Louisville and head coach Rick Pitino look to make it back-to-back championship.
Pencils ready (it has to be a pencil with a large eraser because there will be plenty of changes). Pristine bracket hot off the printer. It’s time to pick, change, rethink and settle. The feeling of possibly being the one who fills the perfect sheet. The conviction of knowing you have one of the Final Four teams. The satisfaction of knowing you’ll definitely get more than half the early-round games correct.
Things to know as Selection Sunday nears:
WHO’S PICKING: The 10-person NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is chaired by Ron Wellman, the Wake Forest athletic director. There are six other ADs (Joe Alleva of LSU, Scott Barnes of Utah State, Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma, Mark Hollis of Michigan State, Bruce Rasmussen of Creighton and Peter Roby of Northeastern), two conference commissioners (Doug Fullerton of the Big Sky and Jamie Zaninovich of the West Coast) and Judy MacLeod, executive associate commissioner of Conference USA.
THE FIELD: The 68-team field, composed of 32 conference champions — the automatic qualifiers or “AQs’” to the insiders — and 36 at-large teams will be announced Sunday at 6 p.m. EDT on CBS. More conversation and arguments than can be imagined ensues immediately and continues until play begins. The first round starts Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, and the second round gets underway Thursday.
THE END: The Final Four will be held in Dallas for the second time. In 1986, Louisville and a freshman call “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison won it all at Reunion Arena. This time it will be at AT&T Stadium in North Dallas, the home of the Cowboys. A crowd of more than 80,000 is expected, so pick teams that like to play in wide-open areas.
LAST MINUTE: One possible complication is the Sunday finish by some of the major conferences. If a team that can only get in the field by winning the championship game does so, the committee must wait and see who would be the last at-large team that would be out. The title game could also affect seeding so there might be a few scenarios laid out and ready to go. The conferences are: Atlantic Coast Conference, Atlantic 10, Big Ten, Southeastern Conference and Sun Belt.
NO. 1 SEEDS: The reward for an exceptional regular season is a No. 1 seed. Most years there are six, maybe seven teams deserving mention for a top spot as the conference tournaments approach. The talk was narrow this season and it’s pretty sure Florida, Wichita State and Arizona will be No. 1 seeds. The fourth spot was muddied with Villanova’s loss to Seton Hall in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament and Kansas’ late-season loss at West Virginia and the injury to freshman center Joel Embiid that will keep him out of the first weekend of the tournament at the least. Michigan or Wisconsin could enter the race by winning the Big Ten.
OVERALL NO. 1: Take a poll and it seems Florida is the choice over Wichita State, the team with perfect regular season and an imperfect schedule. Last year it really wasn’t that big a deal to get the nod. Gonzaga had it and the Zags didn’t make it out of the second weekend, losing to ninth-seeded Wichita State on the Shockers’ run to the Final Four. How about if the committee puts West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga as a No. 8 or 9 seed in the same region as Wichita State and let them meet again in the third round.
LOOKING LOW: Don’t be so quick to dismiss the teams toward the bottom of the seed list. Although a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 (Imagine being the first coach to lose that matchup?) No. 15 seeds have ruined some postseasons for power teams, including two last season by Florida Gulf Coast, which dunked its way into the spotlight and the second weekend.
DEFENDING THE CROWN: Louisville got to cut the nets down last season in Atlanta and the Cardinals could have a shot at going all the way again. The odds are against Louisville, however, as only Florida in 2007 and Duke in 1992 have repeated as champion since the end of UCLA’s run of dominance in the 1960s and 1970s. Russ Smith and Luke Hancock are back from Louisville’s title team and the Cardinals entered the week ranked No. 5.
SMART PICK: There always seems to be a team on either the 8 or 9 seed line that makes a run to the Final Four, and Wichita State was that team last year. VCU was an 11 seed when it went to the Final Four in 2011. This year it could be Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had a seven-game losing streak during the season, three of those the games the ones missed by guard Marcus Smart for pushing a fan at Texas Tech. Since his return the Cowboys have been a different team and Smart has played the way people expected the preseason All-America to. Oklahoma State lost four overtime games this season, including 77-70 loss to Kansas in the Big 12 semifinals.
LIMPING IN: Syracuse started the season 25-0 and then lost four of five. Flying below the radar — well, not really since Billikens can’t fly — is Saint Louis. It followed a school-record 19-game winning streak with four losses in five games, including Friday’s stunner to St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals.