clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Breaking down college basketball's best conference championship races

People say regular season conference championships don't mean anything in college basketball, but all the teams currently in the thick of these races would likely beg to differ.

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

With just 19 days to go until Selection Sunday, teams across the country are either entering their final week or their penultimate week of regular season play. Unlike the state of things a season ago, there are zero major conference races that have been completely settled, and very few leagues below them that can claim otherwise. For us, that's a pretty great thing.

Here's a look at the best conference races you should be paying attention to for the final 12 days of the regular season.


The Favorite: North Carolina (11-3)

The Tar Heels assured themselves of being able to hold destiny in their own hands with a dominating 96-71 win over Miami last Saturday. That's the good news. The bad news for Roy Williams' team is that three of their final four games come on the road, including tilts at No. 3 Virginia and No. 15 Duke.

The Contenders: Miami (11-4), Louisville (10-4), Virginia (10-5), Duke (9-5), Notre Dame (9-5)

Miami bounced back from its humbling defeat at North Carolina by taking care of Virginia to remain just a half game back of the Heels in the conference standings. The Canes will have a chance to keep both Louisville and Notre Dame behind them in the conference standings with wins over both in the next 10 days.

Key Games:

North Carolina at Virginia (2/27)
Louisville at Miami (2/27)
Miami at Notre Dame (3/2)
Louisville at Virginia (3/5)
North Carolina at Duke (3/5)


The Favorite: Temple (11-3)

Despite going just 6-6 during the non-conference portion of the season, Temple is the surprise leader of an American Athletic Conference that could send as many as four teams to the NCAA Tournament even with SMU ineligible for postseason play. The Owls have already navigated the most difficult stretch of their league schedule and don't play a team with a winning record in conference play after Tuesday nights tilt at Tulsa.

The Contenders: SMU (10-4), Cincinnati (10-5), Tulsa (10-5), Connecticut (9-5)

Given Temple's favorable end of the season schedule, there's little margin for error for anyone in this group. In fact, the dreams of winning this thing outright are probably already shattered for the five-loss trio.

Key Games:

Temple at Tulsa (2/23)
Connecticut at SMU (3/3)
SMU at Cincinnati (3/6)


The Favorite: VCU (12-2)

Incredibly, the Rams never won a regular season conference championship under Shaka Smart and are now just four victories away from capturing one in their first season without him. Unfortunately that stretch includes three road games, including extremely tall tasks at George Washington and Dayton.

The Contenders: Saint Joseph's (11-3), Dayton (11-3), Saint Bonaventure (10-4)

Dayton's back-to-back losses hurt, but the Flyers still have three very winnable games before they host VCU in the regular season finale. Saint Joseph's and Saint Bonaventure will play what amounts to an A-10 regular season title elimination game on March 2.

Key Games:

VCU at George Washington (2/27)
Saint Joseph's at Saint Bonaventure (3/2)
VCU at Dayton (3/5)


The Favorite: North Florida (9-4)

There's just one regular season game to play for each team in the Atlantic Sun, which means the Ospreys (last season's A-Sun Tournament champions) have already locked up at least a share of the conference title.

The Contenders: NJIT (8-5), Florida Gulf Coast (8-5), Jacksonville (8-5)

NJIT and Florida Gulf Coast should have little trouble with league cellar dwellers South Carolina Upstate and Stetson. They'll both be pulling hard for Jacksonville to knock off North Florida and create a four-way tie for the regular season title.

Regardless of how the final night of the regular season plays out, this figures to be an awfully entertaining league tournament.

Key Games:

North Florida at Jacksonville (2/25)

BIG 12

The Favorite: Kansas (11-3)

Who else? At this point it's nearly impossible to envision any other team in the Big 12 winning an outright regular season title. If they win one of their two road games at Baylor and Texas, this thing will be all but over.

The Contenders: West Virginia (10-5), Oklahoma (9-5), Baylor (9-5)

Each member of this group is probably kicking themselves for at least one missed opportunity over the past month and-a-half. They'll exchange body blows for the next two weeks and hope the Jayhawks stumble mightily.

