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.
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.
Saturday, the buzzer-beaters, close finishes, and general Madness arrived in full force. Which begs the question: After all of that, where do we stand as far as the bubble and top seeds? Well, here you go …
Last 5 IN … Temple, Saint Mary’s, La Salle, Iowa State, Kentucky
First 5 OUT … Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Baylor, Iowa
No. 1 seeds … Duke (East), Gonzaga (West), Indiana (Midwest), Louisville (South). The loss at Kansas – combined with Louisville’s win over Notre Dame – dropped the Jayhawks to No. 5. Georgetown, New Mexico, and Michigan State are in spots 5-8 on the curve entering today.
March 10 s-curve | 7:45 a.m.
The race, however, is far from over. Conference tournaments could play a huge role in deciding the final few at-large spots. We also have not yet had a conference tournament winner that might take an at-large spot away. Creighton and Wichita State both reached the Missouri Valley final. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are in the West Coast final. Belmont beat Murray State to capture the Ohio Valley’s automatic bid. That’s not to say a potential bid-stealer won’t appear this coming week.
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.