Congratulations to the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State on being selected for an at-large spot in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. In a rare move (based on selection history), the Committee looked beyond “win” numbers and included a team that scheduled well and ran through it’s conference season before an upset in the league tourney. As I noted earlier in the day Sunday, such a decision would be appreciated. Now, such moves have not been commonplace. More often than not, RPI win totals surpass victories over largely inferior competition – regardless of how the numbers add up. Having been through this a time or two, we’ve seen teams with equal or even better resumes (than MTSU’s this year) be left holding a bid to the NIT. So was it somewhat surprising? Yes. Whether it becomes a trend remains to be seen.
As a quick recap on our final bracket … 67 of 68 teams were correctly identified (thus 36 of 37 at-large teams). The one miss was Middle Tennessee. I had Tennessee in the bracket instead. The rest of the numbers look like this: 32 teams on the correct seed line and another 29 within one seed of actual. Combined, that is 61 of the 68 teams either on their actual seed line or within one. Four others were within two of their actual seed. Oregon as a 12 seed was the wildcard and would be my one – where did that come from? – reaction to the bracket.
Again, thanks for your interest in Bracketville and your participation. The journeys and conversations along the way make it enjoyable. Here’s to a great tournament!
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.
Riding a six-game conference winning streak, the Tennessee Volunteers find themselves in the thick of the at-large conversation. Since losing at home to Georgia in early February, the Vols have won three league road games and beaten Kentucky and Florida in Knoxville. And while one could argue (correctly) that the SEC isn’t particularly strong or deep, Tennessee has given itself a chance to participate in March Madness. Such a scenario would have been considered a stretch a month ago.
A similar streak helped Illinois overcome a 2-7 mark in the Big Ten. Without a major slip, the Illini are now a likely NCAA participant. A lot can change in two weeks.
Which brings us to Selection Sunday – now just over two weeks away.
Our latest bubble update finds teams moving both toward and away from the cutline. Besides the aforementioned Volunteers, here are some teams climbing the at-large ladder: Temple, Saint Mary’s, and California. Akron should be included too. The Zips beat Ohio for a second time Wednesday and have a clear path toward an outright Mid-American Conference title. That will add credibility to the Zips’ profile if they were to fall short in the MAC tournament.
Teams moving in the opposite direction include Arkansas, Charlotte, and Indiana State. The Sycamores have lost any momentum they once had and probably need to win the MVC tournament in St. Louis to reach the NCAA tournament. For now, they’ve been removed from the bubble.
One other Missouri Valley note: Both Creighton and Wichita State remain as “Should Be In” teams at the time of this update. However, both have slipped a bit of late and certainly aren’t locks. Saturday, they battle for the MVC title. The winner takes a significant step toward an NCAA bid as it’s hard to imagine the outright MVC champion being left out of the Field.
This probably isn’t a surprise: Indiana and Duke are one-two on the s-curve and are the strongest No. 1 seed candidates as we move toward March. Since a last-second loss at Illinois, the Hoosiers have reclaimed the outright Big Ten lead by winning at both Ohio State and Michigan State. A victory at Minnesota tonight puts IU in the driver’s seat for the league’s regular season crown and top seed in the Big Ten tournament. That scenario would also give the Hoosiers the inside track toward the top spot in the Midwest Region – which flows through Indianapolis. Duke has steadily worked its way through the absence of Ryan Kelly. The Blue Devils are No. 1 in the RPI and have played the nation’s second toughest schedule.
Miami-FL and Florida are the final No. 1 seeds. It’s hard to know if either will hold those positions in two weeks. A second Big Team is likely to grab a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. And if Gonzaga closes out a perfect West Coast Conference season and wins its conference tournament, it might be hard for the Committee to deny the Bulldogs a top seed. Regardless, there’s enough parity among the top three or four seed lines to make the Sweet 16 very entertaining.
Every Selection Committee member has his or her own personal views on which resume items are most important. Just take a look at some of today’s bubble teams. Arizona State, Mississippi, Baylor, and Kentucky all have obvious flaws. If RPI and schedule strength – particularly out of conference – are sticking points, than the Sun Devils are probably out. At the same time, ASU has two wins over Colorado to go along with victories over UCLA and California. That’s four wins against three teams currently projected in the Field of 68 – which is more than any of the other three. Safe to say, the next two weeks will be critical for all of the above.
Heading into action on Sunday, February 24, it’s a roll of the dice on the last few teams IN and the first few teams OUT. All Selection Committee voting is private. But if a sneak peek at ballots was possible, there would likely be several variations. Every Committee member places a higher or lower value on things such as strength of schedule, road wins, RPI status, Top 50 wins, etc. All of those factors – and more – make up a team’s overall profile.
Entering Sunday, February 24, here’s where we stand:
LAST 5 IN – Temple, Virginia, Saint Mary’s, Kentucky, Arizona State
FIRST 5 OUT – Baylor, Mississippi, St. John’s, Charlotte, Tennessee
Those teams next in line: Maryland, Alabama, Arkansas, Boise State, Indiana State.
What does this mean for Sunday? The biggest bubble games of the day are Pittsburgh at St. John’s, Temple at Charlotte, and Georgia Tech at Virginia. All three of those results could have an impact on the First Four in our next bracket update.
Arizona State stays in the Field of 68 today based on slightly better wins (than Ole Miss and Baylor) and more wins vs. current NCAA teams. The Sun Devils have swept Colorado, and beaten UCLA and California. They also have a neutral court win over bubble-dweller Arkansas. That said, ASU’s RPI (No. 86 entering today) and overall SOS numbers are serious issues moving forward. And with three straight road games (at UCLA, USC, and Arizona) up next, the Sun Devils will either play their win in or out.
If you prefer an overall strength of schedule, Baylor would be your last team in today – even with three straight losses. None of those were to bad teams. And Baylor’s SOS numbers (24 overall, 37 NC) are certainly better than those of ASU or Ole Miss. But an 8-10 record against the Top 150 of the RPI is a concern as is a 2-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams. With Kansas State and Kansas still coming to Waco, opportunities await. The Bears will be rooting for St. John’s today (they have a NC win over the Red Storm).
Mississippi has a solid SEC mark but has just one Top 50 win (Missouri at home). A sweep of Tennessee could still be a boost if the Volunteers continue their push. The loss at South Carolina was ugly given Ole Miss’ lack of quality wins. Much like Arizona State, the Rebels’ SOS numbers are a concern – especially the No. 286 mark out of conference that included 10 wins against teams 200 or lower in the RPI. Ole Miss’ remaining schedule doesn’t offer quality wins, but it’s important for the Rebels to hold serve at home against Texas AM and Alabama, and avoid another bad road loss at Mississippi State.
As for Kentucky, the Wildcats are the second-to-last team in today after beating Missouri on Saturday night. UK still has work to do following the Nerlens Noel injury. One thing working in UK’s favor is its lack of a bad loss – although Texas AM at home (with Noel) – could yet become one by RPI standards. Assuming the Wildcats avoid an upset, their NCAA chances heading into the SEC tournament may very depend on their game at Arkansas and home date with Florida.