It is officially the home stretch of the regular season. As the playoff picture becomes more clear with every game, it is never too early to take a look at those teams in the running to take the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket. As the game expands, the tournament field stays at 16 teams, making each year more contentious for a tournament berth.
Let's take a look at the early front-runners for the top spot along with some scenarios that would allow others to creep into a strong seeding in the upcoming tournament.
Best Bet: Maryland
Maryland has rolled through the 2013 season, only slipping up once against a tough UNC squad. The Terps, now 8-1, still have Johns Hopkins, Yale and Colgate on their regular season slate. All of their upcoming opponents are still mathematically in the running, so nobody will have their guard down. The Terps should win out but then have a tough task in the ACC tournament. If UMD faces North Carolina in the league playoff, Maryland could lose hold of the top spot.
Right Behind 'Em: Cornell
Led by a star-studded offense, the 10-1 Big Red are in position to make a run for the No. 1 seed. With tilts against Syracuse (tonight), Princeton and Brown still on the horizon, Cornell must win out and win the postseason Ivy League tournament to surpass Maryland. It can be argued that the Ivy League is stronger than the ACC this year, so don't be shocked if Cornell hops over the Terps in the final poll. First, they must overcome a talented Syracuse team away from home on national TV tonight.
On Their Heels: North Carolina
Sure, Notre Dame is considered to be better than UNC at the moment, but I'm not so certain. UNC has played a far tougher schedule and has the opportunity for more quality wins in the ACC tournament. If UNC beats Maryland twice this season and Cornell slips up along the way, UNC could sneak into contention. They have steadily improved as the season has gone on, always a promising sign as the tournament approaches. Their roster is deep and talented, and with a good seed, they could win the whole thing.
Always a Possibility: Notre Dame
As I said, Notre Dame is sitting comfortably as the No. 3 team in the nation and needs to hold serve in the coming weeks. If they can survive, other teams may fall to tougher opponents, and the Irish could fall into the top spot in the brackets. Their defense always plays well in a one-and-done scenario, so keep an eye out for the Irish to make a late surge as other face more prominent challenges.