Championship Week is going to be fun and tension-filled. As this juncture, as many as 15 at-large spots remain uncertain. That’s a high number entering March. Here’s what we do know. Barring an unexpected turn of events, Florida and Arizona will be No. 1 seeds. Although the Gators retain their overall No. 1 seed today, the Wildcats may pass them soon. Either way, it’s about time to lock them in to the South and West regions.
Today’s bracket is also quite unsettled when it comes to the seed list. The first four lines (s-curve spots 1-16) are pretty solid (for now). The middle tier could fluctuate greatly depending on conference tournament results. Teams are that tightly bunched. As for the bubble, it continues to move and shift. Depending on which resume criteria or metrics you prefer, the final teams in and first teams out could be ranked in a variety of orders. Every Selection Committee member will have his or her own viewpoint. Hopefully, a few things will clear between now and March 16.
It’s also worth mentioning the potential for bid thieves – a surprise team winning its conference tournament. For example, if Wichita State were to lose in the Missouri Valley tourney, there would be one less at-large bid available. We saw this happen at the SEC tournament a year ago.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a fun ride.
Today’s bracket update includes this very scenario, as the Flyers are the final at-large team in the projected Field of 68. They are matched against Tennessee in one First Four pairing; Baylor and Providence square off in the other grouping. Given the overall bubble picture, it’s hard to ignore Baylor’s non-conference wins over Colorado (when the Buffaloes were at full strength) and Kentucky. Plus, the Bears’ are riding a three-game winning streak. If we’ve learned anything, though, it’s that the bubble picture changes quickly. Case in point: Baylor visits West Virginia and Texas in its next two games and the Bears have not thrived away from home. Dayton also has a closing schedule that can help or hinder their NCAA chances. It starts with trips to Duquesne and Saint Joseph’s.
No changes today on the No. 1 seed line despite Syracuse’s unexpected home loss to Boston College. We’ll see how the Orange respond at Duke on Saturday night. It should be a game where two feisty teams try to undo an unpleasant result (the Blue Devils are coming off a defeat at rival North Carolina on Thursday).
One housekeeping note … BYU is a true 11-seed after beating Gonzaga. However, accommodating BYU’s bracketing requirements (Thursday-Saturday sites only) forced the Cougars down a seed line (12-seed in South Region). The projected good news: they open in Spokane.
Enjoy a stellar weekend of college hoops.
Alongside Syracuse, Wichita State is one of two unbeaten teams in NCAA Division I men’s basketball. The Shockers’ resume speaks for itself – a Top 10 RPI, Top 50 non-conference strength of schedule, and an 11-0 record away from home. Given WSU’s remaining Missouri Valley Conference schedule, it’s likely the Shockers will enter the MVC tournament with a perfect record. Regardless of the league, that’s impressive.
So what’s keeping Wichita State off the top line?
Not much at this point. When it comes to separating teams at the very top (or at the cut-line) the margins are often small. And there are only four No. 1 seed slots available, which means someone has to be No. 5 on the s-curve. As of today, that’s Wichita State. By comparison, here are the records of the current No. 1 seeds vs. Top 100 RPI opponents: Syracuse (12-0), Arizona (12-1), Kansas (15-5), Florida (8-2). Wichita State is 5-0. Again, these are small differences sometimes – particularly with respect to Florida – but something the Selection Committee has to evaluate.
The other two-seeds today stack up like this against the Top 100: Michigan State (10-4), Villanova (10-2), San Diego State (6-1). If there’s a reason why Wichita State and San Diego State remain two-seeds on Selection Sunday (even if they keep winning), it won’t be because they are not worthy. It’ll be because the other teams, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, are more worthy. And keep in mind, only one No. 1 seed (Louisville) made the Final Four last April, so while earning at No. 1 seed is noteworthy, it doesn’t necessarily equate to March success. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Shockers or Aztecs in an Elite 8 or Final Four showdown.
Enjoy another week of college hoops.
Fresh off a victory in East Lansing, the Michigan Wolverines continue to climb the seed list (s-curve). Entering action this week, the Wolverines own the top spot in the Big Ten and are building an impressive overall profile. Michigan has not lost since December 14 – a two-point setback to top-ranked Arizona in Ann Arbor. During their current surge, the Wolverines have won four conference road games – including trips through The Barn in Minnesota, the Kohl Center in Wisconsin, and the Izzone this past Saturday. The streak also included a victory over Iowa.
What about the Spartans? Michigan State remains a top-seed in today’s bracket. While much credit is due Michigan for leaving the Breslin Center with a victory, MSU played without two of its starters. They were also without significant contributors during a loss to North Carolina – the only two setbacks on the Spartans’ resume. Nothing else new on the top line. Arizona (West), Syracuse (East), and Kansas (South) remain entrenched in those spots. Florida and Wichita State are next in line.
