Our first in-season bracket projection is due out Monday evening (Dec. 6). With it will come a lot of debate (and some complaints). Time to fire away with some notes and observations from a great first month of college hoops.
The first note is to remind ourselves that a lot of meaningful basketball remains. Things don’t necessarily end like they start. Flashback: Georgetown opened the ’08-’09 season 11-1, including a win at Connecticut – an eventual No. 1 seed. From there, the Hoyas stumbled through the Big East – finishing 7-11 in conference play and 16-14 overall – missing the NCAAs. With that, here we go …
- San Diego State and UNLV lead a quadrant of teams (BYU and New Mexico) from the Mountain West that could impact our final bracket in March. SDSU opened with three true road games and two neutral-court affairs – including a win at Gonzaga. It’s the type of schedule that should pay big dividends. UNLV has already beaten Wisconsin (home) and Virginia Tech (neutral court). BYU has victories over WAC-favorite Utah State and St. Mary’s. If there’s a bubble team, it’s likely New Mexico. The Lobos beat Arizona State, but lost a lopsided tilt at Cal.
- If Connecticut continues to get production from Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier, and others, the Huskies are in line for a very good season. Kemba Walker is a front-runner for Player-of-the-Year, and UConn already has three wins over NCAA-level teams: Wichita State, Michigan State, and Kentucky (Maui Invitational).
- Who thought Notre Dame would win the Old Spice Classic in Orlando? While beating Georgia, California, and Wisconsin isn’t quite like UConn’s feat in Maui, the Irish have certainly improved expectations – at least outside South Bend.
- Georgetown is also off to a great start. The Hoyas 111-102 OT win over Missouri ranks as the season’s best game to date. The season-opening road win at Old Dominion is looking better all the time.
- Pittsburgh is solid again – beating Maryland and Texas in New York. A No. 1-seed hopeful, the Panthers’ real questions won’t begin until March. Can they reach a Final Four?
- Overall, the Big East is 17-6 vs. fellow BCS teams.
- The Big Ten – fresh off its second straight ACC-Big Ten title – is 14-10 vs. BCS teams and 9-5 vs. the ACC overall. In our preseason Power 24, we suggested that Ohio State would challenge Michigan State for league supremacy. No team has two bigger true road wins (Florida, Florida State) than the Buckeyes. That said, MSU was 4-2 at this juncture last season and the Spartans ended up in the Final Four. Don’t quit on Tom Izzo’s bunch just because they lost to UConn and at Duke. Read more…
We have to fill 65 spots. So as you look at the bottom half of the bracket and think … really? They’re still in the Field? The short answer is, yes. There are 34 at-large spots available. We can’t just leave one empty. Maybe that’s why all these bubble teams keep losing games – except for Notre Dame, of course, which has decided to play its way into the tournament. History often repeats … more teams play their way out than in … just the way it seems to work. That said, here’s the latest bracket ….
Villanova rejoins the No. 1 seeds for now. Kansas, Syracuse and Kentucky have locked up the other three. Highly unlikely that will change. The only question is how the actual Selection Committee decides to assign the regions. If Kansas stays No. 1 overall, it’s hard to see them anywhere but St. Louis. Depending on who wins the fourth spot, Syracuse could be moved South or West. It’s possible that if Villanova/West Virginia earns a 1-seed they’ll be kept in the East … Kentucky will go South … with Syracuse sent West.
About this bracket … BYU takes an unfortunate drop to the 6-line because of Big East conflicts and the Cougars’ Friday-Sunday restriction. There simply wasn’t a spot on the 5-line once Maryland moved up. With New Mexico entrenched in the West, BYU has to be in the East Region. This shouldn’t be an issue next week as the bracket moves into its final position. Just one of those things. Our last 5 IN … Virginia Tech, Illinois, Dayton, Rhode Island and San Diego State. First 5 OUT … Connecticut, UAB, Seton Hall, South Florida, Memphis.
Couple of thoughts about the week ahead … Northern Iowa could easily lose in the Missouri Valley tournament; the favorite rarely seems to win. The bubble could squeeze further if teams like Utah State, Old Dominion, Siena and California lose their conference tournaments. If Cal wins the outright Pac-10 title, will the Committee leave out the regular-season champion of a BCS conference? Those questions lie ahead. Welcome to Championship Week. Enjoy the hoops and send a rebound!
Significant conference battles headline a strong weekend of college hoops. Vanderbilt visits Kentucky (with Vandy leading the SEC) and Kansas visits Kansas State. Don’t forget about the Ivy League tussle between Cornell and Harvard. Outside conference lines, Duke travels to Georgetown. You can see the full slate of meaningful games on our Schedule page.
