With enough time and enough coffee, ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon offers college hoops fanatics a splendid 24-hour escape. If you’re unwilling (or unable) to power through a full day, you can always set the DVR. Either way, Selection Committee members will be tracking results. Here are a few of the games that could have bracket implications …
West Virginia at Gonzaga – Other than a game with Michigan on December 15, this is West Virginia’s best chance to post a top-flight non-conference victory. The Zags always play a good non-conference schedule.
Davidson at New Mexico - Davidson is heavy favorite to win the Southern Conference, and many think the Wildcats could advance a game or two in March. A win at The Pit would certainly look good on the Wildcats’ resume if they need it on Selection Sunday. New Mexico has road trips to Cincinnati and Saint Louis in late December, so beating Davidson would be a good way to kick-off the season.
Temple at Kent State – The host Flashes opened their season with a victory over Colonial favorite Drexel. Adding a win over Temple might be even bigger. KSU will challenge Ohio for the Mid-American title, but an at-large berth has been rare for MAC teams in recent years. The Owls still play Duke, Syracuse, and Kansas outside the Atlantic 10. While there is less urgency, this would be a quality road win. Read more…
The Road to Atlanta begins November 9. Time to unveil our preseason Power 24. The headliners: Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky, and Kansas. Those would be our projected No. 1 seeds as slots 1-4 on the s-curve. A quick note: this year’s Power 24 will reflect the s-curve used for seeding teams into a bracket. Hopefully, that provides a slightly different view of the NCAA Tournament landscape.
Now, to the Power 24 itself. It’s a starting point. That’s it. We don’t know how the season will play out. We’ll have surprises. We’ll have disappointments.
Here are a few quick thoughts:
- The Big Ten opens the 2012-13 campaign loaded with quality teams. Beyond IU, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan could all be Top 4 seeds in March. All four begin the season in the Top 12 of our s-curve.
- The Atlantic 10 is a deep, talented league. If one or two teams separate, they will most certainly climb the rankings. But if those teams clump, you could easily see up to five teams make the Field of 68 and all be seeded between lines 7-10. VCU is our pick to win it. The Rams open at No. 25 on the s-curve. That would put them as the highest seven-seed.
- The Pac-12 will be improved – especially at the top. Arizona and UCLA should make a splash on the national scene.
- UNLV and San Diego State should wage a great battle for the Mountain West title. Both are Top 20 capable teams.
- How will NC State handle high expectations? Duke and North Carolina won’t just hand an ACC title to the Wolfpack. In some ways, many are overlooking the Blue Devils and Tar Heels.
- Syracuse shouldn’t be far beyond Louisville in the Big East. And don’t forget about Cincinnati or Notre Dame.
Preseason opinions vary greatly beyond the top two or three teams. Which makes the season tip-off even more exciting. It’s time for another journey toward Selection Sunday.
With the 24-hour ESPN College Basketball Tip-Off Marathon complete, here are a few post-marathon resume notes from the season’s opening 10 days …
RESUME BUILDERS: Akron, Cleveland State and Kent State all compiled impressive road wins. It’s been a while since the Mid-American Conference put two teams in the NCAA Tournament, so the fact that Akron and Kent State both have strong out-of-conference wins this early is significant. Akron won at Mississippi State (SEC) and Kent State at West Virginia (Big East). Cleveland State owns the biggest upset to date - taking down Vanderbilt in Nashville. In other Horizon League action, Detroit missed an opportunity at Notre Dame. The good news is the Titans still have multiple chances to still make non-conference statements (@Alabama, Mississppi State most notably). CSU’s schedule doesn’t provide the same BCS resume-building opportunities, so beating Vandy was huge. On a side note: Cleveland State plays both Akron and Kent State.
In the Missouri Valley, Evansville rallied to beat Butler. If the Aces can back it up with a win over Indiana (tonight), that’s even better. Northern Iowa traveled over 3,000 miles in 60 hours – winning a big road game at Old Dominion before falling at St. Mary’s. A 50-50 split is pretty solid. MVC favorites Creighton and Wichita State haven’t been tested yet. But that changes soon – as Creighton plays UAB, Iowa, and San Diego State in its next four games. Wichita State has chances in Puerto Rico this week.
Drexel posted a solid victory (with a 6:00 a.m. tip) at Rider on Tuesday.
Belmont looked and played like an NCAA team during a brutal two-game road swing. That’s why we’ll consider the Bruins’ two losses as resume builders. One would think a single-point loss at Duke and a solid showing at Memphis would hold some weight if the Bruins falter in the Atlantic Sun Tournament. That said, Belmont’s toughest remaining non-conference opponent is probably Marshall. Beating the Herd, a potential NCAA team, would certainly be helpful. Read more…
March is five months away. Thousands of college basketball games will be played before Selection Sunday. Yet two things seem pretty clear in early November. North Carolina and Kentucky are loaded, and the Tar Heels and Wildcats are heavy favorites to reach the Final Four in New Orleans. So it’s no surprise that UNC and UK are the top two teams in our preseason bracket projection.
From there, it gets interesting. Debates rage across the internet and college hoops magazines about the next group of teams. Defending champion Connecticut returns a host of talent, as does 2011 top seed Ohio State. Other teams in the early running for No. 1 seeds: Syracuse and Duke. Florida and Vanderbilt both have the talent to challenge Kentucky in the SEC. Louisville and Pittsburgh are potential threats to the Orange and Huskies in the Big East. Memphis has the horses to dominate an improved Conference USA.
There are also plenty of good mid-major programs to watch. Belmont could be an at-large candidate if it navigates an opportunistic non-conference schedule. Detroit will test Butler in the Horizon League. As many as three or four teams could push for bids from the Colonial and Atlantic 10. Both the Missouri Valley and Mid-American have multiple bid options. In all, our preseason projection has two teams each from the Colonial, MVC, and Horizon. Hopefully, we’ll see that – or more – play out next Spring.
Further down the bracket, it’s educated guesswork … Last 5 teams IN: Virginia, Minnesota, Wichita State, Drexel, St. Louis. First 5 teams OUT: Notre Dame, BYU, Northwestern, Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s. The next group includes Kent State, VCU, Indiana, Old Dominion, and Central Florida. None of these would be huge surprises. That’s the beauty of college hoops. We play the games and what happens on the court matters more than public opinion.
Here’s to a great season. Let’s enjoy the ride to Selection Sunday.
With the start of college hoops season just a week away, it’s no surprise that North Carolina tops our Preseason Power 24 at Bracketville. Kentucky, Connecticut, and Ohio State are right behind.
One can debate whether UConn or Ohio State should be switched. Fair-minded people can also discuss North Carolina and Kentucky. But with a host of experience back, the Tar Heels are early favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans. UK, UConn, and Ohio State should challenge, as will a handful of others. Spots 5-10 look like this … Syracuse, Duke, Memphis, Florida, Vanderbilt, and Louisville.
Cautious optimism is always wise. If we’ve learned anything the past few years it’s that preseason expectations and on-court performance aren’t always the same. We’ve also seen talented teams struggle early as they learn to play together. Because we have no real evidence, preseason rankings are merely a starting point. Thankfully, come March, what matters is actual results. Sure, we’ll have our debates about a few teams, but the tournament will be great because we play the games.
I’m excited about another journey toward Selection Sunday. Thanks for your interest. Follow along here and at NBC Sports.com.