NCAA BK

Conference races heating up late in season

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(Eds: Restores dropped word "loss" in AAC item. With AP Photos.)By JOHN MARSHALLAP Basketball Writer

The Big 12 regular season has ended up as it always seems to: with Kansas on top.

With their 83-75 win over Oklahoma on Monday night, the fifth-ranked Jayhawks wrapped up at least a share of their 10th straight Big 12 championship. Only UCLA, with 13 straight Pac-10 titles from 1967-79, and Gonzaga, with 11 straight West Coast Conference titles from 2001-11, have won more consecutive conference titles in Division I history.

Kansas isn't the only team to have a title locked up or close to it.

No. 2 Wichita State, the only undefeated Division I team left, has already cut down the nets to celebrate its Missouri Valley title. No. 10 Saint Louis has a three-game lead with four games left in the A-10, Iona has clinched at least a share of the MAAC, Robert Morris did the same in the Northeast and top-ranked Florida has a comfortable lead over Kentucky in the SEC.

Most of the conference races haven't been decided, though. With two weeks left in the regular season, there's still plenty left up in the air.

Here are six conference races that figure to be interesting down the home stretch:

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Atlantic Coast Conference. Syracuse appeared to be headed toward a runaway after winning its first 25 games. Things changed quickly when the Orange lost two games last week. Now, No. 12 Virginia is atop the conference with three games left. The Cavaliers are 14-1 in the ACC, a game ahead of Syracuse and three up on No. 6 Duke. The Orange have a chance to gain ground Saturday, when they play Virginia in Charlottesville.

Big East. No. 9 Creighton is in control, thanks to a pair of lopsided wins over No. 8 Villanova. There's still some wiggle room for the Wildcats, though. They're a half-game back of the Bluejays at 12-2 and play three of their final four games at home. Creighton plays two of its final three games on the road, against Xavier and Georgetown, two teams vying for NCAA at-large bids.

Conference USA. This one could be fun during the closing stretch. Middle Tennessee leads at 11-2, but Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, UTEP and Tulsa are all lurking right behind at 10-3 with three games left. Saturday's game between Middle Tennessee and LaTech could open things up a bit but could also make the race even more convoluted. Stay tuned.

American Athletic Conference. No. 11 Cincinnati appeared to be headed toward the AAC title after opening conference 13-1. The Bearcats' 58-57 loss to No. 7 Louisville on Saturday made things a bit more interesting. Cincinnati, which has three games left, has a half-game lead over Louisville, which still has four left, starting with Thursday's game against Temple. SMU is two games back at 11-4 and Memphis still has an outside shot at 10-4.

Big South. This one is a wide-open race. VMI and High Point lead the North Division at 10-4, while Coastal Carolina, UNC-Ashville and Gardner-Webb are all 9-5 in the South. Radford and Winthrop also still in it at 8-6. It could sort out a little on Wednesday, when VMI plays at High Point. Then again, it may not.

WAC. The WAC could come down to Thursday's game between New Mexico State and Utah Valley. Both are tied atop the conference at 10-3 and the Wolverines need a win to gain a split in the season series after losing by 23 in Las Cruces earlier this month. Both teams have two games after that and Grand Canyon, in its first Division I season, could sneak off with the title, sitting at 8-4 with four games left.

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