San Diego State v Connecticut
Getty Images

Welcome to March!

Yes, it took us one day longer than it normally does to get here -- shouts to Leap Year! -- but we've finally arrived. We're now living in March Madness. The Road to the Final Four is getting shorter. There are only 18 more days until the start of the 2024 NCAA Tournament on March 19. So, with that in mind, here are 18 questions asked and answered in an attempt to focus on the things that will dominate the sport moving forward until we get that beautiful 68-team bracket on Selection Sunday.

1. Who projects as the No. 1 overall seed?

I realize Houston is No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll. Before that, it was UConn. I'm aware. But the truth is that Purdue actually has the sport's best body of work and would be the No. 1 overall seed if the NCAA Tournament started today.

Don't let the goofy AP Top 25 poll trick you.

The Boilermakers are 15-3 in the first two quadrants with nine Quadrant 1 wins and seven victories over schools ranked in the top 25 of the NET. Simply put, nobody can match that — neither Houston nor UConn nor anybody else. At this point, Purdue is something close to a lock to be a No. 1 seed for the second straight year — and if the Boilermakers spend the next two-plus weeks doing what they've been doing for the previous three-plus months, they'll soon be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for what would be the first time in school history.

2. Does Edey have the POY race wrapped up?

We're likely now deep enough into the calendar that even if Zach Edey were to, God forbid, suffer a season-ending injury, he'd still probably win all national player of the year awards for the second straight year. The 7-4 center is averaging a career-high 23.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and a career-high 2.2 blocks in 30.9 minutes per game while shooting 62.7% from the field. You can reasonably argue he's been better this year than he was last year, and one way to make that argument is by looking at the POY race.

Have you checked that out?

Last season, Edey had a KPOY rating of 2.106, which was at least 0.485 better than everybody else. This season, Edey's KPOY rating is 2.390, which is at least 0.798 better than everybody else. So, yeah, the POY race is probably over. Edey will soon be the first back-to-back winner of the Wooden Award since Ralph Sampson won it in 1981 and 1982. The only real question remaining is whether his college career will also culminate with Purdue's first trip to the Final Four since 1980.

3. Who will be the fourth No. 1 seed?

I suppose anything can happen. This sport is wild sometimes. But Purdue, UConn and Houston, at least from a bodies of work perspective, have clearly separated from the pack. All three teams are 25-3 with at least 7 Q1 wins and zero losses outside of Q1. Every other contender for a No. 1 seed already has at least five losses, and not a single one of them is also clean outside of Q1 like Purdue, UConn and Houston are clean outside of Q1 — except for Auburn, and Auburn only has one Q1 win. So, again, you can pretty much pencil in Purdue, UConn and Houston on the top line, and every day between now and Selection Sunday will be spent trying to determine who will join them. For what it's worth, put me down for Tennessee.

4. Can you believe what Knecht is doing?

Speaking of Tennessee, the Vols will take a five-game winning streak into Saturday's game at Alabama in a matchup between the two teams tied atop the SEC standings with 12-3 league marks.

That's the Game of the Weekend.

Among the challenges for UT is the fact that nobody has won at Alabama in more than three months. But it would be foolish to assume the Volunteers can't do it, especially considering the heater Dalton Knecht is on. The 6-foot-6 transfer from Northern Colorado is on track to join Edey as a First Team All-American after Wednesday night's 39-point effort in a 92-84 win over Auburn. He's now averaging 20.8 points on the season — but an incredible 26.6 points in UT's past 14 games, all of which were SEC contests. In other words, Knecht has gotten better as the season has progressed and competition increased. If he and his teammates remain on anything close to this pace, the projected lottery pick in the 2024 NBA Draft will soon be named SEC Player of the Year.

Dalton Knecht is by far Tennessee's best player this season. USATSI

5. So Knecht isn't a challenger to Edey for POY?

Respectfully, I don't think so. As great as Knecht has been and is, barring a surprise, he's still going to end up with inferior stats than Edey and on an inferior team than Purdue. If I had to submit a five-player ballot today, Knecht would be on it — and probably second. But there's a clear gap between first and second, and I just don't see Edey or Purdue doing anything to lessen that gap enough to where someone emerges as a real threat to his back-to-back hopes.

