As we continue into March, the regular season is nearing an end and the all-important conference tournaments begin. For many of the one-bid leagues, it’s do-or-die. Those favored all year have to continue their dominance or there will be no dancing later this month.
We did our first “Jerome” picks last year with a backstory of how the Jerome was first started and then analyzed the conference tournaments and picked who should have won from each league. We continue our picks for this year as filler for the days until Selection Sunday. The conferences are listed in alphabetical order.
America East Conference
Site: March 8-9, 15 in Albany, NY SEFCU Center (early rounds); championship game (highest remaining seed).
Favorite: Vermont. Deja vu? Both Vermont and Stony Brook were favorites last year in the regular season and in the conference tournament and they are both dueling for America East supremacy this year. The Catamounts own a 15-1 America East record with their lone loss at Stony Brook, 67-64. On a neutral court, can UVM get the rubber match?
Other favorite: Stony Brook.
American Athletic Conference
Site: March 12-15 in Memphis, TN FedEx Forum
Favorite: Louisville. The national champs don’t have the excuse of the Big East schedule this year but games versus Memphis, UConn, Cincinnati, and the rising SMU have proven to be quality games. Rick Pitino has a veteran group (again) that has the capability to win the AAC and lock up a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. It might not look like a conference championship team every week but they’ve won the games that matter.
Other favorite: Memphis.
Atlantic 10 Conference
Site: March 13-16 in Brooklyn, NY Barclays Center
Favorite: Saint Louis. The Billikens have had quite the hold on the A-10 over the last two seasons: they pulled off the double in 2012-13 and are nearing their second consecutive regular season crown. A few down games lately shouldn’t scare any fans rooting for SLU to win it all in Brooklyn. They’ve been battle tested throughout the A-10 season and narrowly lost to undefeated Wichita State and an always stout Wisconsin squad. They are the champs until they lose in the tourney again.
Other favorite: VCU, UMass.
Site: March 13-16 in Greensboro, NC Greensboro Coliseum
Favorite: Syracuse. I’m going with a safer bet here. While Virginia has proven doubters wrong with a 15-1 ACC record and their first regular season crown in three decades, the question lies with their experience in postseason play. Last year they were bounced out of Greensboro early. Can this squad continue their run for another weekend? Syracuse has the coach and several key veterans that have been through the gauntlet of conference tournaments.
Other favorite: Duke.
Site: March 4,6,9 (campus sites)
Favorite: Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles lost their head coach Andy Enfield to USC but have not faltered under new coach Joe Dooley. FGCU picked up where they left off last year, boasting a 14-4 record and splitting the regular season series with co-Atlantic Sun leader Mercer. They have been less battle tested than Mercer but winning eight of their last ten has given them some momentum.
Other favorite: Mercer.
Site: March 12-15 in Kansas City, MO Sprint center
Favorite: Kansas. Ten straight conference titles says it all. They did the double last year. I expect a similar outcome this year. If they lose it’ll because of turnovers and a hot shooting night from the opponent.
Other favorite: Iowa State.
Site: March 12-15 in New York, NY Madison Square Garden
Favorite: Creighton. Are the Bluejays happy they are out of the Missouri Valley this year? The spotlight has been firmly on Wichita State (for good reason) but Creighton has just as many headlines to describe their amazing play. The Player of the Year race is nearly locked up for Doug McDermott. Supporting cast players of Grant Gibbs and Ethan Wragge let it fly from deep at a ridiculous clip. They should be the favorites to win the Big East and be a darkhorse pick for the Final Four.
Other favorite: Villanova.
Site: March 13-15 in Regular Season Champion campus
Favorite: Weber State.
Other favorite: Everyone else in the bracket. The Big Sky has been a competitive league this year with ten teams having 8+ conference wins. Five teams will be vying for two spots in the conference tournament. Nearly all the games in the conference have been evenly matched; it all depends on who can hit the shots.
Site: March 5, 7, 8-9, 12 in Conway, SC HTC Center
Favorite: High Point.
Other favorite: VMI.
Site: March 13-16 in Indianapolis, IN Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Favorite: Michigan State. Everyone is getting healthy again, slowly. The Spartans have lost three out of their last four and 4-6 in their last ten with losses to Georgetown (non-conference), Nebraska, and Illinois. The pieces are there for a great run come March as we’ve seen with many Izzo-led teams in the past.
Other favorite: Michigan.
