It’s still early to think too much about the NCAA Tournament. A lot can change between now and Selection Sunday, which is exactly one month away.
But there are trends and things we can look at and take into consideration now that may have a considerable impact. So let’s look at a few things, starting with Covid.
Covid pauses are increasingly rare and even individual cases seems to be getting rarer which is great news and not just for basketball.
Beyond that though there are many things to consider with the tournament starting on March 17th, unless you count the First Four, which seems kind of pointless.
- Chet Holmgren’s emergence. He is not the player Duke saw in November but you should keep in mind that he’s been showing improvement against WCC opponents and that’s not exactly a collection of world beaters. But he has improved and adjusted to NCAA-level competition.
- Purdue’s defense. Is it a fatal flaw? No one wins the NCAA without a sturdy defense. Purdue’s is surprisingly bad.
- Arizona’s revival. Tommy Lloyd was not a popular choice as a number of Arizona alums wanted someone from “the family.” UA is on target for a #1 seed. Let this be a counter-argument to always staying in the family.
- Kentucky is vastly improved from November. We’re not sure it’s a Final Four team but the improvement is undeniable. TyTy Washington was injured Saturday though and is currently day-to-day.
- Houston is still highly rated but injuries are likely to make a big run difficult. People will make a lot over Houston’s loss to Memphis but you can’t look past the injuries and Memphis is likely still a train wreck. Did you know all of Penny’s commitments have jumped ship? Not good.
- Walker Kessler makes Auburn a load. He lets everyone overplay because he can clean up mistakes. Auburn is a very serious threat.
- Right now, we would probably bet against Kansas. The Jayhawks have been too erratic, with losses to Dayton, a terrible loss to Kentucky at home, and just barely beating rebuilding Oklahoma Saturday, 71-69. Jordan Goldwire, by the way, had a chance to put the game in overtime but missed.
- Texas Tech seems like the kind of team you probably don’t want to see.
- After watching USC against UCLA, we wouldn't bet on USC doing too much damage and maybe not UCLA either. Neither team handled the end very well.
- No one should take Baylor for granted, but losing Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua is a major hit.
- We don't know much about Providence yet but 21-2 is pretty damn good.
- Likewise, we haven’t really watched UConn but we have a lot of respect for Danny Hurley’s ability to coach and to reach his team. It won’t surprise us if UConn is a Sweet Sixteen team.
- Illinois as a Final Four team? Certainly possible.
- Want an upset team to follow? Murray State is 24-2. It’s a real basketball school and they relish chances against big schools. Not a fun team to see early.
- The SEC teams have beaten each other up to the point where there are only three ranked teams left: Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee. Rick Barnes always coaches good D but this team may need some breaks to make a run. If they make the field, we could see Arkansas or Alabama doing some damage, at least enough to knock a higher seed out.
- Shaka Smart is having a sharp first year at Marquette. Our feeling about Smart has always been that if you can deal with his pressure, there’s not much behind it. It’s really good, but Plan B is not always great.
- Michigan State is still ranked but not overly impressive.
- Nobody in their right mind wants to see Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels in the first round. Nobody.
- We don’t know the first thing about South Dakota State but the Jackrabbits are 23-4 and may deserve some attention.
- You can't rule Appalachian out. The Sun Belt is a one-bid league and the Mountaineers are in second place. And as we saw in Cameron, they ain’t bad.
- Joe Lunardi currently has Gonzaga, UNC and Duke in the West.
- He also has Wake Forest at #8 in the Midwest which would mean a second-round matchup with Auburn.
- As fun as Bracketology is, and you can pin some things down more or less, nothing will make sense until the conference tournaments are over. For instance, Davidson is a borderline Top 25 team. If they lose in the A-10 Tournament, will they still be in? What about Murray State in the OVC? Losses for those teams will cost some Power Conference teams bids.
- The new transfer rule changes a lot of things too but not this: teams that are together longer have better odds. That will factor into some upsets for teams like, say, Yale or Davidson. And it could work against teams like, say, Arkansas or Wake Forest.