How bizarre and bewildering is this 2017-18 men's college basketball season 27 days from the NCAA tournament's Selection Sunday?
Consider this: When the NCAA announced its preliminary top four seeds in each regional Sunday, three of the top six and five of the 16 had lost Saturday. Beyond that, four others had lost the game they'd played before the weekend, and two of the 16 — No. 1 seed Purdue and No. 4 seed Oklahoma — lost twice over the past week.
If that doesn't strongly hint of one wild ride come March Madness, nothing does. But that also doesn't mean it shouldn't be fun — at least as long as Duke isn't given its usual yellow brick road to the Final Four — or that we might not finally have someone come from nowhere (Alabama, Missouri or Texas Tech, perhaps?) to shock the world.
In a season in which so many of the traditional blue bloods — Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA, to name but three — appear to be less than their best, this could be the year for a traditional Power Five conference also-ran or an outsider to deliver one shining moment to an unsuspecting yet delirious fan base.
Or North Carolina and its ageless point guard, Joel Berry II, just might reach their third straight title game on the way to repeating as NCAA champs.
That said, other than Purdue getting the fourth No. 1 seed over Southeastern Conference leader Auburn after the Boilermakers lost two straight, there's not much to gripe about concerning the February version of the Sweet 16. Virginia, Villanova and Xavier have all had stellar seasons to this point, and Auburn, Kansas, Duke and Cincinnati currently deserve No. 2 seeds.
In truth, Bruce Pearl's Tigers have probably earned a bit more love than they've been shown in the polls so far. There's also a belief the off-court issues they're facing as the NCAA slogs its way through an FBI investigation — one that has already forced the October firing of assistant and former Tigers great Chuck Person as well as the ineligibility of star player Austin Wiley — may be slightly hurting them in the polls.
The Tigers are 22-3 this season with five SEC road wins heading into Wednesday night's visit from collapsing Kentucky — feel free to prepare the Valentine's Day Massacre headlines for that one — and have the remaining schedule to wind up with a No. 1 seed.
Unfortunately for them, they're also hauling around enough baggage — thanks to Person, as well as Pearl's cavalier past regarding the NCAA rulebook — to have their tourney run, however deep, erased whenever the NCAA gets around to confronting the Auburn administration concerning the school's culpability in what seems to be a near-certain major sanctions case.
There can only be one reason why Pearl's lawyer has reportedly advised him to avoid discussing this situation with new Auburn president Steven Leath. That reason is because if Pearl lies to Leath, he'll ultimately lose his job, and if he tells Leath the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the new prez might have little choice but to fire his basketball coach on the spot.
And sadly for this current, vastly entertaining team, this storyline could dominate NCAA tourney pregame news conferences once March Madness arrives. Then again, at least Auburn seems guaranteed of a high seed and a certain NCAA bid as long as Pearl says nothing.
As for the rest of the SEC a month from Selection Sunday, Tennessee's No. 4 seed — the Vols were the 13th team overall — not only underscores the amazing job third-year coach Rick Barnes continues to do with a team picked to finish 13th in the SEC at the start of the season, it also shows the respect the committee may have for the entire conference. Remember, the Vols were vaporized by Alabama over the weekend in Tuscaloosa, losing 78-50.
And something tournament selection committee chair and Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen told CBS on Sunday should make at least a few SEC teams feel good about their NCAA tourney odds: "One major change (in the selection process) is recognizing wins away from home."
That's both pure road wins and wins at neutral sites, and at least a few contending SEC teams have a bunch of them.
Auburn is now 10-2 in such games, Tennessee 8-4 — including against Purdue at a neutral site — Florida 7-4 and Missouri — which is rumored to get freshman phenom Michael Porter Jr. back by tourney time — 6-6.
Who might be hurt by such a criterion? Among SEC teams, Kentucky (4-6 in such games, with road tests still to come at Auburn, Arkansas and Florida) and Arkansas (4-7) could.
Then there's Bama, which not only torpedoed Tennessee but has won by 18 at Florida and knocked off Oklahoma this season. Though the Crimson Tide remain inconsistent, when point guard Collin Sexton has it going and fellow freshman John Petty is connecting from long range, they can beat anyone in the country.
Of course, Alabama was also throttled at Georgia, lost at Mississippi State and at Ole Miss and fell at home to Central Florida.
Still, the best news from the selection committee wasn't which schools make up the top 16 in its projection but that the announcement of all 68 tournament teams to begin the most exciting three weeks in college athletics is now less than four full weeks away.
For college hoops junkies the nation over, there surely can't be a better Valentine's present than that.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.