The regular season in college basketball is over. This is when March Madness really begins, with the major conference tournaments getting underway mid-week, with fans traveling to familiar sites like Madison Square Garden, Greensboro, and Kansas City for rivalry showdowns, frantic ticket exchanges, and lots of smack talk.
Most of the at-large bids are going to come from eight conferences this year. We’ll start today with a breakdown of the Big East, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC. Tomorrow, it will be the Big Ten, ACC, Big XII, and Atlantic 10. Here is my assessment of the matchups, and what teams need to do in the conference tournament to be in position to make the NCAA tournament field on Selection Sunday six days from now.
Matchups: Double Byes: #1 Georgetown, #2 Louisville, #3 Marquette, #4 Pittsburgh; 2nd Rd Opponent TBA: #5 Syracuse, #6 Notre Dame; #7 Villanova vs. #10 St. John’s, #8 Providence vs. #9 Cincinnati; Opening Round: #11 Rutgers vs. #14 DePaul, #12 Seton Hall vs. #13 South Florida.
Locks for the NCAA Tournament: Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame
Most Likely In, Need One Win to Be Safe: Cincinnati
On the Bubble: Villanova
Outside Chance, But Likely Need to Win Tourney: Providence
Analysis: The top six seeds are all playing for seeding and the huge boost that beating multiple tournament teams can provide. Louisville and Georgetown can still get a #1 seed. Cincinnati has lost six of their last nine, and needed overtime at home against South Florida to win the finale. They might still be in with a loss to Providence, but a win would lock it in. Villanova got a huge win over Georgetown to put them on the right side of the ledger. They cannot give it away with a loss to St. John’s. A win over the Johnnies, and I think they end up on the good side of the bubble, and an upset of Louisville would assure it. Providence needed the UCONN win. I think they have a fighting chance for an at-large if they were to somehow reach the Big East final, which would add three quality wins.
Matchups: Opening Round: #8 Wyoming vs. #9 Nevada; #1 New Mexico vs. #8/#9, #2 Colorado State vs. #7 Fresno State, #3 UNLV vs. #6 Air Force, #4 San Diego State vs. #5 Boise State
Locks for the NCAA Tournament: New Mexico, Colorado State, UNLV
Most Likely In, Need One Win to Be Safe: San Diego State, Boise State
On the Bubble: None
Outside Chance, But Likely Need to Win Tourney: None
Analysis: New Mexico is playing for a high seed if they win the Mountain West tournament, though the closing loss to Air Force removed any chance of a #1 seed and made a #2 unlikely. Colorado State and UNLV are playing to get to a 5 seed with a good showing. Boise State and San Diego State are both likely in the field. The winner of their rematch from last weekend will definitely be in. The loser will likely make it, but will be watching other results that roll in over the weekend with a little more interest.
Matchups: Byes: #1 UCLA, #2 California, #3 Oregon, #4 Arizona; #5 Colorado vs. #12 Oregon State; #6 Washington vs. #11 Washington State; #7 USC vs. #10 Utah; #8 Stanford vs. #9 Arizona State.
Locks for the NCAA Tournament: UCLA, Arizona
Most Likely In, Need One Win to Be Safe: Oregon, Colorado, California
On the Bubble: None
Outside Chance, But Likely Need to Win Tourney: Stanford, Arizona State
Analysis: Oregon is limping in to the tournament, losing the last two. They are probably in, but another loss to either Washington or Washington State might give pause, when the committee also looks at a RPI ranking just out of the top 50. Colorado just lost at home to Oregon State, so they merely need to avoid a second straight loss to the 12 seeded Beavers and they will be in. California had won seven straight to get into the NCAA picture and get the conference second seed, before getting handled at home by Stanford. They need to beat Utah or USC to be safe. Stanford and Arizona State can get in the conversation by making a run to the final through UCLA and Arizona or Colorado, but will likely need the auto bid.
Matchups: Double Byes: #1 Florida, #2 Kentucky, #3 Mississippi, #4 Alabama; 2nd Rd Opponent TBA: #5 Tennessee, #6 Missouri; #7 Arkansas vs. #10 Vanderbilt, #8 Georgia vs. #9 LSU; Opening Round: #11 Texas A&M vs. #14 Auburn, #12 South Carolina vs. #13 Mississippi State.
Locks for the NCAA Tournament: Florida, Missouri
Most Likely In, Need One Win to Be Safe: None
On the Bubble: Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama
Outside Chance, But Likely Need to Win Tourney: Arkansas
Analysis: Word of advice when Florida gets into a tight game–sit Kenny Boynton so someone else takes the key shot. Florida rates highly in systems like Pomeroy, but has lost close games that likely keep them at a #3 seed unless they win the SEC tournament. Missouri should be in, though a loss in the opening game would plummet the seeding. Everyone else is squarely playing for their tournament lives. Kentucky got the big win against Florida. I think they can get in with a win over Arkansas/Vanderbilt, even if they lose in the semifinal. Tennessee and Alabama are looking at a potential elimination game in the SEC quarters; the loser is out, the winner is not guaranteed in, but is in the conversation on Sunday. Ole Miss will need to beat Missouri in the quarters, and if Missouri is eliminated before that matchup, probably needs another quality win in the form of reaching the championship game.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]