ACC tournament preview
When: March 10-14
Where: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina
The ACC boasts some of the most firepower in the country, with Louisville (15-5) having a renaissance after not making it out of the Round of 32 in four seasons. It was an off year to varying degrees for the usual suspects (Duke, 15-5; North Carolina, 6-14), while Florida State (16-4) and Virginia (15-5) continued their recent success. The Tar Heels struggled with injury, making this past season a complete wash and their first whiff at the NCAA Tournament since 2010 (just the second time under coach Roy Williams).
The best odds to win the ACC Tournament is a crowded field, with regular-season-champ Florida State (+200) leading the way over Duke (+250) and Louisville (+300). The Seminoles completed the sweep of Louisville, beating them soundly with length both games; and split the series with Virginia. Duke won their only matchup against the Seminoles at home, but skidded to a 3-3 finish to their regular season. The Blue Devils would make the best value pick to win the ACC despite their late-season struggle.
The defending-champion Virginia Cavaliers have been the hottest team in the ACC down the stretch, winning eight straight games that included wins over Louisville and Duke. In their last 12, Virginia added a win against Florida State and an 11-1 record to surge to second in the ACC standings. At just +750 odds to win the tournament, Virginia makes a great dark horse bet, as they have a very real chance at making a run. Not dissimilar to last season, the Cavaliers boast the nation’s best scoring defense and match up excellently against the high-scoring powers like Duke and Louisville.
Postseason tournaments are about peaking at the right time, and Virginia is just that. All four mentioned teams also make great picks when filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket later this month.
Big 12 tournament preview
When: March 11-14
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri
Just after Valentine’s Day, the Baylor Bears (15-3) were the hottest team in the country, commanding a 23-game win streak and the top ranking in the country. In the game of the year, #3 Kansas (17-1) was able to upend Baylor in Waco and took control of the best team in the country. Since that game, Baylor (+230) dropped three of their final four games and surrendered the best odds to win the Big 12 Tournament to the Jayhawks (+105). Early-season successes of West Virginia (9-9) also gave way to the treachery of the Big 12 and dropped them to almost non-contention (+900).
Kansas is unquestionably the best team in the conference and possibly the country. They post a top-10 scoring defense, one of the most efficient shooting offenses (48.4% FG, 9th), and a disciplined team that ranks 23rd in fouls committed and 28th in shots blocked. The Jayhawks have two players that are making a strong case for the Wooden Award, guard Devon Dotson and center Udoka Azubuike. Dotson (18.1 ppg) is one of the strongest defensive guards in the nation, posting 2.1 steals per game and Azubuike is one of the strongest bodies, leading the nation in field goal percentage (74.8%). Kansas commands a 16-game win streak that doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon.
Texas Tech (+700) sits third in odds to take the Big 12 title, but struggled through their last four games of the year, losing each one. The Red Raiders still bring a stout defense to the table (32nd in points allowed per game) and an efficient three-point shooting team (35.5%, 68th) led by guards Davide Moretti and Jahmi’us Ramsey. Despite their dud of an end to the season, Baylor can’t be discounted. The Bears bring a top-10 defense to the table as well as Jared Butler, one of the most dynamic players in the Big 12.
A lot sits on the table for the winner of the Big 12 Tournament, namely Baylor and Texas Tech. Baylor is out to secure a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and needs to take the Big 12 in order to do so; and Texas Tech needs to win to secure an automatic bid to the tournament. With so much on the table, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team other than Kansas, whose future is all but set, win the Big 12 title.
Pac-12 tournament preview
When: March 11-14
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
With a convincing win against Stanford, Oregon (13-5) was able to wrap up the Pac-12 regular season title and the top seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. UCLA (12-6), Arizona State (11-7), and USC (11-7) also secured first-round byes. The Pac-12 has been a rollercoaster of a conference this season, with teams like Colorado and Arizona making their case at a regular-season title at points. UCLA was in control of the conference until they were upset by USC in the regular season finale.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, Oregon (+180) sits as the heavy favorite to win the conference, and for good reason. The Ducks have one of the most prolific scorers in the country, guard Payton Pritchard. Pritchard finished the season with four straight 20-point outings, including 38 in an overtime thriller against Arizona and 29 in the finale against Stanford. Oregon is an excellent bet to not only win the conference, but to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Colorado (+430) had a messy end to the regular season, dropping four straight ugly games to unranked opponents. Before that stretch, the Buffaloes were 21-6 and ranked in the middle of the AP Top 25. Colorado still boasts the 35th-ranked scoring defense (63.7 papg) and a 0.500 record against the AP Top 25. Before a flukey two-point loss to USC, UCLA (+750) was atop the Pac-12 and winners of seven straight, including games over Colorado, Arizona State, and Arizona.
