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College Basketball’s Championship Week has Competitive Intrigue Across the Nation

Posted on March 06, 2018 by Chris Kent

Championship week is here for college basketball and teams are bracing for a frenzy. This annual week of competition features teams battling against their conference foes to determine the champions of their respective conference tournaments. While some teams are already assured a spot in the NCAA Tournament when the bids come out on Sunday March 11, others are “on the bubble,” and fighting for their NCAA lives. Even teams on stable ground for an NCAA bid will be playing this week to enhance their seeding for next week’s big dance while chasing their conference tourney title.

Here is a look at the major conference tournaments coming up this week with a more extensive look at the Atlantic Coast Conference. From top to bottom there is quality competition across the board. This will make the coming six days must see TV for the college basketball junkie.

*Note: The Big 10 Conference already has held its’ postseason conference tournament. Michigan defeated Purdue on Sunday March 4, 75-66 in the title game. The Big 10 Tournament was held Feb. 28 to Mar. 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

2018 ACC MBask Tourn Logo FPThe New York Life Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Tournament

March 6-10 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY

Virginia was clearly the best team in the conference during the regular season and won the ACC regular season championship with a 17-1 conference mark, placing four wins ahead of No. 2 Duke (13-5). The No. 1 Cavaliers’ 17 conference wins and nine conference road wins this season were both ACC records. Virginia, 28-2 overall, became the fourth team in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll era (since 1990) to reach the No. 1 spot in the AP weekly poll after being unranked in the preseason. Head coach Tony Bennett has the Cavaliers poised to make a deep postseason run. For the third time in the last five years, Virginia enters this week’s New York Life ACC Tournament as the top seed.  They have a double bye and open play Thursday March 8 in the quarterfinals.

Bennett was named this year’s ACC Coach of The Year, his third such honor since becoming head coach of the Cavaliers prior to the 2009-10 season. Senior Isaiah Wilkins was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and freshman De’Andre Hunter was named the Sixth Man of the Year. Sophomore guard Kyle Guy was named to the All-ACC First Team while sophomore guard Ty Jerome garnered third-team honors.

Virginia’s only conference loss of the season was a 61-60 home setback in overtime to Virginia Tech on Feb. 10. This speaks to the

Kyle Guy is a reliable scorer for Virginia.

Kyle Guy is a reliable scorer for Virginia.

strength and depth of the ACC as the No. 7 Hokies (10-8) were one of seven schools to win 10 or more games in conference play this season. Virginia, Duke, No. 3 Miami (11-7), No. 4 Clemson (11-7), No. 5 NC State (11-7), and No. 6 North Carolina (11-7) were the other 10-win teams. No. 8 Florida State and No. 9 Louisville each finished 9-9 in conference play with No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 11 Syracuse following at 8-10 each. No. 12 Boston College (7-11), No. 13 Georgia Tech (6-12), No 14 Wake Forest (4-14), and No. 15 Pittsburgh (0-18) finished in the last four spots respectively.

ACC powers Duke (25-6) and North Carolina (22-9) had typically strong years yet again and will be tough outs in this week’s tournament. Both have been major contenders in the last three ACC Tournaments as one or the other has been in the championship game. North Carolina lost to Notre Dame in the 2015 title game before coming back in 2016 to beat Virginia for the championship. Duke beat Notre Dame in last year’s title game. Miami (22-8) and Clemson (22-8) have each been ranked this season with North Carolina State (21-10) and Virginia Tech (21-10) close behind as each appeared in others receiving votes in the final AP regular season poll. Virginia, Duke, Miami, Clemson, NC State, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech are all in good position to secure an NCAA bid entering this week. Louisville (19-12), Florida State (20-10), Notre Dame (18-13), and Syracuse (19-12) are all seeking to strengthen their case for a bid this week based on what they do and what else happens with other teams around the country who are on the bubble or that they are competing with for NCAA spots.

Perhaps the most intriguing storyline entering the ACC Tournament will be the fortunes of the Orange of Syracuse. After missing out on an NCAA bid last season following their run to The 2016 Final Four, the Orange are primed for a return to the big dance in 2018. Since Jim Boeheim became head coach of his alma mater beginning with the 1976-77 season, Syracuse has only had two occasions of consecutive seasons where it did not receive an NCAA bid. Those came during the 1980-81 and ‘81-82 seasons as well as the 2006-07 and ‘07-08 seasons when the Orange received back-to-back NIT bids.

Tyus Battle is an all-around player for Syracuse.

Tyus Battle is an all-around player for No. 11 Syracuse.

This year’s Syracuse team has been offensively challenged and had a roller coaster of a regular season. Their 8-10 conference finish marked the first time in the Boeheim era that the Orange finished with 10 losses in conference play. After opening ACC play with a 68-56 home win over Virginia Tech on Dec. 31, the Orange opened 2018 by losing their next four conference games. Three straight wins followed which was part of a 6-3 stretch during the middle part of the season. Wins over Louisville and Miami during that stretch kept the Orange in the NCAA conversation. Syracuse’s signature win was a 55-52 home win over 18th ranked Clemson in the regular season finale on Saturday March 3. This sends the Orange to Brooklyn, NY on a positive vibe. Sophomore guard Tyus Battle, who became just the fifth player in Syracuse history to reach 1,000 career points before the end of their sophomore season in the Orange’s win over Clemson, leads Syracuse with 20.0 points-per-game and was named to the All-ACC Second Team. Orange forward Oshae Brissett was named to the ACC All-Freshman Team.

Syracuse meets Wake Forest on Tuesday March 6 at 7 pm. The winner advances to play North Carolina in the second round on Wednesday March 7 at 9 pm. Should the Orange win these two games, it would enhance their chances significantly for receiving an NCAA bid.

The usual contenders in Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Virginia will all be out to contend for the ACC’s top prize this

Marvin Bagley III is the latest star freshman for the Duke Blue Devils.

Marvin Bagley III is the latest star freshman for the Duke Blue Devils.

week. Blue Devil freshman Marvin Bagley III was named the ACC Player and Rookie of the Year, joining Duke’s Jahlil Okafor (2015) as the only players to receive both awards in the same season in the 65-year history of the ACC. Bagley leads Duke with 20.8 ppg and 11.2 rpg while also shooting a team best 60.3 percent (217-for-360) from the field. Fellow freshman forward Wendell Carter, Jr. scores 14.1 ppg and grabs 9.5 rpg.

Senior guard Grayson Allen lends Duke significant experience having been part of a national championship team as a freshman in 2015 to go along with his three-years as a starter. Allen scores 15.5 ppg and was named to the All-ACC Third Team where he is joined by Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell, Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie, Jerome, and NC State’s Omer Yurtseven.

North Carolina junior forward Luke Maye was voted as the ACC’s Most Improved Player. Maye teams with the senior guard tandem of Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson to give the No. 6 Tarheels experience and production. Berry II and Maye were each named to the All-ACC First Team while Pinson was an All-ACC Honorable Mention choice. Berry II leads North Carolina with 17.8 ppg while Maye is second with 17.7 ppg and leads the team with 10.1 ppg. Pinson adds 9.9 ppg.

Clemson junior guard Marcquise Reed was named to the All-ACC Second Team and teams with senior guard Gabe DeVoe and junior forward Elijah Thomas to make the No. 4 Tigers formidable. Devoe was named to the All-ACC Honorable Mention group. Reed leads five players in double figures scoring with 16.4 ppg.

Marcquise Reed has Clemson playing with confidence.

Marcquise Reed has Clemson playing with confidence.

Miami was represented in the ACC postseason awards by freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV who was named to the All-Freshman Team. Walker and sophomore forward Dewan Huell lead the team with 11.6 ppg while sophomore guard Bruce Brown Jr. adds 11.4 ppg. Junior guard Anthony Lawrence II scores 8.8 ppg and senior guard Ja’Quan Newton adds 8.5 ppg. Freshman guard Chris Lykes contributes 9.7 ppg and sophomore guard Dejan Vasiljevic adds 9.1 ppg in a balanced attack for the Hurricanes.

Virginia, Duke, Miami, and Clemson each received double-byes to the quarterfinals where they await winners from the second round. NC State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Florida State received single byes and will each play on Wednesday March 7 with Florida State and Louisville matching up in the 8 versus 9 game. The Wolfpack, Tarheels, and Hokies will each face teams who won the three first round games on Tuesday March 6. Those first round games feature Boston College against Georgia Tech at noon. Notre Dame faces Pittsburgh at 2 pm before Syracuse and Wake Forest meet at 7 pm that night in the finale of the first round. In all, 14 games will be played over five days culminating with the ACC Tournament Championship game at 8:30 pm on Saturday March 10.

The Southeastern Conference Tournament (The SEC)

March 7-11 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO

Auburn (25-6, 13-5) is the top seed and comes off a 79-70 win over No. 11 South Carolina in their regular season finale on Saturday2018 SEC Men's Bask Tourn Logo Web March 3 which clinched the regular season championship for the Tigers. It is only their third SEC title in program history joining the 1960 and 1999 teams. Auburn edged out Tennessee (23-7, 13-5) for the top seed in the tournament by virtue of its’ 94-84 win in Knoxville, TN in the team’s lone meeting this season on Jan. 2. In his fourth year as head coach of the Tigers, Bruce Pearl has brought back the roar for Auburn and has it thinking bigger things. This week’s conference tournament will be an opportunity for the Tigers to show the country what they are made of.

The Volunteers are the second seed while Florida (20-11, 11-7) and Kentucky (21-10, 10-8) follow as the third and fourth seeds respectively. Each of these top four seeds have received a double bye to the quarterfinals on Friday March 9.

Bryce Brown averages 16.4 ppg. for Auburn.

Bryce Brown averages 16.4 ppg. for Auburn.

Auburn is lead by the productive quartet of sophomore guard Jared Harper, junior guard Bryce Brown, sophomore guard Mustapha Heron, and junior forward Desean Murray. All four average double figures scoring with Heron the best of the bunch at 16.6 ppg. Brown scores 16.4 ppg while Harper adds in 13.9 ppg and has dished out a team high 178 assists on the season. Murray scores 10.2 ppg. Heron, Brown, and Harper have each attempted over 100 3-point field goals on the season with Brown converting at 39.5 percent (100-for-253). Murray leads the Tigers on the glass with 6.8 rebounds per game.

Auburn opened the season 2-0 before suffering its’ first loss to Temple on Nov. 17. The Tigers then went on a 14-game winning streak which included a 4-0 start to SEC play. After a 76-71 loss at Alabama on Jan. 17, Auburn won five straight and seven of eight. Their victory over South Carolina to end the regular season ended a two-game losing streak.

Tennessee ended the regular season strong with four straight wins and was steady all season. The Volunteers lost back-to-back games only once and beat teams such as Purdue and NC State as part of their non-conference schedule. Sophomore forward Grant Williams leads the team with 15.6 ppg while junior forward Admiral Schofield adds 13.5 ppg and leads the team with 6.1 rpg. Sophomore guard Lamonte Turner adds 10.6 ppg.

After losing three straight games in mid-February, Florida ended the regular season strong with three straight wins which was capped by an 80-67 win over 23rd ranked Kentucky on March 3. That victory followed wins over 12th ranked Auburn and Alabama.

The Gators feature a balanced scoring attack as four players average double figures scoring paced by the 15.6 ppg of junior guard

Chris Chiozza is a key player for third-seeded Florida.

Chris Chiozza is a key player for third-seeded Florida.

Jalen Hudson. Graduate guard Egor Koulechov and junior guard KeVaughn Allen score 13.8 and 11.3 ppg while senior guard Chris Chiozza adds 11.0 ppg and dishes out a team high 6.1 assists per game. Koulechov also leads the team with 6.5 rpg. Third-year head coach Mike White has done a tremendous job in elevating the Gators back to the national prominence they enjoyed in the mid 2000’s under former head coach Bill Donovan who lead Florida to back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and ’07.

While they have not garnered as much attention this season as in years past, Kentucky is still a good team with plenty to offer in basketball. The Wildcats are lead by the freshman tandem of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox who score 15.7 and 13.2 ppg respectively. Redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo adds 10.4 ppg and freshman guard Quade Green scores 10.3 ppg. Freshman forward PJ Washington also scores in double figures with 10.3 ppg. Kentucky might be a notch below the highly elite level they have been at in past years, but don’t sleep on the Wildcats. Head coach John Calipari knows a thing or two about coaching in March.

