College basketball is coming down to the home stretch, as we have entered ESPN’s Rivalry Week. These upcoming games are some of the final opportunities for teams to ascend to the No. 1 seed line, or slide down to the No. 2 or No. 3 range, and for others to clinch their spot in the Big Dance or to fall out completely. All in all, this week is one of the most important of the season. And on that note, let’s take a look at where teams stand as of now, and where they could possibly end up.
No. 1 Seeds: Kansas (27-3, 15-2) has looked like one of the best teams all year, mainly because of Frank Mason who is the leading candidate for the Wooden Award, as he is averaging 20.2 points and 4.9 assists per game. The Jayhawks have already clinched the Big 12 title outright and will likely end up a No. 1 seed even if they lose somewhere before Selection Sunday. Villanova (27-3, 14-3), the defending champions, were on a tear until their slip-up against Butler last week. However, because of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, and Co., the Wildcats are still one of the four best in the nation. UCLA (26-3, 13-3) has been up-and-down after their hot start but a recent sweep of the Arizona schools, plus victories over Kentucky, Michigan, and Oregon, are enough to put them on the top line as long as they don’t lose another game. North Carolina (25-6, 13-4) is on thin ice because of their Monday night loss at Virginia, but the Tar Heels are still the best team in the best conference. If Justin Jackson continues scorching, putting in 18.8 points per game, and North Carolina wins the ACC Tournament, they’ll be on the top spot in the South Region.
Last 4 In: Syracuse (17-13, 9-8) has been on the bubble for the entirety of the season because of losses against Georgetown, St. John’s, and UCONN, but victories over Florida State, Virginia, and Duke have kept them afloat. If they beat Georgia Tech at home this Saturday, they should be in no matter what. Xavier (18-12, 8-9) began the season in the AP Top 25 ,but Edmond Sumner’s injury and transfers have caused a six-game losing streak over the last month. For now, they’re in, but a loss at DePaul this weekend will likely push them to the outside. Michigan State (18-12, 10-7) seemed to have fixed things following an 86-57 loss at rival Michigan, winning four of their next five, but Wednesday night’s loss at Illinois puts them squarely on the bubble again. A victory at Maryland on Saturday, or a run to the Big Ten semi-finals should secure a spot. The last team likely to be in is Rhode Island (20-9, 12-5) who has come on strong with four-straight wins, including a 69-59 defeat of VCU. Their home game against Davidson this weekend is a must win, though.
First 4 Out: Vanderbilt (16-14, 9-8) is viewed so favorably because of their difficult schedule which included losses to Butler, Minnesota, and Dayton, but victories over Iowa State, Florida, Arkansas, and South Carolina. Tuesday night’s loss at Kentucky, in which the Commodores held a 19-point lead, would have put them into the tournament field. However, it’s just another good loss. An upset over Florida on Senior Night or two wins in the SEC Tournament will hoist them into March Madness. Kansas State (18-12, 7-10) was sitting pretty at 12-2 but because of a late slide, they’ll need to get to at least 20 wins to have a chance. Utah (18-10, 9-7) absolutely has to defeat fellow bubble team, California, on Thursday night. The winner is probably in, while the loser will have some ground to gain. BYU (21-10, 12-6) is back on the edge of the bubble because of their takedown of undefeated Gonzaga, but it’s not quite enough to lift them all the way into the field of 68 just yet. For a shot at returning to the NCAA Tournament, after missing it last season, Dave Rose’s crew must defeat Loyola Marymount AND Saint Mary’s, and maybe even Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament championship game.