Teams that I define to be locks are teams that, as long as they finish with a .500 conference record, will be a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.
Teams that are likely to be in are teams that need to finish at least .500 with a few marquee wins, and are likely to do so.
Teams that need to do some work are teams that have to improve or need to make up for poor scheduling in the non-conference slate.
Teams that need to make a run are teams that have NCAA Tournament talent, but have struggled and need to make a serious run through the conference in order to make the tournament.
Locks: Pittsburgh, UConn, and Syracuse
The Panthers are just one of three undefeated teams and already have wins over Georgetown, Washington State, and Siena. With an offensive and defensive efficiency that ranks in the top ten in the country for both, Jamie Dixon's team won't be going anywhere.
UConn has knocked off several ranked teams in the non-conference (Miami, Wisconsin, and Gonzaga) and in the Big East schedule has a nice win at West Virginia. The Huskies' interior defense has been stout, ranking first in limiting free throws, and 12th in both opponents' two point field-goal percentage and block percentage.
The Orange has been one of several surprise teams across the country as 'Cuse rolls into its date with rival Georgetown 16-1, with victories against Kansas, Memphis, and Florida. SU might be the biggest fraud of all the locks though, as the Orange ranks 32nd in offensive efficiency and 44th in defense.
Likely In: Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown
Marquette missed chances to pick up solid victories against Tennessee and Dayton, but did grab a win against Midwest rival Wisconsin. The Golden Eagles are also off to a hot 4-0 start in the Big East with wins over West Virginia and Villanova. Experience goes a long way in March and early April, so coach Buzz Williams will be in great shape as his team ranks ninth in the country in year's-per-player on the court.
Notre Dame has a very similar situation to Marquette since the Irish missed chances to beat North Carolina and Ohio State, but did knock off one of the Big 12's best, Texas. The Irish did lose inexplicably to St. John's, but a 9-9 or 10-8 finish in the Big East is likely to get the Irish into the tournament. Mike Brey's team needs to improve its defense as it's ranked 162nd, the lowest ranked defense of any top 25 by far.
If Georgetown had beaten Pittsburgh at home or Notre Dame in South Bend, the Hoyas would have been a lock, but at 2-2 in the conference, Georgetown stands at "likely in." That could change to a lock if John Thompson III's team beats Syracuse Wednesday night in the Big East's best rivalry game. Georgetown ranks eighth overall in team efficiency, including seventh on offense and 14th on defense.
Time to Get Down to Business: Louisville, West Virginia, Villanova
Louisville is uber-talented and ultra-athletic, but that doesn't always win basketball games. Rick Pitino has obviously found that out over the years and it has reiterated itself this year, as the Cardinals already have losses to UNLV, Western Kentucky, and Minnesota. But Louisville has quickly redeemed itself in Big East play with a solid victory over Villanova. Louisville struggles in the half-court offense, but all of Pitino's stud athletes have combined to create a second-ranked defense that can pressure the ball better than anybody.
West Virginia has been one of the most intriguing teams and hardest to get an accurate gauge on. The Mountaineers have nice wins over Ohio State, Cleveland State, and Iowa, but also has numerous losses to tournament teams like Kentucky, Davidson, UConn, and Marquette. Bob Huggins has been forced to coach with numerous injuries which has limited WVU, but the team still ranks fourth in overall efficiency.
Villanova rolled through its non-conference schedule losing only to Texas, but what's disturbing about Villanova is the fact this team played nobody worth noting, but Texas in the non-conference slate. 'Nova's best win right now is at home against Temple. With a tough schedule ahead of them, Villanova will likely enter February with a losing record.
Time to Go For a Run: Providence
Providence returned every component from last year's team and got point guard Sharaud Curry back from injury, so expectations were lofty for the Friars and first year coach Keno Davis. The Friars blew every chance to record a solid victory thus far which puts PC in a hole. But with a favorable Big East, if things really click, Providence could surprisingly pull out 11 or 12 Big East wins. Win a game or two in the Big East Tournament, and that might be enough to get Providence into the tournament.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Locks: Wake Forest, Duke, Clemson, North Carolina
All four of the ACC locks are pretty much as "no-duhs" as you get. With Wake Forest out to a perfect 14-0 start, the Demon Deacons could probably finish under .500 in the conference and still make the NCAA Tournament. Wake boasts five players that stand at least 6'9'' with three of those players recording serious minutes and averaging double-digit points. But Wake Forest's best player and possibly the nation's top guard, Jeff Teague, leads the team and has a robust 1.72 point per-shot ratio.
Duke actually ranks first in the country in overall efficiency as Mike Krzyzewski's team is 19th in offense, but is the top-ranked defensive club in the country. With wins against Michigan, A-10 favorite Xavier, Purdue, Davidson, and also a shot at Georgetown this week, the Blue Devils are poised to grab another one-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Like Wake Forest, Clemson is still undefeated and flying under the radar as the Tigers have finally eclipsed the top ten in the rankings. Oliver Purnell has turned the Tigers into a force to be reckoned with in the ACC as Clemson ranks in the top 26 in both offense and defense. Clemson already has four wins against top-100 teams.
