We’ve entered an underrated week on the sports calendar with major conference tournaments taking place around the country. Tennessee-Chattanooga started the week off right:
Next week, we’ll be breaking down some brackets. For now, here’s a rundown of some of the biggest conference tournaments in what has become a strong year across college basketball.
This probably sets up as the best conference tournament of the 2022 postseason, with four teams ranking in kenpom.com’s top 15 – No. 4 Baylor, No. 9 Kansas, No. 11 Texas Tech and No. 15 Texas. Oddsmakers have installed the Bears and Jayhawks as co-favorites at +210. One, or possibly both, of those teams will earn a No. 1 seed in the big dance, so no reason to believe either will sleepwalk through the draw.
Team to watch: Oklahoma (of course)
Two wins last week kept alive OU’s hopes of an invitation to the NCAA tournament, albeit on life support. According to the 2022 Bracket Matrix, the Sooners still sit outside the field of 65. Of the 128 projections tracked, OU appeared in just nine as of March 7.
A win over Baylor on Thursday night might put OU in the field, however, especially if some of the other teams on the bubble stumble in the early rounds of their conference tournaments. The Bears beat the Sooners soundly two times this season, so we’re talking about a long shot.
If you’re familiar with KU’s history in this tournament, you know the ball tends to bounce the Jayhawks’ way in Kansas City, the site of this year’s event.
At one point in time, Duke looked like a runaway favorite here. Vegas still views the Blue Devils (-175) as such. North Carolina’s big win in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium adds some intrigue to a potential rematch in the tournament final at the Barclays Center, however. In fact, the Tar Heels started hitting their stride down the stretch, winning their final five games of the regular season.
Team to watch: Virginia Tech
If you’re looking for a dark horse, keep an eye on the Hokies (+1200): They won nine of their final 11 games and need to pick up a few more victories in the coming days to get a shot at a bid.
Maybe the moment was a little big for the Dukies in Durham on Saturday night. The Blue Devils will take the rubber match over UNC in the final.
The oddsmakers say this is Arizona (-125), UCLA (+160) and then everyone else. On the other hand, weird stuff happens in this neck of the woods. The last two champs were seeded sixth in 2019 (Oregon) and fifth (Oregon State).
Team to watch: Oregon
The Ducks will miss the NCAA tournament unless they win the Pac-12’s automatic bid. The good news for UO is that coach Dana Altman’s teams tend to thrive in these situations. Unlikely this year, but still.
OK, hear me out. Zona probably has a one seed in March Madness locked up, and the Wildcats aren’t knocking Gonzaga out of the West region. With so little to play for, this is a team primed for an early exit in Las Vegas.
You could make a similar case for the Bruins, who are beat up – they could use a break.
Let’s take a flyer on the Trojans (+1000).
Keep this between us, but basketball in this bloated conference just doesn’t do it for me. The draw for this tournament looks to me like a bunch of teams that range from “really bad” to just “good.” It wouldn’t shock me if just one of these squads is playing in the second week of the NCAA tournament.
Team to watch: Michigan
OK, the Wolverines actually are interesting. Bracket projections suggest they’re sitting near the cut line, and they could find themselves on the wrong side of the ledger if they lose to Indiana in Indianapolis on Thursday. Survive a few winnable games, on the other hand, and Michigan could rocket up the seed line of the NCAA tournament.
Oh, UM’s coach is returning from suspension, too.
Brad Underwood’s team is the most balanced in the league. The Illini have an offense that can hang with the B1G’s best and a defense that generates stops at a better clip than other contenders like Iowa and Purdue. That counts for something in a tournament setting.
A seriously competitive league in which the top seed might be the fourth-best team. Providence celebrated a regular-season title in which everything broke the Friars’ way, but Villanova (+165) has been installed as the favorite at Madison Square Garden this weekend.
Team to watch: Xavier
The Musketeers are in the field of 65, per Bracket Matrix, but not comfortably. They don’t have a particularly compelling body of work and are trending in the wrong direction after losing five of their final six games. A loss to Butler in the 8-9 game on Wednesday isn’t advisable, while upsetting PC in the quarterfinals on Thursday is.
The Huskies quietly put together the kind of season that would have been acceptable in Storrs back in the day. They closed winning six of their final seven games, so they’re peaking at the right time. With UConn’s length, coach Dan Hurley can throw some funky matchups at opponents, too. Tough out in tournament play.
Oklahoma’s future conference home brings some compelling hoops teams to the table, along with plenty of flotsam and jetsam this season. The first two days of games will feel like killing time waiting for the league’s four big dogs – Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas – to tip off on Friday.
Team to watch: Tennessee
What was the Volunteers’ best win away from Knoxville this season? They beat North Carolina on a neutral floor way back in November. After that, it may be a victory in Starkville over Mississippi State. A strong showing in Tampa would be a sign that Rick Barnes’ team isn’t heading for a dismissal in the first week of the big dance.
UK has consistently played like one of the best teams in the country this season. Importantly, the Wildcats can games in a variety of ways. The bet here is they gut through tough games on Friday and Saturday before getting revenge on Auburn in the tourney final.