Big East- Creighton
Since the Big East realigned in 2014, Greg McDermott and Creighton have made it to the Big East Tournament Title game on four separate occasions. Unfortunately, Creighton has gone 0-4 in these games and are still looking to cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden for the first time. This might be their best chance to do it however, after a very up and down season that featured a lot of adversity, but Creighton is in a really good spot heading into the month of March.
After losing to the eventual National Champions Kansas, in the Round of 32 last season, Creighton returned a really nice core of young players that had plenty of opportunities to experience playing in big games. That included getting all the way to the Big East Tournament Final last season, before ultimately dropping a close game to Villanova. The Bluejays started the season 6-0, but then adversity hit, when Ryan Kalkbrenner missed 4 games, right at the end of conference play due to an illness. Creighton went 0-4 in these games, plus 0-2 in the previous pair of games with Kalkbrenner in the lineup prior to the illness, and things weren’t.
Since that 6-game losing streak without Kalkbrenner at the end of the calendar year, Creighton is 14-5 overall and has looked very similar to the team that entered this season with a ton of expectations. Creighton hasn’t had a stretch of bad basketball with Kalkbrenner in the lineup, and the impact he makes on the defensive end cannot be understated. While a possible opening round matchup against a healthy Villanova team could be tricky, Creighton would avoid teams like Marquette, UConn and Providence until the championship game and it is only a matter of time until Greg McDermott breaks through. This team might just be his best chance to do it, before entering the big dance.
Big 12- Kansas State
Jerome Tang should be the frontrunner for National Coach of the Year, after leading Kansas State to a 23-8 season and third place finish in the Big 12. Especially considering this Kansas State team finished 6-12 in Big 12 Conference play last season, and five of the Wildcats seven top leading scorers played elsewhere last season. Now, this Kansas State team is extremely dangerous in a tournament setting, due to the fact that in most games they play they will have the two best players on the floor in Marquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson.
The dynamic duo is averaging a combined 34.8 points per game, while Johnson leads the team in rebounding and Nowell leads the team in assists. Having a duo like that can really give a team confidence in any event they play, plus Tang is familiar with this event despite being a first year Head Coach, dating back to his days at Baylor. While Kansas State hasn’t played great away from home this season especially recently, this event won’t be too far away either in Kansas City.
In addition, Kansas State has proven they are capable of winning big games away from home this season going into Baylor and Texas in the same week to start off Big 12 Conference play, and leaving with two wins. Despite this Kansas State team having a ton of new faces, there are plenty of guys that have experienced what March is like. Keyontae Johnson played in a pair of NCAA Tournament games during his time at Florida, and Desi Sills was a key contributor to Arkansas’ Elite 8 run back in 2021. This will be our first taste of Jerome Tang as a Head Coach in the Month of March, and I think he will come in with a bang, and his Wildcats will win the Big 12 Tournament for the first time ever.
Pac 12- UCLA
This was one of the more difficult conferences to predict, for a handful of reasons. Primarily, at full strength there is not a better team in College Basketball right now than UCLA. The Bruins have a coach that has been to the Final 4 in Mick Cronin, but also they have relied on a core group of players throughout the season that have also been there before. The trio of Tyger Campbell, Jamie Jaquez Jr. and Jaylen Clark, were as good as anyone could ask, for the Bruins this season.
UCLA finished 27-4 overall and dominated Pac-12 Conference play, with a 27-4 record. In addition, the Bruins are red hot winning 10 games in a row heading into this event. The issue for UCLA is on the injury front however, when Jaylen Clark left the second half of Saturday Night’s game against Arizona with a lower body injury. Clark is UCLA’s best defender, and really gives the Bruins the chance to win and control games using their defense. If he is out, UCLA will have to make some major adjustments, which is never ideal to do this time of year.
The hope for the Bruins in the case of Clark’s absence, would be the presence of Freshmen Amari Bailey and Adem Bona. UCLA put these youngsters in a really good position to start the season, not having to rely totally on them, but this is the time for them to make their mark. While Arizona and USC will also be NCAA Tournament teams, and Washington State has played some very good basketball entering this event, UCLA has been the best team in this league all season and their Freshman will show they are ready for the challenge when they take home the championship in Las Vegas.
