It’s here. The best playoff system in sports is finally here. Conference Championship play has wrapped up with some surprises as well as some expected outcomes. The return of Zion helped lead Duke to an ACC title and teams like Iowa State and Oregon secured bids to go dancing with conference titles of their own.

I value the conference tournaments more heavily than regular season games as I believe it gives the best outlook on how teams can perform playing back-to-back games as well as “win or go home” games. This caused for some major shakeups in the final Power 16 leading up to the NCAA Tournament. With everything said and done, here is the Power 16 and the Top 5 Players of the Conference Tournaments.

Rank (Last week’s rank)
1. Duke (7)
A jump from No. 7 to No. 1 has been unprecedented this year but the Blue Devils were under some unique circumstances. The difference Zion Williamson makes on the court is huge. He’s the difference between Duke being a Top-10 team or being possibly the best team in the country. Williamson helped lead the Blue Devils to an ACC title as they beat Syracuse, UNC and Florida State. Coach K’s squad does have some weaknesses that were exposed this year, but having Williamson back on the court makes it a lot easier to overcome them.
2. North Carolina (3)
What a word we live in where it’s possible that Duke and UNC are the two best teams in the country. It’s probably either every fan’s dream or nightmare. Coming into the ACC tournament the Tar Heels were as hot as anyone in the country, and despite a loss to Duke, they’ve played so well that even the Duke fanbase is saying that North Carolina is a top-two team in the land. Regardless of if they end up as a 1 or 2-seed, most people will Roy Williams and his team making a deep run, and rightly so.
3. Virginia (1)
That’s right. I have the top three teams in the country all hailing from the ACC. Despite a loss to Florida State in which the Cavaliers didn’t look very good down the stretch, you can’t say this isn’t one of the top four teams in college basketball. 29-3 and two losses to Duke is amazing coming out of the ACC. Virginia fans may have been having flashbacks to last season’s loss to UMBC during the FSU game, but I wouldn’t buy in to the fact that Virginia can’t play in the postseason or anything like that. As if Tony Bennett needed any more motivation to avenge last year’s blunder, they got it anyways.
4. Gonzaga (2) 
I’ll be honest, this was not a good look for Gonzaga. Fresh off of a 100-point game against Pepperdine, the Zags we’re only able to muster up 47 points against St. Mary’s while ending their streak of six straight WCC titles. Sometimes, it’s okay to lose. But when you score under 50 in a championship game, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Regardless, taking the full body of work into account, it wouldn’t be right to not put the Bulldogs in the top section of these rankings. However, this will raise some eyebrows as mid-majors are expected to run the table.
5. Michigan State (6)
Michigan State is heading into the NCAA Tournament as they Big Ten champions. They now have three wins over Michigan and also added a win over Wisconsin on the way. The Spartans have as much experience as any team at the top of the rankings and have shooting and size to balance each other out. Tom Izzo has a special group on his hands and if they can avoid an off-night, which they’ve proven to be liable to, it’s tough to see many teams simply outplaying this Michigan State group.
6. Tennessee (8)
Despite losing to Auburn in a pretty bad fashion, Tennessee proved once again they’re one of the best with their second win over Kentucky on the year. The Vols also lost to Auburn in the regular season finale so there is a question if there is a formula to beating this team. Regardless, Grant Williams is an absolute monster and the Volunteers will likely go as far as he can carry them, which could very well be all the way.
7. Kentucky (4)
You can’t knock Kentucky for losing in of the best games of the season to one of the best teams in the country. The Wildcats and the Volunteers are so evenly matched and it showed on Saturday night. Coach Calipari has a team with talent at all positions and depth as well. PJ Washington is this team’s X-Factor and will need to play at the same level as he has all season in order to take this team to the next level.
8. Florida State (10)
Florida State proved themselves to a lot of people during the ACC Tournament. The biggest question about the Seminoles is why don’t they have big wins. Now, in the month of March alone, they have beaten Virginia Tech twice and took down Virginia to make the ACC final. FSU seems like the kind of team that is built well for the NCAA Tournament as they have depth to match their talent. Florida State was really impressive and, in my opinion, has solidified themselves as a legit threat to make a deep run.
9. Texas Tech (5)
Texas Tech lost in the quarterfinal to a, for a lack of better term, bad West Virginia team. The Red Raiders have been up and down all season, to be respectful, it has been mostly up. But their downs have been pretty low. I think this is the worst loss of the season for Texas Tech and it came in the biggest game. Chris Beard is arguably the Coach of the Year and I’m sure he will do everything in his power to not let a performance like this happen again.
10. Michigan (12)
Michigan had a bit of an easier route to the Big Ten final as they played Iowa and Minnesota before falling at the hands of MSU, but there’s no denying that they played well throughout the tournament. As a matter of fact, other than the final 2:30 of the Big Ten Championship, there might not have been a team playing better than the Wolverines. Although the end of Michigan’s season was lackluster, you still can see the potential of this team as they gear-up and attempt to make it back to the National Championship once again.
11. LSU (9)
LSU is surrounded by controversy at the moment. Their head coach is suspended and now their interim coach is costing the Tigers games (If you haven’t heard about the 6-point play, look it up). After winning the regular season championship, it hurts to fall in your first postseason game. I still think this team has enough talent to make an impact, but all the noise and change around the program could be too much to overcome.
12. Buffalo (15)
Buffalo was one of the only teams that was able to make it through their conference tournament as expected, with a win. The Bulls finish the year with just three losses which is something in itself, but they are also playing a good brand of basketball at the moment. I think Buffalo is one of the biggest mysteries moving forward in terms of what can they do against some of the opponents from the bigger conferences.
13. Purdue (13)
The forgotten team in the Big Ten has got to be the Purdue Boilermakers. The two teams from Ann Arbor and East Lansing get a lot of the love but Purdue could very well be as good, if not better, than both. The Boilermakers are an interesting team because they’re either going to ride Carsen Edwards back deep into the tournament or could be one bad shooting performance away from being on upset alert.
14. Villanova (NR)
I never wouldn’t imagined that Villanova would make their way back into the Power 16 after how they struggled throughout the season but here we are. The Wildcats have won their third straight Big East title and did so by beating one of the hottest teams in the country in Seton Hall. Nova has some experience in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall but the pieces they lost from last years team is probably too much for this team to repeat as National Champions.
15. Houston (11)
Houston lost in the conference final to Cincinnati, but the Bearcats are no pushover of a team. The Cougars, similar to Buffalo, have just three losses and I respect the hell out of that. Houston should use this as motivation as they had previously beaten the Bearcats and should do everything in their power to not let something like that happen again.
16. Wisconsin (NR)
The Badgers put together a good season, seemingly always hovering around the bottom of these rankings. Ethan Happ is one of the elite players in the country and has been tremendous in carrying his team to the spot that they are in. The Big Ten is arguably the best conference top-to-bottom in terms of talent and Wisconsin did a great job putting together a season like this.

