(Image via bloggingthebracket.com)
Staff Writer: Colton Almeida
March is upon us, which means one thing: March Madness. However, before one of the best sports spectacles tips off on March 14th, we have to find out who will be participating in the big dance.
For those unfamiliar, each conference tournament winner will be granted an automatic bid to the tournament. The rest of the 68-team field will be at-large squads filled out by the selection committee.
Many teams have already secured spots heading into conference tournament play, others float on the bubble, and some need an all-out miracle run to have a shot.
Let’s break down the major conferences and choose a tourney winner for all 32 conferences.
ACC Prediction: North Carolina Tar Heels
Starting off with a potential hot take, I am going with UNC to win the ACC tourney. North Carolina came into the year ranked #1 and fresh off of a National Championship appearance.
Things have not gone according to plan in Hubert Davis’ second year at the helm in Chapel Hill. Despite returning much of the core from a season ago, it has been an up-and-down year for the Heels. They now find themselves firmly on the bubble and will need a decent run to ensure a spot in the field.
North Carolina is currently listed at the fourth-best odds to win the conference (+600), according to OddsShark.
Other teams I think have a decent shot are Miami (+375) and last year’s tourney winner Virginia Tech (+2500).
Big 12: Kansas State Wildcats
All of these conference tournaments are incredibly tough to predict, but when it comes to the Big 12, that is an understatement. In what has been an absolute dogfight of a conference all season, six of the ten teams are currently ranked inside the top 25.
I am going to take a stab with Kansas State (+1350) to win it. They are listed at the 6th best odds to be crowned the Big 12 tournament winners, but they are 10-6 in-conference and have impressed me enough over conference play for me to pick them.
Kansas and Texas are currently the top two favorites.
Big East: Marquette Golden Eagles
Arguably my favorite conference, the Big East, has lived up to its reputation as an incredibly competitive conference, especially in the top half.
I was very tempted to go with the early season darling Connecticut Huskies, but I am going to back Shaka Smart’s Golden Eagles to get it done.
Marquette ranks 3rd in adjusted offense per KenPom. They also force a lot of turnovers while not turning over the ball much themselves. The underlying metrics are there, and they play a style of basketball that is highly entertaining to watch.
Their defense needs to be better in order to make a deep run in March Madness, but I think they can handle conference play with their high-powered offense.
UConn and Creighton would be my next two teams to pick for this conference.
Big Ten: Purdue Boilermakers
The Big Ten has a lot of good teams, but I do not recognize many of them as great ones. Purdue, the favorite, is the only one I have fitting that billing.
Seven-foot-four Zach Edey continues to absolutely dominate anyone and everyone, and I see that continuing in this tournament. As long as the outside shooters do not go cold, which they have been prone to do at times, Purdue should roll to the conference crown.
If I had to pick an alternate, I would consider the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Mountain West: San Diego State Aztecs
I know the Mountain West might not be considered a true major conference, but I will happily put it here because it is always fascinating to me.
I am taking the favorite in the Aztecs, so no big surprises here. However, I would not be surprised if the likes of Boise State, Nevada, or Utah State pull it off.
Mark your calendars for the Mountain West conference tournament.
Pac-12: UCLA Bruins
I am routinely high on UCLA, and this season I am definitely not alone. At the time of this writing (March 2nd, 2023), the Bruins are still in line for a top one or two seed in the big dance.
For the conference tournament, I think they will dispatch the likes of other top threats, such as Arizona and USC, and cruise to the title.
I do have a gut feeling that a team like Oregon or Colorado could play spoiler and cause some chaos, but I will stand firmly with the favorites in UCLA (+105).
SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama has been dominating conference play, boasting a 15-1 record. KenPom has them ranked 17th in adjusted offense and 5th in adjusted defense. They push the pace with the best of them and have all the makings of a final-four team.
I didn’t feel confident enough to back any other SEC team, although Tennessee, Kentucky, and the red-hot Texas A&M Aggies do pose a significant threat.
The rest of my conference tournament predictions are listed below:
– ASUN: Liberty Flames
– American East: UMass Lowell River Hawks
– AAC: Houston Cougars
– Atlantic 10: Dayton Flyers
– Big Sky: Eastern Washington Eagles
– Big South: UNC Asheville Bulldogs
– Big West: UC Santa Barbara Gauchos
– CAA: Charleston Cougars
– C-USA: Florida Atlantic Owls
– Horizon: Northern Kentucky Norse
– Ivy: Yale Bulldogs
– MAAC: Iona Gaels
– MAC: Toledo Rockets
– MEAC: Norfolk State Spartans
– Missouri Valley: Bradley Braves
– Northeast: Wagner Seahawks
– Ohio Valley: Morehead State Eagles
– Patriot: Colgate Raiders
– Southern: UNC Greensboro Spartans
– Southland: Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders
– Southwestern: Grambling Tigers
– Summit: Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
– Sun Belt: Marshall Thundering Herd
– WCC: Gonzaga Bulldogs
– WAC: Sam Houston Bearkats