It’s February 22.
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, picking things back up with the Big 12:
The Details: Mar. 7-10 // Sprint Center // Kansas City, Mo.
The Frontrunners: Well, there’s the obvious: Kansas. The Jayhawks have won seven Big 12 tournaments since 2006 and look poised to be right back where they belong in a few weeks, having fallen in their first contest of last year’s event. Texas Tech is right there as well, and player-of-the-year candidate Keenan Evans at point guard has the skill-set to lead the Red Raiders to their first conference title. But yeah, gun to my head, I’m picking Kansas any year until proven otherwise.
The Dark Horse: There’s a handful of teams that could fit this billing. West Virginia’s pretty good, led by senior Jevon Carter and a heralded pressure defense. There’s also TCU. Jamie Dixon knows how to coach in March; his Horned Frogs pulled an early-round upset over Kansas last year and are back for blood in the second year of his regime.
The Bubble teams who need this: Future NBA top-five picks Trae Young and Mohamed Bamba. Translation: Oklahoma and Texas. The Sooners have lost six straight and seven of their last eight and will likely need a solid performance in Kansas City in order to shore up a bid. Same deal for the Longhorns, who have lost four of their last five. The only win in that stretch? At Oklahoma. Both teams sit at 16 wins with a 6-9 record in conference play. Not ideal, with NBA prospects who we all selfishly want to see in the tournament.
The seeding storylines: There really aren’t any. The top four are pretty much set in stone, but the race to get out of an opening-round game (seeds 7 through 10) is relatively contested. Currently tied in fifth, Baylor and Kansas State lead Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State all by a game.
Intrigue Score: 8.5 of 10. This tournament is sneaky interesting. On the surface, it looks like it’s just Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia, but this conference is pretty deep and I’d almost guarantee at least one or two upsets.
The Details: Mar. 7-10 // T-Mobile Arena // Las Vegas, Nev.
The Frontrunners: Arizona. That’s really it. Even potentially without Allonzo Trier due to PED usage, the one-two punch in the frontcourt of Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic is second to none in this conference. I’m more confident in the Wildcats to win their conference than any other power-five team.
The Dark Horses: That being said, there are a couple of sneaky teams. Arizona State’s senior guards — Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice — are talented, and, when they’re hot, they’re able to compete with anyone. USC could also make noise, with the likes of Bennie Boatwright, Jordan McLaughlin and Chimezie Metu.
The Bubble teams who need this (see Spongebob-I-Need-This.gif): The Trojans will probably need it, too. USC has been in and out of the field over the last several weeks and will need a strong finish to the regular season, as well as a win or two in Vegas, to make sure they’re not sweating on Selection Sunday. The same is true for Washington, Utah and UCLA, which are in a far worse bubble position. Maybe one of those three will be able to do enough in the conference tournament to seal up a bid in the big dance.
The seeding storylines: Utah, which holds the four-seed and therefore the last bye, leads Washington and Stanford by half a game and ASU and Oregon by 1.5 games. The Sun Devils have an easy remaining schedule and could very well slip into that fourth spot, but my money’s probably on Washington to slither its way out of the first round.
Intrigue Score: 5 of 10. It’s really Arizona’s league to lose, and there aren’t any major intriguing bubble storylines either. Not the greatest year for the Pac-12, but if it’s ASU-Arizona in the title game, that would be quality entertainment.
The Details: Mar. 7-11 // Scottrade Center // St. Louis, Mo.
Wait, why is the SEC playing in St. Louis?
The Frontrunners: Like many other college basketball minds, I spent a large portion of this season trying not to believe that the answer to this question was Auburn and Tennessee. But it is. Auburn just won’t lose. The Tigers are 24-4 and have lost just three SEC games by a combined 15 points. Bruce Pearl’s got his guys in position to rip through the SEC tournament, but his former school isn’t far behind. The Volunteers looked completely dead in the water when they lost to Alabama by 28, but the team that just beat Florida looks poised to make some noise in St. Louis.
Again, why St. Louis?
The Bubble teams who need this: I don’t know, Georgia? LSU? South Carolina? All three seem to have an outsdie, outside shot at a bid, but nothing more. A&M, Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri could all use a win or two to solidify things, but none of them should be particularly worried unless they limp their way down the stretch and into St. Louis (WHY IS THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT IN ST. LOUIS?!). Georgia’s got a lot of work left to do, but Yante Maten and company could potentially pull a few upsets and slip their way into the field. Mississippi State’s an interesting case, too. They’ve been off the bubble all year, but with 20 wins, could make a case to the committee with a solid performance during championship week.
The seeding storylines: The race for the top four is clogged. After Auburn and Tennessee, there are SIX teams tied at 8-7 in league play: Mississippi State, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Alabama. And then there’s LSU right behind at 7-9. At a surprising 6-9 conference mark, Texas A&M is in a three-way tie with South Carolina and Georgia for tenth and would love to avoid falling into the bottom four and an opening round game. But even then, literally every team ranked between second and twelfth in this league is within two-games of a double bye. It’s going to come down to tiebreakers, I guarantee it.
Intrigue Score: Honestly, 9.5 of 10. This is the most intriguing SEC tournament we’ve seen in years, potentially ever. This league is pretty deep and has some hidden gems. Throw in the Michael Porter factor, and we’re going to have some fun in St. Louis (don’t get me started again).