The calendar has turned to March, which is music to the ears of college basketball aficionados. Next week we'll examine bubble teams, and following Selection Sunday I'll provide my tips and guidelines for winning your bracket pool. I assure you, there's a method to my madness. However, if you win that $1 billion prize from Warren Buffett taking my advice, I expect a cut.
This week's "Four on the Hardwood Floor" will briefly analyze who will be the No. 1 seeds in each particular region:
1. The Florida Gators should be the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, barring an epic collapse in the SEC tourney. While the SEC is not having the greatest season as a whole, a perfect run through a major conference is still impressive. This group is experienced and extremely team-oriented.
2. Wichita State could be chasing perfection heading into the Big Dance, which will arguably be the story of the tourney. The Shockers have beaten everyone on their schedule, and deserve credit for that. There should also be less concern of a letdown because they made the Final Four last season. The stage will not be too big for the Shockers.
3. The Arizona Wildcats have done enough to deserve a top seed. Their only two losses were in double OT to in-state rival Arizona, and a last-second heartbreaker to Cal. Wins over Duke and Michigan also bolster their resume tremendously.
4. The top three No. 1 seeds are easy. The fourth? Not so much. There are a host of candidates here, including Duke, Syracuse, Virginia and Kansas. The Jayhawks have the hardest schedule in the country, but seven losses will make it tough to justify them as a top seed. As a result, the winner of the ACC Tournament will likely be the No. 1 seed. The dark horse here is Villanova. As long as Creighton isn't in their side of the bracket, the Wildcats could really do some damage.
Next up, let's take a look at who is riding high and who is in the depths of despair as March Madness approaches.
D.J. Balentine, G, Evansville - The Missouri Valley Conference has been in the news a lot this year due to the remarkable season put forth by the Wichita State Shockers. The Evansville Aces play in the same conference, and Balentine is the leading scorer in the MVC. The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard is shooting a stellar 40-percent from three-point land en route to an average of 22.3 points per game. He had a 43-point outburst at Northern Iowa on January 29th. He followed that up with a 38-point barrage on February 12th against Illinois State. Balentine is not just a one-trick pony, though; he is also averaging 2.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game for the Aces. He has notched at least seven dimes in three of the last four games for Evansville. A first-team MVC performer, Balentine deserves a mention in a season dominated by the Wichita State Shockers.
Shayne Whittington, C, Western Michigan - WMU is tied with Toledo for the best record in the MAC at 13-4, and Whittington is a huge reason for their success this year. A 6-11 senior, Whittington has 12 double-doubles this season, including five in his last six games. Whittington has also scored at least 21 points in each of the last four games for the Broncos. Paired with the team's leading scorer David Brown, Whittington and the Broncos are looking for just their second MAC Tournament crown in school history. The last NCAA appearance for Western Michigan was in 2004.
Jabril Trawick, G, Georgetown - The Hoyas started the season 1-2, then dropped five-straight games in the Big East in late January that seemed to secure their fate as NIT-bound. However, wins over Michigan State and Creighton have since improved their chances of securing an at-large NCAA berth. Trawick has been a big part of the resurgence. Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera get the pub, but Trawick has scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games for G-Town. By contrast, Trawick scored in double-digits just twice in the first 14 games of the season for the Hoyas. Trawick has also upped his rebounding as well; the 6-5 junior tied a season high in rebounds with seven in the pivotal victory over Creighton. The Hoyas could certainly use a win at Villanova in the regular season finale, and Trawick will play a crucial role in their game plan.
Coty Clarke, F, Arkansas - A 6-7 senior from Birmingham, Alabama, Clarke scored a career-high 23 points for the surging Razorbacks in their last game against Georgia. He has scored in double figures in six of the last seven contests for Arkansas, which is notable considering he does not average double-digits in scoring overall. Since Clarke's recent hot streak, the Razorbacks have won six of seven games. The frontcourt tandem of Clarke and freshman Bobby Portis has Arkansas on the verge of an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time since 2008.
