Playing Knockout

It’s March baby! The greatest month of the year, and I am so tired of this whole regular season nonsense. I’m just itchin’ for the big dance. Everyone knows that the best part of the college basketball season is the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but not far behind will be here after just one more week. I’m talking about the conference tournaments. This is the week when every year the little sisters of the poor come out of nowhere to punch their ticket to the dance while knocking out a bubble team from a power conference. This is the week when the final draft of that beautiful bracket is molded. Obviously tickets have been punched, but this week is when the outsiders can “do it for Johnny” and sneak in.
It pains me to say this as a student at Mizzou so I’ll get it out of the way, Kansas looks to be headed for a 9th straight Big 12 Title and I wouldn’t count on them going down in their conference tournament. They have a great backcourt with veteran Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore, the diaper dandy who appears to be a top-3 pick in next year’s NBA draft. For the Jayhawks, their fate is simple. Win the Big 12 tournament means a #1 seed, it’s as simple as that. Other Big 12 schools whose ticket to the dance is punched include OK State and K-State.
In the Big Ten, let’s be honest, any team that looks poised to make any noise in the conference tournament already has an NCAA tournament bid. Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Illinois all seem to be going to the tournament, clearly making the Big Ten the premier basketball league in the country. The real question coming out of this conference is who will win the Big Ten player of the year? Both Michigan general Trey Burke and Indiana wing Victor Oladipo have their sights on the conference player of the year, as well as the Wooden Award, which is given to the Most Outstanding Player in the Country. 
The SEC is the conference to keep an eye on in the conference tournament. Right now it looks like Florida and Missouri are the only teams going to the tournament, with Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Ole Miss on the outside looking in. One of those four teams will be looking to impress the committee in the conference tournament. I’ve got Florida in the SEC tournament, but watch out for Missouri and their depth in the big dance, as they are the only Division 1 team with six players averaging double figures. 
Nothing too glamorous about the ACC, like the Big Ten, I wouldn’t expect anyone out of this conference to knock out a bubble team in the conference tournament. Expect Duke, Miami, UNC, and Virginia to show up in the bracket out of the ACC. I believe that Duke is the best team in this conference. They have one of the best bigs in the country in Mason Plumlee, the versatile Ryan Kelly to stretch out any defense, and one of the best backcourts in the country led by Seth Curry and Quinn Cook. As usual, expect Mike Krzyzewski to have his troops ready to go come tournament time. 
In the last year of the Big East as we know it, Georgetown and Marquette are red-hot and fighting for seeds in the conference tournament. Georgetown is looking at a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament if they can come out of the Garden victorious, and I can see Marquette looking at a #3 seed if they can get it done. I also expect Louisville, Syracuse, and Notre Dame to make the tournament. Georgetown shooting guard Otto Porter could also establish himself as the frontrunner for the Wooden Award if he can impress in the Big East Tournament. 
Not quite a power conference, but don’t sleep on the A-10. Expect the A-10 to send three teams to the dance in VCU, Butler, and St. Louis. Coming from a mid-major conference, it’s easy to be skeptical, but VCU and St. Louis are for real; and we know Brad Stevens knows how to coach in the tournament, as he has led Butler to the National Championship twice in a row. Speaking of coaching, my favorite coach, Shaka Smart, can wear down almost any team in the dance. The VCU Rams are going to pressure their opponents all game long on defense, they are one of the best conditioned teams in the country, and that is the formula that allowed Shaka Smart to lead them to the Final Four once already. 
Finally, look for the other mid-major conferences to send a no name up the Werner ladder, official ladder of the NCAA tournament, to cut down the nets and knock out some bubble teams. 

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