Major Conference Tournament Dark Horses

By Chris Havlicek

We are just 10 days away from Selection Sunday and millions of people are preparing for their March Madness brackets. But first, let’s dive into a few conference tournaments and pick the “Dark Horses” that could win their conference tournaments. Today, we will focus on the ACC, SEC, and the Big 10.


Once again, the pundits are out in force, forecasting the demise of ACC basketball. In the words of Lee Corso, “NOT SO FAST MY FRIENDS!!” The ACC outperforms every other conference in tournament play year in and year out, much to the chagrin of the naysayers. This year will be no different. 

It’s difficult to even type this but… the dark horse in the ACC this year in my opinion is… Duke (+5000). In their first season under head coach Jon Scheyer, the Blue Devils are currently ranked No. 4 in the ACC. Before its matchup with UNC this coming Saturday, Duke has won its previous five games, and the youth and inexperience have faded from the start of the ACC season. So far, the Blue Devils have already defeated the Tarheels once, 63-57; if they sweep the Heels, another blue-blood who has struggled this year, Duke will be a tough out as a low seed in the tournament. Win the ACC Tournament and Duke won’t sneak up on anyone.  Remember, the freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore by way of minutes, and Duke’s starters will all play in the NBA. If you draw Duke in any tournament, proceed with caution.


SEC plays some pretty damn good basketball too. This year is no exception with three teams in the AP Top 25 poll. Alabama and Tennessee seem to be the class of the conference this year, with several other programs notching big-time QUAD 1 wins. 

So who is my sleeper to win the SEC Tournament? Yes, another fallen blue blood — it’s Kentucky (+3500). Last year, Kentucky was the second seed going into the NCAA tournament. St. Peter’s defeated the Wildcats 85-79 in the opening round, a surprising defeat and one of many upsets. This season, Kentucky has a chance to make amends. Despite being rated No. 23 in the most recent AP poll, the Wildcats should not be disregarded. It is undeniable that Kentucky fell short of the expectations set for it in the preseason. Yet the Wildcats might have a chance to turn things around in the NCAA tournament. From the beginning of the year, Kentucky has performed well, including two victories over Tennessee. And just ignore that loss to Vanderbilt — Coach Cal will have them ready.

Big Ten

The Big Ten just can’t stop making it hard on the fans. Upsets and surprising wins and losses from top to bottom make it hard to make sense of who can go deep in the NCAA Tournament.  With the Big Ten tournament set to start up shortly, it’s anyone’s guess who will take home the title and the automatic bid.

So who comes out of nowhere and shocks the world? This one seems clear to me — it’s Maryland. The Terps lost their lead over Michigan and are now tied for third place with four other teams, one game behind them. They’re fortunate not to have dropped any farther, staying up with Northwestern and Indiana thanks to both of those teams’ unexpected home losses. The objective has changed from a second seed to a top-four seed and the lucrative double-bye that comes with it in the Big Ten Tournament. The Terps have outstanding guard play, led by Jahmir Youn, and they pass the “eye test” for me. Good guard play is essential during tournament time, so don’t be surprised if the Terps put together a hot streak and take home the Big Ten Tournament trophy.

It’s the most wonderful month of the year for basketball fans. Good luck to everyone and let us know who you like at [email protected]!

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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