None of us can predict how the college landscape will look in January, let alone March. But early-season and holiday tournaments provide us some juicy match-ups we might not otherwise see. Opportunities await to put neutral-court wins on resumes.
In this edition of Inside the Bracket, let’s take a peak at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off:
Favorite: Michigan – The Wolverines lost a second-half lead in Ames and fell to the Iowa State Cyclones. Losing a road game in a tough environment – in Mitch McGary’s first game (back issues) – isn’t that concerning. A consensus Top 15 team to open the season, Michigan remains the favorite here, assuming McGary’s back is okay and he provides valuable minutes. If Michigan meets VCU in the semifinals, it will be interesting to see how the Wolverines handle VCU’s relentless pressure without Trey Burke at the helm.
Contenders: VCU, Georgetown – Many around the country believe this is Shaka Smart’s best – and perhaps deepest – team at VCU. It’s conceivable that the Rams will have to beat Florida State, Michigan, and Georgetown to win the tournament. Do that, and VCU will leave Puerto Rico with some significant momentum. Georgetown might be better than we think; who knows, the Hoyas might be the best team in the re-aligned Big East. What we do know is that Georgetown gave Oregon a good fight in South Korea and dominated preseason Horizon favorite Wright State in the States. Read more…
It’s a busy second weekend of college hoops. There are six games that look particularly intriguing. And it’s certainly possible that at least a couple could have bracket implications (seeding or selection) down the line. Let’s take a look:
Ohio State at Marquette – Could be the best game on the docket. If LaQuinton Ross proves to be a reliable scorer, the Buckeyes can challenge Michigan State in the Big Ten race. They also need consistent play from Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. While guard play is a work in progress for the Golden Eagles, Davante Gardner and Chris Otule anchor a solid front line for Marquette. This type of non-conference victory will look good on either team’s resume.
Michigan at Iowa State – Mitch McGary (back) has yet to play for the Wolverines, who are hoping for a return trip to the Final Four. Iowa State just missed the Field of 68 in our preseason projection, but the Cyclones could easily work their way into the bracket if Fred Hoiberg once again blends some new pieces together. Neither team has been challenged, but a victory would be a particularly nice boost for ISU. The Cyclones have a tough trip to BYU next week.
Indiana State at Notre Dame – After losing a 16-point halftime lead and falling at Belmont on Thursday, Indiana State could use a bounce-back victory in South Bend. Other than a game at Saint Louis in December, the Sycamores’ non-conference schedule doesn’t offer many chances for bracket-worthy wins. ISU allowed Belmont to score 63 second-half points. They’ll have to tighten up the defense to have a chance against the Irish. Read more…
In four days, it’ll be 2013, and the race to Selection Sunday begins takes on added meaning. But these four days are packed with key games. Here’s a look at some games we’ll be paying close attention to through New Year’s Eve …
Friday, December 28
Baylor at Gonzaga – The last time Gonzaga hosted a potential NCAA team on its home floor, Illinois left The Kennel with an 11-point victory. And while the visiting Bears have a headscratching loss to College of Charleston (and one at home to Northwestern), they do have a road win at Kentucky.
Missouri at UCLA – Will this be a season-changing moment for UCLA? The Bruins have largely underachieved, and have yet to post a high-caliber victory (Texas is questionnable – although the Indiana State win looks better). Missouri’s new pieces are coming together and Jabari Brown has added some outside scoring punch. Come March, it’s not a stretch to think this Mizzou team could actually be better than last year’s.
Saturday, December 29
Kentucky at Louisville – One of the nation’s best rivalries. That said, this game will tell us more about where UK is than Louisville. The Wildcats’ best win is over Maryland in November, and while there are no “bad” losses, Big Blue Nation grew a bit restless after falling to Baylor at home. Gorgui Dieng is expected to return for the Cardinals.
Virginia Tech vs. BYU (at Salt Lake) – A defacto home game for the Cougars, this has mid-season bubble-game written all over it. Tech has the better overall resume to date, but the Hokies have lost three of five – including a home game to Georgia Southern. Read more…
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.
Time to digest a little turkey – and some college hoops. Thankfully, we’ve been bombarded with a cornucopia of good basketball in the first two weeks of the season. Knowing this weekend presents more opportunities, here are some teams making unexpected early splashes:
Oklahoma State – After surviving Akron in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Shootout, the Cowboys took down Tennessee in the semis and heavily-favored North Carolina State in the championship. Actually, OSU dominated both games. While the Volunteers were missing Jeronne Mayman, NC State was a full strength. At this point, the Cowboys have moved well above the cutline on the s-curve. Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash, and Markel Brown are playing at a high level.
Colorado – We know about Arizona and UCLA, but the Pac-12 title chase could include a third team if the Buffaloes sustain their early-season momentum. The Buffs won the Charleston Classic by beating Dayton, Baylor, and Murray State. The victory over Baylor will get the most attention, but Murray is an NCAA-caliber team, too, and Dayton is a potential sleeper in the Atlantic 10. We know about Andre Roberson, but sophomore Askia Booker has averaged 17.8 points through four games. Like OSU, Colorado has climbed the s-curve quickly.
Illinois – Senior guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are enjoying new coach John Groce’s attacking style. Paul was named MVP of the Maui Invitational as Illinois never trailed in three games, dominating USC, Chaminade (which upset Texas), and Butler (which upset North Carolina). The Illini are averaging 11 made three-pointers and 83 points per game. That’s a positive change for a team that often struggled to score the past two seasons. Sophomore PG Tracy Abrams has emerged and senior Tyler Griffey is playing with renewed energy. Illinois was an “also considered” team in our preseason rankings, but would be firmly in the Field of 68 if we were putting together an updated bracket today. Read more…
It’s always an interesting exercise when you take a team’s name away from its numbers. To demonstrate, let’s look at some numbers used by the NCAA Selection Committee to select and seed teams for the tournament. We’ll refer to them as Team A, etc. during the first part of the exercise, and reveal the names at the end of the column. Data comes from collegerpi.com (through Feb. 7).
