March may be 12 days old already, but its namesake madness doesn’t start until Sunday.
The brackets for this year’s men’s and women’s N.C.A.A. tournaments will be announced on Sunday night, at 6 p.m. Eastern for the men on CBS and 8 p.m. for the women on ESPN.
The games start for the men on March 16 and conclude with the Final Four in Houston on April 1 and the championship game on April 3. The women’s tournament begins March 17 and leads up to the Final Four in Dallas on March 31 and the championship game April 2.
Here are several things to expect as both brackets are unveiled.
The Big 12 should dominate the top of the seeding.
The reigning national champion, Kansas, is in the mix to be the top overall seed despite losing three starters from last year’s title team. Coach Bill Self missed the Big 12 tournament with an illness, but an assistant coach, Norm Roberts, led the third-ranked Jayhawks to their conference championship game, though they fell there to Texas, 76-56. If they’re installed as the top seed in the Midwest, the Jayhawks would play the regional in nearby Kansas City, Mo.
No. 7 Texas, No. 10 Baylor, No. 12 Kansas State, No. 22 Texas Christian and Iowa State of the Big 12 are also projected to be among the top seeds.
Houston (30-2), the No. 1 team in the Associated Press Poll and a surefire No. 1 seed, currently plays in the American Athletic Conference but is among four schools joining the Big 12 next year. The Cougars are beating opponents by more than 19 points per game this season.
Big 12 schools Kansas and Baylor won the past two national championships, and Texas Tech lost in overtime to Virginia in the 2019 championship game.
“I can’t imagine there’s a conference in the country that has better coaching than what there is in the Big 12,” West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame, said in an interview earlier this season.
With as many as eight Big 12 teams projected to make the field this year, they may end up cannibalizing each other as the tournament progresses.
The Pac-12 has a couple of legitimate contenders.
The Pac-12 hasn’t had a national champion since Arizona in 1997, when Bill Clinton was in the White House and Michael Jordan was in the midst of his second three-peat with the Chicago Bulls.
Since then, the Atlantic Coast Conference has won eight titles, the Big East seven, the Southeastern Conference four, the Big 12 three and the Big Ten one.
But in No. 2 U.C.L.A. and No. 8 Arizona, the Pac-12 has two legitimate contenders this year.
U.C.L.A. is projected to be the 1 seed in the West, where it would start in Sacramento and potentially play the regional in Las Vegas. Senior forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. fueled the Bruins’ dominance of the Pac-12 regular season with his ability to contribute in every way possible. The Bruins did lose junior guard Jaylen Clark to an Achilles injury, and freshman center Adem Bona went down in the Pac-12 semifinals against Oregon with a shoulder injury.
Under second-year coach Tommy Lloyd, a former Gonzaga assistant, Arizona could be as high as a No. 2 seed. The Wildcats are led by 6-11 junior forward Azuolas Tubelis, who combines overwhelming size with elite skill and energy, and are one of the most explosive teams in the nation, averaging more than 83 points a game.
Purdue is the Big Ten’s best chance for a title.
The Big Ten hasn’t won a national championship since Michigan State cut down the nets in 2000. The conference put nine teams into the 68-team N.C.A.A. tournament field last season, and only two — Purdue and Michigan — reached the round of 16, where they both lost.
The Big Ten has just two ranked teams in No. 5 Purdue and No. 19 Indiana, but it is projected to put as many as nine of its 14 teams into the field.
Purdue, with its 7-foot-4 center, Zach Edey, a national player of the year candidate, may be the league’s best hope to be the last team standing in April.
Some familiar faces will likely be missing.
North Carolina held a 15-point lead on Kansas at halftime of last year’s title game, and then returned four starters this season and was installed as the preseason No. 1 team.
Yet the Tar Heels underperformed all season and, after losing to Virginia in the A.C.C. Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday, are not expected to make the field of 68. They would be the first preseason No. 1 since North Carolina State in 1975 to miss the tournament.
