In November, the Louisville Cardinals were projected to be a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament began. Now, less than a week until Selection Sunday, the Cardinals have reclaimed their spot on the top line. Louisville sits as the fourth No. 1 seed, heading to the South Region. Duke (East), Indiana (Midwest), and Gonzaga (West) are in front of the Cards. The race isn’t over, though. Kansas, Georgetown, New Mexico, and a second Big Ten team could still claim a spot on the top line. It’s going to be an important week for both the top and bottom of the bracket.
Speaking of the bubble, Kentucky is the final at-large team on the board today. They are joined in the First Four by Saint Mary’s, La Salle, and Iowa State. The margin between these teams, and those around them, is minimal. If we see an upset or two this week, the last few spots could change several times between now and Sunday. Which conference tournaments are most likely to produce a surprise winner? On the surface, it looks like the Atlantic 10, SEC, or the Pac-12. While Memphis has dominated Conference USA, the Tigers haven’t wrapped up the automatic berth. Any stumble would likely claim an at-large spot.
As for seeding, the middle of the bracket is an interesting adventure. One could almost throw names in a hat (for say, seeds 7-10) and line them up that way. Again, we could see some shifting on those lines, both due to resume adjustments and for geography. For all practical purposes, teams in the 8/9 games are essentially the same. More updates this week. Enjoy the final ride to March Madness.
This probably isn’t a surprise: Indiana and Duke are one-two on the s-curve and are the strongest No. 1 seed candidates as we move toward March. Since a last-second loss at Illinois, the Hoosiers have reclaimed the outright Big Ten lead by winning at both Ohio State and Michigan State. A victory at Minnesota tonight puts IU in the driver’s seat for the league’s regular season crown and top seed in the Big Ten tournament. That scenario would also give the Hoosiers the inside track toward the top spot in the Midwest Region – which flows through Indianapolis. Duke has steadily worked its way through the absence of Ryan Kelly. The Blue Devils are No. 1 in the RPI and have played the nation’s second toughest schedule.
Miami-FL and Florida are the final No. 1 seeds. It’s hard to know if either will hold those positions in two weeks. A second Big Team is likely to grab a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. And if Gonzaga closes out a perfect West Coast Conference season and wins its conference tournament, it might be hard for the Committee to deny the Bulldogs a top seed. Regardless, there’s enough parity among the top three or four seed lines to make the Sweet 16 very entertaining.
Every Selection Committee member has his or her own personal views on which resume items are most important. Just take a look at some of today’s bubble teams. Arizona State, Mississippi, Baylor, and Kentucky all have obvious flaws. If RPI and schedule strength – particularly out of conference – are sticking points, than the Sun Devils are probably out. At the same time, ASU has two wins over Colorado to go along with victories over UCLA and California. That’s four wins against three teams currently projected in the Field of 68 – which is more than any of the other three. Safe to say, the next two weeks will be critical for all of the above.
If Arizona continues its strong play during the next two months, it’ll be hard for the Selection Committee to keep the Wildcats off the top line out West. That’s where the Wildcats reside in our latest bracket. At No. 4 on the s-curve, Arizona trails Duke, Kansas, and Michigan in the chase for the overall No. 1 seed. Fresh off a win at Louisville on Saturday and Cincinnati at home Monday, Syracuse is an eyelash behind at No. 5. Others on the two-line: Louisville, Indiana, and Florida. When the Gators are good, they are really good.
The bubble remains a mystery. And an ever-changing target. Consider that six of the ten teams just outside the bracket on Saturday morning (s-curve spots 69-78) lost. Then we have a team like Virginia. The up-and-down Cavaliers notched a win over Florida State (editor’s note: this was updated – the earlier post had UVA winning at Florida State; game was at Virginia. My apologies for not catching it sooner), but it’s unrealistic for a team with an RPI in the mid 120s to garner serious at-large consideration. Part of that is a No. 332 non-conference strength of schedule (stats from ESPN’s InsideRPI), and part of it is five losses to teams ranked 100 or lower in the RPI – including a loss to Old Dominion (No. 319). So we have to still go a bit on potential at this point. Thus, Kentucky and Maryland are among the First Four participants.
Big Ten power paid off for Iowa this week. The Hawkeyes represent the eighth Big Ten team in the current Field of 68 after beating Wisconsin and Northwestern. By the time March rolls around, we’ll more likely end up with six or seven Big Ten teams in the dance. Much of that will depend on whether an additional SEC or ACC team steps up to grab an at-large spot. The Mountain West remains strong with six teams in the bracket. But as MWC teams jockey for position, it might limit the number of top five seeds. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
Note: A few teams – including the First Four winners – had to be adjusted a seed line to account for conference conflicts and bracketing principles. This is a common occurrence during the actual bracketing process. For example, Iowa State drops to the 12-line because of related issues with the First Four and finding a spot for Iowa which needed to avoid another Big Ten opponent until a Regional final. While the committee attempts to avoid regular-season rematches in the first two rounds, exceptions can be made; in this case Iowa and Wichita State played but it’s the way the bracket came together.
Enjoy another great week of hoops.
It’s a new month: let’s take a sneak peak at where we stand as it relates to the bracket. Since our preseason projection, 10 new at-large teams have entered the current Field of 68. All 10 were ranked below No. 50 on the s-curve to start the season – which is the general (average) cut line for at-large teams. There are always exceptions as the final s-curve is put together.
Who are the 10 new teams? Here you go (alphabetical order): Alabama, Boise State, California, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Oregon State, Wichita State, and Xavier. Of those, Xavier and Oregon State rank among the Last 5 IN for December 1.
Which 10 teams did they replace? Teams moving “OUT” of the preseason bracket to make room for the new at-large candidates: Arkansas, Iowa, Northern Iowa, Saint Louis, South Florida, St. Mary’s, Stanford, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Of those, Stanford is among the Next 5 OUT.
Note: When we release the full s-curve this season, keep in mind that in terms of at-large bids, there is a gap which accounts for the automatic qualifiers. If team No. 50 is the final at-large team, No. 69 would be the first team “Out” so to speak. But there’s not really 18 spots between them.
It’s still early and the s-curve remains very fluid. We’ll plan for an actual bracket update the week or so before Christmas. As for other changes, four new teams are projected as automatic qualifiers on the s-curve. Those teams include George Mason, Pacific, Bucknell, and Middle Tennessee State. Let’s see what happens over the next couple of weeks.
With enough time and enough coffee, ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon offers college hoops fanatics a splendid 24-hour escape. If you’re unwilling (or unable) to power through a full day, you can always set the DVR. Either way, Selection Committee members will be tracking results. Here are a few of the games that could have bracket implications …
West Virginia at Gonzaga – Other than a game with Michigan on December 15, this is West Virginia’s best chance to post a top-flight non-conference victory. The Zags always play a good non-conference schedule.
Davidson at New Mexico - Davidson is heavy favorite to win the Southern Conference, and many think the Wildcats could advance a game or two in March. A win at The Pit would certainly look good on the Wildcats’ resume if they need it on Selection Sunday. New Mexico has road trips to Cincinnati and Saint Louis in late December, so beating Davidson would be a good way to kick-off the season.
Temple at Kent State – The host Flashes opened their season with a victory over Colonial favorite Drexel. Adding a win over Temple might be even bigger. KSU will challenge Ohio for the Mid-American title, but an at-large berth has been rare for MAC teams in recent years. The Owls still play Duke, Syracuse, and Kansas outside the Atlantic 10. While there is less urgency, this would be a quality road win. Read more…