Let’s go Inside the Bracket …
Team Road RPI 1-50 Top 100 Losses 100+ SOS NC-SOS Field wins
Team A 2-5 3-3 6-3 142, 144 48 90 3
Team B 2-3 5-5 7-6 139 20 121 4
Team C 8-3 3-1 5-3 151 94 137 2
Team D 5-2 4-3 6-3 NA 85 208 4
Team E 3-3 0-4 3-7 NA 83 94 0
Team F 6-1 3-1 6-2 NA 123 166 2
Team G 3-3 3-4 5-6 NA 79 226 2
Team H 7-2 2-2 8-3 NA 35 41 2
We purposely didn’t include overall Division I record (through Feb. 7) or conference record to make it more difficult to identify the teams in question – even though both are important factors. Field Wins refers to victories over teams currently projected to make the NCAA tournament (from our latest bracket projection). For simplicity, we didn’t include teams from non-BCS conferences who were in the bracket as automatic qualifiers. SOS refers to strength of schedule and NC-SOS refers to non-conference strength of schedule.
Using the data above, how would you rank the teams? Everyone will have a different opinion on which criteria is most important. That’s why the actual selection process involves a series of confidential voting procedures. Committee members debate, make arguments, discuss concerns, etc. Then, it’s put to a vote. A certain number of votes are needed for teams to move “IN” the bracket or to be placed on a seed line. I’m looking forward to learning more about the process during the NCAA Mock Selection event next week in Indianapolis.
Are quality wins your most important criteria? Road record? How do you factor in losses to sub-100 teams? These are just a few considerations. Something else to note: take away wins over teams ranked below 200 in the RPI (lower third of Division I). Sometimes, that gives you a different insight into how well a team’s overall record matches its performance. We’re not picking on Murray State – an excellent team having a remarkable season. But let’s use the Racers as an example. If you remove Murray’s 12 wins against teams ranked 200 or lower, the Racers’ D-1 record is 8-0. That’s why it will be difficult for Murray State to earn a protected seed.
Time to reveal the names behind the numbers. See if it changes your opinion of how you ranked them …
Team A: Florida … Team B: Illinois … Team C: Creighton … Team D: San Diego State … Team E: Washington … Team F: St. Mary’s … Team G: Kansas State … Team H: Southern Mississippi
The purpose of the exercise isn’t to make you change your mind. Rather, it’s designed to provide an insight into a team’s evaluation without the potential bias associated with the name on the jersey. Hopefully, you found the exercise informative.
When a new bracket appears on Monday, Kentucky, Syracuse, and Ohio State will remain as No. 1 seeds. Yes, Syracuse lost at Notre Dame on Saturday, but the Orange were not headed to the NCAAs with a perfect record. That’s unrealistic when you play in a Top 10 RPI conference. It’s more likely that Syracuse will have two or three losses by Selection Sunday. If that’s the case, SU could/should be a No. 1 seed. The question: Which teams are currently in the hunt for the final No. 1 seed? Data comes from collegerpi.com.
The best candidates right now are Duke and three teams from the Big 12: Missouri, Kansas, and Baylor. Some people will point at Duke’s home loss to Florida State and discard the Blue Devils. Just keep in mind that Duke is 4-2 vs. Top 25 RPI teams – including non-conference wins over Michigan State and Kansas. The Blue Devils have also beaten Michigan, Virginia, and Davidson – a team that won at Kansas – and boast the nation’s No. 1 strength-of-schedule. Duke may or may not be one of the best four teams, but the Blue Devils’ overall resume is still pretty strong. We’ve seen it before: if Duke wins both an ACC league and/or ACC tournament title, the Blue Devils could again be a top seed.
Missouri boasts an impressive 18-1 record and is coming off a strong road victory at Baylor. By comparison, the Tigers’ are 2-0 against Top 25 (RPI) teams and 3-1 vs. the Top 50. Missouri’s best additional wins: Illinois, California, Iowa State, and Texas. Of those, only Illinois is a confident NCAA pick at this juncture. As a footnote: Missouri’s non-conference SOS ranks No. 260 – Duke’s non-conference SOS is No. 3
Kansas leads the Big 12 and dominated Baylor in Lawrence. KU still plays Missouri twice, so that will be a huge factor in the final analysis. The Jayhawks are 5-3 vs. Top 50 teams and 8-3 vs. the Top 100. That ties them with Duke (and a few others) for the most Top 100 wins, and is only behind Syracuse (10 Top 100 wins). KU’s losses are on neutral courts to Duke and Kentucky, plus a home loss to Davidson. The Jayhawks have wins over Baylor, Ohio State (no Jared Sullinger), Georgetown, and Kansas State. Those are four tournament level teams.
Baylor had a tough schedule this past week, visiting Kansas and hosting Missouri. A split (road/home) would have been expected. Instead, Baylor lost both and is now two-games back of Kansas. Overall, Baylor is 7-1 away from home and 4-1 in true road games. Those are strong numbers. Road wins include Kansas State, Northwestern (by 27), and BYU. There are questions about Baylor’s ability to win physical games, but the Bears’ resume to date remains impressive. Their only losses are to teams mentioned here as potential No. 1 seeds. Read more…