USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach gives out her awards for player, coach and freshman of the year.
USA TODAY Sports
March Madness is just around the corner, meaning Selection Sunday is now just, well, Sunday.
With only a few opportunities and dwindling days left to pad NCAA tournament résumés, every game — and every result — matters.
Here’s what to keep an eye on during the final weekend before the NCAA tournament field is unveiled:
1. The No. 1 seeds up for grabs.
It’s not always the case that so much is at stake during the final weekend of conference tournaments. But this year, perhaps more than others, at least one No. 1 seed could be determined. Kansas — despite losing to TCU on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament — and Villanova both most likely have locked up No. 1 seeds, but the final two might be up for grabs. North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s regular-season champion, is well-positioned for one if it continues its strong run to close out the season.
The fourth and final spot could go to either Gonzaga — which finished 32-1 and won the West Coast Conference tournament — or the winner of the Pac-12 tournament, assuming it comes from the Oregon/Arizona/UCLA trio. Perhaps even Kentucky, with a title at the SEC tournament, could sneak into the mix for the final No. 1 seed.
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2. The good (and mostly bad) of the bubble.
Is this the weakest the bubble’s ever been? That’s the question you’ll hear all weekend as experts debate the merits of a 15-loss Vanderbilt (!!) and discuss the lack of mid-major teams with legitimate at-large bid potential. Though casual sports fans would much prefer teams such as Illinois State to go dancing over middling power-conference teams with myriad opportunities to pick up big wins throughout league play, that’s not how the current system — which relies heavily on the RPI metric and its top-50 wins — operates.
It’s always worth remembering at this point in the year, too, that no bubble team’s result occurs in a vacuum. One big win or apparent back-breaking loss matters differently depending on how everyone else on the bubble does, too.
3. How the West is won.
Some of college basketball’s strongest title contenders and most exciting players reside on the West Coast — and, because of that, are setting up a fascinating scenario at the Pac-12 tournament. Because Oregon, UCLA and Arizona all have strong but at the same time similar NCAA tournament résumés, their seeding is ultimately still to be determined.
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And because of NCAA bracketing principles, only one team — the conference’s highest-seeded team — will be slotted to play in the West regional, which will be played in San Jose. Why does this matter? Well, all elite teams would prefer to play close to home, or at the very least in the same time zone they live in. And the next closest sites are nowhere close, in Kansas City and Memphis.
4. Northwestern’s historic moment.
It’s coming — seriously. The Wildcats will hear their name called during the selection show and will make their first NCAA tournament this year. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s taken a lot of heartbreak to get to this point. But kudos to fourth-year coach Chris Collins, and this team led by his first full recruiting class — headlined by Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law — for carrying Northwestern to its winningest season in program history, and first winning season in league play since 1967-68. But Sunday’s selection will be the coolest moment in a season full of them.
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