It's never too early to go all Joe Lunardi on ya and start predicting what next season's field of 68 tournament teams will look like, is it?
I'm gong to assume you answered that question in the affirmative. And in making such an assumption I am going to go on to predict 68 teams who will be in the NCAA Tournament field come the middle of March, 2013.
Here are the 68 teams who are going to be fighting, scratching and clawing to book a trip to Atlanta and the Georgia Dome. I will select them by conference and include the teams who will fight for a spot but come up short as well.
Of course, no other conference faces such an odd contorting of teams to make up a conference than the Big East. As of now, it appears the Big East will field a 15-team league in 2012-13. Pittsburgh and 'Cuse will remain in the league, while West Virginia is off to what it considers to be the greener pastures of the Big 12.
Syracuse: One of the two best teams throughout the length of the 2011-12 college basketball season, the Syracuse Orange went down admirably in the Elite Eight. And though they are likely to lose its' two best players, they will not be without talent in 2013.
The roster is gaining two top-50 recruits, adding to an already loaded squad. If Jim Boeheim can maintain control of the off-court issues, this 'Cuse team could have an equally successful team in 2012-13.
Louisville: Louisville is really a year ahead of schedule in terms of where they should be. Getting to the Final Four this season is quite the upset. With Peyton Siva returning and a roster guaranteed to be full of talent, we all know Rick Pitino will get this team back in the field of 68.
Villanova: Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats had quite a disappointing campaign in 2012. Look for that to turn around in a hurry as Wright brings in two top-100 recruits combined with an already talented, yet underachieving squad.
Pittsburgh: Even more disappointing than the Villanova Wildcats were the Pittsburgh Panthers who regressed back to the days before Ben Howland in 2012. But with a top-15 recruiting class and Jamie Dixon looking to reinstill a tough attitude into the program look for the Panthers to get right back in the hunt for college basketball supremacy.
South Florida: Stan Heath has done a great job making the Bulls' a tough, physical football, err...basketball team. Look for them to build on the momentum they created in 2012 as they add talent and experience to their roster.
Notre Dame: Mike Brey is probably one of the most underrated coaches in the whole country. I'm not sure I can name a single player who will play for Notre Dame next season. Yet, I know for certain the Irish are a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
On the Bubble:
Marquette: Without Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, Buzz Williams faces quite a conundrum in trying to repeat his team's success without the primary reasons for that success. But by now we should know Williams is quite a coach. Of course, others have taken notice and he is a popular name for programs looking for a new head coach. If he leaves, Marquette loses its' spot on the bubble altogether.
Seton Hall: Seton Hall made a valiant effort to get back into the NCAA Tournament in 2012. The guess is they'll get even closer to that goal in 2013, but still ultimately come up short, due to a lack of talent and one of the weakest Big East's in recent memory.
Providence: Ed Cooley has done a wonderful job recruiting top talent to come to Providence. He is bringing in a class currently ranked No. 9 by Scout.com. But Cooley can coach too. If he can get his three top recruits ready to play come conference time, the Friars could shock some people and make the tournament. But we'll say in 2013 they'll come up just a tad bit shy.
Ohio State: Regardless of if Jared Sullinger returns, the Buckeyes will be loaded again. Ever since Thad Matta took over the program, the Buckeyes have been among the most talented teams in the country. Aaron Craft will return and weld the rest of the pieces into place come March.
Michigan State: Though the Spartans lose one of the best players in program history in Draymond Green, they return quite a talented roster and inherit a wonderful talent in the person of Gary Harris, a five-star recruit from Fishers, Indiana. Combined with the always pertinent coaching of Tom Izzo the Spartans will be a top-five team in the country.
Michigan: Despite losing tremendous talent in Evan Smotrycz and the possible early departures to the NBA from Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. the Wolverines promise to be mighty talented next season. Mitch McGary, Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson are all top-20 recruits. With those three alone, the Wolverines ought to return to the NCAA Tournament under coach Beilein.
