With Selection Sunday looming this weekend, conferences all across the land are wrapping up their own tournaments. The Big 12, ACC, Big 10, SEC, and the American, to name just a few, will be crowning champions and awarding bids to the Big Dance, and once the dust has settled, the bracket for this year’s NCAA Tournament will be unveiled.
The NCAA’s best conference finished the regular season with the highest winning percentage (.631), three Wooden Award finalists, and six teams in the top 25, including the #1 team in the country, Kansas. While the Jayhawks, led by 6-8 senior forward Perry Ellis, are the favorites, having posted the best overall and conference record, #9 West Virginia, Oklahoma State and #21 Iowa State, featuring Georges Niang, have each beaten Kansas once this year; and #6 Oklahoma, starring Buddy Hield (the nation’s second-leading scorer at 25.1 ppg), spent three weeks at #1. Whoever wins this tournament will have earned it.
Big 12 Semifinals, Friday on ESPN2
#22 Baylor @ #1 Kansas (7pm ET Friday, ESPN2)
Taurean Prince led the Baylor Bears to a 75-61 victory Thursday over the Texas Longhorns, scoring 24 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, dishing out 4 assists, and making 2 steals. Perry Ellis was the man Thursday, scoring 21 points, along with 6 rebounds, as the Kansas Jayhawks handily beat the Kansas State Wildcats, 85-63.
#6 Oklahoma @ #9 West Virginia (9pm ET Friday, ESPN2) The Oklahoma Sooners survived a scare Thursday against the Iowa State Cyclones, holding on for a 79-76 victory in a showdown of Wooden Award finalists, as the Sooners’ Buddy Hield outscored the Cyclones Georges Niang, 39-31.
Big 12 Finals, Saturday on ESPN TBD @ TBD (5pm ET Saturday, ESPN)
Another juggernaut conference, the ACC features five teams in the top 25, three Wooden Award finalists, the country’s second-best winning percentage, and perhaps the most storied rivalry in college basketball. Though was the Virginia Cavaliers who finished the season highest in the polls, at #4, the North Carolina Tar Heels were the regular season champs, going 14-4 in conference play, and 25-6 overall, but in February suffered losses to Louisville, Notre Dame, Duke, and Virginia.
ACC Semifinals, Friday on ESPN
Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ #7 North Carolina Tar Heels (7pm ET Friday, ESPN)
The Fighting Irish went into overtime Thursday to upset Duke 84-79, as the Blue Devils hit just 25 of 73 from the floor and Notre Dame’s starting five played all but 24 minutes, each of them scoring in double digits, and Zach Auguste grabbing 22 rebounds to go along with his 19 points. The Pittsburgh Panthers jumped out to an 8-0 lead over the Tar Heels, but couldn’t make it stick, surrendering the lead halfway through the first half, never to recover on their way to an 88-71 loss.
#11 Miami @ #4 Virginia (9pm ET Friday, ESPN)
Miami beat V-Tech Thursday 88-82, despite the Hokies’ Seth Allen coming off the bench to score 31 points while making 17 of 18 free throws, as the Hurricanes shot lights out, making 30 of 53 from the floor, including 8 of 18 from 3. The Cavaliers were unstoppable, shooting 53.8% from the floor and 50% from 3, with Malcolm Brogdon led the way with 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting, as Virginia beat G-Tech, 72-52.
ACC Finals, Saturday on ESPN TBD @ TBD (9pm ET Saturday, ESPN)
A strong collection of teams from a conference traditionally thought of as a football powerhouse, the Big Ten finished the year with five teams in the top 25, including #2 Michigan State, and four Wooden Award finalists, the most of any conference. The Indiana Hoosiers were the regular season champs at 15-3 (25-6 overall), finishing strong with three wins over ranked teams in the final weeks, but Michigan State has to be considered the class of the conference. After losing three straight conference games in January, the Spartans recovered to win 10 of their last 11.
Big Ten Quarterfinals
Michigan Wolverines @ Indiana Hoosiers (Noon ET Friday, ESPN)
The Wolverines let a 9-point halftime lead slip away, only to hold on for a 72-70 overtime win against Northwestern, as Wildcat Nathan Taphorn’s last second three-pointer was off the mark. The Wolverines will need to shoot better than 37.9% if they want to beat a well-rested Indiana Hoosiers team starring Wooden finalist Yogi Ferrell, who averaged 17 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists this season.
Illinois Fighting Illini @ #13 Purdue Boilermakers (2pm ET Friday, ESPN)
The 15-18 Illini dropped one of the big upsets of championship week, withstanding a 29-point effort from Iowa’s Peter Jok to defeat the #20 Hawkeyes 68-66, thanks largely to 10-of-23 shooting from beyond the three-point line. The Boilermakers have been off since Sunday, when they defeated Wisconsin 91-80 behind Caleb Swanigan’s 27 points and 8 rebounds.
Texas A&M and Kentucky finished tied atop the conference at 13-5, had overall records of 24-7 and 23-8, are ranked #17 and #16, and their lone meeting of the season was decided by 2 points – in overtime. Suffice to say, these teams are pretty evenly matched. But don’t sleep on 19-12 Vanderbilt, who suffered half their losses to nationally ranked teams, or LSU – any team with a player as talented and dynamic as Ben Simmons is not to be overlooked.
