Ultimate guide to Saturday's conference title games

Ayton's career game leads Arizona to victory (1:06)

Deandre Ayton scores a career-high 32 points, including the first seven points in overtime, to lead Arizona to a 78-67 win over UCLA. (1:06)

Champ Week is drawing to a close, and Saturday features tournament finals in four top leagues.

Here's what you need to know for these league title games:


No. 12 North Carolina (25-9) vs. No. 1 Virginia (30-2)
8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN App

NEW YORK -- Six weeks ago, North Carolina was on a three-game losing streak and dropped to 5-5 in the ACC. The Tar Heels were never in danger of falling too far in the national scope, but they also weren't anywhere close to the conversation about the nation's best teams.

Fast-forward to Saturday, when North Carolina will have a chance to make its case for a 1-seed in the ACC tournament championship game against No. 1 Virginia.

The Tar Heels a 1-seed? With nine losses? With a home loss to Wofford?

If Kansas loses in the Big 12 tournament final and North Carolina beats Virginia, the Tar Heels will absolutely be in the discussion. And with what happened on Friday night -- Xavier blowing a 16-point lead to Providence in Manhattan and North Carolina beating Duke on the other side of the East River, in Brooklyn -- the Tar Heels are already putting pressure on the teams on the top line.

Right now, North Carolina has the most Quadrant 1 wins in the country with 13. A win over Virginia -- the No. 1 team in the polls and the RPI -- would give the Tar Heels a 14th Quadrant 1 win. There's only one other team (Kansas) that even has double-digit wins in that category. North Carolina has a top-five RPI, a top-10 nonconference strength of schedule and the No. 1 overall strength of schedule in the country. The Tar Heels have two wins over Duke, a win at Tennessee and wins over Michigan, Ohio State and Clemson.

The pluses on the résumé are absolutely there. While it's true that no team has ever received a 1-seed with nine losses, most nine-loss teams haven't possessed this many good wins and a conference tournament title.

Of course, all this is predicated on North Carolina beating Virginia on Saturday night. Given the Cavaliers have lost twice all season and beat North Carolina by 12 in Chapel Hill in January, that won't exactly be easy.

"They're the No. 1 team in the country," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "They are the No. 1 team unanimously, and they beat us by 77 points or whatever. So we've got to go in there and try to play the perfect game and play as close as we can possibly play to that, then we'll have a chance to win."

In the first meeting between the two teams, North Carolina scored just 49 points -- the Tar Heels' second-worst offensive outing of the season. They turned the ball over 19 times and shot 8-for-31 on 2-pointers. At the other end, they allowed Virginia to shoot better than 50 percent inside the arc.

North Carolina is vastly different than it was two months ago. The Tar Heels have received more consistent contributions from guys not named Joel Berry II and Luke Maye, with Theo Pinson becoming more of a factor every game. Williams also has gone to a smaller lineup for longer stretches, with Maye, Pinson and Cameron Johnson handling the frontcourt duties. They've won nine of their past 12.

"We've just got to make sure we're taking good shots and making sure we're moving them on the defensive end," Berry said of Virginia. "They're great defensively, and we've just got to make sure we limit our mistakes. If you make a turnover, you know that you're going down and you're about to play defense for 30 seconds, because they keep moving the ball until they get what they want to get. So, we have to limit our turnovers and make sure that we're getting great shots on the offensive end."

Receiving a 1-seed on Sunday is still not a likely scenario for North Carolina, all things considered; but given where the Tar Heels were at the end of January, Williams and his team will relish their opportunity against Virginia on Saturday night.

-- Jeff Borzello

Big 12

No. 18 West Virginia (24-9) vs. No. 9 Kansas (26-7)
6 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN App

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Maybe it was good for Kansas that Kansas State exposed the Jayhawks' soft interior defense Friday night.

Because if not Friday in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament, it was going to happen on Saturday against West Virginia in the championship game. It still might, in fact. The Mountaineers are rugged and determined and motivated after a 66-63 victory over Texas Tech in the second semifinal Friday at the Sprint Center.

The Mountaineers are still feeling the sting of a loss last month at Allen Fieldhouse in which Kansas overcame a 12-point, second-half deficit and shot 35 free throws to the visitors' two.

West Virginia has never won this tournament, losing last year in the final to Iowa State and in 2016 to the Jayhawks. Arguably, Bob Huggins' team has more to play for on Saturday, what with the Mountaineers bidding for a spot among the top four seed lines in the NCAA tournament and Kansas perhaps locked into a No. 1 after its 26th win.

"No, no," Jayhawks coach Bill Self said to that suggestion. "If you play, you might as well win."

Kansas didn't roll to 14 straight Big 12 regular-season titles by resting on its accomplishments and looking ahead to the Big Dance. Self, in his 15th season at KU, finds plenty of motivation within the daily minutiae of the season.

On Friday, it was all about how the Jayhawks performed in an 83-67 win over the short-handed Wildcats.

"If I sleep two hours tonight," Self said, "it will be more than what I think I probably should after how we played."

Kansas State lost All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade to a foot injury suffered Thursday. And one minute after the tip on Friday, Wildcats guard Barry Brown -- tied for the team lead in scoring with Wade -- went down hard when Devonte' Graham's an arm hit his right eye, and he never returned.

Still, the Wildcats chopped a 16-point lead to two points midway through the second half. K-State forward Makol Mawien raced past his career high with 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting. Young Kansas post players Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa, filling in for injured center Udoka Azubuike, offered "no resistance at all," Self said.