Key Games:

Kansas at Baylor (2/23)
Kansas at Texas (2/29)
Baylor at Oklahoma (3/1)
West Virginia at Baylor (3/5)
Iowa State at Kansas (3/5)


The Favorite: Villanova (13-1)

The top-ranked Wildcats can pretty much wrap up title No. 3 in year three of the new Big East with a win in Wednesday night's top five showdown at Xavier.

The Contender: Xavier (12-3)

The Musketeers are the only other Big East team mathematically still in contention for an outright regular season title. That dream will die unless they find a way to knock off No. 1 Villanova in what might be the biggest game the Cintas Center has ever seen.

Key Games:

Villanova at Xavier (2/24)
Xavier at Seton Hall (2/28)
Georgetown at Villanova (3/5)


The Favorite: Weber State (12-2)

The Wildcats earn favorite status here because they get to host Montana in the only meeting between the pair on Feb. 27.

The Contenders: Montana (12-2)

The Grizz won the regular season title a season ago, but dropped a heartbreaker to Eastern Washington in the tournament championship game.

Key Games:

Montana at Idaho State (2/25)
Montana at Weber State (2/27)
Weber State at Eastern Washington (3/5)


The Favorite: Winthrop (12-4)

The kings of the Big South are back. The Eagles made nine NCAA Tournament appearances between 1999 and 2010, but they haven't been back since. Now it feels like former Xavier and Wake Forest assistant Pat Kelsey has some of the same mojo that Gregg Marshall once brought to the program.

The Contenders: High Point (11-5), UNC Asheville (11-5)

Never count out the team with the league's best player. High Point is desperate to get John Brown to the NCAA Tournament to end his college career and the Panthers will have an opportunity to make a giant statement on Feb. 25 when they host Winthrop.

Key Games:

Winthrop at High Point (2/25)
Coastal Carolina at UNC Asheville (2/27)


The Favorite: Indiana (12-3) and Iowa (11-3)

After losses by both Iowa and Maryland last week, the Hawkeyes join Indiana as the only teams in the conference that can win an outright title without getting help from anyone else. Iowa will almost certainly need to knock off the Hoosiers on March 1 to take their first outright regular season title since 1970.

The Contenders: Maryland (11-4), Ohio State (10-5), Michigan State (9-5), Wisconsin (9-5)

Keep an eye on Michigan State here. The Spartans will likely be favored to win each of their final four games. They'll hope to run the table and then have the carnage around them fall in all the right places.

Key Games:

Michigan State at Ohio State (2/23)
Wisconsin at Iowa (2/24)
Iowa at Ohio State (2/28)
Indiana at Iowa (3/1)
Ohio State at Michigan State (3/5)
Maryland at Indiana (3/6)


The Favorite: UNC Wilmington (13-3)

Kevin Keatts is chasing his second regular season title in as many seasons as a head coach, a remarkable feat considering he inherited a program that had lost at least 20 games in three straight seasons and hadn't finished with a winning record in conference play since 2008.

The Contender: Hofstra (12-4)

The number of Division-I regular season championships in the history of Hofstra basketball? Zero.

Key Games:

Hofstra at UNC Wilmington (2/25)
Towson at UNC Wilmington (2/27)


The Favorite: UAB (12-2)

The Blazers have ridden the momentum of last season's surprise C-USA Tournament title and subsequent upset of Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament to a sparkling 22-5 overall mark with two weeks to play in the 2015-16 regular season.

The Contenders: Marshall (11-3), Middle Tennessee (10-4)

Thundering Herd fans still feel like they got a raw deal in their first meeting with UAB, but they'll talk less about it if their team can knock off the Blazers on Thursday night and pull themselves to the top of the league standings.

Key Games:

Marshall at UAB (2/25)
Marshall at Middle Tennessee (2/27)
Louisiana Tech at Marshall (3/3)


The Favorite: Yale (9-1)

It has been 54 years since Yale has heard its name called on Selection Sunday, a streak the Bulldogs can end with four straight wins (or five straight if Princeton also wins out).

The Contenders: Princeton (8-1), Columbia (8-2)

Princeton split its season series with Yale, meaning that if the Tigers win out they're at least guaranteed of getting a winner-take-all playoff game. Columbia, the preseason favorite that boasts arguably the Ivy's top player in Maodo Lo, has one more loss than both teams, but still has games remaining against each. With two weeks to play, these three are the only ones in the conference with records above .500.