Site: March 13-15 in Anaheim, CA Honda Center
Other favorite: UC-Santa Barbara.
Colonial Athletic Association
Site: March 7-10 in Baltimore, MD 1st Mariner Bank Arena
Other favorite: Towson.
Site: March 11-15 in El Paso, TX Haskins Center
Notes: New member Florida International is ineligible for postseason play due to low APR scores.
Favorite: Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee State, UTEP, Louisiana Tech.
Other favorite: Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana Tech, UTEP. Being at home, UTEP should have the upper hand, but these three seem to be nearly equal in every statistic. It’s been a four horse race in the Conference USA all year and every week changes for who is deemed the auto bid for bracketology reasons. Anything can (and probably will) happen.
Site: March 4, 7-8, 11 in campus sites (first rounds); regular season champion (semifinals); championship game (highest remaining seed)
Favorite: Green Bay. The Phoenix have owned the Horizon this season with a 14-2 conference record and a 24-5 overall mark. They narrowly lost to eventual NCAA Tournament teams Wisconsin (by three) and Harvard (by 12). Green Bay did beat a hot Virginia team by three. They should be able to get past the Horizon League tournament and cause some problems for future opponents with their 48% field goal percentage, a top 30 mark.
Other favorite: None.
Site: None (Regular season champion earns automatic bid)
Favorite: Harvard. The Crimson have clinched the Ivy League for their second consecutive bid in the NCAA Tournament and their fourth straight postseason appearance.
Site: March 7-10 in Springfield, MA MassMutual Center
Favorite: Iona. In a ferocious battle between top teams, Iona came up a tad short versus Manhattan but not without jacking up 29 three-pointers and making 11. If they can hit 40%+ from deep and make over 10 a game, the tournament could be theirs to lose and possibly pulling off an upset in the NCAA’s (assuming they win the MAAC).
Other favorite: Manhattan.
Site: March 11-15 in campus sites (first round); Cleveland, OH Quicken Loans Arena (second round-final)
Favorite: Toledo. Last year the Rockets were ineligible for postseason play due to APR sanctions and they have made the best of their following year– beating Robert Morris and Stony Brook (two potential NCAA Tournament teams) and narrowly losing to Kansas by ten. Toledo’s 12-4 conference mark is attributed to their 81 ppg (16th nationally), 15.1 assists per game (46th), and a 47% field goal percentage (49th). All of their losses have been on the road. At a neutral site they should be the favorites.
Other favorite: Western Michigan.
Site: March 11-15 in Norfolk, VA Norfolk Scope Arena
Favorite: North Carolina Central. If it wasn’t for Wichita State and Florida having longer winning streaks, the NCCU Eagles could be grabbing the win streak headlines. They have won 17 straight games and 24 overall. Non conference wins over NC State and other local schools coupled with close losses to Wichita State and Cincinnati could be the spark that puts NC Central in the Big Dance. Lose in the MEAC however and all of that hard work is gone. They’ve had the stranglehold on the conference so far; it should continue next weekend.
Other favorite: Hampton, only because of their proximity to the venue and their 12-3 conference record is 1.5 games behind NC Central.
Site: March 6-9 in St. Louis, MO Scottrade Center
Favorite: Wichita State. Is there really any other team in contention here? Missouri State has been the closest team to knock off the Shockers in MVC play by taking them to overtime in Springfield. Exclude the MSU game and the Shox have proved their dominance. The MVC tourney is their chance to solidify not only a 1 seed (could drop if they lose their opener #1 vs #8/#9 game) but also continue the quest for a perfect season.
Other favorite: Indiana State?
Site: March 12-15 in Las Vegas, NV Thomas & Mack Center
Favorite: San Diego State. Steve Fisher’s club rattled off 20 straight wins, including two over marquee opponents (Creighton, Kansas) to a 25-3 record. Their lone non-conference loss is to now #1 Arizona. The Aztecs are known for their stout defense, ranked 9th in KenPom. The slow scoring could be a problem but it hasn’t phased them yet all year.
Other favorite: New Mexico.
Site: March 5, 8, 11 in campus sites
Favorite: Robert Morris. The Colonials did the unthinkable last year and beat the then-defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats at home in Moon Township, PA in the NIT. RMU looks to get into the Big Dance after a dominating NEC run this season with a 14-2 record.
Other favorite: None.
