One thing is for sure in this most uncertain season: There won't be a repeat champion.
A year after taking its eighth national title — only UCLA has won more — Kentucky's success in restocking each year with the best one-and-done prospects hit a roadblock. The Wildcats never meshed as a unit, then lost the best of the freshmen when Nerlens Noel went down with a season-ending knee injury. An upset over Florida boosted their stock heading to the SEC tournament. But the Wildcats turned in a miserable performance in Nashville, Tenn., losing to Vanderbilt 64-48 in the quarterfinals.
"That was a tough way to finish if you're going to impress upon us that you're one of the best teams in the nation," Bobinski said.
While the Big East had the most teams, followed by the Big Ten with seven, the less-glamorous leagues also did well. Middle Tennessee, for instance, was the last of the at-large teams to make the field, along with LaSalle, Boise State and Saint Mary's, beating out more recognized programs such as Tennessee, Iowa, Alabama and Virginia. Not to mention Kentucky.
In all, 11 of the 37 at-large bids went to teams outside the so-called power conferences.
Middle Tennessee lost in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference tournament after winning the regular season title, which in previous years might have been enough to knock them out of the NCAAs. Not this time. The Blue Raiders (28-5) are headed to the tournament, helped along by another upset when Mississippi knocked off Florida in the SEC championship game Sunday. Middle Tennessee had beaten the Rebels.
"They had no rough patches along the way, and their win over Ole Miss looks better at this point in time," said Bobinski, who frequently cited road wins as a leading factor in who got bids.
After a season of upsets, Oklahoma State's Ford doesn't expect anything to change in the NCAAs.
"More than any year I can remember, I don't think seeding really matters," he said. "Probably if you're a (No.) 1 seed, your first game, you've got a pretty good chance of getting by that. Then even after that, I think it's throw it up in the air. I looked at some of those games. Even a lot of the No. 1 seeds have some tough second-round games."