Conference tournaments start next week. Championship Week is straight ahead. Heading into action on Saturday, March 2, below are some quick updates and notes for the weekend. Updates to the s-curve (seed list) and bracket will start to become more frequent.
By quick count, we have about 15 bubble games worth tracking on Saturday. There’s another three on Sunday. Given the up-and-down cycle we’ve witnessed for the last month or so, this weekend – and the next two weeks – are likely to be unpredictable. With upsets possible in conference tournaments, teams ultimately headed to the First Four in Dayton may change numerous times. The Selection Committee will be especially challenged if teams like Akron, Middle Tennessee, and even Belmont fail to win their conference tournaments. It would add candidates to the at-large field.
Saturday bracket-tracker games:
Connecticut at Cincinnati, Wichita State at Creighton, Alabama at Florida, Maryland at Wake Forest, Iowa State at Oklahoma, Tennessee at Georgia, Massachusetts at Xavier, Arizona State at USC, Kentucky at Arkansas, Colorado at California, Charlotte at St. Bonaventure, Iowa at Indiana, Colorado at Boise State, St. John’s at Providence, Santa Clara at Saint Mary’s.
Sunday’s bracket-tracker games:
Villanova at Pittsburgh, Florida State at North Carolina, Virginia at Boston College.
As for the No. 1 seed race, it’s still wide open. As many as 10 or 11 teams have a realistic shot for consideration. Not only does the final week provide several huge matchups among the contenders, we’ll see even more during conference tournament play. The Committee may not make final decisions on those top seeds until the Friday or Saturday before Selection Sunday. Typically, there’s only one or two spots open at that point. We’ll see how the next two weeks play out.
Heading into action on Sunday, February 24, it’s a roll of the dice on the last few teams IN and the first few teams OUT. All Selection Committee voting is private. But if a sneak peek at ballots was possible, there would likely be several variations. Every Committee member places a higher or lower value on things such as strength of schedule, road wins, RPI status, Top 50 wins, etc. All of those factors – and more – make up a team’s overall profile.
Entering Sunday, February 24, here’s where we stand:
LAST 5 IN – Temple, Virginia, Saint Mary’s, Kentucky, Arizona State
FIRST 5 OUT – Baylor, Mississippi, St. John’s, Charlotte, Tennessee
Those teams next in line: Maryland, Alabama, Arkansas, Boise State, Indiana State.
What does this mean for Sunday? The biggest bubble games of the day are Pittsburgh at St. John’s, Temple at Charlotte, and Georgia Tech at Virginia. All three of those results could have an impact on the First Four in our next bracket update.
Arizona State stays in the Field of 68 today based on slightly better wins (than Ole Miss and Baylor) and more wins vs. current NCAA teams. The Sun Devils have swept Colorado, and beaten UCLA and California. They also have a neutral court win over bubble-dweller Arkansas. That said, ASU’s RPI (No. 86 entering today) and overall SOS numbers are serious issues moving forward. And with three straight road games (at UCLA, USC, and Arizona) up next, the Sun Devils will either play their win in or out.
If you prefer an overall strength of schedule, Baylor would be your last team in today – even with three straight losses. None of those were to bad teams. And Baylor’s SOS numbers (24 overall, 37 NC) are certainly better than those of ASU or Ole Miss. But an 8-10 record against the Top 150 of the RPI is a concern as is a 2-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams. With Kansas State and Kansas still coming to Waco, opportunities await. The Bears will be rooting for St. John’s today (they have a NC win over the Red Storm).
Mississippi has a solid SEC mark but has just one Top 50 win (Missouri at home). A sweep of Tennessee could still be a boost if the Volunteers continue their push. The loss at South Carolina was ugly given Ole Miss’ lack of quality wins. Much like Arizona State, the Rebels’ SOS numbers are a concern – especially the No. 286 mark out of conference that included 10 wins against teams 200 or lower in the RPI. Ole Miss’ remaining schedule doesn’t offer quality wins, but it’s important for the Rebels to hold serve at home against Texas AM and Alabama, and avoid another bad road loss at Mississippi State.
As for Kentucky, the Wildcats are the second-to-last team in today after beating Missouri on Saturday night. UK still has work to do following the Nerlens Noel injury. One thing working in UK’s favor is its lack of a bad loss – although Texas AM at home (with Noel) – could yet become one by RPI standards. Assuming the Wildcats avoid an upset, their NCAA chances heading into the SEC tournament may very depend on their game at Arkansas and home date with Florida.
Time to digest a little turkey – and some college hoops. Thankfully, we’ve been bombarded with a cornucopia of good basketball in the first two weeks of the season. Knowing this weekend presents more opportunities, here are some teams making unexpected early splashes:
Oklahoma State – After surviving Akron in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Shootout, the Cowboys took down Tennessee in the semis and heavily-favored North Carolina State in the championship. Actually, OSU dominated both games. While the Volunteers were missing Jeronne Mayman, NC State was a full strength. At this point, the Cowboys have moved well above the cutline on the s-curve. Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash, and Markel Brown are playing at a high level.