Site: March 5-8 in Nashville, TN Municipal Auditorium
Favorite: Belmont. The Bruins have been under the radar for several years. They need to get to the Sweet Sixteen and gain some national respect. These conference tournament titles aren’t cutting it. Wins over North Carolina, Indiana State, and Middle Tennessee State help Belmont’s RPI and resume. The second best field goal percentage in the country should help too.
Other favorite: Murray State.
Site: March 12-15 in Las Vegas, NV MGM Grand Garden Arena
Favorite: Arizona. The third best team in the land has overcame injuries and doubts to get them to the top of the rankings and most likely a top seed in a few weeks. Twenty-one straight wins, including wins over Duke, Michigan, San Diego State, and UCLA have got the Wildcats where they should be under Sean Miller. They’ve done it with the best adjusted defense in the country and a mix of vets and freshmen.
Other favorite: UCLA.
Site: March 3, 5, 8, 12 in campus sites
Favorite: Boston U.
Other favorite: American.
Site: March 12-16 in Atlanta, GA Georgia Dome
Favorite: Florida. The Gators have risen to the number one team in the rankings through a deja vu scenario: Billy Donovan leads a veteran group of guys (how Patric Young is still in school baffles me) with a great knack for defense to the top of the SEC. We knew they would be good but didn’t expect to be two wins away from going undefeated in the conference. They should be the favorites to win the SEC Tournament and be one of the few teams expected to cut down the nets in April.
Other favorite: Kentucky? I don’t know what to make of these young Cats anymore. They have had the highest ceiling of all the teams this season with their large crop of uber talented players but have found ways to lose to teams that they shouldn’t. They should still be labeled as a threat in March because when they click, they can be unstoppable. They are the other favorites for the SEC Tourney crown because the rest of the SEC is putrid.
Site: March 7-10 in Asheville, NC Asheville Civic Center
Favorite: Davidson. Through 14 games, Davidson was 4-10. They had lost to Duke, Virginia, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Wichita State — all ranked teams. They had also gave us a few surprising losses. Never the less, Bob McKillop’s squad has turned it around in the SoCon and has only lost twice since the new year had begun. They are in the top 35 in both points per game and field goal percentage. They should be the favorites in the Southern Conference Tournament and it wouldn’t shock me to see them pull an upset in the Dance.
Other favorite: None.
Site: March 12-15 in Katy, TX Merrell Center
Notes: New member New Orleans is ineligible for postseason play due to low APR scores.
Favorite: Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks have been the projected winner all season long as well. Some experts even have SFA has a sleeper upset pick in the Tournament. Let’s hope they get the auto bid.
Other favorite: None.
Site: March 12-15 in Houston, TX Toyota Center
Notes: Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Mississippi Valley State, Grambling State, and Southern all ineligible for postseason due to low APR scores.
Favorite: Alabama State? The SWAC is interesting because whoever advances farthest among the teams actually eligible will get the bid. It’s a toss-up. This one should be worth the one point in the confidence pool.
Other favorite: Who knows?
Site: March 8-11 in Sioux Falls, SD Sioux Falls Arena
Favorite: North Dakota State. The Bison have been the best team in the FCS football standings for the past two years and the men’s basketball are the best in the nation this year — in field goal percentage. There are wins over other potential Big Dance teams like Western Michigan, Delaware, and Utah Valley State. NDSU should be the favorite.
Other favorite: IPFW.
Site: March 13-16 in New Orleans, LA Lakefront Arena
Favorite: Georgia State. The Panthers, led by former NC State and Kentucky PG Ryan Harrow, have won 20 of their last 21 games because of Harrow’s excellent guard play (sounds odd saying that from his track record at his previous two spots). They don’t rebound but top 35 in field goal percentage and points per game means they don’t really need to. They’ve owned the Sun Belt all year. They should continue to roll in a few weeks.
Other favorite: None.
Site: March 6-8, 10-11 in Las Vegas, NV Orleans Arena
Favorite: Gonzaga. Despite Gonzaga’s “down” year (in GU standards), the Zags still have the best record in the conference they practically own. There have been a few hiccups along the way but Mark Few knows best. They must avoid going out in the first round of the WCC Tournament to secure a bid for the NCAA’s. Lose early and they *could* be on the bubble.
Other favorite: BYU.
Site: March 13-15 in Las Vegas, NV Orleans Arena
Favorite: Utah Valley State. Whatever you do in Las Vegas, let’s avoid throwing punches like the last time UVU-NMSU met.
Other favorite: New Mexico State.