The final sprint to Selection Sunday is officially here, with Champ Week moving into high gear -- even with the Big Ten throwing a wrinkle into everyone's plans this year. The field of potential champions moves from the 300s to 68 over the next several days. Mid-major favorites will fall, bubble teams will be eliminated, 1-seeds will be decided. Which teams have the most at stake during Champ Week?
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Fighting Irish simply don't have the résumé for an at-large bid right now, with a middling RPI in the 60s and a 6-10 record against Quadrants 1 and 2. But they're also not the typical bubble team, as they've looked significantly better since All-American Bonzie Colson returned from injury after missing 16 games. Notre Dame beat Pittsburgh in his first game back, then took Virginia to the final minutes in Charlottesville before falling. Here's the thing, though: Notre Dame wasn't exactly blowing the doors off when Colson was healthy in November and December, with losses to Ball State and Indiana. The Irish's best win by far is Wichita State. They likely need to make a deep run in the ACC tournament, but they'll have chances: vs. Pittsburgh, then Virginia Tech, then Duke. If they can reach the semifinals, they could sneak into the NCAA field.
2. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
There won't be another mid-major team under more pressure this week than the Blue Raiders. Entering this past weekend, they had the best at-large profile of any mid-major team and seemed poised to earn a bid even with a loss. Then they dropped a home game to Marshall -- losing to the Thundering Herd for the second time this season. Given Middle Tennessee's best wins this season are over Murray State and Western Kentucky, a great RPI and record away from home might not be enough to save the Blue Raiders anymore. It could be automatic bid or bust for Kermit Davis' team this week.
3. Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals have had a very difficult schedule to finish the season, but they still haven't done enough to secure a bid. They enter the ACC tournament having lost four of their past five and seven of their past 10, after beating just one NCAA tournament team since mid-January. Right now, they're among Joe Lunardi's first four out in the most recent Bracketology, with a 4-12 record against Quadrant 1 and 2 standing out among the negatives. Louisville faces Florida State in the second round of the ACC tournament; that's an absolute must-win for David Padgett's team. A win there, and the Cardinals get a third shot at Virginia. The two teams played last week, with the Cavaliers eking out a one-point win.
4. The Pac-12
Would it be a shock to see the Pac-12 get two bids on Sunday? Not really. Would it be a shock to see the league get four or five bids? Probably not. There are a lot of outcomes to be decided in Las Vegas this week, and the Pac-12 enters Champ Week with one surefire NCAA tournament team (Arizona). Arizona State is in OK shape right now, but the Sun Devils have done next to nothing since beating Xavier and Kansas in the first few weeks of the season. Fortunately, those two wins are perhaps the best tandem of wins of anyone in the country. ASU finished below .500 in a down Pac-12 and needs to beat Colorado on Wednesday to feel good about a bid. UCLA's road win over USC on Saturday leaves both teams just ahead of the cut line heading into the Pac-12 tournament, and an early exit from either team would mean trouble. UCLA will face the winner of Stanford-California, while USC gets the winner of Washington-Oregon State. Speaking of Washington, the Huskies losing five of eight puts them in a tough spot. They might need a run to the title game. Utah is in the same boat, despite winning six of its past seven.
5. Alabama Crimson Tide
Here are some of the Crimson Tide's trends over the past few months: They lost five in a row to end the season; a loss in the SEC tournament would be their 15th on the season; they are below .500 in SEC play; and since starting 5-0 in November, they're 12-14 overall. Like every SEC team, they have a solid collection of impressive wins and a good number of Quadrant 1 and 2 wins. But the growing number of losses is starting to stand out -- and they have to play Texas A&M on Thursday in the SEC tournament. A loss there could be fatal.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys are suddenly an intriguing bubble team after beating Kansas for the second time this season on Saturday. They now own two wins over the Jayhawks, plus wins over Texas Tech, West Virginia, Florida State, Oklahoma and Texas. So why are they even on the bubble? Well, their RPI is in the 80s, their nonconference SOS is in the high 200s and they finished below .500 in the Big 12. They will have to beat Oklahoma on Wednesday in the 8-9 game -- and then they get a third shot at Kansas. Can they get a bid without reaching the semifinals?
