March is five months away. Thousands of college basketball games will be played before Selection Sunday. Yet two things seem pretty clear in early November. North Carolina and Kentucky are loaded, and the Tar Heels and Wildcats are heavy favorites to reach the Final Four in New Orleans. So it’s no surprise that UNC and UK are the top two teams in our preseason bracket projection.
From there, it gets interesting. Debates rage across the internet and college hoops magazines about the next group of teams. Defending champion Connecticut returns a host of talent, as does 2011 top seed Ohio State. Other teams in the early running for No. 1 seeds: Syracuse and Duke. Florida and Vanderbilt both have the talent to challenge Kentucky in the SEC. Louisville and Pittsburgh are potential threats to the Orange and Huskies in the Big East. Memphis has the horses to dominate an improved Conference USA.
There are also plenty of good mid-major programs to watch. Belmont could be an at-large candidate if it navigates an opportunistic non-conference schedule. Detroit will test Butler in the Horizon League. As many as three or four teams could push for bids from the Colonial and Atlantic 10. Both the Missouri Valley and Mid-American have multiple bid options. In all, our preseason projection has two teams each from the Colonial, MVC, and Horizon. Hopefully, we’ll see that – or more – play out next Spring.
Further down the bracket, it’s educated guesswork … Last 5 teams IN: Virginia, Minnesota, Wichita State, Drexel, St. Louis. First 5 teams OUT: Notre Dame, BYU, Northwestern, Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s. The next group includes Kent State, VCU, Indiana, Old Dominion, and Central Florida. None of these would be huge surprises. That’s the beauty of college hoops. We play the games and what happens on the court matters more than public opinion.
Here’s to a great season. Let’s enjoy the ride to Selection Sunday.
With the start of college hoops season just a week away, it’s no surprise that North Carolina tops our Preseason Power 24 at Bracketville. Kentucky, Connecticut, and Ohio State are right behind.
One can debate whether UConn or Ohio State should be switched. Fair-minded people can also discuss North Carolina and Kentucky. But with a host of experience back, the Tar Heels are early favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans. UK, UConn, and Ohio State should challenge, as will a handful of others. Spots 5-10 look like this … Syracuse, Duke, Memphis, Florida, Vanderbilt, and Louisville.
Cautious optimism is always wise. If we’ve learned anything the past few years it’s that preseason expectations and on-court performance aren’t always the same. We’ve also seen talented teams struggle early as they learn to play together. Because we have no real evidence, preseason rankings are merely a starting point. Thankfully, come March, what matters is actual results. Sure, we’ll have our debates about a few teams, but the tournament will be great because we play the games.
I’m excited about another journey toward Selection Sunday. Thanks for your interest. Follow along here and at NBC Sports.com.
We’re about to have our annual reality check. It’s the point of the college hoops season when actual performance starts to outweigh potential. Moving forward, projected selection and seeding will become increasingly reflective of a team’s actual profile and less about what we expect (or expected) said team to achieve. Note: until we hit Championship Week, there will always be some potential figured into bracket projections. The goal is still to provide both a snapshot of where we are while balancing realistic possibilities.
Early in the season, the bracket is mostly about potential – what do we expect? Then, as teams begin building actual resumes – schedule strength, wins, losses, road performance, etc – we have better guidelines to use. For some teams, that’s good. For others, not so much. Here are a couple of examples.
Memphis – The Tigers opened the season as a projected No. 3 seed based on talent and the expectations of a gaudy won-loss record in Conference USA. Since beating Miami-FL (Nov. 15), however, Memphis has missed – in some cases badly – opportunities against Kansas, Georgetown, and Tennessee. Thus, the Tigers have one win over a potential NCAA team to date - and Miami-FL would be among a handful of bubble teams on the edge if this were Selection Sunday. Factor in UM’s loss at Southern Methodist (RPI No. 271 – from CollegeRPI.com), and it’s easy to see why the Tigers’ actual profile is far different than what we anticipated in November. That’s not to say Memphis can’t make a run to the C-USA title, but the Tigers’ performance to date would land them outside the Field of 68. Read more…
Duke and Ohio State remain 1-2 in our latest Power 24. Kansas moves up to No. 3. The Jayhawks put together an impressive second-half against Memphis in New York, and now await the arrival of Josh Selby on Saturday.
This is where it gets a bit more tricky. Fresh off a virtual road win against Pittsburgh, Tennessee vaults into the No. 4 spot, followed closely by Connecticut. Both the Vols and Huskies have impressed – and surprised. Tennessee because of all the off-court issues surrounding head coach Bruce Pearl. Connecticut because few of us anticipated Kemba Walker would carry his team to a Maui championship and beyond.
View our December 13 edition of Power 24.
Any number of teams could claim spots this week. The only changes: Temple returns following its win over Georgetown, and Washington leaves after falling a point short at Texas A-M. It’s not a bad loss, but the Huskies (Washington variety) have missed on most of their “good win” chances – beating only Virginia in Maui.
Louisville sits at No. 25 – one spot out of the rankings. Good win last weekend over UNLV, but like all of the Cardinals’ wins to date, it was at home. Louisville hasn’t yet left its new KFC Yum! Center surroundings. That changes on a Dec. 23 trip to Western Kentucky. By comparison, UNLV (No. 17 this week) has played just four home games; winning five away from Vegas, including two true road games and three at the 76 Classic. At this point, UNLV’s overall body of work is more impressive.
Rebounds always welcome. Next Power 24 update and bracket update will be Monday, December 20.
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…