Home Bracketology 2022 NCAA Champ Week Preview: Majors

2022 NCAA Champ Week Preview: Majors

by Ian

The college basketball regular season has officially concluded. A number of conferences that held tournaments last week have already handed out their automatic bids to the Big Dance. This week, the rest of the mid-majors along with the major conferences will conduct their tournaments. A separate post will cover the major conferences where a number of teams are also fighting for at-large bids. Of the 13 mid-major leagues conducting their tournaments this week, only the A-10 and Mountain West have the potential for At-Large bids. The major conferences will all send numerous teams to the NCAA Tournament, and nearly every game in these tournaments will be important for seeding considerations or for tournament qualification. There are bubble teams in every major conference tournament whose hopes for making the Big Dance hinge on a deep run this week.

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 daily as we move closer to Selection Sunday.

ACC

March 8-12
Brooklyn, NY

Top Seeds: Duke, Notre Dame

Sleeper: Virginia

Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Duke, North Carolina, Miami

Bubble Teams: Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Virginia

Tournament Format: All 15 teams qualify. The top 4 seeds get byes to the quarterfinals. The bottom 6 teams play

Recent History:  Last year’s championship game between Georgia Tech and Florida State was the first time since 1997 that the final did not feature either Duke or North Carolina. That 22-year streak technically came to an end in 2019 since the 2020 Tournament was cancelled due to COVID. Duke has won 12 titles since 1999, including becoming the first ACC team to ever win 4 games in 4 days in 2017.

Preview: Duke won the regular season title outright for the first time since 2006. But the Blue Devils were not perfect. This Duke team struggled in close games and lacked a “killer instinct” that previous iterations of the Blue Devils had as a hallmark. This is Coach K’s last season and the year has been a victory tour, but now the winningest head coach in college basketball history takes on his final postseason campaign. Duke, the highest-scoring team in the league (80.4 PPG) lost their season finale to North Carolina which lifted the Tar Heels into “safe” territory above the bubble. Miami should be in the field but their resume is a dichotomy of good wins and bad losses. Wake Forest and Notre Dame enter the tournament squarely on the bubble while Virginia and Virginia Tech have some work to do this week to get consideration. Virginia once again was the slowest-paced team in the nation and led the conference defensively (60.4 points against per game). Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams (19.3 PPG, 5.3 APG) won the ACC Player of the Year award while Duke claimed the Freshman of the Year (Paolo Banchero, a likely top pick in the NBA Draft) and Defensive Player of the Year (Mark Williams). North Carolina and Clemson each won their last 5 games and enter the postseason as the ACC’s hottest teams.

American

March 10-13
Fort Worth, TX

Top Seeds: Houston, SMU

Sleeper: Memphis

Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Houston

Bubble Teams: Memphis, SMU

Tournament Format: All 11 teams qualify. The bottom 6 teams play in 3 play-in games in the opening round.

Recent History: This is the eighth year for the American Athletic Conference Tournament after the breakup of the Big East in 2013.  Cincinnati has reached 4 straight title games, losing in last year’s final to Houston. 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: Houston made the Final Four last season and got off to a 9-0 start in conference play this year. The Cougars are loved by efficiency metrics but their results don’t necessarily match those metrics so Houston may find themselves outside of the top four seed lines in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis should feel better about their Tournament prospects after securing a season sweep of Houston in the last week of the season. However, the Tigers were swept by SMU and will likely need to get through the Mustangs to reach the American title game. The top three teams were head and shoulders above the rest of the league this year, with Memphis leading the way in scoring (76.1 PPG) and Houston on defense (58.9 points against per game). SMU’s Kendric Davis (19.5 PPG) led the American in scoring. Memphis freshman Jalen Duren (11.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.2 BPG) came on strong in the second half of the season and is a rising player to watch in the postseason.

