Sometime before 6 p.m. EST on Sunday evening, the NCAA tournament selection committee will email a completed bracket to CBS to unveil on the selection show. A look at some of the most difficult decisions that the committee will have to make between now and then:
1. Who besides Kansas will get a No. 1 seed?
The only certainty in the race for the top line is that Kansas will be the NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed. Beyond that, there are five other teams that could make a compelling case for one of the other three spots.
North Carolina took a big step toward a No. 1 seed on Saturday night when the Tar Heels defeated Virginia in the ACC championship game to complete a sweep of the league's regular season and tournament titles. The Tar Heels' five RPI top 50 wins are fewer than every other No. 1 seed contender, but they're 15-6 against the top 100, they have marquee wins over Virginia, Miami, Maryland and Duke and their lone loss outside the top 40 came on the road at NCAA tournament-bound Northern Iowa without Marcus Paige.
Oregon also moved closer toward nabbing a No. 1 seed on Saturday night when it dismantled Utah 88-57 in the Pac-12 championship game to complete a sweep of the titles in the RPI's No. 2 league. The Ducks are 7-1 against the RPI top 25, 10-3 against the top 50 and 20-4 against the top 100, all of which compares favorably to other No. 1 seed contenders. The lone black mark against Oregon is its sub-100 losses against UNLV and Boise State, but both came without standout freshman Tyler Dorsey.
If the Tar Heels and Ducks claim two of the remaining No. 1 seeds, Michigan State might nab the third with a victory over Purdue in the Big Ten title game. A lethargic stretch in mid-January cost the Spartans any hope of contending for the Big Ten regular season crown, but they've amassed a 12-1 record since Denzel Valentine regained his health and his rhythm in late January.
Should the committee find fault with North Carolina's meager list of top 50 wins, Michigan State's second-place Big Ten finish or Oregon's two bad losses, Villanova and Virginia are waiting in the wings.
Xavier and Seton Hall are the only Top 25 opponents Villanova has beaten, but the Big East regular season champs are 29-5 with 15 top 100 victories and only two losses against non-top 10 teams. Virginia's eight Top 25 victories rivals that of even Kansas, but the Cavaliers won neither the regular season nor conference tournament title in the ACC. They also have more sub-50 losses than any other No. 1 seed contender as Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia Tech and George Washington all beat them.
2. Does Wichita State belong in the NCAA tournament?
When Wichita State fell in overtime to rival Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley semifinals last weekend, the Shockers didn't just squander their chance to secure an automatic NCAA tournament bid. They also became this year's most polarizing and fascinating bubble team.
Wichita State (24-8) won the Valley regular season title by four games, but the Shockers don't have a profile that typically earns teams an NCAA bid. They've only beaten one opponent rated higher than 68th in the RPI all season, an impressive 67-50 rout of Utah on Dec. 12. Besides that, their most notable victories are a sweep of Valley runner-up Evansville and a lone win in three tries against Northern Iowa.
One argument in Wichita State's favor is the injury that sidelined star point guard Fred VanVleet for non-league losses against USC, Iowa and Alabama, three of the Shockers' nine chances all season against top 75 opponents. Wichita State certainly isn't the only bubble team to have to deal with a costly injury, yet it's reasonable to think his presence might have made a difference in a three-point loss to the Trojans and a four-point loss to the Crimson Tide.
Also favorable for Wichita State is how highly it's rated in computer metrics besides the RPI. In particular, the Shockers are 11th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, which are considered maybe the most accurate tool available for projecting how good a team is. The RPI is still embedded in the selection process as the metric through which the quality of wins and losses are assessed, but decisions made by last year's committee suggest that the KenPom ratings were considered more than ever.
The Wichita State decision resonates among college basketball fans because of the Shockers' recent success. This is a team that made the Final Four in 2013, finished the regular season unbeaten in 2014 and upset in-state Kansas to reach the Sweet 16 last year. You can debate whether this year's Shockers belong, but the tournament is undeniably more compelling with VanVleet and Ron Baker in it.
3. What about fellow mid-major contenders Monmouth, Valparaiso and Saint Mary's?
Monmouth piled up 27 victories this season, upset four power-conference opponents and won its league outright. Valparaiso racked up 26 victories this season, won its league by three games and went 4-2 against top 100 teams. Saint Mary's stacked up 27 victories this season, shared its league title and swept the regular season series against rival Gonzaga.
All three are now in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament, the victims of an upset-heavy Championship Week. My best guess is that Saint Mary's and Monmouth have a better chance to make the field than Valparaiso, but an argument can be made for each of them depending on what factors you hold most valuable.
Monmouth has neutral-court wins over NCAA tournament-bound Notre Dame and USC, but its road wins at UCLA and Georgetown no longer have the same luster they did back in November. The Hawks also suffered a trio of sub-200 RPI losses, never a good sign for any at-large hopeful.
Valparaiso's resume doesn't have as many marquee wins, nor are the Crusaders' worst losses quite so bad. The most notable win Valparaiso (26-6) has notched is a road victory at bubble team Oregon State. The Crusaders also came within six at Pac-12 champion Oregon, but they've lost five games against opponents ranked between 100 and 158 in the RPI.
A tissue-soft, strictly in-state non-conference schedule may doom Saint Mary's, but the Gaels performed well in the few chances they had against quality opponents. They were 6-3 against RPI top 100 opponents and one of the losses came by four at Pac-12 power Cal, which went undefeated at Haas Pavilion this season and only played one closer home game than that.
Of course, Monmouth, Valparaiso and Saint Mary's won't be judged strictly against one another. They'll each be among the pool of candidates for the final at-large bids, a group that should include Michigan, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Syracuse and a handful of others.
4. Should Jim Boeheim's nine-game suspension be considered when weighing Syracuse?
It's probably no coincidence that Syracuse's worst's stretch of the season coincided with Jim Boeheim's nine-game NCAA-mandated suspension. The Orange went 4-5 during his absence including a horrendous showing against 24-loss St. John's and two other sub-100 losses against rival Georgetown and Clemson.
Those upsets are a huge reason Syracuse enters Selection Sunday squarely on the bubble rather than safely in the NCAA tournament field. The Orange, 19-13 overall and 9-9 in ACC play, boast five RPI top 50 wins including impressive victories away from home against Duke and Texas A&M, but their profile is weighed down by their sheer number of losses and by those three against sub-100 competition.
How much consideration should the selection committee give for Boeheim's absence? Should it be evaluated similarly to how a team might catch a break if its star player were hurt for its worst stretch of the season? Committee chairman Joe Castiglione addressed those issues on CBS Sports Network on Friday, noting that missing players and coaches are treated as equally important and that the reason for their absence is considered inconsequential. Castiglione also went out of his way to emphasize that just because a missing player or coach is discussed to offer further context doesn't mean outcomes in their absence are discounted or wiped out.
That the committee would give Syracuse any sort of special consideration at all for Boeheim's absence seems preposterous given the reason he wasn't coaching those games. It wasn't like this was health-related or anything. Boeheim was serving his suspension for a failure to monitor his program and Syracuse deserves no free pass for that.
5. Where will blue bloods Duke and Kentucky be seeded?
Duke fell out of the AP Top 25 for two weeks in February. Kentucky suffered six losses to opponents outside the RPI Top 50. This wasn't a vintage season for either the Blue Devils or the Wildcats, yet both are still in line for favorable NCAA tournament seeds.
Even though Duke lost 10 games and flamed out in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament earlier this week, the Blue Devils still have enough quality wins to make a strong case for one of the last No. 4 seeds. The defending national champs defeated RPI Top 25 opponents Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville and Indiana and boast a very solid 11-9 record against RPI top 100 opponents.
The committee could penalize Duke for the fact that three of its six most notable victories came before Amile Jefferson's season-ending foot injury, but it's difficult to see the Blue Devils falling lower than a No. 5 seed. In addition to their quality wins, they have a top 10 strength of schedule and only one loss to a sub-100 RPI team.
Kentucky probably earned a No. 3 seed by avenging a previous loss to Texas A&M in the SEC title game on Sunday afternoon. The Wildcats offset head-scratching upsets at the hands of Auburn, Tennessee and UCLA with a 14-5 record against top 100 opposition including victories over the Aggies, Louisville and Duke.
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