Last year, the NCAA tournament selection committee offered us a one-time, in-season look into its thinking by revealing its top-16 teams. This year, we will get three peeks behind the curtain, beginning with the first tonight during Big Monday (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET).
The NCAA Division I committee will reveal its top-10 teams in seed order. Since the top-16 teams in March host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games, we go a little deeper, projecting the top four teams in each region (through Sunday's games). A complete, 64-team bracketology will be posted Tuesday on espnW.
1. UConn: The Huskies played the top nonconference schedule in the country and dominated it. And "dominate" is not a strong enough word to describe what UConn has done to American Athletic Conference opponents. The Huskies are certain to be a No. 1 seed and likely will be the selection committee's top overall team on Selection Monday. A loss to South Carolina on Feb. 8 is seemingly the only thing standing in the way, and even then, the Gamecocks would have to remain unbeaten or at one loss the rest of the way.
2. South Carolina: The only thing that matches the Gamecocks' penchant for playing in close games is their ability to win them. Kentucky could present another challenge on Thursday (SEC Network, 7 p.m. ET) before UConn visits on Monday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET). Falling from a No. 1 seed is unlikely even with a loss to the Huskies, but any slipups in the SEC could cost South Carolina the No. 2 overall spot.
3. Notre Dame: The Irish have been winning quietly since falling to UConn on Dec. 5 and have the top RPI in the country. Their spot as a No. 1 seed is also solid, but under the shadow of UConn-South Carolina is Notre Dame's visit to Louisville the day before on Super Bowl Sunday (ESPN2, 2 ET). The game could decide the ACC.
4. Baylor: The Lady Bears had one of those nights in their lone loss at Oklahoma State on Dec. 30 but earned their spot atop the Big 12 with the impressive win at Texas 2½ weeks later. Any more Baylor blemishes are hard to envision until a Big Monday trip to Oklahoma on Feb. 22.
5. Texas: The Longhorns have just one loss, but it was a convincing defeat at the hands of Baylor. A win over the Lady Bears in the Big 12 regular-season finale is likely the only chance Texas has at moving up to a No. 1 seed.
6. Ohio State: The loss at Northwestern two weeks ago remains a head scratcher since the Wildcats haven't won since. It could be the game that ultimately prevents the Buckeyes from the chance at a No. 1 seed. Their other three losses have been to the nation's three best teams (UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame). Ohio State needs to keep winning and watching the Big 12 closely.
7. Maryland: The Terps have been sitting comfortably in this spot since projections began and haven't lost in a month, but a stretch of four games in nine days will determine if they stay and likely impact the Big Ten title. Two games against Purdue sandwich a re-scheduled meeting with Michigan State, and a rematch with Ohio State awaits before what should be a comfortable finish leading into the Big Ten tournament.
8. Arizona State: The Sun Devils have been the Pac-12's best and most consistent team, and even shorthanded nearly beat South Carolina in November. However, holding onto the No. 2 seed will hinge on Monday's meeting with Oregon State (ESPN2, 11 p.m. ET).
9. Oregon State: The Beavers have also dealt with injury and survived. Sydney Wiese is back after missing eight games with an injured hand. Earning a No. 2 seed starts with a win over Arizona State, but games against Washington, UCLA and Stanford also loom.
10. Louisville: This is the one spot in which the committee's rankings could differ. The Cardinals should be considered the strong favorite for No. 10 overall, but Mississippi State, Florida State or Texas A&M could land in this spot instead. The Cardinals, a young team getting better as the season moves along, are nonetheless in a good position to host the opening rounds. The shot at Notre Dame on Sunday and a non-league Big Monday matchup with South Florida eight days later represent the only challenges the rest of the way.
11. Mississippi State: The history-making win over Tennessee on Thursday was the program's first over the Lady Vols in the series' 30-year history -- but it also might have been a season saver. Entering that game, the Bulldogs had lost three of their last four, but they were able to beat a Tennessee team also battling to host tournament games. That two-point win kept Mississippi State solidly inside the top 16, but a three-game gauntlet of Missouri, Texas A&M and Kentucky will likely decide if that remains the case.
12. Florida State: The Seminoles have been rock-solid, but rarely spectacular. Their best win is over Miami and they could really use a bigger victory to solidify a top-16 finish. Road wins at Duke, Syracuse and NC State would help, but Notre Dame's visit to Tallahassee on Big Monday in three weeks represents to only really big matchup left before the ACC tournament.
13. Texas A&M: The Aggies will have to shake off another tough loss to South Carolina, because a difficult stretch awaits. To remain in the mix for second place in the SEC, they must win at least two of their games coming up against Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi State. The Lady Vols and Kentucky also represent chief competition for a top-16 slot.
14. Stanford: The Cardinal have been maddeningly inconsistent (Exhibit A: two straight wins after scoring just 36 points in a loss to UCLA), but it would not be a reach to suggest they will be on an eight-game winning streak when Oregon State goes to Maples on Feb. 26. That would be enough to keep Stanford in a strong position to host NCAA tournament games.
15. Michigan State: The Spartans are the team that has risen the most in recent weeks. Three weeks ago they were a projected No. 8 seed but now are in position to host two NCAA tournament games. Michigan State has its shot at Maryland this Friday and another one at Ohio State in the regular-season finale. Assuming there are no other slip-ups, a win over the Terps or Buckeyes could mean a top-16 spot.
16. Kentucky: Deciding on the 16th team was the most difficult part of this ranking -- and it might ultimately be the most important decision the committee makes. The Wildcats are scuffling with losses in three of their past four, but still have better overall profiles than their chief competition for the spot: UCLA, Tennessee and South Florida. Kentucky is 5-3 against the RPI top 50 and has wins over Arizona State, Louisville, Duke and the Lady Vols. No one else in the running has close to that collection of wins. That said, the Wildcats are still hanging by a thread and have trips to South Carolina, Mississippi State and Texas A&M still to go, and Kentucky is just 4-3 on the road this season.