For anyone that is chomping at the bit for March Madness to begin, this week will offer a sizeable helping of Conference Tournament affairs that come as close to the highly anticipated tournament as you can get. Of course, there will be plenty of shocking upsets and lesser-known programs quietly asserting themselves to clinch a spot in one of the most highly watched postseason events of the year. Although these decidedly smaller and, to a degree, less meaningful affairs are not nearly as riveting as what transpires during March Madness, it is intriguing to watch the multitude of bubble teams compete valiantly during this final stretch of the regular season to earn themselves a place on the national stage. While the wait for Selection Sunday is always a difficult endeavor, there are at least enough competitive contests to temporarily hold your attention until the time comes to create your bracket, which more often than not, will most likely be busted sometime next week.
BYU Cougars vs. Saint Mary’s Gaels (22)
Although the West Coast Conference is arguably the least compelling conference in college basketball because of its lack of competitive programs, the conference tournament at least becomes more interesting as the better teams ultimately meet in crucial contests. While the BYU Cougars pale in comparison from a competitive standpoint when stacked up against Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga, they possess enough intriguing attributes to potentially upset their respective opponents. Shooting 48.5% from the field while hitting 75% of their free throw shots, the Cougars are one of the more underrated shooting programs in the country as their lack of overall point production (74.3 PPG) is not indicative of how efficient they are as an offense. Similarly, the Gaels are not particularly productive from a scoring perspective (77.1 PPG) but are incredibly accurate when shooting from practically anywhere on the court (51.5 FG%, 40.8 3P%). However, where the Gaels truly shine is on defense as they are proficient at guarding their assigned players and rarely relinquish easy shooting opportunities to their opponent (63.8 PAPG). In the end, this will be a low scoring yet well-played contest that will see the Gaels do just enough defensively to make it to the championship round of the conference tournament.
Final Score: Cougars 64 Gaels 67 Spread: Saint Mary’s -5.5
Louisville Cardinals vs. Florida State Seminoles
Without question, the Cardinals have been one of the unluckiest teams in college basketball this season. Losing a heartbreaker at home to Virginia with less than one second remaining in the game, the devastated Cardinals will have to once again regroup if they hope to take down one of the better rebounding teams in college basketball. Scoring 82 points per game while garnering 38.1 rebounds per game, the Seminoles possess the necessary physicality to garner themselves extra opportunities while also driving to the basket effectively in transition. For the Cardinals to win this contest, they will need to remain calm and poised under pressure while utilizing their swiftness to get to the basket before the bigger bodied Seminoles can get set defensively. In a contest that pits strength vs. speed, I’m going to give the slight edge to the athletic Cardinals who are more than capable of playing better than their 19-12 record would otherwise suggest.
Final Score: Cardinals 78 Seminoles 74 Spread:
Arizona State Sun Devils vs Colorado Buffaloes
For anyone that has watched Arizona State basketball, their strengths and weaknesses are pretty evident. A high-frequency scoring unit that seemingly refuses to play defense or rebound the basketball, the Sun Devils are a high-octane offense that shamelessly lives and dies by their shooters getting hot from the field at the right time. Conversely, the Buffaloes are a much more methodical program that is reliant on playing the glass effectively to prevent their opponents from scoring early and often (37.8 RPG). Unfortunately, the Buffaloes have failed to win consistently as they have serious issues when it comes to protecting the ball, something that all but nullifies their rebounding prowess on a regular basis (14 TPG). Although the Buffaloes could frustrate the Sun Devils by controlling the pace of play and rebounding the basketball, the Sun Devils will most likely be able to take advantage of the Buffaloes turnover issues and pull away in the second half.
Final Score: Sun Devils 84 Buffaloes 76 Spread:
Oklahoma Sooners vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Once considered a top-five team with one of the most gifted Freshman in the country in Trae Young, the Sooners have since dramatically fallen from that lofty pedestal and are now beholden to their success in the Big 12 Tournament in a desperate attempt to make the NCAA Tournament. Averaging 13 turnovers per game, the Sooners have been victimized by their lack of playmaking versatility and have been unable to win games consistently despite average over 86 points per game. Although the Cowboys are not much better defensively than the Sooners, they at least are consistent when it comes to making free throw shots (76.1 FT%) and are fairly tenacious when it comes snatching the ball from the opposition (seven SPG). While the Sooners may have the more talented athletes overall, the Cowboys have been much more efficient offensively in recent weeks and will most likely prevent the Sooners from becoming comfortable on offense by double-teaming and trapping Freshman phenom Trae Young.
