NCAA basketball takeaways: Baylor falls, Duke’s last stand, Big Ten tournament teams

Baylor’s struggles and Duke’s last chance at a bid highlight what fans need to know in the final week of the NCAA basketball regular season.

March has finally arrived and that means the NCAA basketball regular season is coming to an end. This week marks the last games ahead of Championship Week, a key moment for a sport that saw its 2019-20 season get cut short right before March Madness thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

As of now, it looks like all systems are a go for the NCAA Tournament, making the focus this week the importance of wins and losses for seeding purposes. Let’s take a look at the five things college hoops fans need to know entering the final week of the regular season, beginning with concerns about Baylor.

Story of the Week: What happened to Baylor?

COVID pauses have wreaked havoc on plenty of teams this season and the Bears are no exception. Baylor struggled in its first game back from a three-week layoff, barely getting by an Iowa State team that hasn’t won a game in conference play, before finally falling from the ranks of the unbeaten with a loss to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.

Head coach Scott Drew directly cited the Bears’ pause as a reason for his team’s sloppy performance, which is understandable and shouldn’t knock Baylor off the top line of the bracket just yet. The Bears have three makeup games on tap this week, including a road trip to West Virginia along with home matchups against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, so there isn’t much time left for Baylor to right the ship ahead of the Big 12 Tournament.

Team of the Week: Duke Blue Devils

There has been a lot of momentum building for a last-minute bubble run out of Duke but the Blue Devils’ momentum came to a crashing halt in a loss to Louisville on Saturday. The Blue Devils enter the final week of the regular season with a NET ranking of 58 and little in terms of quality wins on their resume outside of home wins against Virginia and Clemson.

This week offers a pair of road matchups against a fellow bubble team in Georgia Tech and North Carolina, which boosted its own tournament hopes by beating Florida State on Saturday. Duke has gone just 3-4 on the road so far this season and needs to secure at least a split of its trip this week to remain alive heading into the ACC Tournament.

Conference of the Week: Big Ten

This week’s conference spotlight shines on the Big Ten, which has the most teams in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth of any league in the country with 11. Only Penn State, Nebraska, and Northwestern have no shot at making the field right now without winning the conference tournament to secure the Big Ten’s automatic bid.

There are currently five sure-five locks out of the Big Ten in Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. The Wolverines are a lock to land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament while Ohio State and Illinois are fighting to get a second top seed for the conference.

The next tier of Big Ten teams is the trio of Purdue, Rutgers and Maryland, all of whom should be safe on Selection Sunday barring a complete collapse. The true bubble teams are Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota with the Spartans trending in the right direction while the latter two are currently on the outside looking in entering the final week of the regular season.

Cinderella Watch: St. Bonaventure

It’s fitting that the final Cinderella Watch of the season will spotlight a team few thought had any chance of winning its league at the start of the season. St. Bonaventure clinched the Atlantic 10’s regular-season title with a win over George Washington on Friday, securing the top seed in the A-10 Tournament in the process.

The key to the Bonnies’ success has been a rugged defense that yields just 60.9 points per game, allowing them to stand out in a league full of potential tournament hopefuls like VCU, Saint Louis and Richmond. The metrics love St. Bonaventure, which enters its final regular-season game against Dayton inside the top 30 of the NET rankings, and should be safe for an at-large berth as long as they don’t trip up before the semifinals of the A-10 Tournament.

Games of the Week: Big Ten, Arch Madness spotlight the key action

The end of the regular season is loaded with great games, including a trio of key games for Michigan in the Big Ten. The Wolverines square off with Illinois on Tuesday in a game that could have big seeding ramifications in the NCAA Tournament before wrapping up the year with a home-and-home against Michigan State, which could lock up an at-large bid by securing a split against their in-state rivals.

Illinois is also set to square off with Ohio State later in the week, a game that could be a de facto tiebreaker for the last No. 1 seed in the bracket. Other key matchups in power conferences include a Big East clash between Villanova and Creighton, Big 12 showdowns such as Baylor-West Virginia and Texas-Oklahoma, and a big ACC Saturday with Virginia taking on Louisville along with the big Duke-North Carolina contest in Chapel Hill.

There is also a big conference tournament this week with the Missouri Valley set to stage Arch Madness once again. Loyola-Chicago should be safely in the field even if they lose in this event but Arch Madness could be a must-win for Drake, which enters the conference tournament minus two key starters and with a thin resume outside of a season split with the Ramblers.

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