The Hurricanes just wrapped up only their third Conference Title in program history, and this was also their second time ever taking home the ACC Regular Season Title. This also comes just one season, after making it to the Elite 8 for the first time in program history last season. Jim Larranaga has done a really nice job, putting together a team that fits modern day basketball perfectly and this is one of the most fun and exciting teams to watch in the country. The dynamic duo in the backcourt of Nigel Pack and Isaiah Wong are as good as they come, and with guys like Jordan Miller and Norchad Omier being able to stretch the floor, this offense is absolutely electric to watch.
The Hurricanes were able to secure the ACC Regular Season Title on Saturday with their home victory over Pittsburgh, and there is a good chance those two teams can matchup again in the Quarterfinals of this event. The top of this bracket featuring Miami, Duke and Pittsburgh looks very challenging, while the bottom of the bracket feels wide open with a number of teams that can make a run.
If Pittsburgh isn’t really careful, they can find themselves on the outside looking in of the big dance, with one bad loss in their opening game. In addition, North Carolina will likely need a deep run in order for their names called on Selection Sunday, with teams like Clemson fighting for position as well. Duke will also be a team to watch entering this event, coming off a major victory over North Carolina and winners of six games in a row. When all set and done, Miami has been the best and most consistent team in the ACC this season, and are best built for this tournament stage with their dynamic Guards.
Big Ten- Indiana
Many people might not realize the fact that Indiana has never won the Big Ten Tournament in program history, and that is due to change sooner rather than later. Mike Woodson has gotten Indiana Basketball back on the map and it has only taken him two seasons to do it. The Hoosiers will be heading to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season and it is fascinating to see just how different of a position this Indiana team is in entering this event, compared to last season, when they were playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. The Hoosiers are 6-3 since February 1st, with two wins over each of Purdue and Michigan, plus wins over tournament teams in Rutgers and Illinois.
There is not a better duo in this Big Ten Tournament, than Jalen Hood-Schifino and Trayce Jackson-Davis, who are averaging a combined 33.9 points this season, to make up one of the best dynamic duos in not only the Big Ten, but all of College Basketball. Despite being a Freshman with limited experience, Schifino proved he was capable of playing great basketball on the biggest stage, when he dropped 35 points at Mackey Arena, to give Indiana the season sweep over Purdue. Indiana is scary good when this youngster is hitting shots, plus Jackson-Davis has been consistently great inside, since the season started.
The Hoosiers draw also really helps them here, knowing they will get a Maryland team that struggles away from their own building. In addition, Indiana showed they can win games that they aren’t necessarily playing at their best in, like they did against Michigan on Sunday. The Hoosiers were outrebounded by Michigan 41-33, and only shot 33% and still found a way to win thanks to the greatness of their dynamic duo. I expect that same trend to continue here in the Big Ten Tournament.
After a season that felt like the sky was falling on numerous occasions, the Wildcats will enter Nashville in a very good position. Kentucky was able to go into Arkansas on Saturday and get some payback on the Razorbacks, after Arkansas went into Rupp Arena and won earlier this season. The thing that made this victory for Kentucky so impressive, was the fact that Kentucky was missing both of their Point Guards in Cason Wallace and Sahvir Wheeler.
While Kentucky has turned things around lately, the feeling around the program wasn’t great entering this one, considering the loss of Wallace and Kentucky lost to Vanderbilt at home last Wednesday night. However, this is what makes John Calipari one of the best to ever do it, and Kentucky has been able to pull out their biggest wins of the season when no one expects them to do so. That happened earlier this season, when Kentucky lost at home in shocking fashion to South Carolina, and responded a few days later going into Tennessee and winning outright as a double-digit underdog.
Kentucky has had a lot of success in the SEC Tournament under Calipari, winning the event six times in the twelve SEC Tournaments he has competed in. Kentucky might even be due to win, considering they haven’t won this event since 2018 and dropped in somewhat embarrassing fashion to Tennessee in the Quarterfinals last season.
There aren’t many Guards in College Basketball playing better right now than Antonio Reeves, who scored 37 of Kentucky’s 88 points in their victory over Arkansas. Reeves has been playing great basketball of late, scoring in double digit points in seven of Kentucky’s last 8 games, just in time for the month of March. With the way Reeves is playing, plus Oscar Tschiebwe and the Kentucky fans taking over Nashville, this is the best bet to make in the SEC Tournament.
Zac Krull has covered College Basketball for the last 2 years while working with Aaron Torres of Aaron Torres Media and recording his own Zac Krull Sports Podcast. Currently, Zac is writing as a contributor for Aaron Torres online with weekly articles and working as a producer for the BETQL Network. Zac graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2021 with a degree in Sports Studies.