Heading into the second week of the head-to-head contest between my colleague Pat Forde and me, it's quite obvious whose conference tournament picks you can trust: Neither of ours.
We both had Middle Tennessee, which lost early. We both had Stony Brook, which is now also toast. We both had Mercer, which at least humored us by making the Big South title game before crashing and burning against 20-loss Liberty.
Still, in spite of our many setbacks, I'm clinging to a spot in the Top 50 in our annual conference tournament Pick'em contest and Pat is six points behind me in a tie for 292nd place. I'm not going to gloat about the equivalent of a first-half lead, but ... who am I kidding? ... I can already taste the Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ales that Pat will be buying during Final Four week in Atlanta.
Below are our picks for the 16 conference tournaments that tip off this week, and you can click here to relive our previous picks from last week. We'll do our best to mix in a few more hits this week with all the misses.
ACC (March 14-17)
Site: Greensboro, N.C.
Top three seeds: 1. Miami 2. Duke 3. North Carolina
PF: Duke. Still undefeated with Ryan Kelly in the lineup, and playing at a very high level in the three games since he returned from injury.
JE: Duke. Nobody has beaten Duke with Ryan Kelly in the lineup, and the Devils have taken down the likes of Louisville, Ohio State, Miami and North Carolina. That's reason enough for me to go with Duke over the Hurricanes.
Atlantic 10 (March 14-17)
Site: Brooklyn, N.Y..
Top three seeds: 1. Saint Louis 2. VCU 3. Temple
PF: Butler. Bulldogs were bounced out of a first-round bye by Temple on the last day of the regular season and will have to win four games, but that’s doable. They finished with two impressive victories over UMass and Xavier – and in case you haven’t heard, they have a knack for tournament basketball.
JE: Saint Louis. Sometimes the safe choice is the right choice. The Billikens claimed the outright A-10 title and swept three games from Butler and VCU because they're efficient on offense, stingy on defense, senior-laden and well-coached. Sounds like a winning formula to me.
Big 12 (March 13-16)
Site: Kansas City
Top three seeds: 1. Kansas 2. Kansas State 3. Oklahoma State
PF: Iowa State. This could be a carnage tourney, and the Cyclones can light up from 3-point range. If they’re hot for the entire weekend they’re as good as anyone else in Kansas City.
JE: Kansas. There have been times in league play when Kansas has lost its way on offense. There have also been times when the Jayhawks have been the class of the league. I'll gamble the latter version shows up more than the former in Kansas City, but look for Oklahoma State to be the team that capitalizes if Kansas falters.
Big East (March 12-16)
Site: New York
Top three seeds: 1. Georgetown 2. Louisville 3. Marquette
PF: Louisville. The only team that can match the Cardinals’ high level of play entering this tournament is the Hoyas. They beat Louisville by just two points in D.C. in January, and a finals rematch has the makings of a payback game.
JE: Louisville Since it's out-of-nowhere three-game losing streak in January, the only loss Louisville has sustained in 11 Big East games was the five-overtime thriller at Notre Dame. The Cards are not only perhaps the league's best team, they're also the hottest.
Big Sky (March 14-16)
Site: Missoula, Montana
Top three seeds: 1. Montana 2. Weber State 3. North Dakota
PF: Weber State. There is life after Damian Lillard, especially since chief rival Montana's NCAA bid was derailed by an injury to Mathias Ward.
JE: Weber State. It will be incredibly ironic if the Wildcats make the NCAA tournament this March after being unable to do so with Lillard. Montana would be the favorite if healthy but the Griz will be without Ward and won't have guard Will Cherry at 100 percent either.
Big Ten (March 14-17)
Top three seeds: 1. Indiana 2. Ohio State 3. Michigan State
PF: Ohio State. Thad Matta’s team is rolling and tends to play well in this event, having reached the tourney final five of the last six years and won three of those. The Saturday-Sunday games here could be the best anywhere in the Little Dance.
JE: Michigan State. If the top seeds advance, the Big Ten semifinals could be better than the Final Four. Michigan State has a chip on its shoulder after falling out of the Big Ten title picture with a late three-game losing streak. The Spartans also have a better draw than Indiana, coming from the not-quite-so-loaded bottom half of the bracket.
Big West (March 14-16)
Top three seeds: 1. Long Beach State 2. Pacific 3. Cal Poly
PF: Pacific. The Tigers walloped regular-season champion Long Beach State by 20 to close the regular season and should have plenty of confidence in they play a rubber game in the final.
JE: Pacific. Between the emotion of playing for retiring coach Bob Thomason and the confidence boost of clobbering Long Beach State in the regular season finale, second-seeded Pacific has a great chance to leave the Big West with a tournament title.
