BEFORE we kick off March Madness there are still some important basketball games to be played. Conference tournament banners are yet to be claimed for 2018 and in the lead up to the bracket reveal next weekend NCAA tourney seedings and most importantly bragging rights are on the line.
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WITH Wichita State entering the AAC this season the competition for the crown has intensified. Cincinnati has rolled through parts of the season and Houston has emerged as a legit threat to take the title.
Sleeper Team: SMU Mustangs
IN their eight games against top-25 ranked teams this season the Mustangs have gone 3-5, with impressive wins over Arizona, USC and Wichita State. One of the best defensive teams in their conference there’s a good chance that SMU can suffocate their foes in a few straight matches and make a run.
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Player To Watch: Rob Gray, Houston
THE Cougars are timing their run into March pretty well, cracking the top-25 ranks by winning seven of their last eight games. Serial bucket getter, Rob Gray has had yo-yo performances in those games, but he has showcased what he can do when he is on point. If he lights it up then Houston can well and truly win the AAC tourney.
Final: Cincinnati vs. Houston
IT’S hard to project how the seedings are going to fall into place with a few games remaining in the conference schedule. I think that there is clear daylight between the ranked squads and the rest of the pack so some combo of the Bearcats, Shockers or Cougars in the final is almost guaranteed. My money is on Houston to keep surging and take out the title.
WINNER: HOUSTON COUGARS
ONE of college basketball’s most famous conferences owns four ranked teams and the No. 1 overall squad. Although. It isn’t Duke. Nor is it North Carolina. The Virginia Cavaliers have stormed to the top of the collegiate food chain and everyone will be gunning to take them down from here on out.
Sleeper Team: Miami Hurricanes
THE talent level is too high for there to be a true deep sleeper in this conference. That doesn’t mean that a team like the Hurricanes can’t cause a few upsets during the upcoming tournament. They are hurt by Bruce Brown’s absence with a foot injury, but they have shown that they can win without him. Just ask the Tar Heels.
Player To Watch: Luke Maye, North Carolina
LUKE Maye stands a chance at claiming not only ACC Player of the Year honours but the National Player of the Year award (NPOY) as well. A lot of people, myself included, isn’t a true believer in the Tar Heels chances of defending their national title. With Maye leading the way, if they can win the ACC and enter March Madness full of steam, I may be forced to eat my words.
Final: Virginia vs. Duke
A vanilla finale with the two best teams in the conference qualify for the title game. On any given night the Blue Devils have the skills and players to dismantle the Cavaliers, but it won’t be happening in the tournament. Virginia is trying to claim the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and winning their conference tourney will all but guarantee it.
WINNER: VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
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WELCOME to the Big 12, or in other words, there’s Kansas and then everyone else. The Jayhawks have won the regular season championship for 138 straight years and they are the proud owners of 14 conference championship trophies. They only have one conference champ W in the last four years though so maybe it’s premature to rule out everyone else.
Sleeper Team: Oklahoma Sooners
OKLAHOMA shouldn’t be in this position, not after the way that they started the year. With Trae Young looking like an unstoppable force the Sooners stormed out the gates, but have crashed recently losing 10 of their last 13. To claim the tournament banner all you need to do is get hot for a few games. In other words, Trae Young needs to get hot for a few games, which is definitely a possibility.
Player To Watch: Jevon Carter, West Virginia
I’LL be honest I hadn’t watched a lot of Carter before this season, but I love the guy now. a 6′ 2″/250-pound bulldog, Carter has upped his scoring in every season and is looking to finish his senior college campaign as a conference champ after losing the final in back-to-back years.
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Final: Kansas Jayhawks vs. West Virginia
THE third times the charm for Bob Huggins and his squad as they topple Kansas in an OT thriller to claim the conference banner. It’s obvious that the Jayhawks are the better team and are probably going to go on a deeper run when the real tourney begins, but I’m predicting the Mountaineers finally break through.
WINNER: WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS
THE Big East was supposedly the Villanova Wildcats conference to lose and right now that’s exactly what they are doing…losing it. Xavier has leapfrogged them in the standings and the likes of Providence, Creighton and upset kings St John’s are proving that they can cause some bumps in the road for the favourites.
Sleeper Team: Marquette Golden Eagles
NONE of the underdogs in the Big East has impressive reasons that boast selection in this category. The Golden Eagles do have something no-one else in college has though. Markus Howard. The sophomore guard is second in the conference in scoring and has shown us that he can put the team on his back any given night.
Player To Watch: Trevon Bluiett, Xavier Musketeers
I had Bluiett as one of my guys to watch as a dark horse NPOY candidate earlier in the season. His numbers aren’t in the upper echelon, but there’s no doubt he is one of the best players in this tournament. If Xavier wins it all there’s no doubt in my mind he will take home MVP honours.
