Before there is March Madness, there…is…Arch Madness. The Ohio Valley Conference Tournament simulates the do-or-die nature of the NCAA tournament, as they never produce multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament, so when the tournament kicks off today, it will be for all the marbles. Here is a breakdown of our bracket predictions, along with our full picks. Breakdown Champion Picks: Murray State (2), Belmont (1) Runners Up Picks: Belmont (2), Murray State (1 Most Common Upset: No upset picked more than once
Nathaniel’s Bracket First Round 8. Morehead State def. 5. Tennessee State 6. Eastern Illinois def. 7. Jacksonville State Quarterfinals 3. Austin Peay def. 6. Eastern Illinois 4. Eastern Kentucky def. 8. Morehead State Semifinals 1. Belmont def. 4. Eastern Kentucky 2. Murray State def. 3. Austin Peay Championship 2. Murray State def. 1. Belmont
Andrew’s Bracket First Round 5. Tennessee State def. 8. Morehead State 7. Jacksonville State def. 6. Eastern Illinois Quarterfinals 3. Austin Peay def. 7. Jacksonville State 4. Eastern Kentucky def. 5. Tennessee State Semifinals 1. Belmont def. 4. Eastern Kentucky 2. Murray State def. 3. Austin Peay Championship 2. Murray State def. 1. Belmont
Aidan’s Bracket First Round 5. Tennessee State def. 8. Morehead State 6. Eastern Illinois def. 7. Jacksonville State Quarterfinals 3. Austin Peay def. 6. Eastern Illinois 4. Eastern Kentucky def. 5. Tennessee State Semifinals 1. Belmont def. 4. Eastern Kentucky 2. Murray State def. 3. Austin Peay Championship 1. Belmont def. 2. Murray State
There was very little Big East action on Saturday, so here’s a quick summary and takeaway from the two conference games that were played.
Villanova 64 Providence 60
The Game: Collin Gillespie scored 18 points and notched 8 rebounds to lead the Wildcats to victory at Providence – holding off a Friars comeback bid for their 12th win in 13 games.
The Takeaway: Providence Needs A Signature Win. The Friars have lost four of five in Big East play, and despite being competitive in each contest, they have not locked down a big win yet, which they will likely need to do to earn an at-large bid in March.
St. Johns 79 DePaul 66
The Game: LJ Figueroa was a beast for the Red Storm on Saturday, dropping 28 points on DePaul as St. Johns won handily in a battle of Big East cellar dwellers.
The Takeaway: Butler is in trouble. I know, this takeaway is about a team not involved in the game. But this game highlighted many DePaul deficiencies as they were slapped around on their home-court by another team in the basement of the conference. That Butler lost to this DePaul team is embarrassing and says a lot about the state of their team right now.
It was an old rivalry with a new twist. As UConn coach Geno Auriemma said with uncharacteristic emotion, “It wasn’t the same. I miss having her there.”
‘Her’ was legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Her and Auriemma’s squads did battle many times during her tenure, with UConn edging out Tennessee 13-9 for the series lead between the two teams. During each of those 22 games, both teams were in the Top 15 in the AP Poll. It was a rivalry for the ages that finally concluded around 2007.
On Thursday night, for the first time in thirteen years, the Huskies and Volunteers met on the basketball court again, although this time, Summitt was not leading the ladies in orange. Having retired in 2012, the all-time leader in coaching wins died in 2016 at just age 63, having been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers. It was a devastatingly early end to the career of one of the greatest coaches to ever do it.
Tennessee, led by coach Kelli Harper, came out of the gates firing on Thursday, taking a lead into halftime on the Huskies’ home court. Auriemma would ultimately pull the right strings, and his team played with a renewed ferocity. Their dominant second half propelled the home squad to a 60-45 victory. The intensity of the game, especially for the first three quarters when the game was still in doubt, echoed the old intensity of what was quite possibly the greatest rivalry ever on a college basketball court.
And, even if it wasn’t the same, it was a big win for the Huskies, who answered some major questions with a statement win over their first ranked opponent since their 16-point home loss to Baylor.
