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.
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…
The Big Ten won its third straight Big Ten-ACC Challenge. While that may help the league’s overall perception, teams earn NCAA bids, not conferences. Here are a few bracket-related observations from this year’s Challenge:
Ohio State is playing like a No. 1 seed. While the Buckeyes have yet to leave Value City Arena, they dominated Duke by 22 points. This was the same Duke team which defeated Michigan and Kansas enroute to another Maui title. The Blue Devils had also compiled wins over Michigan State and Belmont. When you add in OSU’s victory over Florida on November 15, the Buckeyes begin December with eyes on a No. 1 seed. A trip to Kansas on December 10 will be OSU’s first true road test.
Indiana could be an NCAA team. The Hoosiers’ schedule hasn’t featured any heavyweights (yet), but IU has a balanced attack that creates problems for opposing defenses. Pulling out a tough road win at NC State is a promising sign for a team that didn’t win a single road game last year. The Hoosiers host Kentucky on December 10. Beating the Wildcats would likely allow IU to enter Big Ten play without a loss.
So could North Carolina State. The Wolfpack were supposed to be a year away, but as witnessed against Indiana, NC State has the talent to be an NCAA contender. They rank 18th in the nation in assists, a great sign of team play, as is a team field goal percentage of .417 - also a Top 50 stat. With non-conference games at Stanford and vs. Syracuse still on the schedule, the Wolfpack have the chance for a resume-building win ahead of ACC play.
Illinois has found a floor leader. Bradley tranfer Sam Maniscalco has given the Illini the type of leadership and mental toughness missing the past couple of seasons. The senior leads Illinois in scoring (13.3 ppg), FT percentage (88%), and 3-point percentage (41.9). He scored 24 in a comeback win at Maryland. There are a lot of new faces in Champaign, and the Illini won’t challenge for a Big Ten title, but there’s no reason to think a Top 6 finish and NCAA bid is out of reach. Read more…
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…
The biggest question for Purdue is … now what? An unfortunate knee injury to star Robbie Hummel means the Boilermakers must be re-evaluated over the course of three regular-season games and the Big 10 tournament. Purdue could still be a No. 1 seed, but the Boilers will have to demonstrate they can play – and win – big games without Hummel in the lineup. Just how Purdue will be viewed remains to be seen. Thanks to a solid team effort, the Boilers outlasted Minnesota and earned a better-than-you-think road win against the Gophers. For now, Purdue retains its No. 1 seed projection in our latest bracket update.
Hard to believe, but our next update will be in March (Monday, March 1). The official countdown has begun. Our only new addition is really a swap. Following a loss at Temple, Dayton falls to our first team out, replaced by Rhode Island as our last team in. The A-10 bubble is pretty flexible (with Charlotte), but the picture should clear over the next two weeks and at the A-10 tournament.
As for the No. 1 seeds … Kansas, Syracuse and Kentucky join Purdue on the top line. Our No. 2 seeds also remain the same from Monday. Georgetown vaults over Pitt to the No. 3 line as the Hoyas win at Louisville and the Panthers fall flat at Notre Dame. With so many Big East teams near the top, someone will be the odd team out – and have to be no better than a No. 4. Again, that should be more evident soon.
As several bubble teams continue to lose, teams like Florida, Illinois, Marquette, and Oklahoma State are looking more Dance-worthy. Nothing happens in a vacuum and teams can improve their position simply because contenders fall away. At the same time, I look for several upsets in conference tournaments that could throw current automatic bid teams into the at-large pool or onto the bubble. More on that as we prepare for conference tournaments next week. Rebounds are always welcome. Enjoy the hoops!