With the conference tournaments heating up, let’s break down the top conferences heading into the NCAA Tournament.
1. Virginia- Not in the conversation for the ACC title before the season, the Cavaliers are ACC Champions. After losing to Duke, the Cavs won 13 in a row. Possible National Coach of the Year Tony Bennett has led the Cavaliers into Final Four talks.
2. Syracuse- Syracuse’s first year in the ACC had proved to be an exciting one. Highlighted by two nail-biting games against Duke, the Orange went undefeated for the first 25 games. However, they have lost 4 of the last 6 games. If Tyler Ennis can return to his prior form, the Orange can contend for the Championship.
3. Duke- All eyes were on Duke to see how Jabari Parker would play in his freshman and probably only year at Duke. Well, he’s exceeded expectations, and his supporting cast have played well also. If Parker and Rodney Hood can play well together like they did vs. UNC, the Devils can beat just about anybody.
4. North Carolina- The Tar Heels season has been full of mountains and valleys, and they need to hit one of those mountains come the Tournament. Freshman Marcus Paige has been the one constant for the Heels, who have lost to teams like Belmont and UAB, but also beaten teams like Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky, and Duke.
5. Pittsburgh- A win against then #1 Syracuse would have taken Pittsburgh off the bubble and locked them into the NCAA Tournament, but a Tyler Ennis buzzer-beater took that away. Now, the Panthers have to have a Top-4 finish in the ACC Tournament to have a good shot into the BIg Dance.
1. Cincinnati- Led by senior Sean Kilpatrick, the Bearcats have emerged as a premier team in the American, as well as the country. None of the Bearcats stats jump out at you, but their teamwork and senior leadership make up for it. This should help them in the Big Dance.
2. Louisville- After Peyton Siva graduated, many thought they would have a down year. Chane Behanan being released from the team added to those thoughts. However, Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell have carried the Cardinals to a top-15 spot behind their 12th best scoring offense.
3. Connecticut- The backcourt duo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright have carried the Huskies this season. However, if Napier doesn’t play well, the Huskies don’t play well, and they have to fix that to be a threat in March.
4. Memphis- With “Grown man team” member Shaq Goodwin, the high-flying Tigers are a fun team to watch. Guards Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, and Missouri transfer Michael Dixon Jr. can all shoot the three and change a game, but their inexperience has caused them to drop some games.
5. SMU- Not even thought to be contending for a NCAA Tournament bid, the Mustangs have surprised just about everybody. Coached by former NBA coach Larry Brown, SMU have shown they should earn a bid into the tournament.
1. Kansas- With number one recruit Andrew Wiggins and post presence Joel Embiid playing their first and probably only season, the Jayhawks had very high expectations. Although they didn’t meet those expectations, the Jayhawks still had a good season. With the loss to West Virginia on Saturday, Kansas dropped to a two-seed, according to Joe Lunardi.
2. Oklahoma- Unexpectedly, the Sooners have performed better than their in-state rival, Oklahoma State. Sophomore Buddy Hield leads a Sooners team that wasn’t expected to compete in one of the best basketball conferences in the country.
3. Iowa State- Headed by dynamic duo Deandre Kane and Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim, the Cyclones have gained national recognition this year. When Kane and Ejim play well together, the Cyclones are a scary team.
4. Texas- Although he does not gain the recognition that freshmen like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins get, Isaiah Taylor has been a big boost for the Longhorns, who have not had a great point guard the last couple of years. Also, 285-pound Cam Ridley is a big reason the Longhorns are fourth nationally in rebounds.
5. Kansas State- Another great freshman in the Big 12, Marcus Foster leads the Wildcats into a sure NCAA Tournament bid. The Wildcats have multiple quality home wins, including Kansas and Iowa State. However, the ‘Cats don’t have any head-turning away wins.
6. Baylor- Kenny Chery is one of the most explosive and hard-to-handle players in the country. However, he is inconsistent with his performances. The Bears earned a Top-10 ranking before conference play, which included an early-season win over Kentucky. If the Bears can play like they did early in the season, those will be the Baylor that has been a force the last couple of years.
7. Oklahoma State- After Marcus Smart’s well publicized shoving incident with a fan, the skidding Cowboys had to turn things around in order to be recognized by the Selection Committee again. And that they did. Marcus Smart’s suspension not only changed him as a person but also made him a smarter basketball player. A big run in the conference tournament would be a huge boost for the Cowboys.
1. Villanova- Guards James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono lead the Wildcats, who like many solid teams, don’t have huge stats but play well as a team. Champions of the newly-formulated Big East, Villanova can contend for the Final Four.