Key Games:

Columbia at Princeton (2/26)
Yale at Columbia (3/5)


The Favorite: Monmouth (15-3)

It's more than just bench antics. The Hawks still have an outside shot at an at-large bid even if they fall at some point in the MAAC Tournament.

The Contenders: Iona (14-4)

Iona made quite the statement last Friday with a dominating 83-67 win at Monmouth. The victory garnered the Gaels some revenge after their rivals had ended their 26-game winning streak in a January game that ended in a scuffle. Regardless of how the final week of the regular season plays out, you want a conference tournament championship game involving these two. You need a conference tournament championship game involving these two.

Key Games:

Rider at Monmouth (2/26)
Iona at Manhattan (2/26)
Niagara at Monmouth (2/28)


The Favorite: Wagner (11-5)

The Seahawks just need to hold serve and win two home games to close this thing out.

The Contenders: Mount St. Mary's (10-6), Sacred Heart (10-6)

None of the three teams with a chance at their title play each other in the final week of the season, which is kind of lame.

Key Games:

Fairleigh Dickinson at Mount St. Mary's (2/25)
Saint Francis (NY) at Wagner (2/25)


The Favorites: Arizona (10-4) and Oregon (10-4)

The Pac-12 has been insane all season, and there's no reason to believe that trend won't hold true over the next 12 days.

The Contenders: Utah (10-5), California (9-5)

Utah has been terrific at home all season long, and the Utes end the regular season with three straight games at the Huntsman Center, including one against Arizona. Despite trailing two teams by a full game in the standings, Larry Krystkowiak's team still has a very legitimate shot at winning this conference outright.

Key Games:

Arizona at Utah (2/27)
California at Arizona (3/3)
Oregon at USC (3/5)
Colorado at Utah (3/5)


The Favorite: Kentucky (10-4)

Even with Saturday's heartbreaking loss at Texas A&M, there's still a sense that Kentucky is playing its best basketball of the season at the perfect time. That doesn't mean the Wildcats are a lock for yet another SEC championship. A challenging final chunk of the schedule includes road tilts at Vandy and Florida, as well as a regular season finale against an LSU team that dismantled them in Baton Rouge.

The Contenders: South Carolina (9-5), LSU (9-5), Texas A&M (9-5), Florida (8-6), Vanderbilt (8-6)

Perhaps because nobody expected them to be in this position, South Carolina's final two weeks of the regular season include no games against teams with winning records in conference play. No one believes the Gamecocks are the best team in this league, but they have a chance to finish with a record that says otherwise.

Key Games:

Kentucky at Vanderbilt (2/27)
Florida at LSU (2/27)
Kentucky at Florida (3/1)
LSU at Kentucky (3/5)
Vanderbilt at Texas A&M (3/5)


The Favorite: Chattanooga (13-3)

The Mocs' loss to UNC Greensboro cost them a chance to lock up at least a share of the regular season title and made the week ahead a bit more interesting. The good news is their final two games come against two of the worst teams in the SoCon.

The Contender: East Tennessee State (12-4)

ETSU will need at least one miracle upset of Chattanooga along with a pair of wins over the formidable duo of Furman and Wofford.

Key Games:

Samford at Chattanooga (2/27)
Furman at East Tennessee State (2/27)
Chattanooga at VMI (2/29)
Wofford at East Tennessee State (2/29)


The Favorite: Saint Mary's (13-3)

The Gaels wrapped up their first sweep of arch-rival Gonzaga since 1995 and are now eyeing their first WCC regular season championship since 2012.

The Contenders: Gonzaga (13-3), BYU (12-4)

Gonzaga is in the odd position of not just being unsure of its NCAA Tournament fate, but of needing some help to win the WCC. Saint Mary's ends the season with three games it should win, while the Bulldogs travel to face a BYU team that has given them problems ever since they joined the conference.

Key Games:

Santa Clara at Saint Mary's (2/25)
Saint Mary's at San Francisco (2/27)
Gonzaga at BYU (2/27)