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Let’s examine which teams could make an unexpected run in the following conference tournaments: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big-12, Pac-12 and SEC.
It’s March, and the Madness has already begun…ahem…UNC spoiling Coach K’s farewell finale.
It only gets crazier from here.
We’re just days away from ‘Selection Sunday,’ which means we’re that much closer to entering the annual college basketball coma.
The whirlwind of scurrying to fill out brackets, take days off from work and make whatever necessary arrangements to ensure that nothing and I do mean nothing interrupts the first two days of tournament action.
The first week of March Madness should be a national holiday, better yet a national treasure.
But I digress.
Each year before the main course known as the NCAA Tournament, we enjoy an appetizer, the conference tournaments.
So here’s a little primer for this week’s action.
Please note each team on this list is a 5-seed or higher in their respective league. I set it up this way because the top-4 seeds usually have a bye or a double-bye in their bracket.
ACC – Syracuse Orangemen (9th seed)
If there’s a team that can limp into the conference tournament with a losing record only to find themselves in the Sweet-16 in a couple of weeks, it’s the Orangemen.
Something about that Boeheim 2-3 matchup zone works wonders in March. The truth is, it’s extremely difficult to prepare for on short notice, which provides an advantage to Syracuse come tourney time.
I know the Orangemen are battling injuries, and losing big man Jesse Edwards for the season was a devastating loss for Boeheim’s bunch.
Quite frankly, Syracuse may be ready to shut the door on this season and focus on next year, but I’m not ready to count them out just yet, especially if Buddy Boeheim can catch fire as he did last March.
Big East – Marquette Golden Eagles (5th seed)
Shaka Smart shocked some folks last March when he left the University of Texas to take over at Marquette. He spent six seasons at UT and never quite lived up to the hype surrounding him when he arrived in Austin.
It seemed he could never instill the culture and philosophy he believed in while with the Longhorns. Smart was famous for deploying a “havoc” style of basketball that focused on full-court pressure and gritty defense.
He utilized this style at VCU and led the Rams to the Final Four.
However, during his time at Texas, we never got to experience the “havoc” brand of basketball (I have my reasons as to why but I’ll save that for another day).
We’ve seen glimpses of his trademarked “havoc” style during his first year at Marquette. Though this season has been a bit of a roller coaster, the Golden Eagles enter March as battle-tested as anyone in the country with wins over Villanova (twice), Providence and Illinois.
Big Ten – Michigan State Spartans (7th seed)
Two words–Tom Izzo. Need I say more?
One could go to a local hardware store and pick out a dozen random people, put them in a gym for 6-weeks with Coach Izzo, and he’d have them in the Sweet-16.
Alright, alright, that’s a bit dramatic, but the point remains that Tom Izzo is one heck of a hoops coach, and he coached one of my all-time favorite college basketball teams (The Flintstones).
He also has one of the most fantastic post-game sound bites ever.
Michigan State did themselves a favor on Sunday afternoon by defeating Maryland to solidify the No. 7 seed, which will give them four days of rest.
If this team can find a way to limit their turnovers in Indianapolis, I think they’ve got a real shot to win the B1G Tournament.
Big 12 – Oklahoma Sooners (7th seed)
Unless Scott Drew decides that this is the year he wants to win a Big-12 conference tournament, I’d say the bottom half of this bracket is up for grabs.
Baylor typically doesn’t perform well in the Big-12 tournament; not sure if it’s because they’re too focused on the ‘next tournament’ or if Coach Drew just hates Kansas City.
Either way, their history speaks for itself.
Porter Moser is not a coach you bet against in win or go home situations. He’s a phenomenal leader in his first year with the Sooners, and they’ll enter this tournament with their season on the line.
I’ve been saying since December that OU will be a team to watch out for in March.
Well, it’s March, and it’s time for the Sooners to make some noise. They’ve been inconsistent all season but have shown the ability to compete with the best.
The Sooners finished the regular season on a three-game win streak, and I expect them to use that momentum in tournament play this week.
PAC-12 – Oregon Ducks (5th seed)
This one is tough because I believe Arizona, USC or UCLA will win the PAC-12 tournament. However, in staying true to my own set of rules, I’m picking Oregon.
I’m just playing the odds here based on the bracket setup. Oregon begins the tournament against Oregon State. The Beavers are 3-23 (need I say more).
The next round would match them up with Colorado, who they’ve played twice this year and went 1-1. Oregon lost a close one by four points in the first matchup, but the second meeting saw the Ducks cruise to a comfortable 15-point victory.
The semifinal matchup would be against the #1 seeded Arizona Wildcats, who the Ducks nearly beat in Tuscon less than a month ago. With Arizona likely having a top seed secured in the NCAA tourney and Oregon being a bubble team, I like the Ducks winning this rematch.
Finally, after knocking off the top team in the conference, Oregon defeats whoever prevails from the bottom half of the bracket securing their invitation to the Big Dance.
SEC – Alabama Crimson Tide (6th seed)
If you know me, you know I bleed Razorback red. Therefore, it pains me to make this pick.
The Crimson Tide have shown this season that they are a threat to beat anyone in the country on any given night. The question is, which team is going to show up?
If the team that beat Gonzaga, Houston and Baylor this season shows up in Tampa, we could see the Tide crowned back-to-back SEC Tournament Champions.
Let the games begin.
PS: Despite the Bama pick, I’m all in on the Muss Buss!