Remember when league title races in major conferences at the end of February were pretty easy to figure out. It’s usually that time of the college basketball season when separation between one or at the most two teams start to become clear.
That’s definitely not the case this year.
Aside from the Pac-12 where Washington reigns above one of the worst years for the conference in recent memory, four of the other five major conference races are between three or more teams.
ACC and Big East
Duke (11-1), Virginia (11-2) and North Carolina (10-2) are separated by one game or fewer as of Tuesday in the ACC standings. Arguably the biggest rivalry in the sport could make things even more interesting if the Tar Heels upset the Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday. The Big East race between Villanova (11-2) and Marquette (10-2) is also separated by just a half game as of Tuesday. The Golden Eagles are trying to win their first Big East title since they were back-to-back regular season league champions in 2012 and 2013. They could sweep season series with the Wildcats with a victory Feb. 27 on the road.
A three-team battle at the top is intriguing between Michigan (12-3), Michigan State (12-3) and Purdue (11-3). Both the Wolverines and the Spartans were favorites at one time, but the Boilermakers might have the most favorable path to the league crown. Purdue doesn’t play another team with a current winning Big Ten record the rest of the regular season. Meanwhile, Michigan and Michigan State still plays twice, while the Wolverines also play at Maryland. There’s also another injury blow to Tom Izzo’s squad with Nick Ward suffering a broken hand Sunday. It doesn’t appear to be a season-ending injury like Joshua Langford, but Ward is out indefinitely.
Tennessee recently got humbled by Kentucky to end a 19-game winning streak and fall from the No. 1 ranking nationally. But the Volunteers can get revenge March 2 at home. The Wildcats (10-2) are only one game back for first place in the league behind LSU and Tennessee (both 11-1) as of Tuesday. The Tigers have arguably the most favorable path with Tennessee at home as the last regular season games vs. the top half of the SEC (teams better than .500 in conference).
No race is harder to figure out than the Big 12, which had been dominated by Kansas for the last 14 seasons. The Jayhawks will need to fight off three others teams to protect their streak of regular season conference titles. They’re currently tied for second (9-4) with Texas Tech, but Iowa State (8-4) is only a half-game behind. Kansas State (10-3) leads the league standings and is vying for the program’s first Big 12 title since sharing it with Kansas in Bruce Weber’s first season in 2012-2013.