We will close the conference picks with the two BCS conferences that open play today, as well as the Atlantic 10. Previous conference picks include the Big East/Pac-12/West Coast/Conference USA picks, the Big Ten/Missouri Valley, and the Big XII/Colonial Athletic Conference.
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
It’s been a while since the ACC was deeper than Duke and North Carolina on a national scale. Florida State made the Sweet 16 last year as a #10 seed, becoming the first team from the ACC not named Duke or UNC to advance that far since Boston College in 2006. It looks like a similar story this year. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils are again going to be among the higher seeds in the tournament, and if anyone else is going to make a run, it will be from a lower seed.
Winner and Top 3 Finishers: North Carolina over Duke for the title, and clearly above the rest of the league. Third place will come down to surprising Virginia, Virginia Tech in their annual bubble watch, and disappointing Florida State, who we know would not win the Ivy League, but still has the length and defensive ability to matchup with the big boys, but again lacks consistency in scoring. I’ll take Florida State to rally and finish ahead of the pack, but still leave themselves sweating on Selection Sunday, just ahead of Virginia, who will get in, and Virginia Tech, who will have Seth Greenberg on the bubble again.
Conference Player of the Year Pick: The North Carolina roster can be on here, well, at least John Henson and Harrison Barnes, with Kendall Marshall also getting consideration. Barnes is the scorer, while Henson is 2nd on the team in points, and averages a double-double. Meanwhile, senior Mike Scott of Virginia, in addition to having a nasty split finger, is the driving force behind the Cavaliers’ resurgence, and is one of the nation’s best rebounders, and an efficient inside presence. I’ll take Harrison Barnes to win the player of the year honors at season’s end, though Scott and Henson have a slight lead now.
There is little doubt who should win this conference, and it is a matter of who else can step up and make a run. Kentucky is the clear class of the league. Florida should again be a reasonably high seed, while Alabama tries to avenge last year when they missed the tournament despite having the best conference record because of the SEC West imbalance. Vanderbilt is finally starting to turn things around after an extremely disappointing start, and Mississippi State is in the mix for the top half of the table.
Winner and Top 3 Finishers: Kentucky is the easy pick here, and the question is just how many losses they have, as anything more than 2 would qualify as a letdown.Florida should finish second, while Alabama is the choice for third, ahead of Vanderbilt.
Conference Player of the Year Pick: I know John Jenkins of Vanderbilt and Kenny Boynton of Florida are the leading scorers, but this award is going to a freshman from Kentucky. The only question is whether it is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Anthony Davis. I’m going with Anthony Davis, who is averaging almost 5 blocks a game and also pulling down double digit rebounds.
ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE
The Atlantic 10 has several teams who could be in the mix for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, but none of them are guaranteed. St. Louis, with Rick Majerus, has been impressive, while Temple just knocked off Duke. Xavier was the preseason favorite but has collapsed over the last two weeks after the brawl with Cincinnati, losing 5 of 6 games. Dayton has a win over Alabama and just beat St. Louis at home to open the conference schedule. St. Joseph’s has wins over Creighton and Villanova. Last year’s tournament darlings, Richmond, had too many losses and are off to a 9-7 start. I think the A-10 gets three tournament teams for sure, and there are quality wins available in this league to improve a resume. The question is whether anyone else can get in.
Winner and Top 3 Finishers: I think Temple rides the momentum of their victory and wins the conference (they open against Dayton today). St. Louis continues their run this year and finishes second, and solidly in the tournament. After that, I’ll take Xavier to get it turned around enough to finish just ahead of St. Joseph’s and Dayton. It may not be enough, though, if they don’t start playing better immediately.
Conference Player of the Year Pick: Tu Holloway was the player of the year last year, and should rebound to be the player of the year again. Brian Conklin of St. Louis has been terrific so far, while Charlotte’s Chris Braswell is also in the mix for first team honors.
[photo via Getty]