Oregon and superstar Payton Pritchard are undoubtedly the safest bet to take the Pac-12. However, eyes should be kept on both Colorado and UCLA, who had grasps on the top of the conference at points this season. Colorado has already taken a game against Oregon earlier this season, and UCLA was the hottest team in the Pac-12 before their finale flop.
Big East tournament preview
When: March 11-14
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City
The Big East saw a renaissance, having maybe its most prolific year since the 2010-14 conference realignment that saw the departure of powers like West Virginia, UConn, Syracuse, and Louisville. Five teams graced the AP Top 25 in 2019-20 and Seton Hall, Creighton, and Villanova have vied for the Top 10 all season long. After a wild ride during the regular season, a definitive champion is set to be crowned.
Creighton (13-5) wrapped up a share of the regular season title in the finale by upending Seton Hall (13-5) at home and sits second in odds to win the Big East Tournament (+310). The odds-on favorite, Villanova (+270), had what fans consider a disappointing year despite grabbing an early-season victory over Kansas in December. Instead of dominating the conference, Nova posted just their second 5-or-more loss season since 2012.
As far as history goes, Villanova has been there and done that, having won the Big East four of the last five years and three years runnings. The Wildcats split each season series with Creighton and Seton Hall, with most games ending within a couple possessions. Their three-point shooting has been a saving grace, ranking in the top fifth of the country in three point buckets made (15th), attempted (21st), and percentage (53rd). Nova has also taken care of the ball, ranking 18th in turnovers. The rest of the team’s stats have been solid, but not outstanding.
The dark horse team to watch is one outside of the “Big Three;” Providence (+650). The Friars (12-6) finished a respectable fourth in the Big East and just one game out of the regular season share. The real head-turner came as they played spoiler to Seton Hall and Creighton late in the season, delivering huge February losses to both. A 19-12 record and so-so stats might have most of the country dismissing Providence, but they post the best all-around defense in the Big East and rank 12th in the nation in offensive rebounding, leading to swaths of second-chance points. This isn’t an indictment on the other three contenders, but Providence could play spoiler for a couple Big East teams.
A lot still needs to be sorted out before the NCAA Tournament, including where each of these Big East teams fall. Villanova could be an excellent choice to make a run at the deeper rounds as a fifth or sixth seed, whereas Seton Hall might make a candidate for the first two-seed to be bounced. Did the Big East self-cannibalize this season, or are they not as daunting as they may look? The Big East Tournament is going to be one to watch for sure.
SEC tournament preview
When: March 11-15
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee
The SEC is poised to put just four teams in the NCAA Tournament (per Andy Katz’s tournament projections), their lowest since 2016, after a mildly disappointing season for teams like Tennessee (9-9) and Florida (11-7). The Volunteers (+1500) were a two-seed in last year’s March Madness and made it to the Sweet 16, but fell flat without 2019 breakout star Admiral Schofield. While still known as a football conference, the SEC is third all-time in NCAA champions, led the way by Kentucky (8).
The Wildcats (+180) lead the way again, tearing through basketball’s best all season long. Kentucky finished 4-2 against the AP Top 25, including an opening-night win against Michigan State. Coach John Calapari is used to having youthful teams, but the 2019-20 squad has just one freshman in their top six scorers (guard Tyrese Maxey). Kentucky has played everyone’s game this season, but has excelled in free throw shooting (1st), blocks (16th), and defensive rebounds allowed (17th). However, they remain susceptible to three-point shooting, demonstrated in tough losses to Utah and Tennessee.
LSU (+550) saw early season success, climbing into the top 25 but carried losses to East Tennessee State, USC, and VCU out of conference. The Tigers traded offense for defense, ranking 11th in points scored per game (80.5), but just 282nd in points allowed per game (73.3). Tennessee (+1500) played spoiler earlier in the year to Kentucky and Florida in back-to-back games, but showed a wild inconsistency with scoring in losses to Wisconsin (48 points) and Memphis (47 points). Florida (+450) sits third in odds, but mustered just a 2-4 record against AP Top 25 teams this season.
The safest bet for the SEC Tournament is unquestionably Kentucky in the conference’s lowest-rated season in seven years. LSU has shown flashes of greatness, but limped to a 5-6 finish since February. If the Wildcats can heat up again, they will breeze through the SEC Tournament and make a solid run in the NCAA Tournament.