Colorado – We know about Arizona and UCLA, but the Pac-12 title chase could include a third team if the Buffaloes sustain their early-season momentum. The Buffs won the Charleston Classic by beating Dayton, Baylor, and Murray State. The victory over Baylor will get the most attention, but Murray is an NCAA-caliber team, too, and Dayton is a potential sleeper in the Atlantic 10. We know about Andre Roberson, but sophomore Askia Booker has averaged 17.8 points through four games. Like OSU, Colorado has climbed the s-curve quickly.
Illinois – Senior guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are enjoying new coach John Groce’s attacking style. Paul was named MVP of the Maui Invitational as Illinois never trailed in three games, dominating USC, Chaminade (which upset Texas), and Butler (which upset North Carolina). The Illini are averaging 11 made three-pointers and 83 points per game. That’s a positive change for a team that often struggled to score the past two seasons. Sophomore PG Tracy Abrams has emerged and senior Tyler Griffey is playing with renewed energy. Illinois was an “also considered” team in our preseason rankings, but would be firmly in the Field of 68 if we were putting together an updated bracket today. Read more…
It’s always an interesting exercise when you take a team’s name away from its numbers. To demonstrate, let’s look at some numbers used by the NCAA Selection Committee to select and seed teams for the tournament. We’ll refer to them as Team A, etc. during the first part of the exercise, and reveal the names at the end of the column. Data comes from collegerpi.com (through Feb. 7).
Let’s go Inside the Bracket …
Team Road RPI 1-50 Top 100 Losses 100+ SOS NC-SOS Field wins
Team A 2-5 3-3 6-3 142, 144 48 90 3
Team B 2-3 5-5 7-6 139 20 121 4
Team C 8-3 3-1 5-3 151 94 137 2
Team D 5-2 4-3 6-3 NA 85 208 4
Team E 3-3 0-4 3-7 NA 83 94 0
Team F 6-1 3-1 6-2 NA 123 166 2
Team G 3-3 3-4 5-6 NA 79 226 2
Team H 7-2 2-2 8-3 NA 35 41 2
We purposely didn’t include overall Division I record (through Feb. 7) or conference record to make it more difficult to identify the teams in question – even though both are important factors. Field Wins refers to victories over teams currently projected to make the NCAA tournament (from our latest bracket projection). For simplicity, we didn’t include teams from non-BCS conferences who were in the bracket as automatic qualifiers. SOS refers to strength of schedule and NC-SOS refers to non-conference strength of schedule.
Using the data above, how would you rank the teams? Everyone will have a different opinion on which criteria is most important. That’s why the actual selection process involves a series of confidential voting procedures. Committee members debate, make arguments, discuss concerns, etc. Then, it’s put to a vote. A certain number of votes are needed for teams to move “IN” the bracket or to be placed on a seed line. I’m looking forward to learning more about the process during the NCAA Mock Selection event next week in Indianapolis.
Are quality wins your most important criteria? Road record? How do you factor in losses to sub-100 teams? These are just a few considerations. Something else to note: take away wins over teams ranked below 200 in the RPI (lower third of Division I). Sometimes, that gives you a different insight into how well a team’s overall record matches its performance. We’re not picking on Murray State – an excellent team having a remarkable season. But let’s use the Racers as an example. If you remove Murray’s 12 wins against teams ranked 200 or lower, the Racers’ D-1 record is 8-0. That’s why it will be difficult for Murray State to earn a protected seed.
Time to reveal the names behind the numbers. See if it changes your opinion of how you ranked them …
Team A: Florida … Team B: Illinois … Team C: Creighton … Team D: San Diego State … Team E: Washington … Team F: St. Mary’s … Team G: Kansas State … Team H: Southern Mississippi
The purpose of the exercise isn’t to make you change your mind. Rather, it’s designed to provide an insight into a team’s evaluation without the potential bias associated with the name on the jersey. Hopefully, you found the exercise informative.
Welcome to 2012: Time to renew our Countdown to Selection Sunday. Today begins our weekly journey toward the Field of 68 and March Madness. I’m grateful for a continued partnership with NBC Sports. You can find our bracket projections, bubble banter, and some of our inside the bracket features at Beyond the Arc, too. With that, let’s take a peek into our first bracket of 2012 …
Conference play will help separate the pretenders and contenders. Right now, the difference between seed lines and even our final IN and OUT selections is minimual – splitting hairs, really. What we do have is a starting point. Several teams in the current bracket will likey play their way out. Others will move up and in. Everything is fluid.
Schedule of key games this week
Team Capsules for key wins/losses
Today’s No. 1 seeds are Syracuse (East), Kentucky (South), North Carolina (Midwest), and Ohio State (West). We can argue the order, but no one will be surprised to see those four at the top of a regional in March. Duke and Baylor are next in line. Several others could push their way into contention. We’ll have to see how it plays out over the next month.
