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NCAA Basketball March Madness: Major Conference Tournament Previews by TDG

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Gopher season that mercifully should be vacated cannot be an excuse as to why you lost interest in all NCAA basketball this season and you should still participate in all of your usually bracket pools.  We are here to help and get you prepared for Bracket Monday and I am here to give you little preview of the P5 Conference Tournaments (excluding Big Ten).

I'll get into the specific conferences and teams below but first a few of the players who should be a lot of fun to watch...

  • Buddy Hield - Oklahoma - 25 ppg scorer and a guy who loves the bright lights
  • Kris Dunn - Providence - Arguably best PG in the country and a top-5 NBA draft pick
  • Brice Johnson - North Carolina - National POY candidate on maybe the nation's best team
  • Jakob Poeltl - Utah - Pac12 Player of the year and a big man
  • Ben Simmons - LSU - likely #1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft
  • Jamal Murray - Kentucky - shooter and lottery pick

Big 12

Championship Game: Saturday
Top Seed: Kansas
Projected Bids: 7 (KU, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas, Iowa State, Baylor, Texas Tech)

No sense waiting to get to what was college basketball's best conference this year.  It is a surprise to nobody that Kansas finished the season top the standings but Oklahoma and West Virginia are right on their heels.  Iowa State, Baylor and Texas can beat any of those top 3 teams without too much surprise and even Tubby Smith's Texas Tech is capable of making a run.  This tourney is wide open and it should be the most fun to watch regardless of what round you are watching.

Kansas, Iowa State and even Baylor boast some of the best offenses in the country.  West Virginia might be the best defensive team in the land.  Texas if very balanced and takes care of the ball.  Then you have Oklahoma who has arguably the best offensive individual in college hoops in Buddy Hield.  Hield has averaged 25 ppg for the season and could easily put the Sooners on his back this week in Kansas City.  I can't seem to pick just one story line to go with here because there are so many.

The smart money would be to narrow down your pick to win to one of the top three.  Kansas is a complete team and currently is the #1 team in the country.

Texas becomes an interesting dark horse in my opinion but I'd feel better if they didn't have to face Kansas in the semi-finals (assuming they can get by Baylor, which is no easy task).  The Longhorns struggled against KU this year, but they swept West Virginia and split with Oklahoma.  So I like their chances if they can sneak by the Bears and Jayhawks somehow.

GN's Meaningless Prediction: West Virginia - I love their defense and in a three-day tournament, when offensive players may get a little worn down, defense can carry you though.

ACC

Championship Game: Saturday
Top Seed: North Carolina
Projected Bids: 6 or 7 (UNC, Virginia, Notre Dame, Miami, Duke, Pitt and maybe Syracuse)

Take a guess if I'm telling the truth or making up a total lie...Duke comes into the ACC Tournament as the 5-seed.  Truth! But much like the Big 12, this league has a handful of teams at the top who individually could easily win this thing. Virginia and North Carolina are the top-tier teams here.  Both are highly efficient on offense with dramatically differing tempo-styles.  Virginia is the slowest team in the country with an adjusted tempo of 61.6 possessions per game, UNC ranks 40th overall with 72.5 per game.  Interesting contrast in styles.

But they aren't the only two teams here to pay attention to.  Notre Dame is schizophrenic, as usual.  They may win the whole thing or get bumped by Duke in their first game (assuming Duke wins their first game).  A very good shooting team that won't turn the ball over, but struggles to win games with their defense.  Miami is sneaky good, maybe the best team you've heard very little about.  They had won 8 out of 9 games, with their only loss at North Carolina, before dropping the season finale to Virginia Tech by 15.  Very balanced, efficient and slow.  As mentioned, Duke is the 5-seed and has had an up and down season.  After winning 5 in a row in February, with wins over Louisville, Virginia and at North Carolina, they looked like things were righted.  But the Blue Devils have gone 2-3 their last 5 games and an early loss in this tournament may drop them to a 5 or 6 seed.

This tournament has a very interesting early round matchup between Pitt and Syarcuse on Wednesday.  Should the Orange lose this game, they may be relegated to the NIT.  Currently Lunardi has them as one of the last four in, a win probably secures their bid and a loss would be bad.  Cuse has lost four of their last five and are not trending in the right direction.  Pitt is probably on the right side of the bubble but a loss here and things get more interesting.  Lunardi has them as the last team still getting a bye.  Can the Panthers go 3-0 over the Orange?  This game is very intriguing.

GN's Meaningless Prediction: Virginia - KenPom's #1 ranked team and Tony Bennett has a system/style that is perfectly suited for tournament runs.  It starts with winning the ACC.