All Eyes On Oregon
In other women’s basketball headlines, the games to watch this weekend once again reside in the Pac-12. After Stanford engaged in two top-10 duels last week, there will be another pair of premier match-ups to watch in the coming days. Fans of high quality basketball and exciting rivalries will want to tune in as #4 Oregon hosts #7 Oregon State on Friday, before the two squads switch locations and do it again on Sunday, with the Ducks visiting the Beavers. Oregon is 15-2 and has won eight of their past eleven games by at least thirty points, including an 87-55 beat-down of Stanford. The Cowboys started 15-0, but they’ve been tripped up in two of their past three games, losing at Arizona State and at home to Stanford by a combined 11 points. It should be a thrilling series out west, and one that will clear up some of the muddled confusion at the top of the rankings.
Baylor is the #1 team in the nation, and they’re on a 15-game winning streak. Yet I still don’t think they’re winning their conference. Their style of play, to me, is not a sustainable formula for winning in March. They play a lot of close, defensive games, and that will be a tough approach to winning games when the lights shine the brightest. I still believe Kansas is the odds-on favorite to win the Big 12, while Baylor and West Virginia are right outside the picture and looking up at the Jayhawks. Here are this week’s biggest risers and fallers.
Biggest Risers: Oklahoma
This may be a slightly odd pick for the biggest riser, but I picked the Sooners for a very specific reason; I believe the Big 12 has a clear top four in the conference between the Jayhawks, Baylor, West Virginia, and Texas Tech. I think Oklahoma is the next best team, and I believe the Sooners did a good job of separating themselves from some of the other wannabes in the Big 12. They dominated TCU and then went on the road and nearly knocked off #1 Baylor. While they fell short in the latter game, Oklahoma, I think, showed themselves to be very clearly the next best team in the Big 12.
Biggest Fallers: Texas, Oklahoma State
Texas lost a winnable game at home to Kansas, and they followed up that disappointment by being obliterated by West Virginia. They showed both an inability to close out big games, and their continued proclivity for being run out of the building – their 38-point loss to the Mountaineers was their fourth by 15+ points. The Longhorns have really played themselves out of the Big 12 picture. They’ll need a small miracle to even be considered on Selection Sunday.
Oklahoma State is in a similar position to Texas. Entering conference play at 9-3, the Cowboys are now 9-9 with an ugly 0-6 conference mark. They’ve lost four of those games by double digits, and they have shown very little ability to win on the road or at home against conference opponents. I believe their 12-point loss to Texas at home was a true statement about where this team stands in the national and conference picture – they are not close to contention, and they won’t be this year.
While the Big 12 has some top tier talent, I believe they have very little depth in the conference. I’m only confident in four teams making it to the Dance – Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, and Texas Tech.
Picking bubble teams is tough in this conference, but I’ll go with Oklahoma, Iowa State, and TCU, although I would not lay money down on those teams making it right now.
I’m declaring 3 Big 12 teams done, as I simply don’t see a path to the tournament – beyond an unlikely conference championship – for Texas, Oklahoma State, or Kansas State.
Last week, I listed Butler and Seton Hall as co-title favorites, and this week, I believe the Pirates have separated themselves. I don’t think too much has changed within in the conference as a whole, but here’s a quick look at their biggest risers and fallers.
Biggest Risers: Seton Hall
The Pirates are essentially the conference’s biggest riser due to their 9-game winning streak and head-to-head win over Butler, last week’s co-favorite. While I don’t think their conference championship odds increased tremendously, they have separated themselves from the field with a 7-0 Big East record, and so they earn the honor of biggest riser this week.
Biggest Fallers: Butler, St. Johns
The Bulldogs are the new Ohio State of college basketball. After achieving a top-5 ranking, Butler has lost three straight games, one at home, and another one to an unranked opponent – quite possibly the worst Big East team in DePaul. It has been a horrific stretch for the Bulldogs. They’re still getting in the tournament, but I regard them as a clear second to Seton Hall in the conference with Villanova closing in behind them.
St. Johns prospects in the Big East were already pretty glum, and they dropped again this week. The Red Storm have lost another three straight Big East games after finally taking down DePaul for their first conference victory; they have kept some big games close, but ultimately, the lack of results is going to doom this team. Sitting at 11-2 entering conference play, St. Johns has crashed to 12-8 and is now looking like an afterthought in both the conference and national picture.
Right now, my prediction is for 5 teams from the Big East to make the tournament, with Seton Hall, Villanova, Butler, Marquette, and Creighton representing the conference.
3 teams are on the wrong side of the bubble, but still have a path to the tournament: Xavier, Providence, Georgetown.
I am declaring 2 teams officially dead in the NCAA tournament race: St. Johns and DePaul.
