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After four months and 30-plus games for every team, the power conferences in men’s college basketball have reached tournament season.
No matter what has transpired to this point, these tournaments provide the same opportunity: If you’re cutting down the nets, you’re going to March Madness.
In the excitement for this dramatic week, we’re providing some last-second predictions as the top tournaments begin.
While each section includes the projected champion and runner-up, the analysis isn’t always focused on the predicted winner. In several cases, a league has a surging team or several programs on the bubble. Those conversations can be more worthwhile than devoting words to why, for example, Kansas is the Big 12 favorite.
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Runner-up: Wichita State
Through the regular season, Houston is the league’s only program safely in the field. Wichita State appears to have a slight edge on Cincinnati, though the latter is the AAC tournament’s No. 1 seed.
But be ready for drama.
If both Wichita State and Cincinnati win Friday in the quarterfinals, they’ll meet Saturday. While declaring that matchup a “win and in” scenario can’t be totally accurate, it’s probably not far off. Either way, that’s a valuable resume-padding victory.
We’re picking Wichita State in that potential contest. And considering Friday’s game may be against a surging UConn, the Shockers can pick up two quality wins. Even if they’re not cutting down the nets, they’d likely be headed to the Big Dance.
Houston holds the major advantage over Cincinnati, Wichita State and UConn by being on the opposite side of the bracket. We’re taking the Cougars to win the title.
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The initial focus of the ACC tournament will likely be on whether last-seeded North Carolina can make a shocking run. Despite a mostly miserable regular season, the Tar Heels managed late wins over NC State and Syracuse and hung tight with Duke.
However, that storyline is likely to vanish no later than Thursday in the quarterfinals against Louisville. It’s been an interesting season in the ACC, but the top four seeds are clearly the favorites.
As such, both potential semifinals should be exciting. We’re taking Duke’s star power over Florida State’s depth and trusting Virginia’s defense to shut down a Louisville offense that tends to struggle outside of the Yum Center.
Duke—the reigning champions—recently fell to Virginia but shot 4-of-17 from the perimeter in the two-point road loss. Improve that, and the ACC tourney title will be returning to Durham.
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Yes, we could focus on the possible championship clash between Kansas and Baylor. It’s a showdown of potential No. 1 seeds in March Madness, after all. However, the first quarterfinal game may be the most impactful tilt of the Big 12 tournament.
When Texas and Texas Tech square off Thursday at 12:30 p.m. ET, will the loser’s at-large bubble pop?
Although neither team has a large margin for error, Texas Tech’s is a bit better. And if our prediction of a Texas win becomes true, the Red Raiders will be thankful for that. Provided the total number of bid thieves in the AAC, A-10, Big East and Pac-12 is low, Texas Tech could still squeeze into a final at-large spot.
Not ideal, but it’s still better than missing out.
Oh, right, Kansas cuts down the nets. Two All-Americans, 16-game winning streak, all that good stuff!
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Quite possibly the hottest team in the nation, Providence enters the Big East tourney with a six-game winning streak and five victories over Top 25 opponents since February began.
But in the same span, Creighton has been scorching the nets. Over the last 10 games, the Bluejays have attempted 26.2 threes per game and connected at a 41.6 rate. That three-point excellence will be difficult for Providence to match.
Villanova, though, is certainly capable.
Since the programs split the regular-season series, Round 3 is only fitting. Villanova shot a combined 22 percent on three-pointers in previous games against Creighton, so even an average long-range performance could propel the Wildcats to a Big East crown. This would mark Villanova’s fourth straight tournament championship.
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Winner: Michigan State
If you have any confidence in the predictions for the Big Ten tournament, congratulations! Because, wow, what a glorious disaster this upcoming week could be. Give us all the mayhem.
Normally, a suggestion of a No. 9 seed toppling the No. 1 would be eye-popping. But in this case, predicting a Michigan to upset Wisconsin probably isn’t all that stunning. That’s our biggest upset pick, though Indiana edging Penn State in the second round is worth mentioning. Penn State, seeded sixth, is sliding the wrong way at the worst moment.
Michigan State, conversely, is trending upward. The second-seeded Spartans hold a five-game winning streak with victories over Iowa, Maryland, Penn State and Ohio State. Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman Sr. are the leaders, but Rocket Watts and Aaron Henry have steadily put together their best performances of the season lately.
This late surge is a familiar story to MSU, and we’re expecting the 2020 version to bring a tournament crown.
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Runner-up: Arizona State
UCLA wouldn’t have felt secure either way, but the last-second loss to rival USC in the regular-season finale sure stung. The late-charging Bruins, who are seeded second, need a couple of Pac-12 tournament victories to regain a remotely steady footing on the bubble.
Sorry, Bruins fans. Your bias will not be confirmed here.
UCLA should dispatch either Cal or Stanford in the quarterfinals Thursday; neither team is playing well right now. Arizona State is likely to emerge as the semifinal opponent Friday, and the Sun Devils should do a better job of limiting Tyger Campbell. He exploded for 14 assists in the recent matchup, a three-point UCLA win at home.
ASU should emerge on top—before losing to Payton Pritchard and Oregon in the championship.
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James Crisp/Associated Press
As the Big Ten has a cloudy outlook with a bunch of likely NCAA tournament teams, the SEC has a clear favorite with a whole bunch of programs desperate to make a statement.
Mississippi State isn’t in a great spot on the bubble, and South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas are soundly on the wrong side. LSU and Florida are safe, but they’ve encountered some struggles lately and could use a quality win or two to strengthen their resumes. Alabama knows it faces a win-or-NIT scenario.
We’re not expecting Kentucky or Auburn to oblige, though.
The Wildcats are the class of the SEC, and Auburn just assembled their best game of the campaign in a 22-point trouncing of Tennessee on the road. Upsets are fun, but picking against the top two seeds seems unwise right now.