If you're just now diving full-bore into college basketball, you're probably very confused.
If you've been following college basketball every night for two months, you might be even more confused.
It has been that kind of season.
There have already been 14 losses by top-five teams to unranked opponents and not a single team made it to the new year without a loss. Yes, it's safe to say we're going to have a wide-open NCAA tournament.
But that's still two months away -- we have a lot to figure out in the meantime.
What are some of the biggest questions we need answered before Selection Sunday?
1. Is the rest of the season going to be as wild and wacky as the past two weekends?
Yeah, probably. Are we going to need to reshuffle the entire top of the rankings every week because six or seven of the top 10 lose? Maybe not. But are there going to be a consistent three or four teams leading the way? Doubtful. Look, there's no clear-cut national title favorite right. There's no clear-cut No. 1 team after two weeks of conference play. Moreover, the bottom tiers of most of the major conferences are better than in past. The gap between likely NCAA tournament teams and sub-.500 teams isn't very big. Throw in the fact road games in conference play are seemingly getting more and more difficult, and we have the perfect storm for a ton of upsets every week. The list of teams that could conceivably make a Final Four this season seems fairly long. There's just more parity and balance in most leagues across the country. And that's OK -- and it should make for a terrific NCAA tournament.
2. Will Duke improve defensively?
While no one is great, Duke likely has the highest ceiling of any team in the country -- if it finds a way to improve on the defensive end of the floor. The Blue Devils simply can't win a national championship playing at the level they've played so far this season. They're ranked outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency, allowing more than one point per possession. For comparison, the past five national champions allowed 0.93, 0.91, 0.92, 0.92 and 0.85 points per possession. Perhaps the best comparison for this season's Duke team would be the Duke team that won the national championship in 2015. The Blue Devils were struggling mightily defensively for the first four months of the season -- and then flipped a switch in the NCAA tournament, holding its first five opponents below 0.90 points per possession. But can Duke get to that point this season? The Blue Devils have been objectively bad defensively, especially through three ACC games, in which they've allowed opponents to score nearly 93 points per game and shoot 48.6 percent from 3-point range. They struggle to defend penetration, they struggle to defend pick-and-rolls and they struggle with rim protection. Duke has actually looked competent when they go zone, but Mike Krzyzewski seems averse to using it for 40 minutes. Will he eventually be forced to do it full-time?
3. How many bids will the Big Ten and Pac-12 actually get?
Joe Lunardi's latest bracket had the Big Ten with four bids and the Pac-12 with three, That seems fine -- but it also seems like the maximum at this point for both leagues. The Big Ten is a mess. There are two really good teams at the top in Michigan State and Purdue, and then a bunch of question marks. Ohio State beating Michigan State puts the Buckeyes in pole position for third-best team in the league, with Michigan also looking solid. Outside of that? It's tough to find any semblance of consistency. Minnesota just lost Reggie Lynch to suspension and Amir Coffey to injury. Maryland has had its moments this season, but Justin Jackson is done for the season with an injury and they've struggled away from home. The Pac-12 is even worse. Like the Big Ten, there are two front-runners at the top of the league in Arizona State and Arizona -- although neither team is as good as the Spartans or Boilermakers. But that's pretty much it in terms of sure things for the NCAA tournament right now. USC has disappointed after being ranked in the top 10 in the preseason; UCLA was picking up some momentum until it lost at Stanford last week; Oregon lost by double digits to both Utah and Oregon State in the past two weeks, and Utah missed its home chances against Arizona and Arizona State. Someone needs to get separation.
4. Are there are any non-power six conferences ready to pick up the slack?
The committee has to get to 68 teams somehow, right? And if the Big Ten and Pac-12 aren't providing double-digits on their own, who will make up the difference? The West Coast Conference will likely provide its usual Gonzaga-Saint Mary's duo, but outside of them, the most obvious candidate would be the biggest of the other conferences, the American Athletic Conference. Unfortunately, performances in the past week have hurt its chances at more than two or three bids, with SMU dropping two games and Houston getting blown out by Wichita State. Both teams will get chances to improve their résumés, though, and could be the biggest benefactor of a subpar Pac-12. The door is open for the Mountain West as well. Nevada and Boise State both look good enough, but they'll have to avoid bad losses in the league. San Diego State could get in that discussion. Elsewhere, the Atlantic 10 has four teams with overall records above .500. That's it. Four. Rhode Island looks like the cream of the crop, and St. Bonaventure dropping back-to-back games to Dayton and Saint Joseph's likely ensures the A-10 has only one at-large-worthy team.
