Big Ten: Purdue
In one of the conference’s strongest years in recent memory, the Big Ten is filled with pseudo-contenders who each boast a glaring weakness. Michigan can’t score. Wisconsin is a one-man show. Maryland averages more turnovers per game than assists. Michigan State is without their starting shooting guard for the rest of the year. Iowa is reeling. Despite the likelihood the Big Ten sends a whopping eight teams to NCAA Tournament, the conference is without a clear title contender.
Purdue has finished as the conference tournament runner-up in two of the last three years, and have been toppled by a Michigan-based team three years running. Point guard Carsen Edwards has plenty of experience, and is coming off being named Big Ten Player of the Year. The Boilermakers will make quick work of Penn State/Minnesota, and defeat both Michigan and Michigan State en route to their first conference tournament win since 2009.
Big 12: Kansas State
Kansas’ improbable 14-year run of dominance has come to an end, opening the door for another program to sweep the conference. Kansas State is fresh off an Elite Eight run, and returned all but one of their main rotation players from last year. After stumbling to an 0-2 start in conference play, the Wildcats ripped off 14-of-16 — and have gotten revenge for each of their four losses in conference.
Texas Tech has been on a nice run (nine victories in a row), and have a legit NBA player in Jarrett Culver, but face a far tougher road to glory. Kansas State becomes increasingly tough to game plan for because their go-to guy can change on any given night.
The country’s best conference could be staring at three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament depending on how things play out. Duke has frequented the top spot of the AP Top 25 poll, but have since dipped to the fifth spot overall since Zion Williamson’s injury. North Carolina has been stellar in conference play. After being embarrassed by Louisville back in January, the Tar Heels have dropped just one game in the ACC (and have blown out Duke, NC State, Virginia Tech, and Florida State in the process).
UNC seems to have Duke’s number, but could run into a big problem even if they are able to best their longtime foe for a third time this year. Virginia poses as a matchup nightmare for the Tar Heels. The experience, outside shooting, and defense will prove to be too much, as the Cavaliers squeak out a close win in the final and make a strong case for the No. 1 overall seed in NCAA Tournament.
For a while, I tricked myself into thinking a dark horse would end up winning the SEC Tournament. With all of the usual hype surrounding Kentucky, and the momentum building in Tennessee and Louisiana, it seemed fit for an under-the-radar Florida team or a fun Mississippi State team to make a run around this time of the year. And then, Kentucky started clicking — all hopes were dashed.
With Kansas’ streak ending, Kentucky’s dominance in the SEC Tournament has taken precedent as the surest bet in college basketball. John Calipari’s squad has taken home the title four years in a row, and it hasn’t always been with the same type of team (they were a 4-seed in the tournament last season).
Pac-12: Arizona State
The flailing Pac-12 is just hoping for a second-bid in the NCAA’s. Washington appears to be a lock, and enter the tournament as the odds-on favorite. However, the seeding did the Huskies no favors, as their first matchup will be against either Arizona or USC — two storied programs with no shortage of talent.
The Sun Devils are built for tournament play due to the pressure their defense creates and their overall team speed. We’ve been waiting for them to string together a big winning-streak, and this is the best time to do it heading into ‘The Big Dance’.