So this is the way it goes: The NCAA basketball committee had its early bracket reveal Saturday afternoon, and named the top 16 seeds, if the tournament were starting now. By 10 o’clock that night, four of the 16 teams on the list had lost. The final lap to Selection Sunday might still be a little . . . fluid.
But while we’re in the list-making mode, here are few more early reveal groups that could be part of the landscape come March.
Six teams that received not a single vote in the pre-season Associated Press or coaches’ rankings, but have proven since they could make noise in March . . .
Oklahoma. This might put it into context: During the same 22 days that Michigan had to pause without a game, Oklahoma defeated four top-15 opponents, Saturday’s two-overtimer over West Virginia the latest. Three of the 10 highest scoring individual performances in the Big 12 this season have been delivered by three different Sooners, all of whom scored 29 points or more.
USC. The Trojans are 17-3 for the first time in 29 years, and that includes a 6-1 record on the road in the Pac-12. Their 12.1 scoring differential is their highest in 50 years, their field goal percentage defense is fourth best in the nation and they’ve outscored opponents in the paint 692-476.
Virginia Tech. The 14-4 Hokies are on two-week virus pause now, but this is the team that beat Villanova and Virginia, scoring 65 points against the Cavaliers, which is like scoring 80 against a lot of other teams. Forward Keve Aluma might have averaged only 6.9 points a game as a Wofford sophomore, but big things have happened since he followed his coach Mike Young to Virginia Tech. Aluma has been one of the nation’s highest-impact transfers, scoring 29 against Virginia, 23 against Villanova, and going for 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against Pittsburgh.
Missouri. Picked to finish 10th in the SEC, the 13-5 Tigers have hit a bit of a recent lull, but they still own top-10 victories over Illinois, Tennessee and Alabama, and are a poster team for the value of experience. Every player in their rotation is at least 21 years old, except for guard Xavier Pinson, and he’s 20.
Colorado. The Buffs stumbled at California Saturday, but they’re 16-6 and the team least likely to blow late leads at the free throw line. They lead the nation in free throw shooting, with seven of their top eight scorers making at least 81 percent.
Minnesota. Ten Big 10 teams received preseason votes. The Gophers weren’t one of them. But consider this: Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa are a combined 46-11 and Minnesota beat them all, the first two by 18 and 17 points. Problem is, the 13-8 Gophers are not so mean on the road.
Three past March Cinderella stories planning a possible revival tour.
UMBC. No matter what, the Retrievers will always have 2018, when they flattened Virginia by 20 points and stormed into the history book as the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1. Now they’re 13-4, have the nation’s 10th best field goal percentage defense, and face a two-game showdown this week with Vermont for control of the America East. With unusual as the NCAA tournament motif this year, how could there not be a place for UMBC guard Darnell Rogers? All 5-foot-2 of him.
Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers were ranked No. 22 last week, and not even the 2018 Final Four darlings could say that — nor any other Loyola team since 1985. Their 11-game winning streak ended Sunday with a 51-50 overtime loss at Drake, the day after they blew away the Bulldogs 81-54, but they’re still 18-4 and atop the Missouri Valley Conference, while leading the nation by allowing only 55.9 points a game. And Sister Jean is going strong at the age of 101. Imagine her in the NCAA tournament bubble.
UAB. Until they tripped over the two-game set at Louisiana Tech over the weekend, the Blazers were rolling along at 16-2. That matched their best start in school history, but now they’ll have to recover from the lost weekend in Louisiana. It was six years ago that UAB limped into the Conference USA tournament with a 16-15 record, swept through the field, then stunned No. 3 seed Iowa State in the NCAA tournament. The glow it caused in the fan base helped drive the rebirth of the football program.
Three years almost certain to get mentioned a lot in March . . .
1976: Possibly for lots of reasons. If Gonzaga or Baylor is still unbeaten, 1976 is the last perfect season, with Indiana. If they’re both unbeaten, that’s the last time two teams were in the tournament bracket without a loss, and the only time in history both ended up in the Final Four; Indiana and Rutgers. While we’re at it, it’s the last time there was an NCAA tournament without Kentucky, Duke or Michigan State.
2000: The early reveal put Big Ten teams Michigan and Ohio State as No. 1 seeds. Illinois at a No. 2 and Iowa at a No. 4. Think it might be noted once or twice how a Big Ten team has not won the national championship since 2000? And that Final Four was played in Indianapolis, too?
1950: Baylor’s last appearance in the Final Four. So long ago there really wasn’t a Final Four, with the national semifinals played 1100 miles apart in New York and Kansas City.