Indiana: With the likely return of Cody Zeller and a top-five recruiting class, Indiana hoops appears to be back under Tom Crean. Hanner Perea, Yogi Ferrell and Jeremy Hollowell are likely to come in and start day one for the Hoosiers and make up one of the most decorated starting lineups in the country.
Wisconsin: With the Badgers it's not about recruiting classes or even the talent on the roster. Bo Ryan simply knows how to coach. I don't care if he was coaching a high school JV team, they'd be ready to compete in the Big Ten.
Last Four In:
Northwestern: With Drew Crawford leading the way, Northwestern is desperate and determined to finally get in the tournament. The prediction here is the senior will carry this team on his back and get them there for the first time in the program's history. Bill Carmody has done a great job in Evanston and is sure to finally see some of that fruit in 2013.
Last Four Out:
Purdue: Despite compiling a top-20 recruiting class, none of those players are Robbie Hummel. He will assuredly be missed. Purdue is a year away from returning to the NCAA Tournament. When their young studs grow up, they'll be quite a force.
Colorado: Despite losing their best scorer, Carlon Brown, the Buffaloes will be even better in 2012-13 than they were in their surprising tournament run this season. Andre Roberson returns to provide rebounding and toughness, pairing with guard Spencer Dinwiddie to make for the conference's best duo. Tad Boyle is also bringing in a top-25 recruiting class to help support these two players.
Arizona: With Kevin Parrom, Solomon Hill and the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation coming to Tuscon, Coach Miller is looking to make Arizona's one-year outside the tournament an anomaly and not a normal part of life in the desert.
UCLA: With the 14th best class in the country already locked up, and the possibility of adding the No. 1 recruit in the country in Shabazz Muhammad, Ben Howland is looking at getting the program back to the level he had it in the Arron Afflalo, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook days. Even without Muhammad the Bruins are a mortal lock for the tournament next season.
Washington: Lorenzo Romar's squad was one of the few teams who legitimately got screwed by not making this year's NCAA Tournament. I still don't understand how a team wins their regular season title in a power conference and doesn't get in the NCAA Tournament. That simply doesn't make sense. Even if Tony Wroten is gone, the Huskies will still be loaded and ready to make noise in March.
California: Mike Montgomery's team made the NCAA Tournament this year and figures to only lose one player of significance in Jorge Gutierrez. The rest of the team will be back and Montgomery's squad will respond with great defensive effort and intensity next season to make up for that one loss.
Oregon: Dana Altman has done a nice job in Eugene of getting more talent on the court for the Ducks. And they had a nice little NIT run this year, which generally helps a team come together and leads to an NCAA Tournament berth the next season. It would be surprising if this team doesn't also take that next step.
The only other team in the conference that could make a legit run for an NCAA Tournament berth is Southern California who is bringing in loads of talent. But likely that talent will not compare with that of the six teams above. Of course, for a league who had a down year with two bids this season, six next season would be great!
Kentucky: The only possible way Kentucky falls off the college basketball map is if John Calipari were to take an NBA job this summer at a time where the school is unable to hire a major coach in time to get the program set up (which would likely be the case should Calipari decide to leave). Otherwise Calipari has another top-three recruiting class coming in to make for another top-10 one-and-done team.
Florida: Billy Donovan is officially a genius. He takes his team to the Elite Eight year after year. Though he is probably losing Patrick Young and Bradley Beal, he'll still have tremendous talent at his disposal. Even if it's not a top-25 class, Donovan will get the kind of talent that can take him places in March.
Tennessee: Cuonzo Martin nearly got his team into the NCAA Tournament this year despite a horrific non-conference showing. No team was hotter at the end of the year, save for Syracuse and Kentucky. If he can get his guys to come out swinging at the beginning as they were at the end of this season, the Volunteers could make a long run in March next season.
Missouri: Frank Haith did a great job in his first season in Columbia. A year later, he figures to succeed in the program's first season in the SEC as well.
