Sometime before 6:00 PM ET on Sunday, the NCAA Tournament selection committee will send CBS the completed pool for the reveal on its selection show.
Here’s an overview of the biggest decisions the board will have to make between now and then:
1. Who should get the final #1 seed?
While three of the NCAA Tournament’s four No. 1 seeds were all but certain to go to Kansas, Alabama and Houston in some order, it was unclear late Saturday night who would join that trio of top seeds.
Only after UCLA’s potential game-winning 3-pointer ricocheted off the rim could Purdue feel good about its chances. The Bruins were in strong contention for the final No. 1 seed until losing by two points to Arizona in a tense, hotly contested Pac-12 title game.
28-5, 16-5 Big Ten | NET: 5 | KenPom: 6 | P1: 10-4 | Q2: 8-1 | Q3, Q4 losses: 0
Marquee wins: Marquette, Gonzaga, Duke, MSU (2), Illinois, West Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin
Losses: Indiana (2), at Maryland, at Northwestern, Rutgers
Purdue performed like the best team in the country for months as it topped Marquette, swept Duke and Gonzaga and swept opponents in January’s Big Ten. Then February arrived and with it some troubling red flags, mostly the Boilermakers’ new frontcourt that struggled to knock down jump shots or take care of the basketball against teams with big, athletic perimeter defenders.
Credit Purdue for rebounding from a troubling four-game losing streak. The Boilermakers have won four straight entering Sunday’s Big Ten title game against Penn State.
29-5, 18-2 Pac-12 | NET: 4 | KenPom: 2 | P1: 8-5 | P2: 9-0 | Q3, Q4 losses: 0
Marquee wins: Arizona, Maryland, Kentucky, USC, Arizona State (2), Oregon (3)
Losses: Arizona (2), Baylor, Illinois, at USC
Buoyed by the nation’s weakest defense, UCLA won the mediocre Pac-12 four more games than second-place Arizona and USC. The undermanned Bruins then overcame injuries to two of their top four players and nearly won the Pac-12 Tournament, falling to Arizona 61-59.
UCLA’s winning streak isn’t as big as Purdue’s, but the Bruins beat Kentucky on a neutral court to hand Maryland its only home loss of the season, by 27 points, no less. Mick Cronin’s senior side are also unbeaten at Pauley Pavilion all season, nor have they suffered a defeat outside of Quadrant 1.
26-8, 12-6 Big 12 | NET: 9 | KenPom: 7 | P1: 14-8 | Q2: 4-0 | Q3, Q4 losses: 0
Marquee wins: Kansas (2), Gonzaga, Creighton, Baylor, TCU (2), at Kansas State, Iowa State, West Virginia (2)
Losses: at Kansas, at Tennessee, at Baylor, at TCU, at Iowa State, Illinois, Kansas State, at Texas Tech
Then there’s Texas, which thrust itself into the No. 1 seed discussion by beating Kansas in Austin on the final day of the regular season and then repeating the feat eight days later in the Big 12 title game. The Longhorns have 14 wins in Quadrant 1 this season, are second behind only Kansas.
What makes Texas a strong prospect to overtake both Purdue and UCLA is its eight losses, one more than any previous No. 1 seed had entering Selection Sunday. However, none of those losses came outside of Quadrant 1. Only one, at Texas Tech, came against a non-NCAA tournament team.
With Purdue advancing to the Big Ten title game on Saturday afternoon and UCLA falling one shot short against Arizona on Saturday night, it would be a mild surprise if the Boilermakers don’t claim the final No. 1 seed. UCLA and Texas are sure to have no worse than No. 2 seeds.
2. Did Kansas cost itself the No. 1 overall seed?
Instead of cementing itself as the top seed in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night, Kansas may have left the door open for another contender.
It all depends on which element the committee values the most: Your metrics? Or who did you beat?
Despite losing to Texas in Saturday night’s Big 12 title game, Kansas still enters Selection Sunday with 17 Quadrant 1 wins this season, three more than any other team in the country. The Jayhawks (27-7) knocked off Duke, Indiana and Kentucky in nonleague games to win the outright regular season title in the nation’s toughest conference.
Seven losses is uncharacteristically high for a potential No. 1 seed, but teams that beat Kansas can not only make the NCAA Tournament, but are projected to get a top-six seed. The only other complaint on the Jayhawks resume is that metrics don’t like them. They are sixth in the NCAA’s NET rankings, No. 9 in KenPom and No. 12 in Bart Torvik’s T-ranking.
By contrast, Houston is No. 1 in every major metric entering Sunday’s matchup against Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game. The Cougars (31-2) also have the fewest losses of any team in the country, though one of those is an ugly Quadrant 3 loss at home against mediocre Temple.
While Houston has nonleague wins over Virginia, Saint Mary’s, Oregon and Oral Roberts, the Cougars have just six Quadrant 1 wins all season. The only other NCAA tournament-caliber team in America is Memphis, who was swept by Houston during the regular season.
Another potential team no. 1 overall is Alabama, which held that spot when the board released its preview three weeks ago. Despite the unwanted attention of the Brandon Miller scandal, the Crimson Tide have lost just once since then, falling to Texas A&M in the regular season finale.
Entering a rematch with Texas A&M in Sunday’s SEC Tournament title game, Alabama is 28-5 overall with 11 Quadrant 1 wins, undefeated outside of the top quadrant and ranked in the top three in both the NET and KenPom. The Crimson Tide has a back-to-back win at Houston. A 24-point loss at sub-.500 Oklahoma is the only significant blemish on their resume.
So will Kansas secure the No. 1 overall seed and a geographically viable path through the Kansas City Regional? In my eyes, the Jayhawks are still the favorites due to their high number of wins, but Alabama and Houston also have contention.
3. Should key injuries affect the ranking of the best teams?
During an appearance on CBS Saturday afternoon, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt asked a question about how key injuries could affect a team’s schedule.
Gavitt said board members “are in regular contact with schools and conferences to get as much accurate and up-to-date information as possible.”
“They’re taking into account the availability of players,” Gavitt said, “but they’re not going to overreact, especially if there’s not a large group of games that the team could consider playing without those players. It is not the commission’s job to project how the team will perform without one or more players.”
The board’s overreaction would be welcome news for a handful of elite teams that have lost influential players to injuries in recent weeks.
UCLA lost elite perimeter defender Jaylen Clark to a season-ending Achilles injury eight days ago and prized freshman blocker Adem Bona to a shoulder injury Friday night. Tennessee lost leading man and top playmaker Zakai Zeigler to an ACL tear earlier this month. Texas was without third baseman Timmy Allen for the entire Big 12 tournament, and Kansas lost Kevin McCullar to cramps in the Big 12 semifinals. Houston saw star guard Marcus Sasser suffer an apparent groin injury in the American semifinals.
While top-seeded Cincinnati was famously demoted to the No. 2 seed in 2000 after national player of the year Kenyon Martin tore his ACL, subsequent selection committees have been extremely careful in punishing teams with injured players. Even so, coaches are just as reluctant to reveal the extent of key injuries before Selection Sunday — especially coaches who were part of Cincinnati’s 2000 staff.
Asked by reporters about Bona’s status Friday night, UCLA coach Mick Cronin replied with a smile: “You think I would tell you?”
4. Will the committee reward Duke, other conference tournament participants?
How high can Duke climb in the bracket after reaching the ACC Tournament title? That depends on how the committee responds to criticism it received last year for seemingly setting seeds too early and not weighing conference tournament performances enough.
Duke has already climbed to a projected No. 6 or No. 7 seed entering the ACC Tournament. The surging Blue Devils have won 9 of 11 games — and one of those two losses was a game at Virginia where Kyle Filipowski was denied a chance to win the game at the free throw line.
In the ACC tournament, Duke confirmed the talk that the peak was at the right time, knocking off three straight NCAA tournament-caliber teams on back-to-back nights. The Blue Devils knocked off Pittsburgh and held off Miami before avenging a regular-season loss to Virginia with a 59-49 victory in Saturday night’s title game.
Where does that leave Duke? With a 26-8 record, predictive metrics hovering around No. 20, and a resume that can match projected No. 5 seeds like Texas A&M, San Diego State, Saint Mary’s and Miami. The Blue Devils beat Xavier and Iowa in nonleague play, finished a game out of first place in the ACC standings, then played some of their best basketball in winning the conference tournament.
If the selection committee values conference weekend tournament results more this year, Duke has an excellent chance to be a dangerous No. 5 seed, maybe even a bottom No. 4 seed. If the schedule played Thursday and Friday remains largely unchanged, then expect the Blue Devils be number 6 under number 6.
Duke isn’t the only team hoping its conference tournament performance will dramatically improve its schedule. SEC finalist Texas A&M will hope to make a similar jump to the No. 5 seed, while surprise Big Ten finalist Penn State will try to go from the bubble to an 8-9 game.
5. After a late-season surge, is Vanderbilt in or out?
When Vanderbilt lost at Alabama by 57 points on Jan. 31, Jerry Stackhouse joined his struggling team. He said he will make changes to the lineup if the 10-12 Commodores don’t start showing more effort and selflessness.
Vanderbilt responded by winning 10 of its last 12 games, including a pair of wins over Kentucky and wins over Mississippi State, Auburn and Tennessee. The Commodores (20-14) are the 30th best team in the country as of Feb. 1, according to Bart Torvik’s T-Score.
If the committee took the 68 teams playing the best basketball on Selection Sunday, Vanderbilt would be the winner. The problem is that the committee evaluates overall performance, meaning the Commodores’ early home losses to Grambling and Southern Miss will go against them, as will their No. 79 NET ranking and No. 80 KenPom ranking.
Vanderbilt’s 10-11 record in Quadrant 1-2 games compares favorably to other bubble teams, especially when you consider that seven of those wins came against opponents projected to make the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores’ trio of losses in quadrants 3 and 4, on the other hand, is the most of any bubble team other than Rutgers.
If the committee doesn’t disqualify Vanderbilt because of its terrible advanced metrics, Vanderbilt will have an outside shot at a top-four finish. But anyone who thinks the Commodores’ strong finish will definitely be enough needs to familiarize themselves with Texas A&M in 2022.