5. Are the two Virginias true national title contenders?
West Virginia and Virginia moved into the top three of the AP poll this week, with each of them garnering at least one vote for No. 1. West Virginia is arguably the hottest team in college basketball right now, winning 14 in a row since a season-opening loss to Texas A&M. The Mountaineers are forcing turnovers, grabbing offensive rebounds and out-toughing teams like they have the past few years -- but the difference this season is that they're better in the half court. And they're about to get double-figure scorer Esa Ahmad back from a half-season suspension. Meanwhile, Virginia blew the doors off Virginia Tech and then beat North Carolina by double-digits, pushing them to 14-1 -- with the lone loss coming at ... West Virginia, of all teams. The Cavaliers are winning the Tony Bennett way: controlling tempo and defending better than anyone in college basketball. And it's working. The Mountaineers and Cavaliers couldn't be more different on the court, but they're both rolling right now. Do they have what it takes to end up in San Antonio? There's been something of a ceiling on how these two systems can go in March, with Bob Huggins and West Virginia not getting past the Sweet 16 in any of the past three seasons and Bennett and Virginia getting out of the first weekend twice in the last four seasons (although they did make the Elite Eight in 2016). If forced to pick, West Virginia seems better-equipped to win big in March. The difference? Jevon Carter. He's capable of carrying the Mountaineers.
6. Are the other one-loss surprises built for March?
There are six one-loss teams remaining in college basketball. Villanova is No. 1 right now, while we just hit on Virginia and West Virginia. But what about the other three? No one expected Texas Tech, Clemson and Auburn to be in this position two months into the season. All three teams finished above .500 last season, but none of the three reached the NCAA tournament. People had Clemson's Brad Brownell on the hot seat heading into the season, while Auburn is still holding out last season's two most talented players due to the FBI investigation. They all served notice in the past few weeks, though. Texas Tech went into Kansas and won by 12; Clemson beat Florida in Florida in mid-December and is 3-0 in the ACC, and Auburn won at Tennessee and beat Arkansas in the first week of SEC play. All three teams are poised to reach the NCAA tournament, but Texas Tech is the pick here to go the furthest of the three. The Red Raiders are one of the best defensive teams in the country, are deep and well-coached, have the perfect blend of youth and experience -- and guard Keenan Evans is underappreciated on a national level. That doesn't necessarily mean Clemson and Auburn are going to falter in March, but Texas Tech is a legitimate threat to win the best league in the country. The metrics back it up: Texas Tech is No. 4 at KenPom and No. 8 in the BPI.
7. What's up with the defending champs?
So we underrated North Carolina heading into the season, after the Tar Heels lost Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley and Nate Britt from last season's national championship group. And then after a 10-1 start, we apparently overrated the Tar Heels. Since winning at Tennessee on Dec. 17, North Carolina has gone 2-3 -- with a home loss to Wofford, wins over Ohio State and Wake Forest, and back-to-back losses at Florida State and Virginia. It's difficult to peg the Tar Heels right now. Not many teams have four top-35 BPI/KenPom wins like North Carolina, which also beat Arkansas and Michigan in addition to the Volunteers and Buckeyes. At the same time, the home loss to Wofford is baffling and they didn't exactly look overly competitive for most of the Virginia game. They're likely something in between the team that started hot and the team that has played the past few weeks. They're obviously not as good as the past few seasons, and that's especially true on the offensive end. Roy Williams' offenses usually run like a well-oiled machine, pushing the tempo when possible and then working from the inside-out in the half court. There just aren't the weapons Williams is used to. If Joel Berry II or Luke Maye struggle, they don't have the supporting cast to make up for it. Berry and Maye are a very solid tandem, but they can't win without both of them coming up big. Right now, Carolina looks like a Sweet 16-caliber team, but not a team that will compete for the ACC title or Final Four berth.