Elite Eight?

Published on Feb. 29 at 7:20 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

As the final weekend of the regular season looms, Kentucky and Syracuse are locks to be named No. 1 seeds in the 2012 NCAA Tournament next Sunday. After that, nothing is settled.

Going into Thursday’s action, we see Kansas and Duke as the two other top seeds – for now, that is. Both have work to do and are competing with teams that aren’t far behind them in terms of resume strength. Let’s take a look at the top eight teams right now and a few others that could climb up the ladder before Selection Sunday.

South Region

1-Kentucky – Kentucky is a No. 1 seed even if it loses its regular-season finale and its first game in the SEC Tournament. The Wildcats play Sunday at Florida and will then face the winner of the 8/9 game in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals next Friday in New Orleans.

2-Marquette – Even with two key injuries and multiple first-half suspensions, Marquette found a way to win last Friday night in Morgantown against a desperate West Virginia team. If the Golden Eagles win Wednesday at Cincinnati, Saturday vs. Georgetown and get to the Big East Tournament finals, they’re almost certainly going to get a No. 2 seed. Buzz Williams has done a masterful job with this team.

East Region

1-Syracuse – The Orange finish the regular season at home Saturday vs. Louisville before going to Madison Square Garden to participate in its last Big East Tournament. With so many splendid MSG performances during the decades spanning Jim Boeheim’s tenure, it’s hard to envision Syracuse not playing in next Saturday’s finals.

2-Michigan St. – If the Spartans can complete a season sweep of Ohio St. this Sunday at Breslin Center and win the Big Ten Tournament, they will most likely garner a No. 1 seed. Michigan St. and UNC are the best No. 2 seeds right now despite this week’s loss at Indiana by the Spartans. (We should note, however, that the Heels beat MSU in the season opener.) Tom Izzo’s bunch could even get a top seed with a win over the Buckeyes and a trip to the Big Ten Tourney finals depending on how things play out with the other contenders.

Midwest Region

1-Kansas – With its thrilling comeback win over Missouri this past Saturday, KU gets the nod in the Midwest ahead of the Tigers. These teams could meet again, however, in the Big 12 Tourney finals with this No. 1 seed at stake. The Jayhawks close the regular season at home vs. Texas. If they win out, this spot is secure.

2-North Carolina – With the chance to beat Duke twice more to complete its resume, UNC could still easily be a top seed. At the same time, a loss at Duke this weekend, coupled with an early exit from the ACC Tourney in Atlanta, could drop the Tar Heels to a No. 3 seed. Nevertheless, let’s point out with confidence that this is the squad with the best ammunition to knock off Syracuse and/or Kentucky.

West Region

1-Duke – The Blue Devils are the weakest of the top seeds at this point and have plenty of work to do to secure a No. 1 seed. In fact, if Duke loses at home to North Carolina this weekend, the Tar Heels and Spartans immediately move ahead of it pending the results of the ACC Tournament. But if Coach K’s squad wins out, it’ll be a top seed.

2-Missouri – If Missouri wins out and beats Kansas in the process, it will have a strong case for a No. 1 seed. But first, the Tigers need to take care of business Wednesday vs. Iowa St. and Saturday at Texas Tech. How good with this team be if Laurence Bowers was healthy?!

Fringe Contenders:

1-Ohio St. – The Buckeyes have lost three of their last five, but they are actually still a candidate to be a No. 1 seed. If they beat Northwestern on the road Wednesday and do the same this weekend in East Lansing, the Bucks will have a strong resume if they can cut the nets down at the Big Ten Tournament.

2-Baylor – I don’t see it happening, but the Bears could get a No. 2 seed if they win the Big 12 Tourney and win this weekend at Iowa St. A run through the league tourney could conceivably mean wins over both Kansas and Missouri. With that said, I could also see Baylor as a team that doesn’t make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

3, 4 and 5 – Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana could potentially be in the mix for a No. 2 seed if one wins the Big Ten Tournament and gets a little help (such as the demise of Marquette and Missouri in their regular-season finales and openers of their respective conference tourneys).

6-Florida – This is a big-time longshot but since it does have a chance to get two wins over Kentucky (Sunday at home and at the SEC Tournament), and it did play at Ohio St. and at Syracuse in non-conference play, we’ll mention the Gators nonetheless.

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