Big East

March 9-12
New York, NY

Top Seeds: Providence, Villanova

Sleeper: Seton Hall

Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Villanova, Providence, UConn, Seton Hall, Marquette

Bubble Teams: Creighton, Xavier

Tournament Format: All 15 teams qualify. The top 4 seeds get byes to the quarterfinals. The bottom 6 teams play

Recent History: Since the breakup of the old Big East in 2013, Villanova has been the top seed in 7 of the 9 tournaments. Before last season, Villanova had appeared in the 5 prior Big East championship games and was the three-time defending champions. Seton Hall had been the only team able to beat the Wildcats in the conference tournament, beating them in the 2016 title game and the 2014 quarterfinals. But those trends changed in 2021 when 8th-seeded Georgetown upset top-seeded Villanova by a point in the quarterfinals en route to winning the tournament and claiming the automatic bid. Perhaps there was a bit of historical revenge for when 8th-seeded Villanova beat top-seeded Georgetown in the 1985 National Championship Game.

Preview: For just the second time in the 9 years since the breakup of the Old Big East, Villanova did not win the regular season title. That honor went to Providence who was one of the most exciting teams in the nation, seemingly playing close games every time out. The Friars do not rate well in efficiency metrics but their 24-4 overall record is hard to argue with. Winning on the road was difficult in the Big East this season, and the conference will very likely put 7 of their 11 teams into the NCAA Tournament field. Creighton and Xavier both have some question marks on their resumes but should have enough quality wins to both get into the Big Dance. St John’s led the conference in scoring (79.7 PPG) while Villanova (63.6 points against per game) was the top defensive squad. UConn had the best point differential and won 6 of their last 7 heading into the postseason. Seton Hall finished the year as one of the hottest teams in the Big East, winning their last 5 games.

Big Ten

March 9-13
Indianapolis, IN

Top Seeds: Illinois, Wisconsin

Sleeper: 

Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan St

Bubble Teams: Michigan, Rutgers, Indiana

Tournament Format: All 14 teams qualify. The top 4 seeds get byes to the quarterfinals. The bottom 4 teams play in opening round play-in games.

Recent History: Before COVID cancelled the 2020 Tournament, a team from the state of Michigan has won the prior 4 Big Ten Tournaments and appeared in the title game in 6 straight seasons. That changed last year when Illinois topped Ohio State in a thrilling overtime game in the Big Ten final. Michigan State has won 4 of the last 9 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 9 of the last 13 years, but only won it twice.

Preview: The Big Ten has been one of the tightest major conferences this season. Illinois and Wisconsin tied for the regular season title with Purdue finishing just a game behind. Rutgers (who put on an incredible run in February to come out of obscurity into the bubble picture), Iowa, and Ohio State finished tied for 4th, just a game ahead of Michigan State and Michigan. Michigan and Rutgers find themselves on right side of the bubble entering the postseason, somewhat thanks to Rutgers’ head-to-head win over fellow bubble team Indiana last week. Iowa and Purdue led the way offensively, both averaging over 80 points per game which ranked in the Top 10 nationally. Purdue (39.7%) and Michigan State (38.4%) both ranked in the Top 10 in the nation in three-point shooting. Iowa’s Keegan Murray (23.3 PPG) was the nation’s fourth-leading scorer. In addition to Murray, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn (21.0 PPG, 10.6 RPG) and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis (20.0 PPG) who was the Big Ten Player of the Year, all averaged over 20 points per game. In a bizarre turn of events, Nebraska won their last three games of the season, including 2 over likely NCAA Tournament teams.

Big XII

March 9-12
Kansas City, MO

Top Seeds: Baylor, Kansas

Sleeper: Texas

Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech, Texas, TCU, Iowa St

Bubble Teams: Oklahoma, Kansas St

Tournament Format: All 9 postseason-eligible teams qualify. The bottom two teams play in a first round play-in game followed by a normal bracket. Oklahoma State is ineligible due to a postseason ban from the NCAA.

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 in 2018. Texas is the defending champions, a historic result considering that in the prior 14 tournaments (since 2006) only 3 teams had won the Big XII – Kansas (8 times), Iowa St (4 times), and Missouri (twice). Iowa State’s 4 wins all came in the last 7 tournaments, including a victory over Kansas in 2019. West Virginia 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: The Big 12 was the best conference in the nation this season. Defending National Champions Baylor put together another solid season and played through injuries to share the regular season title with Kansas. Kansas (78.6 PPG) and Baylor (76.8 PPG) led the league in scoring and are both in contention for #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor won their last 5 games, including a head-to-head win over Kansas to secure a split of the season series. Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji (19.8 PPG) led the league in scoring and won the conference player of the year award. The Big 12 will get 6 teams into the NCAA Tournament and possibly a 7th if Oklahoma or Kansas State can put together a deep run this week. Texas Tech and Texas (who both hold opponents around 60 points per game) are both in the mix to find themselves among the top four or five seed lines in the Tournament. Iowa State has more Quad 1 wins than any team currently listed after the 2-seed lines on most brackets, but also have a number of bad losses that drag the Cyclones back towards the middle of the seed list.

