With Selection Sunday less than three weeks away, let's tackle NCAA tournament issues on the local, regional and national fronts -- starting in downtown San Jose.
HP Pavilion will host eight teams for second- and third-round games on March 21 and 23, with no guarantee that any of the participants will have ties to the Bay Area or west coast.
Remember the 2010 event at HP, when the group of eight consisted of Vanderbilt, Montana, UTEP, New Mexico, Washington, Marquette, Murray State and Butler?
This year's field could have a similar non-local flavor.
Only the top-four seeds in each region are placed as close to campus as possible -- the NCAA selection committee calls them "protected seeds." For everyone else, geography is an afterthought in the bracketing process.
Two western teams, Gonzaga and Arizona, are expected to be protected seeds. But both campuses are closer to another host site, Salt Lake City, than to San Jose.
Meanwhile, the tournament-bound teams with Bay Area appeal (think: Cal, UCLA and perhaps Saint Mary's) won't be protected seeds.
UCLA, for example, is just as likely to play in Philadelphia or Kansas City as San Jose.
That doesn't mean San Jose is guaranteed an eight-team field with no local flavor. The bracketing process is complicated and unpredictable, with a litany of rules designed to create balance across the four regions.
Cal could end up in HP simply through happenstance. Arizona could be shipped here because of a procedural hiccup.
But at this point, we shouldn't count on seeing the Bears, Bruins, Gaels, Zags or Wildcats anywhere except on television.
Other March Madness topics:
Cal's status: The Bears haven't locked up an at-large berth just yet, but they're in solid shape with four wins against teams ranked in the top 50 of the NCAA's power ratings (RPI).
If they win the games they're supposed to win -- the task starts Thursday against Utah -- they should be dancing.
Saint Mary's status: With only one victory over RPI top-50 teams and a soft nonconference schedule, the Gaels are squarely on the bubble.
Short of winning the West Coast Conference tournament, the Gaels probably need to beat Pepperdine and Santa Clara this week and survive their semifinal game in the WCCs.
The Bay Area's other men's teams have just one path into March Madness: earn an automatic berth by winning their conference tournament.
Pac-12 bids: The conference is better than it was last season by a wide margin but still not close to being one of the elite leagues.
Arizona, which has stumbled lately but beat Miami and Florida in December, is the only team contending for a top-four seed.
Colorado, Oregon and UCLA are in solid shape but, like Cal, cannot afford to crash and burn in the final weeks.
West Coast Conference bids: Gonzaga could be the top seed in the West -- this is coach Mark Few's best team -- but the Zags could be the league's only participant.
Saint Mary's is on the bubble and Brigham Young, which has no top-50 wins, needs to win the WCC tournament.
The No. 1 seeds: The Big Ten is a lock to have one (Indiana), could add a second (Michigan) and might snare a third (Michigan State). The conference is that good -- and that much better than all others.
Duke, Florida and Gonzaga are well positioned for No. 1s, as well.
If Stanford (26-2, 15-1) also sweeps in the Northwest, the Bears and Cardinal would tie for the title.
The others: Cal State Fullerton's Leon Wood and Oregon State's Gary Payton.
The Broncos can do no worse than tie San Diego for fourth place. SCU's season sweep of the Toreros would be decisive in determining tournament seeds.
As a result, the Cardinal (16-12, 7-8) will participate in the opening round and be forced to win four games in four days.
Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group contributed to this report. For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5716.