1 - Florida Gulf Coast: This was an easy choice. No 15-seed had ever made the Sweet 16 at the NCAA tournament until this year. Perhaps the Eagles were underseeded, but that’s not really the point. This is a team that beat Miami early in the season and has captured the Cinderalla spirit with its wide-open pace and fun-loving personalities. Will FGCU continue its run and beat Florida? Collectively, we’ll be watching. And if it’s a close game in the final minutes, anyone in North Texas who’s not a Gators’ fan will take a ride on the Eagles’ wings.
2 – Michigan State vs. Duke: When it comes to March, it’s hard to ignore a matchup between Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski - two of the NCAA tournament’s Goliaths. It will also be a contract in styles. MSU will try to use it’s size and bulk to pound the glass and score in the paint. Duke will counter with its quickness, guard play, and Ryan Kelly’s ability to stretch the floor. Whichever team establishes its style and makes the other adjust likely wins.
3 – A 1987 Flashback: Indiana fans well remember Keith Smart’s shot to beat Syracuse in the 1987 National Championship game. While Bob Knight has long since departed the IU sideline, Jim Boeheim remains at Syracuse. In an ESPN Radio interview this week, Boeheim said that Smart’s game winner still resonates. At various times this season, both the Hoosiers and Orange were ranked in the Top 5. This is a Final four type matchup with a lot at stake. Indiana was a preseason favorite to cut down the nets in Atlanta.
4 – Oregon Ducks: When the brackets were released on March 17, one of the biggest surprises was finding Oregon as a 12-seed. While the Ducks did not boast a high number of marquee wins, they went 12-6 in the Pac 12 regular season (with point guard Dominic Artis missing significant time), and won the conference tournament. Since, they’ve won two NCAA tournament games by an average of 15 points – beating Oklahoma State and Saint Louis, a team many considered to be a Final Four sleeper. Oregon’s run may end against top-seed Louisville, but the Ducks are peaking at the right time.
5 – La Salle Explorers: While Gonzaga had its doubters, there probably weren’t many brackets that matched Wichita State and La Salle together in Los Angeles. A First Four participant, La Salle already has three NCAA wins – more than any other team in the Sweet 16. It harkens memories of 2011 when 11-seed VCU made its run from the First Four to the Final Four. Now a victory over the ninth-seeded Shockers is all that stands between the Explorers and the Elite 8.
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.
We should be in for an exciting week. It’s not often that so many potential at-large spots and seeding questions remain this close to Selection Sunday. Which means several teams – many from the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in particular – will be paying close attention to conference tournament results. A surprise winner or two could put a jolt into the at-large pool.
March 8 Bracket Projection | 12:15 p.m.
For now, Duke reclaims the overall top seed. Ryan Kelly has returned and is playing at a high level. That brings the Blue Devils’ full resume back into play, and it’s pretty good. But the race isn’t over. Gonzaga, Kansas, Indiana, Louisville, Georgetown, New Mexico, and a second Big Ten team are all contenders for a No. 1 seed. Conference tournaments could play a decisive role.
The bubble remains what it is. So despite some losses this week, not a lot has changed. Thankfully, a week remains to help sort things out. Given the turmoil, several teams could still make a late push. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there. Buckle up.
Quick note: As we’ve entered conference tournament play, teams in ALL-CAPS no longer appear in the bracket. We’ll begin using the CAPS as a indication of a team’s automatic bid. The first of which will be handed out on Saturday.
Take the top seed line. Indiana remains in control of its current No. 1 seed position. The other three spots still have some wiggle room – although based on Ryan Kelly’s return performance Saturday against Miami-FL, the Duke Blue Devils appear headed for yet another top seed on Selection Sunday. In this update, Gonzaga and Kansas grab the other two No. 1 slots. Miami, Georgetown, Louisville, New Mexico, Michigan State, and Michigan aren’t far behind. Remember, there are only four spots on each seed line. Someone has to be number nine or ten on the seed list (s-curve). And the order could easily change. Throughout the bracket, these final two weeks will help decide the starting position for several teams.
March 4 Bracket Update | 10 p.m. ET
The bottom of the bracket is no less uncertain. This past Saturday, six teams directly on the bubble lost. So in some ways, not a lot changed. The newest addition to the bracket is Boise State. After beating Colorado State, the Broncos resume is tournament worthy with two games to play. As a side note, Boise is a true 11 seed in the bracket but had to be placed on the 12 line because of various conflicts and bracketing principles. It’s not uncommon for this to happen. Many of the teams in the middle of the bracket are tightly bunched and while one or two seed lines may appear to be a big difference, that’s not necessarily true.
The final couple of at-large spots in the Field of 68 could be argued for hours. That’s why this week’s games and those in conference tournament play may prove more important than ever. For now, the final at-large spots belong to Iowa State, Villanova, Virginia, and Tennessee. Those four are paired in the First Four – with winners headed to matchups in the East and West Regions. Kentucky, Baylor, Alabama, Massachusetts, and Arkansas are among the first teams outside the bracket.
Note: The bracket update does not include the Baylor-Texas game on Monday evening. That game will be factored into our next update. Enjoy the ride to Selection Sunday.
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.