If there is a defining story line in college basketball this season, it is the absence of dominant teams.

Which is not to say there aren’t any good teams. Quite the contrary. Plenty of programs have demonstrated staying power over the last two months. Some are the usual suspects (Duke, Kansas, Michigan State). Some are surprising to varying degrees (Butler, San Diego State and arguably West Virginia, among others).

Regardless of expectations from team to team, the season feels like a jumble. Weird things have happened, and it’s a good bet college basketball will remain topsy-turvy for the rest of the regular season.

On top of this season’s unpredictability there are the annual January potholes: Most teams aren’t deep into conference play, and some are bound to be exposed as NIT-worthy (if that) despite gaudy records compiled in November and December.

It all makes trying to size up a field of 68 for the NCAA tournament a more challenging task than usual. The presence of 11 Big Ten teams in the field probably won’t hold; everyone in the league still has 17 games to beat up on each other. The presence of Duke as a top seed probably will; the Blue Devils have wound up there 12 of the last 22 years, including last season.

As for everything in between? It’s all in flux, with plenty still to be determined in the nearly 10 weeks between now and March 15.

Field notes

Last four in the field: N.C. State, Washington, Purdue, Illinois

First four on the outside: Oklahoma, Georgetown, Virginia Tech, Minnesota

Next four on the outside: Richmond, St. John’s, Oklahoma State, Utah State

Conference call: Big Ten (11), Big East (6), SEC (6), ACC (5), Pac-12 (5), Big 12 (4), AAC (3), West Coast (3), Atlantic 10 (2)

Bracket projection

East vs. West, Midwest vs. South

East Region

Greensboro, N.C.

(1) ACC/Duke vs. (16) winner of MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/Morgan State vs. NORTHEAST/Robert Morris

(8) Marquette vs. (9) Stanford

Albany, N.Y.

(5) Penn State vs. (12) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin

(4) ATLANTIC 10/Dayton vs. (13) AMERICA EAST/Vermont

Greensboro, N.C.

(3) Maryland vs. (14) MISSOURI VALLEY/Loyola Chicago

(6) Villanova vs. (11) Houston

St. Louis

(7) Arkansas vs. (10) Saint Mary’s

(2) Baylor vs. (15) SUMMIT/North Dakota State

The Stephen F. Austin misstep aside, it sure looks like Duke is on its way to another No. 1 seed. … No attempt was made to put Marquette (and Coach K acolyte Steve Wojciechowski) in the same subregional as Duke. It’s how the bracket came together. But if it somehow worked out that way in real life in March, it’s safe bet some very dumb people will assume it was an NCAA conspiracy to goose TV ratings. …

The eyes do not deceive: That is Penn State as a No. 5 seed. That would match the Nittany Lions’ highest seeding ever, set in 1996. … It’s a little early to forecast Stephen F. Austin’s seeding ceiling. But considering it has only two non-Quadrant 4 games left on its schedule, the Lumberjacks aren’t a great bet to jump much higher even if they control the Southland. …

Maryland heading back to ACC country to play in Greensboro just feels right. … Perhaps Villanova is a little low. But there’s a glut of Big East teams between the No. 6 and No. 9 lines for now, and that figures to sort itself out before long. …

The loss at surprising Pacific didn’t help Saint Mary’s, which at least won’t face nonconference strength of schedule concerns this year. At No. 181, the Gaels are right about in the middle nationally in that category. … Baylor’s set of victories (Arizona, Butler, Villanova) provide a fine base to build upon on Big 12 play.

West Region

Spokane, Wash.

(1) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (16) SUN BELT/Arkansas-Little Rock

(8) Virginia vs. (9) Florida


(5) Michigan vs. (12) MID-AMERICAN/Akron

(4) PAC-12/Arizona vs. (13) SOUTHERN/Furman

Albany, N.Y.

