With Selection Sunday less than a week away, men’s college basketball teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble are fighting for inclusion in the field of 68. Meanwhile, the teams already comfortably in the field are trying to pad their résumés to earn a strong seeding.
Heading into conference championship week, the Big Ten Conference is where both bubble and seeding lines will be most intriguing.
It seemed inevitable that there were three locks for No. 1 seed in the NCAAs a week ago – with undefeated Gonzaga, Big 12 champion Baylor and Big Ten champion Michigan. While the first two could lose in their league tourneys and still secure a top seed, it gets more complicated with the two No. 1 seeds hailing from the Big Ten, with Illinois (20-6) the other No. 1.
Michigan (19-3, 14-3) pummeled Michigan State by 19 points on Thursday but then lost to the Spartans on Sunday in a game that likely secured MSU’s inclusion into the field as a bubble team. Such is the challenge with make-up games scheduled due to COVID-19 reasons, with it never easy to beat a team two times in a row. The Wolverines have lost two of their last three and their stranglehold on a top seed has loosened to the point that the fourth No. 1 seed, Illini, could leapfrog the Wolverines on Selection Sunday.
More than that, there’s still room for one of the chasing No. 2 seeds to vault to the No. 1 line. Alabama (21-6) would have to win the SEC championship to make its case, but it’s doable if Michigan or Illinois stumble. Houston (21-3) also has an outside chance, although unlikely.
Where it can get interesting is in the Big Ten Tournament for projected No. 2 seeds Iowa and Ohio State. The Hawkeyes (20-7) have won seven of eight, whereas the Buckeyes (18-8) have lost four in a row. Still, both have profiles that could be worthy of a No. 1 seed with a Big Ten Tournament title attached to it.
It’s difficult to imagine the No. 1 seeds changing given how strong the four holding those spots have been all season long. But the final week before March Madness will be the ultimate determinant.
The NCAA Tournament tips off March 18.
No. 1 seeds
Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, Illinois.
Last four in
Drake, Colorado State, Boise State, Xavier.
First four out
St. John’s, Utah State, Syracuse, Saint Louis.
Next four out
SMU, Memphis, Seton Hall, Duke.
Others considered for at-large bids: Stanford, Belmont.
On life support: North Carolina State, Pittsburgh.
Multi-bid conferences: Big Ten (9), Big 12 (7), ACC (7), SEC (6), Big East (4), Pac-12 (4), Mountain West (3), Atlantic 10 (2), American Athletic (2), Missouri Valley (2), West Coast (2).
Leaders or highest NET from projected one-bid conferences – (20 total): America East – Hartford, Atlantic Sun – Liberty, Big Sky – Weber St, Big South – Winthrop, Big West – UCSB, CAA – Northeastern, C-USA – Western Kentucky, Horizon – Cleveland State, MAAC – Siena, MAC – Toledo, MEAC – Norfolk St., Northeast – Bryant, OVC – Morehead St, Patriot – Navy, Southern – UNCG, Southland – Abilene Christian, SWAC – Prairie View A&M, Summit – South Dakota St, Sun Belt – Georgia State, WAC – Grand Canyon.
- Banned from participating: Alabama State, Alabama A&M, Delaware State, Auburn, Arizona.
- Transition schools, ineligible for the tournament: Cal Baptist, North Alabama, Merrimack, Dixie State, Tarleton State, Bellarmine, UC San Diego.
- COVID-19: Ivy League, Bethune-Cookman, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Howard, Maine.
NCAA Tournament language explainer:
- NET stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is the barometer for the selection committee. It includes game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capping at 10 points per game), and net offensive and defensive efficiency.
- Quadrant 1 wins: Home games vs. 1-30 NET teams; Neutral-site games vs. 1-50 NET; Away games vs. 1-75 NET
- Quadrant 2 wins: Home games vs. 31-75 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 51-100 NET; Away games vs. 76-135 NET
- Quadrant 3 wins: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 101-200 NET; Away games vs. 136-240 NET
- Quadrant 4 wins: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral-site games vs. 201-plus NET; Away games vs. 241-plus NET
Note: Most statistical data is used from WarrenNolan.com. The NET rankings (NCAA Evaluation Tool) also are a reference point.
About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his eighth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past seven March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, collegeinsider.com and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson