February 25, 2024 

Conference title check-ins: Why Stanford’s collapse against Arizona could threaten its March Madness seeding

Projecting the regular season conference winner across high- and mid-majors

Just eight days remain in the regular season — or most prominent conferences’ seasons, anyway. Most have their regular season conference champions just about wrapped up. Others are the Big 12, which will likely come down to a single game Wednesday night, or the Pac-12, whose overwhelming favorite forgot how to play basketball at 8:30 p.m. local Friday night to re-open the title race.

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That overwhelming favorite is Stanford, which led Arizona by 10 early in the fourth quarter and proceeded to give up a 31-14 run through the final buzzer. Wildcat point guard Jada Williams scored 14 points on four shots across the final frame to give Arizona the win. In this game, Cameron Brink did not play due to a non-COVID illness. And a few hours away down the 5, USC was beating Colorado to secure itself a near-certain first-round bye in the Pac-12 championship.

With that in mind, I’ll begin our trip around the Power Five and Group of Seven out west. Just remember that incredible upsets do happen — ain’t no rule says a Northwestern can’t beat Indiana — but for the sake of both simplicity and realism, I’m going to set aside the more remote possibilities here. And for the record, splitting a regular season conference title is silly; all conferences do tiebreakers to determine tournament seeding, so it’s not like we don’t know who the real winners here are.

Pac-12

The Pac-12 regular season title is probably simple: Stanford takes care of business, and it takes home a full championship. It could also lose in Corvallis next Thursday, which, combined with USC beating Utah today, would give the Trojans the top seed in the conference tournament. Again, in my book that counts as the real conference title, but it’s worth mentioning that such a result would technically give the Beavers a share of the championship. So, to be clear: if USC beats Utah today, Oregon State is playing for a share of the conference title on Thursday. Which is insane for a team that took until late January to notch a Quad 1 win.

Beyond the No. 1 seed, Colorado at UCLA on Monday likely determines whether the Bruins are seeded third, the Beavers fourth and the Buffaloes fifth, or Oregon State seeded third, Colorado fourth and UCLA fifth. Unless USC is the No. 1 seed, in which case all of that gets thrown out the window. This matters greatly for seeding in March Madness, because as many as four teams could be vying for a top seed if they can win the Pac-12 Tournament.

Now, onto the rest of the conferences, in alphabetical order.

AAC

Six teams are within two games of first place in the American. Three of them play each other to close out conference play: Temple at Rice today, Tulsa at Temple on Wednesday and UNT at Rice on Saturday. And that’s to say nothing of the games involving East Carolina, USF, SMU and Memphis, all of whom could beat anyone in the conference on any given day. You want chaos? This is American basketball, baby.

ACC

Virginia Tech wins its first-ever regular season conference title unless it loses out, which would require losing to Virginia (and the Hokies’ other two remaining opponents). And I like the Cavaliers, but come on.

Everything below the top seed is incredibly chaotic. Syracuse could end up anywhere between the No. 2 seed and the No. 5; Duke could take a couple of Tobacco Road wins and storm its way to a double bye or just be playing on Day 2, and anything could happen with the five teams currently sitting between those two in the standings!

Knowing the ACC, this will probably come down to a four-way tiebreaker because of Notre Dame getting boat-raced by Louisville on the last day of the season. Or something to that effect.

A-10

The best game no one watched this week was George Mason beating conference leader Richmond in overtime yesterday, which now puts the Spiders on the razor’s edge. They’re still the favorite to win their first conference title since 1990, but if they lose to Duquesne on Wednesday, then Saint Joseph’s will take home its first title since 2003 (provided the Hawks beat Duquesne on Saturday). If the Dukes instead close out their season with back-to-back wins over the top two teams in the conference, then we have a four-way tie for first place! And thanks to their win yesterday, that would give the Patriots their first-ever conference title of any kind.

This would be the most Atlantic 10 thing to have ever happened.


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Big 12

If you’re tired of all the complications across the first four conferences, do I have something for you. The Big 12 is all about keeping it straightforward. Texas at Oklahoma on Wednesday night. If the Sooners win, they take home the championship. If the Longhorns win, then Kansas State takes home the championship. Unless the Wildcats manage to lose to Kansas or Iowa State or Texas Tech, in which case Texas gets the title.

Regardless, West Virginia inventing a new way to lose yesterday pretty much guarantees that those three other teams are the top three seeds in the Big 12 Tournament. And if the Mountaineers lose to Oklahoma State, they’ll lose their bye, too.

Big East

Someday UConn will stop winning conference championships. Just kidding! They’re going to hire someone like Shea Ralph once Geno Auriemma retires and win four more national championships. The only real juice here is St. John’s at Marquette on Tuesday, where the winner will likely be the conference No. 3 seed and the loser the No. 5.


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Big Ten

The Big Title title race is for those of you who found the Big 12 uncompelling but thought the ACC was a bit too convoluted. Ohio State’s next win basically clinches the conference title (again, at least in my mind), but for the record, the season-finale Buckeyes at Hawkeyes game may decide if Iowa gets a participation trophy (i.e. a share of the official championship). Also, if Ohio State goes 1-2 over its final three games, Indiana gets a share of that trophy thanks to the Hoosier’s win over those Hawkeyes this week. Beyond that, Nebraska’s basically locked in as the No. 4 seed, and everything else is up for grabs.

Ivy League

If Princeton takes care of business against Harvard, then the Tigers secure the Ivy League title. That top seed is particularly important because Harvard is going to be seeded third. The Crimson are a much stronger opponent than Brown, who is likely to sit in fourth.

Mountain West

The Mountain West title race is for those of you who found the Big 12 race a little too exciting. That’s because UNLV has already locked up the MWC championship. And the Mountain West might have even less juice in the mid-pack, where the only game of real import is Wyoming at San Diego State to determine if the Cowgirls can secure the No. 3 seed or if they’ll sit fourth below Colorado State.

MVC

A couple of tough games remain for each of provisional Nos. 1 Drake and 2 Belmont, but they’re basically locks to stay in this order. Wish I had more for you, loyal reader, I really do.

SEC

They should change their name to SCC — the South Carolina Conference! (I got fired from my other job as a part-time comedian, so now you have to suffer these jokes).

The top three in the SEC are effectively already set at South Carolina, LSU and Mississippi, although I want to mention that Tennessee can still get the No. 2 seed if it beats the Tigers, the Aggies and the Gamecocks, which would be a great bit. Can you imagine if the Vols beat each of those three and still only ended up seeded second?

Mississippi State is probably the No. 4 and Tennessee at Texas A&M on Thursday will determine tiebreakers for Nos. 5-7 — unless Alabama and/or Auburn decide to completely ruin the Bulldogs’ and Aggies’ seasons. What the Tide and Tigers do over these final three games will directly affect half the conference.

WCC

Gonzaga has already won the championship, and really should be a no-brainer top-16 seed in the NCAA Tournament by any selection committee — except, it seems, for the one we’re dealing with. Santa Clara is a lock for the No. 2 seed and Portland No. 3.


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Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

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