Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: Predicting winners for all 2021 conference tournaments

Ohio State (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
Ohio State (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images) /
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NCAA Basketball Houston Cougars Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Basketball Houston Cougars Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

American Athletic

Champion: Houston Cougars

Houston is the class of the American and it isn’t close. They are far and away the best team in the league and have final four aspirations this season. The Cougars are loaded in the backcourt and they have a ton of experience. The Cougars play smothering defense and score just enough to win games. That happens to be the problem though.

Houston tends to have a bad offensive game every once in a while, and it led them to losing against East Carolina. The Cougars are safe for an at large right now and they are likely the only tournament team in the conference unless someone knocks them off in the conference tournament. Dejon Jarreau and American Player of the Year frontrunner Quentin Grimes are going to be tough to stop especially if they get on a role.

The American conference tournament has been known for some upsets in the past, but Houston is a lot better than every other team in this conference and it would be shocking if they didn’t win it.

Sleeper: SMU Mustangs

Any team could really be inserted here in the sleeper category. SMU was the pick because Memphis was picked originally to make the tournament and most fans wouldn’t be surprised if Cincinnati made a surprise run to the finals this year given how bad they have been most of the season.

SMU was a team many had pegged for a tournament run this season given what they had returning and how they closed the year a season ago.  The Mustangs have taken some losses in American conference play that has moved them from at large consideration. That is why it should be expected for them to play their best basketball of the season in March to try and make a run to the NCAA tournament.

Head Coach Tim Jankovich has a star in Kendric Davis and a really nice core around him led by Feron Hunt. The Mustangs can do significant damage in this tournament and they can also do damage in the NCAA tournament if they are given the chance to do so.

Atlantic 10

Champion: Saint Louis Billikens

The Billikens recently returned from a long Covid pause and are starting to round back into shape after two clunkers. The Billikens have the most talent of any team in the league and they also have two of the best players in the league in guard Jordan Goodwin and Javonte Perkins.

Saint Louis was one of the teams I felt could have a magical season as conference play opened. Had they not had a really long Covid pause they may be undefeated in the league right now. The Billikens have a lot of pieces and have things that other Atlantic 10 programs do not. Goodwin is a guard who is 6’3” and averages about 11 rebounds per game to go with his scoring.

Perkins can take over a game on the offensive end, Gibson Jimerson can light it  up from outside, big man Hasahn French blocks a ton of shots, and point guard Yuri Collins sets up the offense. This team is loaded and is going to do damage in the NCAA tournament.

Sleeper: UMass Minutemen

I mentioned in the Sunday Mailbag this week that the A10 is likely to get 3 teams in the tournament, and if anyone other than VCU, Saint Louis, or Saint Bonaventure win the conference tournament one of those teams is likely to get bumped or they are going to bump someone else out. The Atlantic 10 is always a conference to watch for a potential bid steal and this year is no different.

The UMass Minutemen are finally rounding into form under Matt McCall. UMass is going to be right at the cut line for the NCAA tournament it appears so they can not afford to lose any games due to Covid the rest of the way. The Minutemen are here because of their young players and mainly Tre Mitchell and his 20 points per game. Mitchell can dominate a game and turn momentum quickly.

UMass also has a great backcourt with Noah Fernandes, who played with Mitchell in High School, and future star in Javohn Garcia. Those three players can carry UMass to the title, but it is not going to be easy. Good thing the Minuteman offense is extremely potent at times.