Major Conference Races Are Heating Up Down The Stretch

Ohio State forward Cotie McMahon (32) and guard Jacy Sheldon (4) celebrate in the final moments of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Ohio State forward Cotie McMahon (32) and guard Jacy Sheldon (4) celebrate in the final moments of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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The conference races are coming down the homestretch and while No. 1 South Carolina basically has run away with the Southeastern Conference, many of the other Power Five leagues are still up for grabs.

The Gamecocks have a three-game lead over LSU with four contests left for coach Dawn Staley's squad. LSU had been the preseason pick to win after South Carolina lost all five of its starters from last season. South Carolina can seal its fourth conference title in five years with two wins this week, over Alabama on Thursday and Kentucky on Sunday.

No. 3 Stanford also is in a good spot to win its 27th regular-season Pac-12 championship, holding a two-game lead over USC, Oregon State and Colorado. The Cardinal, who are playing their final season in the Pac-12 before joining the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, have a relatively easy schedule left, with home games against Arizona and Arizona State before traveling to face Oregon and Oregon State.

While South Carolina and Stanford both have cushions in their conferences, Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Oklahoma each have one-game leads in the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12, respectively.

The Hokies lead Syracuse by a game and North Carolina State by 1 1/2 games. Virginia Tech has three games left, facing North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia. The Orange play Duke, Pitt and N.C. State.

Oklahoma might be in the toughest race, and has a one-game advantage over Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State. The Sooner saw their nine-game winning streak end Saturday with a loss to the Mountaineers.

Kansas State and West Virginia play on Wednesday and Oklahoma hosts Texas on Feb. 28. Those two games could go a long way toward figuring out who will win the title.

Few teams have been hotter than Ohio State lately, as the Buckeyes have won 12 straight. They hold a one-game lead over Iowa for the lead in the Big Ten. Those two teams play again in Iowa City on March 3. Before that rematch, the Hawkeyes visit third-place Indiana on Thursday. The Hoosiers were tied for second until they lost to Illinois on Monday.

It’s not just the major conferences that are tight. Here are a few mid-major conference that have a big week ahead.

MAC ATTACK

First place in the Mid-American Conference could be on the line Saturday when Ball State visits Toledo. The two teams are tied atop the standings at 11-1. Ball State took the first meeting by 14 points last month. Both teams have games on Wednesday before the weekend showdown.

BIG SKY SHOWDOWN

Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington are tied atop the Big Sky Conference at 11-2. They'll face off Thursday in Washington. The Lumberjacks won the first meeting in overtime at home.

IVY LEAGUE RACE

No. 25 Princeton has won 15 straight games and sits a game in front of Columba in the Ivy League standings. The Tigers won the first meeting last month, and the two teams play in New York on Saturday with first place in the conference on the line. They shared the regular-season title last year, the first in Columbia’s history.

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