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Six things to watch for on Selection Sunday

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Practiced started almost six months ago. The first games were played more than four months ago. In that time, 351 Division I basketball teams played 31 game regular season schedules and 31 of the 32 conferences across the country have held their conference tournaments; we’ll turn the Ivy League to the darkside at some point.

It’s been a long, fun ride, but finally …

Selection Sunday is here!

MORE: Today’s bracket update | Get to know all of the automatic bids

And while it may seem crazy, half-a-year’s worth of work will be boiled down to a committee of ten bracketing out the 68 teams that will participate in this year’s NCAA tournament. A good draw could yield a Final Four. A bad draw could cost a Cinderella their dancing shoes.

Here are the six most important things that we will find out on Selection Sunday:

1. Who gets the fourth No. 1 seed?: Florida has been a virtual lock to be on the top line for about a month now. Wichita State locked up a No. 1 seed when they moved to 34-0 with a title in the Missouri Valley tournament. Arizona lost to UCLA in the Pac-12 title game, but the Wildcats are likely still head for a No. 1 seed.

And who else? If Florida’s in the South, Wichita State is in the Midwest and Arizona is out West, who is going to be the top seed in the East?

RELATED: Get to know the potential No. 1 seeds

Villanova looked like the favorite heading into the weekend, but they lost in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. Wisconsin looked like a contender, but they were beaten in the Big Ten semifinals by Michigan State. Can Virginia earn that No. 1 seed by beating Duke in the ACC title game? What about Michigan, who takes on the Spartans in the Big Ten title game? If they lose, is there any chance that Louisville can get the honor?

2. Whose bubble will burst?: Providence did themselves a favor. They went out and won the Big East’s automatic bid on Saturday night, knocking off NBCSports.com’s National Player of the Year Doug McDermott and Creighton. They won’t be sweating out Selection Sunday, but a number of teams will.

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The way I see it, there are ten teams vying for six at-large spots. If I had to make a prediction, Tennessee, Dayton, Nebraska, Xavier, SMU and BYU (in that order) are in while Missouri, Cal, Minnesota and Florida State (in that order) are out, but I hope I’m wrong and the committee decides to extend an invitation to Green Bay.

3. Where will Kansas be seeded?: The Jayhawks have played one of the toughest schedules in the history of college basketball this season. They also suffered nine losses against that schedule and were absolutely shredded defensively in two of their last three games. Star Jayhawk center Joel Embiid was out of the lineup in all three of those games. He has a stress fracture in his spine and is not expected to return to the lineup until at least the second weekend of the tournament, if at all. How do they get seeded? How does the committee value the schedule that Bill Self put together? How much of a factor will Embiid’s injury be?

4. Just how high of a seed will Louisville get?: The Cardinals are playing as well as anyone in the country right now. I’d argue that they are one of the five most likely teams to win a title. But thanks to a complete lack of quality wins in non-conference play, the Cardinals simply don’t have the kind of resume that would support a No. 1 seed. As of Saturday, they were a No. 3 in Dave Ommen’s bracket, and others had the Cards slotted as a No. 4 seed. I wouldn’t want to be the No. 1 seed in that region if the Cards get a No. 4 seed.

RELATED: The Cardinals look like a National Title contender

5. Where will Syracuse go?: The seed for Syracuse isn’t quite as important as the region they are sent. There are games in Buffalo the first weekend of the tournament. The Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 will be played at Madison Square Garden. Syracuse fans travel as well as anyone, and they certainly will be able to fill arenas in Buffalo and New York City. That’s quite an advantage for Jim Boeheim’s club. When the Orange were the No. 1 team in the country four weeks ago, that path seemed like a foregone conclusion. But now, can the committee really give the Orange that kind of an advantage when they aren’t even the top seed in their region?

6.Who ends up in Wichita State’s bracket?: It’s crazy when you think about it, but the lack of any real challenge on their schedule means that Wichita State’s season for the ages will be determined by their performance in the NCAA tournament. If they are “for real”, they will make another run. If they aren’t, they’ll lose early. It’s dumb, but reality isn’t always smart.

Here’s the issue: there are some talented, top ten-caliber teams that had their seeds get dropped because of poor stretches during the season. This is a legitimate possibility for the Shockers: they could play No. 8 seed Oklahoma State in the Round of 32, No. 4 seed Louisville (or Michigan State) in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 seed Kansas (with Embiid back) in the Elite 8. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

UT-Arlington dominates, upsets No. 12 St. Mary’s

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on  in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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UT-Arlington made a statement on Thursday night, completely dominating No. 12 Saint Mary’s in a 65-51 upset win in a true road game in Moraga.

Back in October, I ranked both the Gaels and the Mavericks in the top-5 of my Mid-Major Power Rankings. Saint Mary’s was the obvious top choice, one of the nation’s most efficient offenses that returned Emmett Naar and Jock Landale. UT-Arlington, ranked fifth, served as a dangerous opponent. The Mavs had defeated Ohio State and Memphis in 2015, but their season was derailed once Kevin Hervey, a player with serious pro potential, tore his ACL.

With five starters back, including Hervey, who is just now getting back to 100 percent, UT-Arlington looks every bit the part of a March Cinderella.

