NCAA tournament conference breakdown: Big East, Pac-12 thriving, while Mountain West, SEC struggle


Conference bragging rights have become a big part of the NCAA tournament. People get strangely attached to how a preferred conference, or a hated conference, performs each March.

Seeing how each of the multi-bid leagues performs makes for interesting debates about the top conference in the sport after a long regular season and plenty of non-conference matchups.

Through the first round of the 2024 men’s NCAA tournament, a few major conferences are still unbeaten while one eight-bid league took a major beating over the first few days.

Here’s a look at the 10 multi-bid leagues and how they’re performing so far. First Four games are also counted in the overall record of each year.

American

Bids: 2

2024 Record: 0-2

2023 Record: 2-2

The American went winless in 2024 with both teams getting bounced on Friday. After a Final Four run last season, No. 8 seed Florida Atlantic fell in overtime against Northwestern. UAB, a scrappy No. 12 seed, also fell to San Diego State.

The loss of Houston to the Big 12 definitely hurt the American’s NCAA tournament stature.

ACC

Bids: 5

2024 Record: 4-1

2023 Record: 7-5

Still Dancing: North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, N.C. State

The ACC made a positive impression with a strong opening round. North Carolina made quick work of No. 16 seed Wagner to advance. N.C. State proved to be a dangerous No. 11 seed with a convincing upset win over No. 6 seed Texas Tech. Friday saw two more wins from the league with No. 6 seed Clemson knocking out New Mexico and No. 4 seed Duke pulling away for a win over Vermont.

The league’s only blemish saw No. 10 seed Virginia suffer an embarrassing defeat in the First Four to Colorado State.

In the Round of 32, the ACC will be the stronger seed in three out of four matchups, an unexpected development thanks to No. 14 seed Oakland knocking out Kentucky to set up a matchup with N.C. State.

Atlantic 10

Bids: 2

2024 Record: 2-0

2023 Record: 0-1

Still Dancing: Dayton, Duquesne

The Atlantic Ten was one of the major winners of the first round. Dayton rallied from a double-digit, second-half deficit to hold off No. 10 seed Nevada. Meanwhile, No. 11 seed Duquesne continued its ridiculous March run with an early upset over BYU.

Getting a crack at some heavy hitters in the Round of 32 with Dayton taking on No. 2 seed Arizona and Duquesne battling No. 3 seed Illinois is only a positive for the A-10 a year after going winless in the Big Dance.

Big 12

Bids: 8

2024 Record: 5-3

2023 Record: 9-7

Still Dancing: Houston, Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas, Texas

The Big 12 put together a solid first-round effort. A busy opening day saw No. 2 Iowa State cruise past South Dakota State, suffocating defense help No. 7 seed Texas run past Colorado State and No. 4 seed Kansas sneak past Samford. Houston and Baylor added wins for the Big 12 as top-3 seeds with blowout wins to give the Big 12 four top-4 seeds that advanced to the Round of 32.

Second-tier Big 12 teams suffered some setbacks. A pair of No. 6 seeds lost to underdogs as BYU lost to Duquesne and Texas Tech fell to N.C. State. TCU also got outplayed in the 8/9 matchup against Utah State.

The six seeds losing early is disappointing for the Big 12. Having four top-4 seeds left in the Round of 32 is still a storyline to keep track of.

Big East

Bids: 3

2024 Record: 3-0

2023 Record: 12-4

Still Dancing: UConn, Marquette, Creighton

All three Big East teams won by double figures. Creighton advanced to the Round of 32 by pulling away in the second half against Akron on the first day. Marquette was sluggish in the opening half against No. 15 seed Western Kentucky before rounding into form. UConn made quick work of No. 16 seed Stetson.

Big Ten

Bids: 6

2024 Record: 4-2

2023 Record: 6-8

Still Dancing: Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan State

Following last season’s disaster the Big Ten is off to a much better start. Purdue played like a proper No. 1 seed by running over Grambling. After another slow start, Illinois turned on the jets and cruised past Morehead State. Michigan State opened the tournament with a convincing win over Mississippi State in an 8/9 matchup. And Northwestern chipped in with an overtime win over Florida Atlantic.

