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Torres makes his conference tourney championship picks

Credit: UConn athletics

It is, in my opinion - the most wonderful week of the year!

That's right - it's Champ Week, and short of world peace, the health of my family or for my dog to be able to talk to me like Brian on "Family Guy," I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Honestly, it sounds crazy, but in my opinion, this isn't just the best week on the college basketball calendar - this is the best week on the sports calendar. While, the opening round of the NCAA Tournament is also great, this week gives us more games, with more high-level competition, with schools that know (and in some cases hate) each other.

The tension all week long is palpable, with everyone playing for something: Seeding, a bid or simple pride.

And so with some of the power conferences tipping off on Tuesday, I figured I'd put my official power conference picks to paper.

By the way, before we get started - a quick heads up: I'll be in Vegas this week doing live shows from Stadium Swim at Circa every night. I'll have more details on Wednesday's Aaron Torres Pod, but swing by, and say hello.

Now, to the picks - and other pertinent info on all these tournaments, with odds provided by BetUS Sportsbook. We'll also provide brackets for every tournament to make it easier to follow along.

ACC Tournament - Tuesday-Saturday

In: North Carolina, Duke, Clemson

Bubble: Wake Forest, Pitt, Virginia

It's a weird year in the ACC, where there is a lot of dead weight at the bottom of the conference (blame that on NIL, and poverty programs that can't afford to spend money on good players). And because of it, it feels like the discourse of this entire league (outside of the occasional court storming) is on "UNC, Duke and everyone else" with no real interesting storylines emerging and only Clemson a lock to get into the Big Dance outside the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils.

Therefore, the intrigue in this entire tournament really lies in the 4-5 part of the bracket, where a potential Wake Forest-Pitt showdown feels like an NCAA Tournament elimination game. Both are basically on the wrong side of the bubble, and a loss for either should officially end their NCAA Tournament hopes.

Even with a win, both probably need to beat North Carolina the next day - and bluntly, I just think Carolina is a bad matchup for either.

Give me Wake to beat Pitt, and the Tar Heels to beat Wake, essentially eliminating both from tourney consideration.

On the other side of the bracket, Clemson actually feels like more of a threat to make a run than three-seed Virginia (which basically can't break 50 points in any game that matters), and I expect the Tigers to not only beat the Cavaliers (ending their tournament hopes) but think they can give Duke a game as well. Those two teams played just once this year, and Duke ended up with a controversial one-point win in Durham.

Give me North Carolina over Clemson in the title game, with the Tar Heels cutting down the nets in DC.

The Pick: North Carolina over Clemson

Big 12 Tournament - Tuesday-Saturday

In: Houston, Iowa State, Kansas, BYU, Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma

Bubble: TCU

First off, shout out to the Big 12, which as you can see above, has basically made it impossible to find a clear and easy to consume bracket anywhere on the internet. It's harder to find a national media member criticizing Duke fans for throwing debris on the court, than it is to find a high quality Big 12 bracket.

Anyway, neither here nor there and let's get to the bracket where two things jump out.

First off, the 8-9 game in this tournament is basically a "win and you're in" deal. TCU is on the bubble right now, and Oklahoma on the fringes. I'm not sure either is necessarily out with a loss, but a win should punch their ticket. The loser will be sweating until Sunday.

Then again, the winner, is due for a 40-point pummeling from Houston the next day, so I really don't know what's worse.

In terms of another interesting storyline, just keep an eye on UCF. They destroyed Oklahoma State in their opener on Tuesday, and have wins at Texas, at TCU, and over Kansas and Texas Tech at home. They also played BYU twice this season, and lost by less than five points in each.

I could see a scenario where they beat BYU on Wednesday, then turn around and send Texas Tech home the following day. Which, would then of course lead to a pummeling from Houston Friday.

Obviously, the other big storyline is the overall lack of health of Kansas, which announced this week it'd hold Kevin McCullar and Hunter Dickinson out of this tournament.

So, with the Jayhawks out of the picture, who comes out of the bottom half of the bracket? I'll go with a surprise and say Texas. The Longhorns have quietly won four of six, with three of those wins coming by double-figures. I think they stun Iowa State in Game 1, then have the firepower to get by Baylor the next game.

Ultimately though, everyone in this league is a sacrificial lamb for Houston, as the Cougars roll to the title, beating Texas in the Longhorns final ever Big 12 game.

The Pick: Houston over Texas

Big East - Wednesday-Saturday

In: UConn, Marquette, Creighton

Bubble: St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, Providence

Shout out to the Big East, which - unlike the Big 12 - actually had someone in the league offices put a half second of work into their bracket.

Also, shout out because this is the most intriguing bracket from an NCAA Tournament perspective.

Really it starts Wednesday, when Providence and Villanova both open the tournament, and face absolute must-win games. Both are on the fringes of the bubble conversation, and a loss would eliminate each from the tourney picture. Honestly, both need wins on Thursday as well to really even be in consideration, and it's hard to see that happening with how the bracket breaks. Nova certainly has a better chance with Marquette in their draw, but even that, again, wouldn't necessarily guarantee anything.

