With March Madness right around the corner, two of the hottest discussions are who will the number one seeds and which bubble teams will get into this year's NCAA Tournament.
Currently, three teams have strong holds on one seeds, barring weird happenings down the stretch. UCLA should be the number overall seed, as the Bruins have the strongest profile. They have combined strong non-conference wins over Kentucky, Georgia Tech, and BYU with an excellent Pac 10 performance, sweeping Arizona and USC and taking care of business at home against Washington State, Oregon and Stanford. The Bruins have an excellent 8-3 record away from home and 10 wins over RPI top 50 teams.
Ohio State should be the second top seed. The Buckeyes have dominated the Big Ten, going 14-1 and clinching their second consecutive conference championship. The win last Sunday against Wisconsin has likely clinched their place on the top line. The Buckeyes also picked up a solid win over Tennessee out of conference and have swept Purdue and Michigan State in Big Ten play. Another noteworthy win came at Illinois, where the Buckeyes had a rare blowout win there, 62-44. Like UCLA, Ohio State has an excellent 8-3 record away from home, to go along with 8 top 50 wins.
North Carolina has lost a couple tough games recently to Maryland and Virginia Tech, but they still possess a profile worthy of being a top seed. They have a very strong 9-4 record away from home, highlighted by a wins at Duke and the 28 point beat down at Arizona. Out of conference, they picked up big wins against Ohio State, Tennessee and underrated Winthrop. Tough games this week against Duke and at Georgia Tech loom for the Tar Heels, but they should be ready to rebound after the tough loss in College Park last Sunday night.
The fight for the final one seed looks to be a three team battle between Kansas, Florida and Wisconsin. Wisconsin may have the strongest profile, with non-conference wins over Big East powers Pittsburgh and rival Marquette to go along with a strong conference schedule that includes wins over Ohio State and at Illinois. However, the loss of starting forward Brian Butch to an elbow injury may knock the Badgers down a peg to the two-line.
Florida had been coasting before a recent stretch that has seen the Gators lose at Vanderbilt, struggling LSU without Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Tennessee. The Gators do boast a non-conference win over Ohio State, but their recent play leaves their hopes for a top seed in serious jeopardy. An underlying factor may the Gators strength of schedule, which rates far below the other contenders at 49.
Kansas has been surging lately, winning nine of their last ten games. They did beat Florida on a neutral court earlier this season. However, the Jayhawks may be hampered by their lack of quality wins, having just three wins over RPI top 50 teams. They have been really strong away from home, going 11-2 on road and neutral courts.
Bubble teams: The bubble battle looks to be among 10-15 teams fighting for as few as 3-5 spots depending on how teams like Memphis, Nevada, Butler, Xavier(who should be in the NCAA Tournament barring a late season collapse) and even Southern Illinois fare in their conference tournaments.
In the ACC, 6 teams looked to have locked down bids, with Georgia Tech fighting to join the group. The Yellow Jackets have a big opportunity to make a statement this week, with North Carolina and Boston coming into Atlanta. If they can get the two wins, they should be in the NCAA Tournament. A split would keep them in the hunt for an at large bid, while getting swept would likely crush their at large dreams. Clemson and Florida State likely need to go a long winning streak that does not end before the ACC Tournament Finals.
The Big East picture has cleared up recently with the excellent play of Louisville and Syracuse. The Cardinals are playing for seeding at this point, while the Orange should be in barring two straight losses to end their season and lots of upsets in conference tournaments. Villanova would solidly their at large hopes with a win at Connecticut or at home versus Syracuse. DePaul, Providence and West Virginia could jump into the discussion with a strong run in New York, but right now look to be on the outside looking in.
