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Inside the Bracket: Take-aways from the Big Ten/ACC

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Welcome to Bracketville

The Big Ten won its third straight Big Ten-ACC Challenge.  While that may help the league’s overall perception, teams earn NCAA bids, not conferences.  Here are a few bracket-related observations from this year’s Challenge:

Ohio State is playing like a No. 1 seed.  While the Buckeyes have yet to leave Value City Arena, they dominated Duke by 22 points.  This was the same Duke team which defeated Michigan and Kansas enroute to another Maui title.  The Blue Devils had also compiled wins over Michigan State and Belmont.  When you add in OSU’s victory over Florida on November 15, the Buckeyes begin December with eyes on a No. 1 seed.  A trip to Kansas on December 10 will be OSU’s first true road test.

Indiana could be an NCAA team.  The Hoosiers’ schedule hasn’t featured any heavyweights (yet), but IU has a balanced attack that creates problems for opposing defenses.  Pulling out a tough road win at NC State is a promising sign for a team that didn’t win a single road game last year.  The Hoosiers host Kentucky on December 10.  Beating the Wildcats would likely allow IU to enter Big Ten play without a loss.

So could North Carolina State.  The Wolfpack were supposed to be a year away, but as witnessed against Indiana, NC State has the talent to be an NCAA contender.  They rank 18th in the nation in assists, a great sign of team play, as is a team field goal percentage of .417 – also a Top 50 stat.  With non-conference games at Stanford and vs. Syracuse still on the schedule, the Wolfpack have the chance for a resume-building win ahead of ACC play.

Illinois has found a floor leader.  Bradley tranfer Sam Maniscalco has given the Illini the type of leadership and mental toughness missing the past couple of seasons.  The senior leads Illinois in scoring (13.3 ppg),  FT percentage (88%), and 3-point percentage (41.9).  He scored 24 in a comeback win at Maryland.  There are a lot of new faces in Champaign, and the Illini won’t challenge for a Big Ten title, but there’s no reason to think a Top 6 finish and NCAA bid is out of reach. Read more…

Categories: Current Updates, Team News

Inside the Bracket: Post-marathon resume Builders and Blunders…

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Welcome to Bracketville

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…

Categories: Current Updates, Team News

Inside the Bracket: Week 1 Games to Watch

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Welcome to Bracketville

It’s time to start tracking results: the regular season begins.

The matchup between North Carolina and Michigan State is certainly Week 1’s primo event.  The Tar Heels open the season ranked No. 1 and are among the favorites to reach the Final Four in New Orleans.  Michigan State has some new faces but also the talent to contend for a top four spot in the Big Ten.  Both UNC and MSU open the year in our Preseason Power 24.  Add in the date (11-11-11), the backdrop (aircraft carrier), and two of the nation’s best coaches (Roy Williams, Tom Izzo), and we have a March-ish game in November.  See Schedule  for more games.

Here are some other Week 1 Games to Watch:

Akron @ Mississippi State (Wed | November 9) – Akron is a contender to win the Mid-American crown (Kent State, Western Michigan are others).  The Zips made the NCAA field in 2011 as an automatic qualifier, but will need good showings – and wins – in non-conference games for strong at-large consideration.  Akron is led by 7-0 center Zeke Marshall and forward Nikola Cvetinovic.  Marshall had 9 blocked shots in last year’s MAC title game.  At Mississippi State, coach Rick Stansbury hopes on and off-court troubles are behind the Bulldogs.  With Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney eligible for a full season, MSU has its sights on the SEC West and an NCAA bid.  Other potential contributors for MSU include UTEP tranfer Arnett Moultrie and star recruit Rodney Hood. 

Belmont @ Duke  (Friday | November 11) – This compelling matchup follows the UNC-MSU game.  Belmont raced through the Atlantic Sun en route to a 30-5 record and NCAA bid last season.  The Bruins return most of their key pieces including Mick Hedgepath, Scott Saunders, and Ian Clark.  Belmont faces Memphis on November 15, so two early chances await.  While winning either game isn’t crucial, keeping the games manageable will be. Other than Marshall, the remaining Bruins’ schedule likely won’t provide much of a boost to their at-large profile. Read more…

Categories: Current Updates, Team News

UNC, UK headline Preseason Bracket Projection

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Welcome to Bracketville

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.

2012 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 DukeFlorida 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.

Categories: Current Updates

North Carolina tops 2011-12 Preseason Power 24

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Welcome to Bracketville

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.

