The 2019-2020 college basketball regular season has come to a close. Welcome to Champ Week. It is Conference Tournament time. Last week, 13 conferences began their Tournament play and a number of teams have already clinched spots in the NCAA Tournament field. We are less than a week away from Selection Sunday and 20 more tournaments will take place this week. Of those, 12 will be from Mid-Major leagues, while the Major Conferences are previewed here.
As conference tournament play heats up, make sure to bookmark our Conference Tournament Tracker to follow along with who has secured automatic bids.
Additionally, I’ll be updating my Bracket Projection much more frequently as we move closer to Selection Sunday.
Top Seeds: Cincinnati, Houston, Tulsa
Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Houston
Bubble Teams: Cincinnati, Memphis, Tulsa
Tournament Format: All 12 teams qualify with the top 4 getting byes to the quarterfinals
Recent History: This is the seventh year for the American Athletic Conference after the breakup of the Big East in 2013. Cincinnati is the two-time defending champions. SMU won the Tournament in 2015 and 2017, both from the #1 seed. One of the top 2 seeds has won all but 1 of the AAC Tournaments so far, when UConn claimed the crown in 2016.
Preview: At the beginning of the season, it looked like 4 or 5 teams from the AAC were capable of making the NCAA Tournament. Houston sat at the top of the league for most of the season but were edged out in the end by Cincinnati. The Cougars, who have the league’s best defense (62.1 PAPG) should feel relatively secure about their at-large chances if they don’t win the AAC Tournament. Cincinnati, on the other hand, is right on the bubble due to 4 bad losses early in the season. Cincinnati is led by defending Conference Player of the Year and Tournament MVP Jarron Cumberland (15.5 PPG, 4.9 APG). Tulsa came from completely off the radar with a few long winning streaks to finish tied with Cincinnati and Houston at the top of the conference. The Golden Hurricanes will likely need to win the tournament to make the Big Dance. Wichita State got off to a hot start to the season but was inconsistent through conference play and are also on the bubble with Cincinnati. The Shockers don’t have any losses as bad as Cincinnati’s but also are short on good wins. Keep an eye out for UConn and Memphis, who both scored victories over the top teams during the season. UConn was the second-highest scoring team (72.8 PPG) while Memphis is led by double-double machine Precious Achiuwa (15.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG).
Top Seeds: Florida State, Virginia, Louisville
Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Florida State, Louisville, Duke, Virginia
Bubble Teams: NC State
Tournament Format: 14 teams qualify with the top 4 receiving double byes to the quarterfinals. The bottom 4 teams play in 2 play-in games.
Recent History: Either Duke or North Carolina has appeared in every ACC Championship game since 1997, a streak of 22 straight years. Duke is the defending champions and has won 12 titles since 1999, including becoming the first ACC team to ever win 4 games in 4 days in 2017.
Preview: The top four teams in the ACC finished within one game of each other, with Florida State edging Virginia, Louisville, and Duke. After that top tier, there were 5 games of separation between the rest of the pack. All four of those teams should find themselves in the top 7 seed lines in the NCAA Tournament with Florida State, Louisville, and Duke in contention for 2-4 seeds. Duke was the league’s highest-scoring team (82.5 PPG) and boasts the league’s Player of the Year Tre Jones (16.2 PPG, 6.4 APG) and Freshman of the Year Vernon Carey Jr (17.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG). Virginia, behind their league-leading defense (52.4 PAPG) won their last 8 games in a charge up the standings. Louisville has the second-best defense (63.7 PAPG) and is led by the dynamic Jordan Nwora (18 PPG). NC State’s bubble hopes are riding on their victory over Duke and they might get a shot at a rubber match against the Blue Devils in the quarterfinals. Florida State has a deep roster with 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Clemson were home court heroes this season with victories over Duke, Louisville, and Florida State at the Little John Coliseum. It was a down year for North Carolina, who finished dead last in the league due to injuries and a team that never quite gelled together, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Roy Williams’ team string together a few wins in Greensboro.
Top Seeds: Creighton, Villanova, Seton Hall
Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Villanova, Seton Hall, Creighton, Butler, Providence, Marquette
Bubble Teams: Xavier
Tournament Format: All 10 teams qualify with the bottom 4 teams playing in 2 play-in games followed by a normal bracket.