Conference USA (March 13-16)
Top three seeds: 1. Memphis 2. Southern Miss 3. UTEP
PF: Memphis. Picking anyone else is simply trying too hard to be clever.
JE: Memphis. An upset is always possible, but any other pick besides the Tigers is just being different for the sake of being different.
MEAC (March 11-16)
Site: Norfolk, Va.
Top three seeds: 1. Norfolk State 2. North Carolina Central 3. Hampton
PF: Norfolk State. This could be a high-quality final between the 16-0 Spartans and 15-1 North Carolina Central. Edge to Norfolk State, which has some March experience to fall back on after shocking Missouri in the NCAA tournament last year.
JE: NC Central. Through a bizarre scheduling quirk, Norfolk State (16-0) and NC Central (15-1) didn't meet during the MEAC regular season despite playing other teams twice. It would be a toss-up if the two face off in the title game, but NC Central has the more favorable path getting there.
Mid-American (March 13-16)
Top three seeds: 1. Akron 2. Ohio 3. Western Michigan
PF: Ohio. Akron’s season was thrown into chaos with the marijuana trafficking charge pinned on starting point guard Alex Abreu last week. Without him, the Zips can be beaten by their in-state rivals from Athens.
JE: Ohio. Akron's first game without Abreu on Saturday was a 68-64 loss to Kent State. That doesn't bode well for the top-seeded Zips, and the rival Bobcats are the team best equipped to capitalize.
Mountain West (March 13-16)
Site: Las Vegas
Top three seeds: 1. New Mexico 2. Colorado State 3. UNLV
PF: New Mexico. In a highly competitive league, the Lobos have been clearly the best team. There could be some surprises on the other side of the bracket, but New Mexico is the safe choice.
JE: UNLV. The Rebels are the league's most talented team and they'll be playing on their home floor. That's reason to look past their warts, like a lack of a true point guard, suspect shot selection and an infuriating inability to play with any consistency.
Pac-12 (March 13-16)
Site: Las Vegas
Top three seeds: 1. UCLA 2. Cal 3. Oregon
PF: California. Honestly, almost anybody could win this tournament. The top of the league collectively staggered to the finish line, absorbing one bad loss after another, so chaos seems like a good bet.
JE: UCLA. There's a shorter list of teams who can't win this tournament (Oregon State, Washington State, Utah) than who can (pretty much everyone else). It's tempting to project chaos as a result, but top-seeded UCLA has finished the season impressively with the exception of its meltdown at Washington State.
SEC (March 13-17)
Top three seeds: 1. Florida 2. Kentucky 3. Ole Miss
PF: Tennessee. Another complete crapshoot of a tournament, since nobody is reliable away from home. But the Volunteers have actually won four road games in the last month, so give them the half-hearted endorsement.
JE: Tennessee. In a league in which everyone from Florida, to Missouri, to Arkansas struggled to win away from home, the question is who can be trusted in Nashville? The most reliable team lately has been the Vols, who closed the season with eight wins in nine games.
Southland (March 13-16)
Site: Katy, TX
Top three seeds: 1. Stephen F. Austin 2. Northwestern State 3. Oral Roberts
PF: Stephen F. Austin. If this goes down to a rubber match between the Lumberjacks and Northwestern State, expect a doozy. Both teams had to rally at the end to win on their home courts when splitting two tense regular-season meetings.
JE: Stephen F. Austin. A title game between slow-as-molasses Stephen F. Austin and revved-up Northwestern State would be a fun showcase for this league. Oral Roberts, which was in the league title race for a while too also can't be discounted.
SWAC (March 12-16)
Site: Garland, TX
Top three seeds: 1. Southern 2. Jackson State 3. Alcorn State
PF: Southern. With regular-season champion Texas Southern ineligible for low APR scores, this should be a walkover for the Jaguars.
JE: Southern. With Texas Southern and Arkansas Pine Bluff ineligible for the postseason, Southern is the lone team in the SWAC tournament that's over .500.
WAC (March 12-16)
Site: Las Vegas
Top three seeds: 1. Louisiana Tech 2. Denver 3. New Mexico State
PF: Denver. This is a three-team league, and as long as the Pioneers survive a potential semifinal with New Mexico State they should be able to take down wobbling top seed Louisiana Tech in the final.
JE: New Mexico State. The winner of a potential New Mexico State-Denver semifinal is going to have a good shot at toppling Louisiana Tech, which lost at both the Aggies and Pioneers this past week. Denver is on a nine-game win streak, but New Mexico State always seems to play well in this event.
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