With some mid-major conference tournaments already underway and the month of March finally here, we have decided to investigate the power-6 conferences and discuss potential sleepers to win their conference tournament and secure a bid in March Madness. Most of the teams that will be discussed are teams that are either on the fence of receiving an at-large bid or have zero chance unless they win the tournament.
The Big 12 has been the best conference in college hoops this season. Kansas looks like a team that can repeat as National Champions, Baylor has started to look like one of the more electric teams in college hoops, and Texas has been consistent all season. Kansas State has been amazing this season and TCU has shown flashes of being one of the better teams in the country, especially with the return of Mike Miles. Along with these programs, Iowa State has been ranked for majority of the season, locking in six teams who should all receive 8 seeds or better. It is going to be hard for any team other than these top six to win this competitive Big 12 tournament. West Virginia has had a solid season, currently sitting at 17-13, and Oklahoma State had a strong start, one in which they were not able to keep, as they have lost their last five straight. If there had to be one sleeper program chosen, it would definitely be the Texas Tech Red Raiders. In the month of February, the Red Raiders defeated Kansas State, who is currently ranked 11th in the AP Poll and Texas who is sitting at the 9th ranking. They followed these home victories with wins at West Virginia and Oklahoma. They recently lost to TCU by 1 point and number 3 ranked Kansas by 4 points, at Kansas. The Red Raiders can make a run in the Big 12 conference tournament, if they do not capitalize on their recent strong play, they will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017.
The Big 10 has been possibly the most disappointing conference this season. Purdue looks as if they are the only true contender to win the NCAA tournament, but they are known for being perennial chokers, as Matt Painter has only made it to one elite 8 in his long-time tenure as the Boilermaker’s head coach. When looking at the Big 10, there are so many teams on the fence who will probably end up receiving at large bids. Michigan State has, surprisingly, not been one of those teams. But it’s not hard to know that coach Tom Izzo gets his guys ready for big games, specifically tournament games. MSU has shown ability as of late to win big games, defeating Indiana and Maryland recently. If the Spartans come ready to play, they really have shown that they can compete with anyone, especially in the Big 10.
Marquette, Xavier, UCONN, Providence and Creighton all seem locked in to receive at large bids. Surprisingly, Villanova is not one of these teams, and this would be their first time in 10 years to not make the NCAA tournament if they do not make a deep run in the Big East Conference Tournament. Villanova had a very rocky start to the season but is on a three-game winning streak and are starting to look better on both ends of the floor. The return of Guard Justin Moore, who suffered an Achilles injury, has been huge for the Wildcats, who returned starters Brandon Slater and Eric Dixon. Cam Whitmore has been one of the best freshmen this season, and the Wildcats have the mix of experience and young talent that can translate into them winning the Big East tournament and receiving an automatic bid to the big dance, something the Wildcats have seen major success in the last decade. It is definitely crazy to call Villanova an underdog, but, currently posting a record barely above .500 will not cut it for the blue blood program of the Big East.
UCLA, Arizona, USC and Arizona State should all receive bids to March Madness. Other than those four schools, each from two collective states, the PAC-12 most likely will not have any other at large bids. Oregon has the talent to make a run but they have been super inconsistent thus far. All of Arizona’s losses have been conference play, so they are very susceptible to losing in the PAC-12 tournament. Oregon is a team that again, always seems to make a splash come tournament time. With veteran’s N’Faly Dante and Will Richardson, anything is possible for the Ducks.
Miami, PITT, UVA, Duke, Clemson and NC State all have the resume’s to receive at-large bids to March Madness. The biggest disappointment of a program this season, in terms of their beginning of the year aspirations, is easily North Carolina. A team that not only went to the National Championship last year, but also happened to return one of the top backcourts in the country as well as one of the best big men in the country and in North Carolina basketball history. Head Coach Hubert Davis has proven he can prepare his guys for the big stage, and guard Caleb Love has proven he wants the ball when it is winning time. With a team that has already seen so much tournament experience, you can never count the Tar Heels out. Consistency from their role players will be Davis’ squad biggest battle to fight, as relying too much on RJ Davis and Caleb Love has proven to not be a successful route to winning this season for UNC.
For a conference that is usually the most competitive in college hoops, it took a little while for the SEC to establish itself, outside of programs Tennessee and Alabama. Kentucky has finally shown that they are figuring it out, playing better as a team and bringing the winning culture back to Lexington and BBN. They would not be sleepers to win this tournament, as they currently sit third in the SEC. Florida recently lost Colin Castleton right as they were starting to look better, which really hurts their chances of making a deep run in the SEC tournament. Vanderbilt, a historically awful program in the SEC, has a winning record in conference play, and has won six out of their last seven. It is very hard to win at Rupp Arena, but if Vanderbilt can come out of Lexington with another win headed into conference play, it is hard to count out a team that is heating up against strong competition.