Recent History: Since the breakup of the old Big East in 2013, Villanova has been the top seed in 6 of the 7 tournaments. Villanova has appeared in the last 5 Big East championship games and is the three-time defending champions. Seton Hall has been the only team able to beat the Wildcats in the conference tournament, beating them in the 2016 title game and the 2014 quarterfinals.
Preview: Villanova, Creighton, and Seton Hall shared the regular season title this year. Creighton won the tiebreaker and earned the #1 seed but will be without second-leading scorer Marcus Zegarowski (16.1 PPG, 5.0 APG) for the Tournament after he had a knee scope this week. This was an outstanding year for Big East basketball with 7 teams in the NCAA Tournament conversation and all 10 teams ranking in the top 90 in the NET rankings. Marquette’s Markus Howard (27.8 PPG) was the nation’s leading scorer and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell (21 PPG) was a National Player of the Year finalist. Creighton was the highest-scoring team in the Big East (78.3 PPG) while Butler boasted the stingiest defense (62.1 PAPG). Providence got off to a terrible start to the season with 4 awful losses but rebounded through conference play and enter the tournament with 6 straight wins and finished just a game behind the top teams. On the other hand, Marquette got off to a strong start but has lost 6 of their last 7 heading into the postseason.
Top Seeds: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Maryland
Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Michigan St, Maryland, Wisconsin, Ohio St, Penn St, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa
Bubble Teams: Rutgers, Indiana
Tournament Format: All 14 teams qualify with the top 4 receiving double byes to the quarterfinals. The bottom 4 teams play in 2 play-in games.
Recent History: A team from the state of Michigan has won the last 4 Big Ten Tournaments and appeared in the title game in 6 straight seasons. Michigan reached the final in 3 straight years, winning in 2017 and 2018 then losing to rival Michigan State in 2019. Sparty has won 4 of the last 8 Big Ten Tournaments. Michigan’s tournament titles in 2017 and 2018 were the only time one of the top 3 seeds did not win the Tournament since 2001. Interestingly, a team seeded lower than 3rd has reached the title game in 8 of the last 12 years, but only won it twice.
Preview: Another major conference, another 3-way tie at the top. Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Maryland shared the regular season crown with Illinois finishing just a game behind. The Badgers, with the best defense in the league (62.2 PAPG), won their last 8 games to earn the top seed in the tournament. Michigan State put together 5 straight wins to also climb back into a tie atop the standings. Sparty is led by defending Tournament MVP Cassius Winston (18.6 PPG, 5.9 APG). The Big Ten is an incredibly deep league and winning on the road was nearly impossible this season. Iowa, led by conference Player of the Year Luke Garza (23.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG) had the Big Ten’s best offense (77.7 PPG) but were dramatically better at home than on the road. Penn State played their way to the Top 10 of the AP Poll at one point this season, but lost 5 of their last 6 to fall to the middle of the pack. On the flip side, Illinois overcame a 4-game losing streak to win 5 of their last 6 and enter the postseason on a hot run. Ohio State and Michigan are solidly middle-of-the-pack teams while Rutgers and Indiana struggled severely on the road this year (both posting 2-8 road records) but have a few good wins to keep their bubble hopes alive.
Top Seeds: Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma
Sleeper: West Virginia
Likely Tournament Teams: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma
Bubble Teams: Texas Tech, Texas
Tournament Format: All 10 teams qualify with the bottom 4 playing in 2 play-in games followed by a normal bracket.
Recent History: Kansas’ historic streak of 14 straight years of winning at least a share of the Big XII regular season title came to an end last season, but the Jayhawks got back on track this year. In the last 14 seasons (since 2006) only 3 teams have won the Big XII Tournament – Kansas (8 times), Iowa St (4 times), and Missouri (twice). Missouri is no longer in the conference. Iowa State’s 4 wins all came in the last 6 years, including a victory over Kansas last year. West Virginia has reached the championship game in 3 straight seasons from 2016-2018 but lost each time. Since the inception of the Big XII tournament in 1997, Iowa St (in 2014, 2017, and 2019) has been the only team to win the tournament seeded lower than 3rd.
