NCAA Division I hoops is in postseason mode

March 5, 2023
While the NCAA’s official Madness doesn’t begin for another week, Division I (DI) hoopers are already in postseason mode, battling in conference tournaments to snag trophies and tickets to the Big Dance.
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🎟️ How it works and why it matters

The single-elimination conference tournaments are a BFD. Sixty-eight March Madness spots are up for grabs in women’s and men’s DI hoops, and over 350 teams are shooting for postseason glory. Thirty-two national tourney spots — one for each DI conference — are “automatic qualifiers.” In short, if you win your conference tourney, you’re dancing.

Teams who don’t hoist conference trophies will still have the chance to be selected for March Madness, but their hopes rest with the 12-person men’s and women’s selection committees, who will award the highly coveted 36 at-large bids next Sunday.

The biggest national contenders hail from the Power Six conferences: the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. All but three of the 40 women’s national titles ever awarded and 53 of the last 55 men’s ’ships have been bagged by schools from one of these six conferences.

  • The Power Six men and Big 12 women won’t hit courts until mid-week, but the remaining five women’s power conferences have been dropping dimes all weekend and will crown their champs today and tomorrow. The anticipation.

💃 The women

ACC: The ACC was one of the season’s most competitive conferences, led by regular season champs No. 10 Notre Dame and their history-making head coach Niele Ivey. But the Olivia Miles–less Irish were stunned by Louisville 64–38 in yesterday’s semi and must now watch from home as Louisville takes on No. 8 Virginia Tech in today’s ACC championship tilt.

Big 12: Both the No. 16 Oklahoma Sooners and No. 12 Texas Longhorns hooked dubs yesterday to share the Big 12 regular season title. Down to the minute. The conference tourney doesn’t tip off until Thursday, with fellow contender No. 23 Iowa State sure to be plotting an upset.

Big East: It’s been a rollercoaster year for the season champs No. 9 UConn Huskies, but with star guard Nika Mühl (who recently broke GOAT Sue Bird’s UConn season assists record) and yesterday’s return of guard Azzi Fudd, the Huskies’ bite is back. They’ll face Marquette just before No. 11 Villanova takes on Creighton in today’s tourney semifinals.

Big Ten: The No. 2 Indiana Hoosiers clinched the season title nearly two weeks ago, but don’t let that fool you: This conference is cutthroat. No. 14 Ohio State, who lost six of their last 10 regular season games, overcame a 24-point deficit to boot the Hoosiers out of the tourney yesterday. They’ll take on the inimitable Caitlin Clark’s No. 7 Iowa for the Big Ten trophy today.

Pac-12: Bringing the most bedlam is the Pac-12. No. 3 Utah and No. 6 Stanford shared the regular season title, but both were edged out of the conference tourney late last week by Washington State and No. 19 UCLA, respectively.

  • Today, either UCLA or Washington State (who did away with No. 20 Colorado on Friday to continue their Cinderella tourney run) will book their March Madness ticket. West coast, best upset coast.

SEC: To no one’s surprise, the defending national champs No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks — the only undefeated women’s or men’s DI hoops team — are heavily favored to take their seventh tourney title in the last nine years this afternoon.

  • But to do so, they’ll have to contend with the Tennessee Vols, who shockingly knocked the dangerous No. 4 LSU Tigers out of the SEC tourney last night.

🕺 The men

ACC: Of all the Power Six conferences, the ACC’s men brought the most suspense, with yesterday’s final regular season games breaking a three-way tie for the title. No. 13 Virginia and No. 16 Miami now share that trophy, while No. 25 Pitt’s last-day stumble is simply fuel for vengeance in this week’s conference tournament.

Big 12: In a season where the Big 12 has ruthlessly reigned supreme, the defending national champs No. 3 Kansas proved their dominance yet again, securing a record 64th (!!!) regular season conference title last week.

  • The Jayhawks’ biggest competition? No. 9 Texas (who handily beat Kansas 75–59 yesterday), No. 7 Baylor and No. 11 Kansas State, all of whom are national title threats, too.

Big East: Thanks to their steady climb since early January, the No. 6 Marquette Golden Eagles flew away with the regular-season trophy, but they can’t nest comfy: Parity is the name of the Big East game, and four other squads, including No. 14 UConn and No. 19 Xavier, could feasibly steal next Saturday’s tourney title.

Big Ten: Led by Canadian star center Zach Edey, No. 5 Purdue nabbed their 25th Big Ten season title a week ago; however, the Boilermakers lost a whopping four of their seven February games to No. 15 Indiana, No. 21 Maryland and unranked Northwestern. Any of the six teams tied for second place entering today could inject chaos into the conference tourney.

Pac-12: The only Pac-12 teams that defeated the season titleholders No. 4 UCLA Bruins this season? Their unranked cross-town rivals USC Trojans and the No. 8 Arizona Wildcats. In what could be a preview of next week’s conference championship game, the Bruins defeated the ’Cats 82–73 last night.

SEC: While No. 2 Alabama may be drawing some well-deserved off-court side eye, their on-court supremacy earned the Crimson Tide the regular-season’s top spot. As for their top tourney challenger? No. 24 Texas A&M boasts the next-best conference record and just rolled Bama to their second SEC loss yesterday.

📺 What to watch

Prep your snacks and snuggle into your sofa because this week will have more drama than Outer Banks. For the gals, ACC finalists Louisville and No. 8 Virginia Tech start today’s ESPN party at 1 p.m. ET, with the battle for the SEC and Big Ten titles tipping off at 3 p.m. ET and 5 p.m. ET, respectively.

  • But tune that second screen to ESPN2 at 5 p.m. ET to see who takes the Pac-12 ’ship, and set a reminder for 7 p.m. ET tomorrow when today’s Big East semifinal victors face off for conference glory on FS1.

As for the fellas, the ACC kicks off their tourney on Tuesday, while the rest of the Power Six take the hardcourt on Wednesday.

And sneaking in just under the wire? The Big 12 women, who’ll start shooting for their final rose on Thursday.

  • TL;DR? Clear your cal.