2019 NCAA Basketball Conference Tournament Preview


March is here and for those of us that like gambling on college basketball, it comes in like a lion and out like a dragon from Game of Thrones. From conference tournament week through the end of the NCAA Tournament, there is no shortage of action. Now I know that “gambling” can be a buzzword for some, but if you participate in any sort of bracket or knockout pool for March Madness then you are technically gambling.

Any sort of game, tournament, pool, or bracket where money or prizes are involved is gambling. This includes any Fantasy Sport. It is not a bad thing. Twenty-four million Americans were estimated to have participated in simple bracket pools last year with tens of billions of dollars wagered on March Madness both legally and illegally. As actual betting on games becomes more legal and accessible, the word “gambling” in general will become less of a scarlet letter.

So if you are going to gamble, should you not be well-informed on the subject matter? In this instance, if you are going to fill out a March Madness bracket, would you not want to have some knowledge on the teams playing?

I know, this is where you say that the girl in your office that does not watch a second of sports wins the March Madness pool every year by picking her favorite mascots or colors. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is your own fault. If you do the necessary research, take and avoid the proper risks, and use game theory then you can outwit someone who is relying solely on luck.

That discussion is for when the bracket comes out though. The part of March Madness that truly gets looked over and is possibly a more entertaining week is this week: conference tourney week. This is the week with more games than the entire NCAA tournament combined where Cinderella’s truly get unearthed and teams can be seen for how they react in a tournament setting.

Here at Fantasy Six Pack, we want to keep you informed on what you need to be looking for as we head into March Madness. Here is a breakdown of each conference tournament and what you need to be looking for in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. I’ll also provide you with some betting tidbits as I have come to find that this week can be very profitable if you hitch your wagon to the right horses.

2019 NCAA Basketball Conference Tournament Preview

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Tourney Locks: Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, and Virginia Tech

In Barring a Collapse: Syracuse

Needs Some Upsets: N.C. State, Clemson

In what is seen as the best conference in the country, you could have three No. 1 seeds coming out of the ACC. This tournament will be one of the deciding factors as to how many of the top seeds the ACC will get.

At this point, I would say Virginia is definitely a number-one seed. Then I would guess that whoever wins the third game between Duke and North Carolina will get another. If Kentucky or Tennessee wins the SEC tournament, then I think that team will get the last top spot. However, should they both be upset, then the loser of the Tobacco Road Part 3 game can back their way into the last No. 1.

Syracuse is almost definitely in the tournament. However, should they get upset in the second round by a bad team (the Orange are just 6-6 away from their friendly dome) then they could be on the bubble.

North Carolina St. should be in as well and probably just needs a single win over anybody in the conference tourney to cement their status. Clemson, on the other hand, needs to beat a team of note. The Tigers have home wins over Virginia Tech and Syracuse as their only wins over a likely tournament team.

Key to Watch: How do the youngsters from Duke (if Zion is playing especially) handle the tournament format?

Pick to Win: Virginia at +150. In the weird way that Duke is a bad matchup for Virginia, North Carolina is a bad matchup for Duke. So I think the championship game is UNC vs. UVA, and UVA has not lost to anyone besides Duke this season.

American Athletic Conference

Tourney Locks: Houston, UCF and Cincinnati

Needs Some Upsets: Temple

Houston was cruising to a No. 2 seed without an outside shot at a #1 but was tripped up by UCF last week. They need to in this tournament or fear dropping down to the 4- or 5- line which would be detrimental to their chances at an NCAA Tourney run.

UCF is in now that the bubble has gotten even worse. That win at Houston was their first Quad 1 win that will hold up.

Temple needed that home win against UCF badly. It added a second Quad 1 win to their victory over Houston at home and puts them squarely in the tournament as of now. Same as UCF, unless the Owls choke in the first round of the conference tournament and there are massive upsets elsewhere, I think they are in.

Key to Watch: Will Houston bounce back and make a dominating run through this tournament to assure them a higher seed in THE tournament?

Pick to Win: Houston, -200. I think the UCF loss woke them up.