Next Five:  Nevada, Kansas State, Kansas, Wofford, Maryland

Top Five Players of the Conference Tournaments

1. Zion Williamson – Duke

Duke is a different monster with this man on the court. Zion Williamson made his return to the court for the ACC Tournament and made it his show. In his first game back, the freshman went a perfect 13-13 from the field on his way to 29 points and added 14 rebounds and 5 assists. Then, against rival UNC, Williamson went for 31 points on 13-19 shooting in which he added 11 boards as well. Finally, in the championship game, Zion shot 7-11 from the field on his way to a 21-point performance.

2. Myles Powell – Seton Hall

Myles Powell had a dynamic tournament run in which he helped bring his Seton Hall Pirates to the championship game. In the quarterfinal Powell scored 31 points and was involved on the defensive end by coming away with 4 steals. In an upset over Marquette in the semifinal, Powell tallied another 22 points with 5 three-pointers and added 7 assists. The junior guard finished with a 25-point outing which included 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals.

3. Payton Pritchard – Oregon

One of the bigger surprises of the week was Oregon emerging as Pac-12 champs. Payton Pritchard was a huge part in the success. He went for 20 points, 5 assists and 4 boards in the quarterfinal before recording 18 points and 8 assists in the semis against Arizona State. During the finale, Pritchard had his best game of the tournament in which he dropped 20 points to go along with 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals.

4. Cassius Winston – Michigan State

The Spartans came out as Big Ten champions largely in part to the play of Cassius Winston. Winston had 18 points scored 18 points on just 7 shots as well as picking up 7 rebounds and 5 assists in the conference opener. He then scored 21 points while dishing out 6 assists against Wisconsin in the semifinals. Finally, in the Spartan’s third win over Michigan, Winston had 14 points paired with 11 assists to cap off a great tournament.

5. Jarron Cumberland – Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Bearcats were able to win the American Conference on the back of Jarron Cumberland. He went for 26 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds in the opener against SMU before going off in the championship game. The junior guard, despite going just 1-7 from behind the arc, snapped for 33 points and 8 rebounds in a conference-clinching performance.


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