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NCAA conference tournament season is upon us

All standings and rankings are after games on Monday March 4.

It’s that wonderful time of year in which every NCAA Division One women’s basketball team has one last shot at a conference championship in a single elimination format, with hopes of reaching nationals.

Breaking down the conferences, there is a clear divide. Those with multiple teams will expect to make the NCAA tournament regardless of performance, such as the ACC. There are conferences where the top regular season team will be slight favourites to punch their guaranteed ticket to the tournament with a conference championship. The final group of conference have a top team that will be hoping to avoid any potential traps that would end their season prematurely at the expense of an underdog.

To begin, we’ll go through the major conference tournaments for those interested in top-10 matchups. The ACC will have the favourites: Notre Dame (ranked #3) and Louisville (#4) on opposite ends of the bracket, thanks to them sharing the regular season title with 14-2 records. For what it’s worth Notre Dame won at home 82-68 on Jan. 10th in their only meeting of the season. Two other teams received a double bye; North Carolina State (#9) and Miami (#16), which upset the top two seeds during the season. Syracuse (#18) and Florida State (#22) round out the ranked teams fighting for seeding in the NCAA tournament.

The southeast part of the country is home to another power conference in the SEC, which hosts the national championship finalists in consecutive years: the Mississippi State Bulldogs (#5), Kentucky (#13), South Carolina (#12) and Texas A&M (#15). Beyond those top teams a second group including Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee were ranked throughout the season, and Missouri already upset the Bulldogs on Valentine’s Day 75-67.

The west coast is proving to become a breeding ground for top teams with Oregon (#6), Stanford (#7) and Oregon State (#11), all pushing each other near the end of the season. The Oregon schools split their season series, while Stanford got the upper hand on Oregon State in their one game and losing their only game to Oregon. The Pac-12 also has Arizona State (#20) and UCLA (#25) waiting in the lurks, Oregon already fell to UCLA while the Sun Devils swept Oregon State. Even California and Utah were ranked at one point in time and have wins over Stanford to give them hope in the tournament.

Baylor may have destroyed the Big 12 with a perfect season on their way to the top ranking but both Texas (#19) and Iowa State (#21) will give it their all to take down the Lady Bears. Maryland (#8) and Iowa (#10) ruled over the Big 10 together in the polls. Rutgers was ranked before losing three in a row, including to Maryland after upsetting them earlier in the season and also losing to the Hawkeyes by only six points just before the streak started.

Connecticut (#2) will be safe regardless but will be looking to get past UCF and Cincinnati in the AAC. The Big East has Marquette (#17) who dropped three of their last six and could face a DePaul team that was ranked but was swept by Marquette during the regular season.

Out west, Gonzaga (#14) won the WCC by one game over BYU despite being swept by the Cougars sweeping the series. BYU was ranked before three consecutive losses cost them a top 25 spot, but they will be hoping for another shot at Gonzaga. In the MVC, Drake (#23) finally lost a conference game for the first time in three seasons when Missouri State beat them 85-79 in Iowa. The bulldogs got revenge with a nine-point win in Missouri, expect to see them in the conference championship.

With the big games out of the way, buckle up for some rapid fire now. Here are the conferences broken up and the top teams listed:

  • American East: Maine and Hartford were separated by a game and split their season series.
  • A-10: Fordham and VCU tied with Fordham winning their one match-up.
  • Big Sky: Idaho is one game up on Northern Colorado and two ahead of Portland State and Idaho State. All four teams have two games left.
  • Big South: Radford two up on High Point, swept series including a double OT game. Both teams have two games remaining.
  • CAA: James Madison two up on Drexel, won first of two meetings, two games left including meeting on Thursday March 7 at James Madison.
  • Horizon: Wright State leading Green Bay by one, split series, one game remaining for both.
  • Ivy: Penn and Princeton tied after also splitting series. Both still have two games left.
  • MAC: Central Michigan leading both Miami and Ohio by one, Buffalo two back. Miami travels to face Ohio on Wednesday with all four teams having two games left on their schedule.
  • MWC: Boise State leads a tight race with New Mexico and Wyoming two back and closing the regular season Thursday against each other in New Mexico.
  • Patriot: American and Bucknell are tied, but American swept the series including a one-point win on Saturday. With one game left each, American will be looking to maintain their advantage.
  • Southland: Lamar is a game and a half up on Stephen F. Austin after they split their series. Lamar has one game left while Stephen F. Austin has two games remaining.
  • SWAC: Prairie View A&M is two behind Southern but beat them once already and has a second game against them Thursday. In an extremely tight race Jackson State, Grambling, Alabama State and Texas Southern are all just one game behind Prairie View with two games left each.
  • Summit: South Dakota State edged South Dakota by a game after they split their series.
  • Sun Belt: Little Rock currently trails UT-Arlington by half a game but swept their series. Little Rock has a game in hand and has two left to close the season.

Finally, we end up with the conferences where one team flexed their muscle and should feel comfortable clinching their auto-bid to nationals with a conference championship.

  • C-USA: Rice (#24) has a four-game lead with one game left to finish a perfect season.
  • A-Sun: Florida Gulf Coast is perfect with one game left and built a four-game lead.
  • Big West: UC Davis dropped one game but also had a four-game lead with two games remaining.
  • MAAC: Quinnipiac was another flawless team going 18-0 while winning the conference by four games.
  • MEAC: North Carolina A&T is currently undefeated with a four-game lead and one left to play.
  • NEAC: Robert Morris is up two on Sacred Heart after losing to them on Monday night, but both teams only have one game left.
  • OVC: Belmont won by three games over Morehead State thanks to a sweep.
  • Southern: Mercer ran away with a five-game lead on Furman thanks to a perfect regular season so far with one game to go.
  • WAC: New Mexico State may have lost a game but still leads by three and a half with one left to play.

This is a great time of year to watch big schools square off on a constant basis, or to watch small schools looking for a magical run begin their journey. Watching some of these games may require being a little creative to watch but it’s guaranteed the emotions and effort levels from the players will make it worth it, so enjoy the next two weeks.

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