The final week of play in college basketball prior to the NCAA tournament featured some feverish action in conference tournaments around the nation. The country’s top-ranked team concluded a perfect regular season with an SEC tournament title while a coaching legend finally makes it back to the Big Dance with a win in the American Athletic Conference final. Here’s a look at the week’s biggest winners as they prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
No Surprise In The Big Ten
The only real surprise in the Big Ten tournament was the play of Michigan State. Head coach Tom Izzo got an incredible weekend of play out of Denzel Valentine as the Spartans upset Maryland on the way to the Big Ten final. The problem was they had to face sixth-ranked Wisconsin for the conference tournament title. While MSU took the Badgers to overtime, Wisconsin showed why it is one of the nation’s best, shutting out the Spartans 11-0 in OT for an 80-69 win. Nigel Hayes scored 25 points to lead the Badgers and senior 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky added 19. Despite the loss, the Spartans efforts in the Big Ten tourney would earn Izzo and company another trip to the NCAA tourney.
Kentucky Wins SEC Tournament Championship
Junior Willie Cauley-Stein scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds to lead No. 1 Kentucky to an easy 78-63 win over No. 21 Arkansas in the SEC tourney final. The win gives the Wildcats a perfect 34-0 record. Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only two teams have entered 34-0 – Kentucky will this year and last year it was Wichita State. Should Kentucky make its way to the Final Four and come away with a championship, they would be the first team since Indiana in 1976 to go unbeaten and win it all.
SMU & Larry Brown Back In NCAA Tournament
Markus Kennedy scored 15 points and SMU held off a furious Connecticut comeback to win the American Athletic Conference tournament championship and secure a berth in the NCAA tourney. It will be the first trip back to the Big Dance for the Mustangs since 1993 when they lost to BYU in the first round. For SMU head coach Larry Brown, it will be his first time back in the NCAA tournament since 1988 when he led Kansas to the national championship. It was a bit of redemption for the Mustangs who just missed out on a tournament bid last year and went on to become the NIT runner-up.
Upset In The Big 12 Tournament
Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg might not be able to take it anymore. The Cyclones won their fifth straight game after being down by at least 10 points, this one a 70-66 win over No. 9 Kansas to take the Big 12 Conference tournament and with it, the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. Iowa State trailed the Jayhawks by 17 at one point, but Georges Niang scored 19 points and helped the Cyclones overcome the deficit. Going back to March 2, Hoiberg’s squad trailed by 21, 10, 16, 11, and the 17 to Kansas only to come back and win each game. Can the Cyclones head coach take the constant pressure? Surely, if they can continue to win.
Villanova Makes A Statement In Big East
The Wildcats moved out to a 13-point halftime lead and never looked back as Josh Hart scored 15 points off the bench and Villanova won the Big East tournament title with a 69-52 victory over Xavier. It was an impressive win for Villanova, now 32-2, as they head into the NCAA tournament once again. This season’s tournament marks the 30th anniversary of Villanova’s improbable run to the 1985 national championship. Dylan Ennis led Villanova with 16 points and Darrun Hilliard added 12. The Wildcats lost just twice – to Seton Hall and to Georgetown – during the season and will enter the NCAA tourney with 15 straight wins.
Harvard Wins Fourth Straight Ivy League Title
Even though it is the only Division I league without a conference tournament, the Ivy League provided some end-of-the-season excitement with a one-game playoff for a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. Yale, which had beaten Harvard last Friday, turned around and lost to Dartmouth to set up a one-game playoff for the right to go to the Big Dance. Both teams finished the regular season with identical 11-3 league records. It was a 15-foot jump shot by Steve Moudou-Missi with just under eight seconds remaining that would secure the Harvard win. Fellow senior Wesley Saunders added 22 points, 18 in the second half, as the Crimson will return to the NCAA tourney once again under head coach Tommy Amaker. Yale, which has not been to the NCAA tournament since 1962, finishes the season 22-10.