It’s finally here: the last weekend of the college basketball regular season. While the next few days may mark the end of the road for some, for others it’s one last chance to lock in everything from regular-season conference crowns to at-large bids for this year’s NCAA tournament.
Some teams would do well to make a statement to the selection committee and get off the bubble before the do-or-die setting of conference tournaments. For others trophies and favorable tournament seeds are on the line. Here’s who has the most at stake entering their regular season finales.
Virginia and UNC
The No. 1 overall seed is still up for grabs, along with ACC tournament seeding and the conference’s regular season crown. A win this weekend would secure at least a share of the ACC regular season title for the Cavaliers along with a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament in Charlotte, putting Tony Bennett’s squad in the same position it was in for its run to the tournament championship last year. If the Tar Heels secure a sweep of Duke, Virginia needs a win over Louisville to keep its share of the crown. Roy Williams’s team has plenty of seeding implications at stake, too. The Tar Heels have posted an impressive second-half rally after an inconsistent start to the season, but a win this weekend would secure some hardware and solidify their case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Pirates looked like a tournament lock until three consecutive losses to Xavier, St. John’s and Georgetown banished them to bubble territory. Wednesday night’s win over No. 16 Marquette certainly helped their cause, but the Pirates have one great opportunity remaining to make their case: Seton Hall hosts Villanova on Saturday. Ending your regular season slate with two straight games against the best teams in the Big East ain’t easy, but it’s also a big-time opportunity for a 17–12 bubble team to make a statement.
After a trio of tough losses to Miami, Louisville and Florida State, the Tigers have bounced back by winning three of four, with the lone loss in that stretch to North Carolina. After falling two points short against the Tar Heels, Clemson came out on the right side of a two-point game at Notre Dame on Wednesday, which bumped the Tigers to 18–12 on the season, just on the cusp of a tournament bid. If Clemson beats Syracuse on Saturday, it won’t have as much to sweat on Selection Sunday. This weekend will dictate how much work Brad Brownell's crew has to do next week in Charlotte.
In another case of a Big East bubble team in flux, let’s talk Xavier. After losing six straight in the middle of their Big East schedule, the Musketeers crawled back for five consecutive (and much-needed) wins, including two statements down the stretch against Villanova and St. John’s. They snapped the streak with a loss to Butler on Tuesday but still sit at 16–13 going into their regular season finale, the return date with St. John’s in Cincinnati. Another triumph before the Big East tournament could keep Xavier in the running for an NCAA bid, and it enters the weekend in a five-team logjam for third place that leaves its seed in New York very much up in the air. At 70th in the NET, the Musketeers need all the momentum they can get right now.
Texas Tech and Kansas State
With Kansas’s loss on Tuesday taking them officially out of the running for the Big 12 regular season title, the crown will belong to a team not named the Jayhawks for the first time since 2004. The Red Raiders have never won a Big 12 title, and to do so they will have to beat a strong but scuffling Iowa State team that may be without leading scorer Marial Shayok. The Wildcats need a win over the same Oklahoma team that just upset No. 13 Kansas to clinch their share of the hardware. This weekend could easily knock one out of the running and leave the Big 12 with a standalone conference champion.
The Big Ten is in a somewhat surprising three-way tie going into the final weekend of conference play: After Purdue started the season at a shaky 6–5, the title was widely expected to land somewhere in Michigan. From there, the Boilermakers rallied and took hold of the conference’s top spot, but after a slip-up against Minnesota earlier this week, the best they can do is share the Big Ten title with the winner of Saturday night’s Michigan–Michigan State game. If Purdue falls to a Northwestern team that just knocked off bubble hopeful Ohio State on Wednesday, either the Wolverines or Spartans will walk away alone atop the conference.
The Crimson Tide are fading at the wrong time, falling to 17–13 overall and 8–9 in the SEC after Tuesday’s loss to Auburn. That win would have been a big boost to a borderline bubble case, and now Alabama can’t afford to enter the SEC tournament on a three-game skid; its opening game in Nashville was already essentially set to be a must-win. If the Crimson Tide can’t take care of business against a tricky Arkansas team on the road, they may have to make it to Saturday’s SEC tournament semifinals to feel good about their chances of dancing.
LSU and Tennessee
The Tigers were predicted to finish sixth in the SEC, while Kentucky and Tennessee were projected as conference frontrunners. Instead, LSU goes into the final weekend tied with Tennessee atop the SEC standings after a thrilling one-point overtime win on Wednesday against a frisky Florida team, bumping its SEC record to 15–2. Tennessee ends its regular season against Auburn, the team with which it shared last season’s SEC title, but the Vols’ success this season was more widely expected. If LSU trips over the lowest hurdle of its entire SEC schedule, a Vanderbilt team that has not won since December, it’ll risk losing out on at least a share of the program’s first regular season SEC championship in a decade.
Tuesday night’s upset of Big Ten leader Purdue did wonders for Minnesota’s NCAA tournament résumé and took some pressure off this weekend, but now the Golden Gophers can dream of avoiding a play-in game as a member of the First Four—although nothing is guaranteed. If the Gophers secure another upset win this weekend over Maryland, it could not only ease their March Madness slate but also provide some crucial momentum as the postseason gets rolling.