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With conference tournaments already in motion for some leagues across the country, teams are already playing to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament. One league, the OVC, will determine its representative Saturday night. We’ll get three more on Sunday, and it snowballs as we roll to Selection Sunday.

For other conferences, Saturday was the final push for many teams closing out their regular season schedule before conference tournaments. And there was no bigger conference winner than the Big East. In fact, every outcome played out favorably for the Big East teams looking to solidify their resume. Xavier, which had not won in more than a month, ended its losing skid against DePaul. Villanova, a likely No. 1 seed, blew out Georgetown to make its final regular-season case for a top seed. And Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence -- bubble teams desperately needing wins -- all came away victors. The conference is coming out of Saturday looking good, and a week from Sunday it might be looking even better.

Winner: North Carolina’s ACC dominance

The Tar Heels got revenge on their rival Duke, and clinching the outright ACC title made it twice as sweet. North Carolina closed out the regular season with a 14-4 league record, and in doing so secured the top seed in the ACC tournament.

The Tar Heels earned a double-bye, and will play the winner of Syracuse-Miami next week. No matter how they finish (the bracket sets up favorably for them) the win over Duke might just be enough to earn them a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. 

Loser: Kentucky’s slow starts

It was a different day but same story for Kentucky on Saturday, which fell behind by double digits early once again against a middle-of-the-road SEC opponent in Texas A&M. The Wildcats overcame that deficit to close the first half on a run and took a 4-point lead into the break, which broke open in the second half. But it maintains an alarming recent trend of falling behind early in games to lesser competition.

Look, I’m high on Kentucky and its ceiling. I think John Calipari’s team is as deep and talented as any in the country. But the stakes are about to be sky-high in two weeks. Sleepwalking through the first half of an SEC game after you’ve already secured a share of a regular season title isn’t a big deal, and ultimately does no harm. But against Texas A&M for a chance to secure an outright conference title to come out that slow is pretty baffling. If you sleepwalk through the first half of an NCAA Tournament game similar to what it has done recently against A&M and Vanderbilt, Big Blue Nation might be severely disappointed with an early exit.

Winner: Virginia rolling at right time

Virginia’s offense ranks near the country’s bottom in points per game, and its pack-line defense forces teams to play slow on offense. The Cavaliers never rush into scoring points unless its on a fast break. 

So any day it scores 35 points in a single half is a good day for Tony Bennett’s team, which dominated the Pittsburgh Panthers from start to finish. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing by any stretch of the imagination. There’s nothing super exciting about a team that mucks up the game and forces teams into shooting an awful rate from the floor. But it’s hard to argue with the results -- and the Cavaliers secured an important regular season finale win over Pitt to make it three straight wins headed into the postseason. Virginia’s got things rolling at the right time.

Loser: Illinois’ tourney hopes

What a brutal, brutal way to close the regular season for John Groce and the Illini. After opening Big Ten play with a 4-9 record, Illinois battled back with four consecutive wins to play itself the NCAA tournament bubble conversation.

But a three-point loss to Rutgers on the road on Saturday severely deflated the Illini’s chances. 

A win wouldn’t have secured a bid, but it would have made a strong case to the committee that Illinois is the hottest team in the Big Ten. At the same time, this loss doesn’t kill the Illini’s chances of going dancing, but it turns up the pressure for the team in the Big Ten tournament. A strong showing is a must, and even then it might be a long shot.

Winner: Arkansas’ tourney hopes

Arkansas and Kentucky have been two of the hottest teams in the SEC in the last month, and the Hogs kept it rolling on Saturday by dominating Georgia to end their season on a high note. 

Arkansas is likely in the field of 68 — Jerry Palm has the Hogs as a 10 seed — but this basically sealed the deal. Georgia had won five of its last six games before falling to Arkansas. So this was a convincing win over a team that has been solid of late. Razorback fans can exhale a little as SEC postseason play sets to kick off. 

Winner: Vanderbilt sweeps Florida

We’re at the point in the bracketology calendar where there’s so many moving pieces, its hard to track them all and determine the impact of each and every nuance. That applies directly to Vanderbilt, which got it done against No. 12 Florida in a must-win resume booster. The Commodores have a strong non-conference strength of schedule, but losses to Bucknell and Mississippi on their home floor might be costly. Wins over Iowa State and a sweep of Florida are the shining pieces of its resume, and it might need a strong showing in the SEC tournament. But right now Vandy fans have to be excited with the prospect of jumping into the bubble conversation. No team with 15 losses has ever secured an at-large bid, but that could end this year.

Loser: Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech is almost certainly going to fall on the wrong side of the bubble when it’s all said and done, barring a run through the conference tournament. But they were a lot closer than anyone would have predicted they might get in the preseason. What was an otherwise mostly successful regular season ended in disappointing fashion on Saturday as the Yellow Jackets took a 29-point beating at the hands of Syracuse. Not an ideal way to roll into the postseason.

On the whole, though, Georgia Tech has far exceeded expectations. For a team picked to finish near the bottom of the ACC, winning eight conference games and coming up three wins shy of 20 before the conference tourney is nothing to be ashamed of. The program is trending up, but a loss to Syracuse in this fashion won’t sit well with Tech fans.

Winner: Small school Saint Francis

Saint Francis isn’t dancing (yet!), but it took one step closer to doing so Saturday thanks to a freshman, Keith Braxton, who had ICE in his veins in his team’s semifinal game against Wagner.


Saint Francis hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991, but they’re headed to the NEC Finals on Tuesday.

Loser: Horizon League’s top dog, Oakland

Playing with a target on your back is never easy, no matter what league you play in. Horizon league No. 1 seed Oakland learned that firsthand, taking a stunning quarterfinals loss to No. 9 seed Youngstown State at the buzzer, and squishing the NCAA tournament hopes of the team favored to win the league in the process.

Losing at the buzzer is a tough way to go down, but let’s be real here: Oakland had no business being in such a tight game with a team that suffered 20 losses (13-20) on the season. Youngstown State won only five conference games during the regular season, but it now faces the winner of Northern Kentucky and Wright State for a chance to play for the conference tournament championship. This 2-game winning streak is tied for YSU’s longest win streak all season.