Mar 16, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT
Practiced started almost six months ago. The first games were played more than four months ago. In that time, 351 Division I basketball teams played 31 game regular season schedules and 31 of the 32 conferences across the country have held their conference tournaments; we’ll turn the Ivy League to the darkside at some point.
It’s been a long, fun ride, but finally …
Selection Sunday is here!
And while it may seem crazy, half-a-year’s worth of work will be boiled down to a committee of ten bracketing out the 68 teams that will participate in this year’s NCAA tournament. A good draw could yield a Final Four. A bad draw could cost a Cinderella their dancing shoes.
Here are the six most important things that we will find out on Selection Sunday:
1. Who gets the fourth No. 1 seed?: Florida has been a virtual lock to be on the top line for about a month now. Wichita State locked up a No. 1 seed when they moved to 34-0 with a title in the Missouri Valley tournament. Arizona lost to UCLA in the Pac-12 title game, but the Wildcats are likely still head for a No. 1 seed.
And who else? If Florida’s in the South, Wichita State is in the Midwest and Arizona is out West, who is going to be the top seed in the East?
Villanova looked like the favorite heading into the weekend, but they lost in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. Wisconsin looked like a contender, but they were beaten in the Big Ten semifinals by Michigan State. Can Virginia earn that No. 1 seed by beating Duke in the ACC title game? What about Michigan, who takes on the Spartans in the Big Ten title game? If they lose, is there any chance that Louisville can get the honor?
2. Whose bubble will burst?: Providence did themselves a favor. They went out and won the Big East’s automatic bid on Saturday night, knocking off NBCSports.com’s National Player of the Year Doug McDermott and Creighton. They won’t be sweating out Selection Sunday, but a number of teams will.
The way I see it, there are ten teams vying for six at-large spots. If I had to make a prediction, Tennessee, Dayton, Nebraska, Xavier, SMU and BYU (in that order) are in while Missouri, Cal, Minnesota and Florida State (in that order) are out, but I hope I’m wrong and the committee decides to extend an invitation to Green Bay.
3. Where will Kansas be seeded?: The Jayhawks have played one of the toughest schedules in the history of college basketball this season. They also suffered nine losses against that schedule and were absolutely shredded defensively in two of their last three games. Star Jayhawk center Joel Embiid was out of the lineup in all three of those games. He has a stress fracture in his spine and is not expected to return to the lineup until at least the second weekend of the tournament, if at all. How do they get seeded? How does the committee value the schedule that Bill Self put together? How much of a factor will Embiid’s injury be?
4. Just how high of a seed will Louisville get?: The Cardinals are playing as well as anyone in the country right now. I’d argue that they are one of the five most likely teams to win a title. But thanks to a complete lack of quality wins in non-conference play, the Cardinals simply don’t have the kind of resume that would support a No. 1 seed. As of Saturday, they were a No. 3 in Dave Ommen’s bracket, and others had the Cards slotted as a No. 4 seed. I wouldn’t want to be the No. 1 seed in that region if the Cards get a No. 4 seed.
5. Where will Syracuse go?: The seed for Syracuse isn’t quite as important as the region they are sent. There are games in Buffalo the first weekend of the tournament. The Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 will be played at Madison Square Garden. Syracuse fans travel as well as anyone, and they certainly will be able to fill arenas in Buffalo and New York City. That’s quite an advantage for Jim Boeheim’s club. When the Orange were the No. 1 team in the country four weeks ago, that path seemed like a foregone conclusion. But now, can the committee really give the Orange that kind of an advantage when they aren’t even the top seed in their region?
6.Who ends up in Wichita State’s bracket?: It’s crazy when you think about it, but the lack of any real challenge on their schedule means that Wichita State’s season for the ages will be determined by their performance in the NCAA tournament. If they are “for real”, they will make another run. If they aren’t, they’ll lose early. It’s dumb, but reality isn’t always smart.
Here’s the issue: there are some talented, top ten-caliber teams that had their seeds get dropped because of poor stretches during the season. This is a legitimate possibility for the Shockers: they could play No. 8 seed Oklahoma State in the Round of 32, No. 4 seed Louisville (or Michigan State) in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 seed Kansas (with Embiid back) in the Elite 8. Let’s hope that’s not the case.
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