With Selection Sunday just about a month away, the race for teams to punch their tickets to the dance is really heating up. There is always a healthy debate each year over which conference is the best in the nation.
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Is it the Big East? The Big 10? The ACC? Or maybe even the Big 12 or SEC? In this article, we will breakdown which league will end up sending the most teams to the tournament in 2019.
Four League Race
In year’s past, several leagues were in contention for the title of nation’s best. This year, a couple of the perennial powerhouse leagues are having down years. The Pac-12 is an absolute joke, and so the so-called conference of champions is at risk of getting just one bid this year. With most of the season now behind us, Washington appears to be the only team that can really call themselves locks at this point.
Oregon State, USC, Arizona State, Arizona, and Oregon all have outside shots at dancing, but the outlook is looking mighty grim out west. With both Nevada and Gonzaga dominating on the west coast, it’s looking like the Pac-12 has officially lost its title of having the best teams in the west.
The league was well represented in the tournament last season as they snagged two of the top line seeds, and saw Villanova take home the national title. But this year the Big East could send as few as three teams dancing.
Villanova, Marquette, and St John’s are all on the right side of the bubble and should make the tournament with no issues. But after that, there is a major drop off. Seton Hall, Georgetown, Butler, Creighton, and Providence all have shots if they get hot late, but at most I see one of those teams separating from the pack and going dancing. Four teams advancing to the tournament is by no means a bad year, but for a league that flirted with sending double-digit teams to the tournament just a couple of years ago, it is quite underwhelming.
With the Pac-12 and Big East both bowing out of the race to get the most teams into the tournament that leaves us with a four-league race. The SEC, ACC, Big 12, and Big 10 are all in the running for the title of nation’s best league top to bottom.
Locks: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Florida State
Work To Do: Syracuse, N.C. State, Clemson
Longshots: Notre Dame
For my money, the ACC is the best league in the land. Not only are they strong top to bottom, with nine teams projected to make the tournament per ESPN, they have three teams that could very well win the national title. Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina are all legit Final Four threats, and we saw what Florida State was able to last year with a run to the Elite Eight, so we can’t count them out of a deep run either.
The question here is whether or not the teams that need work still will be able to finish strong.
N.C. State is the shakiest of that group as they are 5-6 in their last eleven games. The committee loves to reward teams that finish strong, and the Wolfpack needs to pick it up if they want to get an at-large bid. The schedule finishes up tough for N.C. State as they have road games against Duke and Florida State. If they don’t win one of those games, they are at a high risk of getting left out of the dance.
The Clemson Tigers are in a similar position as they have stumbled to the finish line, going 5-6 in their last eleven games as well. The good news for Clemson is that they are going to have ample opportunity for resume building wins as they host Florida State, Boston College, North Carolina, and Syracuse down the stretch. Finishing with a bunch of home games is always a great thing, and I think that they will finish strong and play themselves into the tournament.
That leaves us with Syracuse. The Orange have the biggest win of any team in the country this year when they went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocked off Duke. And unlike the other two maybes from the ACC, Syracuse is finishing strong as they are 6-3 in their last nine games. The schedule is brutal for the Orange as they still have to play Louisville, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, and Clemson. If they can win one or two of those games, they are going to make the cut. If they get swept and can’t pick up a win, they are going to get left out. I have a feeling this daunting schedule is going to be too much for the Orange.
Teams Getting In: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Florida State, Clemson
Locks: Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa
Work To Do: Ohio State, Minnesota
Longshots: Indiana, Nebraska
When I said I think the ACC is the best league in the land, it is because they have three or four legit Final Four caliber teams. And when you look at the Big 10, I really only see two teams that should be considered legitimate threats for the third weekend, Michigan and Purdue. But when you look top to bottom, the Big 10 might end up getting more teams into the tournament than any other league.