As a No. 5 seed, Wisconsin was outplayed by No. 12 seed James Madison in a loss while No. 8 seed Nebraska couldn’t hang with Texas A&M.

The Big Ten’s in an interesting spot entering the Round of 32. Purdue and Illinois will both be heavily favored while Northwestern and Michigan State battle No. 1 seeds.

Mountain West

Bids: 6

2024 Record: 3-4

2023 Record: 5-4

Still Dancing: San Diego State, Utah State

The Mountain West was underwhelming once again in the NCAA tournament. The league’s six teams only saw two make it past the Round of 64. San Diego State, a No. 5 seed, survived the pressure of living up to last season’s Final Four bid with a close win over UAB. Utah State also deserves credit for a clear-cut takedown of No. 9 seed TCU. Technically speaking, Colorado State also earned a First Four win by embarrassing Virginia before falling to Texas in the Round of 64.

The rest of the league got ugly.

Nevada had a monster second-half collapse to fall to Dayton and New Mexico could’t hang with No. 6 seed Clemson. Before the Round of 64, Boise State was pushed out by Colorado in a First Four matchup.

With six bids, the Mountain West was looking to make a statement during this tournament that the league was still deep despite all the conference shakeups. But outside of San Diego State continuing to win, most of the league’s teams remain inconsistent in March.

Pac-12

Bids: 4

2024 Record: 5-0

2023 Record: 3-4

Still Dancing: Arizona, Washington State, Colorado, Oregon

The first round was hugely successful for the Pac-12. Overall, the Pac-12 went unbeaten and earned more wins in the first round in 2024 than the league had during the 2023 tournament. All four teams are still alive.

Arizona had all five starters in double-figures in a 20-point win over Long Beach State. Jermaine Couisnard dropped 40 points to power No. 11 seed Oregon past South Carolina. Colorado advanced past Boise State in the First Four and then survived a high-scoring affair with No. 7 seed Florida. Washington State made a push to get past No. 10 seed Drake to keep the unbeaten streak alive.

It’s a major uphill battle for the Pac-12 to continue to make a deep tournament push outside of Arizona. But having all four teams make the Round of 32 is a fun final chapter.

SEC

Bids: 8

2024 Record: 3-5

2023 Record: 9-8

Still Dancing: Tennessee, Alabama, Texas A&M

Complete disaster in the first round for the SEC. Higher seeds in No. 3 seed Kentucky (Oakland), No. 4 seed Auburn (Yale), No. 6 seed South Carolina (Oregon), No. 7 seed Florida (Colorado) and No. 8 seed Mississippi State (Michigan State) all lost in the first round.

At least No. 2 seed Tennessee, No. 4 seed Alabama and No. 9 seed Texas A&M looked impressive in wins over Saint Peter’s, Charleston and Nebraska, respectively.

Having five higher seeds lose in the first round is a horrible effort from the SEC. Even if Tennessee and Alabama earn a Sweet 16 appearance and beyond, the league’s upsets will overshadow the eight bids getting in.

WCC

Bids: 2

2024 Record: 1-1

2023 Record: 4-2

Still Dancing: Gonzaga

Gonzaga has advanced to the Round of 32 every season since 2008, a remarkable stretch that continued with a notable win over No. 12 seed McNeese State. The WCC’s other No. 5 see, Saint Mary’s, couldn’t hold up its end with a loss to Grand Canyon to close out the first round.

While the Saint Mary’s loss is disappointing after such a solid season, the overall consistency of Gonzaga in the Round of 64 is incredible. Mark Few has not only built a program that makes the NCAA tournament every season, but they’ve also become as close to automatic as a team can to avoiding a first-round upset. It’s easy to be critical of some of Gonzaga’s exits in later rounds to lower seeds, but the first-round track record is stellar.



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