Pencils ready (it has to be a pencil with a large eraser because there will be plenty of changes). Pristine bracket hot off the printer. It’s time to pick, change, rethink and settle. The feeling of possibly being the one who fills the perfect sheet. The conviction of knowing you have one of the Final Four teams. The satisfaction of knowing you’ll definitely get more than half the early-round games correct.
Things to know as Selection Sunday nears:
The 68-team field, composed of 32 conference champions – the automatic qualifiers or AQs to the insiders – and 36 at-large teams will be announced at 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
Overall No. 1
Take a poll, and it seems Florida is the choice over Wichita State, the team with perfect regular season and an imperfect schedule. Last year it really wasn’t that big a deal to get the nod. Gonzaga had it, and the Zags didn’t make it out of the second weekend, losing to ninth-seeded Wichita State on the Shockers’ run to the Final Four. How about if the committee puts West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga as a No. 8 or 9 seed in the same region as Wichita State and let them meet again in the third round?
Don’t be so quick to dismiss the teams toward the bottom of the seed list. Although a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 (Imagine being the first coach to lose that matchup?) No. 15 seeds have ruined some postseasons for power teams, including two last season by Florida Gulf Coast, which dunked its way into the spotlight and the second weekend.
Louisville got to cut the nets down last season in Atlanta, and the Cardinals could have a shot at going all the way again. The odds are against Louisville, as only Florida in 2007 and Duke in 1992 have repeated as champion since the end of UCLA’s run of dominance in the 1960s and 1970s. Russ Smith and Luke Hancock are back from Louisville’s title team, and the Cardinals entered the week ranked No. 5.
There always seems to be a team on either the 8 or 9 seed line that makes a run to the Final Four, and Wichita State was that team last year. VCU was an 11 seed when it went to the Final Four in 2011. This year it could be Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had a seven-game losing streak during the season, three of those the games the ones missed by guard Marcus Smart for pushing a fan at Texas Tech. Since his return, the Cowboys have been a different team, and Smart has played the way people expected the preseason All-America to. Oklahoma State lost four overtime games this season, including 77-70 loss to Kansas in the Big 12 semifinals.
Syracuse started 25-0 and then lost four of five. Flying below the radar – well, not really since Billikens can’t fly – is Saint Louis. It followed a school-record 19-game winning streak with four losses in five games, including Friday to St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals.