Editor's note: Click here for Charlie Creme's March 9 bracket projection.
Funny how things tend to work themselves out.
Two weeks ago, the theme of the bracket was there was almost no distinction among the second through seventh teams on the S-curve. Today, at least the first three No. 1 seeds are a no-brainer. Connecticut, North Carolina and Tennessee are done deals.
And now, Stanford has emerged as the fourth 1-seed. A win over Cal in the Pac-10 championship game and the Cardinal are in the clubhouse as well.
The bottom half of the top-eight -- Maryland, LSU, Rutgers and Baylor -- all have a common thread. They each lost their last game. Certainly, more enters into distinguishing each team within that previously confusing top-eight, but for a month, nothing seemed to clearly demonstrate a distinct difference.
The conference tournaments offered that distinction. UConn is onto the semifinals. North Carolina and Tennessee won championships. Meanwhile, the Terps and Scarlet Knights couldn't even get to the finals in the ACC and Big East, respectively, and LSU had just enough ground to make up to make a win over Tennessee necessary. Baylor, which was already on the outside of the group, finished its regular season with consecutive losses.
The blanket that seemed to cover these teams two weeks ago has been removed and everyone has moved to their own part of the room.
At this point, all of the BCS league tournaments are already in the books or well under way. That is, except what could be the most compelling and telling -- the Big 12. While the two lines are nearly finalized, the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 seeds are still in flux. The Big 12 tournament has much to say about how it all shakes out.
Baylor now has no chance to move any higher, but the Lady Bears could fall. Baylor, Texas A&M, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are all bunched in that three-through-five-seed view right now. In a league that had little separation all season, the tournament should provide some answers.
Baylor and Oklahoma need to right the ship; both have lost two in a row. Oklahoma State could make a move up the S-curve with a good showing. Texas A&M is the hottest team; if the Aggies win the tournament, a No. 2 seed is not a stretch. Oddly, regular-season champ Kansas State probably has the least for which to play. A No. 2 seed seems unlikely even with a tournament title. Even an early exit should find them no worse than a No. 4.
Conference championship time might not help or hurt the Wildcats, but it has lifted the fog over the view of the top teams. What else has it done? Here's a list of teams helped or hurt by what has happened so far.
Ohio State, Notre Dame,
With more on deck, the biggest tournaments to watch -- other than the Big 12 -- will be the Sun Belt and Colonial. Western Kentucky would be in the mix for an at-large should the Lady Toppers lose when the tournament resumes. Middle Tennessee is also still alive.
In fact, of the Last Four Out teams this week, only the Blue Raiders and James Madison actually have a chance to play their way into the field. To even be considered, both would have to at least make the finals. Even that would still leave them with long odds. Blame Purdue and SMU for that.
Liberty could be an interesting case if the Lady Flames don't win the Big South, but the strength of schedule is weak. The conference just doesn't offer enough competition to make their candidacy for an at-large a strong one.
Hartford and Wisconsin-Green Bay were once possibilities, but no longer. They had better win their conference tournaments.
Charlie Creme can be reached at email@example.com.