The rest of the SEC is a scramble. No. 6 Arkansas (21-10, 10-8) and No. 5 Missouri (20-11, 10-8) gave the conference six teams that finished the season with at least 10 conference wins. No. 7 Mississippi State (21-10) and No. 8 Texas A&M (20-11) were right in the middle at 9-9 apiece in conference play while No. 10 LSU (17-13, 8-10) and No. 9 Alabama (17-14, 8-10) followed in ninth and 10th place respectively. Rounding out the final regular season standings was No. 12 Georgia (16-14, 7-11), South Carolina (16-15, 7-11), No. 13 Vanderbilt (12-19, 6-12), and No. 14 Ole Miss (12-19, 5-13).

Georgia will face Vanderbilt in one of two opening round games on Wednesday March 7. South Carolina will then face Ole Miss. Missouri and Arkansas await the winners of these games in the second round which features four games on Thursday March 8. These four winners then advance to the quarterfinals to face the top four seeds on Friday March 9. The two semifinal games will be played on Saturday March 10 with the championship game set for Sunday March 11 at noon.

The Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament

March 7-10 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO.

Big 12 Conf MBask Champ LogoKansas (24-7, 13-5) is the top seed after another stellar regular season that saw them set an NCAA record for most consecutive conference crowns with their 14th straight regular season Big 12 Championship in 2018. Senior guard Devonte Graham was named the Big 12 Player of the Year and landed on the All-Big 12 First Team. The accolades for the Jayhawks continued with

senior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk being named to the All-Big 12 Second Team while 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike was selected to the All-Big 12 Third Team. Head coach Bill Self was named the Big 12 Co-Coach of the Year, sharing the honor with Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard. Self has now been named Big 12 Coach of the Year eight times at Kansas, including each of the last four years.

Graham is the catalyst for this year’s Jayhawks. A starter on last season’s team that lost in the Elite Eight to Oregon, Graham has been named to the national ballot for the 2018 John R. Wooden Award Presented by Wendy’s honoring the nation’s most outstanding college basketball player. Graham is vying to become the second straight Kansas player to win the award after Frank Mason III won it in 2017.

Graham leads five Jayhawks in double figures scoring with 17.6 ppg while Mykhailiuk and Azubuike add 15.3 and 13.7 ppg

Devonte Graham brings senior savvy for the Jayhawks.

Devonte Graham brings senior savvy for the Jayhawks.

respectively. Junior guard Lagerald Vick scores 12.2 ppg and redshirt sophomore guard Malik Newman adds 12.0 ppg. Azubuike leads Kansas with 7.1 rpg and leads the nation in field goal percentage at 77.4 percent (192-for-248) on the season.

The Jayhawks opened the season 7-0 before suffering back-to-back losses to Washington and Arizona State in early December. Once conference play started, Kansas did not lose consecutive games while putting together two five-game winning streaks.

Texas Tech (23-8, 11-7) is the second seed and had a surprising campaign. The Red Raiders ended a late season four-game losing streak with a win over TCU in their regular season finale on March 3. Texas Tech’s signature win on the season was an 85-73 win at Kansas on Jan. 2, its’ first ever win in Allen Fieldhouse. The win also ended a 16-game losing streak to the Jayhawks and was a feather in the cap for head coach Chris Beard in just his second year at the helm of the Red Raiders. Texas Tech is lead by a trio of guards in senior Keenan Evans, freshman Zhaire Smith, and freshman Jarrett Culver. Evans leads the team with 17.4 ppg while Smith and Culver each score 11.5 ppg.

West Virginia's Jevon Carter is defensive stopper.

West Virginia’s Jevon Carter is defensive stopper.

West Virginia (22-9, 11-7) is the third seed and Kansas State (21-10, 10-8) is the fourth seed. The Mountaineers feature one of the top defensive players in the country in senior guard Jevon Carter, who was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive Team and was also selected as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Carter, who leads the team with 89 steals on the season, was also named to the All-Big 12 First Team. Carter paces West Virginia in scoring with 17.0 ppg while four other Mountaineers average double figures in scoring. Senior guard Daxter Miles Jr. scores 12.1 ppg while sophomore forward Sagaba Konate adds 10.8 ppg and a team best 7.9 rpg. Junior forward Esa Ahmad and sophomore forward Lamont West score 10.3 and 10.2 ppg respectively.

After opening the season with a loss to then No. 25 Texas A&M in the Armed Forces Classic, the Mountaineers won 16 straight games. Included in the winning streak was a 68-61 win over then No. 15 Virginia on Dec. 15, 2017. Virginia has been ranked number one much of this season and currently sits atop the AP Poll.

