Conference tournament winners and losers: North Carolina jumps Tennessee for final No. 1 seed



Tennessee entered Friday as the fourth and final projected No. 1 seed in Jerry Palm’s latest Bracketology , but the madness of March and the slim margin of error this late in the season may have tipped the scales in someone else’s favor after a wild round of conference tournament action leading into the weekend. The combination of the Volunteers’ blowout loss to Mississippi State, Arizona’s shocking loss to Oregon and North Carolina’s win over Pitt to advance to the ACC Tournament title game now has the Tar Heels supplanting Tennessee as the fourth No. 1 seed, joining Houston, Purdue and UConn on the top line.

“Tennessee’s loss, combined with North Carolina’s win and Arizona’s loss has the Tar Heels in the driver’s seat for the fourth No. 1 seed,” Palm said. “North Carolina will go for the ACC title on Saturday and put the final touches on a top seed tournament résumé.”

UNC’s win not only afforded it one more chance to secure a win for the committee to consider, but losses by Tennessee and Arizona before their respective title games ensured they would miss on a chance to add two Quadrant 1 wins leading into Selection Sunday. That’s multiple wins in a single day for the Carolina blue. That’s why, as you might imagine, they’re our leading winner in our roundup of the day’s winners and losers from conference tournament action across the country.

Below are the best (and worst) of the rest.

It’s not March without brackets. Get your bracket pools ready now and join our women’s and men’s challenges for the chance to win big-time prizes! 

Winner: Purdue dodges disaster

When Purdue guard Braden Smith crashed to the floor in the second half of the Boilermakers’ 67-62 win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, it looked potentially catastrophic. The 6-foot sophomore guard has emerged as Purdue’s second-leading scorer this year and is among the nation’s top distributors. As he lay on the floor writhing in pain, Purdue’s path to NCAA Tournament redemption seemed to be hanging in the balance. But it wasn’t as disastrous as it initially appeared, and Smith was able to return. — David Cobb

Loser: Tennessee limps into NCAA Tournament

Tennessee entered the SEC Tournament with legitimate aspirations of attaining the program’s first-ever No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Those hopes may have faded in a disastrous 73-56 quarterfinal loss to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs improved to 2-0 against the Volunteers on the season and solidified their own case to make the Big Dance after beginning the day as one of the “Last Four In” the projected field in Jerry Palm’s Bracketology. Tennessee will enter Selection Sunday on its first two-game losing streak since November and reeling under the weight of its worst performance of the season. The Vols shot a season-worst 30.6% from the floor. — Cobb

Winner: Madison Square Garden always delivers

My what a day it was to be Madison Square Garden. The iconic venue played host to one of the most efficient offensive shootouts of the season – No. 1 seed UConn took down No. 5 seed St. John’s in the Big East Tournament semis – and it was the scene of an intense crowd, too. Just listen to the roars in the background here as Rick Pitino – then Dan Hurley – both got technical fouls at the same spot in the first half.

Epic. MSG also came away a winner separate from the games themselves; Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman announced earlier in the day that The Garden will be the host of the league’s postseason tournament through 2032 – a four-year extension from the previous agreement in place. — Boone

Winner: Auburn makes a statement 

Auburn is heading into the semifinals of the SEC Tournament after a fourth consecutive double-digit victory. The Tigers walloped South Carolina 86-55 in quarterfinals action to bring their combined margin of victory in two games against the Gamecocks to 69 points. An uneven stretch of February action knocked Auburn out of SEC regular-season title contention, but coach Bruce Pearl’s club looks like a force to be reckoned with in Nashville, Tennessee, this week. With a relatively easy victory in their opening game of the tournament, the already-deep Tigers were able to rest their best players and will have fresh legs for Saturday’s game against a Mississippi State team that will be playing its third game in three days. — Cobb

Loser: Ohio State’s magic runs out

When Ohio State fired coach Chris Holtmann on Valentine’s Day with the Buckeyes sitting at 14-11 (4-10 Big Ten), the idea of this team making an NCAA Tournament push seemed ludicrous. Its next game was against Purdue, and nothing about the previous five weeks indicated Ohio State would find its way to the bubble. But a stunning upset of the Boilermakers began a stretch of six wins in seven games for the Buckeyes under interim coach Jake Diebler. The spurt brought the Buckeyes all the way to “First Four Out” territory in Jerry Palm’s NCAA Tournament Bracketology entering a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal showdown with No. 2 seed Illinois. Then, Ohio State ran out of gas. — Cobb

