Monday's third and final top-10 reveal from the NCAA tournament selection committee contained few changes. The teams remained the same from the Feb. 15 list, but some minor movement of the the bottom half of the top 10 might offer clues as to how the complete bracket could look in two weeks on Selection Monday.
UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame and Baylor held ground as Nos. 1 through 4. Texas returned to fifth, followed by Oregon State, Arizona State and Maryland. Ohio State, which was fifth two weeks ago, dropped to No. 9, and UCLA rounded out the top 10.
Among the teams slotted 6 through 10, Maryland is the only one that has not lost since Feb. 15 -- yet the Terrapins moved up only one spot, to No. 8. The reasons the Terps failed to make a bigger jump in the committee's eyes could have come down to specific data points -- and could be revealing as to the fate of other teams deeper in the field.
"It's fair to say that the big challenge now is to balance the résumés of all the teams that includes all the criteria, but top-50 wins and strength of schedule have been important, as is each committee member's impression of the teams now," NCAA selection committee chairwoman Chris Dawson said.
Maryland's six-game winning streak and outright Big Ten championship would seem to provide an advantage in analyzing how teams are playing right now. But the Terps still fall short of the Beavers and Sun Devils in top-50 wins and strength of schedule.
Dawson said another big challenge for the committee is "to be consistent in prioritizing," which would appear to be a good sign for a team like Tennessee, which has the best schedule rating in the country and five top-50 wins. Bubble teams like Minnesota, Temple and St. Bonaventure should take heed.
"As we get closer to the end of the season," Dawson continued, "we are really looking at who did you play, what was the quality of that opponent, and how did you look in the game."
Things continue to look grim for Minnesota's at-large chances. The Gophers didn't look good at all in Sunday's 110-77 loss to Maryland, and they don't have the schedule strength or top-50 wins. Plus, the fact the Terrapins didn't seem to get much juice in the committee's current rankings from beating the Gophers is a bad sign.
Dawson acknowledged there was plenty of discussion about the Buckeyes being behind Maryland despite two wins over the Terps.
"Some members felt the head-to-head was extremely important, but we talked a lot as a group about where it fits in," Dawson said.
The Buckeyes also have more top-50 wins and a stronger schedule strength than Maryland, but with two losses in the past week and a second-place finish to the Terps in the Big Ten, Ohio State was the No. 9 overall, the equivalent of the top No. 3 seed. Interestingly, that scenario would give the Buckeyes a better chance of staying out of UConn's regional than if they remained a low No. 2 seed. That could actually be Maryland's cross to bear now.
The subject of who should be No. 2 overall -- South Carolina or Notre Dame -- was "discussed at length again," according to Dawson. She acknowledged that there are differing opinions on the merits of both teams. Right now the team with the most top-50 wins (South Carolina, at 12 to 10) is prevailing. The curiosity in this debate among fans is how that could affect regional placement, but Dawson said that part of the process has not reached serious discussion.
"We did talk a little about bracketing at our early February in-person meeting but not since and there has been movement since then," Dawson said. "Right now all the conversation is on evaluating teams for the field."
Injuries to key players was also the topic of discussion among committee members on a conference call last week. The status/situation of players such as Duke's Azura Stevens, George Washington's Jonquel Jones, Villanova's Caroline Coyer and Georgia's Shacobia Barbee could affect selection and seeding, but Dawson said no determinations on specific situations have been made.
Stevens and Jones are expected back for their respective conference tournaments, which means the committee will have to evaluate their impact and what the missed time might have meant to their teams. Coyer and Barbee are done for the season, so the committee is looking to see how their teams perform without them. Villanova is 3-0 without Coyer, and Georgia is 1-1 without Barbee.
With Louisville and Stanford as the only other teams in the "under consideration" category, the top three seeds in each region have been established for now. The conference tournaments will have a chance to alter or substantiate those. Four Pac-12 teams on the top three seed lines could present a challenge in bracketing if it stays that way for Selection Monday. By bracketing rules firmly established before last season, teams from the same conference and on the first four seed lines must be placed in different regions.
Those are issues that will get much more attention when committee members convene to Indianapolis in less than two weeks. Until then, these reveals have served to give media and fans an idea of where some of the top teams stand and a starting point for the tough decision-making days ahead.