One month ago, the NCAA Tournament selection committee revealed its top 16 teams in bracket form, and on Sunday they’ll divulge the real thing.
Spoiler alert: It won’t be much different.
Three of the four No. 1 seeds — Villanova, Kansas and Gonzaga — figure to be the same. The fourth top-seed then, Baylor, will be replaced, probably by North Carolina.
The rest of the top 16 teams will look very much the same, heavy on ACC teams and three each from the Big 12 and Pac-12, which tells us what, that the tournament could have started last month?
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The finishing kick of the regular season and the conference tournaments didn’t hold much drama. Make no mistake, there was plenty of excellence. Kansas guard Frank Mason solidified national player of the year credentials. UCLA freshman guard Lonzo Ball continued to dazzle. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan maintained is remarkable double-double pace. Josh Hart took it upon himself to position defending champion Villanova into to favorite’s role this season.
But the tournament needs to begin. In the games that matter most, favorites need to fall, buzzers need to be beaten and the basketball must feel desperate. At least coach has a feel for his team will wind up.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, whose team lost to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament final, believes the Mountaineers will be a No. 3 or No. 4 seed, but he’s almost certain he’ll wind up in a region with his friend, Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“I don’t know how the numbers always work out that way, but somehow it works out where Cal and I end up in the same region all the time,” Huggins said. “I don’t think they could stand both of us at the Final Four.”
But wouldn’t Huggins love to find out. West Virginia is in safely, as are Calipari’s Wildcats, who are playing for the SEC Tournament title on Sunday.
The few mysteries to be revealed on Sunday involve the fourth No. 1 seed. Will the Tar Heels, who lost in the ACC semifinals to Duke, hang on or will they be overtaken by the Blue Devils. Duke took two of three from North Carolina this season.
The bubble has its usual candidates that require a microscope to detect differences. Kansas State and Vanderbilt helped themselves this week with conference tournament success. Wake Forest seems like it’s just in, same with Rhode Island.
But fair warning, the selection committee always pulls a surprise or two here. Could Illinois State be included, or California? They seem on the outside heading into the selection.
Syracuse seems squarely on the bubble. If the Orange isn’t selected half of last year’s Final Four, along with Oklahoma, will not have made this year’s field.
Teams that have already cut nets, winning a conference tournament, quickly applied the break and started thinking about the bigger prize
Iowa State senior point guard Monte Morris recalled the range of emotion two years ago when the Cyclones won their second straight Big 12 Tournament, and a few days later fell as a No. 3 seed to Alabama-Birmingham on the first day.
Morris was named the most outstanding player of this Big 12 Tournament, won by the Cyclones over West Virginia on Saturday.
“Two years ago we won this same tournament and the next week our lives were miserable,” Morris said. “We just have to keep everyone together.”
That’s how March feels, joyous one week, miserable the next. College basketball is almost there. Just in time.
NCAA Tournament field projections
1 Villanova vs. 16 Mount Saint Mary’s/New Orleans
8 South Carolina vs. 9 Southern California
5 Notre Dame vs. 12 Middle Tennessee State
4 Purdue vs. 13 Vermont
6 Iowa State vs. 11 Vanderbilt/Wake Forest
3 UCLA vs. 14 Bucknell
7 Michigan vs. 10 Providence
2 Duke vs. 15 Bakersfield
1 Kansas vs. 16 NC Central/South Dakota St
8 Dayton vs. 9 Virginia Tech
5 Florida vs. 12 UT Arlington
4 Cincinnati vs. 13 East Tennessee State
6 Wisconsin vs. 11 Kansas State/Rhode Island
3 Florida State vs. 14 Winthrop
7 Creighton vs. 10 Arkansas
2 Arizona vs. 15 Northern Kentucky
1 Gonzaga vs. 16 North Dakota
8 Northwestern vs. 9 Wichita State
5 Virginia vs. 12 NC-Wilmington
4 West Virginia vs. 13 Akron
6 St. Mary’s vs. 11 Marquette
3 Louisville vs. 14 Iona
7 Maryland vs. 10 Oklahoma State
2 Oregon vs. 15 UC Irvine
1 North Carolina vs. 16 Jacksonville St.
8 Seton Hall vs. 9 Michigan State
5 SMU vs. 12 Nevada
4 Butler vs. 13 Princeton
6 Minnesota vs. 11 Xavier
3 Baylor vs. 14 Florida Gulf Coast
7 Miami, Fla. vs. 10 VCU
2 Kentucky vs. 15 Texas Southern