NCAA Basketball March Madness

NCAA Tournament 2014: Predicting Each Conference’s Champion

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Predicting Each Conference's Regular Season and Tournament Champion

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As the regular season winds down, NCAA Tournament talk starts to heat up. Talks of Cinderellas and bubble teams have already started to consume our every thought – or at least the thoughts of those fans whose favorite team is considered as one of the two.

It happens every year – teams struggle in the regular season, but get hot at the right time and win their conference’s tournament title and make a solid run in the Big Dance. That’s exactly why March is the most exciting time of the year for many people. How many friends do you know that don’t follow basketball at all, but when March rolls around, they are glued to the television and fill out a bracket? I’d be willing to bet most people partake in March Madness.

Heck, if you can’t enjoy March Madness, you probably don’t have a pulse. With the NCAA Tournament just about a month away from starting, who are the teams that will be in the field?

While it may take forever to sit down and speculate each one of the 68 teams in the field, I have taken the time to predict each conference’s regular season as well as conference tournament champion – for those conferences who have tournaments as well as those who don’t have a regular season champ.

I have gone through every conference, comparing the top teams and scouring for possible upsets. While upsets in lower conferences are possible, they are also rare so I went for the safe pick for most conferences.

Take a look at each conference’s projected regular season and tournament champions – remember, the tournament champs get an automatic bid into the field of 68, even if they don’t win the regular season title. Let me know if you disagree with any of my picks.

Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at connor.muldowney@rantsports.com.

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ACC

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Syracuse joined the ACC this season and the Orange have done nothing but excel in the new conference. As one of two unbeaten teams left in the conference, the Orange look to steal the conference's prominence away from Duke and North Carolina.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Syracuse (24-0, 11-0)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Duke (19-5, 8-3)

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American Athletic Conference

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Cincinnati is the hottest team in the conference right now and is currently in first place, however, Louisville is the reigning national champion, so there may be a bit of a struggle when it comes to winning the regular season and tournament title for Cincy.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Cincinnati (22-3, 11-1)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Louisville (19-4, 8-2)

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American East

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Vermont came into American East play with a 6-8 record, but the Catamounts are running away with the conference's regular season title. Vermont and Stony Brook are the only two teams with a real shot at winning the conference during the regular season, but I think the Catamounts will hold on the the regular season title.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Vermont (16-9, 10-1)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Stony Brook (17-8, 9-2)

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Atlantic 10

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While VCU might be the sweetheart of the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Saint Louis Billikens have been giving it a run for its money this season. The Billikens have come out of basically nowhere to post a 22-2 record through the first 24 games. It will be between VCU and Saint Louis for the conference crown, but don't count out the three teams who sit close behind with three conference losses.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Saint Louis (22-2, 9-0)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: VCU (20-5, 8-2)

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Atlantic Sun

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Florida Gulf Coast was everyone's favorite NCAA Tournament team from a year ago -- unless, of course, they were beating your actual favorite team. However, they are being outperformed by a tough Mercer squad that sits atop the conference. However, a huge showdown between the two conference leaders is scheduled for Feb. 21 in Fort Meyers.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Mercer (19-6, 10-2)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Florida Gulf Coast (16-10, 10-3)

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Big East

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The Big East has gotten considerably weaker since losing teams like Syracuse and Pittsburgh. However, the conference is now top-heavy and Villanova is leading the way. I'm predicting an upset in the conference tournament, though.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Villanova (22-2, 10-1)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Georgetown (15-9, 6-6)

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Big Sky

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Let's face it, Weber State is running away with the regular season conference crown -- and it will take an epic collapse in order to hand the title off to someone else. However, the conference tournament might be a different animal.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Weber State (14-7, 11-2)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Weber State (14-7, 11-2)

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Big South

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Although there is no regular season conference champion in the Big South -- because of the two divisions -- there have been many teams that would be worthy of a regular season crown. In fact, there are seven teams within a game of each other in the conference/divisional standings and only one team in the conference with less than 10 losses overall this season. However, I am going with an upset to win the conference tournament title by a Winthrop team that has been to the Big Dance eight times since 2000.

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Winthrop (14-10, 7-4)

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Big Ten

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Michigan State and Michigan are battling it out for the conference crown, but only one of the two in-state foes can win the regular season title. Michigan got the better of the Spartans at the Breslin Center earlier this season, but the Spartans are getting healthier and are looking to steal one on the road on Feb. 23 against the Wolverines.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Michigan State (21-4, 10-2)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Michigan (18-6, 10-2)

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Big 12

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Kansas might be the best team in the Big 12 by a wide margin, but there are other teams in the conference who are aiming for their back. Texas is just a game behind in the conference standings after putting together a hot streak. Don't sleep on Iowa State, either.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Kansas (18-6, 9-2)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Iowa State (18-5, 6-5)

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Big West

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The University of California teams have been dominating the Big West this season. It looks like it's going to be between UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine for the regular season title. The conference tournament is a different story, though, as I am picking somewhat of an upset.