Florida Gators @ #17 Texas A&M Aggies (1pm ET Friday, SEC Network)
The Gators were in a death spiral, dropping four in a row before winning their season finale last week, and on Thursday they won again, defeating Arkansas 68-61, thanks to Kasey Hill coming off the bench to lead the team in scoring and assists, with 18 and 5, in 26 minutes. The Aggies, led by senior guards Jalen Jones (15.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Danuel House (15.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg) won their last 6 in a row, and have been resting ever since.
Tennessee Volunteers @ LSU Tigers (3pm ET Friday, SEC Network)
Tennessee (15-18) upset Vanderbilt (19-13), jumping out to a 12-point halftime lead, and then barely hanging on for a 67-65 win, as Robert Hubbs and Detrick Mostella came off the bench to score a combined 28 points. LSU has been off since a 94-77 loss to Kentucky that brought their record to 18-13, 11-7 in the SEC, as they went just 3-5 down the stretch, but they have Ben SImmons, the only NCAA player to average better than 19-10-5 in the annals of Basketball Reference’s Player Season Finder, which goes back to the 94-95 season – and he did it as a freshman.
Alabama Crimson Tide @ #16 Kentucky Wildcats (7pm ET Friday, SEC Network)
The Tide rolled on the strength of their outside shooting as they made a higher percentage of their 3-pointers, 50%, than they did their free throws, 46.4%, as they defeated Ole Miss 81-73. The Wildcats have been off since Saturday, when they beat LSU 94-77, as they had five guys in double figures, including Wooden finalist Tyler Ulis, who scored 14 points, to go along with 14 assists, 5 rebounds and just 1 turnover in 38 minutes.
Georgia Bulldogs @ South Carolina Gamecocks (9pm ET Friday, SEC Network)
Georgia on Thursday defeated Mississippi State 79-69, as JJ Frazier and Yante Maten scored 28 and 20 respectively, and the team hit 24 of 28 free throws, to lift their record to 18-12. The Gamecocks have been idle since a 76-61 victory over Arkansas on Saturday, as Sindarius Thornwell went 22-11-5.
SEC Semifinals, Saturday
TBD @ TBD (1pm ET Saturday, ESPN)
TBD @ TBD (3:30pm ET Saturday, ESPN)
SEC Finals, Sunday
TBD @ TBD (1pm ET Sunday, ESPN)
American Athletic Conference
But for Larry Brown and his Travelling Scorched Earth Show, the #25 Southern Methodist Mustangs would be the favorites to win this tournament. Instead, the ‘Stangs are under self-imposed exile from post-season play due to recruiting violations. And so, the Temple Owls, winners of the regular season title at 14-4 in conference play, have to be the odds-on favorites.
South Florida Bulls @ Temple Owls (Noon ET Friday, ESPN2)
Angel Nunez threw the South Florida Bulls on his back Thursday, scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds en route to a 71-66 defeat of the East Carolina Pirates. The Temple Owls were the AAC regular season champs, going 14-4 in conference play, most recently beating Tulane 64-56 as Jaylen Bond scored 10 points and pulled down 16 rebounds.
Connecticut Huskies @ Cincinnati Bearcats (2pm ET Friday, ESPN2)
The Huskies and Bearcats both spent five weeks in the top 25 earlier this year, and both started the season 10-3. The Huskies finished the season 21-10, 11-7 in the AAC, ending their regualr season with a 67-46 drubbing of Central Florida. The Bearcats finished 22-9 overall, 12-6 in the AAC, and huge 61-54 win over #25 Southern Methodist.
Tulane Green Wave @ Houston Cougars (7pm ET Friday, ESPNU)
Malik Morgan of Tulane (11-21) got it done on both ends of the floor, scoring 10 points, with 9 boards, 3 steals and a block, as the Green Wave came crashing down on the Central Florida Knights, 65-63. The Cougars (21-9) finished strong with six wins in their final seven games, most recently beating Cincinnati 69-56, as Troy Caupain had 19 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists.
Memphis Tigers @ Tulsa Golden Hurricanes (9pm ET Friday, ESPNU)
After padding their schedule with some early season cupcakes, the Tigers went 10-4, before diving into the cauldron of conference play, as they went 7-10 from January 9 on, though they did finish with an 83-53 beatdown of East Carolina, as they shot a collective 54% from the floor. Tulsa was 20-10 overall, 12-6 in the AAC, thanks in large part to senior guards Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard, who combined to average 30.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 3 steals a game. Tulsa last played on Saturday, defeating South Florida 84-74.
AAC Semifinals, Saturday
TBD @ TBD (3pm ET Saturday, ESPN2)
TBD @ TBD (5pm ET Saturday, ESPN2)
AAC Finals, Sunday
TBD @ TBD (3:15pm ET Sunday, ESPN)
Bracketology, 7pm ET Sunday, ESPN
ESPN’s panel of college basketball experts break down this year’s bracket, looking for potential upsets and to determine who’s best positioned to make a deep run. Here’s a blank bracket in case you wanna get a leg up.