Welcome to Champ Week, that frenzied stretch of college basketball between the end of the regular season and the NCAA tournament -- otherwise known as the best postseason in American sports.
A multitude of leagues will send their lone representatives to the NCAA tournament via conference tournament title games this week. The results of other conferences will help teams on the bubble secure at-large berths or, if they stumble early, cost them better seeding and matchups in the national tournament. Some of the top teams are vying for high seeds and hoping another significant win or two will enhance their arguments.
Champ Week is also when we get to see a repeat of memorable matchups from the regular season: an opportunity for teams to avenge losses, hold on to win streaks or keep rivalries -- deep-seated or nascent -- alive. The 2021-22 men's college basketball season saw a lot of action, and we can only hope this week will deliver the same.
Here is a list of the conference tournament games we hope to see this week during the buildup to Selection Sunday.
UConn Huskies vs. Villanova Wildcats, Part III
When we could see it: Big East tournament semifinals (Friday, 9 p.m. ET, FS1)
This would be a nostalgic matchup for longtime Big East supporters. UConn was in the former version of the Big East when Jim Calhoun led the program to a national title in 2011, his penultimate season as the Huskies' head coach. Five years later, Villanova won the first of two national titles under Jay Wright after joining a reassembled Big East. Now, it all comes full circle with UConn's recent return to the Big East in 2020.
The two teams split their series during the regular season -- you remember the second of those, in which current Huskies coach Dan Hurley got ejected from his home court and his squad dodged a block call on the final possession that won them the game. Seeing them face off at Madison Square Garden with a trip to the championship game on the line would be appropriate for this storied league, which has seen some spectacular battles.
Both squads are fighting for top-four seeds. Mix that with the history of this league, and you have an exciting matchup every college basketball fan could enjoy.
Boise State Broncos vs. Colorado State Rams, Part III
When we could see it: Mountain West tournament title game (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, CBS)
We're going to call this the Marcus Shaver Redemption Game if it happens. Boise State won the Mountain West regular-season title over Colorado State, a projected NCAA tournament team. But the Rams swept the Broncos on a pair of three-point wins. In both games, Shaver had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds.
In the first, a 77-74 overtime loss at home on Feb. 13, Shaver's 3-pointer was blocked by Colorado State's David Roddy at the buzzer. He missed a 3 once again at the buzzer in the Broncos' 71-68 loss at Colorado State on Saturday. Shaver (13.9 points per game, 43% from 3) is a great player who could lead Boise State to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2015 even without a conference tournament title. A Mountain West championship game matchup would give him a chance to script a better ending against Colorado State.
Baylor Bears vs. Kansas Jayhawks, Part III
When we could see it: Big 12 tournament title game (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Baylor and Kansas provided a few surprises on their way to splitting the Big 12 regular-season title this year. Entering the season, Kansas was the favorite to win the Big 12, but the Jayhawks ended up having to do it without relying on Arizona State transfer Remy Martin, who was affected by injuries and a rocky transition to a new team. Baylor had been written off as a national title contender after losing the nucleus of last year's championship squad. But Scott Drew collected his third Big 12 Coach of the Year award as the leader of a team that could make another Final Four run.
They split their series this season, with both teams capturing double-digit wins on their home floors. So this game would give us a "true" champion. Baylor is a projected No. 1 seed and seems to be positioned to maintain that slot, barring a disaster in the Big 12 tournament. Kansas, per Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology, is also a 1-seed right now, days after losing its spot on the top line following a loss to TCU. But nothing seems certain for the Jayhawks. A win for Kansas in a Big 12 title game matchup against Baylor, however, could give Bill Self's squad the final top seed on Selection Sunday. The stakes for this potential matchup are significant.
Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Texas Longhorns, Part III
When we could see it: Big 12 tournament title game (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Another potential Big 12 matchup. Texas Tech fans weren't just hurt when Chris Beard bolted for Texas -- they were angry. The coach who'd led the program to a Final Four appearance in 2019 had picked an in-state and Big 12 rival. So far, however, the Red Raiders have had the last laugh. Mark Adams, Beard's top assistant at Texas Tech and successor, is a national coach of the year candidate after leading his team to a third-place finish in the conference behind co-champions Baylor and Kansas. The Red Raiders were also No. 1 in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency and swept the Longhorns by 19 points combined. Plus, Bryson Williams (14.0 PPG, 43% from the 3-point line) earned first-team all-Big 12 honors this season.
Texas Tech and Texas are both playing to boost or maintain their projected NCAA tournament seeds, and the title game would be a must-watch if it presented the Red Raiders a chance to go 3-0 against their former coach.
Duke Blue Devils vs. North Carolina Tar Heels, Part III
When we could see it: ACC tournament title game (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Those who gathered for Mike Krzyzewski's final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium last Saturday anticipated a party. More than 90 former Duke players were in the building. Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Silver and other notable figures were there, too. It would be the send-off for the ages, it seemed.
Hubert Davis did not care about any of that. After suffering a 20-point loss to its chief rival in Chapel Hill last month, North Carolina got its revenge with a thrilling 94-81 win that likely sealed an NCAA tournament bid. We would love to see the rubber match between these two teams off this alone.
Duke assistant Chris Carrawell, however, added more incentive to a future matchup when he refused to shake Davis' hand after the game on Saturday. After the win, Davis said he was confused by the actions of Carrawell, who told a local reporter, "Davis didn't shake hands before the game." One of college basketball's most storied rivalries doesn't generally need any extra spice, but Saturday's drama has made us more excited to see them face off for a third time this season.