Our next bracket projection arrives Monday, February 1. Too early to look closer at potential No. 1 seeds? Uh, no. For now, we’ll stick to eight (8) teams. Odds are at least six will remain in the conversation a month from now during the final push toward Selection Sunday. The goal is to make some simple comparisons about the relative strength(s) of each team’s profile. Data is for games through Wednesday, January 28. As always, we give credit to CollegeRPI.com for the data. Top 50 and Top 100 refer to RPI rankings at the time of release.
- Syracuse | 4-1 vs. Top 50 | 12-1 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 4 | Road: 4-0
- Villanova | 5-1 vs. Top 50 | 9-1 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 41 | Road: 6-1
- Kansas | 6-1 vs. Top 50 | 8-1 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 15 | Road: 4-1
- Kentucky | 2-0 vs. Top 50 | 5-1 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 82 | Road: 3-1
- Texas | 4-2 vs. Top 50 | 7-2 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 51 | Road: 3-2
- Michigan State | 2-1 vs. Top 50 | 7-3 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 48 | Road: 5-2
- Duke | 7-2 vs. Top 50 | 10-3 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 7 | Road: 1-3
- Kansas State | 6-3 vs. Top 50 | 9-3 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 5 | Road: 3-1
As the Selection Committee evaluates teams, numbers are just part of the equation. Conference titles carry weight. Individual perceptions of each team vary (by Committee member). For some, schedule strength is an important factor. For others, a dominating overall record. Others look at the number of “quality” wins vs. the RPI and other rankings. Some value consistency throughout the season. Based on figures above, Kentucky has the fewest quality wins and lowest strength of schedule. Syracuse and Duke have the most quality wins; but the Blue Devils are weaker away from home. With a lot of basketball remaining, this picture will become clearer.
Other teams that could sneak into the conversation? West Virginia is probably the best bet given the strength of the Big East schedule. Georgetown perhaps. It would take a lot more work for teams like Purdue. If you’re wondering about a team like BYU, the Cougars just didn’t play a strong enough non-conference schedule (ranked No. 200). As good as the Mountain West is BYU will probably top out as a No. 4 seed (perhaps a No. 3 if they win out). Enjoy the games … rebounds are always welcome.
Whether its early January or early March, remember one thing when it comes to bracket projections: Nothing happens in a vacuum. Sometimes team lose ground when they win and sometimes they gain ground when they lose. Odd, but true. Take for example, Purdue. The Boilermakers actually jumped two spots on the S-Curve (No. 5) despite a loss at Wisconsin. Why? For one, almost no one wins at the Kohl Center – so close is good. Second, Tennessee put on quite a show for the home folks in Knoxville, handing Kansas its first loss. Back in November, Purdue edged Tennessee at the Paradise Jam. Outcomes and outlooks change for all three teams – perhaps others.
The NCAA men’s basketball season didn’t end on Sunday. That’s why we try to base projections on both where teams stand today and where we anticipate they might be next week and next month (either bracket projection method is fun; just a bit different). Washington is a good example. The Huskies are a good team, but would lack an NCAA profile if today were Selection Sunday. As down as the Pac-10 is, it’s hard to imagine a BCS league earning just one bid. Until we know whether such a train-wreck would actually occur, Washington still projects as the best bet to make a run (behind California). As we progress through conference play, however, a losing league record is much less acceptable.
Mountain West and the BYU factor … Take your pick of New Mexico, UNLV, and BYU. All three should contend – with San Diego State on the fringe. Who emerges as champ is anyone’s guess at this point. Thus, the three are bunched very close in today’s bracket. The BYU factor? Because the Cougars can only be assigned to Thursday-Saturday sites and regions, they bump down a line (from a true 7 seed to an 8). This happens during bracketing for a variety of reasons. Only six spots separate the three on the S-Curve. Several other teams also moved one seed line this week – see the Notes on the Bracket. Read more…
What a way to open the Big 10 and Big East – the RPI’s No. 2 and No. 3 conferences (the ACC is currently No. 1).
Monday, Georgetown goes to Connecticut and posts a convincing 74-63 victory. Tuesday, a rebuilding Illinois team see five players reach double figures en route to an overtime upset of preseason league favorite Purdue, 71-67. When you talk about “road wins,” these will resonate throughout the year. Still, we won’t know the true value for another month. Why? Well, the Hoyas host Pittsburgh on Saturday and then travel to Notre Dame. The Hoyas could be a very impressive 3-0 by this time next week, or be 1-2 in the Big East and have nothing bad of note. For the Illini, they visit Ann Arbor Sunday to battle Michigan – which has beaten UCLA and Duke. Read more…