It’s February, which means that March Madness’s Selection Sunday is right around the corner. With conference championships coming up in the next few weeks, it’s time to predict the teams to win their conferences and gain an automatic bid into the big dance.
32 conferences send their respective conference champion into the bracket. Yet, every national champion since UNLV in 1990 has come from the same six major conferences (ACC, BIG-10, BIG-12, BIG East, PAC-12, SEC), so it seems fitting to start there.
As a Boston College student and an avid Eagles fan, my heart wants me to pick BC to make a Cinderella run and secure a spot in the bracket. Although they have improved this year, and coach Earl Grant seems to have something in the works for the future, the Eagles just can’t compete with the heavyweights in the ACC. That being said, I’ll have to choose the obvious pick, Duke.
The Blue Devils have posted a 24-4 record, and a conference high 80.1 points per game so far this season, good enough to rank them at No.7 in the country. Duke has several quality wins against Kentucky, Gonzaga, Notre Dame and Wake Forest. With legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski retiring after this year, and several professional ready players including Paolo Banchero, look out for Duke to dominate the ACC.
While it’s hard to bet against Jaden Ivy and number four ranked Purdue, Wisconsin is poised to win the BIG-10. The Badgers have gone 22-5, which has them at 13th in the nation and 2nd in the BIG-10. With a player as lovable and talented as Johnny Davis, who’s 20.9 points per game sits third in the conference, it’s hard to bet against Wisconsin. They proved they can compete with every team in the BIG-10 with a 74-69 victory over Purdue earlier this season.
The Jayhawks have been dominant all season. Kansas currently holds the top seed in the BIG-12 over two other top 10 nationally ranked teams (Texas Tech and Baylor). Their impressive 23-4 record and multiple wins against top 25 opponents has helped land them at number five in the most recent national rankings. Not to mention the spectacular play from senior guard Ochai Agbaji, who has averaged 20.2 points per game on 51% shooting this season. Expect coach Bill Self and the Jayhawks to secure their first BIG-12 title since 2018.
BIG East: Providence
Villanova has won four of the last six Big East titles, including National Championships in 2016 and 2018. Villanova’s recent dominance makes picking Providence a difficult decision, but if there is a team to upset the Wildcats this year, it’s the Friars. Providence has just three losses this season (one of which is to Villanova), but has consistently beaten their BIG East competition and, for now, holds the top seed in the conference. Alongside quality wins and their 11th nationwide rank, be on the lookout for a new champ in the BIG East.
The Bruins came into this season ranked second in the country after last season’s historic underdog run into the final four. UCLA has brought back the majority of last season’s players, including Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr, who have continued to shine in their Junior seasons. UCLA is currently ranked third in the PAC-12 and 12th in the nation due to their 20-5 record and numerous wins against top five opponents. While they have their work cut out for them with other strong teams like USC and Arizona, I think the Bruins will ultimately take the PAC-12.
Despite a formidable Auburn team that sits atop the SEC standings, I predict Kentucky to win the conference. Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats are currently ranked 6th in the nation with an outstanding 23-5 record and an SEC best 80.6 points per game. Kentucky’s star Junior forward and Wooden Award favorite Oscar Tshiebwe has been outstanding this season averaging 16.4 points and 15.2 rebounds per game. An experienced coach paired with a balanced roster and star talent is the perfect recipe for a conference champion.
Regardless of anyone’s predictions, upsets are bound to happen, as anyone who has filled out a March Madness bracket knows. Teams from little known conferences continue to find ways to prevail against opponents from these conferences. Not to mention, the perennial powerhouse Gonzaga doesn’t play in any of these conferences. As fun as it is to guess conference winners, it’s more important to remember that anything can happen in college hoops this time of year.