It’s finally upon us; March Madness is officially (almost) here! Some of the smaller conferences already have their conference tournaments underway, but this weekend will widely be regarded as the last week for most conferences’ regular season before their respective conference tournaments start.
There are quite a few big games this weekend that will dictate some of the conferences’ regular season winners, and so we will start off with the biggest rivalry in the sport with the Duke-North Carolina showdown. In their last matchup, we saw Zion Williamson go down with a leg injury and the Tar Heels snuck out with a victory. Without Zion, this Duke team is just completely different. They nearly lost to Wake Forest earlier in the week, who resides near the bottom of the ACC. If Zion can play, this will be quite the interesting game and we could see Duke split the series. However, if he doesn’t, I see the Tar Heels winning this one. If they win and Virginia loses its game with Louisville, the Tar Heels will be the sole ACC regular season champs.
Moving on to the Big Ten, the biggest game will be another great in-state rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State. The Spartans won the first game in Ann Arbor by playing great defense and smothering the Wolverines to under 27% from the 3-point land and six assists. Both teams may have key injuries too, with Michigan’s Charles Matthews a gametime decision, and Nick Ward for the Spartans still out with a hand injury. After Purdue lost to Minnesota, the winner of this game will be the regular season conference champion.
We jump to the Big XII, where for the first time in over a decade, the Kansas Jayhawks will not be regular season champions. Texas Tech and Kansas State both sit atop the standings, and if one of them wins and the other loses, we will have a sole champion in the conference.
The SEC seems very top-heavy this year, with Tennessee, Kentucky, and LSU all sitting near the top of the standings. After these three is a clear drop off in talent, with Auburn and South Carolina four games back. Tennessee and LSU are both tied at the top of the conference, with Kentucky a game behind. Each of these teams could be serious contenders come National Tournament time, but outside of them no one really stands out as a real threat.
And the last of the Power 5 conference is the PAC 12, which is by far the weakest of the bunch. Washington has already solidified themselves as the regular season champions. Although this conference may seem weak and uninteresting, this could be quite the spectacle come conference tournament time. This conference may only send one or two teams to the big dance, so depending on who wins the PAC 12 tournament and earns the automatic bid, this conference could cause quite the shakeup for the tournament committee and the bubble teams.
Speaking of bubble teams, this will be the last real chance for them to prove their worth to the tournament committee. Finishing strong in the regular season, as well as a solid run in the conference tournament could help their chances to make the big dance. The committee seems to be valuing strong wins over bad losses, so even if your team got off to a bad start, a couple of big wins in their tournament could be enough to keep their season alive.
The Big Ten and ACC are the two clear best conferences in the nation. The Big XII and SEC are both solid conferences, and throw in the Big East as well, but after that, most conferences won’t be sending more than a few teams to the tournament. So, for bubble teams, you really want to see a team that’s locked in for the tournament win their conference tournament. If a team that’s not a lock for the tournament wins an automatic bid, that’s one more bid taken away from those bubble teams, making it even more difficult for them to get in.
With only a few games left before the big tournament, things are starting to finally take shape. We know for the most part who’s locked in and who still has some work to do. This is one of the most exciting times in sports. This is March Madness.