6. Who else is in the running for First Team All-America honors?

Don't hold me to this. But if I had to submit a First Team All-America ballot right now, it would probably look like this:

I tend to try to construct All-America teams that are lineup sensible, and what I did above complies. I'm torn between Davis, Newton and Shead for my backcourt spots — and Alabama's Mark Sears also deserves consideration. All of that will sort out in the coming weeks. And Duke's Kyle Filipowski, Auburn's Johni Broome and Dayton's DaRon Holmes are obvious candidates to replace LeDee. So we're far from down here, although Edey and Knecht seem like safe bets.

7. What's the best conference race to follow over the next two weeks?

It's reasonable to assume that Purdue will win the Big Ten, UConn will win the Big East and Arizona will win the Pac-12. The ACC, SEC and Big 12 remain more up for grabs — though nothing is more interesting than the Mountain West, where five schools remain either in first place or within a game of first place in the league standings heading into the weekend.

On Inside College Basketball late Wednesday, I was asked whether I'd take San Diego State or the field in the Mountain West Conference Tournament considering the Aztecs are the highest-rated team in the MWC, according to the NET. I went with the field, if only because there are at least seven teams that can reasonably hope to win the 11-team event — specifically the six currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament plus UNLV, which is 8-1 in its past nine games and set to enjoy something similar to a home-court advantage during the MWC Tournament inside the Thomas & Mack Center. Ultimately, I think Utah State will emerge as the Mountain West's outright regular-season champion for the first time in history. Regardless, the MWC Tournament will be completely up in the air. The semifinals should be outstanding.

8. Will we have any more court-stormings before Selection Sunday?

Honestly, who knows?

It's unfortunate that the court-storming conversation overwhelmed the sport for much of the past week because of what happened last weekend at Wake Forest — but it's always going to overwhelm the sport any time a high-profile player is injured (or even nearly injured), which is among the reasons it's important for people in power to address it. I've already said everything I need to say about it here and here — and I also wrote about it in this week's Dribble Handoff. If you missed any of that, check it out. In the meantime, stay safe out there.

Creighton v St. John's
Rick Pitino has the Red Storm in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. Getty Images

9. Is St. John's still a national story?


As I explained on Inside College Basketball late Wednesday, the Red Storm are now just two games below .500 in the first two quadrants with three Q1 wins and only one additional loss falling in Q3. They're 40th in the NET. That can't have — or at least that shouldn't have — St. John's too far on the wrong side of the bubble based on the resumes other bubble teams are holding. I'm not going to promise you the Red Storm will get there. But after recording back-to-back Q1 wins over Creighton at Butler, what I am promising you is that there's a chance.

10. Can you explain Iowa State to me?

Iowa State has become the focal point of an online debate about whether the Cyclones have gamed the system and are really just #ComputerTrickers. In a vacuum, I get it considering they entered Big 12 play ranked in the top 15 at despite having zero Q1 wins and a terrible strength of schedule at the time. But what's confusing about Iowa State becoming the centerpiece of this conversation is that, if anything, the Cyclones have proved the computers right. They're now 11-6 in the first two quadrants with 5 Q1 wins and only two losses outside of Q1. They're alone in second in the toughest league in the country. I would have them as a No. 2 seed if the NCAA Tournament started today. So don't let the chatter misguide you. Iowa State's resume lines up remarkably well with its computer numbers. These aren't #ComputerTrickers as much as they're just the biggest threat to Houston in the Big 12 title race.

11. Will Gonzaga extend its NCAA Tournament streak?

I think so, yes. And the Zags took a step in the right direction late Thursday with a convincing victory at San Francisco that qualified as their second Quadrant 1 win. That means Gonzaga is now 4-6 in the first two quadrants with only one loss outside of Q1 and zero defeats outside of the first two quadrants. It's not what the Zags' resume typically looks like on the first day of March, but it's enough to have them on the right side of the bubble heading into Saturday's game at Saint Mary's, where a win should lock up a 25th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. 

