Sunday, the madness takes hold.
On what is better known as Selection Sunday, everything else in the sporting world goes out the window as the bracket becomes final, picks go down—in pencil, folks—and much is won and lost on the battlefield that is the nation's best tournament.
Before teams find official homes, it's worth surveying the landscape. The favorites are obvious; the sleepers, not so much. As for the bubble...well, it's more confusing than ever with so many significant late-season losses peppering the slate.
Go forth into Selection Sunday armed with the latest intel—it'll make bracket decisions all the easier.
Favorites to Watch
Let's just get this out of the way from the jump: Nobody is going to beat Kentucky.
John Calipari's team is a No. 1 seed no matter what. The starting five is but a footnote—although it's headlined by a pair of defensive juggernauts in Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein underneath the basket.
More impressive is the fact the next four in the rotation could start on most teams in the bracket.
But focusing on Kentucky is boring. How about Wisconsin? The team comes in fourth on ESPN's RPI rankings and is 8-2 against the RPI Top 50. It now rates as a No. 1 seed in ESPN's bracketology department, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The Badgers at one point were a lock to be in Kentucky's part of the bracket, but it will be even better if the two make it to a Final Four encounter.
Bo Ryan's team is just fun, ranking 22nd in the nation with a .480 team field-goal percentage. Frank Kaminsky, of course, has a great case as the best player in the nation with averages of 18.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
Don't forget about the two ACC contenders, though, no matter where they land in the seeding department.
Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils hurt for defense when it matters at times, but not often, as a 7-2 mark against the RPI Top 25 shows. Jahlil Okafor (17.7 points, 9.0 rebounds per game) is every bit as interesting to watch as Kaminsky at this point—and just as important.
And don't forget the Virginia Cavaliers, losers of just three games this year. One of those losses just came at the hands of North Carolina—a team in need of 54.8 shooting from the field and a 50 percent conversion rate from deep to secure the upset.
The bracket is by no means top-heavy this year, but the favorites sure make it seem as such.
Top Sleeper: Louisville
What, we should expect something different from a Rick Pitino team?
OK, so it's fair to sleep on the Louisville Cardinals. A bit lost in the ACC shuffle, the Cardinals are not the first team most think of when it comes to potential bracket-busting runs laced with wow-worthy upsets.
That's thanks in part to a 2-6 record against the RPI Top 25 and a shaky 9-8 mark against the RPI Top 100. It doesn't help the team just lost in the ACC tournament for the first time since 2011, either.
Translation: Now is the right time for the Cardinals to hit a hot streak.
The team is more than capable. Sophomore Terry Rozier encounters few issues getting hot at the right time and leads the team in scoring at 17.1 points per game. Junior Montrezl Harrell allows the Cardinals to bang with any team in the paint, averaging 15.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists a game as well as shooting 57 percent from the field.
Louisville is not an attractive sleeper pick in comparison to others, but a team that lost to Kentucky by just eight points and took down a second-ranked Virginia squad is one to keep an eye on once the bracket goes final.
Honorable Mentions: San Diego State Aztecs, Iowa State Cyclones, North Carolina State Wolfpack, Purdue Boilermakers.
Last Team In: Indiana Hoosiers
Talk about life on the edge.
Tom Crean's team can't seem to catch a break, even when it takes care of business against a team such as Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament.
A blowout win against the Wildcats is great, but most will have a hard time getting behind a team that lost four of its last five, including a somewhat close call against Maryland, 75-69.
The good news is the Hoosiers' perceived improvement of late.
"When you look at the body of work and factor things in—I really hope our league gets factored in," Crean said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "Obviously, there's a lot of really good teams in this league. What I'm encouraged about now [is] we're getting better."
The Big Ten does look better than usual recently, as does this Hoosiers team, which has an 8-12 mark against the RPI Top 100 and lost by just two points to those same Terrapins only a few weeks back.
The negatives are obvious, but as Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis points out, they are forgivable offenses:
Look past the rough aspects of the resume, and you'll find a team led by Yogi Ferrell (16.1 points per game) that continues to come oh-so-close to stunning upsets this calendar year.
Once in the bracket, those close calls have a way of turning into bracket-busting upsets.
That's what it's all about, right?
Full Last Four In: Boise State Broncos, UCLA Bruins, LSU Tigers, Indiana Hoosiers.
Check out B/R's Free Bracket Challenge once the field is set for 2015 March Madness.
Stats and info are courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.