March 9, 2021

Predicting the Winner of Every Major CBB Conference Tournament

We weren’t always sure if we’d get to this point of the college basketball season, but we’ve made it to Championship Week.

We’re less than a week from Selection Sunday and have already seen a few teams punch their ticket for the Big Dance. While there will be plenty of other potential Cinderella squads to make their dreams come true this week, the focus should be on the major conferences.

The five big conferences are all playing their tournaments this week, and for one reason or another, all five tournaments seem to be wide open. In preparation for next week when the picks start to matter, let’s take a crack at predicting the winner of every major conference tournament.

ACC: Florida State Seminoles

More than ever before, the ACC Tournament is wide open. Duke would have to win five games to win the tournament while North Carolina would have to win four in as many days. That means the traditional powerhouse programs are anything but favorites. Plus, every team lost at least four games during the regular season, so nobody is unbeatable. Also, outside of the two of three teams at the bottom, every team is capable of winning at least a couple of games.

In the end, we like Leonard Hamilton and Florida State to win the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2012. The Seminoles no doubt feel upset at losing their opportunity last season after winning the regular-season crown. They will want to make a point, especially after losing two of their last three games to allow Virginia to steal the regular-season title away from them.

Hamilton knows he needs to get his team back on track before the Big Dance, so he’ll have his team ready. The Seminoles are one of the ACC’s deepest teams and have a reasonable path to the title game where they would be projected to meet Virginia, a team they beat by 21 points during the regular season.

Big Ten: Illinois Fighting Illini

The Big Ten Tournament is anybody’s to win. Well, not exactly anybody’s; we mainly mean one of the four teams that are ranked in the top-10. It’s tough to imagine any of the other Big Ten teams beating three top-10 teams in as many days, which is what would need to happen barring multiple upsets in the quarterfinals. 

In that sense, picking a winner becomes a process of elimination. Ohio State is out because they’ve lost four in a row and didn’t even get the double-bye to the quarterfinals. Iowa has seen some hits to their depth, which could make three big games in three days hard to pull off. Meanwhile, Michigan is uncertain of the status of Eli Brooks, which could throw the team’s rotation into disarray.

That leaves Illinois, a team that beat Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State in consecutive games to close out the regular season and has won 11 of 12.

More importantly, Ayo Dosunmu returned from his injury for the regular-season finale, setting up the Illini to stay hot and win the Big Ten Tournament.

Big 12: Baylor Bears

Admittedly, picking Baylor seems like taking the easy way out. But give us some credit, picking a winner for the Big 12 Tournament is anything but easy. The league has seven teams ranked in the top 25, so by the time we get to the quarterfinals, literally anything could happen because these teams have all cannibalized one another all season. It’s easy to envision any of those seven teams putting together three good games in a row to win the Big 12 Tournament.

However, Baylor still gets the edge over everyone else. The Bears lost only one game this season, and that came soon after returning from an extended hiatus due to a COVID shutdown. Back-to-back double-digit wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech tell us that Baylor is back on track.

Scott Drew will want his team to play as many games as possible before the Big Dance to shake off any remaining rust, which means the Bears should be motivated to play their best.

We’re expecting some incredible games in the Big 12 Tournament, but as long as Baylor is equally motivated as everyone else, we’re not betting against the Bears. Frankly, even if you told us that someone other than Baylor would win the tourney, picking one of the other six would be far too difficult because they're all good enough to win it.

Pac-12: Colorado Buffaloes

Bubble teams should keep a close eye on the Pac-12 Tournament. The league has four teams that look like locks for the NCAA Tournament, although none of them are overly dominant. It wouldn’t be that shocking to see a team like Arizona, Oregon State, Stanford, or Arizona State suddenly get hot and win the tournament. Arizona State, in particular, is one of the most talented teams in the conference but has underperformed all season. The Sun Devils could be a nice sleeper pick.

However, we’re not going to go out on a limb, so we’ll stick to the likes of Oregon, USC, Colorado, and UCLA as the main contenders.

We eliminated USC first, as the Trojans are too young to be consistent over three games in three days. Meanwhile, UCLA has floundered down the stretch, losing three in a row. Oregon feels like the obvious pick here. The Ducks are deep and experienced and have won five in a row and 10 of their last 11. But we’re projecting an Oregon-Colorado final, which would force the Ducks to beat the Buffs for the third time this season.

Colorado is too talented to lose to the same team three times, especially since the first two games were competitive. McKinley Wright is one of the best players in the country that nobody knows about. He’s averaging 21.5 points per game over his last four games. The Buffs have won all four games and will remain hot in the Pac-12 Tournament.

SEC: LSU Tigers

Of the five power leagues, the SEC Tournament might be the toughest one to call.

The only two ranked teams are Alabama and Arkansas, who are both ranked in the top-10. However, you could make an argument for eight teams winning the tournament. That includes Kentucky, as the Wildcats could become the ultimate bid stealer. John Calipari’s team might be 9-15, but Kentucky still has one of the most talented rosters in the SEC and was rarely out-classed this season. Plus, Calipari’s teams always seem to peak in March, which will make the Wildcats fascinating to watch.

Honestly, we’re a little reluctant to pick any team on Kentucky’s side of the bracket, which eliminates top-seed Alabama, as well as Florida and Tennessee. That narrows the contenders to Arkansas, LSU, and Missouri.

The Razorbacks are a good bet, having won 11 straight SEC games. But a potential quarterfinal with Missouri could be tricky for Arkansas. That opens the door for LSU to make a run. The Tigers have four elite scorers, which means they could rely on a different player every day over three days if needed. Preparing for a team with that much firepower in less than a day will be a nightmare, which will be the formula that delivers an SEC championship for the Bayou Bengals.

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