Who matters? Miami has the most to gain. Even though point guard Angel Rodriguez’s wrist injury may render him a spectator, backup Manu Lecomte is reliable and hot, 7-for-9 from 3-point range in his last three games. The portion of the bracket where the Canes reside is friendly, pitting them against the BC/Wake Forest survivor before a date with Notre Dame. Jim Larranaga has won at least once in all three ACC Tournaments he’s coached in, winning it all in ’13. If Miami makes a run and gets to a semifinal against Duke, it might land safely on the right side of the bubble.
What matters? Duke and Virginia would merit No. 1 seeds if they reach the final. The winner is a lock to hang back on its coast through the NCAA Tournament’s first two weekends. Failing to get to Saturday night could mean a No. 2 seed.
Where matters? Duke and North Carolina fans will take over Greensboro Coliseum in shifts since they’re on opposite sides of the bracket. UNC hasn’t won at this venue since ’98, while Duke has won titles four of the last seven times the ACC Tournament has come to town, coming up empty the last two years after a stretch winning four of five.
Projected winner: Duke
Who matters? The Badgers are chasing a No. 1 seed and are led by Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky, but Maryland is the new kid on the block and has already started developing a reputation. It remains to be seen if Mark Turgeon gets Coach of the Year over Bo Ryan for his success navigating a new league, but he can count on a large target being on his team’s back. Few want to see the interloper continue to outclass the Big Ten’s traditional programs.
What matters? The success Indiana and Illinois have here dictates whether the conference gets six or more NCAA bids. Losing first-round games against Northwestern and Michigan would be crippling, denying them a 20th win. If both hold serve, the top two seeds await. The possibility of the Big Ten getting eight teams in is legitimate.
Where matters? The tournament is back at United Center for the second time in three years after Indianapolis had it for five straight. Wisconsin has been a runner-up three consecutive times Chicago has played host, with Ohio State winning the last two.
Projected winner: Wisconsin
Who matters? Texas was 10th in the AP’s Preseason Top 25, but has considerable work to do to avoid the NIT. A loss to Texas Tech in the opener would be a deal-breaker, but if the Longhorns get by and show up against Iowa State, they could be one of the last teams in.
What matters? Oklahoma vs. OK State is always a party, but this one-and-done is special. The last tourney meeting between the rivals was a 7-10 matchup in 2010, so this 3-6 can’t be missed. Although the Cowboys have a solid RPI and head-to-head sweeps of Baylor and Texas, a loss to the Sooners would be their sixth in seven games. They’re under pressure to make a closing statement or face a nervous Sunday afternoon.
Where matters? Kansas City hosts for the sixth straight year and 14th time overall. The Jayhawks have won there seven times, but appear too banged-up to take advantage this year. Iowa State cut down the nets at Sprint Center in 2014 and looks to become only the fourth Big 12 school to repeat.
Projected winner: Iowa State
Who matters? Wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the West Region requires that Arizona win this tournament, where it should be a double-digit favorite against anyone but Utah. The Wildcats have won 14 of their last 15, impressively covering in 12 of those.
What matters? Stanford’s recent implosion removed it from the at-large mix, but Oregon looks safe, which means the Pac-12 will get at least three teams in. Utah’s struggles helped the Ducks wind up with the No. 2 seed, so both could use a strong run to improve their seed line come Selection Sunday. UCLA is in trouble and must beat the ASU/USC winner to reach a semifinal opposite Arizona. The Bruins then need that game to be one of the best of their season, proving they shouldn’t be left behind.
Where matters? The MGM Grand Garden Arena hosts its third straight. Thus far, the top seed has found Vegas unlucky, since UCLA was upset by Oregon in the 2013 final and rallied past Arizona to win it all as the No. 2 seed last year. Sean Miller is still looking for his first Pac-10 Tournament title.
Projected winner: Arizona
Who matters? Kentucky and perfection. Matchups with teams that have given UK scares loom everywhere, especially if Florida topples Alabama to become its quarterfinal opponent. Billy Donovan has coached his Gators to three strong halves against them this year. The semifinals are likely to be against LSU or Texas A&M, both of which had the visiting Wildcats on the ropes early in league play. The final won’t be easy, certain to be against a quality foe amid ramped-up pressure.
What matters? Besides Kentucky and perfection, other compelling story lines exist. Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M can use a successful run to cement at-large bids, since only Arkansas appears safely in behind UK. Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina are hoping to finish at or above .500 with a win or two. Expect every game to be physical.
Where matters? They’re not in “Catlanta” this time, beginning a stretch playing at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena nine times over the next 11 years. Kentucky has won there twice. Ole Miss, which won last time this venue played host back in 2013, has an advantage over most since many of its fans will make the three-hour drive over. Of course, Big Blue Nation will still have the run of the place, turning it into Cashville. It’s how they roll.
Projected winner: Kentucky
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Contact Tony at [email protected].