It’s March! With the big tournament right around the corner it’s time to start paying attention a little bit closer so you can fill out a bracket that will crush your competition. With the conference tournaments starting today for the major conferences we thought we would take a look and tell you a little bit about the conference, who is most likely to win, as well as give you as a dark horse team to cut down the nets. Since we like to imbibe in the occasional alcoholic beverage, we've also included a drink of choice for each conference tournament.
This conference has been a lot of fun to watch. You got Cincinnati, Louisville, and Memphis running all over the court and turning the game into a track meet. The top 5 teams in the conference have beat the hell out of each other, and I expect the Conference Tournament to be no different.
Team to beat: Even though this tournament is played in Memphis and Cincinnati is the #1 seed I think the team to beat is Louisville. The Cardinals are coming in hot, having won 9 of their last 10, and they have the experience from winning the whole thing last year. Look for the Cardinals to cut down the net.
Dark Horse: I am looking at you Connecticut. The Huskies are the fourth seed in this tournament, but they don’t have to play 5 games in 5 days like they did in winning the Big East tournament in 2010. They only have to win 3. They split their season series with #1 seed Cincinnati (who they would play in the Semifinals), and even though Louisville has given them fits this season I believe it would be a good game between the 2. I think that Connecticut will beat Cincinnati and will face the Cardinals in the Championship game.
Drink of choice: With the frenetic pace that the top teams in this conference play with it gets your heart pumping. Exactly like a Vodka Redbull would do for you. Pound them down and try not to run around the building.
Atlantic Coast Conference –
Surprise Surprise. The regular season champ isn’t Duke or North Carolina. It isn’t newcomer Syracuse either. In what quite possibly could be the most unheralded conference championship ever Virginia is the team that is the #1 seed going into Greensboro. Didn’t see that one coming. So are they the favorite to cut down the nets? Well, no.
Team to beat: Because of an unbalanced schedule Virginia only had to play Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse once. Two of those games were at home. The one that was on the road was the one they lost. While Virginia is a very good team I don’t think they can beat the top competition consistently enough to get the job done. That is why my favorite to win the ACC tournament is Duke. This team is battle tested, having played 2 great games against Syracuse and going up and down with North Carolina as well. Plus, since this tournament is in Greensboro Duke will probably get some 50-50 calls going their way (which never happens). I think the Blue Devils win this tournament, beating North Carolina in the championship game.
Dark Horse: I wouldn’t call any of the top 4 seeds in this tournament a dark horse. So I am going to the fifth seed. Pittsburgh. In their first year in the ACC the Panthers did well, finishing 11-7. They went toe to toe with Syracuse twice and gave Virginia all they could handle. With the up and down nature of North Carolina this year, Pittsburgh beating them wouldn’t be a shock. After that they could match-up with both Virginia and Syracuse. Those would be great games.
Drink of choice: A nice southern Bourbon is the drink of choice here. Something that is smooth to sip but with a bite. That is why we are going with Makers Mark here. Pour yourself a glass straight or with a little bit of ice, kick up your feet and enjoy.
This has been an interesting year from the Big 12. You have the rise, fall, and then little rise again of Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State. Texas has saved Rick Barnes job (I wonder how many times that sentence has been written the past few years), and Oklahoma and Iowa State have been huge successes thanks to their coaches. Even Kansas has had some drama this year. With the uber-talented Joel Embiid not playing in the Big 12 tournament they are vulnerable. This is going to be a fascinating conference tournament where 7 teams have a legitimate shot to win.
Team to beat: The more things change the more they stay the same. Even with the injury to Embiid the Jayhawks are the favorites. This is a well-coached athletic team that played one of the toughest schedules in the country and still won the conference for the 11th straight year. Even with 8 losses this team is in the running for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and if they win it here in Kansas City don’t be surprised if they get it.
Dark Horse: This was the single toughest pick to make. So many teams could win it. I ended up going with Oklahoma State for the obvious reasons. This is a top 10 team when they play well. If they win their first round game against Texas Tech they play Kansas, a team they have already beaten once this year. Yes they would have to win four games in four days but there is not a team in this tournament they can’t beat. Watch out for the Cowboys in the next four days.
Drink of choice: The same thing wins every year. The drink of choice is something that has won a major award. That's right, Papst Blue American Ribbon!! Enjoy
Oh what might have been. If Louisville, Connecticut, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh were still in the Big East this would be so much fun. Alas, they are not and this conference loses so much of its shine. It is still going to be a good tournament but if these 4 teams were still playing it would be one of the best ever. I hate realignment.
