It is 25 days until Selection Sunday. Thus, it is time for the annual Field of 68 projections as we fly toward March. The selection committee loves quality non-conference schedules and wins, especially if they happen to be on the road. Here are my thoughts at the moment, conference by conference. There are now 32 conferences, so we are down to 36 at-large bids.
AMERICA EAST (1): Vermont
That Saint Joseph’s won at Vermont in its season opener will be an at-large help, similar to La Salle’s win last year at CAA regular-season champ Northeastern.
AMERICAN (5): Cincinnati, Louisville, SMU, Memphis, Connecticut
Three old Big East teams, C-USA perennial Memphis and Larry Brown. In only his second season at SMU, Brown has to get major Coach of the Year consideration. This is a very good league this season, but Louisville is gone to the ACC next season.
ACC (5): Syracuse, Virginia, Duke, Pittsburgh, North Carolina
America seemed to discover Tyler Ennis when he made that 35-footer to beat Pittsburgh last week. Serious observers have known about the talents of the ‘Cuse freshman point guard all along. Virginia plays national championship-level defense, Duke championship-level offense. Put those units together and they would be unbeatable. Two more former Big East teams in the mix here.
ATLANTIC SUN (1): Florida Gulf Coast
Or it could be Mercer, but who doesn’t want to see Dunk City again.
ATLANTIC 10 (5): Saint Louis, VCU, George Washington, Massachusetts, Richmond
Saint Joseph’s is certainly in play. The Hawks have plenty of opportunities to impress or not. Wish they had one marquee non-con win. I would put Richmond slightly ahead of SJU at the moment because the Spiders beat the Hawks decisively in their lone meeting. Saint Louis has a Final Four-worthy defense. GW and UMass have some terrific non-con wins, which the selection committee really likes.
BIG 12 (6): Kansas, Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State
I think this is the best conference in the country. Few teams are more talented than KU, but the Jayhawks are a bit fragile. Could be in the Final Four. Could be gone in the first round. Iowa State is great fun to watch. Texas has played better than its talent.
BIG EAST (6): Villanova, Creighton, Xavier, St. John’s, Georgetown, Providence
Villanova has been excellent all season. Just keep Creighton out of its region. Today, the Wildcats are a No. 2 or possibly No. 3 seed in the East, with early-round games in Buffalo and potential regional games at Madison Square Garden. Syracuse has the No. 1 seed in the East all but locked up. Not really sure about St. John’s, Georgetown and Providence. All three are just in or just out, a similar spot as St. Joe’s. Old Big East members on this list bring the total to nine.
BIG SKY (1): Weber State
Not as good as Damian Lillard, but Davion Berry (19.2 points) is having a great season for Weber.
BIG SOUTH (1): VMI
Coastal Carolina is the favorite, but I want to see the Keydets and their trio of scorers, who combine to average 57 points per game.
BIG TEN (6): Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota
Might be the strongest the league has ever been top to bottom, but it is not nearly as strong at the top as it was last season. Still, if Michigan State gets all its players back for the tournament, the Spartans are live to win it all. Iowa is relentless on offense, attacking on every possession for 40 minutes.
BIG WEST (1): UCSB
Remember I told you about Alan Williams a few weeks ago? He’s getting better. He averages 22.7 points and 11.5 rebounds. In his last five games, he has gone for 26 and 10, 27 and 20, 20 and 17, 16 and 8, and 22 and 17.
CAA (1): Delaware
Point guard Jarvis Threatt and dunk machine Marvin King-Davis are in the midst of month-long suspensions. Put Threatt back in there with Devon Saddler and Davon Usher, it gives coach Monte Ross a trio that averages 58 points per game and a starting lineup that all averages double figures.
C-USA (1): Southern Mississippi
Where have you gone, Memphis?
HORIZON (1): Green Bay
The Phoenix beat Virginia on Dec. 7, had a 10-game winning streak and has Keifer Sykes, who averages 20.3 points.
IVY (1): Harvard
This is a lot more competitive than anybody expected. Harvard and Yale are tied at 7-1, and Yale won at Harvard.
METRO ATLANTIC (1): Iona
The Gaels have a serious offense again, with five in double figures.
MID-AMERICAN (1): Toledo
The Rockets won their first 12 before losing at Kansas. They were averaging 83.3 points before getting crushed, 65-44, by Eastern Michigan on Saturday. The tournament is wide-open.
MEAC (1): North Carolina Central
Good enough to win at North Carolina State in November.
MISSOURI VALLEY (1): Wichita State
The league is not nearly as strong as it was a few years ago, but Wichita is good enough to win the national championship. Love the backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Big man Cleanthony Early is a star.
MOUNTAIN WEST (2): San Diego State, New Mexico
The league flamed out very early in last year’s NCAA, but the Aztecs and Xavier Thames are serious, with wins over Creighton and Kansas.
NORTHEAST (1): Robert Morris
Penn grad Andy Toole has a nice duo in Karvel Anderson and Lucky Jones.
OHIO VALLEY (1): Belmont
Could be Murray State or even Eastern Kentucky, coached by La Salle grad Jeff Neubauer. Belmont did win at North Carolina.
PACIFIC-12 (6): Arizona, UCLA, Arizona State, Colorado, California, Stanford
Love Arizona’s defense, but its lack of offense is cause for concern in a one-and-done tournament.
PATRIOT (1): Boston University
The Terriers, with former Villanova assistant Joe Jones running the show and Philly guys Maurice Watson Jr. (Boys’ Latin), D.J. Irving (Carroll), Dom Morris and Travis Robinson (both Friends Central) in big roles, have been playing great in their first season in the league. SJU’s win on Dec. 29 over BU helps the Hawks’ resume.
SEC (3): Florida, Kentucky, Missouri
This is not a very good league (again), but Florida has a championship look. The Gators have no obvious weaknesses and have veterans at every position. I am not sure what to make of Kentucky. Some games I love them, others I don’t like them at all.
SOUTHERN (1): Davidson
One final title before heading to the A-10 next season.
SOUTHLAND (1): Stephen F. Austin
Remember what I told you a few months ago. The Lumberjacks, now 24-2 and winners of 21 straight, will be a very dangerous second-round opponent, with their five double-figure scorers.
SWAC (1): Southern
The Jaguars are caught up in an NCAA academic fiasco and were just declared ineligible for the tournament. But they still have some time to present documentation that could change the ruling. Let Southern play.
SUMMIT (1): North Dakota State
One of only three states, along with Oregon and Alaska, remaining on my list.
SUN BELT (1): Georgia State
Made a rather nice adjustment after move from CAA. Sophomore R.J. Hunter, the coach’s son, already has passed 1,000 career points.
WAC (1): Utah Valley
I did not know that Utah Valley was in Division I or that it had a basketball team. The Wolverines must be pretty good.
WEST COAST (2): Gonzaga, Brigham Young
Not a No. 1 seed for the Zags this year, but, hopefully, they will not be so unlucky as to get a team like Wichita State in the third round again.