Previewing this week's premium conference tournament action (cont.)
Thursday, March 10-Sunday, March 13
Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
The pick: Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the best team in the nation and will do just enough to hold off Purdue in its home state.
Dark horse: There really isn't one. If anyone outside the top three teams wins this, it would be a huge surprise.
Deep sleeper(s): Illinois has the talent to throw a run together and a manageable quarterfinal against Michigan. The semifinal against (assumedly) Ohio State could be a big hurdle, though.
Player(s) to watch: Any of the three of Purdue's JaJuan Johnson, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger or Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor could have won the league's player of the year award (that went to Johnson). Ohio State's Jon Diebler is white-hot from the arc (17-for-20 from distance in his last two games). Two other point guards -- Penn State's Talor Battle and Michigan's Darius Morris -- are a joy to watch. Terrific players.
Bubble/bracket games of note: The first couple of rounds will be extremely bubbly. Illinois-Michigan is a huge game, especially for the Wolverines. Michigan State could end up playing Purdue in a quarterfinal in a game the Spartans may need to win. Penn State also must beat Indiana and then Wisconsin to have a chance.
Wednesday, March 9-Saturday, March 12
Staples Center, Los Angeles
The pick: UCLA. In a year where there's no dominant team in the league, going with the second-place Bruins in their home city seems reasonable. Their side of the bracket also could open up if Wazzu takes out Washington in the 3-6 game. The Cougars swept the Huskies in the regular season.
Dark horse: USC. This is the team that bubblers should be nervous about. They have beaten UCLA and Arizona at home and lost to Washington in overtime. The Trojans defend as well as anyone in the league, so no game against them will be easy. Seeing USC make the final is not unreasonable at all, and then they'd be an at-large consideration, as well.
Deep sleeper(s): Washington State. The Cougars fell into a quarterfinal against Washington, a team they know they can handle. Then they likely would draw UCLA, a team they just lost to at home in overtime without Klay Thompson.
Player(s) to watch: Derrick Williams' only flaw is that he's too deferential at times, but the way Arizona shoots the three, sometimes that's not a terrible plan. Much was made of Jio Fontan's January arrival for USC, but Nikola Vucevic has been terrific for the Trojans. As has Reeves Nelson for UCLA.
Bubble/bracket games of note: The league's top three teams seem safe, so the bubble onus is on USC or Wazzu to give the committee any reason to consider them.
Thursday, March 10-Sunday, March 13
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
The pick: Kentucky. The 'Cats are starting to figure things out, finishing the season in style by beating the three other best teams in the league. Their PPP margin was identical to Florida's despite finishing three games behind the Gators and all of the late road losses may have created a battle-hardened team that doesn't have to play another true road game. Plus, I think the E2-seed may end up more favorable, drawing the Alabama-Georgia winner in the semis instead of Vandy or Mississippi State -- Florida's plight.
Dark horse: Tennessee. Would it surprise you if the Vols won this event? Or if they lost in the first round? Exactly. They're good enough to beat anyone on the right day, though.
Deep sleeper(s): Georgia. The Bulldogs had surprisingly good efficiency margins in the league and have a reasonable path to the semifinals with games against Auburn and then Alabama. Home-state location can't hurt, either.
Player(s) to watch: Brandon Knight is really coming on for Kentucky, which could be a major development heading into the NCAAs. You know a lot of the other major names: Vandy's John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, Georgia's Trey Thompkins, Florida's Chandler Parsons, Tennessee's Scotty Hopson.
Bubble/bracket games of note: An Alabama-Georgia quarterfinal is a huge bubble game, especially for the Tide, which likely needs to win it to have a legit at-large case. This tournament has also produced its share of surprise champs, so any game involving Mississippi State will be nerve-racking for bubblers. Florida is trying to hold onto a top-three seed for the NCAAs.
Avs rally in 3rd period, beat Wild in overtime
Alexander Steen, Blues beat Blackhawks in triple overtime