The college basketball season has reached Championship Week, when all the main conference tournaments are played. These are the final few games before the selection of the 68 teams for the NCAA Tournament. That selection show is on Sunday, March 12. These games will be on a neutral court and they are played one day after the other with no days off. It’s a final, grueling sprint to the finish line for college basketball teams. Let’s see how the top teams stack up.
The city of Houston will host the Final Four and the Cougars sure hope they can play home games at the big event in early April. Houston is on course to be a No. 1 seed after winning on the road in Memphis over the weekend. Houston, if it wins the rest of its games before the NCAA Tournament, could be the top overall seed. We’re going to put Houston there now since the Cougars will be favored to win the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
The Kansas Jayhawks are probably the one team, which can still overtake Houston for the No. 1 overall seed in March Madness. The Jayhawks have a very large quantity of high-end wins and high-value road wins. They have won big games in and out of their conference. Houston has lost fewer games than Kansas, but KU has a lot more big wins. If Kansas wins the Big 12 Tournament – meaning that it would get three high-quality wins this week – it could leapfrog Houston. The Cougars could beat Memphis, but no other opponent in the AAC would give the Cougars’ resume a noticeable boost. Houston is No. 1, Kansas is No. 2, but Kansas can jump ahead before Selection Sunday.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Alabama Crimson Tide lost to Texas A&M, but beyond that, they have to be concerned about the reality that someone was shot by a former member of their team, Darius Miles, and that star player Brandon Miller – though not charged with a crime – did not seem to make a wise decision in having some degree of proximity to that shooting. It has been a huge distraction, and beyond that, a source of turbulence and disgust. It is hard to think that this group of young human beings will be able to maintain perfect focus and clarity and be as fully enthusiastic about the task at hand as it needs to be. At any rate, the loss to Texas A&M removes Alabama from being considered for the top overall seed. The Tide will still get a No. 1 seed, though, their highest ever.
The UCLA Bruins beat Arizona State and Arizona this past week to solidify their hold on a No. 1 seed. UCLA finished 18-2 in the 20-game Pac-12 Conference schedule this season. That is hugely impressive even when you acknowledge that the Pac-12 was down. Going 18-2 in a Power Five conference is a big-time accomplishment. UCLA might have to win the Pac-12 Tournament, however, to preserve its No. 1 seed, and the Bruins will play the Pac-12 Tournament without star defensive stopper Jaylen Clark, who was injured on Saturday in the win over Arizona. UCLA should be able to make the final of the Pac-12 Tournament even without Clark. However, playing Arizona in a possible final on Saturday might be extremely difficult with Clark not in the lineup.
The Longhorns beat Kansas to pretty much seal a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Texas grabbed a high-value win over an opponent which will be a No. 1 seed for March Madness. Even if Texas loses early in the Big 12 Tournament, it has done enough good work to avoid falling to a No. 3 seed. That Kansas win is a lot of insurance, giving the Longhorns a real cushion. Texas interim head coach Rodney Terry continues to do a superb job with this team. Remember, previous head coach Chris Beard was arrested and then dismissed from his position midway through the season.
The Boilermakers bounced back this past week by winning at Wisconsin and then at home versus Illinois. Other teams have made bigger, better and stronger arguments for a No. 1 seed. Purdue is not in the front of the line, but the Boilermakers did solidify a No. 2 seed. They will not fall to a No. 3 seed even if they lose early in the Big Ten Tournament. Moreover, Purdue’s two recent wins this past week mean that if the Boilermakers win the Big Ten Tournament and UCLA loses early in the Pac-12 Tournament, Purdue could leap back ahead of the Bruins for a No. 1 seed. Purdue will also want to watch for Texas. If Purdue loses early in the Big Ten Tournament and Texas wins the Big 12 Tournament, Texas could grab the final No. 1 seed ahead of both Purdue and UCLA.
The Bears lost to Iowa State at home, which could cause them to fall from a No. 2 seed to a No. 3 seed. Baylor needs at least two wins at the Big 12 Tournament to move up to a No. 2 seed before Selection Sunday.
The Vols lost to Auburn, which guarantees they will not be a No. 1 seed. Tennessee will need to win the SEC Tournament to get a No. 2 seed. That will be a challenge after guard Zakai Zeigler got injured against Arkansas. He is a crucial piece to the puzzle for the Vols, who now face a much bigger uphill battle in the attempt to make the school’s first-ever Men’s Final Four. Tennessee has to find ways to score. The Volunteers know how to play defense. However, their offense can go through crippling scoring droughts, and that is what they have to address as March Madness arrives.
The Wildcats lost to UCLA this past weekend, but they might get another shot at the Bruins in the Pac-12 Tournament. If Arizona can beat UCLA and win the Pac-12 Tournament, they could move up from a No. 3 seed to a No. 2 seed. That would be a really good achievement for a team which is not as good as last year’s Arizona squad.
Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats lost to West Virginia, but they are still in line to get a No. 3 seed, and head coach Jerome Tang was the richly deserving Big 12 Coach of the Year. It will be fascinating to see what this team will do in March.