Two teams with the best chance to get their first NCAA tournament bid . . .
Grand Canyon. The on-pause Antelopes haven’t played yet this month, but when last seen, they were 12-3 with an eight-game winning streak and atop the WAC. Percentage-wise, only Houston has been tougher to shoot against nationally. Grand Canyon would be the third school Bryce Drew coached into the tournament, to go with Valparaiso and Vanderbilt. And he’s only 46.
South Dakota. Maybe it depends on which phase of the moon you catch the Coyotes. They started 1-6, then won 10 consecutive games, and now have lost three in a row. They’re in a four-team race for the summit of the Summit League.
Four seniors who really deserve the chance to finally play in an NCAA tournament.
Texas’ Andrew Jones. When the Longhorns went to the tournament in 2018, Jones was getting outpatient treatment for leukemia at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. So yeah, the basketball gods owe him one. And he’s earning it, averaging 19.3 points for Texas in Big 12 games, second best in the league. His 3-pointer beat West Virginia with 1.8 seconds left.
Austin Peay’s Terry Taylor: This is what you call paying your dues. He’s started all 121 Governors’ games since he arrived on campus, is the nation’s active leader with 58 career double doubles, and also is No. 1 in rebounds and second in points. He’s the only player in country in the top-10 this season in scoring and rebound average, doing that at 6-5. “They don’t have an answer for him. All I have to do is keep dialing up plays for him,” coach Matt Figger said. One problem: Among the four teams ahead of Austin Peay in the Ohio Valley Conference is 22-1 Belmont, so the Governors will need to spring a few upsets in the league tournament.
Richmond’s Jacob Gilyard: He’s a noted thief. Gilyard has 42 more career steals than anyone in the country, and has been an assist machine, too. His performance when the Spiders upset Kentucky was fairly typical; six assists — more than the entire Kentucky team — and five steals. One of those thieving hands has Roman’s Army tattooed on the wrist, to honor his brother, who has autism. Larceny runs in the family. Father Rodney was the career leader in steals and assists Ottawa University in Kansas. Richmond was ranked as high as 19th early, but hit a tough patch and is now 11-4 and in fifth in the Atlantic 10.
Winthrop’s Chandler Vaudrin. Between his days at Division II Walsh and Winthrop, the 6-7 Vaudrin has seven triple-doubles. Nobody else in the nation has more than two. He is the only Division I player with two triples this season, and since Withrop is 18-1, would seem to have a good shot of taking his do-everything ways into March. By the way, Murray State’s Ja Morant owns the only triple double in the NCAA tournament in the past eight years.
Seven truly impressive numbers for March, if they’re still going by then.
Baylor has led by double digits in every game this season, and trailed for less than 47 out of 680 minutes.
Gonzaga averages 51.5 points a game — just in the paint. No wonder nobody stops the Zags. Virginia has allowed its ACC opponents only 57.5 points a game. When they Cavaliers played Gonzaga, they gave up . . . 98.
The presumption was the loaded Big Ten had so many dangerous teams, they'd just bloody one another all season. And they have — except for Michigan, who is 14-1. The Wolverines outscored Wisconsin 40-20 in the second half in Madison Sunday, so never mind the idea they might not be in condition after a 22-day pause. One reason for all this: Michigan has nine seniors on the roster. Nothing much fazes them.
Ohio State has won four road games in a row against top-15 teams, and six in a row against the top-10 going back to 2019.
Florida State tied a national record over the weekend by winning its 11th consecutive overtime game.
Know who has a nifty 100-22 record the past four years, third in the nation behind only Gonzaga and Virginia? Houston. Since scheduling is a high wire act for everyone this season, the 17-2 Cougars — who lead the nation in field goal percentage defense at 36.5. — will be granted special dispensation for the fact their last home game was against Our Lady of the Lake. In that one, which ended 112-46, they had 17 steals and gave up 15 baskets.
Iowa has handed out 415 assists, but committed only 197 turnovers. More than 64 percent of Hawkeye baskets have come with an assist.
The one team whose high NET ranking might not save it on Selection Sunday . . .
Colgate. The Raiders have only played 10 games, working around COVID, but they’re 9-1 and No. 11 in the latest NET rankings — ahead of such names as Tennessee, Villanova, Texas Tech, USC, West Virginia and Oklahoma. How? Only the metric gurus know. But if Colgate doesn’t win the Patriot League, the Raiders probably shouldn’t pack for Indianapolis.