With a little more than half the season to play, let's have a look at how the NCAA Tournament prospects stack up within each conference.
There is no question that the ACC is the dominant league in college basketball this year. The ACC could challenge the record for most teams from one conference in an NCAA Tournament and for the highest percentage of teams from one conference.
The Big East holds the current record for the most teams in when 11 of its 16 members reached the field in 2011. The ACC is the record holder for the greatest percentage of its league members. They put six out of nine teams in the tournament in both 1996 and 1997.
The current bracket has 11 ACC teams in ( and one other among the first four out. It's unlikely that as conference play progresses and teams beat each other up some that all 12 of those teams will be contenders, however it would not be a surprise at all if at least 10 ACC teams made the dance.
Six are pretty much sure things at this point. It would take quite a collapse to keep Duke, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, Notre Dame or Virginia out. Pittsburgh, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, NC State and Miami all have something of a shot as well.
I have been talking all along about how this is a down year for the Big Ten, and that is true, but that is mostly in the lacking quality at the top of the league. It will likely be a struggle for one of the better teams to push itself as high as a 2-seed in this bracket barring a stronger run of play over the last two months of the season than any of them have shown so far.
However, the middle of the Big Ten is in better shape than the middle of the other conferences, excluding the ACC, of course. The league could put as many as eight teams into the final bracket and not have any of them seeded higher than a three. In fact, the ACC could have four or more teams seeded ahead of the top Big Ten team.
Maryland is off to a great start in terms of its record, but lacks quality wins. Michigan State has battled injury all season long, but has a sweep of the Gophers. Northwestern is looking for its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance and for now, is hanging its hat on a win over Dayton. Ohio State, Michigan and resurgent Penn State could all make a run at the field as well.
The only league that comes close to challenging the ACC at the top of the bracket is the Big East, which has three top-12 teams at the moment in Villanova, Butler and Creighton. The Bluejays will have to try to maintain their level going forward without the services of Maruice Watson, Jr., one of the nation's top point guards, who is out for the year with a torn ACL.
Most people, and I am among them, believe that Xavier will eventually get the kinds of wins it needs to secure a spot in the field as well.
After that, the drop-off is precipitous. Seton Hall is one of the teams to beat South Carolina when Sindarius Thornwell was out for the Gamecocks. Providence beat in-state rival Rhode Island, but hasn't done much else and has a couple of bad losses. Marquette has avoided the bad losses, but also lacks for quality wins. Any of those three could make a strong move if it could beat one of the league's top four.
The Big 12 has two No. 1 seed possibilities in Baylor and Kansas. West Virginia is a darling of the predictive computer systems largely because it has won at Virginia and blown out Baylor. However, the Mountaineers lose focus against lesser opposition, losing to Texas Tech, Temple and most recently, at home to Oklahoma.
There's a pretty sizeable gap after those three. TCU in its first year under Jamie Dixon is doing reasonably well, but lacks quality wins and struggles away from home. Texas Tech has also been a home-court hero, beating West Virginia and TCU, but losing away from home to Auburn and Oklahoma. They also have one of the worst non-conference schedules the committee may see, and that's a big red flag. Iowa State is another darling of the predictive computers, but the best thing you can say about the Cyclones right now is that they have a lot of close losses to good teams. They also have wins over the Red Raiders and Miami. Kansas State has a gaudy record, but nothing to show for it.
UCLA looks like one of the best teams in the country, but for a high seed, doesn't have a lot of quality wins. However, that win at Kentucky was a classic and their best of the season. Oregon has beaten both UCLA and USC, but has six home wins among its top seven wins. The other was a neutral-court win over Tennessee. Dillon Brooks may be injured again, and if he's out for long, it would be a big blow to their hopes for a high seed. Arizona lost to the two best teams it played in Butler and Gonzaga, but they have shown that they can beat good teams on the road. They won at USC, and Cal and has a win over Michigan State on a neutral floor.
There are really only two other teams that look like they can find their way into the field from the Pac-12. USC got off to a 14-0 start, but only a home win over SMU came against a team with a shot to make the dance. Plus, the Trojans are scuffling at the start of league play, losing four of six. One of those was at home to Cal, which has that and very little else. The Bears are 1-5 against the RPI top 50 and just 3-6 against the top 100. The Bears will have to finish strong if they hope to make a tournament appearance this season.
As good as the SEC is in football, it seems to be bad in basketball just about every year recently. Kentucky is Kentucky, of course, but after that, meh.
Florida and South Carolina can probably put together tournament quality resumes. At this point though, the Gators' best wins are Arkansas and Seton Hall, and neither of those are sure tournament teams. The Gamecocks beat Florida this week, but haven't even played another likely tournament team.
Arkansas and Georgia might be able to make a run and push into the field, but the margin for error for both of those teams is already very small.
It will be hard for any of these teams to pick up the kind of quality wins they might need to build a resume, short of beating Kentucky.