NCAAM Conference Championship Preview
Sunday marked the last day of the regular season in college basketball. Congratulations basketball fans, we've officially made it to March Madness. Selection Sunday is only a week away. Conference tournaments for the power conferences begin as early as Monday, so I'm here to break down all of the action for you.
With Duke's recent smattering of mega-rival UNC, the Blue Devils have taken the ACC regular season title. So far this season, Duke is undefeated when Forward Ryan Kelly plays. Without Kelly's presence, the team has struggled. Though North Carolina was playing much better before their loss to Duke, I don't see them reaching the conference final. Duke and Miami will likely meet in the conference finals. Virginia could be a dark horse finals challenger as they've already beaten Duke earlier this season. I see the Blue Devils and Coach K moving on with a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State Wildcats finished tied atop the regular season standings in the Big 12. Kansas was upset with Baylor on Saturday and K-State was upended by Oklahoma State. With both squads backing into the conference tournament, I can see both teams struggling. At this point, it's too late for Kansas to keep saying they're ready to make a move; they have to prove it. Oklahoma State has looked at times like an NCAA tournament powerhouse. The cowboys are led by outstanding Freshman Guard Marcus Smart. The team has skill players all over the floor and are a tough matchup for anyone. OK State gets the nod for me.
Winner- Oklahoma State
The Big East remains one of the most wide open conferences in all of the country. A three way tie atop the conference regular season standings featured Louisville, Georgetown, and Marquette. After Louisville's 5 OT loss to Notre Dame back in February, the team has put together 7 straight wins. They've been playing much better as a team and could run through the Big East. I can definitely see Syracuse, who'll be playing in their last ever Big East Tournament, putting on a show in MSG. Georgetown and star Forward Otto Porter Jr. crushed Syracuse on Saturday, coming off of a loss to Villanova. Despite the defense that teams like Louisville and Syracuse play, there is no player comparable to Porter Jr. in the Big East and Georgetown should claim the conference title and a #1 seed.
Clearly the most talented conference in America, Indiana claimed the regular season title with a win in Michigan on Sunday afternoon. Although Indiana has been beaten 4times as the #1 AP team, the Hoosiers actually play better against tougher competition. Despite a loss to Ohio State last Tuesday, Indian has earned what will likely be a #1 NCAA tournament seed. Michigan State could be a team to look towards to win the conference next weekend. The Spartans lost a stretch of 3 straight games to Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan by a combined 13 points. Coach Tom Izzo will get his team ready for tournament time and the Spartans should come back from those losses firing on all cylinders.
Winner- Michigan State
UCLA has made it out of the wreckage to take the Pac-12 regular season championship. No team has less than 5 losses in conference play and there is a logjam at 2nd between Arizona, Oregon, and Cal. No team has proven thus far that they could move through the conference tourney with ease. Cal may be the hottest team in the conference, though they lost to Stanford last Wednesday. Before that loss, the Golden Bears had won 7 straight games, including wins over Arizona and Oregon. UCLA may still be the most talented team in the conference, but I can see Cal moving past the leagues challengers.
After being ranked #3 preseason, Kentucky has dealt with the loss of their best player Nerlens Noel and have fallen hard after winning the national championship last season. Granted, this is a completely different team than last year and most people expected them to struggle. Florida finished 14-4 in the conference on route to the regular season title. Florida lost to Kentucky on the road this past week, but the Gators may have been looking ahead to the SEC tourney. Ole Miss has been the biggest surprise in the SEC, and they're 5th in the entire country in scoring. The only problem with Ole Miss could be their lack of competition. They've only played 2 ranked teams this season, and they were both from the SEC (Florida and Missouri). Ole Miss could shock the rest of the conference during the tournament, but I still see Florida as the clear favorite for a tourney win and a possible #1 seed.
For a true NCAA basketball fan, the only thing to expect is the unexpected. Upsets, close finishes and epic performances surround March Madness. With the way the season has played out so far, the NCAA tournament should be the most exciting and wide open in a long time.