The big boys begin postseason play this week with 18 conference tournaments getting underway. CHD will break down all of the action with predictions for who is going to win every single tourney. Let us know in the comments section who you think is going to win.
Predicted Champion: Memphis
This tourney is wide open because it is a brand-new conference that has 5 ranked teams with 22+ wins. Memphis won 6 of its past 7 conference tourneys as a member of C-USA and will play host to this year’s AAC tourney. The Tigers are among the top-10 in the nation in both assists and steals, so they are quite effective on both ends of the court. Louisville is the defending national champ and won 3 of the last 5 Big East tourneys, but was swept by the Tigers this year. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin is a strong contender for national COY and swept Memphis in the regular season, but he never won a single Big East tourney title in his prior 7 years as coach, so the slight edge goes to Tigers coach Josh Pastner.
Predicted Champion: Duke
This conference was supposed to be the best in the nation after the addition of 3 new teams last summer, but Notre Dame has double-digit conference losses, Pitt has fallen onto the bubble, and Syracuse is dropping more seeds than a drunken gardener. The only thing keeping Virginia from perfection was a 4-PT road loss in January at Duke, but Duke’s only loss inside the state of North Carolina was to its Tobacco Road rival in Chapel Hill last month. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has won this tourney a whopping 10 times in the past 15 years, and his team is coming off a huge win over UNC coach Roy Williams, who has been runner-up in each of the past 3 years [2 of which were in Greensboro]. The Blue Devils have made more than twice as many threes as their opponents this season, so if they continue to knock down shots from behind the arc they will be near-unstoppable.
Predicted Champion: UMass
St. Louis was 1 of the hottest teams in the country through mid-February before dropping 3 in a row late in the season. The 6 teams in this conference with 21+ wins have beaten up on each other all year long, but the 1 who has done the most beating is the Minutemen. Coach Derek Kellogg’s team has wins over VCU and GW last month, a series split with St. Joe’s, and a hard-fought 2-PT loss to St. Louis on Sunday. UMass scores 77 PPG and is 5-1 this year in neutral site games, so they will feel confident when they head to the conference tourney in Brooklyn.
Big East Tournament
Predicted Champion: Creighton
Each of the last 6 conference tourney champs have left the Big East: Pitt to the ACC, West Virginia to the Big 12, and Louisville/CT to the AAC. National-POY-to-be Doug McDermott has proven that he can play his best when it counts, as he is the 2-time-defending MVC tourney MVP after leading the Bluejays to consecutive titles before moving to the Big East last summer. At 28-3 this year Villanova will provide some stiff competition…to everyone except Creighton, as the McDermotts swept the Wildcats by a combined 49 PTS in their 2 meetings this season. The Bluejays lead the nation in 3P%, so someone please tell Villanova to extend their defense if these 2 end up meeting in the title game.
Big Sky Tournament
Predicted Champion: Montana
Weber State has lost 3 of the last 4 conference tourney title games, and due their recent slide they are primed to be a bridesmaid yet again. If Montana coach Wayne Tinkle hopes to win at least 20 games and make the tourney title game for the 5th straight year, then his team will need to remain hot: after falling to a record of 8-9 in late January they won 9 of 11 before an ugly 20-PT loss to NAU to end the regular season. The Grizzlies’ 2 main obstacles will be stamina [3 of their conference games were decided in OT] and the Wildcats [who split their season series with Montana this year]. Montana is terrible on the boards and do not attempt a ton of shots, but they are among the best in the nation at not turning over the ball so you will not beat them by waiting for them to make a mistake.
Big 10 Tournament
Predicted Champion: Wisconsin
Ohio State has won 3 of the last 5 conference tourneys and lost the other 2 by 4 PTS each, but they do not have enough offense to get back to the title game this month. A top-3 seed has won this tourney each year since 2002, so your 3 options are Michigan, Wisconsin, or Michigan State. The Wolverines swept their in-state rivals, so do not pick the Spartans. Michigan dominated the conference this year while Wisconsin dominated the non-conference, but the Badgers were runner-up last year and have the talent/experience to win it all this year. Wisconsin does not turn the ball over and has 1 of the best FT shooting teams in the country, so if they have the lead late there is a good chance they will be able to hang onto it.
Big 12 Tournament
Predicted Champion: Kansas
The only 2 schools that have won this conference tourney since 2006 are the Jayhawks and Missouri, and with the Tigers now in the SEC there is only 1 team to believe in. Also, the tourney is in Kansas City, which is pretty much a home away from home for Kansas. Kansas is 1 of the top FG shooting teams in the country and block a ton of shots on defense. The Jayhawks are led by a dazzling freshmen duo: Andrew Wiggins showed that he can play with anyone, but if Joel Embiid’s back is still hurting then this team might be primed for an upset.
Big West Tournament
Predicted Champion: UC Irvine
There have been 3 different conference tourney champs over the past 3 years, and we are guaranteed to not have a repeat winner as defending champ Pacific has moved on to the WCC. UC Irvine has never won a conference tourney title in almost 4 decades of playing basketball, but after a 7-7 start through the end of December they have won 15 of 18 since New Year’s Day. The Anteaters should have plenty of fan support with the tourney being played only 15 minutes away from their campus in Anaheim, and as 1 of only 3 teams in the conference with an overall winning record there is simply a lack of talented opponents standing in their way. UC Irvine leads the nation in defensive rebounding and has blocked over 200 shots this season, so apparently having 5 guys on your roster who are 6’8” or taller can actually help you defend the paint!