Villanova, which reached the Final Four a year ago, is also expected to be left out of the field for the first time since 2012, despite a late-season run under first-year coach Kyle Neptune, who replaced the retired Jay Wright.
Shaheen Holloway also is unlikely to be seen on the sidelines a year after his Saint Peter’s team became the tournament’s darling, upsetting Kentucky and Purdue en route to the round of 8. The team he currently coaches, Seton Hall, could be headed instead to the National Invitation Tournament, which releases its bracket late Sunday night.
The N.I.T. could end up having several brand names in its field, with North Carolina, Michigan, Oregon and Villanova in the mix.
Watch out where UConn lands.
The Huskies are ranked No. 7 nationally and are projected as a No. 2 seed in the N.C.A.A. tournament. No top seed will want to see Geno Auriemma’s group in their region, especially now that it has star guard Azzi Fudd back and has won five straight.
Before the Big East tournament, which UConn won, Fudd missed 14 games with a right knee injury. The 5-foot-11 sophomore is averaging 15.5 points while shooting 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc.
“When UConn’s playing with all their players and they’re relatively healthy, they’ll be really hard to beat,” said Seton Hall Coach Anthony Bozzella, whose team lost two games to the Huskies this season by a combined 70 points.
Without Fudd, UConn lost a close game to South Carolina, 81-77, on Feb. 5 in Hartford.
“If you’re a No. 1 seed, do you want to play Utah or UConn?” Bozzella asked rhetorically, referring to the Utes, who could also be a 2 seed. “It’s not close.”
Nobody wants to be in South Carolina’s region.
Coach Dawn Staley’s team is the reigning national champion and will enter the N.C.A.A. tournament with a perfect 32-0 record.
Led by reigning national player of the year Aliyah Boston, the Gamecocks haven’t lost a game in more than a year.
They will be the No. 1 overall seed and will likely be placed in a region that plays in Greenville, S.C. They would open the first two rounds of play at home in Columbia, S.C., an advantage awarded to the top 16 teams in the tournament.
Everyone else in their region will be at a major disadvantage.
No. 2 Iowa, led by star guard Caitlin Clark, No. 3 Indiana, No. 4 Virginia Tech and No. 5 Stanford will be in the mix for the other No. 1 seeds.
“Winning championships,” Staley said after her team beat Tennessee to capture the Southeastern Conference tournament title. “It never gets old.”
Texas could be a dangerous wild card.
After beating Kansas State, 60-42, in the Big 12 quarterfinals on Friday, the No. 15-ranked Longhorns improved to 24-8.
They have a defensive-oriented coach in Vic Schaefer, who led Mississippi State to back-to-back national championship games in 2017 and 2018 and has guided Texas to consecutive appearances in the round of 8.
Texas was 21-0 when holding opponents under 60 points, going into its Big 12 championship game Sunday against Iowa State.
“Where are they going to be” in the bracket? Bozzella asked. “Do you really want to play Vic Schaefer’s tough, hard-nosed, defensive team that’s able to put the ball in the basket and playing healthier? That is a team I’m looking for because I do not want them to be anywhere near me if I’m in that tournament.”
Beware of these lower seeds.
No. 25 Middle Tennessee has won 10 straight games after defeating Western Kentucky in the Conference USA championship game Saturday.
The Lady Raiders (28-4) have held opponents below 50 points 11 times this season. And they are balanced on offense, with Marshall transfer Savannah Wheeler, Kseniya Malashka, Jalynn Gregory and Courtney Whitson all averaging double figures.
They could wind up a double-digit seed, which could spell trouble for a higher seed.
“They are well-coached — Rick Insell is one of the all-time best coaches in women’s basketball,” Bozzella said. “Depending on their seed line, they’re a dark horse team that could go to the Sweet 16.”
Florida Gulf Coast has won 14 in a row after beating Liberty in Saturday night’s Atlantic Sun Conference championship game, and will be another dangerous team as a potential double-digit seed. Tishara Morehouse, a 5-3 senior guard, leads the Eagles at 15.9 points per game while shooting 40 percent from deep.