WBB Watch Guide: Conference Tournament Week 1


Iowa guard Caitlin Clark reacts during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game against Indiana, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. 230226 Indiana Iowa Wbb 077 Jpg

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark reacts during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women’s basketball game against Indiana, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. 230226 Indiana Iowa Wbb 077 Jpg

This week’s WBB Watch Guide turns its attention to the slate of conference tournaments beginning this week, with everything you need to know to watch.

Welcome back to FanSided’s weekly look around the women’s basketball world. Looking for some games to watch this upcoming week?

Conference tournaments begin this week, so instead of talking about any of the remaining regular season games that might be worth watching, we’re going to run through the conference tournaments that begin this week and look at some key storylines for them.

All stats come from Her Hoop Stats unless otherwise noted.

Let’s dig into the first week of conference tournaments. We’ll be looking at the conferences with championship games taking place on or before March 6. There are some mid-major conferences with early rounds this week and title games next week. We’ll touch on those next week.

WBB Watch Guide: Previewing the first slate of WBB conference tournaments

Atlantic 10 — Starts March 1 — Championship March 5, 12 p.m. — ESPNU

UMass enters the A10 tournament as the favorite. Led by the scoring prowess of Sam Breen and Sydney Taylor, the Minutewomen went 14-2 in conference play, losing to Rhode Island back on Jan. 4, then to Saint Louis recently. Rhode Island and Saint Louis are the two and three seeds respectively, so UMass will only have to play one of them, and the teams wouldn’t meet until the conference title game. But hey — Rhode Island was also 14-2 in A10 play, so a potential meeting between those two sides would be a lot of fun. Both teams rank above the 90th percentile nationally in net rating.

ACC — Starts March 1 — Championship March 5, 1 p.m. — ESPN

This first week of conference tournaments is notable for being when most of the big conferences play. The only one that isn’t is the Big 12. This means we’ll have a pretty good sense of the NCAA Tournament field after this week once we see if any major conference teams that were on the bubble or worse can steal a bid.

In the ACC, Notre Dame, Duke, Virginia Tech and Louisville all earned automatic bids to the quarterfinals, and all four teams should easily be in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, in ESPN’s latest bracketology, Charlie Creme has nine ACC teams making the tournament, so let’s talk about who’s in danger of missing here. Creme has Syracuse as the last team in right now, so any bid steals could knock the Orange out. They enter the tournament as the nine seed and take on NC State in the second round. A win there would do a lot to bolster their at-large resume.

As for a team to watch that needs to win the tournament, 10-seed Clemson is fascinating. The Tigers are 16-14 on the year but took down Florida State in the regular season finale, and a lot of their losses have come by five points or fewer — including three of the team’s last four losses.

Big East — Starts March 3 — Championship March 6, 7 p.m. — FOX Sports 1

ESPN has five Big East teams making the NCAA Tournament, headlined by UConn as a potential two-seed. But Marquette and St. John’s are both in Creme’s last four in, so their spots are pretty tenuous.

This makes the fact that the two teams are set to meet on March 4 huge. It really feels like the winner of that game is going to get an at-large bid, while the loser is going to have to cross their fingers and hope to sneak into the field. That’s why it’s one of the biggest games of the week. Keep an eye on the schedule to see what time that game will take place — it’ll air on either FS1 or FS2 depending on what time slot it gets.

Big South — Starts March 1 — Championship March 5, 6 p.m. — ESPNU

Gardner-Webb went 18-0 in conference play. The Runnin’ Bulldogs have a net rating of 14.8, and just two other teams in the Big South have positive net ratings. It would be a huge upset if any other team wins this tournament, and it’d be a shame not to see this fun offensive Gardner-Webb team in the NCAA Tournament.

Big Ten — Starts March 1 — Championship March 5, 5 p.m. — ESPN

Indiana’s the one seed, but they just lost on Sunday to the two seed, Iowa, in a game that saw Caitlin Clark hit a game-winning three at the buzzer. Another meeting between those two teams in the conference title game would be another potential all-timer.

On the other side, ESPN has seven Big Ten teams in its tournament field, and it has one Big Ten team in its first four out, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are the eighth seed in the conference tournament and play Michigan State on March 2, with the winner of that game taking on Indiana next. The path to an eighth Big Ten team in the tournament probably looks like this: Nebraska beats Michigan State, then upsets Indiana. Any team seeded lower than Nebraska would likely need to run the table in the conference tournament to get a bid.

Ohio Valley — Starts March 1 — Championship March 4, 3 p.m. — ESPN+

Little Rock won the conference with a 17-1 OVC record, but the team is just third in the conference in net rating at 2.9, while Eastern Illinois, 13-4 in conference play, has a 10.2 net rating. Little Rock’s such a weird team — the Trojans are 310th in offensive rating, but sixth in the country in defensive rating. Their only conference loss came to Eastern Illinois in a game that was just pretty gross all around: the Panthers won 44-33. This is a prime spot for a bid steal.

Pac-12 — Starts March 1 —  Championship March 5, 5 p.m. — ESPN2

ESPN has Oregon as its first team out, plus Washington is also right there on the bubble, so this tournament will matter a lot for those two teams. Creme has seven Pac-12 teams in the tournament, and the lowest projected seed among them is USC with a nine seed. To me, that means those seven teams feel like they have a spot, and one of Oregon and Washington has a good chance to get in.

Why do I say they have a good chance? Because they play each other in the first round. A win there is a good resume builder for one of these teams, and it then sets up a pretty easy situation: the winner plays Stanford in the second round, and it’s hard to imagine that the winner of Oregon/Washington would miss out on an at-large bid if they’re able to upset the Cardinal, regardless of what happens to them in the later rounds.

SEC — Starts March 1 — Championship March 5, 3 p.m. — ESPN

Like the Big Ten and Pac-12, Charlie Creme has the SEC with seven bids. None of those seven seem to be on the bubble, while two SEC teams are in either his first four out (Arkansas) or next four out (Missouri).

And like the Pac-12, the two teams that are on the bubble meet in the first round, facing at Noon on Thursday on the SEC Network. And also like in the Pac-12, the winner of that game takes on the No. 1 seed in a situation where an upset win probably puts that team over the edge and gets them a spot. But while Stanford has proven to be beatable in the Pac-12, South Carolina…well, hasn’t, since the Gamecocks are undefeated. Because of how good the top of the SEC is, it’s hard to really see a true bid steal here, though Arkansas would boost its at-large resume by beating Missouri.

Southern — Starts March 2 — Championship March 5, 12 p.m. — ESPN+

Honestly, this one could go any direction. Wofford is the top seed after going 10-4 in conference play, but ETSU and Chattanooga were both 9-5, and ETSU has a higher net rating than Wofford, and ETSU won both meetings with Wofford this year. Despite Wofford being the top seed, I think ETSU is the favorite here.

Sun Belt — Starts Feb. 28 — Championship March 6, Time TBA — ESPNU

James Madison is the top seed, but I think any of the top four teams — JMU plus Texas State, Southern Miss and Troy—have a shot to win this tournament. James Madison led the conference in net rating at 10.7, with Texas State second at 6.8. But if we look exclusively at conference play, Troy actually had the best net rating in the conference during that 18-game sample, and JMU drops to fourth. Troy’s offense gives it an edge here, as the team had a 103.3 offensive rating in Sun Belt play, but don’t count out the veteran experience of Texas State.