Special to ESPN.com
Although the ink on most of those first-semester final exams isn’t even dry yet and, for the most part, conference play hasn’t even begun, some truths about this season appear to be self-evident. A few are laid out here, but the unknowns always outnumber the knowns at this point in any season. So let this serve as something of a checkpoint on the journey to Selection Monday and then to San Antonio.
The No. 1 seeds
Stanford is in the midst of as tough a scheduling week as any team can play. The Cardinal meet Duke, Tennessee and UConn all within eight days. The pasting of the Blue Devils on Tuesday night illustrated that Tara VanDerveer’s club is more than equipped to handle it. Given the relative weakness of the Pac-10 this season, the majority of the Cardinal nights after Christmas will be relatively comfortable.
The Lady Vols should be in a large mix that includes Notre Dame, Duke, Baylor, Ohio State, LSU and, perhaps, Texas A&M, Florida State and North Carolina for those final two No. 1 seeds. This time around, Tennessee and Notre Dame were relatively easy choices because they are the two most accomplished among the unbeatens.
None of the other mid-major leagues appear to have at-large possibilities at this point. Keep an eye on the MAC and Colonial, though. Gonzaga, South Dakota State and Wisconsin-Green Bay are the individual teams that could be in the conversation at season’s end in case they don’t win their league tournaments, although the Zags and Jackrabbits will regret not doing a bit more in the non-conference season.
The Big Ten and Big 12 are also deep (even if not as high quality as in years past in the case of the Big 12) and should have clubs on the tournament fence all season.
Unpredictable journey, predictable ending?
What does it mean? That on any given day, anyone appears to have a chance as long as that anyone isn’t playing Connecticut or Stanford.
Just how much better?
Now to a little housekeeping
As with any of the early season brackets, questions arise because of the limited data available. It doesn’t make Bracketology any less fun, but doesn’t lend itself to more gray area. So keep a few things in mind.
• The automatic qualifiers from the traditional one-bid leagues are those clubs leading their respective conferences as of Tuesday — and not a prediction of who will finish first. Since conference play is either really early or hasn’t begun at all, the chosen teams from those leagues are the highest-rated as long as the overall record is .500 or above. This is merely one of those “for the purpose of this exercise” concepts.
• Teams must be assigned to their home floors for the first- and second-round games, but can’t play at home during the regionals. So in this bracket’s scenario, Dayton would be excluded from playing in that regional, but Tennessee, for instance, is automatically assigned to Knoxville for the sub-regional.