Predicted Champion: Southern Miss
Charlotte is the only past conference tourney champ who is still even in the conference after the departures of Memphis/Cincinnati/Louisville/St. Louis/Marquette/Houston over the past few years. The Golden Eagles lost to Memphis in double-OT in last year’s tourney final, so they are primed to ascend to the throne. 5 of the conference’s 16 teams finished with 12+ conference wins so the competition will be fierce, but Southern Miss came so close last year that they are finally ready to run the gauntlet. The Golden Eagles have taken over 850 FTs this year but shoot under 70% from the line, so in order to win they will have to rely on their defense that averages over 8 SPG.
Predicted Champion: Toledo
Akron and Ohio have alternated as champ over the past 5 years, but neither will be favored this month. 6 of the 12 conference teams have 10+ conference wins, so whoever wins it all will have definitely earned it. Toledo beat East Division champ while Western Michigan lost to the Bulls by 21 PTS back in January, so it does not take a scientist to pick the Rockets! Toledo scores over 80 PPG, which is in the top-20 in the nation, so as long as they are knocking down shots they will be in every game.
Predicted Champion: NC Central
The Eagles went 15-1 in conference with their only conference loss coming by 3 PTS on the road at Florida A&M in January. NC Central has never won a conference tourney but has improved its win total during each of the past 6 years. There have been 4 different tourney champs over the past 4 years, and the Eagles are the favorites to make it 5 in a row. NC Central’s defense is among the best in the nation, which is good because they only make about 5 threes/game.
Predicted Champion: San Diego State
New Mexico is the 2-time defending champ but the Aztecs won each of the 2 tourney titles before that. There is a huge separation between these 2 teams and the rest of the league, so when comparing the top-2 you can take rookie coach Craig Neal or a veteran coach like Steve Fisher who has made the NCAA tourney in each of the past 4 years. San Diego State just got their revenge against the Lobos on Saturday, and these 2 are fully expected to meet up in the title game later this week. The Aztecs have the 2nd-best defense in the country, but if it comes down to the wire then beware of their 65 FT%.
Predicted Champion: Arizona
The Wildcats lost Brandon Ashley for the year with a foot injury in February but all 3 of their losses since then were on the road by single digits. 5 different schools have won this conference tourney in the past 6 years, and Arizona has not emerged victorious since 2002. The Cats lost the title game in 2011 and 2012 by 2 PTS each time, but even though this conference features 8 teams with 19+ wins, the title is Arizona’s to lose. The Wildcats have a top-10 defense, but if it comes down to the wire then their 66 FT% might end up biting them in the butt.
Predicted Champion: Florida
The Gators have not won an SEC title since 2007, which happens to be the same year that they won their 2nd straight NCAA title. Even though it seems like Kentucky has ruled the South since then, there have actually been 5 different conference tourney champs over the past 6 years. Florida has lost 2 of the past 3 tourney title games, including last year by 3 PTS to Mississippi, but Coach Billy Donovan has 1 of the hottest teams in the country outside of unbeaten Wichita State and just completed an 18-0 SEC season. The Gators do not block a lot of shots or defend the 3-PT line very well, but if you allow less than 60 PPG then you are going to win a majority of your games.
Predicted Champion: Stephen F. Austin
The Lumberjacks are 29-2 this year and finished a perfect 18-0 in conference. SFA has not won the conference tourney since 2009 and lost last year’s title game to Northwestern State by 2 PTS, so they will not simply be satisfied with another regular season title. However, this tourney has had an astounding 7 different champs over the past 7 years, so literally any team could win it. The Lumberjacks’ rebounding discrepancy seems almost inexplicable [top-50 on the offensive end and bottom-50 on the defensive end], but a scoring margin of almost 14 PPG shows that they know how to step on their opponents’ throats.
Predicted Champion: Texas Southern
Southern would ordinarily be the pick after finishing conference play with a 15-3 record and entering the conference tourney as the defending champ after 1-PT win over Prairie View A&M last March. However, the Jaguars are currently ineligible for NCAA postseason play, although the school is trying to complete the paperwork necessary to restore its postseason eligibility. The only 2 other teams with winning records are Alabama State and Texas Southern, and as the latter has won 6 in a row including a 20-PT win over the former, let’s go with the eyes of the Tigers. Texas Southern has a terrible defense but they get to the line a lot and average over 14 APG.
Sun Belt Tournament
Predicted Champion: Georgia State
The Panthers are 17-1 in conference with their only loss coming by 4 PTS at Troy in February. However, they have not won a conference tourney since 2001 back in their Atlantic Sun days after never winning it during 8 years in the CAA before coming to the Sun Belt last summer. Western Kentucky is a dangerous #2 seed as the 2-time defending tourney champ, but Georgia State swept the Hilltoppers this year and is a heavy favorite to win the title. The Panthers are among the best in the nation at both holding onto the ball and making FTs, which are 2 huge keys to winning games.
Predicted Champion: New Mexico State
The Aggies are the 2-time defending champ and have won 3 of the past 4 tourney titles. Their only loss in the past month was a 5-PT OT loss at #1-seed Utah Valley, which included an ugly postgame brawl, so revenge will be foremost in their minds. New Mexico State was battle-tested early on during a 10-day stretch in December featuring a pair of games against in-state rival New Mexico and 1 each against Arizona/Gonzaga, so the conference tourney will be a cakewalk by comparison. The Aggies have blocked over 200 shots this year and have attempted almost 1000 FTs, but a 68% rate from the line is nothing to write home about.