The NCAA tournament selection committee doesn't have many more hours to finish this year's bracket before CBS reveals it tonight at 6 EST. Here's a look at five most difficult decisions this year's committee must make:
1. Should Gonzaga receive its first No. 1 seed?
Since Indiana won the outright regular-season title in the nation's strongest conference and Louisville shared the Big East title and won the conference tournament, those two are near locks to receive No. 1 seeds. WCC champion Gonzaga joins Kansas, Duke and Miami as one of four teams in contention for one of the remaining two No. 1 seeds.
At 31-2 overall, Gonzaga has by far the best record in the nation, but its schedule strength trails well behind the other No. 1 seed threats. Supporters of the Zags note they beat Big 12 powers Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma in the preseason and dominated WCC opponents by an average of more than 18 points per game. Detractors of the Zags are quick to point to their modest strength of schedule and question if they could amass a similarly sparkling record playing in a powerhouse league like the Big Ten or Big East.
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To me, Gonzaga has done enough to merit being next in line behind Indiana and Louisville for No. 1 seeds. The Zags made an effort to schedule quality opponents, facing five Big 12 teams in November and December and defeating all of them. Plus, when you watch the frontcourt of Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris and Sam Dower in person, they definitely look like they belong.
2. If Miami wins the ACC title game, should it be seeded ahead of Duke?
List Duke and Miami's wins and losses next to one another, and it's fairly clear the Blue Devils have the stronger profile. They have a better collection of RPI Top 50 wins, they didn't lose to anyone nearly as mediocre as Wake Forest, Indiana State or Florida Gulf Coast and their only loss with Ryan Kelly healthy was Friday's against Maryland in the ACC quarterfinals.
So what's wrong with giving Duke one of the last two No. 1 seeds and relegating Miami to the No. 2 line? Well, if Miami beats North Carolina on Sunday in the ACC title game, it just won't feel right. After all, the Hurricanes will be the outright ACC regular season and tournament champs. Shouldn't that guarantee them a better seed than Duke?
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Were it up to me, I think I'd actually elevate Kansas to the fourth No. 1 seed and drop both Duke and Miami to the No. 2 line, a scenario that somehow seems more fair to me than rewarding one over the other. Because the committee claims to not pay any attention to conference standings and only to teams' win-loss profile as a whole, I suspect it will reward Duke for its superior résumé with a No. 1 seed, a decision that is likely to be unpopular.
3. Will Kentucky make the NCAA tournament?
Twice in the past five seasons, college basketball's defending national champ has missed the NCAA tournament. Kentucky is in serious jeopardy of joining 2008 Florida and 2010 North Carolina in ignominy.
Three losses in the Wildcats' last four games, all against non-NCAA tournament teams, probably seals their fate as the nation's most high-profile NIT team. Kentucky (21-11) does boast quality wins over Florida, Missouri and Ole Miss -- two of those without injured center Nerlens Noel -- but that may not be enough to make up for so many losses to middling competition, most recently a 64-48 SEC tournament meltdown against Vanderbilt.
Does Kentucky belong over an Ole Miss team playing for the SEC tournament title today? Or over a Saint Mary's team whose only losses since Christmas have been to Gonzaga? Or over a Boise State team with RPI top 30 wins over Creighton, UNLV, Colorado State and San Diego State to go with a four-point loss at Michigan State? That's what the committee must decide, but I'd lean toward no.
4. Who else should be the last teams in or out of the field?
The way I see it, the pool of last-in, first-out candidates comes down to 10 teams: Boise State, Ole Miss, Saint Mary's, La Salle, Middle Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee and Southern Miss. Of that group of 10, one will be in the main field, four will be bound for the First Four in Dayton and five will not hear their name called. Only Ole Miss can still earn an automatic bid if it beats Florida in Sunday's SEC title game.
The margin between those teams is so thin that which ones make the field and which don't probably depends on what this committee values most in a profile. Does it reward a team for dominating a weaker conference the way Middle Tennessee did even though the Blue Raiders lack many wins against quality teams? Or does it look past the slew of bad losses on Virginia's resume because the Cavaliers have a long list of marquee wins that include Duke, Wisconsin, North Carolina, NC State and Tennessee?
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There's nobody in the group of 10 that should feel safe entering Selection Sunday, but the teams that should be most worried are Southern Miss and Maryland. Two wins over Duke aren't quite enough to make up for the rest of Terrapins' lackluster profile. And as for the Golden Eagles, it's tough to imagine them getting in if Saint Mary's doesn't. Southern Miss is on the bubble because it lost three times to Memphis. The Gaels are on the bubble because they couldn't beat the No. 1 team in the nation.
5. Does the Indianapolis Regional go to the Hoosiers or Cardinals?
Since Indianapolis is only an hour drive from Bloomington and two hours drive from Louisville, both Indiana and Louisville would prefer to play their potential regional semifinal and final games there. The trouble is both are slated to be No. 1 seeds, so only one of them can get that cushy close-to-home draw.
The decision between Indiana and Louisville will come down to which of the two receives the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament given to the team with the strongest profile. The other would be shipped off to Washington DC, Dallas or Los Angeles depending on which other teams get the remaining two No. 1 seeds.
Louisville surged to 10 straight wins to end the season to earn a share of the Big East regular season title and the conference tournament championship, but Indiana may still have the superior list of quality wins despite its Big Ten semifinal loss to Wisconsin. The Hoosiers have a 7-2 record against RPI Top 25 teams including a season sweep of Michigan State and victories over Georgetown, Michigan, Ohio State and North Carolina.
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