college basketball

It’s the final week of the regular season for college basketball. Here are some predictions as March is upon us.

As a wild 2020-21 college basketball season winds towards the postseason, here are three predictions for each conference’s final week of the regular season.

With March rapidly approaching, we are finally at the time of the year where brackets begin to take shape, and contenders emerge when it matters the most.

This season, there have been two constants: Gonzaga and Baylor. Everything else has been a wild mixture of hot streaks, upsets, and the ultimate downfall of just about every blue blood. And after the Kansas loss, even the Bears have some questions. Perhaps Michigan can join that category as well.

While there is only one week remaining of the regular season for each of the six high-major conferences, between major matchups, stacked weeks due to COVID postponements, and plenty of tight races, we have quite a bit to unpack, starting with the ACC.

ACC

1) Duke beats Georgia Tech on Tuesday, busting the Yellow Jackets’ bubble

Has Duke been bad this year? Yes.

Will a team coached by arguably the greatest coach in the history of the sport go down without a fight? Absolutely not.

Even without Jalen Johnson on the floor, the Blue Devils are certainly a dangerous team to move up the bracket in the coming weeks. Although Georgia Tech has had a knack for upsets, their magic will run out on Tuesday at the hands of a red-hot and ultra-motivated Duke squad. With only Wake Forest remaining on the schedule for the Yellow Jackets, a loss likely kills their NCAA tournament hopes.

2) Virginia regains its focus, knocking off Miami and Louisville

One of the nation’s hardest teams to evaluate, the Virginia Cavaliers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

With their best win of the season coming against Clemson, Virginia has a lot to prove to the selection committee before Selection Sunday.

The Cavaliers will be in the tournament regardless of how the coming weeks play out, however, Tony Bennett always coaches his best basketball in March. With a pair of winnable games against Miami and Louisville this week, the Cavaliers will have every opportunity to regain their traction before the ACC tournament.

It won’t be pretty, but the gritty Cavaliers always seem to get hot at the right time. Let’s just hope that their cold streak is behind them and that Virginia will be back in the National Championship conversation once again in a few weeks.

3) Florida State wins out, clinching another ACC regular-season title

The ACC has by means played to their usual level has a conference. With no team looking like a viable threat to make a deep run in March, Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State Seminoles will be out to prove the doubters wrong.

Last season, Hamilton had perhaps his best group in Tallahassee. We all know how last March played out, but this time around, Hamilton will be looking to avenge the missed opportunities of last March.

Heading into Saturday, the Seminoles held a half-game lead over Virginia atop the ACC standings. The loss to UNC certainly stalled things, but since the Noles beat Virginia already, they still hold that advantage.

Florida State has been sneaky good, flying under the radar with their defensive prowess. Although Virginia will give the Seminoles a run for their money, Florida State will get the job done in the final week of the season and repeat as ACC Champions.

Big East

1) UConn knocks off Seton Hall, jeopardizing the Pirates’ bubble status

While Villanova and Creighton have stood strong at the top of the Big East, the middle part of the conference has been an absolute mess.

Between Xavier, UConn, and Seton Hall, all three teams have spent the majority of conference play moving up and down the bubble.

On Wednesday, UConn and Seton Hall will face off in a game with massive NCAA tournament implications. The winner will likely be one win away from clinching a spot in the tournament, while the loser could slide to the wrong side of the bubble.

UConn has struggled throughout conference play, mostly due to the absence of star guard James Bouknight. Bouknight is back from a multi-week absence and will look to propel UConn to the tournament as Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier have before.

Bouknight will do just that on Wednesday, once again entering the national spotlight as one of the nation’s biggest stars. The Pirates have the veteran presence to recover, but all signs point towards Dan Hurley’s group picking up a huge win.

2) Creighton beats Villanova, leading to a Big East title

In another major Wednesday tilt, the Creighton Bluejays and Villanova Wildcats will essentially play for the Big East regular-season title.

Villanova has run the Big East for several seasons now, with this season being no exception. Besides a bad loss to St. John’s and a drubbing at the hands of Creighton, the Wildcats have been spotless in conference play.

However, they’ll run into a wall against Creighton on Wednesday. This one should be one of the top games of the college basketball season, headlined by the point guard battle between Colin Gillespie and Marcus Zegarowski.

The Blue Jays are among the nation’s top offensive bunches, with Zegarowski, Mitch Ballock, and Denzel Mahoney forming a deadly three-headed monster. Both teams will show up to play, but this time it’ll be the underdog pulling off the unthinkable. Creighton is hot at the right time and will cap off an incredible season with a title-clinching win on Wednesday.

