Let’s go Inside the Bracket for a look at which non-majors have put themselves in a position to be in the at-large discussion next March. There is, of course, a lot of basketball yet to be played, so things may look a bit different when we launch Bubble Banter in February. We’ll call this Stocking Stuffer Part I. Part II will feature a look at major conference teams that could be on or near the bubble come March. Note: For this discussion, Atlantic 10, Mountain West, and Conference USA teams will be featured in Part II.
At-Large Picture – Part I: Teams to watch …
Murray State – The Racers have beaten Southern Mississippi at the Great Alaska Shootout, Dayton at home, and Memphis on the road. Those were the three biggest challenges on Murray’s non-conference slate. The victory at Memphis figures to hold the most weight, although the Tigers have not looked much like a Top 20 team this season. Road Bumps: The Ohio Valley Conference isn’t very strong and will certainly be an anchor to Murray’s RPI and overall strength-of-schedule. The Racers have also played three non-Division I opponents – two of those scheduled at home. If Murray can finish its non-conference slate unbeaten, the Racers should be able to absorb a loss or two in the OVC. Any more than that, plus a loss in the OVC tournament, would make it interesting. How Southern Miss, Dayton, and Memphis finish the season will also be a factor.
Creighton – The Bluejays’ victory at San Diego State could pay big dividends in March. Beating Northwestern (Dec. 22) will be important, too. That would leave Creighton 2-1 against its best non-conference opponents (CU lost at St. Joseph’s). Given the Bluejays status as Missouri Valley favorite, the outlook for an at-large bid is favorable if the scenario above unfolds. Road Bumps: Playing on the road in the Valley is never easy, but it will be important for Creighton to avoid “bad losses” along the way. It will also help if CU separates itself with or above Northern Iowa and Wichita State at the top of the standings.
Northern Iowa – While the Panthers are off to a strong start – including a 4-1 record away from home, they lack a marquee victory. UNI’s win at Old Dominion was solid but the Panthers followed it up with a double-digit loss at St. Mary’s – another potential bubble team. The game with Ohio (Dec. 20) figures to be huge for both schools. Road Bumps: Northern Iowa will need to keep pace – and beat – both Creighton and Wichita State during the Missouri Valley season. Much like Creighton, UNI will need to avoid “bad losses” to those at the bottom of the league standings. Read more…
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…
Selection Sunday is quickly approaching. While the bottom of the bracket remains highly volatile, the No. 1 seed contenders are taking shape. We have four front-runners with eight total teams remain in the hunt. Keep in mind that a team’s entire body of work is examined by the Selection Committee. So one good week in early March isn’t justification for a No. 1 seed. Here’s a look at the contenders …
Ohio State – The Buckeyes are a lock. OSU could potentially lose its spot in the East Region, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Buckeyes fall off the top line. OSU’s only two losses are at Wisconsin and at Purdue – both are in line for top-three seeds. The Buckeyes are 15-2 vs. the RPI Top 100 and beat Florida and Florida State on the road.
Pittsburgh – The Panthers lead the Big East and have been very consistent throughout the season. Pitt also has a non-conference victory over Texas on its resume and six Top 25 RPI wins. While not yet a lock, the Panthers control their path to a top seed in the East or Southeast. They may not have to win the Big East Tournament title, but they do need to avoid back-to-back losses to end the season. Their worst loss is Tennessee (neutral court).
Kansas – Kansas sits at No. 1 in the RPI (for what that’s worth) and has 17 wins vs. Top 100 teams – best in the nation. The Jayhawks also own the inside track to a Big 12 regular-season title. Why is Kansas not a lock? Only because there is the potential to be bumped should they lose a couple of games this next week and other teams below them excel. Kansas’ losses are to Texas at home and Kansas State on the road.
