A Whole Ton of Conference Previews

The last of the conference tournament previews, the Big East the big conference getting underway today with even more opening rounds on Wednesday and Thursday. Tons and tons of basketball goodness.

Tournament Champions
North Carolina
When the Heels are on, there are very few teams that can match their pace and talent. Their dismantling of Duke on Saturday proved that to me. Only Iona scores more points a game and as I see it, if they can get past Virginia’s very stingy defense for the third time this year, the title should be theirs. If UNC and Duke do meet for the 3rd time this season, the big men (Zeller, Barnes McAdoo) have got to stay out of foul trouble, period. The other thing the Heels are playing for is a number one seed. A few other things have to fall in place ahead of them, but I still think UNC’s got a shot at a #1. 
Upset Alert
NC State over Virginia
The Wolfpack couldn’t rally from 10 down in their first meeting this season, but came a point short back on January 28. Since then, NC State has gone 5-4 and find themselves in need of a deep ACC tournament run to get back on the bubble. The real question is if State can break that smothering Cavalier defense.

Tournament MOP
Austin Rivers, Duke
Yes, Mr. Clutch himself.  He may not be the dominating force that Harrison Barnes is, but when he gets hot, he can truly take the life force out of teams (see State, NC).  Plus, you know, the whole clutch thing.

Tournament Champions
Syracuse
Will the Big East get 10 teams into the Dance this year? It is very possible. The Orange have run roughshot over the league this year and have guaranteed themselves a #1 seed in the NCAA’s. Their half of the Big East bracket very manageable with Notre Dame, South Florida and Marquette all on the bottom half. Their biggest test could come from Georgetown, who fell to the 5th seed and will only get the single bye. But the Orange have risen to the occasion in every game they’ve been tested in and have gotten better defensively under the basket. Right now, the only team better than them is Kentucky. 
Upset Alert
South Florida over Notre Dame
Coming off their upset of Louisville and stymied by their season-ending loss to West Virginia, the Bulls could use one more big win to push them off the bubble. Enter the #3 seeded Irish. USF spots one of the top scoring defenses in the country (57.4 ppg, 8th) and could throw the Irish for a loop. Notre Dame prevailed 60-49 when they met back in early January, but that was a different Bulls squad. 
Tournament MOP
Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, Marquette
The only downside to these two studs is that Marquette won’t have their services next season, as both seniors will undoubtedly move on to bigger and better things.  Their stat lines are very close – Johnson-Odom has more PPG and a better FT%, while Crowder has a better % from the field and more boards.  But the important thing to note is that this team is Marquette, a fact that coach Buzz Williams is quite aware of.
Tournament Champions
Michigan State
I know they just gave up a loss at home to Ohio State to create a muddle at the top of the standings. However, we’ve seen them play every top team in the league tough. They fought through a brutal non-conference schedule and beat Wisconsin and Ohio State on their home floors. I’m willing to forget that the Illinois game ever happened. Lead by Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green, the Spartans should play their way back into the hunt for a #1 seed.

Upset Alert
Northwestern over Michigan
Just like they did twice this year, I expect John Shurna and the Wildcats to give that team up north all sorts of matchup problems. Both regular season meetings went to overtime and with a likely NCAA bid on the line for Northwestern, I think the 3rd time will be a charm.

Tournament MOP
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Summer’s heat and winter’s cold… the seasons pass, the years will roll… what Craft brings to the table (and has been dating back to last year) is intangible.  He runs the game in all senses of the word; he controls the tempo on offense; and he has amazing court vision.  Not to mention that he has stamina for days – I had taken to calling him “Hustlesaurus Rex” last season, and I stand by that moniker.  Draymond Green and Jared Sullinger are the obvious sexy picks here, and alone would be the better choices, but Craft can elevate everyone else on the team to play better, including Sullinger.

Tournament Champions
Missouri
They will have to go through Kansas, no doubt. But they’ve already shown that they can hang with the Jayhawks. A split with an overtime loss proved that their small lineup can be trouble for the Kansas defense. Kim English and Marcus Denmon will lead the Tigers to their first Big 12 tournament title since 2009.

Upset Alert
Kansas State over Baylor
The Bears have stumbled big time down the stretch and the Wildcats are in prime position to take advantage of them again. Both games between these two were close, but in their last meeting, the Wildcats hung on to win a wild one. That game put them into the field of 68 and even though this is only a quarterfinal, we can expect another great game between two teams looking to improve their seeding.

Tournament Champions
Memphis
The Tigers were bounced around by a tough non-conference schedule but are playing their best basketball in the last month, winning 8 of their final 10. Granted, one of those losses was to former front runner Southern Mississippi, but they still overtook the Golden Eagles for their 6th regular season C-USA title. Plus, they may get talented freshman Adonis Thomas back from ankle surgery in time for their quarterfinal game.

Upset Alert
Marshall over Tulsa
I have no good reasons behind this one. The Thundering Herd have just been streaky enough to be dangerous and Tulsa could be their victim. The Golden Hurricane did win the only regular season meeting by 9 at home.

Tournament Champions
New Mexico
The Lobos surged from two early losses in conference to grab a share of the MWC regular season title for the 3rd time in the last four years. There are no easy outs however, and no matter who they end up having to go through, a tournament win will boost them up the seed lines for the Dance.

Upset Alert
Wyoming over UNLV
The Cowboys spent some time on the bubble before hitting a four-game skid in the middle of February. An upset in the quarters could be just whet they need to get back into the discussion. Despite the fact that they lost to the Rebels in the season finale, Wyoming can rely on their lockdown defense to get through to the semis.

 Tournament Champion
Oregon
Man, this one was tough because the league pretty much sucks overall. The Ducks are the only of the top four seeds to be on a winning streak going into the tournament. And outside the top 4, well, no one else has a realistic shot here. The conference has fallen quite a ways from the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

Upset Alert
Oregon over Washington
Another one I can’t back up with anything. To be the champs, the Ducks will have to go through the top-seeded Huskies. You can tell how enthusiastic we are about this one…

Tournament Champions
Kentucky
Is there really any doubt? The top team in the land ran the table in the conference, lead by player of the year candidate Anthony Davis. They took everyone’s best shot and still came out 30-1. You can pretty much pencil them in for a return trip to New Orleans.

Upset Alert
Alabama over Florida
Despite taking an embarrassing loss to Ole Miss that put them back on the bubble this past weekend, the Crimson Tide were starting to look like the top 20 team they were at the start of the season. Rattling off four straight, Alabama was building momentum and that was after the suspension of three starters.

Tournament Champion
Mississippi Valley State
17-1 in conference, the top offense in the SWAC, the best 3 point shooting, most assists, fewest turnovers…
The Delta Devils have dominated the conference and shouldn’t have any problem winning three more games on their road to Dayton.

Upset Alert
Arkansas-Pine Bluff over Alabama State
Not much of an upset here, the 5 seed over the 4, but the Golden Lions have won four straight coming into the tournament and eked out a one-point win in their regular season meeting despite only shooting 37% from the field and 27% behind the arc. The top shooting team in the SWAC should get back on track in the rematch and get through to the semis.

Tournament Champions
Nevada
The Wolf Pack are still the team to beat in the WAC, Idaho game aside. They’re at or near the top of every statistical category and they look set to roll through the tournament. They could get an higher seed than they might deserve because of some upsets in other conference tournaments.

Upset Alert
none
I honestly expect the top four seeds to win on Thursday and the title game to be Nevada vs. New Mexico State. Granted, I may be getting lazy here but this was quite the long column…

A ton of stuff today, a ton of stuff tomorrow and maybe even an update tonight on how well we did in making our predictions.

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