I don’t think there’s been much shift at the top in the ACC – I still view Louisville, Duke, and Florida State as the three favorites, but there were some performances that merited a second look as teams jockey for conference tournament position and potentially a spot in the NCAA field come March.
Biggest Risers: Syracuse, NC State After initially listing Virginia as a dark-horse candidate, I believe the Wolfpack became the ‘best of the rest’ in the ACC outside the aforementioned top 3. This past week, they ended Clemson’s surprising hot streak and edged Virginia on the road. I also think Syracuse made a statement this week – in my eyes, the Orange definitely put themselves squarely in consideration for an at-large bid come March. I still don’t see them contending for an ACC title, but they had some really gutsy wins that have them riding a four-game winning streak. They beat Virginia Tech on the road, and then they proved they could win without Buddy Boeheim, beating the Irish on the road 84-82. It was an impressive performance from a team that had lost to Notre Dame at home just two weeks earlier.
Biggest Fallers: Virginia, Notre Dame Both of these squads played victim to the risers this week. The defending national champions started conference play 3-0 and had me thinking this could be a team that would make another deep run, but they’ve lost four of five, including at home to the Wolfpack and the Orange. Their trademark defense keeps them in games, but this team has lost a lot of offensive firepower, and while they’ll likely make the tournament, I’m highly doubting they make a run. The Irish’s quest to reclaim some respect in the ACC took another hit with their home loss to Syracuse. They are 2-5 in ACC play, with the last four of those losses coming by a combined 11 points. With a star in John Mooney, the Irish are staying competitive, but they lack the finishing touch of a perennial winner, and that may plague them if they can’t figure it out soon.
QUICK HITS The ACC is still one of the best conferences, if not the best conference, in America, and they are loaded with Final Four contenders at the top of the standings. I see the ACC putting 8 teams in the tournament, and my prediction is that those teams will be Duke, Louisville, Florida State, NC State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Virginia, and Notre Dame. Right outside the picture, I have Clemson and Pittsburgh. I’m declaring 4 ACC teams dead in the NCAA Tournament picture, and those teams are UNC, Miami, Wake Forest, and Boston College.
Biggest Upcoming Games Notre Dame @ #5 Florida State Pittsburgh @ Syracuse Clemson @ #6 Louisville
Wow. What a weekend of college basketball. Three Top-5 Teams lost on Saturday as #3 Duke lost a tough one at home to #11 Louisville, while #4 Auburn and #5 Butler both lost decisively on the road to unranked opponents, with Florida and DePaul doing the job respectively. Along with those upsets, here’s the rest of the headlines from a crazy Saturday of college basketball.
Unexpected Heroes Highlight Unexpected Results
To pull a big road upset, a team often needs some unexpected contributions, and the Louisville Cardinals took that to a new level. Cardinals’ guard David Johnson was averaging 3.7 points per game, but he balled out for Louisville on Saturday, posting 19 points to go with seven assists, and four rebounds. Johnson’s stunning day outweighed a big performance from Duke’s Cassius Stanley and lifted Louisville to the 79-73 victory over Duke, who will be sure to drop in the polls after two losses this week.
Auburn came to Florida and, after starting the year 15-0, the Tigers looked nothing like a top-5 team. The Gators got their own unexpected contributions, as Omar Payne, averaging 4.7 points per game, dominated Auburn to the tune of 19 points and 11 rebounds. After gleaning a 28-23 halftime edge, Florida ran away in the second half for a 69-47 victory. The Tigers are starting to slip badly after two blowout road losses, while the Gators look to be climbing back towards the team many thought they would be in the preseason.
Depaul hosted a vulnerable Butler squad on Saturday. The Bulldogs were coming off a demoralizing home loss to Seton Hall, and they failed to come out of the gate fast, falling behind by ten at halftime. From there, DePaul closed it out, leading by as much 17 in the second half, eventually knocking off Butler 79-66.
Not only did three top-5 teams lose in one day, they all suffered losses previously in the week, so expect some major shakeup in the AP Poll (and our Power Rankings) tomorrow.
The Other Upsets
While the upsets of Duke, Auburn, and Butler stole the headlines, there were some other notable upsets that occurred on Saturday. Kansas State dominated West Virginia, converting a 42-25 halftime lead into a 16-point victory. Cartier Diarra scored 25 for the Wildcats in a significant upset, as Kansas State improved to 8-9 and earned their first Big 12 win, dropping West Virginia to 14-3 in the process.
