What we think we know in November hardly ever matches what we know in March, and this season has been no different.
As Champ Week gets underway (with full schedules and brackets), it’s time to review what we’ve learned and look ahead to how that has shaped the postseason conversation in each of the major conferences.
What we thought in the preseason: We thought, more or less, that the SEC was once again a Kentucky-and-everybody-else sort of affair. Given the history of the SEC — the Billy Donovan era at Florida notwithstanding — this seemed like the safest possible prediction.
What we learned in the regular season: The Billy Donovan era wasn’t the end of Florida after all. The Gators may not have been on the radar for long before Donovan’s tenure, but less than two calendar years after his departure for the Oklahoma City Thunder, successor Mike White has the Gators not only challenging Kentucky for SEC pre-eminence, but — in some ways, notably on the defensive end — exceeding them.
What will happen in the conference tournament: There is no doubt the Wildcats are the most talented team in the league, especially when guard De’Aaron Fox (who was injured when Kentucky beat Florida in Lexington on Feb. 25) is healthy and sprinting headlong into overwhelmed transition defenses. But the Gators — even without being at full strength themselves — appear more than capable of challenging Kentucky, as their 20-point Feb. 4 win in Gainesville displayed. — Eamonn Brennan
What we thought in the preseason: Duke was the overwhelming favorite to win, garnering 85 of 91 first-place votes, with North Carolina collecting the remaining six votes. NC State, led by preseason freshman of the year Dennis Smith Jr., was expected to be an NCAA tournament team, while Georgia Tech was expected to finish in the league’s cellar.
What we learned in the regular season: There was no such thing as an overwhelming favorite in the ACC. Duke stumbled early and often because of injuries, and the other squads did, too, as each of the top teams — including North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia, Notre Dame and Florida State — suffered losses to unranked opponents.
What will happen in the conference tournament: The tournament’s inaugural foray into New York City should be as wide-open as ever, starting with its slate of Tuesday games that traditionally can be yawners. Don’t be surprised to see a team like Clemson or Wake Forest, which combined for enough close losses to last the next five seasons, sneak into the semifinals while playing for its NCAA tournament life. — C.L. Brown
What we thought in the preseason: After last year’s run to the Sweet 16, Wisconsin brought back forward Ethan Happ, guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes, the league’s preseason player of the year. While most anticipated a serious challenge from Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland in the Big Ten race, the Badgers were the clear preseason favorites to win the Big Ten crown.
What we learned in the regular season: Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan emerged as a John R. Wooden Award contender and carried a Boilermakers team that evolved into one of the nation’s top 3-point shooting squads to the Big Ten title. Coach Richard Pitino’s Minnesota squad nipped at Purdue’s heels with a February rally, and Northwestern played its way to the top tier and a probable first-ever NCAA tournament invite. Meanwhile, Wisconsin and Maryland tried to stop late collapses that diminished their postseason seedings and reshaped the league’s race.
What will happen in the conference tournament: Pay no attention to whatever we thought in the months prior to the season because you could legitimately point to seven or eight teams — including the Iowa squad that won at Wisconsin — that could win the Big Ten tournament. Purdue seems positioned to dominate the field. But the Boilermakers have lost a home game to a hot Minnesota squad, Northwestern is chasing history, and Maryland and Wisconsin will try to regain their respective rhythms. — Myron Medcalf
What we thought in the preseason: Five months ago we were confident that Cincinnati and Connecticut would be the big two in the American. True, maybe SMU could make some noise, too, but with the abrupt transition between the Larry Brown and Tim Jankovich regimes, the Mustangs were viewed as something of a wild card.
What we learned in the regular season: We should not have viewed SMU as a wild card. The Ponies were the American’s best team, Cincinnati was every bit as good as expected (possibly even better), and UConn was laid low, in part, by early-season injuries to guards Terry Larrier and Alterique Gilbert.
What will happen in the conference tournament: The Mustangs and Bearcats are safely in the field of 68 and are looking merely to better their NCAA tournament seeds. The other nine teams will be seeking a magical run to carry them to an automatic bid, though there’s a slim chance Houston could earn at-large consideration with an appearance in the title game. — John Gasaway
What we thought in the preseason: Coming off 12 straight Big 12 titles, it was impossible to pick against Kansas — and the Jayhawks were a national title threat while the rest of the usual league contenders were down. There was no consensus on the second-best team in the league, with Texas, West Virginia, Iowa State and Baylor all posing threats.
What we learned in the regular season: It seems to happen every season, but there was a stretch when it appeared Kansas’ streak was in peril — until the Jayhawks beat Baylor and sent the Bears into a stretch in which they lost five of eight. Coach Shaka Smart’s Longhorns struggled all season, but West Virginia still scares coaches across the country, and Oklahoma State and Iowa State are hitting their strides at the right time.
What will happen in the conference tournament: Kansas is the clear favorite heading into the conference tournament, but there is no longer a clear pecking order in the rest of the conference. The point guard play of Iowa State’s Monte Morris and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans will make things interesting, and facing West Virginia on quick turnarounds will be a nightmare for opponents. — Jeff Borzello
What we thought in the preseason: In October, it really looked like the A-10 season would come down to a battle between Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island. We thought Davidson could possibly squeeze its way into this discussion, but the Flyers, VCU and URI would definitely all be there at the end.
What we learned in the regular season: First and foremost, we learned that VCU really, really knows how to close out the last seconds of tight games (see the Rams’ incredible wins over St. Bonaventure and George Washington). We also learned that Richmond in general — and senior forward T.J. Cline in particular (18.6 points per game) — can put the ball in the basket.
What will happen in the conference tournament: We were mostly right with what we thought in the preseason, but while Dayton and VCU should be in good shape for NCAA tournament at-large bids, Rhode Island may have work yet to do. Coach Dan Hurley’s team will be playing like its season depends on this tournament because that may well be the case. — John Gasaway
What we thought in the preseason: We thought that this would again be Villanova’s regular-season title to win. Xavier and Creighton might challenge the Wildcats, which lost leaders Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, but the defending national champions had the inside track for another dominant season in the Big East.
What we learned in the regular season: We were right about Villanova and maybe undersold Butler a little bit. Injuries for Creighton and Xavier couldn’t have been predicted, but perhaps we should have paid more attention to a solid Bulldogs team that won a game in the NCAA tournament a year ago.
What will happen in the conference tournament: Barring another uprising like the one Seton Hall offered a year ago, injuries have turned this into a two-horse race between Villanova and Butler. The Bulldogs have had the Wildcats’ number this season, pulling off a regular-season sweep and physically outmanning them each time. But if Villanova is completely healthy — forward Darryl Reynolds‘ rib injury is big — you can bet the Wildcats will for payback against Butler and to avenge their tourney championship loss to Seton Hall a year ago. — Dana O’Neil
What we thought in the preseason: It was Oregon as the clear front-runner, then a gap between the Ducks and Arizona and another one from the Wildcats to UCLA.
What we learned in the regular season: UCLA guard Lonzo Ball has taken college hoops by storm and closed the gap. This league has virtually no disparity between its top three teams: Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. They are all different, and each has a chance to win the Pac-12 tourney and go to the Final Four.
What will happen in the conference tournament: Arizona is a different team now with guard Allonzo Trier. The same can be said for Oregon and a healthy Dillon Brooks. UCLA is different when it defends. This league title is a complete toss-up between the trio. — Jeff Goodman