You have to give Wisconsin credit. Left on the curb after early losses to Western Illinois and Milwaukee, and the departure of longtime coach Bo Ryan, the Badgers have found a way to navigate some additional bumps and bruises on their way to seven straight wins and an 8-4 mark in Big Ten play. In the past three weeks, Wisconsin has toppled Michigan State, Indiana, and now Maryland, the last of those Saturday in impressive fashion on the road. Given the current landscape, it was enough to boost the Badgers back in the Field of 68. We’ll see if they have enough left in the tank to stay.
On the flip side, Gonzaga and Wichita State have seen their respective at-large profiles fall into further question. With Fred VanVleet back, the Shockers were rolling through the Missouri Valley and distancing themselves from early losses without him. That was before losing at Illinois State and then at home to Northern Iowa. And while neither of those is a horrible miscue, the Shockers profile now has a couple of dings it didn’t need. Will a home win over Utah be enough to carry the Shockers if they lose in the MVC tourney? As for Gonzaga, the Bulldogs missed a golden opportunity to beat SMU and add a nice non-conference victory to an otherwise iffy resume. The Zags best wins are Connecticut (November) and bubbly Washington. A 2-6 mark vs. Top 100 teams could be problematic. Of Gonzaga’s 19 DI wins, 14 are against teams currently ranked 150 or below in the RPI.
This morning, there are questions – to varying degrees – about teams seeded 23 and below on the seed list. A new bracket is coming tomorrow. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day.
After another busy weekend of college hoops, here’s a quick peek at the upcoming week’s (Monday – Thursday) notable “resume” games …
Oklahoma vs. Villanova – Pearl Harbor, Honolulu | Both teams are in line for a high seed come March. The winner will have an extra notch on its seed line belt.
West Virginia vs. Virginia – Jimmy V Classic, New York | This is the type of non-conference victory that pays dividends. As for Virginia, the Cavaliers would love to ease an early loss at Geo Washington by stamping a marquee win on its pre-ACC resume.
Maryland vs. Connecticut – Jimmy V Classic, New York | After dropping close games to Syracuse and Gonzaga at the Battle 4 Atlantis, a win here would put some beef on the Huskies’ non-league slate. Read more…
If you’re a team that plays in a power conference you can survive an average (or even below average) non-conference slate and still earn an at-large bid. Last year’s Purdue team is a good example. The Boilermakers dropped non-conference decisions to Kansas State, North Florida, Vanderbilt, and Gardner-Webb. What Purdue was able to do, however, was win 8 of 9 Big Ten games during a mid-season stretch and finish 12-6 in league play en-route to a 9-seed in the Midwest Region.
If you’re a team from outside the power conferences, non-conference results become much more critical. Opportunities for resume-changing wins are more limited. With that thought in mind, here are five opening weekend games with March in mind … Read more…
If you’re already looking for a couple of mid-majors to keep an eye on next March, consider Valparaiso and Stephen F. Austin. If those names sound familiar, they should. Both the Crusaders and Lumberjacks have been in this position before, and both are heavy favorites to again win their respective leagues. Each team might also be better this go-around. Considering Valpo nearly upset Maryland a year ago, that’s noteworthy.
Valparaiso – Head coach Bryce Drew welcomes back a host of talent, including Horizon League Player-of-the-Year candidate Alec Peters. In all, the Crusaders return nine players who logged significant minutes. Valparaiso is balanced, experienced, and confident. Those traits generally bode well for teams in search of March Magic. Nothing is certain once the ball is tipped, but expect the Crusaders to push for a 30-win season. Valpo has non-conference games against MAAC favorite Iona, improving A-10 power Rhode Island, and Pac-12 teams Oregon and Oregon State. If the Crusaders can win at least two of those they have a chance to bump their seed line and possibly contend for an at-large berth. Read more…
Although not as a media member, I attended open practices on Final Four Friday in Indianapolis. Indy is a great host city. As many have noted, everything surrounding Lucas Oil Stadium is close by; and considering the large crowds (over 25,000 in attendance, per the NCAA), local fans embrace the event.
Here are a few quick notes and takeaways:
- Kentucky has a forest of trees. When all four teams come out to practice – one after another – you notice certain things. UK’s size is one of those things. Duke’s Jahlil Okafor is mammoth, but as an overall team, the Blue Devils aren’t that big
- Tom Izzo loves March Madness. Not only is the Spartans’ head coach wildly successful this time of year, he seems to relish the experience. Michigan State had the most energetic practice, with Izzo directing the fun while smiling and waving to the crowd. He allowed his players to go through a slam dunk event in the final minutes, bringing the crowd to its feet when they finished.
