Massachusetts is unbeaten heading into its matchup with BYU this weekend. Of their seven wins, the Minutemen have five victories away from home – four on neutral courts and a roadie at Eastern Michigan. Can UMass keep it going? Chaz Williams and Cady Lalanne have been superb and lead five Minutemen averaging double figures in the scorebook. It’s certainly been a team effort. Much like UMass, BYU has put together a solid start to the 2013-14 season. The Cougars’ only losses are to Iowa State (two points) and Wichita State. BYU also ranks among the top teams in the nation in points per game, assists per game, and rebounding. Together, Guards Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino average 40 points a contest. Should be a fun one to follow.
Here are some of the weekend’s other Inside the Bracket matchups:
UCLA at Missouri – The visiting Bruins are unbeaten although largely untested, save a tight home opener with Drexel. This is the only true road game on UCLA’s non-conference schedule; that alone adds some intrigue and importance. The Bruins don’t play another road game until a January 16 trip to Colorado. Missouri hasn’t left home either, and doesn’t play a neutral-court game until the Tigers’ annual battle with Illinois in St. Louis. The Tigers best win probably came Thursday night against West Virginia.
Clemson at Arkansas – Both squads are part of a large group of bubble teams that will dwindle and change as the season progresses. While losing twice in Maui, the Razorbacks played well enough to beat Minnesota and battle both Gonzaga and California down to the wire. They also have an underrated home win over SMU. In the revamped ACC, Clemson has some tough sledding ahead. The Tigers gave Massachusetts all it wanted in Puerto Rico in their only loss. This is Clemson’s first road test; a victory would certainly add a nugget to the Tigers’ resume.
Marquette at Wisconsin – It’s been somewhat of a rough start for the Golden Eagles who were manhandled by Ohio State at home and taken to task by San Diego State at the Wooden Legacy. With three losses, Marquette would love to put a high-end road victory on its resume. Albeit an ugly game at Virginia, the Badgers remain unbeaten and have been as consistent as any team in the country through the first month. A win at the Kohl Center would put Wisconsin in prime position to complete its non-conference season without a setback. Read more…
Teams: Kansas, Wake Forest, Villanova, USC, Tennessee, UTEP, Xavier, Iowa
Favorite: Kansas - The Jayhawks earned a No. 1 seed in our preseason bracket projection and have already beaten Duke on a neutral court. Even in a deep and talented field, Andrew Wiggins and company will be favored in any game they play in the Bahamas. Plus, the bracket sets up nicely for the Jayhawks. Following the opener with Wake Forest, KU will face either Villanova or USC in the semifinals. If the Jayhawks play well, expect to see them in the title game.
Contenders: Iowa / Tennessee - This is the year that Iowa is supposed to finish in the top of half of the Big Ten conference and return to the NCAA tournament. Between now and mid-March we’ll see if those predictions hold true. Iowa arrives in the Bahamas averaging over 90 points a game, led by Roy Devin-Marble (14 ppg) and Aaron White (13 ppg / 7.6 rpg). The Hawkeyes are also among the nation’s best in rebounding and assists. Much like Iowa, this is the year Tennessee is supposed to break through and participate in March Madness. They opened the season ranked in our Power 24. Since then, the Volunteers have fallen four points short in a road loss at Xavier and won three at home against lesser competition. Jordan McRae (21 ppg) and Jarnell Stokes have been the most consistent offensive threats. Can the Volunteers play like a Top 25 team when it matters? We’ll find out. Read more…
Reigning NCAA champion Louisville opens as the top overall seed in the Midwest Region, which again goes through nearby Indianapolis. The Cardinals are followed by Michigan State (East), Kentucky (South), and Kansas (West) as favorites to reach AT&T Stadium in April. Close behind are Duke, Arizona, Syracuse, and Oklahoma State. Need more heavyweights? How about Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, and North Carolina as possible three-seeds?
Beyond conference realignment – and remembering that Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are now in the ACC, for example - the NCAA has changed a few of its bracketing principles for 2014. If you want to read them for yourself, visit www.ncaa.com. The most significant updates are an emphasis on maintaining a team’s true seed (from the seed list), and allowing teams from the same conference to potentially meet before a regional final if they played less than three times during the regular season. (Note: This could happen previously but only if more than eight teams from a conference were selected). There are a lot of variables, but the goal is to provide the Selection Committee with more options during the bracketing process. In year’s past, bracketing procedures often required moving several teams up or down a seed line to avoid such things as conference conflicts within the region. While this may still occur, it should be less frequently. What we can’t predict in the preseason is how many times conference foes will actually meet because conference tournament games are included.
With the arrival of the American Athletic Conference (AAC), there will also be one less at-large bid in 2014. We now have 32 automatic qualifiers and 36 at-large spots. In our preseason bracket the First Five out are Illinois, California, Providence, Massachusetts, and Xavier. Purdue, Iowa State, Pittsburgh, Missouri, Washington, and Florida State are next. A host of other potential at-large candidates were also evaluated. View the full s-curve for the preseason bracket.
Our opening First Four? BYU, Indiana State, San Diego State, and SMU (Southern Methodist).
Fortunately, the actual bracket will develop over the course over four and a half months. At this point, it’s guesswork. The journey will be tremendous. Think about the storylines we already have: Will John Calipari blend his vaunted recruits into a championship team? Can the Cardinals repeat? Will Tom Izzo return Michigan State to the Final Four? Who will be this year’s Wichita State, Butler, VCU, or George Mason? And the list goes on.
It’s almost time for tip-off. Grab a seat. It’s going to be quite a ride toward Selection Sunday.
Defending NCAA champion Louisville headlines our preseason Power 24 rankings. The Cardinals return a host of talent from last year’s title team, and a third straight trip to the Final Four is certainly within reach. Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and Arizona are the other early favorites to contend for No. 1 seeds.
Great storylines await when the season tips-off on Friday, November 8. Will ultra-talented Kentucky emerge as a dominant team? Will Andrew Wiggins lead the Jayhawks to another title? Will Tom Izzo guide Michigan State back to the Final Four? Will we have another Final Four surprise? We can’t sleep on Marcus Smart and the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Throw in conference re-alignments, and we have a virtual re-make of the college hoops landscape.
The team in our preseason Power 24 that might surprise some: Iowa. Call it a hunch, but the Hawkeyes were playing like an NCAA team at the end of the last season. Some early stumbles and a poor non-conference schedule ultimately hurt their NCAA resume. Most of their talent returns. Iowa has the depth and talent to finish as a Top 4 team in the Big Ten. Will it happen? We’ll see.
The good news: All of this will be settled on the court. Preseason projections are fun. They prompt discussions. But none of us knows how the journey will develop. That’s the beauty of college basketball.
Several teams – including Florida, North Carolina and Oregon (announced late Tuesday this week) have suspension and/or injury issues. How those scenarios play out will impact each of those squads. It’s just too early to know.
Those just missing the preseason Power 24? Creighton, Notre Dame, New Mexico, Indiana, Baylor, Virginia, Saint Louis, and Harvard. You could make a case for any of those teams to be included. The season is almost here. Let’s enjoy the ride.
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.