The Wildcats won their first four games en route to an 8-2 start. After losing three of four in early January, Kansas State won five of seven. They enter this week’s tournament fresh off a 10-point home win over Baylor on March 3 which ended a two-game slide. Junior forward Dean Wade leads the team with 16.7 ppg and pulls down a team best 6.4 rpg. while junior guard Barry Brown Jr. adds 16.6 ppg. Sophomore forward Xavier Sneed adds 10.7 ppg. Bruce Weber is in his sixth-year as head coach of the Wildcats and took Illinois to the NCAA championship game where he finished as the national runner up in 2005.

Outside of the top four teams, the obvious player to watch in this week’s tournament is Oklahoma freshman guard Trae Young, the

Trae Young has had a historic freshman season for Oklahoma.

Trae Young has had a historic freshman season for Oklahoma.

Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Young was also a unanimous pick on the All-Big 12 First Team and was named to the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team. Young has also been named one of five finalists for the prestigious Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year award as announced by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday March 5. Currently leading the nation in scoring (27.5 ppg) and assists (8.9 apg), Young would become the first player in NCAA history to lead the country in both categories if he finishes the season atop both categories. Young’s 826 points this season are the most ever by a Big 12 player in regular-season play.

Young’s passing has also made headlines as the freshman phenom dished out 22 assists in a win over Northwestern this season to tie the NCAA single game record. Young is also only the second ever NCAA Division I player – and first from a major conference – to total 800 points and 250 assists in the same season. Aside from Young, the No. 9 Sooners (18-12, 8-10) are supported by junior guard Christian James and freshman forward Brady Manek who score 12.5 and 10.4 ppg respectively.

Other players to watch are TCU’s 6-11 senior forward Vladimir Brodziansky an All-Big 12 Third Team selection who leads the No. 5 Horned Frogs (21-10, 9-9) with 15.2 ppg. Sophomore guard Desmond Bane adds 13.1 ppg for TCU who also gets 12.9 ppg and a team high 9.3 rpg from 6-7 senior forward Kenrich Williams who was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team.

Senior forward Mitchell Solomon was the only Cowboy to start all 31 games on the season and leads No. 8 Oklahoma State (18-13, 8-10) with 6.4 rpg while redshirt senior guard/forward Jeffrey Carroll leads the team with 15.1 ppg. No. 7 Texas (18-13, 8-10) relies on the play of 6-11 freshman forward Mohamba Bamba who averages a double-double of 13.0 ppg and 10.6 rpg. Bamba was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team. No. 6 Baylor (18-13, 8-10) features the play of senior guard Manu Lecomte, an All-Big 12 Second Team pick who leads the Bears with 15.7 ppg. No. 10 Iowa State (13-17, 4-14) had three players named to the All-Big 12 Honorable Mention Team in redshirt freshman forward Cameron Lard, freshman guard Lindell Wigginton, and senior guard Donovan Jackson. All three averaged double figures scoring on the season with Wigginton leading the way at 16.6 ppg.

The tournament starts on Wednesday March 7 with OSU facing Oklahoma at 6 pm. That is followed by Texas and Iowa State at 8 pm.

Kansas Sate will be facing TCU in one of four quarterfinals on Thursday Mar. 8 at 11:30 am while West Virginia is set to meet Baylor at 8 pm. Kansas will play at 1:30 pm against the winner of OSU and Oklahoma while Texas Tech will play at 6 pm against the winner of Texas and Iowa State. These four winners will face off against each other in the semifinals on Friday March 9 at 6 and 8 pm with the two winners advancing to the championship game on Saturday March 10 at 5 pm. All game times are CST.

The PAC-12 Tournament

March 7-10 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV

PAC 12 LogoWhile the chaos that broke last week about an FBI investigation into the Arizona (24-7, 14-4) basketball program for impermissible benefits involving star freshman forward Deandre Ayton shook the college basketball landscape, the Wildcats are still ranked checking in at No. 15 in this week’s latest AP poll. Arizona actually rose four spots from the previous poll. Although Wildcats’ head coach Sean Miller is under a ton of scrutiny, his team has done all they can to tune it out and focus on the hardwood. Arizona earned the tournament’s No. 1 seed after closing the regular season with a pair of wins last week. The Wildcats won their 13th all-time outright regular season crown this season and are the defending tournament champions.

