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February is now upon us and the N.C.A.A tournament field is beginning to slowly emerge. The theme for the year so far has been parity, and that remains the case as we roll into the final month before Selection Sunday.
The notable absence of an “elite” team that is clearly above the rest of the field has made the bracket much more difficult to project and will make it harder to predict come March. North Carolina holds onto the top overall spot this week, despite a loss to Louisville. Two relative surprises in Iowa and Oregon find themselves near the top of the field, while traditional powers Duke and Kentucky have been trending down for the last month.
One team that has been a fixture in the tournament for the better part of 20 years that is starting to find its footing is Wisconsin. The Badgers stumbled through the nonconference season with home losses to Western Illinois, Milwaukee and Marquette and followed that up by opening Big Ten play 1-4. Since then the Badgers are winners of four straight with impressive victories over Michigan State and Indiana. At 13-9 with a 66 RPI, Wisconsin has put themselves in position to be on the proverbial bubble in the season’s home stretch.
Whenever a traditional power is on the bubble for the tournament, the question usually raised is how much the reputation of the program matters. In every case the selection committee is creating the field based on who deserves to be in it in a given year.
That said, the committee members are human, and if a team has earned some benefit of the doubt, Wisconsin’s 17 consecutive tournament appearances could lurk in the back of the minds of some committee members. A more realistic benefit of the doubt that could help the Badgers is the fact that five of their losses came by one possession.
Right now, Wisconsin needs to continue to win. If they cannot sneak into the field, they only have themselves to blame.
Stay tuned to @ScoutBrackets to see how all the games impact the outlook of the tournament field.