We’re deep in the home stretch now. Selection Sunday 2019 is 48 hours away — stream it on March Madness Live at 6 p.m. Eastern or watch on CBS — there is plenty of basketball left to play and even more questions to answer.
Here are three of the biggest we’re waiting to see answered this weekend.
Who will be No. 1?
NCAA.com’s Andy Katz spoke to selection committee chair Bernard Muir Thursday (watch the whole interview above) to get insight into where the field of 68 stands right now. Muir revealed that there were seven teams in consideration for 1 seeds in the tournament.
Who are they? We can take a pretty good guess at six: Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. The other one? Probably Michigan State.
In the ACC, Virginia is a strong candidate for a top seed. The Cavaliers only have two losses on the season, both to Duke. As the top seed in the ACC, they could potentially meet the Blue Devils a third time in the conference tournament championship. But a loss in the championship or semifinals of the tournament probably would not knock the Cavaliers off the top line.
As for Duke and North Carolina, a potential third meeting looms Friday night in the ACC tournament semifinals. That game will likely be a make-or-break moment for both teams, with the winner having a great chance at getting the ACC a second 1 seed (depending on what happens in the SEC and Big Ten).
Over in the West Coast, Gonzaga played one of their worst games all season Tuesday, when they lost 60-47 to Saint Mary’s in the WCC final. The Bulldogs averaged 88.8 points per game this year — most in the country — and had only scored under 70 twice this season, both of which were still wins. The Zags were in line for the top overall seed if they had won the WCC, but now, their resume is a bit more questionable. Yes, they won games by an average of 23.7 points this season (an unreal number), but they’re 1-2 against ranked teams.
In the SEC, Kentucky and Tennessee finished as the 2 and 3 seeds, so — assuming they win their quarterfinal matchups Friday — they’ll face off for a third time on Saturday. The Wildcats thrashed the Volunteers in the first meeting, but Tennessee got revenge in a big way in the rematch. The potential rubber match in the semifinals will have huge implications for who can snag a 1 seed, but it’ll take an SEC tournament championship to really cement a spot on the top line for either team.
Finally, the Big Ten is Michigan State’s to lose. The Spartans earned the 1 seed in the conference tournament after completing the season sweep of Michigan. The Spartans are currently No. 8 in the NET rankings, behind all other teams mentioned above, so even if they win the Big Ten, they’ll likely need some things to fall their way in the ACC and SEC to crack that top line.
What does Zion's return mean for Duke?
Before freshman phenom Zion Williamson went down with an injury against North Carolina in February, Duke was 23-2 on the season. In the six games without him, they went 3-3. Granted, all three of those losses came to ranked opponents (two to North Carolina, who is also in the discussion for a 1 seed). But the Blue Devils also needed a last-second shot not to fall in order to survive a bad Wake Forest team 71-70 at home.
Thursday, the school announced that Zion would be back for Duke’s first ACC tournament game, against Syracuse that night.
And yeah, it went pretty well. Zion was 9-for-9 for 21 points in the first half, and finished 13-for-13 for 29 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 steals. It may shock you to hear he had a couple dunks as well.
ZION. BACK! 💪pic.twitter.com/SRNtqjYfjL— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 15, 2019
Duke won the game 84-72, but they face a huge test Friday night against a North Carolina team that has beaten them twice this year. Both of those losses were sans-Zion, so the question still lingers: Was this late-season slump solely a result of Zion’s absence, or a sign of bigger problems with the Blue Devils?
Who'll get an at-large bid?
In his interview with Katz, Muir said that 28 of the 36 at-large bids were tentatively set. That leaves a lot of teams holding their breath.
Katz’s latest full field prediction had five teams right on the top of the bubble: Clemson, Georgetown, Alabama, Creighton, and Belmont. Let’s take a quick look at each.
Clemson: The Tigers dropped another heartbreaker (a theme of the season) to NC State in the ACC tournament. That leaves them at 19-13 on the year, and certainly doesn’t help their chances.
Georgetown: The Hoyas entered the Big East tournament in need of one or two more quality wins to really improve their chances of an at-large bid. And then they lost their opening game, putting them at 19-13 on the year. They've picked up some pretty impressive wins in the past month (against Villanova and Marquette), but sit fairly low at No. 78 in the NET.
Alabama: Alabama took down Ole Miss in its first game of the SEC tournament to set up a showdown with 2-seed Kentucky in the quarterfinals Friday. At 18-14 on the year, the Tide can't really afford a loss there, but a win against a team being considered for a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament would go a long, long way in getting Alabama into the field.
Creighton: Creighton finished the regular season on a 5-game winning streak, which included an upset of No. 10 Marquette on the road. But then the Blue Jays lost their Big East tournament opener to Xavier, leaving them at 18-14 on the year. That's going to make an at-large bid a bit tougher.
Belmont: The Bruins finished 26-5 and in first place in the OVC, but lost to Murray State in the OVC title game. That means the automatic bid is out, but Belmont still has a fairly good shot, as it sits at No. 46 in the NET rankings.