12. What about Michigan State?

Michigan State seems safer than Gonzaga, at this point, although the Spartans have dropped two straight heading into this weekend's game at Purdue. CBS Sports Bracketology expert Jerry Palm currently has MSU projected as a No. 9 seed, point being that some wiggle room exists. But if the Spartans don't win at least one of their next three games, sure, Tom Izzo's streak of 25 straight NCAA Tournament appearances could be in jeopardy. But let's not worry about that at least until we see what happens next Wednesday against Northwestern.

13. Are any more coaches going to be fired between now and the end of the regular season?

You never know — but probably not. Most bad teams only have like three or four or five games left. So they'll probably just ride it out. But with Ohio State already open, Louisville certain to open, and other big brands like Indiana, Michigan and Villanova at least theoretically up in the air if things really spiral down the stretch, we could have a wild coaching carousel that gets back to spinning during championship week. If nothing else, the domino effect from what Ohio State and Louisville eventually do will likely impact multiple places and have schools that don't even realize yet that they're going to need a new coach in the market to hire a new coach. Fun times.

14. Kansas was preseason No. 1 so how's that going?

Not too well, lately. The Jayhawks have struggled with depth all season and really only have five reliable players -- and the best one (Kevin McCullar) is currently hurt. That's not ideal and partly why the Jayhawks just took their first loss at home and fell three games back of Houston in the Big 12 standings with just three regular-season games remaining. So not only is Bill Self not going to win an 18th Big 12 regular-season title in 21 years at KU, he's suddenly at risk of finishing outside of the top three in the league standings for the first time ever. 

That's surprising.

Assuming McCullar returns, Kansas should still be considered a national championship contender nearly regardless of what happens between now and the start of the NCAA Tournament. But this team is flawed in ways nobody imagined heading into the season, and it's been apparent since at least early January. 

15. Will Sheppard continue to come off of Kentucky's bench?

UK coach John Calipari doesn't usually mess with things when they're working, and the most recent example of Reed Sheppard coming off of UK's bench resulted in 32 points, seven assists, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 35 minutes during a 91-89 victory at Mississippi State in which Sheppard hit a game-winning runner in the final second. I can't imagine Calipari tinkering with that.

Do I agree with bringing Sheppard off of the bench?

Of course not.

Most coaches start their best players. I'm not sure why Calipari refuses. But if Sheppard doesn't mind watching the first few minutes of every game, I'm not going to spend too much time caring about it — although, yeah, it's always weird to see a projected lottery pick in a reserve role. But, remember, Calipari is the same man who once brought Devin Booker off of the bench for an entire season. So we've seen this kind of thing before.

16. Are there NBA prospects we should be following?

On paper, this is neither a great draft nor a great year for prospects in college basketball. Kentucky has more likely first-round picks than anybody else in Sheppard, Rob Dillingham, Justin Edwards and DJ Wagner (at least). But international prospects and G-League Ignite players will likely highlight the top 10 of the 2024 NBA Draft. If you want some names to follow, though, the Kentucky players are good ones — plus Knecht, Filipowski, Baylor's Ja'Kobe Walter and Colorado's Cody Williams.

17. What's your updated Final Four picks?

I'll just go with the top four in the Top 25 And 1 — specifically Purdue, UConn, Houston and Tennessee. That would be an awesome way to spend the first Saturday in April, watching those four teams compete for a trip to Monday's title game. Each has a Hall of Fame level coach and an All-American level star. I'm not suggesting that would be the "best" Final Four because something with Arizona in Phoenix — or just Duke or Kentucky or North Carolina involved — would possibly be better and bigger. But, if given the option, I would totally sign up for Purdue, UConn, Houston and Tennessee right now.

18. And the national champion will be?

Purdue, I think. And wouldn't that be something? UConn and Houston are also awesome, Kentucky's ceiling is super-high, and Kansas with Self is still Kansas with Self. There are a handful of teams I could easily envision cutting nets.

But I'm going with Purdue.

After becoming just the second No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the best story this season could deliver is the ultimate bounce-back from that, one sparked by a second straight POY campaign from one of college basketball's greatest ever. Obviously, getting it done won't be easy. And, to do it, Purdue will have to slay some demons and get past some hurdles that have previously proven difficult. But anybody focused on what happened to last season's team more than they are on what this season's team is doing, and how this season's team is different, is really missing the forest for the trees.

The Boilermakers are undeniably great enough to win it all.

It should not be surprising if they do.