moment, seeing as they have won twelve of their last thirteen, while San Diego State's two in-conference losses have both come within the last month.  I would even venture to say that New Mexico have the more talented team of the two, with Cameron Bairstow being one of the best big men in the country, and Kendall Williams holding down the backcourt.  There is no doubt in my mind that the final will be SDSU vs New Mexico, but I think with the way that the latter is playing right now, they will emerge victorious.

Pac 12 - Utah
There is no team that needs a long conference tournament run more than Utah.  They sit squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble, with a fairly impressive record but not as many quality wins.  Despite this, they have hung decently tough with the big boys of the Pac 12, beating UCLA and coming just short against Arizona, losing in overtime.  Additionally, they have dominated the middle ranks of the Pac 12, with wins against Cal, Colorado, Arizona State, and Washington.  They also come into the tournament in very good form, winning three straight against good opponents.  The reality is, they need this tournament more than any other team in the Pac 12 does, so it seems likely that we will see the Utah team that took Arizona to overtime, not the one that lost to Washington State (who have won just two games in the Pac 12).

SEC - Florida
Florida, with their blowout win against Kentucky today, has just become the first team ever to go 18 and 0 in the SEC.  To be completely honest, there was not a lot of competition for the top spot in the SEC, as the next best team is Kentucky (12 and 6 in-conference).  Florida have won 23 straight, so I guess you could say they are pretty hot right now, not to mention that they have an extremely experienced and consistent team.  Teams with as many veteran players as Florida has tend to fair very well in conference tournaments, which are often a test of stamina, fitness, and mental toughness. Expect Florida to run away from the competition in this year's SEC tournament.

West Coast - BYU
At this point it is pretty definite that Gonzaga will be in the NCAA tournament regardless of their performance in the conference tournament, which leaves an opening for BYU.  BYU, unlike Gonzaga, are not a lock for the big dance, and will need an impressive conference tournament run if they want to make it there.  They come into the tournament in fairly good form, having won eight of their last nine, including a win against Gonzaga.  These two will likely find themselves on opposite sides of the tournament bracket, so it is plausible that we would see a finals matchup between them.  The reality is, BYU need it much more, and should in a style that demonstrates their desperation.

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