March Madness 2023: Bubble teams heading to Selection Sunday South Carolina No. 1 for 37th straight week, Iowa now No. 2 Houston, UCLA, Kansas top latest AP Top 25; Duke back in Washington State tops No. 19 UCLA 65-61 for Pac-12 title Kennesaw State wins ASUN title, earns first NCAA tourney berth Clark gets triple-double as Iowa blows out OSU for B10 title
March Madness is fast approaching. Here’s what you need to know, as well as some key games to watch and who’s on the bubble ahead of Sunday’s NCAA Women’s Tournament Qualifier:
Eight conference tournament championship games were played over the weekend, with 24 more games left this week to determine the remaining NCAA Tournament automatic qualifiers. There will be nine conference title games on Saturday and five more on Sunday, the day the full 68-team NCAA draw is revealed.
– The Big 12 starts Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri with a championship game on Sunday.
– No. 4 Virginia Tech (27-4) won the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC.
– No. 2 Iowa (26-6) won the Big Ten tournament in Minneapolis.
– Washington State No. 20 (23-10) won the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.
– No. 1 South Carolina (32-0) won the SEC tournament in Greenville, South Carolina.
WHO ELSE IN
St. Louis (17-17, Atlantic 10), Gardner-Webb (29-4, Big South), Tennessee Institute of Technology (22-9, Ohio Valley) and Chattanooga (20-12, South).
Qualifying Sunday is March 12, when grids are set up at several venues across the country for the first four games (March 15-16) and first and second round games (March 17-20).
This year’s Sweet 16 weekend will bring changes to the women’s teams, with four regional venues down from four, and eight teams each in Greenville, South Carolina, and Seattle.
Where is the Women’s Final Four? In Dallas, where the semifinals are March 31st and the championship game is April 2nd.
It just so happens that the same weekend, the men’s Final Four is a four-hour drive across Houston.
Who will win the national championship? The favorites to qualify for this week’s Final Four are defending champions South Carolina, Indiana, the University of Connecticut and Iowa, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The latest NCAA crop prediction is slightly different – Stanford and Utah instead of UC Connecticut and Iowa – and the top quartet in the AP Top 25 poll: South Carolina, Iowa, Indiana and Virginia Tech. So buckle up!
West Virginia (19-10) lost five of seven games before ending the regular season on a three-game winning streak. Another Big 12 win or two will likely leave no doubt about the NCAA Tournament. Don Plitzweit is in his first season with the Mountaineers. She led South Dakota to the last three NCAA Tournaments, reaching the Sweet 16 last season.
Arkansas (21-12) opened the SEC tournament with a win over Missouri but lost 93-66 to undefeated defending national champion South Carolina in the quarterfinals. The Razorbacks are now waiting to see if they enter their third consecutive NCAA Tournament, which they last did in 2001-03.
GAMES TO WATCH
In addition to Tuesday’s tournament championship games in the Horizon League, Summit League, and West Coast Conference:
Kansas (19-10) vs. TCU in Thursday’s Big 12 Tournament first round game. The Jayhawks defeated TCU in Saturday’s regular season finals and are still trying to secure consistent NCAA Tournament participation for the first time since the 2012-2013 season.
Friday’s Ivy League semi-final games: Princeton (21-5) vs. Penn and Columbia (23-4) vs. Harvard. The games will take place in Princeton, where the top-seeded Tigers beat Penn 71-52 last week to win their 13th consecutive game and clinch their fifth consecutive regular-season Ivy League title. The second Colombian champions are on a five-game winning streak since losing to Princeton on Feb. 4. The Ivy League title game will take place on Saturday.
South Carolina stands apart with the second-longest streak in the AP’s top 25 women’s basketball teams as the Gamecocks remain #1 for the 37th consecutive week.
The Gamecocks (32-0) won the Southeastern Conference tournament last weekend and went undefeated ahead of the NCAA tournament. South Carolina, which received all 28 first-place votes from the national media group on Monday, broke a tie with Louisiana Tech for most weeks in a row to take first place. The current national champions are now second only to UConn, who topped the top 25 for 51 consecutive weeks. .
With the season’s final poll due next week, the Gamecocks are poised to come out on top this year ahead of the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa moved up five places to 2nd after participating in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes thrashed Ohio State by 33 points in Sunday’s title game after another hard hit from Caitlin Clark, who had the third triple-double in conference tournament history.
This is the best Hawkeye ranking since they spent eight weeks in second place in 1994.
