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Bracket Bits: Next two weeks a key stretch

BRACKET BITS

These next two weeks will help set the stage for March Madness.  In early February we reach the mid-point of conference play.  Why is that important?  Because conference standings are a big deal for NCAA selection.  Over the next two weeks we’ll find out which teams put themselves in position for at-large consideration.  We’ll have an idea about who appears “locked in” and who may appear on the “bubble.”  That in mind, here are some Bracket Bits and a look at some meaningful weekend clashes …

Conference RPI rankings (from collegerpi.com) are as follows: 1. Big East | 2. Big 12 | 3. ACC | 4. SEC | 5. Big 10 | 6. Atlantic 10 | 7. Mountain West | 8. Pac-10 | 9. Missouri Valley | 10. Colonial.  While teams earn bids, not conferences, the rankings still help give some indication of how bids could be handed out in two months.  Our January 11 bracket projection had at least  three teams from conferences ranked 1 to 7; while the others had two or one – along with a team or two also considered.

Resume building … No team helped it’s NCAA resume more this past week than Pittsburgh.  Winning three straight conference road games was quite an accomplishment.  It also set the Panthers up for top-tier finish in the Big East.  If Pitt simply wins its remaining home games, the Panthers would finish 12-6 in league play; nicely positioned for a potential protected seed.  That’s quite a climb for a squad that three weeks ago looked like a bubble team.  Then there’s Ohio State – which welcomed back Evan Turner.  How much better are the Buckeyes with a fully healthy Turner?  Ask Purdue.  Illinois opened Big 10 play by beating Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana, and Penn State (4-0).  The next four (@Michigan State, Purdue, @Northwestern, @Penn State) will tell us much more about the Illini’s NCAA chances.

Weekend impact … There are plenty of showcase games, but here are weekend matchups that have bracket selection impact: 

  • Virginia Tech @ Florida State – The Seminoles’ profile won’t support a trend of losing games FSU should win.
  • Dayton @ Xavier – While both teams are in the hunt, Xavier can re-establish itself as an A-10 contender.
  • Miami-FL @ Virginia – Loser might not be heard from again.
  • California @ Washington – Two Pac-10 favorites with the host Huskies needing to protect home court.
  • Georgia Tech @ North Carolina – We figured Tech would be a bubble-ish team, but Carolina?  At home, the Tar Heels need to find some mojo.
  • Providence @ Marquette – Golden Eagles have had a brutal opening Big East stretch; time to get some wins.
  • Connecticut @ Michigan – This is a game the visiting Huskies should – that is should – win.

What the Valley needs … Northern Iowa might run through the Missouri Valley.  That doesn’t bode well for multiple bids, unless of course someone else wins the conference tournament.  Oh yea, that almost always happens.  Expect that second team to be one of three: Wichita State, Illinois State or Missouri State.

Mountain West Three … New Mexico, BYU and UNLV all look like strong NCAA candidates.  San Diego State is a bit off the pace because its non-conference slate is largely irrelevent.   There’s been a lot of debate about potential seeding for teams like BYU and New Mexico.  That will depend on two factors: How dominant the top teams are in conference and whether or not they get passed by power conference teams.  Remember the Conference RPI?  The Mountain West came in at No. 7.   Right now, the high point is probably a 4-5 seed; with the 6-8 range more likely.  Check back after BYU makes a two-game swing through SDSU and New Mexico at the end of this month.

Enjoy the hoops … and as always, send a Rebound.

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