If you’re a fan of American fare – basketball fare – then it’s an important night on the NCAA hardwood. Four of the league’s teams sit along the bubble’s cutline as we wind down the regular season. Here’s a quick peek at games worth tracking tonight in advance of Friday’s bracket update:
Temple (vs. Memphis) – For a couple of weeks, the Owls have maintained their perch atop the American Conference standings. Whether their resume is strong enough to hold up on the at-large board is very much in question. Losing at home to Memphis would make that answer easier – in the wrong way.
Connecticut (at SMU) – The home loss to Houston adds a little more importance to this one for the Huskies. A season sweep of the Mustangs would be a nice get.
Cincinnati at Houston – For a group that’s been hovering around the First Four, the Bearcats want to keep their momentum going. As for the Cougars, their profile is much more iffy. Beating UConn and Cincinnati in back-to-back games would create some additional interest at the league tourney. Read more…
For different reasons, St. Bonaventure and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) join the Field of 68 in today’s Seed List update. In the case of VCU, the Rams own the Atlantic 10 lead and thus have a reserved spot as an automatic qualifier (AQ). As for the Bonnies, their win at Saint Joseph’s moved them ahead of Tulsa. Alabama falls out following its home loss to Arkansas. It’s worth noting that Tulsa was actually bumped by VCU regaining the AQ, as it took one at-large spot away. It’s a good illustration of how the process works during Championship Week.
Joining St. Bonaventure in the First Four: Butler, Cincinnati, and Michigan. The four just above them (final byes) are Vanderbilt, USC, Oregon State, Connecticut. The margin (if any) between these eight is very small. It remains true: teams from the 7-line on down still have work to do to reach a safety zone.
The SEC tournament figures to be huge for Vanderbilt, Alabama, Florida, and LSU. It’s unlikely that more than two from that group will make the final bracket. On a similar note, the Atlantic 10 tourney could prove decisive for St. Bonaventure, VCU, George Washington, and even Saint Joseph’s. Without a “bad” loss on their resume, the Hawks are in overall better shape, but if they were to lose to Duquesne and also their first A10 tourney game, it could get a little more interesting. We’ll see.
Given the Christmas season, it’s appropriate that Saturday is wrapped with an extravaganza of college hoops. You can start with the Crossroads Classic and meander through a variety of resume-worthy matchups.
Visit the Schedule page for a complete list of games worth tracking.
Here’s a quick peek at a few of the more important resume games on tap …
Utah vs. Duke – After a drubbing at the hands of Wichita State (with Fred VanVleet in the lineup), the Utes are searching for a signature win and this is their last chance before Pac-12 play begins.
Wichita State at Seton Hall – The Shockers certainly look like a different team with VanVleet on the court. But with four early losses on the docket, every quality win counts. As for Seton Hall, beating a healthy(ier) WSU team would add another notch to the Pirates’ profile that already features wins over Ole Miss and Georgia. Read more…
The bubble is much like a recent weather forecast for the Midwest or East Coast: unpredictable and generally less than welcoming. So instead of debating the final few teams IN our OUT in today’s bracket, let’s look at the No. 1 seed contenders. We have just over a month until Selection Sunday.
Syracuse, Arizona, Kansas, and Florida retain No. 1 seeds (same as Monday). Syracuse is in the strongest position to hold its post – although road trips through Pittsburgh, Duke, and Virginia remain. Arizona’s biggest question isn’t RPI numbers or quality wins, it’s a notable injury: how will the Wildcats play without Brandon Ashley? He’s out for the season with a foot injury. The Selection Committee will be watching how Arizona responds. Kansas owns the top spot in the RPI and has played the nation’s top-rated schedule. Will that offset five (or more) losses? If the Jayhawks claim an outright Big 12 title and win the Big 12 tournament, history would suggest that, yes, KU would be a top seed given its profile. Florida’s biggest advantage – and disadvantage – is its schedule. Once again, the SEC isn’t particularly deep. With Missouri and Tennessee hovering around the bubble, Kentucky is the Gators’ top resume-builder. That said, Florida is among the most talented teams in the nation when healthy. It’s conceivable the Gators could enter the SEC Tournament with a record of 29-3. That would be hard to ignore.
Here are some other contenders:
- Michigan State – if the Spartans heal up and win the Big Ten, they will push for the top line. Keep in mind, MSU has not lost a game when playing at full strength.
- Wichita State – after winning at Indiana State, the Shockers will be favored to enter the Missouri Valley Tournament with a perfect record. Although the MVC isn’t as strong as it’s been in recent years, one could easily argue that WSU has earned a No. 1 seed. Read more…
Kansas is among the top movers in this week’s bracket projection. The reasons are pretty clear: two quality road wins and an overall schedule ranked No. 1 in the nation. Those types of statistics always play well on Selection Sunday.
