Fantastic Four (Projected number one seeds):
Kentucky: The Wildcats are the best team in the country right now. Their one loss came back on December 10 at Indiana, which doesn’t even look like that bad of a loss now with Indiana ranked 20th in the AP poll. But with wins over nationally-ranked powerhouses North Carolina and Kansas earlier this season, this Kentucky team is for real. A 25-point win at home tonight against Tennessee was just the latest of many victories. They head into Saturday’s game at South Carolina at 22-1 before hosting number-11 Florida next Tuesday. Florida is probably the toughest challenger in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) to Kentucky.
Syracuse: The Big East always seems to be the strongest men’s basketball conference in America, and this year the Orange are front-running in this conference. Like Kentucky, Syracuse is 22-1 through 23 games however their last three games have exposed some doubt. A loss at Notre Dame, a team that before that game was not considered an NCAA tournament team, and two single-digit victories against Cincinnati and West Virginia. However, the Orange have been missing starting center Fab Melo and his return may spark them down the stretch.
Ohio State: The 19-3 Buckeyes have played well enough to earn their way to a projected number-one seed as of now. All three of their losses came on the road, two of which were in Big Ten play, falling to Illinois and then-number-15 Indiana. Their third loss came to another nationally-ranked team, losing at the Allen Field house in Kansas. Another tough road game lurks for the Buckeyes as they head to Camp Randall to take on the 20th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday.
Missouri: Through 24 games the Tigers have only gone down twice. A letdown at Oklahoma State a week and a half ago, and a tough pill to swallow at the Octagon of Doom in Kansas State earlier in January were the only two that didn’t fall in their favor. Led by guard Marcus Denmon the Tigers boast Big 12’s best record after their squeaker against Texas last night winning 67-66. However, Thomas Robinson and the 8th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks might have something to say about who the best team in the Big 12 is as they roll into enemy-territory to take on the Missouri Tigers.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have gone 14-8 through 22 games and are 6-3 in the Big East. While there may be lots of teams with similar overall and conference records, what might separate the Irish from the rest of the pack are their recent victories over then number one ranked Syracuse and a road win Sunday at number 19 and defending National Champion Connecticut. It looks as if right now they’re on the right side of the bubble.
North Carolina State: Whether they get in the field or not, the fact that the Wolfpack are even in discussion for a tournament bid is a bit of a surprise to begin with. Year after year under former coach Sydney Lowe, the Wolfpack were cellar dwellers in the Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC); however first-year head coach Mark Gottfried has changed the culture in Raleigh. Their next game is tomorrow night in Chestnut Hill against a scrappy, youthful, Boston College team. However, if NC State is for real they should be able to win against BC. They’re probably on pace to get left out right now, as they don’t have a signature win at 15-7 overall and 4-3 in the ACC, but there are chances against nationally ranked ACC opponents Duke, Florida State and North Carolina left on their schedule.
Creighton: Out of the Missouri Valley Conference the Blue Jays are having an outstanding season. They sit at 20-2 with losses to St. Joseph’s and Missouri State but the 20 games that have gone in their favor have been good enough to make them the number 12 team in the nation. They do not play a ranked team the rest of the way and if they can survive the remainder of the regular season, and the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, look out for the Blue Jays in the big dance.
Don’t Sleep on Me
Alabama: The Crimson Tide basketball team may not have the National Championship expectations like their football team lived up to this season, but they certainly should be around into the third week of March. While they have yet to beat a ranked team this season, at 14-7 overall if they continue to take care of their inferior competition the Tide will be in shape for an at large bid. However, they do have chances against nationally ranked SEC foes Mississippi State and Florida to get themselves on the map. What is particularly intriguing about this Alabama team is that they were a bubble team left out of the field last season and may have something to prove in this year’s tournament. Also, they’re coach Anthony Grant led Virginia Commonwealth to a huge upset over Duke in the first round of the 2007 tournament. He may not have pulled a Shaka Smart run like last year’s VCU Rams, but he knows something about winning in March.