There are five weeks until Selection Sunday, which there is just one month remaining of regular season play for major conference teams. With the Super Bowl (and thus the NFL season) in the books, here is a rundown on what has been happening in college hoops this season as we prepare for the stretch run before the NCAA Tournament. Yesterday we take a look at the smaller “mid-major” conferences, and today we will cover the major conferences.
For reference, the NCAA changed the layout of the Team Sheets for the Selection Committee this year. Top 50 and Top 100 wins have been replaced by “Tier 1” and “Tier 2” (and 3 and 4). Each “Tier” has different cutoffs based on whether an opponent was played at home or away. For instance, only Top 30 opponents at home count as “Tier 1” whereas Top 75 opponents on the road count as Tier 1. Additionally, the Selection Committee has access to six computer rankings systems. Three based on actual resultsand three predictive-based metrics. Don’t forget to check out our Bracketology page for our latest NCAA Tournament bracket projections.
American Athletic Conference
Cincinnati has been the class of the AAC this season, boasting a perfect 10-0 record in conference play and a 21-2 mark overall. The Bearcats played a mediocre non-conference schedule and their resume currently lacks a signature win over a Top 25 opponent. Wichita State has played well in their move to a major conference this season and is currently tied for second place in the conference. The Shockers also lack a signature win on their resume, but have played well enough to stay in the conversation for an At-Large bid. Houston is currently right in the middle of the bubble with a few good wins but also two bad losses. The interesting team to watch is Temple who played a ridiculously hard non-conference slate and has two wins over Top 5 teams but also has 4 bad losses and an overall record just 3 games over .500. If the Owls can make a run in the last month of the season, they may be able to build a case for an At-Large bid. SMU and UCF were both on the radar for the bubble earlier in the season but have dropped a few games and fallen out of the NCAA Tournament picture for now.
Duke was the preseason favorite to win not only the ACC but also the national title. However, it has been Virginia that has emerged as the dominant team in the ACC. The Cavaliers have stifled opponents on the defensive end and their efficient offense has carried them to an 11-0 conference record and 22-1 mark overall. Duke and Clemson are currently battling for second place and both should feel confident in their tournament resumes being able to deliver high seeds. North Carolina has dropped some games to inferior competition this year but also has enough top-end wins that they will have no problem making the Big Dance. In the middle of the ACC pack there are six teams that are Tournament-capable but have various red flags on their resumes. On one end of the spectrum, Miami, Louisville, and Virginia Tech are short on good wins but also don’t have bad losses that drag them down. On the other side, NC State and Florida State have marquee wins but also a number of bad losses that drag down their profiles. Syracuse needs a marquee win in the worst way as the Orange started the week with no Tier 1 victories and 4 bad losses. There are 10 ACC teams that are capable of making the NCAA Tournament at this point but some will be sweating it out on Selection Sunday if they don’t find ways to add impressive wins to their resume.
Big XII Conference
The Phog Allen Fieldhouse is one of the best homecourts in all of basketball, but Kansas has not had the home magic this year. The Jayhawks have lost 4 times at the Phog (and surprisingly only once on the road). Kansas is currently tied with Texas Tech atop the Big XII standings with West Virginia only a half-game behind. This is a loaded conference that will likely get 7 teams into the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma features the nation’s leading scorer in freshman Trae Young (29.9 points per game, 9.3 assists per game) and should also be in line for a high seed come March. Texas and TCU are both in the middle of the pack. The Longhorns have a number of good wins but also a handful of questionable losses while Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs are short on good wins but have also avoided bad losses. That script for a Jamie Dixon team may sound familiar to Pitt fans. Kansas State is floating right around the bubble but the Wildcats have a giant red flag in their non-conference schedule which was one of the worst in the nation.
