It's only a week until Selection Sunday.
The March Madness bracket is the king of sports paraphernalia, often held in higher regard than jerseys themselves.
Don't forget the whole "madness" part of the equation, though.
Each year, brackets fall apart quicker than most thought possible. Last year, a No. 7 Connecticut clashed with Kentucky, surprisingly a No. 8 seed—and a surefire No. 1 seed this year.
For now, the teams set to dominate this year's bracket seem quite obvious. The top two are not debatable, and the schools after that certainly have resumes that suggest a cemented place in the proceedings.
Predicting Bracket Favorites
There isn't much to say about Virginia at this point.
A season-ending loss to Louisville hurts, but more because the basketball gods favored the Cardinals than because the defeat derailed the Cavaliers.
Tony Bennett's team played the waning moments just right. It allowed a guy who had one field goal since January 31 (Mangok Mathiang) to shoot the ball instead of better options and watched helplessly as the shot passed through the cylinder.
"I was just shocked that I made it," Mathiang said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "I was running, then Trez came, hugged me and everybody was around me. This is a real big deal."
Virginia is still a favorite. It still ranks near the top of KenPom.com's top-rated defenses. The Cavaliers are the most complete team in the land, as CBS Sports' Doug Gottlieb points out:
Perhaps scariest of all, the Cavaliers are not even at full strength at the moment as they await the return of Justin Anderson (13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists per game), who has missed the team's last eight games with a broken finger and had an appendectomy last week.
No matter where Virginia lands, Anderson and Co. will be favorites on the bracket.
It's hard to ignore a team that finishes the regular season on an 11-game winning streak, especially when said streak includes four wins against ranked opposition.
And especially when that team is Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils tout the nation's second-best adjusted offense right after Wisconsin, according to Ken Pomeroy's ratings, and a recent 94-51 thumping of Wake Forest hardly featured star big man Jahlil Okafor, who scored just six points.
Even more impressive was the season-ending triumph at North Carolina, where Okafor was closer to his usual self (17.6 points per game on 67 percent shooting from the field) with a 7-of-9 effort with 14 points.
Wally Szczerbiak is one of many who think the Blue Devils now have a No. 1 seed in hand:
It's hard to argue now that the win at North Carolina essentially shuts the door on other ACC teams' hopes to make a run and seize a top seed.
Things are muddy after the first two programs, but Kansas will be right up there once the dust settles on this year's bracket.
Folks may scoff at a seven-loss mark and a season-ending humbling at the hands of a ranked Oklahoma team, but keep in mind that Bill Self's team is the victim of the nation's most difficult schedule yet touts an impressive 11-6 mark against the RPI Top 50 and a 7-4 mark against the RPI Top 25, per ESPN.com's RPI ratings.
Again, Kansas is yet another eventual favorite that's hard to ignore despite a season-ending hiccup—especially one that came with 0.2 seconds left in regulation:
Now, the seeding process will overlook most of these details and hit the Jayhawks with a No. 2 seed (as does ESPN's Joe Lunardi), but seasoned observers know better: That just makes Perry Ellis (14.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) and his team all the more dangerous.
This will be brief —as was the thought of any team beating the Kentucky Wildcats this year.
As ESPN Stats & Info notes, Kentucky made history with a season-ending victory:
Kami Mattioli of Sporting News put it best after the team's 67-50 thumping of Florida to close the season:
It's staggering what the Wildcats have been able to accomplish. There's no real justification to knock them down a peg, especially when Calipari has them playing such selfless basketball despite the immense talent of each individual.
While it's true that anything can happen once the madness gets underway, 2015 may be one of the more predictable years.
Sometimes that's not such a bad thing.
Stats and info are courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.