Four months worth of drama has finally led to this. Selection Sunday is here, and at 6 p.m. ET we'll know the makeup of the field for the 2014 NCAA tournament. Before we get there, though, we still have five conference tournaments to be decided and a number of questions to answer.
There are few questions as to which bubble teams will make it, given the way the picture cleared up over the past few days. Of the 10 teams in action on Sunday only one -- Saint Joseph's -- would have had reason to be nervous about getting an at-large bid, and the Hawks locked up the automatic bid from the Atlantic 10 by beating VCU (Georgia State, which lost to Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt final, will not receive an at-large). Meanwhile, potential bid thieves like N.C. State and Georgia lost yesterday, further clarifying the bubble situation.
Here are the five most pressing questions facing the selection committee on the final day before the brackets are revealed.
1. Who is the final No. 1 seed?
Florida (South, regardless of the outcome of today's SEC title game against Kentucky), Wichita State (Midwest) and Arizona (West, despite its loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game) have long since wrapped up No. 1 seeds. The top spot in the East, however, has been a revolving door ever since Syracuse began its slide in mid-February. At one point or another, Villanova, Kansas, Wisconsin and Duke all looked like front-runners but with the dust all but settled, it appears Michigan will end up there.
The Wolverines won the Big Ten regular season championship and will face Michigan State on Sunday for the conference tournament crown. Despite losing power forward Mitch McGary early in the season, last year's national runner-up has 10 top-50 wins and 15 over the top 100. Michigan is 11th in RPI and on KenPom and has played the ninth-hardest schedule in the nation. Some might say that if the Wolverines lose to the Spartans today, it could open the door for Villanova or the Virginia, which beat Duke in the ACC final, to move up to the top line, but Michigan's resume should have it as the final No. 1 seed, regardless of what happens on Sunday.
2. Who are the last four in and the first four out?
We obsess over these marginal teams every single year, even though chances are strong they will all be done playing basketball by the end of next weekend. This weekend, though, they represent one of the final sources of intrigue before the tournament begins.
Last four in
Dayton (23-10, RPI: 43, SOS: 67): The Flyers lost in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals to Saint Joseph's on Friday but avoided the bad loss that likely would have knocked them out of the field. They have four top-50 wins -- all over teams that will be in the Big Dance -- and 10 top-100 wins.
SMU (23-9, RPI: 52, SOS: 114): The Mustangs might now regret a non-conference strength of schedule that ranked 303rd in the country. They have four top-50 wins, but are also just 4-6 against the top 100. Their loss to Houston in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals will damage them, but not enough to keep them out of the dance. It does, however, push them into one of the First Four games in our up-to-the-minute bracket.
Tennessee (21-12, RPI: 41, SOS: 19): The Volunteers nearly locked themselves into the bracket on Saturday, but just barely fell to No. 1 Florida in the SEC semifinals. Still, with a number of bubble teams coming up short this week, Tennessee's resume should be enough to get it one of the last four spots. The Vols beat Virginia at home and Xavier on a neutral court and own seven top-100 wins.
BYU (23-11, RPI: 31, SOS: 25): The Cougars could have made their lives a lot easier earlier this week, but they lost in the West Coast Conference final to Gonzaga. They'll be without Kyle Collinsworth after he tore his ACL in that game, but that shouldn't cause the committee to keep them out of the field. BYU won at Stanford, beat Texas on a neutral court and owns three top-50 wins and eight top-100 victories. It ranks 49th on KenPom, better than teams like Massachusetts, Dayton, Saint Joseph's, Minnesota and Arkansas.
First four out
Minnesota (20-13, RPI: 47, SOS: 5): The Golden Gophers deserve a ton of credit for playing the fifth-toughest schedule in the country, but they didn't do enough against that schedule to earn an at-large bid. They went 2-8 against the top 50 and 6-11 against the top 100, while losing twice to teams outside the top 125.
Arkansas (21-11, RPI: 74, SOS: 89): The Razorbacks swept Kentucky this year, but they had just one more top-50 win and suffered three losses to teams with RPIs of 100 or worse. They just did not beat enough tournament-quality teams to warrant a bid over one of the teams above.
Florida State (19-13, RPI: 54, SOS: 31): The Seminoles have wins over three teams that will be in the field and just one truly bad loss, but they also lost 12 times to teams in the top 100. Their schedule gave them plenty of opportunities to play their way into the field, and they didn't take advantage.
California (19-13, RPI: 64, SOS: 32): The Golden Bears were a tough team to cut from the field thanks to their four top-50 wins, highlighted by a victory over then-No. 1 Arizona. However, they lost 11 games to top-50 teams, and all but one of those were by at least 11 points.
3. Where should the nation's hottest team, Louisville, slot in the field?
If you believe that peaking at the right moment portends good things to come, you'll probably want to pick Louisville to defend its national championship. The Cardinals cruised in the AAC championship game, beating Connecticut 71-61 in a game that wasn't anywhere near that close. They've won their last five games and 12 of their last 13, and have resembled the machine on both ends of the floor that won the title last year.
Louisville shared the AAC regular season championship with Cincinnati and won the conference tournament. So why are they not even a No. 2 seed? Two reasons. First, the Cardinals don't have one impressive win out of their conference. Their non-conference schedule ranked 163rd in the country, and the only two non-conference teams they played that will be in the dance, North Carolina and Kentucky, beat them.
Second, they have just six wins over teams that will be in the field of 68, and five of those were against Connecticut and SMU. In all, they've defeated three teams that will be in the tournament. They may not have a bad loss, but is that a resume that is truly superior to that of Wisconsin (eight top-50 wins, beat Virginia, Florida and Michigan), Kansas (12 top-50 wins), Villanova (six top-50 wins, 16 top-100 wins, beat Kansas) or Virginia (ACC regular season champion, 12 top-100 wins, beat Syracuse and North Carolina)? No.
4. Where have all the mid-majors gone?
The current SI.com field of 68 has exactly one mid-major team earning an at-large bid, and even that team, the BYU Cougars, is one of the last four in. It was just the beginning of this decade that Butler went to the national championship game in back-to-back seasons and was joined in that latter year by VCU. Now, their mid-major brethren could be all but shut out of at-large consideration this season. What happened?
Quite simply, conference realignment killed the traditional mid-major. The new look Big East -- which includes Creighton, Butler and Xavier -- and the brand new AAC absorbed many teams we used to consider mid-majors into what are now power conferences. The Atlantic 10, on the strength of Saint Louis and VCU, doesn't exactly pass the smell test as a mid-major either. Add those to the traditional power conferences, and there just isn't a ton of room for the mid-majors of 2013-14 to make the dance.
As it stands, Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and UW-Green Bay are the only true mid-majors alive for at-large bids. Those three teams have combined for exactly four top-50 wins while losing seven times to sub-100 teams. It's not that they don't have good enough resumes to beat teams in the SI.com bracket, but the committee would have trouble taking them over teams like Florida State, Minnesota, Arkansas, California and Missouri.
5. Most importantly, what will the bracket look like?