On Sunday, fans, analysts, players and coaches will finally have their questions answered.
The NCAA Basketball Championship Selection Show, which gets underway at 5:30 p.m. ET on CBS immediately following the Big Ten conference tournament championship, will reveal the 68-team bracket. The stage will be set for March Madness.
But, until then, all we can do is speculate.
CBS Local Sports caught up with CBS Sports’ bracketologist-in-residence, Jerry Palm, to get some more insight into the potential field.
CBS Local Sports: First, let’s go through a couple of bubble teams and discuss whether you think they’re in or out as of today and why. Let’s start with Wake Forest, you think they’re in or out?
Jerry Palm: I think probably in. They’re in danger of having their bid stolen by teams that are still playing, since obviously they’re done after the loss to Virginia Tech. But I think if it were today, they’d be in.
CBS Local Sports: Syracuse. Any prayer?
Palm: Not really. They have way too many negatives. They have the nice wins at home, of course, but their problem is that anything they did of any value at all they did at home, and that’s not what this tournament is about. There’s really never been a team with Syracuse’s resume taken before, and there’s no reason they will be now.
CBS Local Sports: Vanderbilt. In or out?
Palm: Vanderbilt… out for now, but because they’re still playing they have a chance. They’re a unique team in the sense that there’s never been a 15-loss at-large team and Vanderbilt is trying to be the first. They have some nice wins, but they’re just 17-14, so they’re going to have to win a couple of games at least to really give themselves much of a chance.
CBS Local Sports: How about Xavier?
Palm: Xavier I think is ok. They struggled and had that six-game losing streak, which was kind of a perfect storm for them because it was the toughest part of their schedule and they were playing without their point guard, who’s out for the year. And their best player, Trevon Bluiett, missed a couple of those games too. But they’ve picked it back up, they played a strong schedule. They built themselves a cushion before that, and that cushion is probably going to save them.
CBS Local Sports: Illinois?
Palm: Out for now. They still have a chance… Illinois has some nice wins, not great wins, the sweep of Northwestern [is] probably their best. They’ve got to beat Michigan Thursday for sure, then take their chances against Purdue. If they lose to Purdue, I’d say probably out, but it’s not entirely definite they’d be out.
CBS Local Sports: And finally, Michigan State?
Palm: Michigan State’s another interesting team. Hasn’t been good away from home — not Syracuse bad — but still not that great. They lost two in a row on the road to end the season. They have Penn State Thursday, and that would not be a good loss for them. Not because Penn State is that bad, but because they’re not a tournament team and Michigan State really needs to beat the teams that are not tournament contenders at this point. If they can do that, I think they’ll be ok. But if they lose to Penn State, then there’s certainly some doubt about them.
CBS Local Sports: On the topic of a Michigan State-type team, once a team with that pedigree gets into the tournament, how heavily do you weight their past success?
Palm: Zero. I only worry about this year’s team. Last year’s team is not playing in this year’s tournament. You know, the fact that coach Izzo has been successful in the tournament, and generally late in seasons is something that they’re known for, but this team really hasn’t been like that. So I wouldn’t too much weight on what happened in the past.
Although there are some teams — it’s not universal — but a team like Wichita State, for example, they’re the kind of team that plays with an edge and has made the kind of run before from the bottom half of the bracket and has played reasonably well this year, even though they didn’t have a great tournament resume, per se. They’ve been winning by big margins, so they seem to be better than most of their schedule. So a team like that, with their past success from the position that they’ve been in, and the fact that this year’s team kind of looks like one of those teams, would give me a little bit more to think about.
CBS Local Sports: Which mid-major team will you be keeping an eye on once the tournament gets underway?
Palm: Well, we just talked about one, Wichita State. Another would probably be Middle Tennessee, which pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history last year when they beat Michigan State. I sat there and watched that game and could not believe my eyes for two and a half hours.
This year, they’re the champions of Conference USA regular season, and they’re just getting started in the tournament today. Might be an at-large even if they lose in their conference tournament, and they’re probably the only mid-major team that could say they have that kind of a chance. But that’s a team that… they won at Ole Miss in the regular season. They beat Vanderbilt by 25 points at home, so that’s got to be a pretty good team if they’re able to do that. Nobody’s going to overlook them because of what they did last year, but they’re still a pretty dangerous team.
CBS Local Sports: Which bubble team do you think might be able to do the most damage if they sneak in?
Palm: I’m going to go with Vanderbilt because I like the way they’re playing at the end of the season to even give themselves a chance to get selected. I guess I would throw Wake Forest in that mix too. Those two teams really had to do something strong at the end of the season. Wake’s probably going to get in because of it, Vanderbilt still has some work to do. But those are pretty talented teams. And in Wake Forest’s case they have an NBA-level player, and that really helps. Those two teams are the closest to the bottom of the cut line [and] could do some damage.
CBS Local Sports: At the end of the day, who do you like to win it all?
Palm: Can I see the bracket first? Oh no, guess I can’t. Let’s see… I guess I will pick North Carolina. But here’s college basketball in a nutshell for you this year. If you took the top eight teams — whatever eight teams you think are the top eight teams — and played [at] a neutral site with those eight teams, and you played it eight times, you’d get eight different winners… or at least you could.
That’s because there is no dominant favorite, or clear-cut number one. There are two or three teams as a group that are clear-cut favorites this year, and it’s going to make for an interesting tournament.
CBS Local Sports: What advice do you have for people filling out their brackets after Selection Sunday?
Palm: I like teams that have been there before, especially for smaller conference teams when trying to pick an upset. And then at the top of the bracket — in terms of picking winners — it’s usually about talent. Usually the most talented teams are going to show up at the Final Four. It’s a players’ tournament.
The coaches sort of dominate the regular season, but then the players dominate the tournament. So you look for guys who are probably going to be playing at the next level. High-quality players, All American-level players, NBA-level players: those are the guys who usually show up in the Final Four.