Championship Week commences Monday, as most of the major conferences hold their championship tournaments. This allows for another week of March Madness, complete with stunning upsets, amazing individual performances, and crushing defeats. By the end of the week, most of the NCAA tournament bracket will be set. Championship Week is the time for bubble teams to finish off their resumes, national contenders to assert their dominance, and underdogs to shock their conference and earn an automatic bid. Here is a preview of eight major conference tournaments.
The ACC is consistently one of the strongest conferences in the country, and their 2015 conference tournament should only further that point. The conference could send seven teams to the NCAA tournament, so the conference tournament has huge seeding implications. Duke and Virginia are the obvious favorites, but there are at least six teams capable of winning it all. Look for North Carolina to slip by Louisville in the second round to set-up a matchup with Virginia in the semifinals. Additionally, Duke should be wary of NC State, as the Wolfpack beat the Blue Devils on Jan. 11, and also defeated Louisville and UNC in the second half of conference play.
The pick: Virginia
The Big 12 also enjoyed a very successful year, finishing with five teams ranked in the top 25. Oklahoma State and Texas are the two teams on the bubble. Texas will have to top Texas Tech and then likely Iowa State to make a strong case for the tournament. Oklahoma State beat Kansas, and Baylor twice, but lost five of their last six. They’ll get a quarterfinal matchup with in-state rival Oklahoma. Look for Baylor and Oklahoma State to make deep runs in the tournament and challenge Kansas for the conference championship.
The pick: Baylor
The Big East enters its conference tournament with five teams over 20 wins, including #4 Villanova. Xavier is the only team on the bubble, and will likely need to top Butler to solidify their case to the committee. Villanova is one of the most well-rounded teams in college basketball, with six players averaging nine points per game or more. The Wildcats have only been beaten twice all season and their depth is unmatched.
The pick: Villanova
The Big Ten could have up to seven teams in the NCAA tournament if the cards fall the right way during the Big Ten tournament. Purdue and Indiana sit squarely on the bubble, with RPIs of 56 and 57 respectively. The Boilermakers hold the four seed in the tournament, and will face Iowa or the winner of the Nebraska-Penn State game. Purdue topped Iowa back in January, but the Hawkeyes won six straight to close out the season. Indiana will have to top Northwestern to get to a matchup with Maryland. The Terrapins boast wins over Wisconsin and Iowa State, but lost to Indiana on Jan. 22. If Maryland can get past Indiana, look for another exciting matchup with Wisconsin in the final.
The pick: Wisconsin
To say that is has been a down year for the Pac-12 might be an understatement. The only two locks in the conference are Utah and Arizona. Oregon looks to be in as well, but the Ducks cannot afford a first round loss in the conference tournament. UCLA won their final three games, but losses to Cal and Arizona State (whom they might face in the first round of the tournament) undermine their body of work. The potential semifinal matchup between Utah and Oregon is intriguing, as the Ducks will fight to not be one of the first four teams to play in the NCAA tournament, and Utah will battle to get a top 3 seed.
The pick: Oregon
It is true that the SEC tournament is very important for a couple of bubble teams, like LSU and Texas A&M. But the real reason to watch is Kentucky. The Wildcats completed an unblemished 31-0 regular season, and will look to stretch their record to 34-0 by winning the SEC tournament. With the country’s most impenetrable defense, Kentucky is the team to beat. LSU or Texas A&M could be a tough second round matchup for the Wildcats, as both teams played Kentucky close during conference play. However, expect Kentucky to run away with the conference title.
The pick: Kentucky
Cincinnati, Temple, and SMU, appear to have their tickets punched to the big dance, barring particularly bad first round losses. The AAC team with the most to prove is the two seed, Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane swept the season series with Cincinnati, but non-conference losses to sub-par teams like Oral Roberts and Southeast Oklahoma State (yes, you read that right) have hurt their resume. A third win over Cincinnati and a trip to the tournament finals would help Tulsa’s case.
The pick: SMU
Conference USA has three teams with 20 or more wins, but Old Dominion looks to be the only team with a shot at an at-large bid. The Monarchs own impressive non-conference wins over LSU, VCU, and Richmond. Louisiana Tech is the one seed in the C-USA tournament, but they lost to Old Dominion by 20 points just two weeks ago.
The pick: Old Dominion