Houston went on the road and earned a statement win over Wichita State, as no Shockers’ player had more than seven points, and Houston used a strong defensive performance and a steady offensive outing to put away the 16th-ranked team in the nation, 65-54.
Arizona held serve on their home court, as the Wildcats played host to the #20 Colorado Buffalo, but Arizona didn’t let their visitors stick around in the game too long. ‘Zona outscored Colorado by eleven in the first half and ten in the second, earning a statement victory, 75-54. Most impressively, Arizona spread their offense around, with no scorers notching more than 13 points. Zeke Nnaji had 12 points and 12 rebounds to spur the offensive attack.
And last but not least, in Big 10 play, it was Penn State dominating the skidding Ohio State Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions scored at will, putting up 42 points in the first 20 minutes, before heating up further and lighting up the scoreboard for 48 more in the second half. The Buckeyes drop to 2-5 in Big 10 play, and they could very well slip out of the rankings – barely two weeks after being a #1 seed in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology.
Strong Road Performances Separating Elite Teams
Homecourt is a huge advantage, and its impact has become a noticeable trend throughout college sports. The home team is always expected to win more games, on any given day, but there are teams who look competent and capable of playing on the road – like Louisville on Saturday. But there are also teams who look like world-beaters at home but turn into limp noodles on the road. The Big 10 offers several examples of this, with Ohio State – the #20 team in the nation – playing putrid basketball on the road, to the tune of a 1-4 road record. Michigan is 11-6, but they are 0-5 in true road games, and Penn State, a formerly ranked team, is 1-3 on the road. In an age where homecourt advantage is becoming ever more prevalent, the ability to win on the road will define which teams are capable of a deep run in March.
As the college basketball season continues, teams have begun to show their identity, emerging into tiers of national title contenders, bubble teams, dark-horses, and a number of other levels. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi sends fans into a frenzy with every edition of bracketology, as fans desperately hope for their squad’s inclusion in the latest projection, or perhaps a higher seed. Rather than look at everything on a broad level, this article will offer a quick breakdown of each Power-6 conference with title favorites, surprise contenders, duds, and teams to watch among the topics covered. Skip to your team’s conference or browse through to see where things stand within each conference. The categories are based off performance so far and expected performance for the rest of the year given each team’s schedule. Our first Mid-Major report will be coming shortly.
Title Favorite: Duke
The Blue Devils are possibly the best team in the country, with only one shocking home loss separating them from unbeaten status. They’re the clear favorite in the ACC.
The Best of the Rest: Louisville, Florida State
These two squads are the only team not named Duke with more than 3% chance at winning the title. In our recent NCAA Basketball roundtable, Louisville was one of my Final Four picks, and Florida State was my ACC champion pick. I really like both these teams and their odds to challenge the Blue Devils.
Darkhorse Title Pick: Virginia
The defending national champs have not been as elite as they’ve been in recent years, but they’re still a bona fide contender in the ACC and have a shot at a decent seeding in the NCAA tournament with a strong performance down the stretch.
Title Unlikely, Could make a run: NC State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame
All three of these teams have shown a lot of negatives, but they have reason for hope. Notre Dame can compete with anyone with their defense, NC State nearly took down Auburn on the road, and Virginia Tech have road wins over #15 Michigan State and Syracuse.
Despite their recent home loss to Baylor, the Jayhawks still have the best odds to win the Big 12, and they strike me as the more talented team with a more stable foundation; the Bears have won a lot of tight defensive struggles, which seems less sustainable.
The Best of the Rest: Baylor, West Virginia
West Virginia was my Big 12 title pick in our recent roundtable, and they have a lot of upside, and Baylor has undoubtedly performed extremely well this year, culminating in their recent upset of the Jayhawks.
Darkhorse Title Pick: Texas Tech
The defending national runners-up don’t look like favorites in the Big 12, but much like Virginia in the ACC, they’re very capable of making a run, as they demonstrated last March. Don’t count them out.
Title Unlikely, Could Make a Run: Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU
The Sooners, Cyclones, and Horned Frogs all have definite NCAA tournament potential, but with a loaded top of the conference, they may be on the outside looking in of the Big 12 picture.
