The easiest way to describe bracketology this time of year is to call it a snapshot -- what would the tournament field look like today if the season were over? It allows all of us to get a sense of where every team is in relation to all the others. Essentially, that is what the selection process is all about, anyway -- a systematic comparison.
Even with February still in the windshield, those comparisons of the top teams to the rest of the country are nearly a done deal. That part of the snapshot looks like a permanent one; if UConn beats Duke on Monday night (ESPN2 and ESPN3, 7 ET), you can start filling out the top line of your brackets in pen. Barring something unprecedented, the teams that look like favorites today will look the part come Selection Monday.
In fact, the top-10 teams in the bracketology rankings were a pretty easy decision this week. The question was which of the four teams after Kentucky and Duke would be in the top eight to round out the No. 2 seeds. Miami and Tennessee are in; Ohio State and Maryland are out. Had the Buckeyes and Terps not suffered surprising losses this week, those positions might have changed. Those spots are far less certain, but there's a solid chance that no one below the teams mentioned here will invade the top two lines.
The No. 1 seeds
Let's take a look at this week's No. 1 seeds and their chance of maintaining that distinction when it really counts:
Baylor: 98 percent -- The Lady Bears would have to lose a minimum of three games, and probably more like four, to fall off the top line. They might not have one loss on the remaining schedule, let alone three. Trips to Kansas and Kansas State, plus two games against Texas A&M, would be the best bets, yet still are long shots. Baylor so dominated both the Jayhawks and Wildcats in their early meetings that an upset to either seems unlikely. The expectations were once that the Aggies would be a solid No. 2, perhaps even pushing for a No. 1 seed at this point in the season. However, they are neither. A&M is not close to Baylor's level and is closer to dropping a seed line than rising.
Notre Dame: 95 percent -- The Irish's schedule the rest of the way is easier than Baylor's. Rutgers and DePaul are the next two and on paper look tough, but the Scarlet Knights could be playing without their top player (Khadijah Rushdan suffered a neck/head injury on Sunday). Doug Bruno needs a calculator to keep track of all the Blue Demons' injuries, which have DePaul fading. Notre Dame would have to suffer at least two true upset losses (losing at UConn in the regular-season finale wouldn't hurt at all) to fall. Another advantage for the Irish? Big wins earlier in the season over the chief contenders to steal a No.1 seed: Duke and Kentucky.
Connecticut: 75 percent -- A win over Duke on Monday night and this percentage will be higher because, again, one of the chief competitors for a No. 1 seed will have been beaten. A win by the Blue Devils is likely the only reasonable result that would upset this prospect -- and why the Huskies' percentage is a bit lower. The remaining Big East schedule has some potential speed bumps along the way, but it would still take a pair of losses (other than one to Notre Dame, and the other would have to be a shocking upset) for the Huskies to drop from the top line, especially if they score a win over Duke.
Stanford: 85 percent -- The close call against Cal on Saturday keeps Stanford from being an even more resounding lock. The Cardinal showed some rare vulnerability in what is a weak conference. If Stanford was to lose a surprising game (and any loss other than to the Bears in the regular-season finale would have to be considered shocking) and Duke, for example, ran the table, there might be some question. The more interesting topic surrounding Stanford is where it might be playing its first two tournament games as a No. 1 seed. Plan on it being strange. Only one subregional site in this year's tournament resides west of Texas. That site is Spokane, where likely tournament participant Gonzaga is the host. The Cardinal have grown accustomed to having a West Coast spot, often their home gym, to open the tournament. But this year, they are going to have to really travel and might be disadvantaged in the second round. In this bracket, Stanford is in Norman, with a potential matchup against Oklahoma. Last time, it was Nashville and Vanderbilt. It hasn't been terribly unusual for a No. 1 seed to play a second-round game on someone else's home court, but to travel significantly to do so would be new. The only way for the Cardinal to remain within two time zones of home would be Spokane, but that could possibly mean a rematch of both the 2011 NCAA tournament and this year's regular season with Gonzaga. Both are prospects the committee tries to avoid.
No. 2 seeds
Duke: 70 percent -- Let's assume a loss to Connecticut, just for argument's sake (not a prediction, just a hypothetical). That would not hurt the Blue Devils' hold on a No. 2 but would likely end a reasonable run at a No. 1 seed. Staying on the second line means navigating two rivalry games with North Carolina and a trip to Maryland. Since the Terps are one of the teams knocking on the door, that contest becomes the key to Duke as a No. 2 seed the rest of the way. Of course, a potential meeting with Maryland and/or Miami in the ACC tournament will also factor into the equation. In other words, Duke still has some work to do.
Kentucky: 60 percent -- Other than a trip to Knoxville, the rest of the Wildcats' SEC season sets up nicely. With wins over Tennessee and Duke, Kentucky has a little cushion. It also helps that competitors such as Ohio State, Texas A&M and Rutgers don't seem primed to threaten an advance. The Wildcats could lose twice to Tennessee (once in the Feb. 13 meeting and once in the SEC tournament) and still hold this spot.
Miami: 50 percent -- The Hurricanes' chances are based as much on their lack of experience in this situation as they are on some obstacles in the weeks to come. Miami hasn't risen to the occasion in its biggest games the last two seasons, so games against North Carolina, at Maryland and at Duke could present a problem.
Tennessee: 50 percent -- The Lady Vols are also a mere 50-50 proposition at this point to be a top-two seed. They are good enough to run the table and make themselves a no-brainer No. 2 seed. Tennessee is also capable of up to three more losses (at Vanderbilt, Kentucky and in the SEC tournament), which puts this status in serious jeopardy, especially if a team such as Maryland goes on a run.
Charlie Creme can be reached at email@example.com.