Pac 12

Championship Game: Saturday
Top Seed: Oregon
Projected Bids: 5-7 (Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Cal, Colorado and then maybe Oregon State and/or USC)

Oregon's the top seed, followed by Utah and Cal and then you have Arizona sitting all the way down the list as the 4-seed.  Then Colorado, USC and Oregon State are all playing earlier round games and fighting to avoid the bubble.

I'm going to start with the two teams I believe in the most and they are the 3 and 4 seeds.  Cal is hot having won 8 of last 9 with their only loss being at Arizona by 3.  Cuanzo Martin has a very good defensive team here that doesn't take chances and makes you earn everything you get.  They lost by 3 at Oregon in January then blasted them by 20 at home in February.  #Peaking.  Arizona is the other team who's stock I'd be buying.  Their little road-trip to Colorado and Utah at the end of February is their only blemish since January.  Sean Miller's team is very good offensively and solid defensively.  A dangerous team.

Oregon and Utah? Well there is nothing to not like.  The Ducks won the league, are very good and have a nice frontcourt.  Utah has the Pac 12 player of the year in the post and they have won 7-straight to secure the 2-seed.

After the top four?  It looks like Colorado is safe, assuming they beat Washington State in their first round game.  USC looked like they were a lock a month ago but West Coast Dunk City but they've gone 2-6 lately and while they currently are still "in," it is going to be tenuous for the Trojans.  They get UCLA in the first round and then Arizona. Finally Oregon State has work left to do and Lunardi has them outside looking in.  They get Arizona St. and then Cal, they may need to win both.

GN's Meaningless Prediction: Team - I would bet that Cal and Arizona make it to the championship game and I'll give the nod to the Wildcats.

Big East

Championship Game: Saturday
Top Seed: Villanova
Projected Bids: 4 or 5 (Villanova, Xavier, Providence, Seton Hall and maybe Butler)

Nova is the top team, but I'm watching these games to watch Kris Dunn. I desperately want Dunn to be a Timberwolf next year and I want to watch him play.  He is the type of player who can really come alive in a tournament setting like this and the following weeks.  CBS Sports had him the offensive player of the year and the defensive player of the year in the conference.

Villanova?  Well they are a legit Final Four team who could win it all.  Very good on offense and great on defense, I want to watch them play as research for my bracket and deciding on who is going to win it all.

Xavier and Seton Hall are on a semi-final collision course and that should be a fun game to watch as well.  I'm a huge fan of Chris Mack and he'll lead his Muskateers against the Pirates led by Isaiah Whitehead (who you may recall very nearly picked the Gophers out of high school).

Butler is in, but their game against Providence in the first round could be one to push them towards the bubble.

A few loose, Minnesota connections in this tournament.  Henry Ellenson plays for Marquette (brother of Wally who also plays for Marquette and was a Tubby recruit).  Whitehead was mentioned above.  JP Macura is a key contributor for Xavier and a Minnesota kid.  Dunn is going to be a Timberwolf (make it happen!).

GN's Meaningless Prediction: Villanova - Perhaps you've noticed that I haven't picked a 1-seed to win their conference till now.  This conference is good, but not as deep.  Xavier could win it, and a possible matchup with Providence is dangerous, but my money will be on Nova.

SEC

Championship Game: Sunday
Top Seed: Texas A&M
Projected Bids: 4, maybe 5 (A&M, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vandy and Florida has work to do.)

Finally a conference title for someone other than Kentucky or Florida.  Texas A&M had a rough 2-week stretch in late January/early Feb but recovered to win their last six games, including an OT win over Kentucky to clinch their first conference title in the SEC.  They get it done defensively forcing a lot of turnovers and they hit the offensive glass to give themselves more effective possessions. Not the star-power of some of the other teams but good for the Aggies.

LSU has been rather disappointing this year with a group of good returners and then the consensus #1 overall draft pick, Ben Simmons, being some added juice.  But they have struggled, have the league's 4-seed and may need to go on a big run to get themselves back into the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky?  Well they are Kentucky.  They lost a ton from last year's special team, they've reloaded and whle they aren't quite the same as they were a year ago, they are very good offensively and are lead by Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray.  They shoot it well, they crash the glass and they defend the three well.

South Carolina began the season 15-0 but has been up and down in conference play.  A couple bad losses to Tennessee and Missouri.  An 8/9 seed caliber team in the NCAA Tournament and one that I do not expect to see make much noise in the SEC Tourney (or NCAAs for that matter).

Vandy is in and a good shooting team behind Matthew Fisher-Davis and Wade Baldwin.  That always makes a team dangerous in a tournament setting.  Florida is on the outside of the bubble.  They have to beat Arkansas on Thursday morning and may have to then beat A&M on Friday to make the committee really think about them.

GN's Meaningless Prediction: Kentucky - I'm going to say that LSU goes on a run to the SEC Championship game to make some bubble noise before losing to Kentucky who boosts their NCAA seed by winning this tournament.