"I hope I'm pronouncing it correctly," Self said of Mawien's name, "because he was by far the best player in the game. And he whipped us."

Lightfoot got the message.

"I played bad today," he said. "We've got to defend better."

Graham said Kansas took its collective "foot off the gas" when Brown exited.

-- Mitch Sherman

Big East

Providence (21-12) vs. No. 2 Villanova (29-4)
6:30 p.m. ET

NEW YORK -- Two of the Big East's old guard will tangle on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, with a trophy at stake.

Villanova (29-4, 14-4) surely has already sewn up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and Providence (21-12, 10-8) is now a lock for the field of 68. But a Big East tournament title will be on the line -- a crown the Wildcats will be looking to win for a fourth time and the Friars for a third.

It has been easy work this week for the second-seeded Wildcats, who blew out Marquette in the quarterfinals 94-70 and did the same to Butler in the semis 87-68.

Jay Wright's bunch raced out to a 19-0 lead against the Bulldogs on Friday night and never looked back.

"That was one of our best defensive performances," Wright said. "We played well. They're a really good offensive team."

It has been a different story for fifth-seeded Providence, which needed overtime to knock off Creighton 72-68 and played five extra minutes again to complete its stunning upset of regular-season conference champ Xavier 75-72.

Ed Cooley's Providence crew is only the second team in Big East tournament history to win back-to-back overtime games. And the Friars erased a 17-point, second-half deficit against the Musketeers on Friday night -- led by senior guard Kyron Cartwright, who scored 12 of his 15 points after halftime and also had a game-high six assists.

"Seniors have to step up to the moment and help the team," Cartwright said. "And I thought I did that tonight. And I'm going to try to do that tomorrow night and hopefully try to will my team to a championship."

Villanova is spearheaded by juniors, in particular Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson, both named to the All-Big East first team. They led the Wildcats with 25 and 21 points, respectively, against Marquette, and then scored 18 and 17 against Butler.

But all five Villanova starters finished in double figures Friday, and that was nearly the case on Thursday after freshman forward Omari Spellman came up one point short. This is a talented team across the board.

"That's really the key to our team is the balance, when we have balance," Wright said.

Villanova will obviously be the favorite, and it will be playing in its fourth straight Big East championship game. But these teams split their two regular-season meetings, with Providence winning at home 76-71 on Valentine's Day. The Friars also split with Xavier before knocking the Musketeers off for a second time Friday, making Providence the only team to defeat both of the Big East's beasts this season.

Can the Friars do it one more time? Cooley said, "We're built for the moment" after their victory Friday.

Another big moment awaits.

-- Kieran Darcy


USC (23-10) vs. No. 15 Arizona (26-7)
10 p.m. ET

LAS VEGAS -- For several months, Arizona and USC have lived somewhat parallel existences.

That was already going to be the case, to a degree, for the pair of preseason top-10 teams.

But everything changed Sept. 26, when the FBI arrested USC assistant coach Tony Bland and Arizona assistant Book Richardson as part of an investigation into corruption in college basketball. There would be no avoiding it: The arrests would hang over both programs for the rest of the season.

For the Pac-12's two most talented teams, though, that dark day had no bearing on the goals in front of them: to win the Pac-12 and make as deep a run in the NCAA tournament as possible. They would simply have to move on without their well-liked assistant coaches and USC without star guard De'Anthony Melton, who was suspended -- first indefinitely and eventually for the entire season -- due to his association to the ongoing investigation.

Arizona won the only regular-season matchup between the programs on its way to finishing atop the Pac-12 standings, while USC finished second. Their paths will cross again Saturday in the championship of the Pac-12 tournament at T-Mobile Arena.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, asked about the possible matchup Thursday, said he wasn't concerned by the potential perception it could create for the conference by having its championship game feature a pair of teams wrapped up in the scandal.

"I know both the schools are, at the highest levels of the university, treating the allegations very, very seriously," Scott said. "Both those schools have taken concrete steps with assistant coaches -- in the case of USC, a player that they deemed ineligible to play the whole year and has since left the school. Arizona obviously sat out their coach while they were investigating and looking into the situation."

Arizona (26-7) advanced to the championship game on the back of freshman center Deandre Ayton, who turned in one of the most dominant performances in college basketball this season as the Wildcats beat UCLA 78-67 in overtime. Ayton's career-high 32 points came on 13-of-16 shooting as he strengthened his case for national player of the year.

"He's a special talent," Arizona guard Rawle Alkins said of Ayton. "I see it every day in practice, so it's nothing new to me. But to you guys, you know, you guys can't see what we see every day. It's just another day in the office for him.

"But there's no doubt in my mind that he's becoming in talks for the national player of the year. He should be player of the year in the country. I don't see anyone playing better than him right now."

After Friday's performance, it's hard to argue against it.

USC (23-10) reached the final with a 74-54 thumping of Oregon, a Final Four team a year ago, in what some viewed as a must-win game for the Trojans' NCAA tournament hopes. The Trojans would take the selection committee out of the equation with a win against the Wildcats, but even if they lose, USC coach Andy Enfield is confident his team has already done enough.

In fact, he felt that way even before the Trojans beat Oregon.

"We came in second in the Pac-12 this year," Enfield said Thursday. "Our RPI is in the low 30s, and that's enough said."

-- Kyle Bonagura