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Conference Tournament Primer: Dark Horses for every major league

Dana Altman

Dana Altman

Conference tournament time is back, serving as a reminder that essentially any team has a chance to play for a national championship in college basketball.

Of course, that’s not realistic, but for most of the teams in the country starting last week, the only thing that separates them from the NCAA Tournament is three, four or five wins in a row.

Last season, Ole Miss won the SEC Tournament to clinch an NCAA bid. Colorado came from obscurity two years ago to win the Pac-12 Tournament and knock regular season champion Washington to the NIT.

In our look at potential dark horses for conference tournament titles, not all of them need to win out to get into the NCAA field, but they’re certainly not the favorites to cut down nets by Saturday or Sunday.

Others, though, are conference tournament or bust and just might have the ability to catch a hot streak all the way to Selection Sunday.

ACC: NC State
The Wolfpack have been average at best for most of the season, but sophomore forward T.J. Warren has been one of the top scorers in the nation of late. He scored a total of 83 points in the final two regular-season games to power him to ACC Player of the Year honors.

American: Memphis
The Tigers lacked consistency throughout much of the regular season, but they will have the luxury of playing the tournament on their home floor, the FedExForum. Josh Pastner’s team won its final seven AAC home games.

Atlantic 10: Dayton
The hottest team in the league started 1-5 but finished 10-6. Archie Miller, the brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, doesn’t need to win the A-10 Tourney to get in the field, but it could happen anyway.

Big 12: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys had a losing record in league play, but this is probably the second-most talented roster in the Big 12. Marcus Smart is capable of leading his team to four wins in four days.

Big East: St. John’s
In an honest moment, most coaches in the league will tell you that St. John’s might have the most talented team in the league. The Red Storm rallied late to finish 10–8. This is a dangerous team.

Big Ten: Nebraska
Tim Miles has done a tremendous job making Nebraska basketball (or Nebrasketball) relevant in the Big Ten. The Huskers won nine of their final 10 games to earn the No. 4 seed in Indianapolis.

Mountain West: Nevada
The Wolf Pack are a streaky group with an elite point guard who can take over in Deonte Burton. The Pack finished with a losing record overall but won three of their last four, including wins over Boise State on the road and UNLV.

Pac-12: Oregon
It was a strange season for the Ducks, who lost five in a row in January and then ended the regular season with seven straight wins. This team has a ton of weapons.

SEC: Tennessee
It’s always dangerous to pick Tennessee in the SEC Tournament — the Vols have not advanced to Saturday since 2010 — but this team is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.

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