Then there's the top of the bracket, with what might be the single most consequential quarterfinal in any bracket: Seton Hall and St. John's. Both are squarely on the bubble. A loss would likely eliminate St. John's from bubble talk, with a win at worst getting them to Dayton for the opening night of the tournament. Seton Hall can punch a ticket with a win. But they'd be sweating with a loss.

And unlike in the Big 12, where I think Houston is set to steamroll anyone in their path, I think both the Pirates and Johnnies could give UConn a game in the semifinals. Seton Hall already beat them once (even if they lost by 30 two weeks ago at Gampel Pavilion) and St. John's played the Huskies tough in Hartford.

Ultimately though, this is still the Huskies tournament to lose, and what's interesting is that - even with a national title last year - remember, they didn't win the Big East Tournament a season ago.

It's the one thing this veteran group, which was part of a national title last year, can't say they've done and I think it motivates them straight through a win over Creighton in the final.

The Pick: UConn over Creighton

Pac-12 - Wednesday-Saturday

In: Arizona, Washington State

Bubble: Colorado

Again, I'll be bouncing around Vegas and the Pac-12 Tournament all weekend, so come say hello and swing by Stadium Swim at night Wednesday-Friday for a live taping of our show.

And what's especially interesting (besides this being the last Pac-12 Tournament ever) is that this is the rare spot where the favorite could struggle in Round 1. Arizona looks like it could get matched up with USC on Thursday, a talented team that has been injury-riddled all year.

And oh, a team which just literally beat Arizona this weekend.

Assuming Arizona survives though, the other interesting storyline to me is Washington State. They're already going to their first NCAA Tournament since 2009, and I'm wondering if they can give the league the double birds on the way out and win this tournament.

To be blunt, I think they can.

Listen, everyone knows I love what Tommy Lloyd has done in Tucson, but I think Arizona fans would even admit that Washington State isn't the perfect matchup for them. The Cougars dictate tempo, can handle the size of Arizona and seem to have the Wildcats figured out.

Still, in the final Pac-12 Tournament, where 95 percent of the crowd will be Arizona fans - I just can't seem them losing.

The Wildcats topple the Cougars, winning in Vegas and putting themselves squarely in the bubble conversation.

The Pick: Arizona over Washington State

SEC Tournament - Wednesday-Sunday

In: Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, Florida

Bubble: Miss State, Texas A&M

Let's get to the SEC, where the only thing that is guaranteed is that whoever wins this tournament, will get grossly mis-seeded when the NCAA Tourney bracket comes out.

It really is a March tradition unlike anything else!

As far as the basketball is concerned though, let's get straight to Thursday, since well, Wednesday at the SEC Tournament is depressing, but also because that's where the first big storyline lies.

Mississippi State will open things up at noon CT/1ET in what feels like a must-win game. Lose to LSU and you're probably out of the tournament, win and you're probably in. Texas A&M is really the only other bubble team, but I don't see them getting by Kentucky to make a real bubble argument.

What I will tell you though is that Thursday could be electric, since, bluntly, I think South Carolina is a bad matchup for Auburn and Florida is a bad matchup for Alabama. I see both the No. 3 and 4 seeds falling on Thursday.

I think it all results in Tennessee vs. Kentucky Part III on Sunday (although Florida could give the Wildcats trouble in the semis) and a similar result to last Saturday, when the Wildcats stunned Tennessee in Knoxville.

Too much scoring pop from the Wildcats results in the Wildcats' first SEC Tournament title since 2018.

The Pick: Kentucky over Tennessee

Big Ten Tournament

In: Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin

Bubble: Michigan State, Iowa

I'll say this for the Big Ten: For what was kind of a boring, and not very good league this season, this tournament actually provides a few interesting plotlines.

It begins in the first game Thursday, where Michigan State has sort of become the poster child for the "overrated power conference team that shouldn't be on the bubble but is because they play in a power conference." Michigan State is probably in the field of 68 as long as they beat Minnesota, but a loss here would put their tournament hopes in real peril.

Admittedly, I'll also say I think there is a lot more intrigue on Thursday as well, before the top four teams even play. Iowa is a bubble team that will likely be eliminated from tourney consideration with a loss to Ohio State. What's interesting about Ohio State though is this: Let's say they beat Iowa, and Illinois in the quarterfinals, are they on the bubble? And if so, is it enough for interim Jake Diebler to get the full-time job? Probably not but you'd never know.

I'd also add, Indiana enters this tournament on a four-game win streak and at 18-13 overall. They really only have one bad loss (at least as far as the computers are concerned) against Penn State at home. A win over the Penn State-Michigan winner does nothing for them (great football game, though!), but if they somehow beat Nebraska, does that put them in the bubble conversation?

Truth be told I think it's irrelevant because I think Fred Hoiberg (remember him) and that gang of plucky Cornhuskers beats Indiana and then stuns Illinois (which basically stopped playing defense after Valentines Day) to get to the title game.

Purdue will win this title. But it will come in a surprise showdown with the Cornhuskers.


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