Preparing for even more madness this March

South Carolina celebrates winning the SEC Tournament on March 10, 2024. Photo Courtesy of Tracy Glantz/The State Newspaper.

By Allyn Tucker

Boston University News Service

Conference tournaments? Selection Sunday? This March is expected to be particularly mad. For those who have taken a quick break from sports along with their break from school, here are the biggest college basketball stories to be paying attention to this week. 

Men’s Conference Tournament Play and Seeding

Beginning with the SEC, some of the conference’s most talked about teams were absent from the conference championship. The game tipped off between Florida and Auburn, who went unexpectedly far in the tournament despite each team’s impressive season. That’s the story of the SEC this year: the list of contenders and underrated sides is too long to count. With Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama all falling before the championship, Auburn came out on top of the conference. The Gators were shaken mid-game by Handlogten’s horrific injury, leaving room for the Tigers to pull away with a sustained lead. 

With a shockingly good performance throughout the conference tournament, the North Carolina State Wolfpack, who were tenth in the ACC, took down regular season champions North Carolina to win the championship. The Wolfpack is a team to add to your upset watch, having earned a sound eight-point victory, but the Tar Heels remain an NCAAM tournament favorite as confirmed on Selection Sunday.

The Big 12 tournament followed the underdog trend, seeing Iowa State Cyclones beat regular season champion Houston Cougars. The game was a proper blowout, with Iowa State winning 69-41, but the Cyclones’ performance cannot be considered an upset. Seeded as two in both the Big 12 and the NCAAM tournament, they are another team to watch closely this month. Despite the hard loss, Houston is still going into the week as a one-seed.

Unsurprisingly, because after all it is March, the Big Ten championship saw Wisconsin defeat regular season champions Purdue in a thriller where the difference was one point. The influx of top-seeded teams losing in their conference championships only proves the unpredictability of March Madness, so fans should expect a month full of upsets and dramatics. The Boilermakers still held onto their one-seed on Selection Sunday despite their tough defeat.

Defending national champions UConn continued their positive play in the Big East tournament, defeating Marquette soundly 73-57. The Huskies are entering March Madness as the number one overall team in the AP Poll, heavily favored to win back-to-back championships. They work efficiently, earning a regular season (31-3) record and an expected one-seed in the NCAAM tournament.

Who else should fans look out for?

First of all, never count out the blue bloods. Along with UNC, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas are all expected to perform well despite Kansas’ recent struggles with injury. To make a long list short, watch out for Alabama, Baylor, Creighton, Arizona and Tennessee to progress deep into the tournament, and be on the lookout for any hot, underdog teams, past examples including Saint Peters and Loyola Chicago.

Women’s Conference Tournament Play and Seeding

NCAAW Basketball’s selection Sunday occurred after the conference tournaments gave teams their final chance to prove themselves worthy of a bid to compete in March Madness. 

Beginning again with the SEC, because the drama is too good to save the best for last, the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks showed resilience throughout their path to the championship that they haven’t had to dig up in a while. Following a semifinal matchup that saw them win on a buzzer beater three-point shot, the Gamecocks were in for a tough matchup with Angel Reese and the LSU Tigers. The game remained close through the beginning of the fourth quarter, when a scuffle, which is an understatement, broke out between Flau’jae Johnson and Kamilla Cardoso. After a number of ejections, both teams finished with only the five players on the court, and South Carolina held their small lead through the end of the game, earning the undefeated side a very expected one-seed in the tournament.

In the PAC-12’s final conference championship game, USC and Juju Watkins faced off against the dynasty that is Stanford. Though Stanford just celebrated coach Tara VanDerveer‘s record breaking win recently and entered the game confidently led by Cameron Brink, the Trojans proved to be too crafty an opponent. Stanford defended Watkins, a major shooting threat, incredibly well throughout the game, but the rest of USC was able to rally together and find the win. Both schools were projected first or second seeds in the NCAA tournament, but USC was on top not only in the matchup but also in the seeding.

The Big East conference championship, despite Georgetown’s heroic performances to reach the game, was all UConn. Finding their stride more quietly than in the past, the Huskies showed the rest of college basketball that they’re not going anywhere, recording a 78-42 victory. Through a year plagued by season-ending injuries and adjustments, the Huskies earned themselves a three-seed.

Ending with the Big Ten, Iowa and Nebraska can always put on a show. Caitlin Clark, who recorded 34 points and 12 assists, and the Hawkeyes cut down the nets at the end of the overtime thriller. Nebraska has proved to be a big threat in women’s basketball despite their middle of the pack ranking as a six-seed, but Iowa, just as unsurprisingly as South Carolina, ended the year as a one-seed.

Moving more quietly than the other three top seeds, the Texas Longhorns fought through important injuries and a tough spell in the middle of the season to earn themselves a Big 12 championship and their first one-seed since 2004. 

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