What to watch for in Friday's conference tournament action in the ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12.
Schedule (both games on ESPN):
It’s been mostly chalk so far in Greensboro, as the only “upsets” came when the 9-seed (Florida State) beat the 8-seed (Clemson) and the 5-seed (North Carolina) knocked off the 4-seed (Louisville). The result is that four of the nation’s top 19 teams are still playing and there are no bad potential matchups for Saturday’s final. No. 1 seed Virginia got star guard Justin Anderson back in its quarterfinal win over FSU, though he only played 12 minutes off the bench. He was the best player on the floor when the Cavaliers beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill last month and UVA will need him to contribute to win again.
In the other semifinal, the Blue Devils’ season turned around after losing at Notre Dame on Jan. 28 and dismissing guard Rasheed Sulaimon the next day. Duke hasn’t lost since, and among its 12 straight wins are a 90-60 blowout of the Fighting Irish on Feb. 7 and a 24-point dismantling of N.C. State in the ACC quarters.
A rematch of last year’s ACC tournament final between Virginia and Duke appears likely, but the surging Tar Heels, with a healthy Marcus Paige, and an offensively balanced Notre Dame team could spoil that plan.
Tulsa needs to prove it can beat NCAA tournament-quality teams to earn a bid to the Big Dance and a win over Houston won’t help its cause. Beating Cincinnati in the semifinals would, but the defending national champion UConn Huskies will be trying to make sure the Bearcats don’t even make it that far. UConn is likely to miss out on the NCAAs—which would be the fourth time the reigning champ didn’t make the field of 68 since 2008—but it has one last chance to salvage its season, and has the benefit of playing the conference tournament in Hartford at its home-away-from-home.
Schedule (all games on NBC Sports Network):
Davidson is ranked in the top 25 and won a multi-bid regular-season league title outright. That should be enough to get the Wildcats into the NCAAs, but they’d be wise not to stumble against La Salle on Friday. Richmond is likely on the outside looking in, but a third win this season over intra-city rival VCU might be enough to punch the Spiders' ticket. And the nightcap between George Washington and Rhode Island might amount to an elimination game on the bubble, the first such one we’ve seen this week in the major tournaments.
Schedule (both games on ESPN2):
Like the ACC, there are four top-20 teams still alive in the Big 12, which should at the very least guarantee an entertaining two days in Kansas City. The Jayhawks swept the Bears during the regular season and, with the de facto homecourt advantage, figure to win again on Friday. Iowa State and Oklahoma split their season series, but if the Cyclones take 30 minutes to wake up, as they did against Texas, it’s unlikely the Sooners, led by Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield, will let them back in the game the way the Longhorns did.
Schedule (all games on Fox Sports 1):
Providence’s thorough handling of St. John’s on the Red Storm’s homecourt at Madison Square Garden and Xavier’s overtime win against No. 22 Butler count as minor surprises. It would be slightly more eye-opening to see the Musketeers take out Villanova in Friday’s semifinals, but if the Wildcats make anywhere close to the 17 three-pointers they drained against Marquette, it’s hard to see anyone knocking them off, either at MSG or in the NCAAs, where they figure to be a one-seed.
Georgetown, meanwhile, has quietly sneaked back into the top 25, at No. 23. To stay there, the Hoyas will need to avenge two regular-season losses to Xavier, both of which came when Georgetown was ranked in the bottom fifth of the top 25. In those two games, the Musketeers held the Hoyas below 40% from the field, and a similar defensive performance would likely send them into Saturday’s finals.
There doesn’t figure to be much drama in Chicago this weekend. Wisconsin seems to have a tough climb to get to a No. 1 seed for the NCAAs even if it can follow up its Big Ten regular season title by winning the conference tournament crown, and Indiana appears to have punched its ticket to the Big Dance by beating Northwestern in Thursday’s second round game. That doesn’t mean there won’t be entertaining basketball on display. Ohio State gets another crack at Michigan State after losing to the Spartans in East Lansing by three on Valentine’s Day on, appropriately enough, a three-pointer from Denzel Valentine. And Indiana may have played its best ball this season against the Terrapins, burying them under a barrage of 15-three-pointers to win in Bloomington on Jan. 22, and then losing at the buzzer in College Park last month.
Schedule (all games on Pac-12 Network):
UCLA has spent the entire season on the fringe of the NCAA tournament discussion, but the Bruins can remove all doubt about their worthiness by knocking off top-seed Arizona in their semifinal matchup. The Wildcats, though, have motivation of their own. A No. 1 seed in the NCAAs is not out of the question if they can win this tournament and get some help elsewhere, such as losses by Villanova and/or Wisconsin. Oregon and Utah are safely in the field of 68.
Schedule (all games on SEC Network):
The top-ranked, 31-0 Wildcats' march to an SEC tournament title may not be as easy as expected. Florida hung with UK for about 30 minutes in Lexington last week and even longer than that when these teams first met in Gainesville in February. LSU, meanwhile, gave Kentucky one of its biggest scares of the season before losing by two on Feb. 10 in Baton Rouge. If LSU wins that all-Tiger battle with Auburn, it will end the first season on the plains for Auburn coach Bruce Pearl.
The two night games feature a pair of NCAA-bound teams in Arkansas and Georgia facing middling clubs in Tennessee and South Carolina, respectively. The Gamecocks already knocked off one potential NCAA entrant in Ole Miss and swept the Bulldogs this season. A third win this season over Georgia would at least introduce some drama in a conference tournament that isn’t expected to have much of it.