SportsPulse: With Selection Sunday under two weeks away, Scott Gleeson dishes on four teams rounding into form that could be potential Cinderellas in the tournament.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest NCAA tournament projections through games on March 4.
For the first time in 20 years, the Big 12 will not have a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
While No. 3 seeds Texas Tech and Kansas have impressive résumés this year, it’d take epic collapses on behalf of the relatively locked-in No. 2 seeds — North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan and Michigan State — to pave way for either the Red Raiders or Jayhawks to move up from the No. 3 line.
Much of this has to do with Kansas having an off year considering the Jayhawks are in jeopardy of not winning their first Big 12 regular season title for the first time in 15 years. They’ve also been a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the tournament in all but one year since 2007.
But don’t let that overshadow the potential of some of these Big 12 teams in the NCAA tournament. Much like years’ past, we’ve seen the Big 12 lead the country in metrics that determine how good teams in the field of 68 are. This year is no different, except the NCAA’s new metric, the NET, weighs in-game statistics and is a much closer barometer for how strong some of these teams are.
Although Texas Tech is the only team to rank in the top 10 of the NET currently, eight of the league’s 10 teams rank inside the top 50, with bubble team TCU sitting at No. 48 courtesy of Monday night’s loss to Kansas State. While both the Horned Frogs and Texas are hardly safe as projected No. 12 seeds on the latest bracket, one thing helping their cause is the fact that it’s difficult to stain your resume in a conference where the worst team — West Virginia — is still a top-120 NET team. Both TCU and Texas meet on Saturday in a major bubble showdown.
Kansas State can win at least a share of the Big 12 title if it beats Oklahoma at home on Saturday. While the Wildcats’ No. 4 seed is not typically indicative of a Big 12 title winner, the Wildcats are an example of a team that might not have the most stellar profile, but is as dangerous as a team can get in March. The Wildcats stunningly reached the Elite Eight last year, along with Texas Tech and Kansas.
Expecting similar results in this year’s NCAAs shouldn’t be thrown out just because it’s the first time since 1999 there’s no Big 12 team with a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed. The league is the country’s best conference for a reason.
► No. 1 seeds: Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga, Tennessee
► Last four in: Arizona State, TCU, North Carolina State, Georgetown
► First Four out: Seton Hall, Clemson, Creighton, Furman
• Others considered for at-large bid (in no particular order): UNC-Greensboro, Indiana, Murray State, Xavier, Butler
• On life support: Saint Mary’s, Memphis, South Carolina, Liberty, Dayton, Providence, Davidson, Nebraska.
Multi-bid conferences: ACC (8), Big Ten (8), Big 12 (8), SEC (8), Big East (4), American (4), Mountain West (2), Pac-12 (2).
Leaders or highest RPI from projected one-bid conferences — (24 total): VCU (Atlantic 10), Vermont (America East), Lipscomb (Atlantic Sun), Montana (Big Sky), Radford (Big South) UC Irvine (Big West), Hofstra (CAA), Old Dominion (Conference USA), Wright State (Horizon), Yale (Ivy), Iona (MAAC), Buffalo (MAC), Norfolk State (MEAC), Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Nevada (Mountain West), St. Francis-Pa. (Northeast), Colgate (Patriot), Wofford (Southern), Sam Houston State (Southland), Prairie View A&M (SWAC), South Dakota State (Summit), Texas State (Sun Belt), New Mexico State (WAC), Gonzaga (WCC).
- Transition schools ineligible to participate: Cal Baptist, North Alabama.
About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his sixth season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past five March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, collegeinsider.com and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.