By Frank Burlison
March 04, 2012

The Buckeyes were pretty much the overwhelming choice to be the dominant team in the Big Ten Conference this season.

But a .500 stretch over six conference games -- including home defeats to Michigan State and Wisconsin, and a two-point win at Northwestern on Wednesday night -- removed any remaining presumption of the Buckeyes' in-conference dominance.

Then coach Thad Matta's team went into East Lansing and fell behind by 15 points before putting a damper on the Spartans' post-game Senior Day festivities with a wild 72-70 win (RECAP | BOX).

The victory, capped via a difficult jump shot by William Buford for the go-ahead points, gave the Buckeyes a 13-5 conference mark and a share of the regular-season crown with Michigan and Michigan State.

Conference tie-breakers left the Spartans, Wolverines and Buckeyes as the first three seeds -- Wisconsin, at 14-4, was the No. 4 seed and drew the other bye into Friday's conference tournament quarterfinals in Indianapolis.

And, with possible games against No. 6 seed Purdue on Friday, Michigan on Saturday and -- likely -- either Michigan State, Wisconsin on Sunday, Matta's crew has three more opportunities to demonstrate that, yes, it was the best of the Big Ten all along.

Oh, that Pac-12 Conference: Three things had to break right over the weekend for the conference to cling to reasonable hopes of being represented by three or maybe even four clubs in the NCAA Tournament.

Washington had to beat UCLA in the L.A. Sports Arena on Saturday, and Arizona (vs. Arizona State) and Cal (vs. Stanford) needed to also close out their regular seasons with victories on Sunday.

The conference went zip for three.

The Huskies fell to the resurgent Bruins 75-69 (RECAP | BOX), the Wildcats were stunned by the 20-loss Sun Devils (RECAP | BOX) while the Golden Bears stumbled in Maples Pavilion (RECAP | BOX), on the heels of their road loss to Colorado last Sunday.

Coach Lorenzo Romar's Huskies benefited from Cal's defeat by becoming the conference's outright regular-season champion and securing the top seed in the conference tournament that gets underway in the L.A. Staples Center on Wednesday.

Minus any eye-catching non-conference victories (but tight losses to Duke, Marquette and a pretty good Nevada club), are the Huskies tournament-safe with that regular-season crown?

Washington better plan on knocking off either Oregon State or Washington State (which play Wednesday) on Thursday and -- just to be safe -- get to Saturday's tourney final to feel comfortable about getting one of those 37 at-large bids, if need be.

Cal has the strongest of the conference's non-conference resumes (as well as a cumulative 3-0 mark against Washington and Oregon, the latter which tied it for second) but shouldn't lose a third consecutive game Thursday when it faces either Stanford or Arizona State.

As for Oregon (the hottest team in the conference with six wins in seven games) and Arizona, getting to the conference tourney final is imperative -- and that would really only relieve the Selection Sunday concerns of one of those teams.

The CAA, moving right along: The top two seeds advanced to Monday night's conference tourney final in Richmond.

Are both 27-5 and top seed Drexel, a 68-51 winner over No. 4 seed Old Dominion (RECAP | BOX), and 27-6 No. 2 seed VCU, which held off George Mason (RECAP | BOX) in the Field of 68 regardless of who prevails in the finale?

A reasonable observer of all that is likely to go on this week leading into Selection Sunday should certainly believe so.

Drexel has won 19 in a row and beat a decent Cleveland State team on the road by 20 points in its BracketBuster foray.

And VCU has won 16 of 17 games and, it's obvious, has a better at-large resume than the club that barely got in a year ago before its stunning run to the Final Four.

Regular-season champions Middle Tennessee State and Iona were unceremoniously bounced in their conference tournaments Sunday. MTSU lost in the Sun Belt quarters to 14-19 Arkansas State (RECAP | BOX), while Iona lost 85-75 in the MAAC semifinals to Fairfield (RECAP | BOX).

Will a 25-6 record that includes non-conference victories over Loyola Marymount (fourth in the WCC), UCLA (tied for fourth in the Pac-12), Akron (first in the Mid-American), Belmont (first in the Atlantic Sun) and Mississippi (tied for sixth in the SEC) merit an at-large bid for Middle Tennessee State?

How about Iona's 25-7 mark that includes wins over Nevada (the 25-win, regular-season WAC champion) and Maryland (eighth in the ACC) and a one-point loss to Purdue (sixth in the Big Ten)?

One thing is certain: if Iona is in the NIT, the field will have a dazzling likely All-American in its field.

And I've finally figured out who Iona point guard Scott Machado reminds me of with his scintillating ball-handling and passing: It's Ernie DiGregorio, the All-American at Providence and NBA Rookie of the Year in the early 1970s. Yeah -- I'm not exactly "young".

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