November seems like a long time ago now. Questions about seeding and NCAA tournament worthiness began then and never stopped coming (except for the one about Connecticut being No. 1 overall; that one never needed to be asked). The answers to every question arrives Monday (ESPN/WatchESPN, 7 p.m. ET) when the NCAA selection committee's bracket is revealed. Until then, here are the three biggest question marks that will impact the field.
1. The bubble
So much of the bubble movement took place a week ago as the power-five conferences were playing their conference tournaments, but this Sunday provided that last bit of intrigue and what is now a big question for the committee: Florida Gulf Coast.
The Eagles, unbeaten in league play and the Atlantic Sun's No. 1 seed, lost in their tournament final to second-seeded Jacksonville. Most years that would have been it for FGCU. Most years the No. 71 RPI team from the 29th-rated conference would not even be up for discussion.
This isn't most years.
FGCU is the last team in espnW's final projection. FGCU is an interesting case for the committee to consider. A preseason injury to top player Whitney Knight cost her nine games, including three FGCU losses. The Eagles lost five games overall -- but the competition isn't strong for the last few spots in the bracket.
Iowa, Princeton, Temple and St. Bonaventure all have an argument for that final spot in the field -- although none would hold in a stronger year, either. FGCU gets the nod because of wins over two teams in the at-large pool or field -- Auburn (which shouldn't be completely comfortable, either) and George Washington. The GW win came without Knight, and the Eagles' only bad loss in the regular season also came without Knight. They also played Mississippi State tough (tied after three quarters). Competitive games against good teams are a criterion that NCAA selection committee chairwoman Chris Dawson has mentioned is a consideration.
Temple's profile looks similar with a questionable RPI, a reasonably rated nonconference schedule, and a big win over Florida. But the Owls stumbled a little more down the stretch. The Tigers and the Bonnies have much better RPIs, but in Princeton's case, fewer wins against the at-large pool (just Duquesne) and a much worse nonconference schedule strength -- something that has played a big role in the last few years of committee decisions. St. Bonaventure suffered two bad losses in the final two weeks and two more to VCU in the final month. One of the Bonnies' top-50 RPI wins came against George Washington, which was playing without top player Jonquel Jones. When FCGU beat the Colonials, Jones played.
These are teams separated by the width of a dime, which makes seeing how the committee evaluates them all the more interesting. The difference between 64 and 65 is ever so small, yet at the same time enormous.
The inclusion of FGCU is based on areas that have been emphasized over the past few years: quality wins, strength of schedule and performance. FGCU's RPI is troubling, no doubt, but this is an especially troubling year on the bubble, opening the door for the Eagles' possible inclusion.
2. No. 2 overall seed -- and how it impacts others
The committee has been consistent with South Carolina at No. 2 overall in each of its three top-10 reveals in February. That should lend itself to the Gamecocks staying there on Monday and getting placed in the Lexington Region. Many fans and media disagreed with that order, feeling Notre Dame is really the nation's second-best team behind UConn. Dawson did admit following the second and third reveals that this was a topic of conversation for the members and that some might have felt, like those fans and media, that Notre Dame was No. 2. So which will it be?
In the macro it might not be a decision of consequence. Both will still be favorites to get the Final Four, regardless of regional placement. The micro is where it gets important to certain fan bases. If South Carolina is in Lexington, hometown Kentucky would not be able to go there -- because of the bracketing principle that doesn't allow teams from the same conference that are among the top-four seeds to be placed in the same region. Louisville, however, would be allowed to be placed in Lexington.
If Notre Dame gets the No. 2 overall spot and Lexington serves as the closest region to South Bend, based on the principles at hand, the Irish would go to Lexington, eliminating the conference conflict issue for the Wildcats and allowing them to play there. Because Kentucky played only two games in Rupp Arena this season, the Wildcats are allowed to play there in regional games. If Kentucky had played more than three at Rupp, it would have been disqualified from being placed there anyway.
Now it's the South Carolina-Notre Dame question that will answer that for us.
3. Who will host?
The strength of schedule, especially nonconference, plays a big role in this vital committee decision. The top-four seeds in each region get to host the first and second rounds. The difference in being a No. 4 seed and a No. 5 seed used to be inconsequential. Now it's huge.
As it has been for more than a week, this is the order for the teams in contention for the final hosting spots:
15. Texas A&M
16. Florida State
17. Mississippi State
The profiles of these are similar. There are pluses all over the board.
Florida State played well against a difficult schedule. Syracuse did the same and was hot to end the season. Texas A&M played the toughest schedule of the bunch and had six top-50 wins. Mississippi State finished second in the SEC regular season and tournament and had five top-50 wins.
Ultimately, knowing the committee's emphasis on schedule both in conversations with Dawson this year and in past committee decisions, nonconference schedule is why the Bulldogs are No. 17 and just out of hosting position. They rank 239. That number jumps off the page in these comparisons. The next lowest in this group is Kentucky at 90. Everyone else is in the top 50.
Mississippi State also went 0-2 against Texas A&M and Kentucky. It would be a surprise if Mississippi State got over the hump with those circumstances.