North Carolina used to be considered the top team in the country and wasn't even close. But after consecutive ACC losses to Boston College and Wake Forest, there's some doubt North Carolina can win close games. All of Carolina's wins were by at least 15 points. Any game with a margin smaller than 15 points? Both are losses.
Likely In: Miami
The Hurricanes only have two quality wins against Kentucky and Boston College, but Miami has the talent to go at least 9-7 in the ACC which will be good enough to get them into the tournament. Nine conference wins gets Miami to 20 wins on the year, and no 20-win ACC team will miss the tournament.
Time to Get Down to Business: Maryland, Boston College, Florida State
Maryland has nice wins over the two top teams from Michigan, the Spartans and the Wolverines, but that's about it. The Terrapins were looking really good despite losses to Georgetown and Gonzaga until Gary Williams inexplicably lost to MEAC favorite, Morgan State. Maryland ranks 143rd in offense, which is one of the worst offensive teams that has NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Boston College jumped onto everybody's radar with that stunning win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill, but suddenly disappeared with an incredibly embarrassing loss to Harvard and also losing its ACC game against Miami. Boston College isn't a very good defensive team (124th), doesn't force turnovers (278th), or defensively rebound well (219th).
If Maryland was a bad offensive team, Florida State is god-awful. The Seminoles actually average less than a point- per-possession and is 209th overall in offensive efficiency. Florida State turns the ball over almost 24 percent of the time (300th in the country) and isn't a particularly good shooting team either (208th). But somehow, Florida State still has wins over California, Florida, and Cincinnati. Winning at least 10 ACC games which will be necessary for FSU to go dancing will be tough, but still attainable for Leonard Hamilton's team.
Time to Go on a Serious Run: Virginia Tech
The Hokies were a trendy pick to finish as high as third in the conference behind Duke and North Carolina, but after the first two months of the season, Virginia Tech is hanging on for dear life. The Hokies have bad losses to Georgia and Seton Hall and no quality wins. Tech has an incredibly easy middle of the schedule in the ACC, and if VTECH figures things out, it could set them up for a solid run against the conference's elite to end the regular season.
Locks: California, UCLA, Arizona State
The Golden Bears are also one the nation's nicest surprises after knocking off Arizona State, UNLV, and Utah. Losses against Florida State and Missouri aren't too pretty, but California will easily get 12 or 13 conference victories which means come March Cal will be looking at somewhere between 23-25 victories. The Golden Bears are led by guard Jerome Randle who has an absurd 71.3 percent "true shooting percentage."
UCLA has played a pretty pathetic schedule once you get past its two marquee games of Texas and Michigan (which the Bruins both lost). The Bruins shouldn't have any trouble garnering enough victories to make the NCAA Tournament as the bottom half of the Pac-10 is simply awful. UCLA's schedule should hurt the Bruins in terms of seeding. Getting anything higher than a three seed will be a challenge.
Arizona State is slowly taking on the look of Georgetown from the past few years. The Sun Devils rank first in offensive efficiency (much like the Hoyas have been doing), but playing at a snail's pace (ASU's pace of 62.4 possessions per game ranks 320th). ASU's efficiency has led to impressive victories over BYU, San Diego State, and a blowout win over Stanford.
Likely In: Nobody
Time to Get Down to Business: Washington, Arizona, USC
The Pac-10's chances of getting more than four teams into the NCAA Tournament are pretty slim. That fourth team behind the conference's three locks will likely be Washington. The Huskies are the fourth best team and should win 11 or 12 games in the conference, but aren't a lock or likely in because Lorenzo Romar couldn't win a single solid game in the non-conference schedule. A heart-breaking triple overtime loss to California also doesn't help.
Arizona has had its troubles without Hall of Fame coach Lute Olsen, but is in decent position to make a run at the Big Dance. The Wildcats don't really have any bad losses, but do have five losses overall. 'Zona's wins over Kansas and Gonzaga help counteract those losses, but Arizona will need a few wins over the conference's top tier teams to go dancing. The Wildcats will have to do that with a slim bench, only 22.3 percent of the team's available minutes go to the team's bench which ranks 324th.
Southern California has no wins against the RPI Top 75. The Trojans' best win is against North Dakota State (a team in its first year of postseason eligibility). Things aren't looking good for a team with a lot of raw talent, but little chemistry. USC is a good defensive team (19th), but struggles to find a rhythm offensively (107th).
Time to Go on a Serious Run: Stanford
The Cardinals didn't beat anyone out of conference and has continued that roll through the conference schedule starting out 1-3 in the Pac-10. Stanford does deserve some credit for starting out 10-0, but unless the Lopez Twin-less Cardinals find some way to replace that production in Pac-10 play and do it soon, Stanford is headed for the NIT.