- Bo Ryan of Wisconsin also made it a fun affair; as two sets of Badgers squared off in a half-court shot contest to wind up UW’s session. Each squad made at least five; so if Saturday’s semifinal comes down to a 50-foot heave, you’ve been forewarned.
- Based on the above two notes, Michigan State and Wisconsin appeared to be the most “relaxed” teams at the open practices.
- Duke ran some rather intense full-court drills and has obvious speed on the wings. The Blue Devils will be one of the smaller teams on the floor, so you have to think they will try to speed up the game, score in transition, and create open space for shooters.
- Kentucky kept its practice short. Despite having the largest contingent of fans on Friday, the Wildcats only practiced for about 30 of their allotted 50 minutes, and a good five minutes or so was free-throw rotations. It was a very business-like approach. Maybe that’s what John Calipari believes is best for his team on the verge of history. At 38-0, they are trying to become the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to complete an undefeated season.
- On an ironic note, unbeaten UNLV arrived in Indianapolis for the 1991 Final Four (at the former Hoosier Dome). That was the year Duke upset the Rebels in the national semifinals
Let’s talk about something positive, like the eight teams positioned along the top two seed lines. For all the middling around the cutline, this group continues to shine: Kentucky, Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke, Kansas, Villanova, Wisconsin, and Arizona. While we can’t “lock” anyone into a position yet, these eight are rapidly pushing toward a slot on the top two lines of the eventual bracket in March. So, here’s today’s question:
How are the teams placed in bracket regions?
As a guideline, geography takes precedence based on the Seed List order. Currently, Kentucky is No. 1 on the list, so the Wildcats would be given first preference. Regional sites are located in Cleveland (Midwest), Syracuse (East), Houston (South), Los Angeles (West). Cleveland is closest to Lexington (KY) so Kentucky slots into the Midwest. The rest of the current No. 1 seeds then fall into place: Virginia (Syracuse – East), Gonzaga (Los Angeles – West), and Duke (Houston – South).
Here’s where the debate begins. Seed List order matters on the second line, but so does geography. Selection Committee members can balance regions (based on the first four seed lines) using spots 9-12 and 13-16. Monday – before Kansas lost at West Virginia – the Jayhawks were No. 5 on the Seed List. That would put them opposite the No. 4 team (Duke) in the South Region. In this case, the so-called s-curve worked perfectly, as that would be KU’s preferred location. Next up was Villanova. If the true s-curve model were followed, Villanova would go West, opposite Gonzaga. But the Committee also knows that Arizona (No. 8 on the list) will be placed on the two-line. Thus, it offers them the opportunity to keep Villanova in its home region (East); a win for both teams and their fans. Wisconsin would naturally choose the Midwest, so the Badgers move opposite Kentucky. If this set-up holds, placing the top two lines into the bracket will actually be an easy exercise. Read more…
Quality wins have largely eluded the Texas Longhorns, and the ensuing holes have created an NCAA tournament resume that today (Feb. 3) would generate a lot of bubble discussion.
The Longhorns’ current RPI (29), BPI (36) and KenPom (26) ratings are plenty good enough. Texas is also 5-4 away from Austin (road/neutral games), and has an overall schedule ranked No. 12 in the country. Everyone of the Longhorns’ seven losses has come to a quality opponent. In fact, Texas has not lost to a team that today would not be a projected at-large team in the NCAA Field of 68. So where’s the problem?
If you look at the other side of the ledger, Texas is 1-7 vs. Top 50 RPI teams and just 3-7 vs. the Top 100. The Longhorns’ best wins are West Virginia (home) and Iowa (Neutral). Unfortunately for UT, early wins against California and Connecticut haven’t held up well. And within the deep Big 12, Texas has limped to a 3-5 start.
With three of the Longhorns’ next four at home, it’s time to make a move. Two of those home games are against Texas Tech and TCU. Those are games UT really needs to win. The closing stretch includes road games at Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Kansas, and home dates with Iowa State, Baylor, and Kansas State.
The Big 12 offers plenty of opportunities – but wins won’t come easy, and to this point, Texas has missed on most of its high profile chances. That will need to change in the next month or there could be some nervous Longhorns on Selection Sunday.