The news site of Robert Morris University

RMU Sentry Media

The news site of Robert Morris University

RMU Sentry Media

The news site of Robert Morris University

RMU Sentry Media

What to Watch in the Lead-Up to March Madness


Now that the football season has come to a close with the Chiefs’ 25-22 win over the 49ers in the Super Bowl, a lot of people’s focus will turn to college basketball with the upcoming NCAA tournament approaching next month. As an avid college basketball fan, I will be giving some things to watch out for the rest of the way and some storylines so far this season.

We will take a trip to Champaign, Illinois on the campus of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Currently, Illinois sits at 17-6 (8-4) in Big Ten play and is likely a four or five-seed in the NCAA tournament. While this team has a chance at a Final 4 or better, that all hinges on the status of Terrance Shannon Jr. The 6-6 guard is considered one of, if not the best shooting guards in all of college basketball, and is likely a 1st round pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

However, last month charges were brought against Shannon, alleging the player of sexual assault and battery. Even though the charges haven’t been dropped, Shannon had his suspension lifted after a judge ruled the suspension was in violation of his rights, and now finds himself on the court, to the disappointment of many.

Whether this is right or not, the Fighting Illini’s chance at a Final 4 or better will come down to whether TJ Shannon stays available or not for their March run. Keep an eye out for how this situation continues to go as this could easily change the outlook of your bracket.

Story continues below advertisement

We will stay in the Big 10 as we take a trip to Madison, Wisconsin as we look at the Wisconsin Badgers. If we take a look back at Groundhog Day, Wisconsin was a likely 1 or 2 seed and they were set to take on Nebraska, a team that sits on the bubble pretty solidly. The Badgers would go into Lincoln and drop a tough road game, but their rough start to February would continue as Wisconsin would drop their next 3, and now they sit at a likely 4 or 5 seed. Watch out for if the Badgers can get back on track as they are a National Championship contender at their best.

We will stay with the theme of teams that have high potential but are stuck in the mud, that being the Kentucky Wildcats. The Wildcats have the best 5 freshmen out of any team, that being DJ Wagner, Rob Dillingham, Aaron Bradshaw, Justin Edwards, and Reed Shepard. The problem is, while this is one of the most talented rosters in the nation, Coach Cal just seems not to trust any of these young guys, and that has hindered them this season, and they have dropped their last 3 games. Keep an eye out for if Coach Cal starts to rely on his young guys as this could be the key to their season.

Another team to watch out for is Gonzaga. The Zags have been one of the constants in the NCAA tournament for the past decades. But currently, they just do not have the resume to get in as an at-large bid. An at-large bid is a team that does not win their conference but gets in based on their body of work. The Zags just got their 1st quad 1 win, which is important because they play in the West Coast Conference, so they do not have many Quad 1 chances. The Zags will likely have to win at San Francisco and Saint Mary’s for any chance at an at-large bid. Keep an eye on those 2 games to see if Gonzaga will again be in the tournament.

We will talk about the number of bids for some conferences. The key thing to watch out for is for teams to be 37th or better in the NET rankings. That is because no team ranked 37th or better has ever missed the tournament. The NET rankings are a sorting tool the tournament committee uses for Selection Sunday. We will start in the American Athletic Conference; the question is whether they will get more than 1 bid. The AAC currently has only 1 team ranked 37th or better, FAU, which is likely to get the auto bid, but SMU is ranked 43rd and has 5 of 8 games against Quad 1 or 2 teams, so the Mustangs will have a chance to improve their NET ranking. Next, will the ACC get 5 or more bids? The ACC has Pitt (59th) and Virginia Tech (62nd); both are in the same spot as SMU and just simply need to win. Will the Big 10 get more than 4 bids? The Big 10 has 3 teams on the bubble, but as we have talked about so far, can those teams win games?

Can UConn repeat? It is fair to say that so far this season both UConn and Purdue have separated themselves as the two best teams in college basketball. The question for UConn will be can they stay healthy? The Huskies have only played 5 games this year with a healthy team. If they can stay healthy, they likely will have a chance to repeat. Keep an eye out for the Huskies and their health.

With Purdue, the question will be guard play. The Boilermakers are playing two sophomores at their starting guard positions, Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer. Smith and Loyer are accompanied by Lance Jones, a 5th-year player who transferred from Southern Illinois as Head Coach Matt Painter made a concerted effort to get older in the backcourt. The Boilermakers also lost in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament to Fairleigh Dickinson, so the question is, for Smith and Loyer, can they put the demons of last year’s loss behind them? If they can, you could very well see the Boilermakers hosting the trophy in Phoenix this year.

This college basketball season has already been a crazy one, one of the most even years to date like James Madison’s upset of the then number 3 team in the nation Michigan State. Or the first week of 2024 when 9 of 10 of the top 10 lost to unranked teams. If you’re just tuning in now, get ready because the rest of the season will be a roller coaster ride.

More to Discover