(3) West Virginia vs. (14) BIG SKY/Northern Colorado

(6) Creighton vs. (11) Illinois-N.C. State winner


(7) Wisconsin vs. (10) BYU

(2) SEC/Auburn vs. (15) PATRIOT/Colgate

Gonzaga isn’t the host institution for the Spokane subregional (Idaho is) and it won’t play in the Spokane Arena all season. As a result, it is eligible to play a mere 1.6 miles from its regular home arena in the NCAA tournament. … Virginia doesn’t have an overwhelming profile, but it belongs in the field. Defense is likely to lift the Cavaliers to a better seeding over the next two months. …

Michigan has dropped four of its last seven, but its overall profile still warrants a No. 4 or No. 5 seed. … A lack of high-end victories caps Arizona’s ceiling for now, but it has plenty of opportunities on the horizon, including Thursday’s trip to Oregon. …

West Virginia’s best victories have come on neutral courts (Ohio State and Wichita State) and it has no losses outside of Quadrant 1. That’s a good start to a profile with two months and change to go. … N.C. State’s nonconference strength of schedule sits at No. 51. Looks like the Wolfpack learned its lesson from last year. …

Wisconsin’s metrics across the board are strong. Of course, winning at Ohio State on Friday helps out the Badgers as well. … Auburn has yet to land a Quadrant 1 victory, which is the difference between a No. 1 and No. 2 seed for now.

Midwest Region


(1) BIG 12/Kansas vs. (16) winner of SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC/Prairie View A&M-BIG SOUTH/Winthrop

(8) Iowa vs. (9) LSU


(5) Louisville vs. (12) Purdue-Washington winner

(4) AAC/Wichita State vs. (13) CONFERENCE USA/Louisiana Tech


(3) Ohio State vs. (14) HORIZON/Wright State

(6) Seton Hall vs. (11) ATLANTIC SUN/Liberty


(7) Colorado vs. (10) Georgia

(2) MOUNTAIN WEST/San Diego State vs. (15) BIG WEST/UC Irvine

Kansas has two losses (one to Duke, the other to Villanova) but has otherwise rolled along nicely with one of the country’s best defenses. … Iowa will be will be without injured guard Jordan Bohannon the rest of the season, but the superb Luka Garza in the post could be enough to haul the Hawkeyes into the postseason anyway.

For all of Purdue’s strong peripheral numbers, it still lost to Nebraska — a veritable cardinal sin in the Big Ten this season. The Boilermakers also are coming off an ugly 37-point showing at Illinois. … Wichita State has a decent assortment of victories (VCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Mississippi), and it might have a little wiggle room in the AAC, where 11 of the 12 teams were in the top 130 of the NCAA’s NET rankings entering Tuesday’s games. …

Ohio State in Cleveland ranks among the most likely team-and-site pairings, right up there with Duke in Greensboro and Gonzaga in Spokane. … Liberty is the best bet to be this year’s Wofford, a team from a traditional one-bid league capable of earning a No. 7 or No. 8 seed if it dominates its league. …

That weekend victory over Memphis gets Georgia on the board. The Bulldogs’ appearance at the moment is a testament both to a solid job by Tom Crean and how much a single game can resonate at this stage. … San Diego State is the top-ranked team in the NET entering Monday’s play.

South Region


(1) BIG TEN/Michigan State vs. (16) OHIO VALLEY/Austin Peay

(8) Virginia Commonwealth vs. (9) Xavier


(5) Kentucky vs. (12) IVY/Yale

(4) Florida State vs. (13) COLONIAL/College of Charleston

Spokane, Wash.

(3) Oregon vs. (14) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State

(6) Texas Tech vs. (11) Rutgers

St. Louis

(7) Memphis vs. (10) Indiana

(2) BIG EAST/Butler vs. (15) METRO ATLANTIC/Rider

Michigan State seemed wobbly during its 5-3 start. The Spartans have since won seven in a row and are as good a bet as anyone in the Big Ten to achieve some separation. … VCU hasn’t done anything particularly bad, and as long as that remains the case, the Rams will safely remain in the field. …

Yale won at Clemson and nearly won at North Carolina and Penn State. No one will be pleased to see the Bulldogs in the round of 64, assuming they win the Ivy. … After winning at Louisville over the weekend, there’s a case to be made Florida State is the ACC’s second-best team. Leonard Hamilton’s formula of a cast of thousands continues to pay dividends. …

Though it feels like Oregon and New Mexico State have been paired together in the round of 64 recently, they haven’t met in the NCAA tournament since 1960. … Whether it lasts or not, the mere presence of Rutgers is the field in early January is testament to the job Steve Pikiell’s done in Piscataway. …

Could argue Memphis a line higher if you’d like, though it would be easier to do so without the home loss to Georgia. … Butler’s rediscovery of its defensive mojo has helped turn things around in a hurry after going 16-17 last season.

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