Call this the "Jockey for No. 1 seeds positioning'' weekend for college hoops.
Illinois, of course, has long since crossed that finish line.
The Illini, who will attempt to go 30-0 with a win in their Big Ten Conference regular-season finale at Ohio State Sunday, have one of the four top seeds safely tucked in their back pockets. And that is regardless of what happens in Columbus or in the team's first conference tournament game in Chicago next Friday.
That victory, coupled with advancing to the semifinals (March 12, in Washington, D.C.) of the ACC tourney, should be enough to seal the deal for Roy Williams' crew.
The other two spots aren't nearly as close to being spoken for.
Kansas, assuming Bill Self's team can hold off what promises to be a very determined Missouri counterpart in a Big 12 regular-season finale in Columbia Sunday, would seem to have the best pop at picking one up.
Advancing to the Big 12 tourney final probably gets it done for the Jayhawks, regardless of what happens on March 13 in Kemper Arena in Kansas City.
A non-conference schedule loaded with likely NCAA tourney-bound clubs, which includes a victory on the home court of another team in the No. 1 seed hunt (Kentucky, during a game in which the Jayhawks were without their best player, Wayne Simien), is going to look mighty, mighty impressive to the NCAA's selection and seeding committee next week in Indianapolis.
Barring upsets, either Kentucky or Wake Forest are the next two most logical No. 1 choices.
Should the Wildcats beat Florida in a Southeastern Conference finale Sunday in Gainesville, and get to the conference tourney final on March 13 in Atlanta, a strong case could be made that they are worthy of a top slot in a bracket.
But the same thing could be said of the Demon Deacons, assuming they beat host North Carolina State Sunday (which will be anything but a lock, since Herb Sendek's team is in a desperation mode to polish its at-large resume) and get to the ACC final - which, in all likelihood, means they would have to beat Duke in a semifinal.
Why do I keep making reference to teams "getting to the March 13 tourney finals" without mentioning "and winning them"?
Because, in reality, the tournament field and bracketing is set before the finals of the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC tournaments are complete.
The obvious exceptions to that premise are if teams are still alive on Sunday that would only get into the tourney field of 65 via a championship of one of those four conferences (an example of a few years ago is when Iowa reached the Big Ten final) and/or if both teams in a conference final are in a contention for the final No. 1 seed.
In that case, then, the teams would just be dropped into the appropriate 1 or 2 spots in the brackets (selection committee guidelines keep a potential matchup of teams from the same conference from meeting in the NCAA tournament until a regional final).
Bouncing around the country . . .
- All the coaches and players from the teams in contention for No. 1 seeds should be jittery moments before the CBS 6:30 p.m. ET tournament field announcement if for no other reason that they should want Connecticut as far away as possible from their portion of the bracket.
The Huskies are playing as well as anyone in the country right now whose names aren't Illinois and North Carolina. Their frontcourt of Josh Boone, Charlie Villanueva and Rudy Gay is nothing short of imposing and sophomore Marcus Williams is very rapidly developing into one of the better point guard-types in the country.
- Those who have proposed all along that the University of North Carolina has the most physically gifted roster in the country picked up added ammunition when the Tar Heels pulled out Atlantic Coast Conference victories recently at North Carolina State and Maryland with junior guard Rashad McCants (intestinal ailment) in street clothes.
That being pointed out, my guess is that Roy Williams' own tummy will feel a lot better if McCants is in uniform and available to play when the Tar Heels play host to Duke in the Smith Center Sunday.
- The finalists for two coaching honors were revealed this week and both the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year and the Naismith Award lists are filled with guys from coast to coast who have done marvelous jobs.
Maybe it's just intuition but I've got a hunch that Bruce Weber of Illinois has a decent shot at both awards.
But how was it that Phil Martelli of Saint Joseph's didn't make either cut (there are 10 on the Phelan list and 20 Naismith finalists)?
I'd dare suggest that, considering the loss of first-round picks Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, Martelli, in guiding his team to a 13-2 Atlantic 10 Conference record (going into the Hawks' home game with Fordham Saturday), Martelli has done a better job than he did a year ago when his team was just a John Lucas jumper away from getting to the Final Four.
- On the subject of Coach of the Year honors . . . I'll my post my All-America team, as well top freshman and coach honors, for the Scout.com network Monday.