Loser: Kentucky’s defense fails again

All season long, Kentucky’s offense has been spectacular enough to win games in shootouts. But all season long, Kentucky’s defense has been miserable enough to torpedo even some of the most winnable of games. See: Friday. Texas A&M struggled defending the Wildcats freshman duo of Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham, but it didn’t matter — because Kentucky couldn’t stop A&M at all on the other end. The Aggies scored 97 in a 10-point win which tied for their highest point total in a game this season with its 97 scored on Jan. 13 … which also came vs. Kentucky and also ended in an A&M win. — Boone

Winner: UConn stays hot, reaches 30 wins

On the heels of a magical 31-win season that ended in a national championship, it would have been acceptable — heck, maybe even expected — for UConn to have a just-OK season and skate by with 25 wins. Nuh uh. The No. 2 Huskies have been hot all year and stayed hot on Friday in downing a frisky St. John’s team in the Big East semis, 95-90. The win helped them to their 30th on the season — their 11th 30-win season in program history and seventh since the turn of the century. — Boone

Winner: Houston continues Big 12 dominance

No. 1 Houston 82, No. 25 Texas Tech 59.

No, that’s not a typo. Yes, Houston really beat a Texas Tech team that is ranked and has been red-hot by 23 (!!!) points in Kansas City. 

Houston’s already won the outright Big 12 regular-season title in its first season with the league and is on the cusp of winning the Big 12 Tournament, too, with the win moving it to Saturday’s tourney finale. The Cougars’ defense completely froze Tech’s offense, and their offense was as lethal as ever, making 12 3s and shooting nearly 50% from the field in the win. — Boone

Loser: Arizona falls short of three-peat in stunner

The top-seeded Arizona Wildcats took a tumble in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, falling 67-59 to No. 4 seed Oregon and stopping them short of their chance to three-peat as Pac-12 tourney champions. The Wildcats led by as many as 14 in the first half and took a 10-point lead into the break but struggled defensively to slow the red-hot Ducks in the second half. Oregon outscored the Wildcats 44-26 in the final 20 minutes and hit six of its 11 3-point attempts. — Boone

Winner: Saint Peter’s dramatic win

The Peacocks of Saint Peter’s are one win away from their second NCAA Tournament appearance in three seasons after downing No. 1 seed Quinnipiac in the MAAC Tournament semifinals. Peacocks forward Mouhamed Sow had a team-high 15 points but none bigger than his last two, which came just before the final horn to seal the win. Saint Peter’s famously made the Elite Eight two seasons ago under Shaheen Holloway as a No. 15 seed, downing in the process No. 2 seed Kentucky, No. 7 seed Murray State and No. 3 seed Purdue. A potential Cinderella story is once again brewing.  — Boone

Loser: Pitt’s tourney hopes take a turn

Pitt was the final team in the bracket entering Friday for Palm and missed an opportunity to solidify its standing as an NCAA Tournament team with a 72-65 loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament semifinals. The Panthers have won 10 of their last 13 games and looked like a team worthy of an at-large bid, but their résumé has them right on the cut line ahead of Selection Sunday. A win might’ve put them into the field, but now it may be a long couple of days of waiting to see what happens when the bracket is revealed. — Boone

Winner: Iowa State sets up rematch with Houston

The matchup everyone wanted in the Big 12 Tournament finale is the matchup we will get. No. 1 seed Houston will face No. 2 seed Iowa State in the third meeting of the season between the two teams. The two split the regular season series with both the home teams winning, so this should be a close one. Houston dominated Texas Tech earlier on Friday but Iowa State made quick work of Baylor in a 76-57 beatdown of its own. This might not just be a matchup between the two best teams in the Big 12 — but arguably two of the top three or four teams in the entire sport. — Boone

Loser: Front-runners in the SEC

The NCAA Tournament isn’t even here and yet March Madness is already delivering on its name, particularly in the SEC, where on Friday three of the four lower-seeded teams snuck out wins as underdogs. The results sent home No. 1 seed Tennessee, No. 2 seed Kentucky and No. 3 seed Alabama after losses to Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Florida, respectively.

Just how rare is that? This SEC Tournament will be the first to not feature a No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the semifinals. The seed total of the four teams standing (Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Auburn, Florida) is also the highest in the history of the tournament entering the semifinals, per Blake Lovell.

Winner: North Carolina reaches ACC title game

Top-seeded North Carolina is into the ACC Tournament title game, fending off a valiant effort from 4-seed Pittsburgh 72-65. It’s the Tar Heels’ first appearance in the tournament final since 2018 when they lost to Virginia.

Pitt’s Jaland Lowe kknotted the game at 62 with 4:23 left, but the Tar Heels responded with a 7-0 spurt fueled by two RJ Davis 3-pointers. The ACC Player of the Year finished with a team-high 25 points, and Armando Bacot added 19 points and 11 rebounds. Overall, 31 of the senior duo’s 44 points came in the second half after Pitt led 35-33 at halftime. — Zach Pereles





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