In the span of a week, the Jayhawks won road games at Oklahoma and Iowa State – sandwiched with a lopsided home victory over improved Kansas State. It’s mid-January and KU already has seven wins against Top 50 teams (RPI – through Monday, January 13). Thus, Kansas finds itself as a No. 2 seed in today’s update. Also worth noting: the Jayhawks’ four losses are by a combined 17 points and only one of those – San Diego State – occurred in the past month.
Which brings us to SDSU – another of the recent seed climbers. San Diego State followed up its monumental victory at KU by handling Boise State at home and Air Force on the road. The Aztecs are 5-0 away home. None bigger than the one in Lawrence.
Iowa vaulted up the seed list after an impressive win at Ohio State. The somewhat undervalued Hawkeyes are 12 points from a perfect season – having lost only on a neutral court to Villanova, at Iowa State, and at Wisconsin. If there is a knock on the Hawkeyes’ resume, it’s an overall weakish non-conference schedule. How that affects Iowa’s final seeding remains to be seen. Continuing to win league road games will erase much of the concern.
Let’s also mention Cincinnati. The Bearcats have won eight straight. The most impressive victory in that streak was a 16-point road win at Memphis. UC has moved from a potential bubble team to No. 19 on the current s-curve.
Other than rising Virginia – and to some extent Oklahoma after its home win over Iowa State – there hasn’t been a lot of movement around the bubble. If you check last week’s bracket, the names appear much the same – perhaps in a slightly different order. Arkansas is the first team out in today’s update. The Razorbacks continue to struggle on the road – a problem that has plagued them in recent years.
It’s still a little early to be overly concerned with conference standings but there are some potential pitfalls ahead. Take, for example, North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 0-3 in ACC play after their loss at Syracuse. This week’s game with Boston College is huge – which is followed by a trip to Virginia and a home date with Clemson. It’s time for UNC to make a u-turn or risk falling out of the Field. Despite three quality wins, a 1-5 league mark would put UNC on an uphill climb toward tourney selection.
If our latest s-curve rankings were Christmas presents, Arizona, Syracuse, Louisville, and Wisconsin would receive Santa’s best in 2013. The Wildcats, Orange, Cardinals, and Badgers hold the top four spots on the seed list and would be No. 1 seeds if we were publishing a new bracket. Nothing new from December 17.
Which teams found one of the final at-large gifts? George Washington, Cincinnati, Butler, Illinois, and Oklahoma. As of Christmas Eve, those are the Last 5 IN (at-large) on the seed list.
By contrast, these five teams would find their stocking stuffed with a First 5 OUT certificate: Marquette, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Indiana, and Xavier. They are followed (next 5 OUT) by California, Saint Mary’s, Boise State, Utah, and SMU.
This time next week, conference action begins across the country. Ultimately, those games will be among the most important come Selection Sunday. What the non-conference schedule provides is an opportunity to build a resume that extends beyond the conference season. Teams that accomplished little (or played a weak schedule) in November and December have less margin for error in league play.
The overall s-curve is still fluid. Teams climb or fall several spots based on significant wins (or losses). And let’s be honest, it’s still hard to fully determine quality wins and/or bad losses because we have two-plus months remaining in the season. A victory that looks good now may not be as impressive in February and vice-versa. Regular bracket updates begin in January, and the s-curve will be posted with each update (some additional updates in February and March).
Enjoy the Holidays! Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Safe travels and blessings.
On that note, here are five undefeated teams – as of Saturday morning, December 7 – whose unbeaten records are suspect. We could very well see all of them in the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket – a couple could even be Top 5 seeds – but through the first month of the season, we haven’t learned much despite the group compiling a 40-0 record.
UCLA (8-0) – The Bruins leave home for the first time today (at Missouri, see Weekend Preview). It will be their only true road game before Pac-12 play begins; and the Bruins don’t play a conference road game until January 16 (at Colorado). Their only other non-conference NCAA-level game (right now) appears to be a matchup with Duke (Dec. 19). UCLA’s best win to date is probably Drexel at home. The Bruins’ overall non-conference schedule is okay (Northwestern, Santa Barbara, Alabama), but it would be nice to leave So Cal once in a while.
Pittsburgh (9-0) – The Panthers don’t leave home until January 4 (@NC State). Which means Pitt will have completed its non-conference schedule without playing a true road game. Prior to that, the Panthers will have played Stanford, Duquesne, and Cincinnati on neutral courts. And the Panthers’ win over Stanford is probably their best to date; although Penn State fans might argue differently. Either way, Pittsburgh might be a Top 4 seed, but that will have to be earned in the ACC – unless Stanford, Penn State, or Cincinnati shines in the coming weeks. Read more…