College basketball conference tournament week preview
ACC (March 6-10, Brooklyn)
Favorite: Virginia Cavaliers (28-2 overall, 17-1 conference) – The Cavaliers ran wild in conference play and became the first ACC team to finish with only one league loss since the 2002 Maryland Terrapins. This is the best version of Virginia since Tony Bennett became the head coach in 2009 – but it still butters its bread on the defensive side of the ball.
The Cavaliers allowed the fewest points per game in the country (52.8) and held high-scoring sides like Duke and UNC to 63 and 49 points respectively. Be on the lookout for news regarding leading scorer Kyle Guy. The Cavs guard hurt his ankle in the regular season finale against Notre Dame.
Live dog: NC State Wolfpack (21-10 overall, 11-7 conference) – The Wolfpack own some resume-padding wins and some head-scratching losses too. NC State topped Arizona in non-conference play, downed Duke and beat UNC at Chapel Hill. First year coach Kevin Keatts had his crew humming to end the regular season; The Wolfpack went 7-3 straight up in their last 10 games and 5-1 against the spread in their last six.
Atlantic 10 (March 7-11, Washington D.C.)
Favorite: Rhode Island Rams (23-6 overall, 15-3 conference) – The Rams entered the season as the favorites to win the Atlantic 10 after they returned most of the same group that won the conference tournament in 2017, and nearly knocked off eventual Final Four team Oregon in the Round of 32. Rhode Island has lost twice in the last week of the regular season and had just one convincing win over its final five contests.
Live dog: Davidson Wildcats (18-11 overall, 13-5 conference) – The odds could be better but Davidson are playing as well as any team in the conference entering the tournament and it took down Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure during the regular season. The Wildcats are led by potential A-10 Player of the Year Peyton Aldridge, who leads the conference in scoring at 21.3 points per game.
Big East (March 7-10, New York)
Favorite: Villanova Wildcats (27-4 overall, 14-4 conference) – The Wildcats are one of the few teams to be the favorite to win their conference tournament despite failing to win the regular season crown. Villanova is granted this exception by the oddsmakers because of how thoroughly it smashed top seed Xavier in the two meetings this season. Jay Wright’s side finished with the nation’s fourth-best scoring margin (+16 ppg) despite playing the sixth-toughest schedule in the nation.
Live dog: Seton Hall Pirates (21-10 overall, 10-8 conference) – The Pirates won four of their last five regular season games, with the one loss an overtime contest against Villanova. Seton Hall sat down Texas Tech and lost by one to Rhode Island in its non-conference schedule. Desi Rodriguez, the squad’s leading scorer, has been out since Feb. 21 when he rolled his ankle against Providence. His return could be a big boost for the Pirates.
Big 12 (March 7-10, Kansas City)
Favorite: Kansas Jayhawks (24-7 overall, 13-5 conference) – The Jayhawks won their 14th consecutive Big 12 regular season title under head coach Bill Self but it was no cakewalk this time around. Kansas lost its top recruit and used a seven-player rotation during the regular season. Like all Self teams, this year’s KU team relies heavily on its starting point guard – Devonte’ Graham. Kansas would be in big trouble if Graham got hurt or in early foul trouble during the league tournament.
Live dog: Oklahoma Sooners (18-12 overall, 8-10 conference) – It seems like a long, long time ago but the Sooners started the season by winning 12 of their first 13 games and knocked off Oregon, USC and Wichita State along the way. They still have Trae Young, who – at times – has shown off Steph Curry-type range with jumper off the dribble.
Mountain West (March 7-10, Las Vegas)
Favorite: Nevada Wolf Pack (26-6 overall, 15-3 conference) – Nevada is among the highest-scoring teams in the nation and possesses two dead-eye shooters from deep in Caleb Martin and Kendall Stephens. The Wolf Pack won the MWC a year ago and entered the season as the faves to take the conference crown again, but had to deal with a slew injuries during the campaign.
Live dog: San Diego State Aztecs (21-10 overall, 11-7 conference) – The Aztecs are in great shape heading into the MWC tournament as long as Trey Kell is healthy. San Diego State went 3-4 SU without their senior point guard in the lineup. Kell was a big part of the Aztecs’ six-game win streak to close the regular season.
Pac-12 (March 7-10, Las Vegas)
Favorite: Arizona Wildcats (24-7 overall, 14-4 conference) – There’s no questioning the Wildcats are the class of the conference but there’s enough stuff going on in the background that will warrant an oral history penned by Jonathan Abrams. Head coach Sean Miller’s name is all over the FBI’s NCAA basketball investigation – including an alleged 100K payment for freshman and Pac-12 Player of the Year Deandre Ayton. Miller and Ayton are ploughing ahead as is second-leading scorer Allonzo Trier, who recently returned to the Wildcat lineup after a two-game suspension due to a positive PED test.
Live dog: Southern California Trojans (21-10 overall, 12-6 conference) – This is a little bit of a cheat code because the Trojans are the second fave to win the tournament. They didn’t do much in their non-conference schedule but they showed last season they can string some solid performances together over a short amount of time. Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright are talented big men who can dominate a game against the right opponent.
SEC (March 7-11, St. Louis)
Favorite: Auburn Tigers (25-6 overall, 13-5 conference) – The Tigers are tied with Tennessee and Florida for the shortest odds to win the SEC tournament and The Athletic listed the Volunteers as the pick to cut down the nets. Auburn would be the clear fave to win the conference tournament if it didn’t look like big man Anfernee McLemore was done for the season. The Tigers are one of the top offensive teams in the nation but their defense loses a lot without McLemore manning the paint and protecting the rim.
Live dog: Alabama Crimson Tide (17-14 overall, 8-10 conference) – Winning a string of games over a short amount of time sometimes requires just two things: excellent team defense and one outstanding offensive guard. Alabama has both of these qualities. The Crimson Tide rank 28th in the country in opponent field goal percentage (41.4) and freshman point guard Colin Sexton is an expert at making tough hoops.