Had nice early season wins over Creighton and Cincinnati, but they have really struggled against the top half of the Big 10 in league play. The Buckeyes play five ranked teams in their last seven games, and they need to win at least two of those games to have a real shot at getting in. And I just don’t think they are going to get it done. They haven’t been able to beat the best teams in the league all season long, and I think that continues the rest of the way out.
Is another team that was in the lock category just a couple of weeks ago, but the wheels have really fallen off for the Gophers. Minnesota has lost four straight games and are 4-7 in their last eleven. They had Michigan on upset alert in Ann Arbor in January and will get Big Blue at home on Feb 21st, that is as close to a must-win game as there is going to be for the Gophers. If they don’t manage to knock off Michigan, they will need to beat both Purdue and Maryland to close out the season, and I just don’t see that happening.
The Hoosiers have as much talent as any team in the league, they just can’t seem to string wins together. I only leave them as a longshot as they have wins over Michigan State, Marquette, and Louisville and if they can find a way to rack up some wins in the next month, they could sneak in based on the strength of some of their wins. Something tells me these teams figures it out and backdoors into the madness.
Teams Getting In: Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana
Locks: Kansas State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State
Work To Do: Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma
With just over a month left to play it is looking like the historic streak of consecutive Big 12 titles for the Kansas Jayhawks is finally going to come to an end. Kansas has won fourteen straight Big 12 regular season titles, the longest streak in NCAA history. But as they sit right now, in a four-way tie in the loss column with Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Baylor, they are a full two games behind first-place Kansas State.
The middle of this league is very interesting. Baylor is one or two wins away from locking in a winning record in Big 12 play, and that should be enough to get them a bid. They have nice wins over Texas Tech, TCU, and Iowa State, so as long as they take care of business against teams like West Virginia, Texas, and OK State, they should have done plenty to get a dancing ticket.
TCU is in a similar position as all they need to do is beat the teams they are favored against the rest of the way, and they will slide right into the field of sixty-eight. You could easily make a case that Oklahoma should have fallen into the longshot category as they are in free fall, having lost five straight league games. The Sooners play at TCU and then host Texas, if they don’t win both of those games they are going to be in really bad shape.
Texas has one of the more interesting resumes in the land as they have several elite victories. They beat North Carolina, Kansas, and Purdue. Three very strong wins. They also have one of the two league wins over first place Kansas State. But they are struggling badly as of late as they have lost seven out of their last eleven games. Shaka Smart is one of the best coaches in the country, and they have several winnable games left on their schedule, I think they find a way to catch fire and get in.
Teams Getting In: Kansas State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, Baylor, TCU, Texas
Locks: Tennessee, LSU, Kentucky, Mississippi, Auburn, Mississippi State
Work To Do: Alabama
Longshots: South Carolina, Arkansas
The SEC isn’t just a football league anymore! After getting nine teams into the field last year, an all-time high for the league, they are back this year with one of the strongest conferences in the country. The Vols and Wildcats are two of the best teams in the country and should threaten a run to the Final Four. And LSU and Mississippi State are two of my favorite dark horse teams that nobody is talking about right now.
Has a winning league record, and in a league as good as the SEC, that just might be enough to get an at-large bid. They have a couple of really nasty early season losses on their resume that are going to hurt on Selection Sunday. Losses to Northeastern and Georgia State are just hard to explain. But they do have good wins over Murray State, Arizona, Kentucky, and Mississippi. The Tide plays only one more ranked team in their last seven games, if they can go 6-1 or 5-2 during that stretch, I see them getting in.
Teams Getting In: Tennessee, LSU, Kentucky, Mississippi, Auburn, Mississippi State, Alabama, South Carolina
So, after all that analysis which league ends up getting the most teams in the tournament? I call it a four-way tie! With all four of these leagues getting seven teams into the tournament. Remember, this ranking is based on how I see these teams finishing the rest of the year out, not if the season ended today.
It is hard to project how well a team will or won’t play in the next four weeks, but for my money, this year will feature more parity than we have seen in many years. The next few weeks are going to be action-packed, buckle your seatbelts now and enjoy the ride!