Welcome to the best two weeks of the college basketball season. Starting Thursday and running through Sunday we’ll be enjoying one of the best two Thursday-Sunday runs of college basketball all year. There are some good reasons to think that this weekend is even better than the first weekend of the NCAA tournament because these are games between teams that have developed genuine animosity toward each other during the season and every team participating will belong on the court. We should expect a ton of close, hard-fought games this weekend, which is often more than can be said of many of the games next weekend.
For the games below the “Favorites” are based on the current odds to win the tournament that I found here. Those numbers will fluctuate this week and differ based on which website you check, so for these purposes I’m only indicating who the current favorite is and not posting any odds or anything like that. Also, the “Teams In” and “Bubble Teams” are based on our most recent in-house projection because our bracketologist didn’t go to a school with the Stupid Flapping Hawk (TM pending) as a mascot. Everything else should be self-explanatory.
Location – Verizon Center: Washington D.C.
Championship – Saturday March 12, 8 p.m. (all times central) on ESPN
Regular Season Champ – North Carolina
RPI Leader – Virginia (2)
Teams In – Virginia, North Carolina, Miami, Duke, Notre Dame
Bubble Teams – Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Florida State (with a deep run)
The Favorite – UNC just barely over Virginia.
Analysis – There is some hot bubble action in this tournament as well as some intrigue for #1 seed purposes. A couple of moderate sleepers (defending conference tournament champion Notre Dame, Duke) could also make things uncomfortable for the fairly clear cream of this crop (Virginia and UNC). So how does the bracket shake out? Glad you asked.
Notre Dame got a pretty good draw, all things considered. Given the Irish’s recent dominance against North Carolina schools, beating UNC and Duke shouldn’t look as daunting to them as it would to an awful lot of other teams. Although UNC is the Vegas favorite here, the team the Heels get first (winner of the bubblicious Pitt/Syracuse game) will have a LOT more to play for. That’s always dangerous.
The other half of the bracket seems much more straightforward mainly because it is. Depending on whether you think Miami is any good (I don’t), Virginia might have some trouble (they’re not). Seriously, though, this is incredibly lopsided. Virginia not making the championship game would be more surprising than any team besides NC State winning the other half of the bracket.
Prediction – Well obviously I have Virginia in the final, but who do they play? I’ll go with Duke, partially because I want to troll Nate and partially because I think UNC is ripe for an upset in their first game of this tournament. I’ll take UVA to win over Duke East, though.
Location – Barclays Center: Brooklyn, NY
Championship – Sunday March 13, 11:30 a.m. on CBS
Regular Season Champs – Dayton, VCU, St. Bonnaventure
RPI Leader – Dayton (20)
Teams In – Dayton
Bubble Teams – VCU, St. Joe’s, St. Bonaventure, George Washington (kinda)
The Favorite – I couldn’t find odds on this one although the general consensus appears to be VCU is the favorite. That’s who I would have picked, so I’m not going to argue.
Analysis – Enjoy!
Prediction – VCU over Dayton.
Location – Bankers Life Fieldhouse: Indianapolis, IN
Championship – Sunday March 13, 2 p.m. on CBS
Regular Season Champ – Indiana
RPI Leader – Maryland (12)…this really surprised me
Teams In – Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland, Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin
Bubble Team – Michigan
The Favorite – Sparty
Analysis – Here’s the definitive B1G preview as told by Crying Jordan and our resident B1G expert, G.H. I definitely can’t do better than that.
Prediction – G.H. picked Sparty over Indiana. I’m going with…basically the same thing except Sparty over Iowa.
Location – Sprint Center: Kansas City, MO
Championship – Saturday March 12, 5 p.m. on ESPN
Regular Season Champ – Kansas
RPI Leader – Kansas (1)
Teams In – Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas, Baylor, Iowa State, Texas Tech
Bubble Teams – None
The Favorite – Kansas
Analysis – The Big 12 tournament should feature fantastic basketball, although unless something completely insane happens the stakes aren’t particularly high. Kansas is probably locked in to the #1 overall seed. Some other seeding lines could move based on performances in this tournament, but none of these teams are in danger of falling out.
The bracket doesn’t do anyone besides Kansas any favors, and those were well earned. Oklahoma has to beat Iowa State just for the right to play either West Virginia or Texas Tech just for the right to play Kansas again. Woof. I don’t see Iowa State winning 3 straight games on consecutive days as thin as they are and I certainly don’t see them winning 3 straight when the opponents are Oklahoma, West Virginia (probably), and Kansas (probably). They can definitely beat Oklahoma, though.