Big East Conference
Villanova has once again dominated the Big East regular season. The Wildcats are one of the top teams in the nation with only 1 loss on their resume coming in a road game against a very good Butler team. Xavier is close behind Nova and in the running for a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament. The middle of the Big East pack is a clustered mess. Creighton, Butler, Seton Hall, and Providence are all separated by just a half game. From a tournament resume standpoint, Butler has not lost to a team outside of Tier 1 but is a little short on marquee wins outside their victory over Villanova. Creighton has a solid resume despite playing a bad non-conference schedule. Seton Hall has a number of quality wins and only one bad loss and should be in good shape for the Tournament. Providence is living on the bubble once again this year thanks to two losses to Tier 3 opponents. Marquette is also hovering around the bubble. The Golden Eagles have a few good wins and only one questionable loss, but their 13-10 overall record means they will need to win some games down the stretch to stay in the conversation.
Big Ten Conference
No major conference is as stratified as the Big Ten. The top three teams are the clear favorites in league play. Purdue has rebounded from a disastrous trip to Atlantis in November to go 12-0 in league play and boast a 23-2 overall record. Ohio State is close behind at 11-1 against the conference while Michigan State only has 2 conference losses all season and a 22-3 overall record. Purdue is in the conversation for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State has been ranked highly in the polls all season but their resume features only two Tier 1 victory (one of them coming over North Carolina). Sparty played a terrible non-conference schedule and the relatively weak Big Ten won’t give them many chances to add big wins. Ohio State similarly has just one Tier 1 victory but has avoided bad losses and should feel relatively secure about their Tournament hopes. Michigan and Nebraska are tied for fourth in the conference. Michigan is hanging around the top of the bubble due to a lack of bad losses but few good wins. Nebraska has no Tier 1 victories and will need to win a lot of games down the stretch to put themselves into the bubble conversation. Similarly, Maryland has just 1 win against Tier 1 and Tier 2 combined and is the only other Big Ten team with a realistic shot to threaten the bubble at this point. It is very possible that the Big Ten is only a 4-bid league this year.
Like the Big Ten, the Pac-12 is a top-heavy league and may only get 3 or 4 teams into the Big Dance. Arizona holds a slim lead over USC atop the league standings, but both have some question marks on their resumes. For Arizona, the Wildcats have yet to beat a Top 25 team this season and have 2 losses outside of Tier 1. This will make it hard for Arizona to stack up against other top teams on the first four seed lines. USC is hanging right around the bubble with just 2 Tier 1 wins and 3 questionable losses including a dreadful home loss to Princeton. Arizona State reached the Top 5 in the polls earlier this season but have fallen off lately. The Sun Devils still have one of the best win portfolios in the Pac-12 and should be in good shape to make the Tournament as long as they don’t lose to inferior competition. Washington just scored a big victory over Arizona which dramatically improved their bubble chances. The Huskies are still hanging right around the bubble and will be a team to keep an eye on down the stretch. UCLA, Utah, and Colorado are all on the bottom fringes of the bubble picture, and in the relatively weak Pac-12 there will be limited opportunities to add good wins to their resumes.
It has been a strange year in the SEC. The traditional powerhouses of Kentucky and Florida have struggled in conference play. Meanwhile, Auburn has looked dominant after a 9-1 start (and 21-2 overall mark). The Tigers appear to be in line for one of the top seeds in the Tournament come March and have a two-game lead in the conference standings. Tennessee currently sits in second place and has amassed a nice resume that includes a win over Purdue and no losses outside of Tier 1. Florida has cooled down after a hot start to the season and Kentucky has looked completely lost at times this season. In the middle of the pack, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas A&M all have good computer numbers and a combination of multiple quality wins but also numerous bad losses. All four are currently on the right side of the bubble in the hunt for an At-Large bid. Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi State are hovering on the bottom side of the bubble with very similar resumes. All of them are short on good wins but have avoided bad losses. This speaks to the depth of the SEC this year that 11 of the 14 teams are somewhere in the Tournament picture (even if it’s the bottom side of the bubble). LSU likely has too many bad losses to be considered as a Tournament team, but they have been a tough out in SEC play and scored season sweeps over Texas A&M and Arkansas.