The NCAA picked the perfect year to push back the first reveal of the tournament selection committee's top-16 teams until this deep into the season.
No season in recent memory has supplied as much intrigue and parity at the top. No one is undefeated. No one has completely dominated. The smallest of margins will likely determine seeding and game location.
Monday night's reveal during halftime of the South Carolina-UConn game (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET) will give us insight into how the committee has seen the season so far. This is the first of two reveals in 2019 (the second comes March 4); last season, the committee had three reveals, the first of which was in mid-January.
Here is a look at some of the most pressing questions before the committee heading into Monday's reveal.
Who is the fourth No. 1 seed?
Miami's upset of Notre Dame on Thursday made the committee's job easier. Before that game, six teams could make an argument to be on the top line for this reveal. Now, it's down to five teams, with the three-loss Fighting Irish out of the conversation, for now.
Baylor, Louisville and Oregon are locks to be No. 1 seeds. UConn, the fourth projected No. 1 in this week's bracketology, is not. Mississippi State has a legitimate claim to that spot too. The Huskies and Bulldogs have the same number of RPI top-25 and top-50 wins. UConn has one more loss, but both came against current No. 1 seeds. Mississippi State's lone blemish was to Oregon, also a No. 1.
Strength of schedule, particularly in nonconference play, is what might separate the two. Last year's committee leaned heavily on SOS.
And keep in mind that if Mississippi State gets the nod as the No. 1 seed, the Bulldogs would be the last top seed bracketed -- and the Albany Regional would be the only spot left on the bracket. It's a near certainty that UConn will be placed in that region. So, if this season continues on its current path, the Huskies and Bulldogs will be the 1-2 pairing in Albany, regardless of which team gets the No. 1 seed.
Where does Notre Dame go?
This is the most intriguing portion of Monday's reveal. This decision will provide insight as to the committee's leanings toward bracket balance or geographical/attendance priorities.
Notre Dame should be the sixth overall team. If Baylor is the No. 1 overall, then the committee has to make a difficult call.
On one hand, having the Irish play in Chicago would be ideal for atmosphere and attendance. On the other hand, then pairing the Irish with the Lady Bears creates a competitive imbalance among the top two seed lines. The entirety of the bracket could still be reasonably balanced. But having the No. 1 and No. 6 teams potentially meeting in the regional final would be unfair to both teams, especially when the domino effect would likely have the No. 8 overall team -- be it Marquette or Maryland or NC State -- likely playing in the same region as a lower-rated No. 1 seed, probably Oregon in Portland.
Of course, after the Ducks' ultra-dominant win at Stanford on Sunday, an argument could be made for Baylor, Louisville or Oregon as the No. 1 overall team. The Ducks' performance at Maples Pavilion might give the committee the freedom to have the top three teams in a different order, put Notre Dame in Chicago and still give the appearance of complete bracket balance.
Keep a close eye on this one.
Who rounds out the top 16?
We know hosting the early rounds is important. The ramifications could be even more vital this year. Take the case of Florida State. Heading into Sunday, the Seminoles were the No. 16 team overall, just good enough to be a host. Then they were blown out at Notre Dame. That dropped Florida State just one spot, to No. 17 overall. That seemingly minor fall cost the Seminoles two homes games and -- in this week's bracket -- 2,600 miles. Because there are eight ACC teams in the field and four of them are in the top 16, the places Florida State can be placed in the bracket are limited. The Seminoles are shipped to Spokane, Washington, in this week's bracket.
That is why the committee's decision on those final teams in the top 16 is so important. Even now, with a month to go in the regular season, it's important. Monday night's reveal will tell us how the committee feels about teams such as Gonzaga and Iowa State versus Florida State, Texas A&M, Miami and Rutgers. Then those teams will know where they stand going forward in the hunt to host.
Tennessee is out of the field
The Lady Vols aren't in the top 16 and therefore won't be a part of Monday's reveal. They might not be a team we hear on Selection Monday, either. Following a blowout loss to Mississippi State on Sunday, Tennessee is the first team left out of the field in this week's bracket. If that holds, it would mark the first time the Lady Vols fail to make the NCAA tournament since it began in 1982.
Tennessee currently ranks 60 in the RPI, with two top-50 wins. The Lady Vols are also just 4-6 in the SEC, 15-8 overall and 3-7 in their past 10 games. Though competition for the final few spots in the field is not particularly strong, Tennessee's lack of big wins, followed with the 28-point loss in Starkville, Mississippi, was too much to get into the field this week.
That's the bad news for the folks in Knoxville. Now the good: A win over Auburn on Thursday could get the Lady Vols back into the field. It's a de facto play-in game at this point. After that, Tennessee's next three games are against Missouri, Texas A&M and South Carolina. No other bubble team has that kind of opportunity. This isn't the best of years for the SEC, but the overall balance in the conference provides more potential tournament-worthy wins this time of year than any other league.
It's also worth noting that the current bracket includes two teams from the Missouri Valley Conference and three from the Mid-American. Those numbers might not hold. In fact, Missouri State is in the field only because its upset of Drake 10 days ago makes the Bears the leaders in the MVC. Drake will make the field with an at-large bid. But if the Bulldogs eventually win the conference tournament, the MVC reverts back to a one-bid league. That opens up another at-large spot for a team like Tennessee. It's also possible that all of Central Michigan, Buffalo and Ohio will be able to maintain their status. If one falters, that opens up yet another spot.
Tennessee, with its poor metrics and inconsistent play, is not in a good place, but the Lady Vols are far from finished. They need a few wins against their upcoming schedule and then, like never before, will become scoreboard watchers the rest of the season.