By Kyle Beery
Get ready. The madness is almost upon us. Well, it’s actually here already — just ask the likes of conference 1-seeds such as Oakland (Horizon), Monmouth (MAAC) and Belmont (OVC). While everyone takes in the wild week that is Championship Week, the bracket is starting to come together.
But we all know that things can change drastically before Selection Sunday. Here’s my latest projected field of 68.
(Note: Conference champions have their conference in parenthesis. Teams that have already won conference tournaments are listed in ALL CAPS.)
MIDWEST REGIONAL — Kansas City — Thursday, March 23 & Saturday, March 25
- Kansas has all but wrapped up a No. 1 seed, and has a strong case for the No. 1 overall seed. The Jayhawks have 16 wins against the RPI top 100, the second most in the country.
- Michigan shot the lights out Sunday at Nebraska and finds itself on the fence between the 8-9 seed line.
- Arizona is looming as a potential No. 1 seed if they can win the Pac-12 Tournament and one of the other top teams — Gonzaga, North Carolina, Villanova — stumbles in their conference tournament.
- Xavier beat DePaul to snap a six-game win streak. The Musketeers need to beat DePaul again on Wednesday and at the very least play a close game with Butler in the quarterfinals in order to move off the bubble.
- Jacksonville State rattled off three straight wins in the OVC Tournament to secure its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The Gamecocks head into the Big Dance at 20-14 on the season.
WEST REGIONAL — San Jose, CA — Thursday, March 23 & Saturday, March 25
- Gonzaga is hanging onto the final No. 1 seed. If the Bulldogs can win the West Coast Conference Tournament, they should find themselves on the top line on Sunday, having lost just one game this season.
- Oregon, much like Arizona, is still in the hunt for a top seed. If the Ducks can win the Pac-12, the Selection Committee will have a really tough time keeping a No. 1 seed from the Ducks.
- Butler suffered a tough loss on senior day Saturday, but thanks to a handful of losses by teams in the 3-to-4-seed range, including Duke and Florida, the Dawgs are still on the 3-line. A win or two in the Big East Tournament will solidify that, and a conference title could potentially move them up a seed line with the right amount of chaos this week.
- Rhode Island and Wake Forest both find themselves squarely on the bubble and will have to have strong showings in their conference tournaments in order to secure a bid.
EAST REGIONAL — New York, NY — Friday, March 24 & Sunday, March 26
- Villanova should have a top seed wrapped up, but should the Wildcats fall early in the Big East Tournament, they may be sweating it out until Sunday.
- UCLA has the potential to be a No. 2 seed, but a shaky performance against a bad Washington State team on Sunday leaves them as the highest 3-seed. If they can make a run in Las Vegas, the Bruins could have an argument for jumping up a line.
- Vanderbilt and Kansas State are both on the bubble and will need a good week to get a bid, but they are trending in opposite directions. The Commodores beat Florida Saturday for their biggest win of the season. The Wildcats, on the other hand, have won two in a row, but lost five of six before that.
- Providence has moved from outside the bubble to just inside of it over the last two weeks, having won six in a row. If the Friars can beat Creighton on Thursday, they can breathe easy and simply play to improve their seed.
SOUTH REGIONAL — Memphis, TN — Friday, March 24 & Sunday, March 26
- North Carolina beat rival Duke on Saturday to avenge an earlier loss and carry momentum into the ACC Tournament. The Tar Heels are playing as well as anyone in the country and are looking to get back to the Final Four, what looks to be a very achievable goal.
- Kentucky is teetering between a 2- and 3-seed, and will need to win the SEC to keep any hopes of a 2-seed alive.
- Purdue has finally solidified itself as the best team in the Big Ten and could wind up as a 4-seed if they have a solid week. Caleb Swanigan has played great this season and finds himself as a Wooden Award candidate, owning 25 double-doubles this season.
- Middle Tennessee is likely going to be an enticing pick for a first-weekend upset or two, especially with last year’s upset of Michigan State on the minds of fans. They should get through the Conference USA Tournament with ease, and could even get up as high as an 11-seed.
Last five at-large byes: Xavier, Marquette, VCU, USC, Providence
Last four in (First Four in Dayton): Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Wake Forest, Rhode Island
First five out: Illinois State, Illinois, Syracuse, Iowa, California
Teams on the horizon: Georgia Tech, BYU, Houston, Georgia
Xavier has definitely sputtered down the stretch, but the Musketeers may have done enough to impress the Selection Committee early on in the season, owning eight RPI top 100 wins and an RPI ranking of 34, thanks to the 7th-toughest schedule in the country.
Illinois State may have had a chance at snagging an at-large bid had it hung tough with Wichita State in Sunday’s Missouri Valley Championship game. But the Redbirds got blown out by 20 points and will have to hope for utter chaos this week.
After a horrible loss at Rutgers over the weekend, Illinois will need a couple wins in the Big Ten Tournament, starting with a rubber match against Michigan. They split the season series, winning in Champaign by 16 and losing in Ann Arbor by nine.
BYU could make a last-ditch effort at an at-large bid by beating St. Mary’s in the WCC semifinals and giving Gonzaga a good run in the title game. Even then, it would be a bit of a stretch for the Cougars to steal a bid because they have just one RPI top-50 win.