Ayton cleaned up in the conference’s postseason awards garnering All-PAC-12 First Team honors. The native of Nassau, Bahamas was also named to the PAC-12 All-Freshman Team and the PAC-12 All-Defensive Team. Ayton leads the Wildcats with 19.9 ppg and 11.4 rpg while shooting 61.6 percent (239-for-388) from the field. Junior guard Allonzo Trier scores 18.9 ppg and is a two-time All-PAC-12 First Team honoree. Senior 7-0 center Dusan Ristic was an All-PAC-12 Second Team pick and scores 11.9 ppg while grabbing 6.9 rpg. Sophomore guard Rawle Alkins adds 13.7 ppg.

Arizona opened the season 3-0 before losing all three of its’ games in the Battle For Atlantis Tournament in Paradise Island,

Allonzo Trier is a key player for Arizona.

Allonzo Trier is a key player for Arizona.

Bahamas last November. The Wildcats lost to North Carolina State, SMU, and Purdue. Standing at 3-3, Arizona went on a nine-game winning streak before falling at Colorado on Jan. 6 in only their second conference game. The Wildcats then reeled off seven straight wins before suffering back-to-back losses to Washington and UCLA the first week in February. Arizona got well down the stretch with a 5-1 finish to the regular season.

Southern Cal (21-10, 12-6) earned the No. 2 seed, its’ highest in program history behind its’ most conference wins since the 1996-97 team. Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin and junior forward Chimezie Metu were each named to the All-PAC-12 First Team with McLaughlin also appearing on the conference’s All-Defensive Team while Metu was an honorable mention pick for the All-Defensive Team. After losing three straight games in early February, The Trojans rebounded by winning four of their last five regular season games.

Metu leads USC with 15.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg while junior forward Bennie Boatwright scores 13.6 ppg and hauls in 6.4 rpg. McLaughlin scores 12.5 ppg and has dished out a highly significant 232 assists on the season. Senior guard Elijah Stewart adds 11.5 ppg for the Trojans.

Utah (19-10, 11-7) secured the No. 3 seed after a tiebreaker was used to separate the Utes, Stanford, and UCLA. Utah’s 2-1 record in

Justin Bibbins was named to the All-PAC-12 First Team for Utah.

Justin Bibbins was named to the All-PAC-12 First Team for Utah.

head-to-head competition among the three put them ahead of the Cardinal and Bruins. Utah placed a pair of seniors on the All-PAC-12 Teams with guard Justin Bibbins landing on the first team and forward David Collette appearing on the second team. Each were the team’s top two scorers with Bibbins scoring 14.4 ppg and Collette adding 12.8 ppg. Bibbins also shoots 85.1 percent (80-for-94) from the foul line on the season. The Utes earned a bye on the strength of their 6-1 finish to the regular season.

UCLA (20-10, 11-7) is the No. 4 seed and joins Arizona, USC, and Utah as teams receiving a bye to the quarterfinals on Thursday March 8. Junior guard Aaron Holiday and senior center Thomas Welsh lead the Bruins. Both have made 30 starts this season with Holiday leading the team with 20.1 ppg. Welsh averages a double-double of 12.7 ppg and 10.5 rpg. UCLA also gets 14.1 ppg from freshman guard Kris Wilkes and 10.5 ppg from freshman guard Jaylen Hands.

The Bruins beat the likes of Wisconsin and Kentucky in their non-conference schedule this season but lost to Michigan, who already won the Big 10 Tournament Championship on March 4. UCLA was 4-4 in PAC-12 play before winning four straight. They won three of their final five regular season games including their regular season finale, 83-72 at USC on March 3.

The rest of the PAC-12 features teams fighting for position among a field with parity. No. 5 Stanford (17-14, 11-7), No. 6 Oregon (20-11, 10-8), No. 7 Washington (20-11, 10-8), No. 8 Colorado (16-14, 8-10), No. 9 Arizona State (20-10, 8-10), and No. 10 Oregon State (15-15, 7-11) all won between 7 and 11 PAC-12 games this season making for a tightly competitive middle of the conference. No. 11 Washington State (12-18, 4-14) and No. 12 California (8-23, 2-16) claimed the bottom two spots in the standings and seedings.