Matt Stainbrook, C, Xavier - A strained MCL for Stainbrook has the Musketeers wondering if they will be without the services of their 6-10 center for the Big East Tournament. The transfer from Western Michigan leads Xavier in rebounding with 7.8 bounds per contest. He is also averaging double figures in points, while proving he is a more-than-capable passer with 2.3 assists per contest. Junior forward Justin Martin will need to step his game up if Stainbrook misses some time; Martin responded with 19 points and 16 rebounds in a victory on March 1st against Creighton.
Noah Vonleh, F, Indiana - The freshman Vonleh has performed admirably for the Hoosiers despite having to replace virtually all of the frontcourt production from a season ago. Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo went to the NBA, and Christian Watford graduated. Vonleh is nearly averaging a double-double with 11.6 points and 9.1 rebounds. However, he recently injured his foot and missed the last two games for the Hoosiers. In fact, Vonleh was seen in a walking boot, casting further doubt as to his short-term prospects. The Hoosiers are firmly on the bubble and will need their freshman forward to make a run in the Big Ten tourney, so be sure to monitor his status.
Isaiah Sykes, G-F, Central Florida - Sykes has been Mr. Everything for the Knights this season, leading the team in points, rebounds and assists. However, he has been dealing with a foot issue of his own, and missed an overtime loss to lowly Temple on Tuesday. Both squads are just 3-14 in conference play, but Sykes would almost certainly have been the difference maker for UCF. Sykes is averaging 16.1 points, 7.1 boards and 3.5 dimes per tilt. Freshman Calvin Newell scored 23 points in place of Sykes on Tuesday, and would likely see increased production should Sykes remain sidelined.
A.J. West, F, Nevada - The leading rebounder for the Wolf Pack with 7.5 boards per contest, West has been hobbled by an ankle ailment recently. A JUCO transfer, West is also shooting 53.2-percent from the field en route to averaging 7.4 points per tilt. West missed the first 11 games of the 2013-2014 campaign due to eligibility issues, so his time on the floor has been rather limited for Nevada. However, he has made an impact when present, including four games with at least 10 rebounds. He also had an eight-block game against Fresno State earlier this season. It is unclear how effective he will be for the Wolf Pack down the stretch.
Jerami Grant, F, Syracuse - Grant has been bothered by his back recently, and the Orange have suffered as a result. He missed the last game for Syracuse against Georgia Tech, and played just 13 minutes while failing to score in the March 1st tilt with Virginia. Not surprisingly, the Orange dropped both contests. Syracuse struggles to score the ball, and they have definitely been missing his 11.8 points per game. The Orange may choose to rest Grant in the regular season finale at Florida State on March 9th so as to give him as much of a break as possible before tournament season begins.
Roscoe Smith, F, UNLV - Smith started off the season on fire for the Rebels. The double-double machine posted four such outputs over his first six contests to begin the 2013-2014 campaign. In total, he has tallied 15 double-doubles while placing among the NCAA leaders in rebounding as a junior. However, he has had just one double-double over his last eight games. Likewise, he suffered a concussion in Saturday's tilt with Air Force, and his status is being listed as day-to-day. The Rebels certainly missed his presence against San Diego State, though they still have plenty of size overall with Khem Birch holding down the middle. 6-5 junior Bryce Dejean-Jones has also played extremely well of late.
JerShon Cobb, G, Northwestern - Cobb has been battling knee and foot injuries, and was finally shut down for the remainder of the season by the Wildcats. Cobb had been a vital part of the attempted resurrection of the Northwestern basketball program under new coach Chris Collins. Cobb was second on the squad in both scoring and assists, scoring 12.2 points and dishing out 2.3 assists per contest. The recent losing streak by the Wildcats certainly made the decision easier for coach Collins; the Wildcats have dropped six-straight games in the Big Ten after starting conference play 5-5. Cobb will have big shoes to fill next season due to the graduation of Drew Crawford.
Derrick Millinghaus, G, Ole Miss - The second-leading assist maker on the Rebels was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. As a result, he has missed the last two games for Ole Miss. Millinghaus has been a key contributor this season, averaging 7.2 points, 1.9 rebounds and 2.4 dimes per contest. The 5-10 point guard started the season off with six-straight games with at least 12 points, but had not scored in double figures in 12-straight contests prior to the suspension. The Rebels have been forced to rely even more upon Jarvis Summers and the Land Shark, Marshall Henderson of late.