On March 13, the greatest three weeks of college basketball tips off in Dayton, Ohio. The field of 68 is starting to take shape as the regular season starts to wind down.
And with a month to play, here are some early takes when it comes to building the imperfect bracket.
It seems like an annual thing that the ACC is the strongest conference in the nation. Virginia sits No. 1 in the AP poll, with just two losses to its name. A look at the numbers may be slightly confusing. The Cavaliers are ranked 298th in the nation in points per game in the nation. At 68 ppg, the offense is not going to kill you. But when you allow just 52.8 points on average, suffocation leads to the defeat. Come March, the lack of offense could be their undoing. Last year, they scored 39 points in a loss to Florida in the second round.
Behind Virginia sits Clemson, Duke and North Carolina. The latter two teams have a history of success in March, and the Tigers a trio of home wins against ranked teams.
Another strong conference top to bottom is the SEC. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has eight teams from the conference making the big dance right now.
Auburn sits two games clear in the conference standings. Bryce Brown and Mustapha Heron lead the team, both averaging over 16 ppg. The Tigers score at a high rate, eighth in the nation with 85 on average.
Tennessee and Texas A&M are the other teams that sit in the AP Top 25. The Aggies clean up the glass with 41.8 rebounds per game. They had a stretch of seven losses out of nine, but have rebounded with a pair of ranked wins, including at Auburn.
Trae Young is the biggest star in college basketball this year. The freshman is averaging 29.5 points and 9.4 assists per game for Oklahoma. In turn, the Sooners have the top offense in the nation. That has not led to wins for Oklahoma, who have just four wins in their last 11.
Texas Tech leads the conference after tearing off six straight wins. They still get to host Oklahoma, Kansas down the stretch. Win out, and the Red Raiders could be a real player in March.
The best pair of teams from a single conference comes from the Big East. In the AP poll, Villanova and Xavier sit No. 3 and No. 4.
The Wildcats won their home game in the series earlier this year. Heading into the rematch, ‘Nova has gotten slightly beaten up in the stretch injury-wise, and that opens the door for Xavier on Saturday. Winner holds the keys to not just a Big East title, but a No. 1 seed in the tournament.
For a Power 5 conference, the Big 10 is pretty dull. Purdue is sitting pretty, along with Ohio State near the top of the AP polls, and Michigan State is making moves up the ladder. Michigan is the only other team from the conference that cracks Lunardi’s projected field.
Penn State is the only other team in the conference with single-digit losses so far this season. It has not been a good campaign for the conference, and unless something drastic happens, they will enter the tournament with the fewest bids by a large conference.
The West Coast Conference will go down the wire between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. The Bulldogs will travel to BYU on the final day of the season, and a loss there could be the difference.
Rhode Island is the outsider to worry about, the Rams are perfect in the Atlantic 10. A balanced attack and defense could allow them to crash some brackets in March.
Cincinnati, Houston and Wichita State out of the American look set to continue the conference’s impressive performances in the tournament this year.
A Lob City update, Florida Gulf Coast is 11-0 in the Atlantic Sun and look set to crash the tourney once again.
Mike Daum is still scoring points, and Davis Jenkins Jr. and Reed Tellinghuisen are giving him some support. South Dakota State could notch a win for the Summit League if they make it through the conference tourney.