Below Average: Oklahoma State, Texas
The Worst: Kansas State
Title Favorites: Butler, Seton Hall
Both of these teams hover in the 24-26% chance to win the Big East in the latest projections, so they split the title favorite category in the Big East. Butler has only a 1-point loss to Baylor on their resume, while Seton Hall is unbeaten in Big East play and has looked very impressive doing so.
The Best of the Rest: Villanova
The Wildcats are definitely in the running for the title and got a couple of votes to do so in our roundtable. Their win over Kansas was a statement, but a loss to Marquette have kept them out of the Big East lead.
Darkhorse Title Picks: Marquette, Creighton
Marquette has been very inconsistent, but they definitely show potential as evidenced in their 81-70 win over Villanova. Creighton handled Marquette a few weeks ago and boast road wins over #23 Texas Tech and conference rival Xavier.
Title Unlikely, Could Make a Run: Georgetown, Xavier
The Hoyas have flashed a lot of potential, winning five straight by double digits heading into Big East play, but they are just 1-3 in conference games so far. Xavier has suffered a letdown after a big rivalry win over Cincinnati; the Musketeers are just 3-4 since that game, including a 1-3 Big East mark.
Below Average: Providence, St. Johns
The Worst: DePaul
Title Favorites: Michigan State
Until their recent dud against Purdue, the Spartans looked to be on a quick rise back towards the top of the rankings. After struggling early, they’ve turned it on, led by Cassius Winston. They’re undoubtedly the team to beat in the Big 10, especially given Ohio State’s struggles.
The Best of the Rest: Ohio State, Maryland
I apparently really didn’t like picking favorites to win conferences, as I picked Maryland to take the Big 10. They’ve definitely got a chance and so do the Buckeyes, assuming they turn it around; they were a Top-5 team before sinking into a four-game skid that left them in last place in the conference.
Darkhorse Picks: Purdue, Michigan
Honestly, I wouldn’t bet on either of these teams, but Purdue is absolutely incredible on their home court, which they proved with a 71-42 beatdown of Michigan State, and the Wolverines absolutely dominated Gonzaga on the road, handing the #1 team their only loss.
Title Unlikely, Could Make A Run: Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois
Again, I haven’t found these teams extremely impressive, but that’s what this category is about. They each have upside, and could definitely find themselves in the NCAA tournament with a solid conference performance.
Below Average: Rutgers, Indiana, Penn State, Minnesota
The Worst: Nebraska, Northwestern
Title Favorite: Arizona
The Wildcats have been very impressive, despite their recent two-game skid. Prior to that, they dominated Arizona State 75-47, and came within five points of upsetting both Gonzaga and Baylor.
The Best of the Rest: Oregon, Colorado
Colorado won a head-to-head matchup with the Ducks and they were my title pick in the Pac 12. The Ducks are ranked in the top 10 and just earned a big win over Arizona.
Darkhorse Title Picks: Stanford, Washington
Wouldn’t bring this pick to Vegas, as neither of these teams have inspired confidence on a consistent basis, but both the Cardinal and Huskies could make a run in a tournament if they got a favorable draw.
Title Unlikely, Could Make a Run: Oregon State
The Beavers are the only team to make this category, largely due to their recent big-time upset of Arizona, as they dominated the Wildcats 82-65. They could be a fun underdog team to check out in March.
Below Average: USC
The Worst: Utah, UCLA, Washington State, Cal
Title Favorites: Auburn, Kentucky
This conference is fairly wide open, but three of our four roundtable contributors picked one of these two squads to take home the title (guess who didn’t?!). The Tigers are still unbeaten and a controversial foul call away from riding a winning streak approaching 30 games while Kentucky has bounced back from a shaky start with an unbeaten start to SEC play.
The Best of the Rest: LSU, Florida, Arkansas
In terms of title contenders, I think the SEC is the deepest conference. I could definitely see any of these three teams taking home the crown, and Florida was my pick. The Razorbacks have suffered just one conference loss – a road 2-point loss to LSU – while the Tigers are unbeaten in SEC play and have been impressive minus a weird home loss to Eastern Tennessee State.
Darkhorse Pick: Missouri
They’re only 1-2 in SEC play, but that one win was a 12-point win over Florida, and the Tigers also boast a win over #24 Illinois on their resume.
Title Unlikely, Could Make A Run: Alabama, Tennessee
The Crimson Tide and Volunteers have both had their moments, with Tennessee recently beating Missouri on the road while Alabama pushed both Florida and Kentucky to the brink on the road.
Below Average: Mississippi State, Georgia
The Worst: Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt