Selection Sunday is less than four weeks away; no one even knows yet how Championship Week is going to play out; will every conference have a tournament this year, or just a lot of makeup games, so the better teams can jack up their power ratings?
Here is what I think/know about how teams look heading into the season’s stretch run:
AAC— Houston is 17-2, the AAC’s only sure bet to be in the field of 68; Cougars beat Texas Tech on a neutral floor in November, will be a popular sleeper pick in people’s brackets.
Cincinnati is 4-0 since their 25-day COVID pause; the four wins were by a total of nine points. Memphis, SMU still have a shot to play their way into at-large bids.
ACC— When ESPN’s announcers openly talk about the ACC being down this year, you KNOW the league is down. kenpom.com has ACC as the #4 league, tied for its lowest ranking since 2013. Right now, Virginia/Florida State look like the only sure things for the NCAA’s.
ACC will wind up with 2-3 other teams in the field, but it’ll be dependent on who wins lot of games from now on. Louisville is on a pause; Virginia Tech and UNC should get in if the wheels don’t fall off for them. Duke is 8-8, 6-6 in league; they’re a bubble team.
A-14— Some teams in this league have been hit hard by the pandemic; Davidson hasn’t played in three weeks, Saint Louis went 34 days between games, Fordham didn’t play a game until December 30, then fired its coach.
Their conference tournament will be one of the better ones; the winner might be the only A-14 team in the field of 68.
Big East— Villanova/Creighton are in, Seton Hall is mostly in. Rest of the league better get hot, or they’ll be in the NIT. KenPom has the Big East at #5, as low as they’ve been since 2002.
UConn lost lost four of its last six games; Xavier just had a 2-week pause. Under Patrick Ewing., Georgetown is 23-42 in regular season conference games; how does he get to fix things?
Big 14— One of the most interesting parts of Selection Sunday will be how many teams from this league get in the field of 68. Pundits on the Big 14 Network would have you believe that every team in the league is tournament-worthy, but we know thats not true. Why should a team that finishes 9th or 10th in a 14-team league get to play for a national title?
Michigan came off a 23-day layoff Sunday and had a terrific comeback win at Wisconsin; Ohio State has won 9 of its last 10 games, Illinois has won five in a row (with two OT wins). One of the things I’ll be looking at is if Iowa gets in the same bracket as a real athletic underdog, a team like VCU or Loyola or Oregon.
Big X— Baylor hasn’t played in three weeks; my thing is that teams will need 3-4 games before the tournament to get their sea legs back. Oklahoma won its last won 7 of its last 8 games, and has a coach who has taken two other schools to a Final Four. They’re going to get six teams in the tournament unless Oklahoma State gets hot and makes it seven.
Texas was 11-2 before their 10-day COVID pause; they’re 3-2 since, but won their last couple games- they’re a team to watch between now and Selection Sunday.
Big West— I enjoy watching Big West games on my laptop late at night; its a good league, not a great league, but highly competitive. Adding Cal-Bakersfield made their conference tournament a hell of a lot harder- they’re a tough defensive team that doesn’t score points early, a lot like Cal-Irvine, another one of the league’s frontrunners.
Cal-Santa Barbara hasn’t lost yet in 2021 (10-0); this is the best team Cal-Riverside has ever had, and with a first-year head coach. Bottom part of the league has been on pause a lot; the semi-final doubleheader at the Big West tournament will be must-see TV.
Conference USA— North Texas/Western Kentucky seem like the two best teams; Mean Green hasn’t made the tournament since 2010, WKU hasn’t made it since 2013. UAB, Louisiana Tech also have a legit shot to win the tournament; this is a one-bid league.
Last three NCAA tournaments, C-USA had three different teams repping it, and none of those three were North Texas/Western Kentucky. Hilltoppers have an NBA big man in Bassey and three senior starters; this is Rick Stansbury’s time to shine.
Mountain West— Utah State, Boise State, San Diego State figure to battle it out in Las Vegas; Aztecs can get an at-large bid even if they lose in Vegas- they beat UCLA, Arizona State back before Christmas. San Diego State plays Boise State twice in a couple weeks; Aztecs got swept by Utah State. All three of those teams shouldo be in the Mountain West Final Four.
Bottom half of this league is really bad; the bottom three teams are a combined 6-35. Aztecs will sweat some on Selection Sunday if they lose in the MW tournament, but they’re likely the only team in the league that rates an at-large bid.
Pac-12— Contrary to what Bill Walton talks about on ESPN every week, league is a little down- Arizona’s being ineligible because of recruiting violations is a big part of that. I’m thinking four teams from Pac-12 get in. Right now, USC is clearly the best team, but Andy Enfield won more NCAA tourney game at Florida Gulf Coast (2) than he has with the Trojans (1).
UCLA lost three of its last five games; Mick Cronin hasn’t had a great record in March. Oregon usually gets stronger as time goes on; they’re likely to make some noise next month. Colorado has a veteran team, but they play one good game, then have a stinker- their last three losses are to Washington, Utah, Cal, all bad losses.
SEC— The most 2020 thing in college hoop is that Kentucky is 6-13, 6-7 in conference; curious to see if John Calipari is in the CBS studio during the first round of the tournament. With the league’s perennial frontrunner out of the picture, that leaves Alabama as the best team- they’re fun to watch, play a very fast pace, but they don’t have a great basketball pedigree (one win in NCAA’s, since 2007).
SEC figures to get five other teams in the field of 68; Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee. Would expect all six teams to win their first round game; not sure any of them, other than Alabama, will get to the Sweet 16.
Southern— Much like the Big West, I’m looking forward to the semi-finals of this tournament; this is a one-bid league, so when East Tennessee, Furman, NC-Greensboro and Wofford likely face off in the semi-finals, it’ll be very entertaining.
WCC— Gonzaga is in this league; they’re this generation’s version of Jerry Tarkanian’s great UNLV teams from 30-40 years ago. Big fish, small pond, strong national footprint. Gonzaga is going to be favored to win a national title; that springs added pressure.
BYU is only other WCC team that has a shot at an at-large bid; they have wins over San Diego State, Utah. BYU probably needs to get to 20 wins for that to happen; they’re a mature team in terms of the players’ ages, which has to help in a weird season like this one.