Championship Week is here
Welcome to Championship Week! The first conference tournaments ended on Saturday and Sunday, with Murray State, Gardner-Webb, and Bradley each winning their conference tourneys and automatic bids. The rest of the conferences will crown their champions in the coming week, with the last on Selection Sunday afternoon itself. So there’s lots of basketball still to be played. Who are the conference favorites, what teams are in the most trouble, and how many bids will the multi-bid conferences receive?
ACC: The favorites are certainly Virginia and North Carolina, but if Zion Williamson is 100% healthy for Duke, they could win here too. My pick is Virginia, who I think is the best bet to win it all in the big tournament too. The ACC teams in the most trouble actually play each other in the first round: Clemson and North Carolina State. Look for the loser of that game to be out, and for the winner to be a 12 or 11 seed. This league should get 8 bids.
Big 10: This should be a scrum at the top with Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan, but the two Michigan schools have injury issues. I’m taking Purdue since they’re healthier. Indiana is a bubble team that has some huge wins but a mediocre overall record. They will be this league’s most interesting case next Sunday. The other teams have sorted themselves “in” or “out” and I think the league will get 8 teams in.
SEC: Surprise! LSU won the regular season, and now can get to the final without playing Kentucky or Tennessee. The winner here has a good claim on a 1-seed. I’m going to take a boring pick, Kentucky, only because LSU’s coach has been suspended and Tennessee isn’t playing its best ball lately. The SEC teams are also pretty well sorted, with Alabama closest to the cut line but likely in. They’ll get 8 teams in.
Big 12: Kansas’ streak of 14 straight league titles was ended by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are one of the hottest teams in the country and play great defense. I’m taking them over Kansas and Kansas State, though K-State has been playing very well lately. TCU is in trouble here and probably need a win or two to feel safe next Sunday. I think they’ll get 7 bids.
Big East: Let’s draw a team from a hat. The top two teams, Villanova and Marquette, aren’t playing well. There are lots of 9-9 teams (in conference games) behind them, and every team has at least 7 league wins. I’m taking Seton Hall, since they’re playing well lately and are 3-1 against the top two teams. St. John’s will be an interesting case next weekend too. They have big wins but ugly losses. Barring a run to the tourney finals, Georgetown, Creighton and St. John’s will fall just short and the league will just get three bids.
Pac 12: It’s a very down year for the Pac 12. Washington is the only sure thing, and Arizona State probably needs to make the finals to get an at-large bid. I think Washington wins the tourney and A-State barely gets a 12-seed. No one else is even on the radar.
American: Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida are locks. I feel pretty confident in taking Houston. Temple is squarely on the bubble and helped themselves with a win over UCF this weekend. I think Temple locks it up with a semifinal appearance, but otherwise they’ll fall short. The American likely gets 3 bids.
These tournaments can be very volatile. Teams get hot and others have an off day. It’ll be interesting to see how these major conference bubble teams do against some really good mid-major bubble teams, like Lipscomb and Furman. Those teams deserve strong consideration, but they usually fall short in the Committee’s eyes because of a lack of high-profile wins and an overall weaker schedule. Either way, this will be an exciting week with teams moving up and down the seedings throughout the bracket, and into or out of the tournament. Don’t miss it!
Final programming note: This column will appear on Tuesday next week instead of Monday, with a tournament preview based on the official bracket!
Chris LaGrow is an OBSERVER contributing writer. Comments on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. See bracket online.