Indiana dropped one spot to third, while Virginia Tech moved up four places to 4th. The Hokies, who won the ACC tournament for the first time, have the highest ranking ever.
Stanford and Maryland were the next two. UConn moved up to seventh place, followed by Utah and LSU. The Cliffs and Tigers have each lost five positions after losing their respective conference tournaments.
Villanova finished in the top ten. This is the Wildcats’ best ranking ever, and came when they faced UConn for the Big East title late Monday night.
Tennessee returned to the poll at 24th after advancing to the SEC Tournament Finals. South Florida and Iowa fell out of the top 25. The Cyclones were in the rankings for 36 consecutive weeks before being dropped.
Washington State made history by becoming the first seven-seed player to win the Pac-12 Tournament after the Cougars beat California, Utah, Colorado and UCLA. The No. 20 Cougars entered the top 25 for only the second time in school history, after spending a week at No. 25 in 2021.
The Pac-12 has six teams in the top 25, with Washington State joining them this week. Next comes the Big Ten with five teams, while the ACC has four. The SEC has three, the Big East and the Big 12 each have two. Gonzaga, Middle Tennessee, and UNLV represent the three interim conferences.
UCLA is growing both in the postseason and in the Associated Press Men’s College Basketball Poll.
While Houston is No. 1 in Monday’s poll for the third consecutive week, the Bruins are up two spots to second in their highest ranking of the season. UCLA (27-4) has won its last 10 games, including the highly regarded Arizona in the regular season finale behind star Jamie Jaques Jr., setting a perfect home record.
“I’ll put it this way, the recipe for success in March is usually—I mean, besides talent—a great point guard and leadership like a guy like Jaime Jacquez,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin later said. “I mean, we have a chance. But, as you know, this tournament is crazy. This is not the “March norm”.
Calvin Sampson’s Cougars are solidly at the top, finishing third this season, earning 58 first-place votes, with the other three going to UCLA.
Houston hadn’t reached No. 1 prior to this season since 1983’s Phi Slama Jama era, but the Cougars spent a total of seven weeks at the top to equal Purdue more than any other team this season.
Houston (29-2) ended their regular season schedule with a last-second win at Memphis on Sunday, marking their 11th straight win.
The only change in the top five was that UCLA switched places with No. 4 Alabama, Kansas remained in 3rd despite losing to Texas in Saturday’s regular season finale, and the Boilermakers remained in fifth place. .
Marquette remained in 6th place, followed by the Longhorns, who moved up two places to 7th. Arizona, Gonzaga and Baylor rounded out the top ten.
Texas A&M led the week, moving up six spots to No. 18 after defeating Alabama in the regular season finale. It’s part of a strong finish under fourth-year coach Buzz Williams: The Aggies have gone 17-3 since mid-December and have only lost once since early February. Prior to this season, Texas A&M had not been ranked since February 2018.
Only eight teams have risen from last week’s positions.
Tennessee suffered its biggest drop of the week, dropping five places to 17th after losing to Auburn in the regular season finale and its first full game since losing Zakai Zeigler to a season-ending knee injury. Indiana was next, dropping four places to 19th after losing 22 points at home to Iowa.
In total, six teams dropped out of their rankings last week.
Nearly a third of last week’s ranked teams (eight) remained in place, including #13 in Virginia, #22 in TCU and #23 in Kentucky.
All three of this week’s novelties returned to participate in the poll, led by Duke at number 21.
The Blue Devils (23-8) returned to the poll for the first time since relegation in mid-January, starting the year in seventh position. Freshman coach John Scheier led Duke to six straight wins to end the regular season, including Saturday’s victory in North Carolina in a rivalry that hurt UNC’s dubious NCAA Tournament hopes.
Creighton registered at number 24, returning after a week-long absence for his third entry in the poll this season. Missouri was next in 25th place, winning the last four games of the regular season and returning to the poll after spending two weeks there in the first half of January.
Providence (#20), Maryland (#21) and Pittsburgh (#25) were eliminated this week. All three will play in their respective conference tournaments this week.
This week’s Big 12 and South East conferences shared the lead with five teams each, although three from the Big 12 made it into the top 10.
Big East was next with four teams, including 11th in Connecticut. The Atlantic Coast Conference consisted of three, followed by the Big Ten, Pac-12, and West Coast conferences, two each.
The American Athletic and Mountain West conferences each had one ranked team.
Poll closes next week…