With little over a month to go before the greatest tournament in all of sports, plenty of men's basketball teams across the nation are facing their final stretch of games. With just 64 spots for over 300 schools, picking the best from the rest can become an incredibly difficult process for the selection committee.
Before we finish up regular season play, here are some teams amongst college basketball's elite (the "Power 5" conferences and the Big East) that have what it takes to go on a deep tournament run, if they make it in.
Big East: Marquette
It's fair to believe that Marquette could be a Round of 64 exit. It's also fair to see a Sweet Sixteen team in Shaka Smart's squad. A shaky road record (4-6) can't be ignored, but wins against current top-15 teams in Illinois, Providence, and Villanova (twice) means the Golden Eagles are more than capable of taking down a top seed. A roster filled with young talent, such as freshman Justin Lewis, will need Smart coaching at his best this March Madness (a la 2011 VCU) rather than his worst (2021 Texas).
ACC: Notre Dame
The ACC is having a down year, with Duke leading the pack and a group of middling teams below them in the standings. However, the Irish actually stand the best chance of winning the conference's regular season title, due to their one-game lead over the Blue Devils and a very manageable final three games. An early season upset of Kentucky, combined with the veteran leadership of head coach Mike Brey, points to the potential of this inconsistent, but talented, group.
What a run for Arkansas. Despite high preseason expectations, plenty dismissed Eric Musselman's team after a slow start, mainly due to embarrassing losses to Hofstra and Vanderbilt. Since a loss to Texas A&M in early January, the Razorbacks have gone 13-1 in SEC play. The wins have come against some stiff competition as well; Arkansas has knocked off conference powerhouses Auburn, Tennessee, and Kentucky just in the past month. While nobody is sleeping on them now, Arkansas might not be the trendy pick they were last year, when they went on an Elite 8 run. Yet, if they get into the tournament as a 5 or 6 seed, you can bet that these hogs will be a team nobody in their region wants to face.
Big 10: Rutgers
It's difficult to put a ton of trust in Rutgers, since there is no guarantee their 16-12 record is good enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. However, there is plenty to like about the Scarlet Knights if they do sneak their way into the bracket. Steve Pikiell is a veteran coach, having led Rutgers to the Round of 32 last season, and his most talented player, Ron Harper Jr., is playing the best basketball of his young career (15.7 Pts, 6.1 Reb, 1.9 Ast). Their statistics aren't particularly impressive (181st in offensive rating, 138th in defensive rating), but there is a certain grittiness about Rutgers this year. A recent win streak against some of the Big 10's best (defeated Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Illinois in four straight games) is proof of the danger this team presents if it plays up to its potential.
Big 12: TCU
TCU has been on the NCAA Tournament bubble all season. The Horned Frogs have typically done well against teams they should beat, but lacked a signature win prior to taking down #9 Texas Tech on Saturday. Like he has all season, Mike Miles Jr. led the way for the Horned Frogs, carving up an elite Tech defense for 26 points. The numbers say this is a March Madness-worthy team (51st in Adjusted Efficiency rating, 49th in NET ranking), but their ceiling will depend on Miles Jr. If he's at his best, and TCU's defense plays how they have all season, the Big 12 may have a "sleeper" in addition to several title contenders.
Pac 12: Oregon
Finding someone capable of a deep tournament run, other than Arizona, in the Pac-12 isn't easy. UCLA and USC are both inconsistent, and the rest of the conference is fairly mediocre this year (don't tell Bill Walton). Oregon is a team more analysts should consider, assuming they make the bracket. It's been tough at times for head coach Dana Altman, as the Ducks failed to live up to big expectations at the start of the year. However, they've managed to claw their way back into relevance, capped off by their second win over #12 UCLA. The question will ultimately be if Oregon can get offensive production out of players other than Will Richardson. Given Altman's history of success in March, even as recently as last season's Sweet 16 run, and an experienced roster of juniors and seniors, it wouldn't be wise to bet against them.