Team to beat: Do me a quick favor and go to the Bracketology page of ESPN.com and look and see who the fourth #1 seed is. You got Arizona, Wichita St and Florida which are easy picks. The fourth one is a crap shoot. Right now it is the Villanova Wildcats. Villanova is 28-3! When did that happen? Villanova is a team that doesn’t beat themselves. They have quality wins against Kansas and Iowa, as well as running through the conference. They only lost 2 conference games, and both were against Creighton. Even with saying that I think that Villanova is the team to beat and not Creighton. Doug McDermott is a great scorer and the Blue Jays could win as well, but it is super hard to beat a team three times in one season and I think the Wildcats will beat them this time around.
Dark Horse: The dark horse here is Xavier. They split with Creighton in the regular season and will get a rubber match if they beat Marquette. Xavier is always a tough out in every tournament they are in and the Big East tourney is no different. Also, since it is their first year in the Big East they want to make a splash and prove they belong with the big boys.
Drink of Choice: They are playing at the famed Madison Square Garden. College basketball at the garden is a beautiful thing to watch. So sit down with a nice micro-brew of your choice and imagine all the games that have been played on that storied court. Go ahead and reminisce. We don’t mind waiting.
The Big 10 hasn’t won a National Title since 2000, and yet every year people say they are the best conference in basketball. Just goes to show you that being the best conference doesn’t mean you produce the best team. This year is no different. It is the deepest conference in basketball again and that is going to make for one hell of a conference tournament.
Team to beat: I believe that the team to beat has the best coach in the league and is finally getting healthy. That would be the Michigan St Spartans. I know that Michigan made the NCAA title game last year and is the #1 seed in the conference but I am still going with Sparty. I know better than to bet against Izzo in any sort of tournament and I also know that this team was #1 in the country when healthy, which they are becoming again. Maybe I have more faith in Michigan St than most people, but I believe they are going to win it.
Dark Horse: Speaking of teams with lofty rankings the Ohio State Buckeyes were #3 in the country on January 7. After losing a tough overtime game to Michigan St the wheels fell off a little bit and they finished only 10-8 in league. They have beaten Wisconsin and gotten revenge against the Spartans. Could Ohio St get hot and win 4 games in 4 days and cut down the nets in Indy. Absolutely. Don’t count out the fighting Thads just yet.
Drink of choice: The drink has to be something that slows you down, just like the style most Big 10 teams play. So because of that and St Patricks day we are going with a Guiness. Enjoy.
The quality of play the last few years from the Pac 12 has been awful. In all honesty this year hasn’t been that much better but the play of one team has risen the conference up. This year you had 2 teams on the top, 2 teams on the bottom, and 8 teams jumbled up in the middle fighting for mediocrity. I guess that is an improvement.
Team to beat: Arizona. This team is head and shoulders above everyone. It will be a shock to me if they don’t win it. Arizona is deep, talented, and wants a #1 seed. This is one of the best defensive teams in the country even without the injured Brandon Ashley. They could win the whole thing, so winning an average Pac 12 shouldn’t be tough for them.
Dark Horse: Any teams 3-10? I’m going to go with the #6 seed Stanford Cardinal. If they get by their first round game against #11 Washington State they will play Arizona State and then presumably UCLA, 2 teams they have beaten. This is a senior laden team and they need to make the tournament to save their coaches job, so I think that they will be playing with extra fire and passion. Do I think they will win? No. But they can. And that is the beautiful thing about March.
Drink of choice: A drink that has the potential to be great but usually falls flat on its face. That describes the Pac 12 this year and that also describes a Mojito. So that is what we are going with.
This is where the best team in the country resides. I have been on the Florida bandwagon since December (I can provide witnesses if I must) and the SEC has not shown me that anyone can compete with them. The Florida Gators have made 3 straight Elite 8’s and just ran through the conference undefeated. This team is scary good and can beat you in so many ways. I just love the way they play.
Team to beat: I guess I just wrote that didn’t I? Florida is #1 for a reason. They deserve it with the way they play and they will continue to play well.
Dark Horse: The Field. Florida is such a prohibitive favorite in this one that anyone else would be a dark horse. I am going to say Tennessee. They have won four in a row going in and are in a similar situation to Stanford. They have to play well if they want to save their coaches job. I think they well. I just don’t think they are beating Florida.
Drink of choice: Easiest pick. Southern Comfort for Southern basketball.
There ya have it! Now enjoy some college basketball and remember, for as much fun as you have this week, the real fun starts next week!