The Mavericks jumped out to an early lead and forced the Gaels to play out of character. Saint Mary’s had only committed a season-high 14 turnovers before the midway point of the second half. The Gaels, who entered shooting 40 percent from three as a team, was held to 8-of-27 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

UT-Arlington did an incredible job of closing out on shooters. And it didn’t matter the matchup, at times we saw Hervey, a 6-foot-9 junior, come out and run a guard off the 3-point line. While those statistics mentioned above show up in the box score, the amount of deflections don’t. The Mavericks used its length and athleticism to get their hands everywhere on the defensive end of the floor, making it difficult to find good looks.

In the first half, UT-Arlington controlled the glass. Saint Mary’s found more success in that department after halftime, as Kevin Clark’s offensive putback capped an 11-2 run, which cut the deficit to 52-41. However, the Mavs were able to counter each time the Gaels threatened, never letting the lead get to single digits.

Aside from the struggles the typically-efficient Saint Mary’s offense had, the Gaels struggled to keep UT-Arlington guards Erick Neal and Kaelon Wilson out of the lane, whether it be on a high ball screen or a handoff. Saint Mary’s never seemed to have a help-side defender there to protect the rim. Neal had 13 points and eight assists (five turnovers), while Wilson had 10 points off the bench. Hervey had a game-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

UT-Arlington is winners of eight straight after losing three straight. One of those wins includes a double-digit win over Texas in Austin. The Mavericks are the clear-cut favorite to win the Sun Belt. Come Selection Sunday, I’d say plenty of at-large teams would not like to be paired up with Scott Cross’ team.

Iowa cruises past No. 25 Iowa State

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Iowa picked up a major win on Thursday night, defeating in-state rival No. 25 Iowa State, 78-64, in a contest the Hawkeyes thoroughly dominated.

Let’s put it this way: the Hawkeyes have played four top-100 teams, according to kenpom. In those games, all losses by the way, their defense has surrendered 91 points to Seton Hall, 74 points to a Virginia team that plays at the slowest tempo in the country, 100 points to Memphis and 92 points to Notre Dame.

On Saturday, on the same floor Iowa demolished the Cyclones, its defense allowed 98 points in a loss to Nebraska Omaha.

This is exactly the sort of win Fran McCaffery and Co. needed to right the ship as we inch closer and closer to conference play.

When the Cyclones went to their bench in the first half, Nick Baer sparked a 10-0 run which helped set the tone for the remainder of the half. Iowa State went without a field goal for more than six minutes during that span.

Iowa kept Iowa State from getting out and running, holding the Cyclones to zero fast break points through the first 20 minutes and limiting them to only 36 percent from the floor as a team. Iowa, on the other hand, shot 47 percent, including 59 percent in the first half, which led to a 15-point halftime lead.

Peter Jok torched Iowa State to the tune of 23 points (4-of-7 from distance).

Monte Morris was held in check with 10 points, while Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas shot a combined 4-of-13 from three (they each hit a three with less than three minutes to play and the outcome all but decided).

Iowa State’s offense is becoming a bigger concern. Just like against Gonzaga, the Cyclones dug a first-half hole they could shoot out their way of. And like last week’s overtime loss to Cincinnati, they struggled from beyond the arc.

Iowa landed a marquee win it needed, while its rival headed home with questions to answer after losing three of four.

 

Alabama wing sidelined due to weight loss

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Avery Johnson of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at HP Field House on November 29, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Alabama junior wing Nick King will not be with the team for Sunday evening’s matchup against No. 24 Oregon in Eugene.

According to Rainer Sabin of the AL.com, Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said King undergoing a series of tests after losing more than 10 pounds in less than a week and a half.

Johnson told reporters that he is “very concerned” and estimates that as of now King will be sidelined for “a week or two.”

King, who played his first two seasons at Memphis, has appeared in all seven games for the Crimson Tide, averaging 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.

Damonte Dodd out with MCL sprain

COLLEGE PARK, MD - FEBRUARY 13: Melo Trimble #2 and Damonte Dodd #35 of the Maryland Terrapins react to a call as Alex Illikainen #25 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on in the second half at Xfinity Center on February 13, 2016 in College Park, Maryland. Wisconsin won 70-57.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Maryland could be without the services of starting center Damonte Dodd for the remainder of the non-conference slate, the team announced on Wednesday.

Dodd suffered a MCL sprain in his left knee during practice earlier this week. The injury caused him to miss Wednesday’s 76-56 win over Howard. He will not be available for matchups with St. Peter’s and Jacksonville State. The Terrapins then close out the non-conference slate at Charlotte on Dec. 20 before opening up Big Ten play a week later.

Dodd has started in six of seven games he’s appeared in this season. He’s averaging 5.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Michael Cekovsky started in place of Dodd on Wednesday night. Ivan Bender, who returned to the lineup against Howard after missing the previous contest, should also see an increase in minutes with Dodd sidelined.

Federico Mussini goes coast-to-coast, beats buzzer with and-1

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Chris Mullin the head coach of the St. John's Red Storm gives instructions to Federico Mussini #4 during the game against the  Xavier Musketeersat Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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St. John’s capped the first half with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore guard Federico Mussini went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer, and draw the foul, as the Johnnies went into the break up 42-33 on city rival Fordham.

The 6-foot-4 guard had gone cold during a five-game stretch, but since Thanksgiving he’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including on Thursday night.