Texas A&M: The Aggies have two players likely to be drafted in the 2013 NBA Draft. When that's the case expectations are high. Billy Kennedy we hope is in better physical condition this season while dealing with Parkinson's Disease. If he is healthy, the Aggies figure to get back to their winning ways. It also doesn't hurt they'll be playing in the SEC.
Georgia: With Kentavious Caldwell and a host of other talented players on his roster, Mark Fox has a squad ready to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
On the Bubble:
Mississippi: Andy Kennedy's tenure in Oxford has been rather anonymous. Almost nothing memorable has taken place. But he has a team ready to make some noise next year. That said it's likely it'll ultimately be the same story for Kennedy and the Rebels.
Arkansas: BJ Young was one of the top freshman in the country this season. Look for him to improve and bring the Razorbacks to a place of prominence within the SEC. But because the league has so many strong members getting in the NCAA Tournament will be a tough task.
Alabama: Anthony Grant has brought discipline and toughness to the Crimson Tide basketball program. Unfortunately he is losing too much talented this year to get the team back to the tournament. Expect another NIT tournament run for this squad in 2013.
Vanderbilt: Kevin Stallings might be the second most underrated coach in America behind Mike Brey. He always has his squad ready to play and in place to make a tournament run. He takes average talent, mixes it with high IQs and good game plans to make for one great team. Of the four bubble teams, the Commodores are the most likely to break through the bubble and into the field. For now we'll assume the talent they're losing will be too much to overcome in such a strong conference.
North Carolina: Roy Williams is too good a coach to not make the tournament, regardless of who is on his roster. Right now it looks as if UNC will be without the amazing talent they are used to, but make no mistake about it, Williams' squad will still have a nice encore to this year's Final four run.
Duke: Similar to Williams and the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils are going to be a different team than they've been in recent years in terms of talent. But Coach K still knows how to coach. If you can remember the last time Duke didn't make the tournament, no offense but you're pretty darn old.
North Carolina State: Mark Gottfried's squad made quite a run in the tournament and nearly beat Kansas, a team now in the Final Four. In 2012-13 the Wolfpack are bringing in a recruiting class ranked fourth by scout.com. It's nearly impossible to believe NC State won't be back in the tournament in 2013.
Florida State: Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles finally got through the big-two of the ACC in winning the conference tournament. 2013 is the year they hope to take advantage of down years by those two (Duke and UNC) and might even be able to take over the ACC overall.
Virginia: Tony Bennett has brought an attitude to Virginia they haven't had in a long time. They're finding a way to win games and this year got to the NCAA Tournament. Now they're bringing in the 23rd best recruiting class as well. It would be hard to see them not getting into the tournament.
Maryland: Adding to their current team, Mark Turgeon was able to bring in six recruits that make them the 13th class in the country. For a team who improved throughout the year, the new talent will make Maryland a scary team.
Wake Forest: Much like Maryland, Wake Forest improved and is now adding six recruits who make up for the 22nd best recruiting class.
Xavier: Chris Mack has Xavier as the one of the perennial teams in the Sweet 16. It's to the point now they shouldn't even have to play the first weekend, since we already know they're going to win. As such they're pretty much a lock to get in the tournament again next year.
Temple: In Temple's final season in the Atlantic-10 they will go out with a bang, either winning the league or coming awfully close. Fran Dunphy has done a great job making Temple the prominent basketball school in the Philadelphia Big 5 Series. All five are great basketball schools, but right now none compares to the Temple Owls.
St. Joseph's: That being said the St. Joseph's Hawks could have something to say about that. Phil Martelli's squad has two likely NBA Draft selections in the summer of 2013. C.J. Aiken and Carl Jones promise to make the Hawks a tough out on any given night.
La Salle: The Explorers are just another fine Philadelphia school that is loaded with basketball talent. They annually field a fine team and figure to improve even more in 2013. In fact a tournament bid is likely to follow.
Massachusetts: With an NIT Final Four run the Minutemen are ready to step up to the big time of college basketball. Look for 2012-13 to mark UMass' return to the elite of college basketball.
