A funny thing happened at halftime of Sunday’s Wisconsin-Michigan State game. First, CBS aired a graphic listing the teams from the Big Ten that bracket expert Jerry Palm believed were in the NCAA Tournament field as of that moment. Palm had eight Big Ten teams in the field — No. 8 being Illinois.But then, one by one, studio analysts Seth Davis, Doug Gottlieb and Clark Kellogg shot the Illini right out of the sky.
OK, maybe it wasn’t that funny.Mind you, CBS pays Palm to know this stuff better than anybody, but the analysts’ point was that the Big Ten hasn’t been good enough this season to get eight teams into the tourney. I tend to think they’re correct. The Illini are 18-11 overall and 8-8 in league play. I don’t think they’ll get in unless they win at Purdue in the regular-season finale or win at least two games in the league tourney.
But what do I know? This week’s assessment of the tourney field:
THE FIRST FOUR
Kentucky (29-0): It might be hard to imagine, but the Wildcats’ are a much better team than they were a month ago. Why? The offense has come around; they averaged nearly 90 points in their last three victories. It was one thing to not be able to score on the Wildcats, but to not be able to stop them, either? No fair.
Virginia (27-1): By now, the Cavaliers shouldn’t have to prove themselves to anybody. But I’d be lying if I said I’m not curious to see how a regular-season-ending road trip to Syracuse and Louisville turns out.
Duke (26-3):If they lose Saturday at North Carolina, the Blue Devils may have to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament to get a No. 1 seed.
Villanova (27-2):Ten straight victories and counting for the Wildcats, who are playing as well as any team outside of Lexington, Ky.
THE NEXT FOUR
Wisconsin (26-3):The Big Ten regular-season title is in the bag. Frank Kaminsky has all but locked up the national player of the year awards. What’s left? A lot — stiff tests at Minnesota and Ohio State that could affect the Badgers’ seeding.
Arizona (26-3):If freshman Stanley Johnson breaks out of his three-point shooting slump, the Wildcats could play their way onto the top seed line.
Gonzaga (29-2):Tough loss to BYU — there’s no getting back to a No. 1 now — but it’s no big deal. The Bulldogs have too much size and shooting to be overlooked.
Kansas (23-6):The Jayhawks’ grip on a No. 2 is questionable, but if they win the Big 12 regular-season title for an 11th straight year — still up in the air, by the way — a No. 2 it’ll be.
Dayton:When the Flyers reached the Elite Eight a year ago, it was, “Who are these guys?” Dyshawn Prince, Jordan Sibert, Scoochie Smith and coach Archie Miller are surging again, now 22-6 and with a great shot to win the Atlantic 10.
Utah:A week ago, the Utes were within striking range of a No. 2 seed. After failing tests against Oregon and Arizona, they’re looking at maybe a 5 or a 6.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Kentucky at Georgia(Tuesday, 8 p.m., ESPN): Don’t overlook the Bulldogs in this one. They’re an NCAA tourney team, and it’s Senior Night for Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic.
Duke at North Carolina(Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN): What could be better? Well, it would be better if the ACC title were on the line, but we’re not complaining.
Kansas at Oklahoma(Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN): The Sooners could have a chance to tie — or pass — KU at the top of the Big 12. That would be all kinds of wild.