It’s February 21.
That means there’s about two weeks left of the regular season, unless you’re the Big Ten, and you thought it was a genius idea to end your season week early so you could play your conference tournament in an arena that’s in a different time zone than more than half of your league.
But for the sane power basketball conferences — you know, your ACC, Big 12, Big East, SEC and Pac-12 — there’s still two more weeks to sure up seeding and scenarios for championship week.
We’re taking a look around the country to see how our power-conference friends are preparing for early March, starting with the ACC:
Atlantic Coast Conference
The Details: Mar. 6-10 // Barclays Center // Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Frontrunners: No. 1 seed Virginia and No. 2 seed Duke. If one of these two teams doesn’t win the ACC I’ll be shocked. The Cavaliers have the defense to hold any team in this league and in the country to under 65 point, and the Blue Devils have the talent to score more than 75 on just about any team. I mean, it was pretty good game last time they played.
If you’re a casual basketball fan, you’re hoping and praying these two teams meet again on Saturday night in Brooklyn. And they probably will. But then again…
The Dark Horse: …It’s March, and this is the ACC. It’s a deep league, with teams with the talent and coaching to conceivably catch fire in a four-day span. Take Clemson, which somehow survived a season-ending injury to Devonte Grantham and still sits in the AP Top 15. Or North Carolina, with upperclassman leadership in Luke Maye and Joel Berry III, guys who have experience playing at a high level deep into March — oh, yeah, they won it all last year. These two are right behind UVA and Duke in terms of their chances to win the league.
The Bubble teams who need this: There’s quite a few of them. There’s NC State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Louisville, all of which are either 19-8 or 18-9 and hovering right around .500 in conference play. There a some good athlertes in that bunch, too, like Louisville forward Deng Adel, ‘Cuse shooting guard Tyus Battle, Virginia Tech sharpshooters Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs and NC State big man Omer Yurtseven. All these teams could make a run, and they all probably need at least one win to feel completely comfortable with their standing on Selection Sunday.
The seeding storylines: Syracuse, Miami and Florida State are all within a half-game of one another in the 8-9-10 positioning, which means one of these three will likely be forced to play on the first day of tournament play, Tuesday, against likely No. 15 seed Pittsburgh. That probably means any easy win, which all three could use. The top four — the “double-byes,” Virginia, Duke, UNC and Clemson — all seem to be a step above the pack, but NC State is nipping at the heels of a bye into Thursday, just half a game behind Clemson. Keep an eye on the Wolf Pack.
Intrigue Score: 9.5 out of 10. Great basketball, talented teams, interesting storylines. This will be the kind of tournament you’ll want to have open on your laptop when you get bored at your day job in the early afternoon.
The Details: Feb. 28-Mar. 4 // Madison Square Garden // New York, N.Y.
Side Note: The 2018 Big Ten Tournament will be played a week early so the league can access the Garden, which is locked down by the Big East for the typical large-conference championship weekend.
The Frontrunners: Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State. That’s really it. This league is shallow, but the top of it is outstanding. At least two of these three teams will be in the semifinals, and those two — yes, I’m talking about Purdue and MSU, sorry Buckeyes — will be playing for the league title. And it will be must-see television.
The Dark Horse: Okay, Michigan’s pretty good, too. The Wolverines have a handful of talented players like junior forward Moritz Wagner and senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman; these guys helped Michigan win the Big Ten as a No. 8 seed last year, not to mention reach the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 7 seed a week later. I don’t like how they match up with the two true elites of this league, but don’t be surprised if they slip back into Sunday afternoon’s title game.
The Bubble teams who need this (see Spongebob-I-Need-It.gif): Penn State is kind of intriguing. Tony Carr is one of the best young point guards in the country and has led the Nittany Lions into the bubble conversation in his sophomore season.
You remember this, right?
Penn State’s probably going to need about two wins in NYC to get on the right side of the bubble. As for fellow bubble teams like Maryland and Nebraska, the Terps and ‘Huskers probably need to reach Sunday if they want to see the Big Dance. Either that, or they’re going to need some serious help from the rest of the bubble.
The seeding storylines: After the clear top three, Nebraska and Michigan are separated by half a game for the fourth double-bye. The Wolverines has a pair of road games against hungry bubble teams (PSU and Maryland), and the CornHuskers have one more game, at home against the Nittany Lions. Advantage Nebraska, I guess? Even still, I think Michigan gets by Nebraska in a potential No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup. Other than those two, all other bye situations are set in stone with two wins separating No. 8 Maryland and No. 9 Northwestern.
Intrigue Score: 6 out of 10. There won’t be a lot going on for the first three days of this tournament, but the last day or two will be thrilling. You’ll probably want to watch the Big Ten semifinals on Saturday, and you’ll definitely want to watch the title game on Sunday, especially because there will be nothing else on TV. But yeah, that’s about it.
The Details: Mar. 7-10 // Madison Square Garden // New York, N.Y.
The Frontrunners: To the fan who loves elite teams, here’s your reason to watch the Big East Tourney: Villanova and Xavier. Two potential No. 1 seeds, two bonafide Final Four contenders, a handful of NBA prospects, two player-of-the-year candidates… that’s about all you need to know. One of these teams should cut down the MSG nets, and could very well do the same in San Antonio. If they meet for Nova-Xavier Part III Saturday night, it’s going to be a fun one.
The Dark Horse: To the fan who loves college basketball as a whole, here’s your reason to watch the Big East Tourney. Butler, Creighton, Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall all have the talent to make a run. Butler has beaten ‘Nova in three of its last four tries. Providence beat ‘Nova and Xavier. Creighton has Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. Seton Hall has Angel Delgado. Marquette has Markus Howard. Watch your back, Wildcats and Musketeers.
The Bubble teams who need this: Marquette and Providence still have work to do, and will probably still have work to do when they hit the Garden. Looking at the Big East standings, there’s a decent possibility the two could meet in the quarterfinals, and I think both teams will probably need to advance from said round to feel safe on Selection Sunday. There’s also the anomaly case of St. John’s, which has proven it can knock off giants like Villanova and Duke, and could do the same in March if it didn’t already have 13 losses on its record. The Red Storm need a Big East title and nothing less.
The seeding storylines: After the top two, there’s a whole lot of jockeying for position. Seeds three through seven are separated by two games with about four games left. In the Big East, though, with ten teams, six get byes into the quarterfinals with the other four forced into opening round games. With this in mind, one of those five bubble teams in the middle of the league standings will be pushed into Wednesday evening action, and as of right now, it looks like that’ll be Marquette.
Intrigue Score: 8 out of 10. It’s the Big East Tournament, it’s the Garden, it’s how things should be during Champ Week. Villanova and Xavier are phenomenal, the excitement of the bubble situation in this league is second to none, except maybe the Big 12, and even some of the bottom-dwellers have a flair for the dramatic. Classic Big East.