Kansas: Though the Jayhawks are likely to lose a ton of talent, Bill Self is bringing in five players, four of them considered top-100 players. Elijah Johnson and Kevin Young have been key players on this year's team and return as well. It should be another good season in Lawrence.
Texas: With Myck Kabongo returning and Rick Barnes putting together another top-10 class (currently sixth according to scout.com) the Texas Longhorns will be another young and talented team. Expect this version to do a little better than the one we just saw in 2012.
West Virginia: Though Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers are losing their best player, Kevin Jones, they are inheriting quite a talent in transfer Aaric Murray. He will join an otherwise talented roster looking to make its mark in its inaugural Big 12 campaign. It should actually help the Mountaineers as they conference will have to adjust to them more than the other way around.
Baylor: Though the Baylor Bears looked lethargic against powerhouse Kentucky Sunday, the future remains bright in Waco. Scott Drew has built a program where top talent wants to come to play. That atmosphere is allowing for four more young men to come into the program next fall to make up for a top-five class in the country.
Fighting for a Spot:
Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg's team surprised a lot of people this year. Royce White is a guy who is all but gone, making a return run to the tournament difficult, if not impossible.
Texas Tech: Billy Gillespie turned Texas A&M into a program that made an annual plunge into the big time games of the NCAA Tournament. Though Tech struggled a season ago Gillespie's most success at A&M took place in year two. Look for the Red Raiders to compete in the Big 12 and make a real run nationally.
San Diego State: Coach Steve Fisher has San Diego State rolling year in and year out. In 2012-13 the Aztecs will be one of the most talented teams in the country with Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley returning while adding superstar recruit Winston Shepard, St. John's transfer Dwayne Polee, Utah transfer J.J. O'Brien and Virginia transfer James Johnson mid-year.
They will also join veteran Aztecs Xavier Thames, DeShawn Stephens and James Rahon to make up a 10-deep as good as anyone's in the country. That doesn't include some of the other freshman recruits Fisher is bringing in either. Either way the team is stacked.
UNLV: Dave Rice and his UNLV Runnin' Rebels are supposedly still in the running for superstar recruit Shabazz Muhammad and the rest of their class promises to be good. All Mountain West member Mike Moser could return to make up one of the best frontcourts in the country. UNLV is almost as stacked as the Aztecs.
New Mexico: Even without Drew Gordon the Lobos promise to have a team that is very talented and competes all day and night. They built their team on defense in 2012 and it worked for Steve Alford's club. That defensive identity must be further believed and developed for this team to continue on as they were in 2011-12.
St. Mary's: With conference player of the year Matthew Dellavedova returning for the Gaels it is nearly a lock that St. Mary's will again find themselves in "The Big Dance". Steven Holt will complement Dellavedova and step his game up further to make St. Mary's an even more complete team than they were a year ago.
Gonzaga: With Kevin Pangos and David Stockton the 'Zags' backcourt is in solid hands. The frontcourt is a small question mark with the departures of Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. If nothing else Mark Few has done a wonderful job replacing talent. Don't expect the Bulldogs to escape the national landscape anytime soon.
BYU: Though the Cougars are losing a lot of their team, Dave Rose always finds the right kind of players to fit his run-and-gun system in Provo. They are still likely to be the third best team in the WCC and could definitely make a tournament run if things go their way.
Memphis: They're going to be a lock for the tournament every year they're in Conference USA, which incidentally 2012-13 is the final year that will be true. Nonetheless Josh Pastner has too much talent on his roster not to be one of the top teams in that conference.
Southern Mississippi: Assuming Larry Eustachy remains there, the Eagles are almost too good not to make the tournament.
Creighton: It's most likely that Doug McDermott will return to Creighton for his junior year and leave for the NBA after the subsequent season. If McDermott does not return the Blue Jays will scramble to make the tournament next season but likely still make it.
Illinois State: With most of the rest of the teams in the Missouri Valley Conference losing many players to graduation, and the Cardinals coming off a heartbreaking loss to Creighton in the championship game, Illinois State is poised to make the plunge to the top of the league after losing nobody this year.
