Conference Tournament Previews

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UNC is the pick in the ACC.

UNC is the pick in the ACC.

By Mitch Light

ACC TOURNAMENT

Favorite — North Carolina

The Tar Heels have been one of the hottest teams in the nation over the past month. This team doesn’t shoot it well from the outside (league-low .292 from three in ACC games), but there are few other weaknesses. Since Kendall Marshall was inserted as the starting point guard, North Carolina is 12–1, with the only loss coming at Duke.

Dark horse — Clemson

The Tigers, the No. 4 seed, closed the regular season with three wins in their last four games, and they played well against North Carolina — their likely opponent in the semifinals — during the regular season, losing by two at home and by 10 in Chapel Hill.

Prediction — North Carolina

Roy Williams’ club is playing just about as well as any team in the nation.

BIG 12 TOURNAMENT

Favorite — Kansas

The Jayhawks claimed their seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title by beating Missouri 70–66 in Columbia on Saturday. Kansas has been remarkably efficient on the offensive end — KU shot over 50 percent as a team and over 40 percent from three in Big 12 games — and also ranks near the top of the league in field goal defense and rebounding.

Dark horse — Kansas State

The Wildcats played their way off the NCAA Tournament bubble in the final three weeks of the season by winning their final six, highlighted by an 18-point win over then-No. 1 Kansas and a 75–70 win at Texas. Guard Jacob Pullen has averaged 25.5 points during K-State’s winning streak.

Predicted winner — Texas

The Horns showed some toughness in the win at Baylor Saturday night. This team has a ton of talent.

BIG EAST TOURNAMENT

Favorite — Pittsburgh

The Panthers won the Big East title playing Pittsburgh basketball — great defense (league opponents shot 38.7 percent), rebounding (league-best plus-7.2 margin) and efficient offense (46.4 percent shooting, third-best in the Big East). The Panthers went 9–2 in the Big East Tournament from 2006-08 but have lost their first game in each of the past two seasons.

Dark horse — St. John’s

The Red Storm won seven of their last eight games overall and for the season went 7–1 at Madison Square Garden (5–1 in Big East games). Steve Lavin’s club has the necessary experience and depth to win four games in four days.

Predicted winner — Louisville

Since Jan. 12, the third-seeded Cards are 10–5, with four of the five losses by five points or less or in OT.

BIG TEN TOURNAMENT

Favorite — Ohio State

The Buckeyes are playing great basketball at the right time of the year, winning their final four games by an average of 22.3 points. During this stretch, Ohio State is shooting an astounding 57.0 percent (41-of-72) from 3-point range.

Dark horse — Michigan

The Wolverines like to shoot from long range, but they aren’t as reliant on the 3-point shot as you might think. They averaged 8.6 made threes in their nine Big Ten wins and 7.5 made threes in their nine league losses.

Predicted winner — Ohio State

The Buckeyes are the best team. No need to overthink this one.


PAC-10 TOURNAMENT

Favorite — Arizona

Sean Miller captured the Pac-10 title in his second season as the boss in Tucson, leading the Wildcats to a 14–4 record in league play. Arizona endured a mini-slump late in the year, losing back-to-back games at USC and UCLA, but bounced back to beat both Oregon schools at home in the final weekend of the season.

Dark horse — USC

The Trojans played very well down the stretch, winning five of their final six games, including three on the road. Junior Nikola Vucevic is one of the nation’s most underrated players. He averaged 19.4 points and 10.8 boards in 18 league games.

Predicted winner — UCLA

The Bruins very quietly played solid basketball in the final two months of the season, losing only three games (at Arizona, at Cal in overtime and at Washington) since Jan. 9.

SEC TOURNAMENT

Favorite — Florida

The Gators went wire-to-wire in the wide-open SEC East and clinched the outright title by winning at Vanderbilt on the final weekend of the season. Florida won the close games early in the SEC season — three in overtime, three others by six points or less — but asserted their dominance late in the year.

Dark horse — Mississippi State

The enigmatic Bulldogs were good enough to beat Florida and win at Tennessee yet also lost at home to LSU and blew a 19-point second half lead at Auburn. Any team with Dee Bost, Ravern Johnson and Renardo Sidney is capable of winning three games in three days — or losing by 20 points in its first game.

Predicted winner — Florida

The Gators, who can put five scorers on the court at once, are hard to guard in the half court. Chandler Parsons, now healthy, is playing extremely well.

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