Pac-12

March 9-12
Las Vegas, NV

Top Seeds: Arizona, UCLA

Sleeper: Arizona St

Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Arizona, UCLA, USC

Bubble Teams: Oregon, Colorado, Washington St

Tournament Format: All 12 teams qualify. The top 4 seeds get byes to the quarterfinals.

Recent History: Oregon has appeared in the championship game in 4 of the last 6 tournaments and Arizona has reached the championship game in 6 of the last 10 tournaments. Either Oregon or Arizona had won the last 5 Pac-12 titles before last season when Oregon State won it from the #5 seed. Oregon won the tournament from the #6 seed in 2019. Prior to that, the top seed had won 3 of the last 4 titles. Interestingly, 6 of the last 12 Pac 12 Tournament Champions have played in the 3-6 game.

Preview: Last year many thought of the Pac-12 as a down league but the conference exploded in the NCAA Tournament, sending UCLA to the Final Four from the first round play-in games, as well as Oregon St and USC to the Elite Eight. UCLA brought most of their team back from last year’s Final Four squad including Johnny Juzang (16.7 PPG) and Tyger Campbell (11.7 PPG, 4.3 APG). Arizona, who missed last year on a self-imposed postseason ban, is loaded this year and in line for one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament and is a legitimate national title contender. The Wildcats average 84.7 points per game, the third-best mark in the nation. UCLA (76.7 PPG) and USC (73.3 PPG) are the only other teams averaging above 73 per game. UCLA is the best defensive team (64.3 points against per game) and ranks in the Top 15 in the nation in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin (17.3 PPG) won the conference player of the year award. Oregon has the metrics and strength of schedule to make them worthy of tournament consideration but has numerous bad losses which may doom the Ducks to the NIT. Colorado and Washington State are both thin on good wins but have metrics that may put them at least into the NIT. Arizona State closed their season by winning four in a row.

 SEC

March 9-13
Tampa, FL

Top Seeds: Auburn, Kentucky

Sleeper: Alabama

Likely NCAA Tournament Teams: Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, LSU

Bubble Teams: Florida, Texas A&M

Tournament Format: All 14 teams qualify. The top 4 seeds get byes to the quarterfinals. The bottom 4 teams play in first round play-in games.

Recent History: Auburn claimed the SEC title in 2019, ending Kentucky’s run of four straight SEC Championships. Kentucky did not make the title game in 2019, for just the second time in the last decade. Teams from Alabama have won the last two titles as the Crimson Tide won in 2021 after the 2020 tournament was cancelled. Arkansas has been on the losing end in 3 of the last 6 SEC title games.

Preview: Auburn ran out to a 22-1 start to the season with their only loss coming in overtime. The Tigers stumbled a few times on the road down the stretch, but their 27-4 overall record will land them on one of the top two seed lines. Kentucky is also in the mix for a 1-seed with conference player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe (17.3 PPG, 15.3 RPG) who was the nation’s leading rebounder. Arkansas had a disastrous month from mid-December through mid-January where they lost 5 of 6 games. But since then, the Razorbacks went 14-2 and have played their way up into the conversation for the top four seed lines in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee hovered around the Top 10 all season and is a dangerous team that should land around the 3-seed line. The top three teams in the SEC – Auburn, Kentucky, and Tennessee – all went unbeaten on their home courts this season. Fourth place Arkansas lost just once at home. LSU and Alabama are both talented teams that scored a number of big victories but struggled on the road. Texas A&M and Florida have work to do but finished the season strong with A&M winning 5 of their last 6. Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr (sound familiar?) led the league in scoring at 20.5 PPG and Auburn’s Jabari Smith (17.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG) is in the mix for the top pick in the NBA Draft.

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