Virginia Commonwealth: After nearly defeating Indiana in the round of 32 this season VCU made it clear they are the new Butler or Gonzaga. In other words they're going to be a player come tournament time almost no matter what. Unlike Butler, who was devastated by losing its best players this year, VCU is losing only Bradford Burgess from its team. Shaka Smart knows how to make up for his loss and actually get better.
Drexel: Bruiser Flint's squad similarly is only losing one player off its 29-7 squad who got snubbed from this year's tournament. Expect this squad to be playing when it matters most in 2013.
Butler: Brad Stevens is the man in Indianapolis. Until he decides to take another job Butler will always be threat. This season the squad struggled after losing two of its best players and youth was served. But junior foward Khyle Marshall is a future NBA player (in my opinion) and will lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA Tournament this season.
On the Bubble:
Valparaiso: Bryce Drew almost got Valpo back to the NCAA Tournament. Look for the Crusaders to contend again in 2013. But because Butler is back they will come up a little short.
Harvard: Tommy Amaker now has Harvard hoops rolling. Expect 2013's team to grow from their first trip to the NCAA Tournament under Amaker and take another huge step.
Santa Barbara: Though the Gauchos lost to Long Beach State in The Big West title game, UCSB has been the dominant team in the conference over the last few years. With Beach losing two of its best players look for UCSB to recapture their place atop the league.
Iona: Though the Gaels had a disappointing end to their 2012 season by blowing a 25-point lead in the NCAA Tournament to BYU, the Gaels are likely to get back in 2013. Though they lose their senior leader, they remain the cream of the crop in the MAAC.
Akron: With Ohio coach Jim Croce preparing to take the Illinois job, the Bobcats are unlikely to remain on the top of the MAC or to make another valiant NCAA Tournament run. With NBA prospect Zeke Marshall, the Zips are prepared to make a run in the MAC and the NCAA Tournament in 2013.
Belmont: The Belmont Bruins have made the NCAA Tournament multiple years in a row. It's pretty much a lock now that they will represent the Atlantic Sun Conference. Each year they've been picked up to upset their first round opponent and come up short. Maybe 2013 is the year they'll finally pull of that upset.
Wagner College: Wagner is losing only one player from their 25-6 team this year. They are losing their coach, Danny Hurley, but just about everyone else of significance returns.
Davidson: Davidson was the class of the league again. They should be in 2013 as well.
Oral Roberts: Though it was neat to see South Dakota State in tournament for the first time, Oral Roberts was the class of the Summit League. Look for them to recapture the NCAA spot in 2013.
Presbyterian: Presbyterian is finally ready to make the jump to the NCAA Tournament, after joining Division-I a few short years ago. Look for this team to do it in 2013.
Arkansas Little Rock: This is more emotional. I get to edit the video of many of Arkansas Little Rock's games. I want them to win.
Bucknell: The Bison are generally one of the best teams in the Patriot League. Look for them to continue that in 2013.
Murray State: Might be the lock of all locks. After their incredible season in 2012 and a returning Isaiah Canaan there's almost zero way the Racers don't return to the dance in 2013.
Vermont: With Stony Brook losing its best player, the conference landscape is open for a return to the NCAA Tournament by the Vermon Catamounts.
Lamar: Lamar is being built by Pat Knight. Though he struggled at Texas Tech, he is building something special at Lamar. 2013 will see his team in the NCAAs again.
Savannah State: After their shocking upset of Missouri in the NCAA Tournament it would be easy to pick Norfolk State but Kyle O'Quinn is gone and keeping the pace of last season will be difficult. In steps Savannah State to take their spot in 2013.
Southern University: I'm picking them simply because Southern University is based in New Orleans, and I am planning on moving there this summer.
Nevada: The Wolfpack blew their chance for the NCAA Tournament in 2012, but their top player is likely return in 2013 and the team that went 25-6 should be as good if not better. Winning the WAC should be a near formality.
Montana: Montana has been the prominent team in this league going on a few years. I expect them to get in the tournament next year.