The 2014 NCAA tournament is just around the corner, but first, the various conference tournaments must crown their champions and the selection committee must sift through the remaining at-large teams to identify which are worthy of earning a berth to the prestigious event.
There is also still the matter of seeding each of these 68 squads, which is an unenviable task that often results in plenty of flak come Selection Sunday. Regardless, the committee has been right before—when all No. 1 seeds went to the Final Four in 2008—and that could happen again this year.
Let’s take a look at what teams are in, which programs are out and much more in Saturday’s bracketology roundup.
Going Up: Wichita State
The Shockers completed their undefeated season and captured the Missouri Valley Conference championship this past Sunday, but this last week may have been more beneficial to their chances of nabbing a No. 1 seed.
A number of contenders that were vying for one of the four coveted spots have suffered bad losses, the most recent of which is Kansas. The Jayhawks had eight losses going into Friday’s Big 12 tournament matchup with Iowa State and now have nine blemishes on their record.
The team played the toughest schedule in the country, but it cannot be a No. 1 seed without winning the conference. It would be reasonable to expect the committee to dole out a No. 2 seed for Kansas and bump Wichita State up to the No. 1 in the Midwest region.
Andy Glockner agreed, noting that the regional final could be thrilling:
We very (very very very) much could be looking at Wichita State and Kansas 1-2 in the Midwest, tho. I pray for that regional final.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) March 12, 2014
That matchup would pit Kansas and its superstar recruit, Andrew Wiggins, against his brother, Nick, and the Shockers. It’s a great story and could very well happen now that Wichita State is in the driver’s seat for a No. 1 seed.
Prediction: Wichita State earns a No. 1 seed.
Dropping Down: Syracuse
The Orange were arguably the hottest team in the country until mid-February, when the program began collapsing and entered a tailspin that is still ongoing.
Syracuse won 25 straight games at one point, but it's been struggling since suffering an overtime loss to Boston College Feb. 19. The team has now lost five of its last seven, including a disappointing elimination in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament at the hands of NC State.
It seems that the Orangemen found new ways to lose in that contest, missing a whopping six shots during their final possession. The Wolfpack would hold off that sloppy barrage to claim a 66-63 victory.
Sean Keeley of NunesMagician.com called this embarrassing performance a metaphor for Syracuse’s past month and a half:
What a metaphor for Syracuse over the past six weeks. Every chance possible, couldn't make the shots.— Sean Keeley (@NunesMagician) March 15, 2014
Expect ‘Cuse to lock up a No. 4 seed, which has to be disappointing if you remember how great this team was earlier in the season. It could also be looked at as generous considering the slide the Orange finished the year on.
Prediction: Syracuse earns a No. 4 seed.
Potential Surprise: St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies shocked the world two years ago by making a run through the A-10 tournament and appearing in March Madness, nearly knocking out Florida State in the second round.
While many of the faces on this current team are different, the squad has the same goal: to get into the Big Dance and make as much noise as possible.
With a win over Saint Louis, the projected A-10 champ, Saturday, the Bonnies are now in position to play St. Joe’s for the rights to advance to conference championship and, more importantly, the rights to win an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney.
Give credit to Jordan Gathers for hitting a wide-open three-point shot at the top of the key that would vanquish the Billikens. He caught a drive-and-dish pass from Charlon Kloof and sent St. Louis packing with his deadly accurate trey.
Head coach Mark Schmidt called it "probably one of the biggest shots in St. Bonaventure history," according to the Associated Press (via the New York Times)
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports noted just how wild the result was:
St. Bonaventure and Seton Hall are now both two wins away from the NCAA Tournament. This is March folks.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 14, 2014
This team still needs to navigate past the Hawks and whatever opponent it might play in the finals, but it seems destined to win the conference and make another run to the tournament. Favorites should consider themselves warned, as St. Bonaventure is more than capable of making a Cinderella surge if it crashes the 68-team field.
Prediction: St. Bonaventure earns a No. 14 seed.
On the Bubble: BYU
The Cougars don’t play in a major conference and failed to win the West Coast Conference tournament, but this team has a strong resume that might just convince the selection committee to send it dancing Sunday.
Is BYU in or out of the NCAA tournament?
BYU lost in the WCC final to Gonzaga, a powerhouse program that has dominated both the regular season and postseason tourney for decades. There is no shame in that defeat, and it may not have a large impact on the team's status as a March Madness-worthy squad.
Unfortunately, the Cougars did lose superstar Kyle Collinsworth to a torn ACL during that game against the Bulldogs, and that could severely harm their chances of being brought into the fold this March.
Head coach Dave Rose vaguely addressed that issue, as per Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg:
I'm just really proud of our team. As a group we battled through a very difficult non-conference schedule. We had a couple games that we had a chance to win and didn't get them. The guys responded and fought back. We didn't get off to the best start in league play, but we finished really strong. That's how I personally feel about our team. We'll see what happens.
BYU has strong wins against Texas and Stanford but a plethora of ugly losses against weak conference foes. If the committee decides that this Cougars squad is tough enough to withstand the loss of its best player and still be able to compete at a high level, it is likely to dance this spring.
However, the team's status is up in the air right now, and BYU is the definition of a bubble team that needs to have its collective fingers crossed in hopes of participating in March Madness.
Prediction: BYU overlooked on Selection Sunday.