3) Xavier wins out, clinching an NCAA tournament berth

One of the best stories of the Big East season has been the play of the Xavier Muskateers.

Completely overlooked in the preseason, the Muskateers have defied the odds, sitting firmly on the bubble.

They’ll be without sharp-shooter Nate Johnson for the remainder of the season, but Travis Steele’s X-men have a favorable two-game draw against Georgetown and Marquette.

Marquette has all the makings of a bubble-burster, but Xavier will be motivated to get the job done this week to alleviate the pressure of the Big East tournament. Zach Freemantle will continue to put up numbers, while Adam Kunkel will pick up the load en route to returning to the NCAA tournament.

Big Ten

1) Illinois shocks the world, upsetting Michigan without Ayo Dosunmu

The Michigan Wolverines have clearly been the nation’s third-best team this season, heading into the final week of the regular season with just one loss.

Michigan has bested all of their competition, cruising through the Big Ten with little trouble. That will change against Illinois on Tuesday.

Although the Illini will likely be without all-world point guard Ayo Dosunmu, the Illini haven’t missed a beat in Ayo’s absence, defeating Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Kofi Cockburn will be the one to finally best Michigan phenom Hunter Dickinson. The Illini won’t try to play at Michigan’s pace, but if they can slow the game down and feed Cockburn in the low post, Michigan will be in big trouble on Tuesday.

Illinois won’t be expected to do anything against Michigan if Ayo is out, but regardless of Dosunmu’s status, the Illini have what it takes to pull off the impossible.

2) Michigan topples Michigan State, sliding the Spartans off the bubble

Michigan will certainly be tested against Illinois on Tuesday, but expecting the Wolverines to lose out would be blasphemous.

Michigan State picked up their signature win earlier this week, pulling off a massive comeback to upset Ohio State and move all the way into the projected tournament field.

Aaron Henry has been tremendous down the stretch, but the Spartans will finally be quieted against Michigan on Saturday. In a rivalry game with big seeding implications for both teams, there should be no doubt in Michigan, regardless of the Spartans’ hot streak.

3) Iowa shakes off struggles, defeats Wisconsin

The Iowa Hawkeyes will have a busy final week of the season, beginning with a huge showdown against Ohio State on Sunday.

The Hawkeyes have generally underachieved in conference play, but Luka Garza will be extra motivated in what will likely be his final week of conference play.

Iowa can shoot with the best of them, but the Hawkeyes have struggled massively on defense. With backup center Jack Nunge out for the season, the Hawkeyes will need to be as efficient as ever from the field.

Garza, Joe Wieskamp, and Jordan Bohannon will be at the top of their games all throughout the week. With the odds stacked against them, the Hawkeyes will once again get hot and sweep their final three games.

Big 12

1) West Virginia hands Baylor their second loss of the season

The Baylor Bears have had a near-perfect season to this point, but fresh off a loss to Kansas, Bears fans are ready for a quick turnaround.

That final week will begin with a battle against West Virginia on Tuesday. After a narrow escape against Iowa State earlier this week, the Bears will be in trouble once again, this time against a top-tier opponent.

The Mountaineers have been shooting the ball very very well down the stretch and could be the first team to match Baylor on offense this season. Sean McNeil has a signature game or two left in his cinderella season, and that game will come in a massive, ground-shaking upset over Baylor on Tuesday.

2) Cade Cunningham’s college career is defined by this week

Oklahoma State has easily the toughest schedule of the final week, as they’ll face off against Oklahoma, Baylor, and West Virginia.

The Cowboys won’t beat Baylor, but superstar freshman Cade Cunningham will propel Oklahoma State a second straight win over Oklahoma and an upset over West Virginia.

While the Cowboys were originally banned from the postseason, their appeal has yet to be heard by the NCAA, making them eligible for the tournament.

The Cowboys are safely in, but Cunningham has been far too good this season to let his team bow down to better opponents in the final week. Cunningham will have the defining week of his single college season, going off in upsets over Oklahoma and West Virginia.

3) Oklahoma’s magic runs out in a winless final week

As mentioned before, Oklahoma does not match up well against a hot Oklahoma State team that they will play for the second time in as many games on Tuesday. While DeVion Harmon and Austin Reaves have been excellent, the Sooners’ loss to K-State last week exposed their vulnerability as a thin squad.

The Sooners will then face off against Texas on Thursday, a team that they barely beat while the Longhorns were without two starters and their head coach.