Duke – The Blue Devils close their regular season at North Carolina. A victory would give them the outright ACC title. A loss would leave Duke tied with Carolina pending the ACC Tournament. While Duke’s overall body of work is better to this point, if the Blue Devils were to lose twice to UNC in the next week, their odds to stay on the top line would certainly diminish. Duke is 14-3 vs. the Top 100. It’s best non-conference wins are Kansas State and Temple. Read more…
Fresh off an impressive victory at San Diego State – with help from Texas and Duke – BYU claims the fourth spot on our latest S-Curve and a No. 1 seed in the West Region. Welcome to March. Our other No. 1 seeds remain the same – Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Kansas. We have a strong set of 2-seeds: Texas, Duke, Notre Dame, Purdue. If you’re looking for San Diego State, the Aztecs are the highest ranked 3-seed. No shame in losing to BYU (twice this season). Instead, SDSU was passed by Purdue. Few teams are playing better than the Boilermakers.
We’re still sorting through the bottom of the bracket. The bubble has shrunk a bit. We’re now at roughly 28 teams battling for 12 spots. Every team seeded 10 and lower in this update has work to do. A lot of the teams are interchangeable. It’s very likely that conference tournaments will help determine the last few in and the last few out.
Send a rebound if you like. We’re in for an exciting two weeks until Selection Sunday.
Let’s take a peek inside the latest bracket and highlight some news, notes, interesting stats and even a little bubble talk.
No. 1 Seeds … The January 17/18 bracket was put together before the Pitt-Syracuse game on Monday. Even with Pitt winning, Syracuse remains a No. 1 seed candidate. The game was at Pitt and the Orange played without leading scorer Kris Joseph. Thanks to an unbalanced schedule, however, we miss a rematch at the Carrier Dome. Kansas is now No. 1 in the RPI and looked the part at Baylor – more on the Bears in bubble talk. Ohio State will be tested at Illinois this weekend. Duke has four of its next five on the road. Those next in line are … Pittsburgh, Connecticut and San Diego State. The Big East has had multiple No. 1 seeds before, no reason to think it can’t happen again. Regions … Duke no longer has a stranglehold on the East (unless Kyrie Irving returns healthy). The West would be an ideal spot for San Diego State, but the Aztecs may need some help to reach the top line. Either way, trips to Tucson and Anaheim are looking better all the time.
BYU Placement … Why is BYU not in the West? As San Diego State currently ranks higher on the S-Curve, SDSU has the No. 2 seed in the West Region and bracketing principles prohit BYU from being in the same region because the Mountain West only has three teams in the bracket. This means the Cougars must move to the Southeast – the only other Region that plays Thursday-Saturday the second weekend. Read more…
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…
We have to fill 65 spots. So as you look at the bottom half of the bracket and think … really? They’re still in the Field? The short answer is, yes. There are 34 at-large spots available. We can’t just leave one empty. Maybe that’s why all these bubble teams keep losing games – except for Notre Dame, of course, which has decided to play its way into the tournament. History often repeats … more teams play their way out than in … just the way it seems to work. That said, here’s the latest bracket ….
Villanova rejoins the No. 1 seeds for now. Kansas, Syracuse and Kentucky have locked up the other three. Highly unlikely that will change. The only question is how the actual Selection Committee decides to assign the regions. If Kansas stays No. 1 overall, it’s hard to see them anywhere but St. Louis. Depending on who wins the fourth spot, Syracuse could be moved South or West. It’s possible that if Villanova/West Virginia earns a 1-seed they’ll be kept in the East … Kentucky will go South … with Syracuse sent West.
About this bracket … BYU takes an unfortunate drop to the 6-line because of Big East conflicts and the Cougars’ Friday-Sunday restriction. There simply wasn’t a spot on the 5-line once Maryland moved up. With New Mexico entrenched in the West, BYU has to be in the East Region. This shouldn’t be an issue next week as the bracket moves into its final position. Just one of those things. Our last 5 IN … Virginia Tech, Illinois, Dayton, Rhode Island and San Diego State. First 5 OUT … Connecticut, UAB, Seton Hall, South Florida, Memphis.
Couple of thoughts about the week ahead … Northern Iowa could easily lose in the Missouri Valley tournament; the favorite rarely seems to win. The bubble could squeeze further if teams like Utah State, Old Dominion, Siena and California lose their conference tournaments. If Cal wins the outright Pac-10 title, will the Committee leave out the regular-season champion of a BCS conference? Those questions lie ahead. Welcome to Championship Week. Enjoy the hoops and send a rebound!