Preview: For most of the season, Baylor and Kansas were at the top of not just the Big XII but also most bracket projections. But Baylor dropped 3 of their last 5 games to finish 2 games behind the Jayhawks in the league standings. Kansas ended the season on a 16-game winning streak and is cruising towards the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas has the best offense (74.6 PPG) and second-best defense (60.7 PAPG) in the conference and are led by National Player of the Year candidate Udoka Azubuike (13.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.6 BPG). The Jayhawks also have the conference’s leading scorer Devon Dotson (18.1 PPG, 4.0 APG, 2.1 SPG). Baylor edged Kansas as the top defensive team (60.1 PAPG) and both should still find themselves on the 1-seed line. West Virginia topped Baylor in the season finale, and should land in the top half of the bracket. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, they have to face an Oklahoma team that swept them this season in the first game of the Big XII Tournament. Texas was a team that many had counted out but the Longhorns rebounded to win 5 straight and get back into bubble contention before dropping the season finale by 22 to Oklahoma State. Texas will face fellow bubble team Texas Tech in their first game. While the computer metrics don’t love Texas (NET 69), they benefit Texas Tech (NET 22). The knock on Texas Tech is their bad non-conference schedule and poor road record.
Top Seeds: Oregon, UCLA, Arizona St
Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Arizona St
Bubble Teams: USC, Stanford, UCLA
Tournament Format: 12 teams with the top 4 receiving byes to the quarterfinals
Recent History: Oregon has appeared in the championship game in 4 of the last 5 years and Arizona has reached the championship game in 6 of the last 9 years. Either Oregon or Arizona has won the last 5 Pac-12 titles. Oregon won the tournament from the #6 seed last year. Prior to that, the top seed had won 3 of the last 4 titles. Interestingly, 6 of the last 11 Pac 12 Tournament Champions have played in the 3-6 game.
Preview: A number of teams jockeyed for the lead in the conference over the season with Oregon edging UCLA by 1 game thanks to a 4-game winning streak to end the season. The Ducks are led by Pac-12 Player of the Year and defending Tournament MVP Payton Pritchard (20.5 PPG, 5.5 APG). Arizona is a team with good computer metrics whose results did not match up as they ranked 14th in NET but finished tied for 5th in the conference. The Wildcats do have the conference’s best offense (76.4 PPG). UCLA was a team many had written off but Mick Cronin’s gritty squad rattled off 7 straight wins before losing to USC by 2 points in the season finale to finish just a game behind Oregon. UCLA’s resume has some flaws and they need to do some work in the postseason to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Colorado is a team heading in the other direction, losers of 4 straight heading into the Tournament though their early-season wins make their At-Large spot mostly secure. Stanford and USC should both find themselves on the right side of the bubble, barring a massive upset.
Top Seeds: Kentucky, Auburn
Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Kentucky, Auburn, LSU
Bubble Teams: Florida
Tournament Format: 14 teams with the top 4 receiving byes to the quarterfinals and the bottom 4 playing in 2 play-in games
Recent History: Auburn claimed the SEC title last year, ending Kentucky’s run of four straight SEC Championships. Kentucky did not make the title game last year, for just the second time in the last decade. Tennessee has been the losing team in the last two SEC Championships.
Preview: While Kentucky ran away with the regular season title this year, winning by 3 games over Auburn, the middle of the pack was a tight. Just 4 games separated 4th place Mississippi State from 11th place Missouri. Unfortunately, this meant that a lot of the teams in the middle beat each other, effectively harming the resumes of all of them. The SEC may only get 4 teams into the NCAA Tournament but expect to see a lot of these squads in the NIT. Kentucky’s Immanuel Quickley (16.1 PPG) earned the Conference Player of the Year honors while Arkansas’ Mason Jones (22 PPG) was the league’s leading scorer. Georgia’s Anthony Edwards (19.5 PPG) may wind up as the top pick in next year’s NBA Draft but like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz before him will likely not play in the NCAA Tournament (unless he leads Georgia on a massive run to the SEC title). Alabama had the highest-scoring offense (82 PPG) followed closely by LSU (80.5 PPG). Florida and LSU both have enough good wins to get into the Tournament, though will probably find themselves in the 8-11 seed range. Teams like Mississippi St, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Arkansas all have a combination of good wins and bad losses on their resumes which will likely send them to the NIT barring a big run this week.