7. Syracuse Orange
The Orange got themselves squarely back into the discussion with a home win over Clemson on Saturday. Prior to that, they had lost three in a row and six of nine and would have been 7-11 in ACC play had they not beaten the Tigers. The résumé won't blow anyone away, especially with the 3-7 Quadrant 1 record and 6-10 Quadrant 1 and 2 record -- but the RPI is solid, the SOS is great and the quality wins look better now than they did a month ago. Coach Jim Boeheim's team will likely need to beat Wake Forest and North Carolina in the ACC tournament to have a legitimate shot on Selection Sunday.
8. The final 1-seed
Virginia, Villanova and Xavier seem fairly secure on the top line, especially with Michigan State and Purdue both falling in the Big Ten tournament. Kansas is still a fairly solid No. 4 overall seed, given the Jayhawks' insane number of Quadrant 1 and 2 wins. There's a case to be made that Duke is the only team that can crash the 1-seed party at this point. If Kansas falls to Oklahoma State for a third time in the Big 12 tournament, Duke might not even have to win the ACC tournament to jump the Jayhawks. The Blue Devils have a double bye, so they will likely have to face Virginia Tech or Notre Dame in the quarterfinal, then Miami or North Carolina in the semifinal. However, Kansas would probably lock up the fourth 1-seed by winning the Big 12 tournament.
9. Marquette Golden Eagles
We get it. Marquette is fun to watch. It has two sub-6-foot guards in Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey who have the ultimate green light. Marquette shoots a ton of 3-pointers and gives up a lot of points. Over the past month, though, the Golden Eagles have added some substance to their résumé. They beat Creighton twice and also took down Seton Hall on the road. They lack a marquee win, though. Luckily for them, they're going to get an absolutely glorious opportunity if they can beat DePaul in the first round of the Big East tournament. Waiting for Marquette in the quarterfinal would be Villanova. Win that, and the Golden Eagles could find themselves dancing.
10. Saint Mary's Gaels
The Gaels' seemingly annual nervous wait to Selection Sunday began late Monday night, when they lost in the WCC semifinals to BYU. A win there could have sealed up a bid for Saint Mary's. Now, they have to hope they don't get jumped by too many teams in the next six days. Their resume is basically a gaudy record and a win at Gonzaga. Will that be enough? They will be glued to their televisions more than any other bubble team this week.
11. Mohamed Bamba, Texas Longhorns
Texas should feel much better about its spot in the NCAA tournament after beating West Virginia without Bamba on Saturday, avoiding a 14th regular-season loss and 7-11 Big 12 record. But the Longhorns likely need Bamba healthy to win games in the NCAA tournament, and he has now missed two games in a row after leaving the Oklahoma State game early with a sprained left toe. It's doubtful the committee would leave Texas out, but if news leaks that Bamba isn't going to be healthy for the NCAA tournament and the Longhorns lose to Iowa State in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament ...
12. Win-and-in teams
There's a small group of teams above the cut line that should feel fairly good about their standing in the NCAA tournament, but it would be in their best interest to avoid an 0-1 conference tournament run -- just so the committee doesn't take a closer look at the negatives on their résumés. We're looking at you, Butler, Providence, St. Bonaventure, Kansas State, Arizona State and Oklahoma. Don't make us look again.
13. Baylor Bears
The Bears played themselves back into at-large contention with a five-game winning streak at the start of February -- and subsequently lost three of four to end the season and drop back below .500 in Big 12 play. Their RPI is in the 60s and their Quadrant 1 record is just 4-10. The lack of bad losses is a plus, but it's unclear if the Bears can suffer a quarterfinal loss to West Virginia and still feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.
14. Boise State Broncos
This is a long shot, but there's always one bubble team that makes a long run in the conference tournament and develops some positive momentum heading into Selection Sunday. Could that be the Broncos this season? Their at-large chances have taken hits with losses to Utah State, Nevada and San Diego State over the past month. Unfortunately, they won't have a chance to play Nevada again until the Mountain West title game and no other wins in the conference tournament will really move the needle. It's likely auto bid or bust for Boise.
15. The Big Ten?
Yes, we know the conference tournament already ended. And the Big Ten's chances at a fifth NCAA tournament team, whether it was Penn State or Nebraska, probably ended too. But if every bubble team loses early in its respective conference tournament, could the Nittany Lions or Cornhuskers quietly creep back into the mix? Maybe we're just getting loopy.
It is Champ Week, after all.