Final: Villanova vs. Xavier
ONCE again the top dogs clash and this time, I have the ‘underdog’ getting the win. Villanova has looked mortal in the last week or two, enough for us to ask the question about their legitimacy to win it all. They will give us a stark reminder in the conference tournament why they should be feared.
WINNER: VILLANOVA WILDCATS
I kind of cheated with the Big Ten. Technically the conference tournament got underway last night and a handful of teams have already been knocked out. However, you probably won’t be hearing a lot from those teams though, with four top 15 teams leading the charge for the crown.
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Sleeper Team: Penn State Nittany Lions
IN Tony Carr we trust. If the Nittany Lions are going to make a serious run in the Big Ten they will need their sophomore guard to be firing on all cylinders. Carr leads the conference in scoring at a hair under 20 PPG and has scored over 25 points nine times this season. Two of those games came against Ohio State who Penn State are 2-0 against this year. And guess who they are scheduled to play if they topple Northwestern? You guessed it, the Ohio State University.
Player To Watch: Isaac Haas, Purdue Boilermakers
THE Boilermakers run everything through their senior big man and it has led to the team having another great year. Haas’ numbers won’t blow you away or for that matter scare opponents. However, if he can start firing and Purdue can turn around their production, after a sloppy end to the season, then they can go all the way.
Final: Michigan State vs. Purdue
I think we can expect the Michigan vs. Michigan State semi-final to be the best game of the tourney. The Spartans should get over the line and if/when they do don’t expect a close contest against Purdue. Michigan State is one of my favourites to win it all, and they will kick off their March festivities with their 6th conference championship.
WINNER: MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
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WILL the real SEC contender please stand up? In what has been an uninspiring, confusing and yet entertaining conference all year long we still aren’t actually sure who is good or as a matter of fact if anyone is good. This will make for a hell of an entertaining tourney in St Louis next week.
Sleeper Team: Missouri Tigers
NO. 1 the tournament is held in Missouri. Tick. No. 2 the Tigers are an impressive 3-2 against AP ranked teams this year without their superstar freshman Michael Porter Jr. Which takes me to No. 3, Porter could very well suit up for the conference tournament. Watch out world.
Player To Watch: Collin Sexton, Alabama Crimson Tide
ONE of the most exciting future pro prospects in college right now is Collin Sexton, who has been putting on a clinic all year for the Crimson Tide. Sexton plays with a ton of heart and athleticism and that will help his team earn at least one or two extra victories next week.
Final: Tennessee vs. Florida
THIS tournament could go 1,000 different ways and my pick is to expect the unexpected. Not a full believer in a lot of the teams in this picture I’m going with the Gators against the Volunteers with the latter claiming the W in the championship match.
WINNER: TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
FOLLOWING on from the SEC is another conference that we aren’t entirely sure how to unpack. At times Arizona has looked like the best team in the country and their rivals Arizona State was the last undefeated team to fall this year. They are now 19-9.
Sleeper Team: UCLA Bruins
A team that boasts the second-best scorer in the conference doesn’t exactly fit the bill as a traditional sleeper. However, the Bruins, lack a lot of talent and star power outside of Aaron Holiday and they have a really, really bad record away from home. That’s enough for most of us to expect UCLA to be bounced early on. But they do have the second-best scorer in the conference.
Player To Watch: Troy Brown, Oregan Ducks
A do it all type of player, Brown has been delivering for the Ducks all season long. Oregan has their work cut out for them to make the tournament and if they string some wins together then it’s not out of the question. They need Brown to deliver in a big way though for that to come true.
Final: Arizona vs. USC
TAKE a name out of a hat for who will be going up against Arizona in the championship game, honestly. I have little faith that the Wildcats won’t claim the Pac-12 title, even though they are surrounded by a lot of off-field noise right now. Expect DeAndre Ayton to destroy his conference peers on the regular as well.
WINNER: ARIZONA WILDCATS
ONCE again lazy Fry is slightly cheating on the West Coast, but know that I have not looked at the box scores of these games today to see which team has advanced. Cross my heart. I mean as long as Gonzaga is in it everyone else is doomed right?
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Sleeper Team: San Francisco Dons
THE only team not named Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s to defeat a ranked team this season are the San Fran Dons. Considering the absurd top heavy talent in the conference, anyone outside the top-two is a sleeper and if the Dons can provide a balanced scoring attack, anything is possible.
Player To Watch: Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
YOUR likely WCC player of the year hails from Australia and it’s no surprise that he dons Saint Mary’s colours. Landale does have the bad habit of going missing on the offensive end in a few games though so he will need to be at his best if the Gaels want to seriously contend for the championship title. If not, we could see a huge upset in the early going.
Final: Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga
I just can’t pick any other two teams to finish in the championship round of the WCC tournament. For the third straight year, the Bulldogs and Gaels will do battle and (surprise surprise) for the 6th straight season Zaga will get to raise the trophy.
WINNER: GONZAGA BULLDOGS
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