The Big Ten still has six teams who could be fighting for potential at large bids. Michigan State and Indiana should be in the field, but another win or two down the stretch would make things a lot more comfortable for them. Purdue should get to 9-7 in conference, but may need a win in Chicago at the Big Ten Tournament to be in good shape. Illinois has a huge opportunity to get a big road win at Iowa to solidify their status. The Illini has been competitive against many tournament teams, but lack a marquee win on their resume. Getting to 10-6 in conference by winning at their archrival would be a huge step in boosting their at large hopes. A loss in Iowa City would leave Illinois with work to do in Chicago. Michigan has a huge opportunity to jump right into the mix with Ohio State coming into Ann Arbor this Saturday. A win over the Buckeyes and Michigan suddenly jumps to 9-7 in conference, and would give the Wolverines wins over 5 of the Big Ten's best teams. Iowa likely needs a win over Illinois and a strong run in Chicago to help them overcome a woeful out of conference performance that saw the Hawkeyes lose to Drake and Arizona State.
Texas Tech looks to be the Big 12's most viable candidate to join Kansas, Texas and Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament. Wins this week against Baylor and at Iowa State would likely seal the deal. However, a loss in either game would be damaging to their chances, as these are games an NCAA Tournament team really should win. Kansas State blew a golden opportunity to get a solid win at Oklahoma State. The Wildcats would still get to 10 conference wins with a home win over Oklahoma Saturday. Their entire profile consists of wins at Texas and against USC in Las Vegas. Oklahoma State needs to win four or five in a row here to seriously get back into the at large discussion. The Cowboys have not won a true road game this season, with chances left to amend that against Baylor and Nebraska. However, a loss before the Big 12 Tournament semifinals would likely make it back-to-back NIT berths for Sean Sutton's crew.
The Colonial may be in line to receive an at large bid again this season. Old Dominion has a mighty strong win at Georgetown, Drexel has won at potential NCAA Tournaments teams Villanova, Syracuse and Creighton. VCU beat both of them out for the regular season championship, going an impressive 16-2 in conference. Each team's chances likely hinge on their performance in the Colonial Tournament, but it's definitely not of the question for multiple bids once again.
After getting four bids last season, the Missouri Valley may struggle to get multiple bids this year. Southern Illinois is playing for a 3-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, while fellow conference members Creighton, Missouri State and Bradley are fighting for their at large lives. Creighton looks to in solid shape right now with an out of conference win over Xavier and a sweep over Missouri State. If they can get a win or two in St. Louis, they should be an at large team seeded in the 9-11 range. Missouri State has an excellent neutral court win over Wisconsin but got swept by both Southern Illinois and Creighton. A potential semi-final rematch with the Bluejays may be a de facto play-in game for Barry Hinson's crew. A loss and they may be left at the NCAA Tournament altar for the second straight season. Bradley needs a run to the MVC Tournament finals to have a realistic chance at an at large bid. The Braves do have solid non-conference wins against DePaul and at VCU, but only went 1-5 against the three teams ahead of them in the MVC standings. However, that win was over Southern Illinois, and a second win against the Salukis on a neutral court may be noteworthy enough for them to enter the at large discussion.
The Pac 10 should get bids 6 bids as long as Stanford can take care of business at home this week. A win over Arizona State gets them to the magical 10 number, and a second win over Arizona would allow Cardinal fans to breathe easy on Selection Sunday.
The SEC has four strong NCAA Tournament candidates with Tennessee punching their dance card with the win over Florida. Alabama and Mississippi have at large hopes, but lack the quality wins to compete against many of their fellow bubble members. Both teams likely need to win out to the SEC Tournament finals in order to be serious at large contenders.
The most intriguing team on the bubble may be Winthrop. The Eagles have an excellent chance of taking care of business in the Big South Tournament and leaving the debate to their seeding. However, should they slip up, they do have a compelling at large case. The have wins over fellow bubble teams Missouri State and Old Dominion and strong showings in close losses to North Carolina and Wisconsin. Their computer numbers may be a bit lacking, but Winthrop has really shown to be a potentially strong NCAA Tournament team. Should they earn a bid, a lot of teams will be hoping to avoid their bracket.
**Matt Zuchowski is an '06 grad of Marquette University and a MarquetteHoops.com alum!!