After a scintillating week that included what could be one of the final chapters of the Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry and another memorable finish in the Duke-North Carolina series, college basketball finds itself one month away from unveiling its 68-team NCAA tournament field.
Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, the freshman center who will celebrate a birthday on Selection Sunday, has provided the most indelible and significant images of the season, blocking 120 shots en route to putting himself in position to win every award of consequence and a national championship.
But before Davis, above, leads Kentucky into the tournament as one of the favorites, here are eight of the most pressing tournament-related questions to be answered over the next month, as teams across the nation try to impress the selection committee with attention-grabbing victories.
1 Which conference is ex- pected to earn the most tournament bids?
Eight or nine of the Big Ten’s 12 teams could rightfully find themselves in the field. The best and worst thing about playing in the Big Ten is that almost every game is against a quality opponent. Nine teams rank among the top 63 in the Ratings Percentage Index, a mathematical index used by NCAA tournament selection committee, so teams can rise or fall fast.
“I think it’s been by far the best nationally,” Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said.
2What’s the problem with the ACC?
The ACC lacks the depth that it has possessed in many seasons. If six teams reach the NCAA tournament, which may be a reach, the last two could find themselves in play-in games in Dayton, Ohio.
For teams not named Duke or North Carolina, there was a dearth of quality victories during nonconference play. Worse, the Blue Devils (20-4) and ultra-talented Tar Heels (20-4) are dealing with respective on-court issues, and erratic Florida State (16-7) went belly-up against lowly Boston College on Wednesday night.
3Which team is best in line for the fourth No. 1 seed?
The fourth could be decided by the three-way battle atop the Big 12 standings, where Kansas (19-5) is trying to fight off Baylor (21-3) and Missouri (22-2) to win at least a share of the league title for the eighth straight season. Something to watch: Either North Carolina or Duke has been a No. 1 seed in every NCAA tournament since 2003.
4Who’s the best in the west, and does it matter?
If you are looking at the Pacific-12, look away. For a power conference, the Pac-12 is historically bad, ranked as the nation’s 10th-best league in terms of conference RPI.
“Words like putrid come to mind,” said Jerry Palm, an analyst who projects the tournament field on his Web site, CollegeRPI.com. “It is unfathomable that a major conference could be [2-30] versus the RPI top 50,” as Pac-12 teams are this season.
Instead, look toward the West Coast Conference — Saint Mary’s is 22-3 — and the Mountain West — UNLV has beaten North Carolina and San Diego State is still thriving under the ageless Steve Fisher — for strong western teams.
5How high of a seed will Murray State earn?
The Racers’ RPI rose to No. 5 nationally in mid-December, but conference play soon began. Without another Ohio Valley team in the top 150 of the RPI, the Racers (23-1) saw their RPI drop even by winning.
Worse, they suffered their first loss of the season Thursday night, 72-68 to Tennessee State, giving doubters ammunition. Had they run the table, Palm said, Murray State could have earned as high as a No. 3 seed. Now, even with quality victories over Southern Mississippi (20-4) and Memphis (17-7) on their résumé, the Racers may be hard-pressed to receive even a No. 7 seed.
6Could another Colonial Athletic Association team reach the Final Four?
Considering the CAA saw two teams — George Mason in 2006, Virginia Commonwealth in 2011 — reach the Final Four the past six years, don’t count anything out.
But one season after seeing three CAA teams reach the NCAA tournament, only one — the winner of the league tournament — is expected to earn a berth this season. And the team that claims that berth — VCU, George Mason and Drexel lead the conference — is unlikely to earn higher than a No. 13 seed.
7 What other mid-major schools could win a game as double-digit seeds?
Long Beach State’s 18-6 record is misleading because Coach Dan Monson’s team played the nation’s strongest nonconference schedule and is likely to be rewarded with a No. 13 seed. Others to watch: Davidson (19-5) is always well coached and has beaten Kansas in Kansas City, Mo., this season; Middle Tennessee State (22-4) beat Mississippi on a neutral court; and Iona (19-5) has won 13 games away from home.
8Is Harvard for real?
Coach Tommy Amaker’s team is poised to do some damage in the NCAA tournament, which the Crimson hasn’t reached since 1946.
Harvard (20-2) has beaten a Florida State team that beat North Carolina and Duke. If the Crimson does not lose again, Palm said, the chances of it receiving a single-digit seed are “extremely good.”