Final Score: Sooners 79 Cowboys 86 Spread:
TCU Horned Frogs vs. Kansas State Wildcats
A less extreme version of the Oklahoma Sooners, the Horned Frogs are a gifted offensive program that rarely exerts any type of effort on the defensive end of the court. However, unlike the Sooners, the Horned Frogs are much better at rebounding the basketball and have more than one playmaker that can either pass or shoot the basketball. One of the few teams in the Big 12 without a prolific offense, the Wildcats are reliant on establishing a strong defensive presence initially and then finding ways to take the ball away from their opponent (eight SPG). However, the Wildcats are dreadful at rebounding the basketball (31 RPG), a deficiency that has come back to bite them against programs that are relentless at shooting and scoring the basketball. Although the Wildcats have the opportunistic defense needed to keep the Horned Frogs in check, TCU has too many productive shooters for Kansas State to keep in check throughout the entirety of this contest.
Final Score: Horned Frogs 78 Wildcats 72 Spread:
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Texas A&M Aggies
Losers of five games in a row, the Crimson Tide’s once sufficient defense has since succumbed to being below average as they have relinquished 73 points or more in four of their last five games. Worse still, the Crimson Tide’s offense is incapable of shooting from anywhere other than in the paint and are not particularly effective when it comes to making their shots from the charity stripe. Although the Aggies can hardly boast of having a decent defense themselves, they at least benefit themselves by being one of the best-rebounding programs in the country (41.3 RPG). Similar to the Crimson Tide, the Aggies also struggle to make mid and long-range jump shots and are overly reliant on their intimidating physicality to get themselves to the rim. Considering how fearlessly physical both of these programs are, I would expect this to be a low scoring affair that will not be aesthetically pleasing when it comes to watching both of these offenses. In the end, the size of the Aggies will eventually win out over a Crimson Tide program that lacks the strength to go up against this particular opponent.
Final Score: Crimson Tide 66 Aggies 73 Spread:
Providence Friars vs. Creighton Blue Jays
Ranking 160th or worse when it comes to rebounding, assists, points per game and points allowed per game, the Friars have been mostly reliant on their opponent having an off day to find any type of success. From a statistical perspective, the Friars can only be considered a competent program when it comes to garnering steals (seven SPG) and hitting their free throws (70 FT%). While the Blue Jays are equally poor as a defensive squad, they are highly prolific as a shooting program as they are incredibly accurate from the field (49.9 FG%) and are adept at hitting their free throws when they are presented with those particular opportunities (75 FT%). Although anything is possible, the Friars simply do not have the athletes and lack the necessary overall production needed to keep up with one of the deadliest and most proficient offenses in college basketball.
Final Score: Friars 66 Blue Jays 80 Spread:
San Diego State Aztecs vs. Fresno State Bulldogs
Although the Aztecs are not particularly productive in any one category when it comes to offense and defense, they do enough in both of those regards to be competitive enough from game to game. However, during their last six games, the Aztecs defense has actually established a fairly strong presence as they have held four of their last six opponents to 64 points or less. Similar to the Aztecs, the Bulldogs are not particularly exceptional at any one aspect of their game but have fared much better defensively down the stretch of the season as they have held their opponents to 65 points or less in their last six wins. Given the unconventional competitive nature of both of these programs, this a contest that could just as easily be a high-scoring affair as it could be low scoring one. However, the Aztecs have looked much stronger defensively recently and will most likely use that to their advantage in this contest.
Final Score: Aztecs 72 Bulldogs 68 Spread:
Baylor Bears vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (18)
As the Big 12 Conference has been rife with parity this season, you can bet that this contest will be highly competitive as both programs are vying for spots in the NCAA Tournament. Although the Baylor Bears have held their own when it comes to keeping most of their games close, they have usually struggled to close out most of their contests as their unreliable defense combined with their inconsistent offense has prevented them from being consistently competitive within their conference. While the Mountaineers have still struggled to consistently play defense, their offense has been incredibly productive down the stretch of the regular season as they have scored 79 points or more in their last three games. Even though the Bears have the length to keep the basketball away from the hands of the Mountaineers, West Virginia possess the better athletes and the necessary speed to wear down the inconsistent defense of Baylor in transition.
Final Score: Bears 74 Mountaineers 83 Spread:
Butler Bulldogs vs. Seton Hall Pirates
When the Bulldogs have found a rhythm on offense this year, they have looked like a well-oiled machine that can contend with some of the better programs in college basketball (see victory over Villanova). The problem is, the Bulldogs have not always been successful when it comes to making their perimeter shots (36 3P%), which has forced them to be a one-dimensional mid-range shooting team way too often. Although the Pirates are not nearly as capable as an offensive unit, they are especially adept at garnering rebounds (38.2 RPG) and are proficient at working their offense through their big men in Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado. If the Bulldogs can get hot from long range, they will have an excellent chance of winning this initial Big East Tournament contest. However, given how streaky the Bulldogs have been in that regard, I am putting more faith in the rebounding abilities of the Pirates to allow them to win a crucial contest that will elevate their seeding come March Madness.
Final Score: Bulldogs 71 Pirates 79 Spread: