Every season as Selection Sunday approaches for the NCAA tournament field, teams across the country ruminate about their woulda-coulda-shoulda games. If only this or if only that, they would feel confident sitting in front of the television as the rest of the nation sits in suspense.
This season, a few of the best teams in the nation will be wondering about their fate as well.
Three of the top four seeds seem obvious with Florida, Arizona and Wichita State claiming slots. The fourth will be a bit of a mystery.
Michigan seems like it has the best shot after it advanced to the Big Ten tournament championship with a victory over Ohio State and then watched fellow top-seed contender Wisconsin fall to Michigan State in the other conference semifinal.
Yet, don’t completely count out Louisville. And could Wisconsin still have a crack at it?
Those would be long shots, but until teams’ names are announced, it’s a game of speculation.
The Wolverines in all likelihood can lock up a top seed if they beat Michigan State Sunday in Indianapolis. If the Spartans win, that could keep Wisconsin — remotely — in the mix.
Louisville — you remember last season’s NCAA tournament champion, right? — could make an argument as well after beating Connecticut in Saturday’s American Conference championship.
Some bracket prognosticators predict the Cardinals coming in anywhere from a No. 2 to a No. 4 seed.
If the committee makes a head-to-head comparison between Michigan and Louisville, the Wolverines own an edge thanks to a far superior RPI, total victories over top teams and strength of schedule.
Preceding the Badgers with a slippery hold on No. 1 seeds were Villanova and Kansas, who each had a shot before losses in their respective conference tournament likely bounced them out of contention and into probable No. 2 seeds.
But Villanova, with only four losses, should not be counted out completely. And Kansas is the only team besides Arizona to have more top-50 victories than Michigan’s 10.
There isn’t a stronger team in the country heading into Sunday than Florida, which plays Kentucky on Sunday for an SEC tournament title that has no bearing on its top seed lock. The Gators have rattled off 25 straight victories.
The other big winner Sunday will be the Atlantic-10 conference, which could get as many as six bids.
That already has some rankled.
“They’re a really good conference,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I hear people saying there are six teams in there. Come on. I mean, they’re good, but put them in our conference and go through the meat grinder that our conference has to go through.”
The Big 12 should lead the way with seven teams in the field, with the highest seed being Kansas at a No. 2. The Big Ten should see six teams (Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska) earn bids.
The most perplexing piece of the tournament puzzle might be Syracuse. A favorite to win the tournament as a predicted sure-shot No. 1 seed a few weeks ago, the Orange likely will drop to a No. 3 in the bracket after losing five of their last seven games.
And the bubble teams this year? Where do we start?
With so many top seeds in conference tournaments falling, it’s time to start scouting the Tulsa’s, St. Joseph’s and George Washington’s of the world. Count on bubble teams such as Tennessee, Nebraska and SMU to make the field. Dayton and Minnesota will be among the anxious Sunday.
Of course, every season there are always surprises that leave a few teams feeling slighted and a few feeling lucky.
Last season, Wichita State was a tournament surprise as the Missouri Valley Conference team made an unpredictable run as a No. 9 seed to the Final Four. This season, everyone sees the Shockers coming after a 34-0 run that likely assures them a No. 1 seed.
But they don’t enter the NCAA tournament without critics taking shots at their weak schedule.
To that point, coach Gregg Marshall simply said, “Wolves do not fret over the opinions of sheep.”
There’s no denying the Shockers will see a different level of competition in the NCAA tournament, but with an experienced group that endured the rigors of last season’s run, they say they’re ready for it.
“The exciting point for us is finally to get to play against someone other than Evansville or Indiana State or someone in our conference,” Wichita State Ron Baker said.