After the top four teams, players to watch in this week’s tournament feature Stanford redshirt junior guard Reid Travis, a two-time All-PAC-12 first team selection, and Oregon sophomore guard Payton Prichard, a second-team All-PAC-12 selection this year. Junior forward Noah Dickerson of Washington, senior guard Tra Holder of Arizona State, and redshirt sophomore forward Tres Tinkle of Oregon State were each named to the All-PAC-12 first team this season and lead their respective teams into play this week.

Aaron Holiday averages 20.1 ppg for UCLA.

Aaron Holiday averages 20.1 ppg for UCLA.

Reid leads Stanford with 19.6 ppg while Pritchard tops the Ducks with 14.6 ppg. Dickerson scores 15.4 ppg and grabs 8.4 rpg for the Huskies, who are lead by first-year head coach Mike Hopkins, the former long-time assistant coach at Syracuse University. This year’s PAC-12 Coach of the Year, Hopkins becomes the fourth Washington coach to earn a Coach of the Year Award and the first to earn the honor in their first season as head coach. Junior guard Matisse Thybulle became the first Huskie to be named PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Thybulle leads the team with 92 steals and 44 blocks this season and has started every game. Tinkle leads Oregon State with 18.0 ppg and is one of four players who average double figures scoring for the Beavers. Cal is lead by junior guard Don Coleman who scores 14.7 ppg while Washington State is lead by junior forward Robert Franks who scores 17.4 ppg.

The tournament starts with the first round featuring four games on Wednesday March 7. The day starts off with Colorado facing Arizona State at noon. Stanford then faces California at 2:30 pm. The night games feature Washington against Oregon State at 6 pm followed by Oregon and Washington State at 8:30 pm. The four winners from these game advance to the quarterfinals on March 8 with top-seeded Arizona slated for the day’s first game at noon. USC, Utah, and UCLA will also play and by the end of the day four teams will remain. Two semifinals will follow on Friday March 9 at 6 and 8:30 pm with the winners playing in the title game on Saturday March 10 at 7 pm.

The Big East Conference Tournament

March 6-10 at Madison Square Garden in New York City

2018 Big East Tourn LogoDespite losing two games to Villanova (27-4, 14-4) during the regular season, Xavier (27-4, 15-3) won the Big East Conference regular season championship and is the tournament’s No. 1 seed. This will be the 36th year that the Big East Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament has been played at Madison Square Garden making it college basketball’s longest running postseason conference basketball tourney held at the same venue. Both Xavier and No. 2 Villanova are among five or six teams around the country that are vying for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament making their performances this week important in the eyes of the selection committee. Seton Hall (21-10, 10-8) received the No. 3 seed after edging Creighton (21-10, 10-8) in the tiebreakers leaving the Blue Jays with the No. 4 seed. Providence (19-12, 10-8) is the No. 5 seed while Butler (19-12, 9-9) received the No. 6 seed.

The Musketeers head to New York fresh off the news that senior guard Trevon Bluiett has been named a second-team All-

Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett is up for numerous national awards.

Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett is up for numerous national awards.

American by Sporting News. He is on several other watch lists for National Player of the Year awards and All-America honors. This award followed Bluiett’s selection to the All-Big East First Team, marking the third consecutive season that he has been so honored. Bluiett joins a select list of only 13 players in conference history who have garnered All-Big East First Team honors three times.

Bluiett leads Xavier with 19.4 ppg and 5.6 rpg. The Musketeers also get scoring punch from senior guard J.P. Macura (12.4 ppg) and grad forward Kerem Kanter (10.1 ppg.). Sophomore guard Quentin Goodin adds 9.0 ppg and leads the team with 5.0 apg. Xavier’s current RPI of three is impacted for the better by their non-conference wins over Wisconsin, Baylor, and Cincinnati. The Musketeers only lost back-to back games once this season and have strung together win streaks of 5, 10, 9, and 3 making them capable of getting on a roll.

Villanova is lead by junior guard Jalen Brunson and junior guard/forward Mikal Bridges who lead the team in scoring with 19.0 and 17.6 ppg respectively. Each shoots better than 50 percent from the field with Brunson converting 52.8 percent (211-for-400) of his shots and Bridges knocking down 51.1 percent (191-for-374) of his field goal attempts.

Junior guard Jalen Brunson scores 19.1 ppg for Villanova.

