Before we get to the Big Dance, we’ve got one more solid week of college basketball. In fact, given the choice, I would rather be in a casino this week than March Madness only because of the amount of games on the card and the quickness with which the oddsmakers need to come out with lines. It’s a good week to use information to take advantage and make cash.
Consider this; by Sunday, a team that finished the regular season under .500 in their conference could be in the race for a national championship. While there are no doubt conference tournament favorites, the Dark Horse should never be counted out. Let’s take a look at the six big conference tournaments this week:
Favorite – North Carolina – There isn’t much of a doubt in my mind that North Carolina is the most talented team in the ACC but they are also one of the youngest. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not the talent level can overcome the inexperience of this squad. If Hansbrough is good to go and they play to their potential, the Tar Heels will wear the ACC crown.
Dark Horse – Maryland – The Terps have won seven straight including both home and road wins over Duke and a home win over North Carolina. With senior leadership and solid coaching, this hot team could roll right through Tampa.
Favorite – Georgetown – The Hoyas have been rolling the past few weeks and are arguably the most improved team in college basketball from the start of the season till now. They captured the regular season Big East title and should be considered the favorites in the 12 team tournament.
Dark Horse – Louisville – The Cardinals have an impressive streak of six wins to close the regular season which include wins at Marquette and Pittsburgh. Their defense has allowed just 40 percent shooting from the field this season and we all know that defense wins championships.
Favorite – Ohio State – The Buckeyes escaped Ann Arbor with a win on Saturday convincing me that right now they are deserving of their number one ranking. Greg Oden and Conley Jr. are playing solid ball and their inside/outside game is one of the best combinations in the country.
Dark Horse – Wisconsin – While it’s not much of a stretch to call a Top 10 team a “Dark Horse,” the Badgers look down and out after back to back road losses followed by a buzzer beating win over Michigan State. But just when you want to count out Wisconsin, remember that Bo Ryan is one of the best coaches in the nation and Alando Tucker is a national player of the year candidate.
Favorite – Kansas - The Jayhawks looked impressive enough in the second half of their Saturday game against Texas to make me believe they can win a national title. There isn’t a team in the Big 12 that comes close to having the depth Kansas has on its bench. Because of the nature of these tournaments (playing multiple games in short time spans), the Kansas bench will be the reason for their Big 12 title.
Dark Horse – Kansas State – This Jekyll and Hyde team could surprise everyone if they can keep it together. They could also be out in the first round. Wins at Texas and Missouri make you believe K. State can win but losses to inferior opponents litter the schedule. Which team will show up in Oklahoma is the question.
Favorite – UCLA – The Bruins have already been crowed Pac-10 regular season champs and they could be considered an almost sure bet to win the tournament which is held in L.A. at the Staples Center. Coming off a bad loss at Washington should make this team get back to work this week. If UCLA doesn’t look ahead to a national title run, they’re a lock for a Pac-10 title.
Dark Horse – Oregon – Until February began, the Ducks looked like the team to beat. They had a top 25 ranking and 19-2 record. After a 1-5 stretch, Oregon has three straights wins and some renewed confidence that should propel them deep into the tournament.
Favorite – Florida – The Gators are looking to cut down the nets at the Georgia Dome not once, but twice this year. Talent wise, they’re easily the best team in the SEC but recent losses concern the Gator faithful. Florida came back with a big win over Kentucky on Sunday which should put any memory of those losses behind them. All in all, the defending national champions are still the team to beat.
Dark Horse – Tennessee – The Volunteers have rattled off four straight “W’s” including two road wins and toppling the mighty Gators in Knoxville. Five of Tennessee’s nine losses this season have come to top 25 opponents and none of the losses were on their home court. If the neutral site doesn’t intimidate Chris Lofton, Tennessee could shock the SEC.