PUT ME IN COACH: March Madness in full swing

As the finals of the conference tournaments approach, March has proved college basketball’s most important lesson to be true once again – anything can happen.

In the Big Ten, top-seeded Michigan slipped past Illinois before hanging on for a 64-63 win Friday and advancing to face Ohio State, yet again, today.

The Buckeyes overcame an 18-point deficit in the second half Friday to top Nebraska, at team that is having a dream season of its own, by four points (71-67) after scraping by No. 12 seed Purdue by two points (63-61) on Thursday.

The Big East, though not the great power conference it once was, still provided some great matchups.

No. 8 seed Seton Hall has already stunned top-seeded Villanova by one point 64-64 on Thursday after topping No. 9 seed Butler by one point 51-50 on Wednesday.

In the ACC, Pittsburgh pulled an 80-75 upset against North Carolina on Friday and will get a date with No. 1 seed Virginia today.

The Cavaliers haven’t been the top seed in the ACC Tournament since 1981 and haven’t reached the ACC Tournament semifinals since 1995.

The Big 12 provided its own upset as No. 2 seed Oklahoma fell to No. 7 seed Baylor on Thursday.

Conference tournaments are just so hard to predict because of the bubble factor. Teams who are on the bubble or on the outside looking in are going to want it more than teams who, by now, treat survive-and-advance play no differently that a trip to mom’s house to do their laundry – it’s just a way of life.

Conference predictions

Big Ten

In a conference that beats each other up all season long, Michigan has been the most consistent, losing just three Big Ten games.

Ohio State tends to start slow and that won’t help the Buckeyes against a very stron Michigan team. Michigan State should roll past a Wisconsin team that relies too heavily on its defense as well as the three-point shot to win games.

It will set up a Michigan-Michigan State Big Ten title game that could turn into an instant classic as Tom Izzo’s Spartans kick it up another notch come March.

In the end, the Wolverines are just too strong and will pull out a close game to win the Big Ten title.

ACC

After Pittsburgh knocked off North Carolina on Friday, it cleared one of the main contenders out of the way for Syracuse,Virginia and Duke.

As tough as the Panthers are in March, Virginia is having a special season and should advance past them to the title game.

Syracuse was taken out by No. 7 seed North Carolina State, adding to its late-season woes.

The title game will now likely come down to Duke and Virginia and there are very few matchups that I won’t give the nod to Coach K.

This isn’t one of them.

Duke will outlast Virginia in the ACC title game.

SEC

The SEC boasts one of the most complete teams in the country in the Florida Gators.

Florida will likely be pitted against Kentucky for the SEC title by default. The Gators have owned the Wildcats in both of the previous matchups.

They have four players averaging double-figure point totals per game and at least three of those guys are capable of grabbing at least five rebounds per game.

Florida is just too strong and a class above everyone else in the conference. They take home the title.

Big 12

The third time was the charm for the Iowa State as it knocked off Kansas on Friday and Baylor played spoiler and knocked off No. 2 seed Oklahoma on Thursday

The Bears continued to be the story of the tournament as they routed No. 3 seed Texas in the semifinals to set up a Big 12 title matchup against the Cyclones.

Iowa State has two big time players in Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, who put in 18 points and 17 points per game, respectively.

Ejim is also a big help on the boards, averaging nine rebounds per game.

Baylor is led by Cory Jefferson, who averages 14 points and eight rebounds per game.

The two teams split the two meetings during the season with Baylor taking the last matchup 74-61.

Baylor may be one of the best defensive teams in the Big 12, but Iowa State’s 1-2 punch of Kane and Ejim, plus Georges Niang providing a strong inside-outside game, will get Iowa State its first Big 12 championship since 2000.

Big East

Though not the powerhouse basketball conference it once was, the Big East still puts out some intriguing matchups. Doug McDermott of Creighton is one of the top players in the country and can score at an alarming rate.

No. 1 seed Villanova is out of the tournament and Providence isn’t strong enough to get past Creighton for the title

Pac 12

Arizona has been the strongest team all year, despite falling off the national radar once their perfect season hopes were dashed by Cal on Feb. 1.

The Wildcats three season losses were by a combined 12 points.

This is a really strong team led by Nick Johnson (16 points per game) and freshman star Aaron Gordon (12 points, eight rebounds per game).

Arizona should have no problem cruising to a Pac 12 title, knocking off UCLA.

Players to watch

Big Ten

Aaron Craft, Ohio State. He is just one of those players you thought should have graduated by now. Craft continues to pace the Buckeyes, offensively, and is one of the top defensive players in the country. He will continue to be a household name come tournament time.

Nik Stauskas, Michigan. Stauskas was voted the Big Ten Player of the Year and for good reason. He has paced the Wolverines all season while averaging 18 points and four assists per game. The scariest part may be the fact he’s only a sophomore.

ACC

Jabari Parker, Duke. This one is almost too obvious. The freshman phenom is averaging 19 points and nine rebounds per game.

When he gets things going, he has a Lebron-James like ability to make his teammates around him better.

C.J. Fair, Syracuse. If there is one player that is going to help lead the Orange out of their March blues, it’s going to be this guy.

Fair is averaging 17 points and eight rebounds but the Orange have lost five of their last eight after being bounced from the ACC Tournament by N.C. State.

SEC

Casey Prather, Florida. The SEC isn’t a conference built on a lot of star power, just basketball played the right way.

Prather has provided a huge lift for the Gators this season though, averaging 15 points per game this season.

Julius Randle, Kentucky. It’s tradition by now that the Wildcats have a freshman flavor of the year and this year it’s Julius Randle.

He is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per game. His double-doubles might be enough for them to make a bit of a run in March.

Big 12

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas. Though arguably not as well polished as Parker, the Jayhawks’ freshman star has also paced them all season.

Wiggins is averaging 17 points per game for the Jayhawks and is a 35 percent three-point shooter and knocks down nearly 80 percent of his free throws.

DeAndre Kane, Iowa State. After transferring from Marshall, Kane has exploded onto the scene and helped power the Cyclones this season.

Kane averages 17 points per game and helps out his teammates at six assists per game. He is a huge reason why the Cyclones are the top assists team in the country at nearly 19 per game.

Melvin Ejim, Iowa State. Ejim was voted this year’s Big 12 player of the year and has been a huge par of the Cyclones offense.

He averages 18 points and nine rebounds per game and shoots nearly 50 percent from the field.

Big East

Doug McDermott, Creighton. McDermott is one of the most talented scorers in the country. Even bigger things are ahead for the AP All-American and John Wooden Award Winner.

Pac 12

Nick Johnson, Arizona. The Wildcats have been led offensively all season by the junior guard, averaging 17 points per game.

Aaron Gordon, Arizona. The Wildcats other top player happens to be another freshman talent. Gordon has helped pace the attack, averaging 12 points and eight rebounds per game.

Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, UCLA. Adams and Anderson have put together a solid season that helped the Bruins land a No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament.

Adams averages 18 points and five assists per game while Anderson chips in 15 points and nine rebounds per game.