Selection Sunday is just days away. For the conference tournament champions, it’s a time to celebrate and see where the NCAA Selection Committee puts them for the 68-team tournament.
For the teams on the bubble that don’t move up in their conference tournament, it’s a stressful half hour of waiting. Will they get in or will it be the NIT?
Every year, we see great games, finishes, a few upsets and some dramatic moments. But which teams should we keep an eye on that likely survive the first weekend? Who will get to the Final Four, and which smaller school has the best chance to pull off an upset? Here are 10 teams to keep an eye on as we head to Selection Sunday.
Kentucky is a heavy favorite to win the NCAA Tournament this year and is entering the SEC Tournament undefeated at 31-0. Even if the Wildcats were to lose in their conference tournament, they are still likely to get the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance. It will be their 55th NCAA Tournament appearance, and the Wildcats are poised to make a run after losing in last year’s national title game. Kentucky could have five or six players enter the NBA Draft after this season, and many of them are considered first-round picks.
Wisconsin enters the Big Ten Tournament with the No. 1 seed and has lost just three games all year: Home to Duke, at Rutgers and at Maryland. The Badgers have the best player in the Big Ten in Frank Kaminsky, an NBA prospect in Sam Dekker and a team that just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Wisconsin is looking to reach the Final Four for the second straight year and will make its 21st NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Wildcats are the No. 1 seed for the Pac-12 Tournament and could earn one of the four top seeds for the Big Dance if they win the conference tournament. Their only losses are at UNLV, at Oregon State and at Arizona State. They have the right combination of athletes to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament and are often overlooked playing on the west coast. Arizona will make its 32nd appearance in the Big Dance this year, and is looking to make a Final Four run this year after losing to Wisconsin in the Elite 8 last season.
Duke is the No. 2 seed for the ACC Tournament and is in line to earn one of the top four seeds in the Big Dance if it can win the conference tournament. It won’t be easy for the Blue Devils as the ACC is arguably the best league in the country this year. Center Jahlil Okafor could be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA Draft, and Tyus Jones is one of the best guards in the country as a freshman. Barring a tough draw in the NCAA Tournament, what will be their 39th overall, there’s no reason they can’t make a run to the Final Four.
Iowa State, if it can make a run in this week’s Big 12 Tournament, could be as high as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Fred Hoiberg has the Cyclones preparing for their 17th trip to the Big Dance. They are looking to build off a Sweet 16 appearance last year before losing to UConn, which won the national title.
The Bulldogs enter the Big East Conference Tournament at 22-9 and are the No. 3 seed there. Basketball fans remember that Butler was in the national championship game two straight years, losing both times. While their stats aren’t earth-shattering, the Bulldogs are generally a team that nobody wants to play in the NCAA Tournament. They’re mentally tough and an incredibly difficult team to beat with the season on the line.
Most wrote off Maryland before the season started. Between transfers and players kicked off the team, they weren’t given much of a chance this year. But the Terrapins, in their first season in the Big Ten, finished second in the league in the regular season. Their guard combination of Melo Trimble and Dez Wells, both of which could be in the NBA Draft, is one of the best in the country. Maryland has a legitimate chance to get to the Sweet 16 this year and even further if it gets the right draw in the Big Dance.
Northern Iowa (30-3)
Northern Iowa is making its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance this year and first since 2010. The Panthers earned the automatic bid after beating Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference title game. They’re known best for beating Kansas to go to the Sweet 16 back in 2010 and it would be no surprise if they got back there again this year.
Belmont is making its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance and was most recently in the Big Dance in 2013. The Bruins beat Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference title game. Belmont is 0-6 in the tournament’s history, but gave Duke a scare in 2008 with a one-point loss. They are not a team to take lightly early in the NCAA Tournament.
Wofford is making its fourth appearance in the Big Dance and earned its bid by beating Furman in the Southern Conference title game. The Terriers are 0-3 in the NCAA Tournament, but gave Wisconsin a scare in 2010 with a 53-49 loss. They’re a tough, athletic team that can give any first-round opponent a very tough game if that opponent isn’t ready immediately.
The most enjoyable part of March Madness is just that, the madness. It’s watching the smaller Division I teams going up against Goliath and either pulling off the massive upset or at least making them sweat a little. Is this the year a No. 16 seed beats a No. 1? Who wears Cinderella’s slipper this year? Nobody knows yet, but it will be fun to watch it all unfold starting next week.