Today, I continue the conference picks for the college basketball by going to the Big XII and the Colonial Athletic. One of these conferences produced a Final Four team last year, while the other lost its two weakest basketball members in football expansion moves. If you want to see previous conference picks, here is the Big East/Pac-12/West Coast/Conference USA picks, and here is the Big Ten/Missouri Valley.
BIG XII CONFERENCE
The ten team Big XII conference is stronger by subtraction of Colorado and Nebraska. It is also probably the toughest major conference to peg at the top. Missouri and Baylor are two of the four remaining undefeated teams, while Kansas has owned the conference for the last decade and is lurking at 10-3 against a tougher schedule (losses to Duke, Kentucky and Davidson, wins over Ohio State and Georgetown). Kansas State is also there with one loss, a double OT game against West Virginia. Baylor and Missouri already started this week with wins over suspected bottom half teams Texas A&M and Oklahoma. The conference gets started in earnest tonight as Kansas State plays Kansas.
Winner and Top 3 Finishers: Baylor has the talent and the length up front to win the conference. The concerns are whether they play well in handling pressure and as a team in the key games in conference. Missouri has the experience, the backcourt, and plays very well together, but lacks inside depth. The matchup between Baylor and Missouri will be interesting because of just how contrasting the teams are. Kansas, meanwhile, always seems to bring their best in conference play. They are not as deep and full of NBA talent as recent years, but Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are carrying this team, with an assist from Connor Teahan on the outside, and they play the best defense of the contenders. I’ll take Kansas to win the conference (until someone knocks them off, I’ve seen this too many times), Missouri to finish second, and Baylor third, in front of Kansas State and Texas.
Conference Player of the Year Pick: I think it comes down to two players, Marcus Denmon of Missouri and Thomas Robinson of Kansas. Perry Jones of Baylor missed the first part of the year, but has the talent to get in that discussion as conference season continues as well. I’ll take Marcus Denmon to win the player of the year, though it will likely come down to performance in those head to head games between Missouri, Kansas, and Baylor.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
The Colonial Athletic Conference is a breathe of fresh air, because its teams are from the colonies, they are athletic, and they are a conference. So rare to be accurate these days. The CAA also produced a surprise Final Four team in Virginia Commonwealth, and is usually good for 2-3 teams in the NCAA Tournament. They should at least be in the mix for an at-large in addition to their tournament champion this year, though it is not guaranteed.
Winner and Top 3 Finishers: Virginia Commonwealth is the favorite to win the conference after last year’s run. They don’t have any signature wins, but the losses are all respectable (Seton Hall, Alabama and Georgia Tech), and the Rams can move into the tournament picture again with a strong conference run. Recent powers Old Dominion (7-7 this year) and George Mason (10-4), who replaced Jim Larranaga with Paul Hewitt, are down a little this year. Georgia State, with first year coach Ron Hunter, is the surprise of the year, coming in on a 10 game winning streak. VCU and Georgia State play tonight, with the winner being the favorite. James Madison, meanwhile, has a bunch of famous alumni. I’ll take VCU to win the conference and return to the tournament, and Georgia State to finish second. George Mason and ODU also play tonight, and I’ll take Mason to finish third.
Conference Player of the Year Pick: I think it comes down to George Mason forward Ryan Pearson or VCU senior Bradford Burgess, veteran of last year’s tournament run. I’ll take Burgess to take the honors with the Rams’ team success.
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