Arizona Wildcats vs. UCLA Bruins, Part III
When we could see it: Pac-12 tournament title game (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, Fox)
Both Tommy Lloyd and Mick Cronin arrived in the Pac-12 amid doubts about their ability to restore two of college basketball's top brands. And both coaches surprised their doubters when they found early success at Arizona and UCLA, respectively: Cronin reached the Final Four last season in his second season at UCLA, while Lloyd, a longtime assistant under Mark Few at Gonzaga, has guided the Wildcats to a Pac-12 title in his first year as a Division I head coach -- and could lock up a top seed in this year's NCAA tournament.
The two teams split their series this season. Johnny Juzang scored 15 points in UCLA's 75-59 win at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 25, and Kerr Kriisa scored 16 points in the rematch, a 76-66 victory for Arizona on Feb. 3 in Tucson. A third game between the two powerhouses would be a fun finale for Pac-12 fans in Las Vegas. Plus, the Bruins hope to jump a seed line -- they're currently projected as a 4-seed -- and Arizona hopes to keep playing at a high level with a squad led by Bennedict Mathurin, a projected lottery pick. Provided there isn't an upset on either side of the bracket, we'll see these two in the Pac-12 final. Get your popcorn ready.
VCU Rams vs. Davidson Wildcats, Part III
When we could see it: Atlantic-10 tournament title game (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS)
VCU and Davidson suffered two-point defeats within eight days to one another during their regular-season series. Both teams lost on their home floors in a pair of games that were played eight days apart. Davidson star Luka Brajkovic (14.6 PPG, 42% from 3) and VCU star Vince Williams Jr., (13.3 PPG, 38% from 3) carried their teams in their respective wins.
A third matchup puts a stake in the NCAA tournament on the line. VCU is listed among the "Next four out" in ESPN's Bracketology, while Davidson is an 11-seed and automatic qualifier. The title game would guarantee an NCAA tournament invitation for the winner. But could the bubble waters part and open up a spot for VCU or Davidson even if one of them loses in the conference title game? The potential would create a great storyline.
Auburn Tigers vs. Kentucky Wildcats, Part II
When we could see it: SEC tournament title game (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN)
On Jan. 22, Kentucky had the edge over Auburn in the lone matchup of the season between the two powerhouse programs. With TyTy Washington on the floor that day, the Wildcats had shot 67% from inside the arc. That lasted for all of nine minutes, before Washington got hurt. The game then turned as a talented Tigers squad, which claimed the SEC's regular-season title, won 80-71 at home.
Tennessee finished tied for second place with Kentucky in the SEC race, but most would agree that the two best teams -- when they're both healthy -- in the SEC are these two. Auburn is searching for the program's first-ever national title. Kentucky could win the championship in New Orleans at the Superdome, the same city and building that hosted John Calipari's first national title run in 2012. A second game between the two squads would also feature three projected first-round picks in ESPN's latest NBA mock draft: Washington and Auburn standouts Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith. Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe, meanwhile, is the favorite to win the Wooden Award.
A star-studded matchup between a pair of teams aiming for top-two seeds? We hope to see it.
Houston Cougars vs. Memphis Tigers, Part III
When we could see it: AAC tournament title game (Sunday, 3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson has successfully weathered a series of key injuries after last year's Final Four run. But his team will enter the AAC tournament amid questions about its ability to compete with top-tier squads anchored by elite athletes. Houston won the league's title this season but finished 1-3 against SMU and Memphis, which finished second and third, respectively, in the conference. And on Sunday, Memphis won at Houston 75-61, securing its second double-digit win over the Cougars.
Speaking of Memphis: Are the Tigers for real? Remember that Penny Hardaway rant about feeling disrespected in January? Well, his team has changed its fortunes since that difficult stretch. The Tigers enter the AAC tournament with a 10-1 record in its final 11 games of the regular season. A third win over Houston would punctuate a miraculous run by a Memphis team that hasn't had five-star prospect, Emoni Bates, since Jan. 27 because of injury.
Michigan Wolverines vs. Wisconsin Badgers, Part II
When we could see it: The Big Ten tournament title game (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Johnny Juzang drops defender before hitting bucket
Johnny Juzang drops defender before hitting bucket
Before Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis fought in the 2002 heavyweight championship, a line of police officers stood in the ring to prevent any prefight drama between the two following a previous dust-up at a news conference. You have to wonder if there will be an exaggerated security presence if Michigan and Wisconsin meet in the Big Ten championship game. Juwan Howard was suspended for the final five games of the regular season after taking a swing/swipe at Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabbenhoft in one of the league's most embarrassing moments of the Feb. 20 matchup between Michigan and Wisconsin. Howard was reportedly upset that Badgers coach Greg Gard took a late timeout in the blowout. After Gard grabbed Howard in the handshake line, everything escalated.
Howard, who later apologized after dismissing the incident in his postgame news conference, will return to his team in time for its push to enter the field of 68. If the Wolverines reach that stage, the bubble talk will be old news and a conversation about Michigan's NCAA tournament ceiling would commence. Wisconsin, meanwhile, would feel secure about its standing as a projected 2-seed in Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology, assuming the ankle injury Johnny Davis suffered in Sunday's loss to Nebraska in Madison does not linger.
The theatrics around this game will be the story, though. Will Howard and Gard ignore one another before the game? If this matchup happens, will the Big Ten eliminate the postgame handshake line? Will Howard and Gard overdo it and act like best friends? We're not sure. But we'd love to see these two meet face to face once more this season.