The other side of the bracket isn’t any easier, but there is a lingering doubt about Kansas’s enthusiasm for this tournament given just how little is at stake. Still, they’re getting the benefit of having to play (beat) the winner of Oklahoma State/Kansas State and then getting whoever survives the Baylor/Texas bloodbath. This conference is tough.
Prediction – Honestly, I have no idea what’s going to happen in this tournament, but I’m hoping that it is weird from start to finish. This is the tournament I’m looking most forward to watching, too. Since I might as well make my pick align with my wishes, I’ll take West Virginia over Baylor, but I’m not putting money anywhere near that.
Location – Madison Square Garden
Championship – Saturday March 12, 4:30 p.m. on Fox
Regular Season Champ – Villanova
RPI Leader – Villanova (3)
Teams In – Xavier, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, Butler
Bubble Team – Uh…Butler? Maybe? Probably nobody.
The Favorite – Villanova followed closely by Xavier, then a giant cliff, then Butler and Seton Hall.
Analysis – Look, we can talk about the bracket here – and we will – but I think we’re all not-so-secretly hoping that the final is between Villanova and Xavier. Much like the ACC draw, the #2 seed has a seemingly easier go than does the #1 seed.
#1 seed Villanova has to beat Georgetown/DePaul then a talented-if-underwhelming Providence team to get to the championship. That’s if Providence manages to beat Butler, which I don’t think they will. Still, Butler’s not a cakewalk either. It’s doable, and ‘Nova will probably do it, but there’s no reason Providence or Butler shouldn’t give them a good game.
#2 seed Xavier only has to beat Marquette/St. John’s (HA!) then Seton Hall or Creighton. None of those teams are as good as either Providence or Butler so…yeah, Xavier should make the final.
Prediction – I’ll take Xavier over Villanova here only because it’ll set Xavier up to be possibly the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed (they won’t, but man would I relish that). Honestly, I just want to see this game because both of these teams are excellent.
Conference of Champions
Location – MGM Grand Garden Arena: Las Vegas, NV
Championship – Saturday March 12, 9 p.m. on FS1
Regular Season Champ – Oregon
RPI Leader – Oregon (4)
Teams In – Oregon, Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon State
Bubble Team – Probably nobody. Maybe USC, but they are likely in
The Favorite – Arizona (somewhat surprisingly). Oregon and Utah are right there, though.
Analysis – This should be yet another great tournament. For my money, I’m going with the Big12, Pac10, A10, and B1G Tournaments – in that order – for having the greatest potential for chaos.
The top half of the bracket gives Arizona a serious Colorado-shaped landmine to clear before the so-called favorite gets a shot at Oregon. I’m betting they step on it. Oregon-Colorado in the semifinals is still a pretty good game, but Oregon should advance.
On the bottom half both USC and Oregon State seem to have some proving to do and both of them probably need to win just the first game to make sure they make the Big Dance. After that nobody would be surprised if USC loses to Utah or Oregon State loses to Cal. I’m picking Oregon State to surprise people, though, and Utah to advance past both USC and Cal. It would not surprise me one bit, though, if either Oregon State or Cal comes out of this half of the bracket, though.
Prediction – Utah over Oregon in a mild upset. I’m reserving my seat on the Utah bandwagon now.
Location – Bridgestone Arena: Nashville, TN
Championship – Sunday March 13, Noon on ESPN
Regular Season Champs – Texas A&M, Kentucky
RPI Leader – Kentucky (13)
Teams In – Kentucky, Texas A&M
Bubble Teams – South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida, Georgia, Alabama
The Favorite – Kentucky
Analysis – This and the A10 tournament are the most interesting in terms of bubble implications and this one is probably the most interesting. It will be very interesting to see which of those two conferences gets more teams in the tournament. As for the SEC Tournament, the draw sets up very well for Kentucky. UK will have to stay just interested enough to fend off whoever wins the Alabama-Ole Miss game before getting South Carolina (assuming the Cocks finally beat a Georgia team they have already lost to twice). In case you forgot, Kentucky humiliated South Carolina earlier this year. This looks like a walk to the championship for the Cats.
The other side of the bracket is much harder to predict. Assuming Florida beats Arkansas the Gators will probably fall to Texas A&M, although I could see an upset there. Vandy just has to survive the winner of the feces flinging contest between Auburn and Tennessee in order to set up a really fun game against LSU. Since Vandy seems pathologically unable to get out of its own way this year, I’ll take LSU in the upset there. That’s it, though. I’m taking chalk in this tournament.
Prediction – Kentucky is the best team in the conference and I’ve got them beating Texas A&M in a tight contest.