Big 10 tournament preview
When: March 11-15
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
The Big Ten might have been the most loaded conference in the country, with nine teams gracing the AP Top 25 over the course of the season and a combined 57 wins against the top 25. Wisconsin (14-6), Michigan State (14-6), and Maryland (14-6) shared the regular season title. A representative of the Big Ten has made their way to the NCAA Tournament final in three of the last seven years, but have not won since Michigan State in 2000 (note: current Big Ten member Maryland won in 2002 as a member of the ACC).
Michigan State (14-6) was considered the biggest bust of the year midway through the season, as the preseason #1 team was just 16-8 into February and out of the rankings altogether. The Spartans (+320) finished out the season 6-1, including five ranked wins and clawed their way back into the AP Top 10. Despite being the odds-on favorite, Michigan State is far from a heavy favorite; with such a wide-open conference during the regular season, it’s no surprise. Maryland (+450) and Michigan (+600) follow, despite Michigan finishing ninth in the regular season.
Wisconsin (+900) quietly rose through the conference standings to finish with a share of the regular season schedule and completed a regular-season sweep of Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Maryland. However, the Badgers still find themselves fifth in odds to take the Big Ten title, making them an excellent dark horse team. Ohio State (+700) has early-season wins over Villanova and Kentucky, and a season sweep of Michigan. The Buckeyes were riddled with injuries during the season but, when healthy, possess the firepower to beat almost anyone in the country.
Iowa (+1000), Rutgers, and Illinois (+1000) emerged as conference contenders after over a decade of zero combined regular season or conference tournament titles. All three also avoid Michigan State until a possible championship game matchup, making them interesting considerations as a longshot bet. Michigan has taken the Big Ten Tournament title two of the last three years and found themselves in the NCAA Tournament final just two seasons ago.
The bottom line is, any team in the Big Ten could make a run at the championship, making this the deepest and most interesting tournament in conference play. The champion will come down to who gets hot at the right time, a streak that could continue well into March.
AAC tournament preview
When: March 12-15
Where: Dickies Arena, Fort Worth, Texas
The stars aligned and the impossible happened in the final day of regular season AAC play: Houston (13-5), Cincinnati (13-5), and Tulsa (13-5) split the regular season title. Cincinnati was awarded the top seed followed by Houston and Tulsa. Wichita State (11-7) fell into the final bye slot as the fourth seed. The top of the conference was dabbling in the AP Top 25 and the “Are they good?” conversation all season long. The three top teams have a win over Washington (who beat Baylor) and losses to Bowling Green; the gauge on the conference as a whole was all over the place.
Pre-season slam dunk Memphis (10-8) fell off the cliff of relevance when superstar James Wiseman was declared ineligible by the NCAA and he missed the season. Wiseman was being pinned as the top overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and averaged 19.7 points and 10.7 rebounds on 77% shooting in his first three games this year. The loss of Wiseman was not only a blow to Memphis, but to the AAC as a whole. Instead, Cincinnati (+350) was forced to make statements against teams like Ohio State early in the season, which ended poorly for the Bearcats.
Houston (+190) was the hope for the conference and found themselves inside the AP Top 25 for the back half of the season as they continued to dominate the nation in defense (12th in points allowed per game). The Cougars used their size to control the paint (9th in total rebounds, 6th in offensive rebounds, 19th in blocks) and allowed less than 30% shooting from the arc (28.6%, 10th). After dropping their first games against Cincinnati and Tulsa, Houston won the rematches and split the regular season share. There’s no question Houston is the odds-on favorite, and would make the best bet to win the conference.
SMU (+3500) is a stretch, but swept the regular season series with Memphis and stole a game from Houston late in the year. SMU matches up well with Houston’s length, ranking 10th in defensive rebounds allowed and keeping their opponents off the line. The Mustangs still sit as massive underdogs for a reason, they are prone to being blown out by good shooting teams, as demonstrated in losses to Temple (46% three-point allowed) and Tulane (56% three-point allowed). If SMU finds themselves in a second-round matchup with Houston, they might make a great underdog bet.
Houston made a solid tournament run last year, making it to the Sweet 16 before being just barely beaten out by Kentucky. Cincinnati saw an early first-round exit at the hands of Iowa, and the conference as a whole is looking to make a little more of a splash in the Big Dance. A three-way tie made the AAC Tournament a whole lot more fun to watch.