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Tourney Locks: Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas St., Iowa St., Baylor and Oklahoma

Needs Some Upsets: Texas and TCU

This is possibly the most interesting and seed-affecting conference tournament. When 80% of your league is likely going to the NCAA tournament, the conference tournament is sure to be chock full of big games.

Kansas’ streak of 14 straight Big XII regular season titles came to an end, but it did take a rash of injuries/suspensions as well as a couple of other teams really stepping up to make that happen. One of those teams is Texas Tech.

They lost 71% of their scoring and 80% of their starting lineup (including a lottery pick) from their Elite Eight run last year. Yet, this group of Red Raiders appears even better. They are setting a new standard for defensive efficiency and have turned their offense up led by likely Top-10 pick Jarrett Culver. If they win this tournament, they lock up a #2 seed and will be a trendy Final Four pick.

Kansas St. is a bit forgotten in the league for winning a share of the conference championship a year after making the Elite Eight. However, they are deep and play lockdown defense.

I would guess that both of the teams with work to do will get in. When a conference is this deep and plays a true round-robin schedule, there are Quad 1 wins to go around. Every road game and the majority of your home games can yield a Quad 1 win.

So with that said, as long as TCU can avoid the first round loss to Oklahoma St, the Big XII will set a new record for percentage of a conference in the NCAA Tournament.

Key to Watch: Can Bill Self get his Jayhawks to rebound from the tough end to the regular season and get in typical Kansas-tournament form?

Pick to Win: Iowa St. at +600. The Cyclones were the popular pick to win the conference midseason before a late-season slump. If they get hot, they can beat anyone in the country. They also just know how to win this tournament (three Big XII Tournament Championships in the last five years).

Big East

Tourney Locks: Marquette and Villanova

Needs Some Upsets: St. John’s, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Creighton, Xavier and Butler

It was a given that Villanova would take a step back from one of the best college basketball teams in history. Jay Wright still has them in prime form to have a shot at the second weekend.

Marquette has stepped up this season led by likely All-American guard Markus Howard. He’s averaging almost 26 points and four assists a game. They really do not have a bad loss on their resume and are likely looking at a No. 4 seed, but could jump to a No. 3 with a conference tourney championship as well.

As far as the rest of the conference, this is basically the Bubble Tournament. Per Joe Lunardi, St. John’s and Seton Hall are two of the last six IN the tournament as of now, while Creighton and Butler are two of the first eight OUT of the tournament. Whichever two of these four can reach the semifinals of the Big East tournament will likely get in, leaving the other three likely out.

Butler is the longest of long shots but does have a couple of non-conference wins over likely tourney-bound SEC teams. They will need to get to the title game of the Big East, and even then it might not be enough to get in The Big Dance.

Key to Watch: Can Markus Howard add to the list of legendary Big East scorers to take the conference tournament over on his way to an NCAA run?

Pick to Win: Villanova at +300. Jay Wright just has too much tournament experience and still enough talent to get on a roll.

Big Ten

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Tourney Locks: Michigan St., Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland

In Barring a Collapse: Iowa

Needs Some Upsets: Ohio St., Minnesota and Indiana

Michigan and Michigan St. look like they are on a collision course for their own Round 3, with an outside shot at a #1 seed on the line. I would guess neither drops below the #2 line though, based on their outstanding strength of schedule.

Iowa was looking like a lock until it lost its first sub-Quad 1 game at home to Rutgers. I would still say that Iowa is safely in at this point.

It is also looking like Ohio St. and Minnesota are safely in as well. It has been said a number of times, but this is the “weakest” bubble in years. By that, I mean that mediocre teams will be getting in the NCAA Tournament strictly because there are not enough good teams.

Indiana is a benefactor of this as well. At 17-14 they would not even be in the conversation some years. However, they do have a good non-conference win over Marquette and somehow swept Michigan St. If they can win a couple of games in the Big Ten Tournament then they have a great shot at getting in The Big Dance. This, despite a mid-season, 7-game losing streak.

