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A lot of college basketball fans from the East Coast and Midwest continue to argue for bragging rights as to which region boasts the better conference from top to bottom.
The Big East does have four more schools than the Big 12, but it’s fair to say that both groups are top-heavy with some serious talent. In the latest AP Top 25 poll, the two conferences made up 10 of the 25 ranked teams.
With that being said, each conference should have some representation at the Final Four from Indianapolis in early April but prior to the Big Dance, all of these schools will go head-to-head in their conference tournaments.
Big 12 Tournament – Wednesday, Mar. 10 to Saturday, Mar. 13
No other league has put more teams into the Final Four or Elite Eight over the past eight seasons than the Big 12 and again this conference rivals the Big East as the deepest in the country.
When the opening tip goes up from the Sprint Center in Kansas City to determine the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth all eyes will be focused on the top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks. Head coach Bill Self returns all five starters from a team that made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen last season. The Jayhawks do it with a stifling defense that is consistent in every game they play, which makes this team the obvious favorite to cut down the nets in March.
The Kansas State Wildcats have proven this season that they can win on the road and Frank Martin's squad has one of the best backcourt combinations in the Big 12. We look at this KSU team as the Jayhawks major obstacle in this tournament.
Head coach Scott Drew and the Baylor Bears have benefitted from the play of Michigan transfer Ekpe Udoh in the middle. Plus this group is experienced, going all the way to the NIT Championship last year. Along with Udoh, the backcourt of LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter is producing over 35 PPG. If this duo is on the mark the Bears are a team to be reckoned with in this tournament even though they had to replace three starters from a year ago.
Missouri knocked off 31 wins a year ago and just missed a trip to the Final Four after losing to Connecticut (82-75) in the Elite Eight round. The Tigers have one of the youngest rosters in the conference after head coach Mike Anderson lost his top three scorers from last season. Still, his fast-paced style of play has the Tigers capable of getting hot and matching up with the best. Shooting guard Kim English (14.5 PPG) is the one player to keep an eye on.
The sleeper in this year’s tournament could be Texas A&M, since the school have a lot of senior leadership and an abundance of talented guards and wingmen that pressure foes relentlessly on the defensive end. The Aggies in-state rival Texas has been inconsistent all season and the recent loss of point guard Dogus Balbay (knee) will certainly open up the door from some other middle of the pack teams in the Big 12.
Missouri stopped Baylor 73-60 in last year’s Big 12 Championship but prior to that, it’s been all about Kansas. The Jayhawks had won three straight titles and most would believe that a fourth is in sight, especially with the action happening right down the road from Lawrence.
Big East Tournament – Tuesday, Mar. 9 to Saturday, Mar. 13
Many pundits claim that the Big East is the very best conference in all of college basketball and this is a statement that has to be considered valid. The Big East boasts six teams that can beat anyone in the country with Syracuse, Villanova, Connecticut, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Georgetown.
Those six schools, plus 10 more will go head-to-head from Madison Square Garden during the second week of March. It’s very likely that the winner of this tournament could earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Jim Boeheim reached his 800th career win this season as Syracuse surprised a lot of experts with its consistent play all season. Personnel losses didn't stop the Orange as they received great contributions from some of their younger players and we'll give them the nod as the tournament favorites. It’s known that Boeheim team's always seem to enjoy the bright lights of the Big Apple.
Villanova has a team that should be a major factor during March Madness and the very talented recruiting class has been a perfect fit for senior Scottie Reynolds. Another Final Four appearance almost seems like a lock as these Wildcats have reached at least the Sweet Sixteen in the past four seasons under head coach Jay Wright. It should also be noted that Wright and company lost to the eventual national champions all four time as well.
West Virginia has struggled at the free throw line all season and has had a propensity for letting inferior opponents back in games as a result of it. Head coach Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers have flown under the radar in the past but a lot is expected from this year's squad.
Head coach Jamie Dixon may have four starters from last year’s stacked squad but this year’s unit has some of the best 3-point shooters in the Big East and his coaching style should be considered one of the top jobs done this season. You may not be aware of this but the Panthers are the only Big East team to reach the past eight NCAA Tournaments.
Although Georgetown is always a threat in the Big East tournament, we'll look to head coach Jim Calhoun's and Connecticut as a sleeper team this season. The Huskies are very good and rounding into form at the right time to do some serious damage. Calhoun’s health issues appear to be over, which should only help the talented yet inexperienced squad.