Babcock McGraw: March is on the horizon, and that means it's NCAA Tournament time

Out with Valentine's Day. In with St. Patrick's Day.

I was at a grocery store on Valentine's Day, literally on Valentine's Day, and too bad for you if you needed some last-minute Valentine gifts and candy.

Already the transition from pink and red hearts was being made to green clovers and pots of gold.

But I'm pretty sure basketball fans are good with this changeover.

You know what St. Patrick's Day means, right? Yep, March. As in March Madness - the best time of year for college basketball fans.

The women's college basketball NCAA national tournament is still about a month away, but already we're thinking brackets and seeds and all of that good, "maddening" stuff.

In Chicago, we need to be keenly aware of March Madness facts and figures this year as DePaul is hosting a regional March 30 and April 1 at Wintrust Arena in the South Loop.

On Monday, the NCAA put out its first of two "if the season ended today" outlooks for the NCAA tournament field, hypothesizing about the top four seeds overall and the top four seeds in each regional.

Get ready for this: neither Connecticut nor Notre Dame would get a No. 1 seed. They would both be No. 2's.

Baylor, which is ranked No. 1 in both the Associated Press poll and the Coaches poll would be the overall No. 1 seed while Louisville, Oregon and Mississippi State would be the other No. 1 seeds.

At the moment, Louisville, which has beaten Connecticut and suffered its only loss of the season at Notre Dame, is slotted to get the No. 1 seed in Chicago.

The other top four seeds slotted for the Chicago regional are: No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 Marquette and No. 4 Iowa State.

Marquette, out of the Big East, is legit and a fun team to cover. The Golden Eagles have gone from rags to riches over the last four years on the backs of five seniors who started together as freshmen and took some major lumps, but have skyrocket together in their last hurrah to be a top 10 team. All five of Marquette's starters are 1,000-point scorers, joining Notre Dame as the only two teams in the country with five active 1,000-point scorers.

"It's been a very interesting season so far in terms of team movement from one week to the next and this first top-16 reveal reflects that," said Rhonda Lundin Bennett, chair of the Division I women's basketball committee and senior associate athletics director at the University of Nevada. "Each of our top four seeds separated themselves by having only one loss combined with signature victories. With still over a thousand games to be played over the final month of the regular season, we know what was announced today is just a snapshot in time as we await the stretch run of the season, including conference tournament play."

More at Wintrust:

Speaking of conference tournament play, DePaul is also hosting the Big East tournament at Wintrust Arena, as it did last year.

The Blue Demons, currently tied for second place in the conference standings with Butler, and behind Marquette, won the Big East tournament title last season, the first conference tournament to be held at Wintrust.

In the five years since the Big East has realigned, DePaul has won three Big East tournament championships while St. John's and Marquette have each won one.

This year, the tournament begins on Saturday, March 9 with two first-round games. Quarterfinal action begins on March 10 with the semifinals on March 11 and the Big East championship game on Tuesday, March 12.

To purchase tickets to the Big East women's basketball tournament at Wintrust Arena, call (773) 325-SLAM (7526). Tickets start at $50 for an all-session pass which includes entrance to all five sessions, which covers all nine games of the tournament.

Selection Monday:

Of course, the winner of the Big East conference tournament and conference tournaments all over the country will earn an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

The women's brackets will be revealed for real at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 18, live on ESPN.

All-session ticket packages for the NCAA Chicago regional at Wintrust Arena start at $37 for adults and $20 for youth and seniors.

Call (773) 325-SLAM (7526) for more information.

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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