Then there’s the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Which teams – beyond Florida and Kentucky – will make the 2014 NCAA Tournament? It’s been a somewhat recurrent question the past couple of years. Based on the s-curve used for today’s bracket … Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee are all close to or on the bubble – with the Razorbacks and Volunteers being members of the First Four. Just outside the bracket, we find Ole Miss and LSU. Will we see a repeat of last year when only three SEC teams heard their names on Selection Sunday? The answer depends on how well the above mentioned bubble teams play over the next month.
Next week, college hoops moves center stage. The Super Bowl will be over and the brackets will begin grabbing headlines.
1 – Florida Gulf Coast: This was an easy choice. No 15-seed had ever made the Sweet 16 at the NCAA tournament until this year. Perhaps the Eagles were underseeded, but that’s not really the point. This is a team that beat Miami early in the season and has captured the Cinderalla spirit with its wide-open pace and fun-loving personalities. Will FGCU continue its run and beat Florida? Collectively, we’ll be watching. And if it’s a close game in the final minutes, anyone in North Texas who’s not a Gators’ fan will take a ride on the Eagles’ wings.
2 – Michigan State vs. Duke: When it comes to March, it’s hard to ignore a matchup between Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski – two of the NCAA tournament’s Goliaths. It will also be a contract in styles. MSU will try to use it’s size and bulk to pound the glass and score in the paint. Duke will counter with its quickness, guard play, and Ryan Kelly’s ability to stretch the floor. Whichever team establishes its style and makes the other adjust likely wins.
3 – A 1987 Flashback: Indiana fans well remember Keith Smart’s shot to beat Syracuse in the 1987 National Championship game. While Bob Knight has long since departed the IU sideline, Jim Boeheim remains at Syracuse. In an ESPN Radio interview this week, Boeheim said that Smart’s game winner still resonates. At various times this season, both the Hoosiers and Orange were ranked in the Top 5. This is a Final four type matchup with a lot at stake. Indiana was a preseason favorite to cut down the nets in Atlanta.
4 – Oregon Ducks: When the brackets were released on March 17, one of the biggest surprises was finding Oregon as a 12-seed. While the Ducks did not boast a high number of marquee wins, they went 12-6 in the Pac 12 regular season (with point guard Dominic Artis missing significant time), and won the conference tournament. Since, they’ve won two NCAA tournament games by an average of 15 points – beating Oklahoma State and Saint Louis, a team many considered to be a Final Four sleeper. Oregon’s run may end against top-seed Louisville, but the Ducks are peaking at the right time.
5 – La Salle Explorers: While Gonzaga had its doubters, there probably weren’t many brackets that matched Wichita State and La Salle together in Los Angeles. A First Four participant, La Salle already has three NCAA wins – more than any other team in the Sweet 16. It harkens memories of 2011 when 11-seed VCU made its run from the First Four to the Final Four. Now a victory over the ninth-seeded Shockers is all that stands between the Explorers and the Elite 8.
If anything, Friday complicated an already complicated bubble picture. The SEC could end up with five teams or two. Both are in play at this point. How will the NCAA Selection Committee handle Middle Tennessee State and Saint Mary’s? And how will they compare those teams against La Salle, Boise State, and even Oklahoma? These are questions we can try to answer, but none of us has a vote that matters.
Heading into action on Saturday, there are three particular wildcards in play: Southern Mississippi, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Any of those could still earn automatic bids to the Field of 68. And that might be what it takes. Vanderbilt is more of a longshot, but the Commodores are a victory over Ole Miss from playing for an SEC title. We’ve seen this type of mayhem before. We also can’t completely forget about Akron should the Zips lose in the Mid-American championship game to Ohio. Clear as mud, right?
March 16 Bracket update | 10:50 a.m.
March 16 Bubble Banter update | 9:00 a.m.
March 16 s-curve update | 11:30 a.m.
We’re going to start here for now: the Last 5 IN today are Boise State, Tennessee, La Salle, Saint Mary’s, and Middle Tennessee. The First Five OUT are Ole Miss, Kentucky, Alabama, Massachusetts, and Virginia. All of these resumes have issues. Which issues the collective Committee values more could help shape the final at-large spots. Tomorrow is a new day. We’ll review everything again and see how it looks.
Enjoy the games. Selection Sunday is almost here.
Several bubble teams ended their seasons – and likely their NCAA tournament aspirations – on Thursday. That’s good news for those bubble teams who either didn’t play, or those like Iowa State, that posted important victories. Today might be even an more important day. The SEC quarterfinals are full of bubble action: Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Ole Miss take to the court. Two of those probably survive. At least that’s the way it looks right now.
March 15 Bracket Projection | 11:30 a.m. ET
March 15 s-curve update | 7:20 a.m. ET
As of this morning, this is where I believe we stand: Last 5 IN … Oklahoma, Boise State, La Salle, Saint Mary’s, Kentucky | First 5 OUT … Virginia, Middle Tennesse State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Iowa.
Beyond the bubble, several important seeding games are on tap today. Louisville (vs. Notre Dame) and Georgetown (vs. Syracuse) are still battling for a potential No. 1 seed. Kansas, New Mexico, Miami-FL, and the Big Ten heavyweights also take the floor. Here’s to another great day of college hoops.