Key to Watch: Michigan St. is 1-3 against the state of Indiana and 24-3 against everyone else. Can they avoid the Hoosier state to get back in the Final Four conversation?

Pick to Win: Michigan St. at +175. In a conference of parity and strangeness, I think I’ll go with Tom Izzo.


Tourney Locks: Washington

Needs Some Upsets: Arizona St.

Washington is definitely in, but probably should not be. Their best non-conference win was at home against 13-16 Texas A&M. Sure they beat up on the hapless Pac-12 (15-3 in conference, 9-4 out of conference). But it is the worst “major” conference possibly ever. And they lost to one of the worst D-1 teams in the country, California.

Arizona St. is probably getting in since they somehow beat Mississippi St. and Kansas earlier in the year. They are also the only team in NCAA Tournament consideration that has a Quad 4 loss. Anything is possible with this horrid conference. If the Sun Devils get upset early, I would not be surprised if they are NIT bound.

Key to Watch: Will the Arizona St. team that beat Kansas and Washington show up or will it be the squad that lost to Princeton at home?

Pick to Win: Arizona St. at +500. I think Washington is a complete fraud and will be knocked out early in both tournaments.


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Tourney Locks: Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Auburn and Mississippi St.

In Barring a Collapse: Ole Miss

Needs Some Upsets: Florida and Alabama

As I said earlier, if Tennessee or Kentucky wins the SEC Tournament, I can see them getting the last #1 seed.  LSU, Auburn and Mississippi St. all figure to be Top-6 seeds as well. They will all need to avoid the early upset to get a better draw.

Ole Miss was a likely lock before a late-season lull losing three straight and four out of five including games against South Carolina and Arkansas. I think they are still in but could definitely use a win or two in the conference tournament to solidify their status.

The Gators and Crimson Tide are both weak-bubble benefactors as well. Alabama has a couple of really bad losses but still beat Kentucky. Florida does not have any terrible losses but lacks a signature win. I would say that both teams need a solid win in the SEC Tournament. Otherwise, they could be left watching at home.

Key to Watch: Can Rick Barnes shake his tournament struggles? Barnes has not won a conference tournament since he was at Providence in 1994. He has not made it to the Sweet Sixteen in over a decade.

Pick to Win: Kentucky at +200. The Wildcats have wins over North Carolina, Tennessee and Kansas (at full strength). That’s about as a diverse and impressive three-win set that any team in the country has to offer. I think their youth are starting to figure it out.

Possible Cinderella Stories

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Murray State

Small conference? Check! Great record? Check! Solid performances against Power-5 teams? Check! Likely Top-3 pick in the NBA Draft? Check! The Racers have everything you want in a possible Cinderella. Ja Morant has the athleticism and scoring ability to put them on his back and take it to many of the “bigger” programs in the country. They might need to win their conference tournament to get in. If they do they are a team to keep your eye on.


Wofford is starting to get some buzz and is even ranked. To the t-shirt college basketball fan, they will likely not know much about them. This team is legit though, sporting a 26-4 record. Their only losses coming against North Carolina and on the road against Oklahoma, Kansas and Mississippi St. If they can get through the Southern Conference Tournament unscathed, they could set themselves up with a path to a long run in the NCAA Tournament.



No Shaka, no matta’! VCU is the class of the (weaker than usual) Atlantic-10. They have a couple of not-so-great losses. However, they do sport a win on the road against Texas and hung with Virginia. They are riding an 11-game win streak and could keep it going in The Big Dance.

That’s it for the conference tournament preview. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Tomlin3 as I’ll be giving daily picks against the spread. Then next week we will have regional breakdowns as well as bracket/knockout pool strategies.

About Michael Tomlin

Michael Tomlin is an ESPY-nominated, former college football player who stays associated with the game through Fantasy Sports. He has been writing his personal blog,, for three years and it focuses on Fantasy Sports, as well as handicapping. He was born and raised in the DFW Metroplex, and he follows all of the Dallas teams, along with Texas Tech athletics and Manchester City F.C.

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