Time to take a look at NCAA Tournament bracketology

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Sam Prestipino , Sports Writer

OPINION

With the Big Dance rapidly approaching, it’s time to take a look at the possible field of 68 teams in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and how long they’ll be dancing.

Heading into this 2021-2022 men’s college basketball season, it looked like it was anyone’s year. Nobody could really tell who the top teams were, which is something that still hasn’t been figured out.

Through 14 weeks, there have been six different teams ranked 1st in the nation, while ESPN’s top 25 is constantly shifting every week. This all sets us up for what could be the most interesting NCAA Tournament in recent memory.

Here’s what the field looks like right now.

Five of my locks to make it to March Madness and where ESPN Bracketologist, Joe Lunardi currently has them seeded:

Auburn: Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected this Auburn Tigers team to be in the position that they’re currently in. Ranked  #1 in the nation for the first time ever, Bruce Pearl has built a fantastic squad that will without a doubt be competing for a title this year.

Prediction: The Tigers will be a Final Four team this year, and I could definitely see them taking the title. If they can stay healthy and play at this high level they will definitely be dancing to the very end. Lunardi has the Tigers as the #1 overall seed in the tournament and champions of the SEC.

Gonzaga: Unlike Auburn, everyone pegged Gonzaga to be a top team this year. The Zags have performed at the exact level that fans have come to expect over the past few years. At 19-2, it’s definitely possible that we could see Gonzaga in the Final Four, however losses to Duke and Alabama leave folks concerned that they may not have what it takes to go on a deep run.

Prediction: The Zags play in a fairly weak conference in the WCC, so they’ll go a while without playing against the top dogs. This means that their tournament performance may be sub-par. I have them falling short of the Final Four and getting the boot in the Elite Eight. Lunardi currently has the Zags as the West Coast Conference Champions and a 1 seed in the tournament.

Purdue: The Boilermakers came into the year ranked 7th and are now ranked 3rd. They had a brief stint at the top of the rankings before a loss to Rutgers knocked them down. Purdue has played pretty well, only dropping two games since the Rutgers loss. This is a Purdue team that is certainly going to make the tournament due to their conference record; the question is, how far will they go?

Prediction: Purdue is a dark horse championship contender this year. Not many people are buzzing about the Boilermakers but they should be. If they get hot, they could go on a serious run. My prediction is that Purdue makes it all the way to the Final Four.

Duke: In Coach K’s final season the Blue Devils have been extremely inconsistent. They’ll go from blowing out their hated rivals by 20 to losing to a team that doesn’t know what a three-pointer is. The fact that this lackluster Duke team is the best in the ACC shows how much of a decline the conference is on. They’ll definitely make the tournament, but it is extremely difficult to predict how far they’ll go.

Prediction: This is a Duke team that could win the entire tournament; they could also get knocked off in the first round. You never know what Duke team is going to show up on a given night. When they’re hot, they’re the best team in the country, but when they’re cold, they can make a rebuilding UVA program look like the ‘98 Bulls. My prediction is Duke goes on a magical run and wins a National Championship for Coach K, as he rides off into the sunset. (also known as, they’re getting the boot on the first day of the tournament)

UCLA: UCLA’s return to dominance began last year with a trip to the Final Four. This success is something that has spilled over into this season. The 12th ranked Bruins are a lock for the Tournament due to their solid record. They have stumbled as of late but will likely recover when it counts.

Prediction: UCLA is a team out for blood after a crushing Final Four loss last year. If they keep their emotions in check and don’t let the demons of the past get the best of them, I could see them as a possible contender. For now, my prediction is that they once again fall short of immortality with a loss in the Elite Eight.

My 3 bubble teams to watch:

North Carolina: The unranked Tar Heels are currently sitting towards the top of a weak ACC under new head coach, Hubert Davis. They should not feel comfortable at all in this position at the moment. After an early season stumble, it looked like the Heels would get back on track with their recent 4 game win streak. This would come crashing down with a 20 point home loss to their hated rival, Duke. They would rebound with a two point win over a struggling Clemson team. In order to make the tournament, UNC will need to go on a big run to end the season. This includes two big rivialy games against Duke and North Carolina State respectively. Davis’ squad would also need to put up a solid performance in the ACC Tournament.

Prediction: Right now, I would have the Tar Heels in the tournament as a 12 seed competing in a play-in game. I think they have what it takes to close out the stretch with a record that the selection committee deems good enough to qualify for the Big Dance. Lunardi currently has the Tar Heels as a 12 seed.

Notre Dame: The Irish are a good basketball team. Early season struggles have ultimately subsided into a very solid team. They have won 12 of their last 14 and are currently in a battle for 7th ranked Duke for the top spot in the conference. Notre Dame has a very friendly schedule to end their season and will be fighting for the top spot in the ACC.

Prediction: Notre Dame will definitely be in the tournament. With an easy schedule to end their season, in a weak ACC, the Irish will have a spot locked up. My prediction is that they end up as a 9 seed in this year’s tournament. Lunardi currently has the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as an 11 seed and has them listed as one of the last eight teams in the tournament.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have had a rough season thus far. The only thing keeping them afloat right now is a win vs a 24th ranked Alabama. Recently, Mississippi State has had trouble finishing games and keeping pace with a very good SEC. Besides three games against the top dogs in the conference (Auburn, Alabama, LSU), the Bulldogs have a fairly friendly schedule. To make the tournament, they’ll need to probably win two of those three games and perform at a high level in the SEC Tourney.

Prediction: With three very difficult games coming up, I don’t think Mississippi State will have the ability to prove that they’re a tournament team in the remainder of the regular season. This means they will have to go on run in the SEC Tournament. My prediction is that the Bulldogs aren’t able to get out of the second round of the SEC Tournament, resulting in them not making the big dance. Joe Lunardi currently has the Bulldogs in the “first four out” category.

This year has already been one like no other. With the constant upsets and shifting in rankings, nobody really knows what’s going to happen come March, however, I am incredibly excited to see what happens.