Texas has cooled off considerably since their 10-1 start, but the Longhorns have held steady in the top-25 and will completely overmatch Oklahoma on Thursday. The Longhorns’ guards have been among the best in the country, and the Longhorns will finish off their season with a win in Norman.

Pac-12

1) USC clinches a perfect week with a win over UCLA to win the Pac-12

The USC Trojans have flown under the radar throughout the season, mostly in part due to the Pac-12’s subpar level of competition.

However, the regular-season title will likely be decided on Saturday when USC and UCLA, who are currently separated by half a game at the top of the standings, face off.

USC has been led by the Mobley brothers, most notably Evan Mobley, a projected top-five pick in the NBA draft.

UCLA has been just as good as last season, once against picking up their play during the conference slate. Tyger Campbell and Johnny Juzang have been a solid guard combo, but the Mobley brothers will be too much to handle on the final day of the season.

2) Arizona State plays spoiler, upsetting Colorado on Saturday

Arizona State has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country, completely removing themselves from any NCAA tournament consideration despite a star-studded roster.

Colorado has been one of the most surprising teams in the conference, planting themselves firmly in the tournament field thanks to a big senior campaign from McKinley Wright.

On Saturday, the two will face off in a game with big-time conference tournament seeding implications. While Colorado will bring their A-game as always, it would be hard to imagine the Sun Devils going an entire season without a signature win.

In Remy Martin’s final regular-season game, Arizona State will pull off the upset, finally playing to their potential as a team with two future NBA players.

3) Sean Miller (finally) is dismissed as Arizona’s head coach

This isn’t exactly a final-week prediction, but with the lack of intriguing or important games in the Pac-12, this is an exception.

The Arizona Wildcats are ineligible for the postseason due to recruiting violations, but the Wildcats haven’t been particularly good anyways. Arizona would likely be on the bubble had they been eligible, but the Wildcats have looked both uninterested and unmotivated down the stretch.

On top of the countless recruiting violations, the Wildcats have seemed to lose their national respect as a program. Arizona doesn’t recruit as it used to, for obvious reasons, but the entire program as a whole has been on a sharp decline.

Now would be the right time for Arizona to cap Miller, as the Wildcats will become one of the biggest open jobs in the country. Miller’s tenure is the only thing that can save him, however between the poor performance and recruiting struggles, Miller’s seat will only get hotter from here.

SEC

1) Alabama wins out, clinches the SEC title

Absolutely nobody expected the Alabama Crimson Tide to be one of the best teams in the country heading into March.

Alabama has manhandled the SEC, running over opponent after opponent with their incredible shooting.

John Petty and Herbert Jones have been one of the best combos in the country, but the Crimson Tides’ ability to have anyone shoot from anywhere on the floor at any time has taken the SEC by storm.

With games against Auburn and Georgia remaining on the schedule, the Crimson Tide should have no problem holding their two-game lead atop the SEC over Arkansas. It’s been a magical ride for Alabama and it won’t come to an end before the postseason.

2) Missouri’s struggles continue with losses to Florida and LSU

The Missouri Tigers took the country by storm with an early-season upset against Illinois, leading them to a hot start in conference play.

Lately, Missouri has been horrible, losing games left and right. The Tigers will continue to limp to the finish line with a pair of tough games against Florida and LSU.

The Gators have been solid, even without Keyontae Johnson, but have the guard play that can overmatch Missouri’s guards.

LSU will surely be licking their chops ahead of Saturday’s matchup, as LSU will look to continue to shoot at an insanely high rate against a reeling defensive team.

Everybody has Missouri on upset radar heading into March, and those talks will only increase with a difficult final week of conference play.

3) Ole Miss keeps tournament hopes alive with a pair of wins

While plenty of SEC teams have gone cold at the wrong time, particularly Missouri and Tennessee, one team that has caught fire at the right time are the Ole Miss Rebels.

Now firmly on the bubble, the Rebels will be rewarded with a favorable schedule of Kentucky and Vanderbilt to end the season.

John Calipari’s Wildcats would love to play spoiler to end their atrocious season, but Ole Miss has way too much to play for to fall at the hands of a bad Kentucky team.

Vanderbilt has been somewhat better than expected, but the Commodores serve no threat to Ole Miss as a perennial SEC bottom-feeder. The Rebels will keep their tournament hopes alive through the week, setting up a season-defining trip to the SEC tournament.

 

Featured image from Oklahoma State basketball Twitter page

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