Projected Regular Season Champ: UC Santa Barbara (16-6, 7-2)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Hawaii (17-7, 6-4)

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Colonial

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It's rare to see a team run away with a conference with a handful of games still left on the schedule, but that's exactly what Delaware is doing in the new-look Colonial Conference.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Delaware (19-7, 11-0)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Delaware (19-7, 11-0)

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Conference USA

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Conference USA has seen a few teams explode for solid seasons this year. Four teams are tied atop the conference with 8-2 records while another team is sitting at 7-3 with just a few games to go. This one is almost a toss-up, but I made my best educated guess based upon the teams' overall skill.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Southern Miss (21-4, 8-2)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Louisiana Tech (20-5, 8-2)

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Horizon

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The Horizon League title is going to come down to a two-team race between Green Bay and Cleveland State. I'm going to go with the safe bet and pick the team that has four less regular season losses than anyone else and the best record in the conference.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Green Bay (20-5, 10-2)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Green Bay (20-5, 10-2)

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Ivy League

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The Ivy League title looks like it's up for grabs right now. And since there is no conference tournament, the regular season winner gets an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament -- the only conference with such a situation.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Harvard (18-4, 5-1)

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MAAC

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Iona looks to be the one team with the best chance to win the regular season title, but once it comes tournament time, the conference will be sure to make it a mission to take down the best -- but will they succeed?

Projected Regular Season Champ: Iona (16-8, 13-2)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: (16-8, 13-2)

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MAC

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Like a few other conference, the MAC has a divisional system and no regular season conference champion will be awarded. However, the Toledo Rockets would be running away with that crown if a regular season title was in place. They may just have to dominate the conference tournament as well.

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Toledo (21-3, 9-2)

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MEAC

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You may have never heard about some of the teams from the MEAC, but the real story is that they usually have a team enter the NCAA Tournament every year who comes close to -- or actually does pull off -- an upset. This 2014 season conference champion will be no different.

Projected Regular Season Champ: North Carolina Central (18-5, 9-1)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: North Carolina Central (18-5, 9-1)

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Missouri Valley

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The Missouri Valley Conference is home to one of the two unbeaten teams left in the nation and the Wichita State Shockers are putting the conference on the map. However, not many people have them going far in the NCAA Tournament because of their poor strength of schedule, playing just one team in the RPI top 25.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Wichita State (26-0, 13-0)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Wichita State (26-0, 13-0)

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Mountain West

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The Mountain West is going to come down to San Diego State and New Mexico this season with the two-loss team probably getting the upper hand with the regular season crown. The conference tournament is up in the air, however.

Projected Regular Season Champ: San Diego State (21-2, 10-1)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: New Mexico (18-5, 9-2)

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Northeast

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Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Morris took down a underachieving Kentucky team in the NIT a season ago. However, it may just get a chance to do the same in the NCAA Tournament this year.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Robert Morris (15-11, 10-1)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Robert Morris (15-11, 10-1)

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Ohio Valley

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Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone close to the Ohio Valley Conference is probably hoping that the conference championship game ends up being the best matchup possible -- between Murray State and Belmont. The Bruins have beaten some tough teams this season, which may help them when it comes to taking the conference crown.

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Belmont (20-8, 11-2)

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Pac-12

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Arizona has been the best team in the Pac-12 this season -- and it really hasn't been all that close. It looks like a regular season title is in order, but we all know that conference tournaments are much different. However, it looks like the Pac-12 is less competitive this season than in years past.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Arizona (23-1, 10-1)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Arizona (23-1, 10-1)

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Patriot

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Both Boston University and American University are tied atop the Patriot. However, if it's going to come down to those two for the conference tournament, I'll take the team with the most overall wins. Sorry, American.

Projected Regular Season Champ: American (15-9, 11-2)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Boston (18-8, 11-2)

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SEC

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Florida has been the hottest team in the country with 16 straight victories, but Kentucky has come on strong as of late. It's unfortunate to see the SEC so top-heavy this season as Kentucky and Florida may be the only two teams from the conference to make the NCAA Tournament. However, I predict Ole Miss, Missouri and Tennessee will also get in.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Florida (22-2, 11-0)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Kentucky (19-5, 9-2)

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Southland

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Stephen F. Austin is probably the least talked about of any mid-major squad this season. The team from the Southland Conference has to be one of the best mid-majors out there and my easy choice for the 2014 NCAA Tournament's Cinderella.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Stephen F. Austin (23-2, 12-0)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Stephen F. Austin (23-2, 12-0)

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Summit

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Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Summit is another conference that is going to come down to the top two teams for its regular season title as well as conference tournament title. I am going to give the top two teams a split in this case.

Projected Regular Season Champ: North Dakota State (19-6, 8-2)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: IFPW (19-8, 7-3)

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Southern

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Davidson is running away with the Southern regular season crown. Yes, a team that began the season 4-10 is now running away with a conference crown.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Davidson (14-11, 10-1)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Davidson (14-11, 10-1)

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Sun Belt

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There's no question that Georgia State is going to run away with the regular season conference title. However, when it comes to the conference tournament, I'm picking the upset.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Georgia State (17-6, 10-0)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Western Kentucky (17-8, 9-3)

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SWAC

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Now we start getting into the conferences that no one knows about. Well, I guess that's where the best upset teams always come from. The SWAC is going to come down to a race between Southern University and Alabama State. Advantage? Southern.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Southern (14-10, 10-1)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: (14-10, 10-1)

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WAC

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The WAC is a very top-heavy conference. In fact, you may not have ever heard of the teams that aren't in the top-tier of the conference.

Projected Regular Season Champ: New Mexico State (19-8, 8-3)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: New Mexico State (19-8, 8-3)

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West Coast

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Gonzaga seems to be the conference champion every year, but St. Mary's and BYU will be giving the Bulldogs a run for their money.

Projected Regular Season Champ: Gonzaga (22-4, 12-1)

Projected Conference Tournament Champ: Gonzaga (22-4, 12-1)