WITH JUST 11 days until Selection Sunday, it is that time of year for speculation to get ramped up about who's in, who's out and why. The why is the biggest guess because the NCAA Tournament selection committee does not stay the same. Even holdovers often change their views on how to judge teams.
There are the objective observers who just look at schedules, wins, losses, road wins, Top 25 wins, RPI, etc. Then there are subjective observers who watch teams develop over time and try to project how they would do against likely teams in the field.
I used to be in the former category. Over time, I have fallen hard into the latter. I do not think you can judge teams solely on paper.
A bad loss or a good win in November might have nothing to do with a team's capability in March. Teams evolve. Players get better. They get worse. Teams bind. Teams fall apart.
The entire body of work absolutely matters, but context needs to be applied. Eventually, the committee will emerge with its 68-team field. Complaints will be registered. And then 67 games will be played.
Who can forget last year? Really, what was VCU doing in that field?
This will be the second year of the "First Four," with two games in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday as the field is pared down to 64 for what they are now calling second-round games on March 15-16.
Two of the games will match what are considered the four weakest teams in the draw. The other two will match the final four at-large teams selected. Last year, of course, VCU, one of those final at-large teams, went from the First Four to the Final Four.
Two of the No. 1 seeds are set in stone. Syracuse is going to be the No. 1 seed in the East, which means it will start in Pittsburgh and, if it wins two games, continue on to Boston. Kentucky, the No. 1 seed in the South, will start in Louisville and then continue on to Atlanta.
So the two teams that have separated from the pack will certainly not have difficult travel to the Final Four in New Orleans. They will just have to win four games, the first of which figures to be a walkover, as the 1/16 game is almost never competitive.
Speaking of tough travel, Greensboro, N.C., is in the early-round rotation, so it is hard to imagine Duke and North Carolina not both getting through to the regional round, after two quasi-home games.
WHAT ABOUT LOCALS?
No way to know where, but typically the committee tries to send a team closer to its time zone a year after sending it across country as it did last year when Temple went to Tucson, Ariz.
Greensboro is probably out as Temple does not figure to be a 7, 8 or 9 or 10 seed that could line then up with Duke or UNC in a third-round game. Syracuse would need an 8/9 game, so there potentially could be one spot open in Pittsburgh for, say, a 6 seed (Temple?) opposite Georgetown, the likely No. 3 seed, in a potential third-round game.
The Owls also could end up in Nashville, Tenn., or Columbus, Ohio. The higher seeds get site preference in those early rounds, so much will have to do with how those higher seeds shake out over the next 11 days.
If Drexel gets in, the Dragons likely would be somewhere from a 12 to 14 seed. Which means they could end up in Pittsburgh and play Georgetown in the second round.
Saint Joseph's will definitely be in the conversation for one of those final four at-large berths. Remember, if it does get one of them, it would play in a First Four game. And would be quite pleased to have that chance.
Penn simply needs to keep winning. The Quakers obviously would be a very low seed if they get in, but do you think anybody will care? I've been covering the city for 25 years and I can't think of a parallel to what Penn has done to give itself a chance at the Ivy League.
If Zack Rosen is this team's heart, then fellow senior Rob Belcore is its soul. Nobody in the city has played better than Rosen or harder than Belcore.
THE LOCAL PREDICTIONS
Just before conference play began in earnest, I wrote about some City Six predictions on the website kenpom.com. Those were based on what had gone down in the season's first 6 weeks.
Temple was predicted to finish 21-9, 11-5 in the Atlantic 10. Micheal Eric was not healthy then. He is now, and the Owls are 22-6, 11-3.
St. Joe's and La Salle were each predicted to be 20-11, 9-7. SJU is 19-11, 9-6 going into tonight's regular-season finale at St. Bonaventure. La Salle is 18-11, 7-7.
No way anybody could have foreseen 11-17, 4-12 Big East for Villanova. Kenpom had the Wildcats 16-14, 9-9.
The biggest misses were Drexel and Penn.
Drexel was projected to finish 19-10, 12-6. Wrong. The Dragons are 25-5, 16-2 and won the Colonial Athletic Association regular season.
The Quakers were predicted to finish 15-16, 7-7. They are 17-11, 9-2 and very much alive for the Ivy title.
THE REFEREE STANDINGS
Forget the battle for No. 1 seeds. The real battle is to see which official can do the most regular-season games. As we hit the final days, Brian Dorsey leads with 86 games, followed by Roger Ayers with 84.
By the way, Karl Hess, the man who ejected former North Carolina State players Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from the stands on Feb. 18, has done 81 games. I saw Karl at the Drexel-William & Mary game on Feb. 14. He was having fun with the "DAC Pack," who apparently were just loud, not annoying.
LOTS OF CASH
Loved that story a while back in the Wall Street Journal that detailed how much NBA salary money players from elite college programs have earned since the lottery began in 1985. The top five are: North Carolina ($852 million), Duke ($808M), Arizona ($737M), Georgetown ($727M) and Michigan ($715M).
THIS AND THAT
* Next time you watch Kentucky, take your eyes off the ball when the Wildcats are on defense and watch freshman Anthony Davis. He is a defensive savant who seems to anticipate what is about to happen before the offense even considers what it is it might want to try. Davis is an amazing athlete with an incredible aptitude for the game. Which is why he is a lock No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
* Most observers think it is down to Davis and Thomas Robinson (Kansas) for national player of the year. Either would be a fine choice.
But if this were an MVP vote, Penn's Zack Rosen would be a cinch. Nobody has done more to give his team a chance to win a league title and get to the NCAA. It was just 2 years ago that Penn lost to Villanova by 104-65; Davidson by 79-50; and Duke by 114-55. Now, the Quakers have a real chance at 20 wins and a championship.
* Drexel won't want to hear this, but the Dragons have at least clinched an NIT berth. Conference champs that don't win the tournament and don't get an at-large bid, get an automatic NIT invite. I am on record as saying Drexel absolutely deserves an NCAA at-large, regardless of what the paper says about them. These Dragons are everything recent Bruiser Flint teams have been - with shooting.
* Cornell's three-time Ivy champs were 5-1 against Harvard when Jeremy Lin was the starting point guard. In those six games, Lin averaged 15.8 points and shot 53.4 percent. He also had 30 turnovers against 15 assists. Twice, he had eight turnovers in a game.
* As we head into conference tournament time, there are just four teams with unbeaten league records: Kentucky (14-0, Southeastern) Long Beach State (14-0, Big West), Texas-Arlington (14-0, Southland-West) and Mississippi Valley State (17-0, Southwestern Athletic). LBS has three regular-season games left while UK and UTA have two and MVS just one.