Categories: Current Updates

North Carolina, Kentucky headline off-season Power 24

Welcome to Bracketville

With the entry deadline for the 2011 NBA Draft behind us, time for an updated Power 24 here at Bracketville.  The first two selections were pretty easy: North Carolina and Kentucky.  Harrison Barnes and a host of other talented Tar Heels return to Chapel Hill.  UNC came within a game of the Final Four this past March, and Carolina should be an early favorite to cut down the nets in 2012.  Close behind is Kentucky.  Yes, the Wildcats lost Brandon Knight, but Terrence Jones decided to stay and will be joined by yet another top-flight recruiting class.

If you think of the Top 4 teams as potential No. 1 seeds, the remaining slots belong to Syracuse and Ohio State.  The Orange return a host of talent and figure to open play in November as the Big East favorite.  Once Jared Sullinger decided to stay in Columbus, the Buckeyes became the team to beat in the Big Ten – again.

The rest of the Top 10 looks like this … Connecticut, Louisville, Duke, Vanderbilt, Arizona, and Memphis.

Wisconsin opens at No. 11 thanks to Jordan Taylor staying in Madison.  The Badgers are followed by Kansas, Alabama, Michigan and Florida in the Top 15.  Then we find Marquette, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Xavier and Missouri rounding out the Top 20.  The Big East will be good again – but not as strong as this past season.

Our final Power 24 spots go to … Florida State, Texas, Gonzaga, and UCLA.

You could easily make a case for several other teams.  Others considered were Baylor, Texas AM, George Mason, Michigan State, Villanova, Washington, West Virginia, Temple, Georgetown, Georgia, Colorado, and Butler.  Butler will again be good, but it’ll be hard to replace to replace both Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard.

Notes and observations ahead of our first in-season bracket projection

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Welcome to Bracketville

Our first in-season bracket projection is due out Monday evening (Dec. 6).  With it will come a lot of debate (and some complaints).  Time to fire away with some notes and observations from a great first month of college hoops.

 The first note is to remind ourselves that a lot of meaningful basketball remains.  Things don’t necessarily end like they start.  Flashback: Georgetown opened the ’08-’09 season 11-1, including a win at Connecticut – an eventual No. 1 seed.  From there, the Hoyas stumbled through the Big East – finishing 7-11 in conference play and 16-14 overall – missing the NCAAs.   With that, here we go …

  • San Diego State and UNLV lead a quadrant of teams (BYU and New Mexico) from the Mountain West that could impact our final bracket in March.  SDSU opened with three true road games and two neutral-court affairs – including a win at Gonzaga.  It’s the type of schedule that should pay big dividends.  UNLV has already beaten Wisconsin (home) and Virginia Tech (neutral court).   BYU has victories over WAC-favorite Utah State and St. Mary’s.  If there’s a bubble team, it’s likely New Mexico.  The Lobos beat Arizona State, but lost a lopsided tilt at Cal. 
  • If Connecticut continues to get production from Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier, and others, the Huskies are in line for a very good season.  Kemba Walker is a front-runner for Player-of-the-Year, and UConn already has three wins over NCAA-level teams: Wichita State, Michigan State, and Kentucky (Maui Invitational).
  • Who thought Notre Dame would win the Old Spice Classic in Orlando?  While beating Georgia, California, and Wisconsin isn’t quite like UConn’s feat in Maui, the Irish have certainly improved expectations – at least outside South Bend.
  • Georgetown is also off to a great start.  The Hoyas 111-102 OT win over Missouri ranks as the season’s best game to date.  The season-opening road win at Old Dominion is looking better all the time.
  • Pittsburgh is solid again – beating Maryland and Texas in New York.  A No. 1-seed hopeful, the Panthers’ real questions won’t begin until March.  Can they reach a Final Four?
  • Overall, the Big East is 17-6 vs. fellow BCS teams.
  • The Big Ten – fresh off its second straight ACC-Big Ten title – is 14-10 vs. BCS teams and 9-5 vs. the ACC overall.  In our preseason Power 24, we suggested that Ohio State would challenge Michigan State for league supremacy.  No team has two bigger true road wins (Florida, Florida State) than the Buckeyes.  That said, MSU was 4-2 at this juncture last season and the Spartans ended up in the Final Four.  Don’t quit on Tom Izzo’s bunch just because they lost to UConn and at Duke.  Read more…
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