The Big Ten has nine teams in this bracket, although seven or eight are more realistic in March. While the strength of the conference (Big Ten is No. 1 in the RPI) will help, there are too many variables to think 9 of 12 teams will end up in the field. Of course, that all depends on what happens elsewhere. Will we have a surprise team in the Big 12, ACC or SEC claim an extra spot or two. There will also be upsets in conference tournaments. Leagues to watch for extra bids include the Missouri Valley, Atlantic 10, Conference USA, and the West Coast.
Thanks for your interest and let’s enjoy our ride to Selection Sunday.
Just in time for Christmas, here’s Part II of the at-large landscape. This version focuses on teams from the BCS conference along with those from the Mountain West, Conference USA, and Atlantic 10. As we noted in Part I, conference season begins in full force next week, and a lot of basketball remains. The goal is to provide a quick peek into the at-large picture ahead of Bubble Banter in February.
It’s too early to lock any teams into the NCAA Tournament. For the purposes of time and space, however, we’re not going to dwell on the at-large possibilities for teams like Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse, Duke, etc. If January turns sour, then we’ll catch up on those teams in February. Let’s go Inside the Bracket:
Kansas State – The Wildcats play Long Beach State on Sunday for the Diamond Head Classic title in Honolulu. A victory would add LBSU to a win list that includes Alabama and Virgina Tech (road). K-State lost a neutral court game to West Virginia. While the rest of the non-conference resume is light, the Wildcats enter Big 12 play in pretty good position. West Virginia and Virginia Tech are both potential bubble teams, so a split is okay. The key will be finding victories against Kansas, Baylor, and Missouri and finishing among the top four or five in conference play. Kansas State opens at rival KU on January 4. After that, it’s Missouri and Baylor at home. So the Wildcats can set an NCAA footprint early.
Texas AM – If you take a closer look at the Aggies, one thing becomes apparent: an NCAA bid is in serious jeopardy. The Aggies non-conference schedule strength (No. 337) is dreadful, and TxAM’s best win is St. John’s. Furthering the issue is a lopsided loss at Florida and follow-up home loss to Rice. It will take some serious work in the Big 12 to overcome the Aggies’ start. That work begins at Baylor on January 2. Flashback: Colorado (last March). The Buffaloes won some big games in the Big 12 but were left home on Selection Sunday thanks to a non-conference SOS that mirrors the Aggies’ in 2011-12. Read more…
Let’s go Inside the Bracket for a look at which non-majors have put themselves in a position to be in the at-large discussion next March. There is, of course, a lot of basketball yet to be played, so things may look a bit different when we launch Bubble Banter in February. We’ll call this Stocking Stuffer Part I. Part II will feature a look at major conference teams that could be on or near the bubble come March. Note: For this discussion, Atlantic 10, Mountain West, and Conference USA teams will be featured in Part II.
At-Large Picture – Part I: Teams to watch …
Murray State – The Racers have beaten Southern Mississippi at the Great Alaska Shootout, Dayton at home, and Memphis on the road. Those were the three biggest challenges on Murray’s non-conference slate. The victory at Memphis figures to hold the most weight, although the Tigers have not looked much like a Top 20 team this season. Road Bumps: The Ohio Valley Conference isn’t very strong and will certainly be an anchor to Murray’s RPI and overall strength-of-schedule. The Racers have also played three non-Division I opponents – two of those scheduled at home. If Murray can finish its non-conference slate unbeaten, the Racers should be able to absorb a loss or two in the OVC. Any more than that, plus a loss in the OVC tournament, would make it interesting. How Southern Miss, Dayton, and Memphis finish the season will also be a factor.
Creighton – The Bluejays’ victory at San Diego State could pay big dividends in March. Beating Northwestern (Dec. 22) will be important, too. That would leave Creighton 2-1 against its best non-conference opponents (CU lost at St. Joseph’s). Given the Bluejays status as Missouri Valley favorite, the outlook for an at-large bid is favorable if the scenario above unfolds. Road Bumps: Playing on the road in the Valley is never easy, but it will be important for Creighton to avoid “bad losses” along the way. It will also help if CU separates itself with or above Northern Iowa and Wichita State at the top of the standings.
Northern Iowa – While the Panthers are off to a strong start – including a 4-1 record away from home, they lack a marquee victory. UNI’s win at Old Dominion was solid but the Panthers followed it up with a double-digit loss at St. Mary’s – another potential bubble team. The game with Ohio (Dec. 20) figures to be huge for both schools. Road Bumps: Northern Iowa will need to keep pace – and beat – both Creighton and Wichita State during the Missouri Valley season. Much like Creighton, UNI will need to avoid “bad losses” to those at the bottom of the league standings. Read more…