2. Creighton- Three reasons why Creighton is even ranked. Doug McDermott, Doug McDermott, Doug McDermott. McDermott is a probable Wooden Award winner, and seventh all-time in points scored. If his teammates can give him some more support, Creighton can be a dangerous team in the tourney.
3. Providence- Another surprise team contending for a tournament spot, the Friars have put together a quality season. The game that will really decide if they’re ready for the tournament is their Big East tourney quarterfinal against St. Johns.
4. Xavier- Just like Providence, the Big East Tournament will determine whether the Musketeers deserve a tournament bid or not.
1. Michigan- Losing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway to the NBA, plus having Mitch McGary get back surgery was supposed to weaken Michigan significantly. Now, they’re Big Ten regular season champs. Nik Stauskas has carried the load this year for the Wolverines.
2. Wisconsin- A 16-0 start had Wisconsin as high as #4, but losses in 5 of the next 6 games took the Badgers off the polls. Now, Wisconsin is mostly back to their old selves preparing to play in the tournament of probably the toughest conference in the country.
3. Michigan State- Starting the season 18-1, the Spartans were living up to their Final Four expectations. However, injuries to many key players have forced the Spartans to change their game plan just about every game, which has throw off their tempo.
4. Nebraska- Their year hasn’t been smooth, but the Huskers are exceeding expectations greatly. Transfer Terran Petteway has helped rejuvenate a Nebraska program which is mostly known for football.
5. Ohio State- Like many teams, Ohio State came out strong from the gate, but have been on and off the past month. However, the leadership of Aaron Craft can help the Buckeyes when times get tough.
6. Iowa- The Hawkeyes are a very unpredictable and inconsistent team. A recent skid has the Hawkeyes looking to fix things.However, a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament should solidify an NCAA Tournament berth.
1. Louisiana Tech- The big win the Bulldogs have is a road win at Oklahoma. Playing in a somewhat weak conferences, mid-majors need wins against well-known programs to boost their resume. Even with this quality win, a C-USA championship is the only guarantee they will get into March Madness.
2. Southern Miss- Although they have less losses than some Top 25 teams, playing in a conference without much competition doesn’t help the Eagles stock very much. Similar to Louisiana Tech, a championship is the only guarantee they will get into March Madness. However, they have a 34 RPI, which is a plus heading into the tournament.
1. Arizona- As the early season favorite, Arizona has lived up to its prediction. Guard Nick Johnson is a swiss army knife, and freshman Aaron Gordon provides lots of athleticism. However, a season-ending injury to Brandon Ashley has really hurt the ‘Cats this year.
2. UCLA- Guard Jordan Adams leads a Bruins squad that scores 82 points per game. Although impressive, they will play games in the tournament that depend on defensive performance, and the Bruins need to work on that.
3. Colorado- Colorado’s signature win this season was a home win against then #6 Kansas. A big blow to the Buffaloes was the injury to Spencer Dinwiddie, their leading scorer prior to injury.
4. Oregon- The Ducks started the season 13-0 and had many eyes on them. Then, they went 2-8 in the next 10 games and no one paid attention to them. Now, it seems the Ducks have turned things around at the right time, winning the next 8 games, including one vs. Arizona.
5. Arizona State- The Sun Devils haven’t had any bad losses and won most of the games they were expected to win. A win against Arizona boosts their resume. Guard Jahii Carson is a leader on this squad and 7’2” Jordan Bachynski is a huge post presence.
6. Stanford- This season has been an up-and-down year for the Cardinal. Their biggest win was a road victory at then #10 UConn. These kinds of victories can boost you into the NCAA Tournament, and Stanford needs a good showing in the Pac-12 Championship to lock up a spot in the Big Dance.
1. Florida- Ending the season on a 23-game win streak and becoming the first 18-0 team in SEC history, the Gators are heading into the SEC Tournament with momentum on their side. Barring any disastrous injuries, the Gators are a Final Four team.
2. Kentucky- Coming into the season with high expectations and the top recruiting class, Kentucky hasn’t met their expectations this season. However, their talent level is very high, which could surprise some teams.
3. Arkansas- This season for the Razorbacks was highlighted by a last second dunk to beat Kentucky. Quality wins like that can prove to the NCAA Selection Committee they should be in the tournament, and a win or two in the conference tournament could further that plea.
4. Tennessee- The Volunteers are a talented team. However, they don’t have any quality wins that jumps out at the Selection Committee. Like Arkansas, their performance in the SEC Tournament will make or break their March Madness chances.