Junior guard Jalen Brunson scores 19.1 ppg for Villanova.

Six different players average double figures scoring for the Wildcats including redshirt sophomore guard Donte Divincenzo (13.8 ppg), redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman (10.9 ppg), redshirt junior forward Eric Paschall (10.2 ppg), and redshirt junior guard Phil Booth (11.0 ppg). Brunson, Bridges, Booth, and Divincenzo were all part of Villanova’s NCAA championship team in 2016 and give Villanova valuable experience that can’t be replaced this time of year. Villanova has the coach, players, and experience to win the Big East Championship and contend for another NCAA Title as well.

Experience is also seen in the Pirates of Seton Hall behind the senior trio of Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington, and Angel Delgado. The trio has been playing together for four straight seasons which lends to knowing each other’s tendencies on the court so very well which can be a huge benefit this time of year, especially in crunch time. Rodriguez leads Seton hall with 18.1 ppg while Carrington adds 14.8 ppg to go with a team-high 4.5 apg. Delgado scores 13.4 ppg and grabs a team best 11.6 rpg. Seton Hall is also supported by sophomore guard Myles Powell who scores 15.6 ppg and was named the Big East Most Improved Player of the Year. After opening February with four straight losses, the Pirates showed their resiliency by closing the regular season 4-1 to earn a bye. Although Seton Hall went 0-4 against Villanova and Xavier in the regular season, watch out for this team not only this week but in the NCAA Tournament should they get in.

Creighton is lead by senior guard Marcus Foster, junior guard Khyri Thomas, and sophomore forward Martin Krampelj. Foster leads the team with 20.3 ppg while Thomas scores 15.5 ppg. Krampelj scores 11.9 ppg and hauls in a team-best 8.1 rpg. The Blue Jays beat UCLA and Northwestern early in the season. Their best win of the season was an 89-83 home overtime win against Villanova on Feb. 24.

Providence and Butler avoided having to play on the first day as well by finishing ahead of the bottom four teams in the final regular season standings. Senior forward Rodney Bullock tops the No. 5 Friars with 14.1 ppg while sophomore guard Alpha Diallo adds 12.3 ppg and a team-high 6.4 rpg. Senior guard Kyron Cartwright adds 11.4 ppg.

Butler is lead by senior forward Kelan Martin who scores 21.2 ppg and sophomore guard Kamar Baldwin who adds 15.0 ppg.

Senior forward Kelan Martin leads Butler with 21.2 ppg.

Senior forward Kelan Martin leads Butler with 21.2 ppg.

Redshirt junior guard Paul Jorgensen adds 10.7 ppg for the No. 5 Bulldogs who have beaten Ohio State and Utah. Sitting at 7-4 in the Big East after a win over DePaul on Feb. 3, the Bulldogs went only 2-5 in their last seven games to finish .500 in the conference. Butler comes into New York this week riding a two-game losing streak.

While No. 7 Marquette (18-12, 9-9) finished .500 in conference play, No. 8 Georgetown (15-14, 5-13), No. 9 St. Johns (15-16, 4-14), and No. 10 DePaul (11-19, 4-14) were highly challenged to string together wins in conference play this season. This aside, the teams still have productive players. Sophomore guard Markus Howard averages 20.9 ppg to lead the Golden Eagles who get 19.9 ppg from redshirt senior guard Andrew Rowsey and 15.1 ppg from sophomore guard/forward Sam Hauser. Georgetown’s top performers on the season are junior center Jessie Govan (17.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg) and junior forward Marcus Derrickson (15.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg). Sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds paces five players in double figures scoring for St. Johns with 21.6 ppg. DePaul is lead by junior guard Max Strus who scores 16.6 ppg to lead four double figures scorers for the Blue Demons.

The tournament gets underway on Wednesday March 7 with a pair of first round games. Georgetown will meet St. Johns at 7 pm. Marquette and DePaul meet at 9:30 pm.

Xavier will play Georgetown or St. Johns in the first quarterfinal on Thursday March 8 at noon. Providence and Creighton follow at 2:30 pm. The nightcap features Villanova facing either Marquette or DePaul at 7 pm followed by Butler against Seton Hall at 9:30 pm. Those winners advance to the semifinals on Friday March 9 in games set for 6:30 pm and 9 pm. The two semifinal winners meet in the title game on Saturday March 10 at 6:30 pm.

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