Champ week(s) is still very much in process as mid-major teams fight to keep dancing, with conference tournaments wrapping up this weekend.
They have a tough set of performances to live up to, though. Despite the fact that many of the biggest conference tournaments were won by top-ranked teams — SEC by Mississippi State, ACC by Notre Dame and Big 12 by Baylor — there were still plenty of wild upsets and extraordinary play, especially across the SEC and Pac-12.
The ACC — surprisingly, given its depth in the regular season — proved less contentious, with top two seeds Louisville and Notre Dame both making it to the tournament final. That game became a blowout thanks in large part to the Cardinals’ bad injury luck — starters Arica Carter and Sam Fuehring were both out with injuries sustained during the tournament.
This time next week, we’ll be gearing up for the maddest (most mad?) part of March, the NCAA tournament itself, which kicks off next Friday. (Personally, I’m just trying to make sure I have enough screens to watch all the games.)
For now, take a breather and catch up on some of champ week’s wildest moments so far — and maybe scope out a couple mid-major title games to scout some of the less assuming (but nonetheless lethal) Cinderellas for your bracket.
5. Mississippi State over Arkansas (101-70)
The score should give you some sense of what the game was like. Of course, the Bulldogs were heavily favored to pull out the W here — but Arkansas was on just about the most unlikely title run ever (they became the only no. 10 seed ever to make it to the SEC championship, after going 5-10 in the regular season), and the sense of possibility was irresistible.
Mississippi State swiftly and ruthlessly stifled it, though, putting on one of their best offensive performances of the season to win the program’s first-ever SEC title. Aside from hanging 100 on the worn-out Razorbacks, the team shot an absolutely preposterous 62.5 percent from the field — including nearly 67 percent from three thanks to two secret(ish) weapons: Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Bre’Amber Scott. Sixty. Seven. Percent.
How do you answer this…
…followed by this?
4. Washington over Oregon State (68-67)
This one was classic March. Oregon State, the No. 11 team in the country, was supposed to have won its quarterfinal match-up with Washington (who were a woeful 2-15 in conference) handily. But after losing the thread early in the first, Washington didn’t take the lead until late in the third quarter. It was a battle until the very end, when Missy Peterson hit a long three with three seconds left in the game and… well, you can guess what happened next.
3. Arkansas over Texas A&M (58-51)
Arkansas, who entered the SEC tournament 6-10 in conference, wasn’t even supposed to win one postseason game. But one improbable win led to them knocking off No. 2 (in the SEC) South Carolina in the quarterfinals, and suddenly it seemed like all bets were off. Chelsea Dungee was playing lights out, with 31 points each in the Hogs’ first two tournament match-ups — but even without sharp-shooter Chennedy Carter, the Aggies posed a real challenge considering that Arkansas had just lost to them in their final game of the regular season.
After being down by as many as 16 points, though, and going into the fourth quarter down seven, Arkansas took their first lead of the game with 3:03 left on the clock — and pulled out the W thanks to some absolutely ridiculous three-point shots and nine Aggie turnovers in the final ten minutes. The Razorbacks became the first No. 10 seed to ever compete in the SEC championship game, and Chelsea Dungee became the highest-scoring player in SEC tournament history with 103 points over four games.
2. Stanford over Oregon (64-57)
Going on precedent, this game should have been an easy call. Stanford had lost to Oregon by 40 just weeks earlier, handing legendary head coach Tara VanDerveer the worst loss of her career.
Instead, the Cardinal did their best to return the favor on a far bigger stage, holding Oregon to their lowest score of the season and 34 percent shooting from the field — a massive feat considering that the Ducks still have the No. 1 offense in the country per Her Hoop Stats. Alanna Smith had 20 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and three blocks, including a massive, incredible rejection on Morgan Yaeger (check around the 0:24 mark). The result was an upset that completely shook up the NCAA tournament’s top-tier seeding, sending Mississippi State to Portland as a No. 1 seed to take on the now No. 2 Oregon.
1. DePaul over Marquette
This is what we came for: DePaul lost a slim lead in the first quarter, and didn’t get it back until the last five seconds of the game — in the interim, they were down by as many as 13 points. But Chante Stonewall, in a career-best performance with 28 points, led her team to the kind of comeback 30-for-30s are made of; her and-1 bucket sealed the game, and her understandably emotional postgame interview perfectly crystallized the remarkable win. “Big time players make big time shots,” indeed.
Games to keep an eye on this week:
Since the next three weeks are going to be basically all college basketball all the time, I’m going to say the MAC tournament — especially Buffalo/Central Michigan tomorrow at 11 a.m. ET in the semifinals (on ESPN+), and then the MAC tournament championship Saturday at 11 a.m. ET on CBS Sports Network — will be the best place to watch teams that might bust brackets. Buffalo and Central Michigan both made it to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time last year, so that match-up should be fun.