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.
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 Duke. Florida 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.
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.
We’re about to have our annual reality check. It’s the point of the college hoops season when actual performance starts to outweigh potential. Moving forward, projected selection and seeding will become increasingly reflective of a team’s actual profile and less about what we expect (or expected) said team to achieve. Note: until we hit Championship Week, there will always be some potential figured into bracket projections. The goal is still to provide both a snapshot of where we are while balancing realistic possibilities.
Early in the season, the bracket is mostly about potential – what do we expect? Then, as teams begin building actual resumes – schedule strength, wins, losses, road performance, etc – we have better guidelines to use. For some teams, that’s good. For others, not so much. Here are a couple of examples.
Memphis – The Tigers opened the season as a projected No. 3 seed based on talent and the expectations of a gaudy won-loss record in Conference USA. Since beating Miami-FL (Nov. 15), however, Memphis has missed – in some cases badly – opportunities against Kansas, Georgetown, and Tennessee. Thus, the Tigers have one win over a potential NCAA team to date – and Miami-FL would be among a handful of bubble teams on the edge if this were Selection Sunday. Factor in UM’s loss at Southern Methodist (RPI No. 271 – from CollegeRPI.com), and it’s easy to see why the Tigers’ actual profile is far different than what we anticipated in November. That’s not to say Memphis can’t make a run to the C-USA title, but the Tigers’ performance to date would land them outside the Field of 68. Read more…
Duke and Ohio State remain 1-2 in our latest Power 24. Kansas moves up to No. 3. The Jayhawks put together an impressive second-half against Memphis in New York, and now await the arrival of Josh Selby on Saturday.
This is where it gets a bit more tricky. Fresh off a virtual road win against Pittsburgh, Tennessee vaults into the No. 4 spot, followed closely by Connecticut. Both the Vols and Huskies have impressed – and surprised. Tennessee because of all the off-court issues surrounding head coach Bruce Pearl. Connecticut because few of us anticipated Kemba Walker would carry his team to a Maui championship and beyond.
View our December 13 edition of Power 24.
Any number of teams could claim spots this week. The only changes: Temple returns following its win over Georgetown, and Washington leaves after falling a point short at Texas A-M. It’s not a bad loss, but the Huskies (Washington variety) have missed on most of their “good win” chances – beating only Virginia in Maui.
Louisville sits at No. 25 – one spot out of the rankings. Good win last weekend over UNLV, but like all of the Cardinals’ wins to date, it was at home. Louisville hasn’t yet left its new KFC Yum! Center surroundings. That changes on a Dec. 23 trip to Western Kentucky. By comparison, UNLV (No. 17 this week) has played just four home games; winning five away from Vegas, including two true road games and three at the 76 Classic. At this point, UNLV’s overall body of work is more impressive.
Rebounds always welcome. Next Power 24 update and bracket update will be Monday, December 20.
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…
That’s the question for Connecticut this week as they host West Virginia and Louisville. One could make an argument for any number of bubble teams; the actual selection process in Indianapolis is completed by a series of votes and can be very subjective. Why did UConn make it in? There’s a number that jumps out: 8 wins vs. Top 100 RPI teams. That’s two more than any of the 11 other bubble finalists for today. Still, at 6-8 in the Big East, work remains for the Huskies. Call this our leap of faith for the week.
Our next update will be Thursday, February 25 (evening). Bubble Banter will be updated for release Wednesday – for games played through Tuesday. Those dates work best for our partnership with NBC Sports. We’ll continue two-a-week updates through early March and then go more often just before and during Championship Week.
No change in No. 1 seeds from Friday. If anything, the Top 4 are establishing more control: Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, and Purdue stay on the Top Line. Syracuse and Purdue will face the biggest challenges to winning outright league titles. Duke is still in the No. 1 seed discussion, but the Blue Devils haven’t been that good in true road games and it would probably take both the regular season and ACC Tournament titles to move up.
Last 5 IN: Dayton, Charlotte, Connecticut, St. Mary’s, UAB. First 5 OUT: Rhode Island, San Diego State, Seton Hall, Mississippi State, St. Louis.
Looking ahead … the bubble is likely to slide around quite a bit over the next two weeks. I would also anticipate some wild outcomes in conference tournaments. How will the bubble look if teams like Utah State, Siena or UTEP lose? What if a team like Ole Miss rallies and wins the SEC Tournament? Who knows what to expect in the Missouri Valley (Northern Iowa) – the favorite rarely wins. Should be a wild – and fun – ride until Selection Sunday. Rebounds are always welcome. Thanks for following along.
Six weeks until Selection Sunday and two NCAA Tournament regulars find themselves in trouble – and outside the Feb. 1 bracket projection here at Bracketville. Those regulars would be Connecticut and North Carolina. Carolina cut down the nets and UConn lost in the Final Four to Michigan State in 2009. Why are they out? Let’s take a look …
Connecticut: Entering the game at Louisville on Monday (UConn lost 82-69), the Huskies were 3-5 in the Big East and were 0-4 in road games. Given that UConn had 6 of its final 10 Big East games on the road – and a brutal stretch overall – it would difficult for the Huskies to finish .500 in league play. Playing the No. 1-ranked schedule has its merits, but winning games is still required. Other than the home win over Texas, Connecticut entered Monday just 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams. The advantage of playing a tough schedule? Good wins are easy to find. But the Huskies will have to find a way to win on the road.
North Carolina: Early victories over Michigan State and Ohio State (two months ago) could only carry the Tar Heels so long. If anything, UNC has regressed, losing at home Sunday to Virginia – falling to 2-4 in the ACC. The Heels have also struggled on the road (1-3) and their next two are away from the Dean Dome. Without a road turnaround, UNC could be 13-10 and 2-6 in the ACC by next week. There’s no way such numbers (and an upper 70’s RPI) would be NCAA-worthy. UNC has enough talent to make a run, but there’s no indication that’s going to happen. Until such time, UNC is looking at the NIT.
As for the rest of the bracket … the Atlantic 10 gains another spot – with six teams projecting “in” at this point. Dayton is among the last selected. We also welcome new automatic bids: Utah State (WAC) and Arkansas State (Sun Belt). UTEP also joins the field. The Miners are fresh off a road win at UAB and clearly in contention for the C-USA title. While that may not be enough to keep them alive next month, UTEP is in position to make a run. That gives them a nod this week. A home-and-away with Tulsa may be the determining factor on whether the Miners or Golden Hurricane make it in March. Quick notes on Marquette: the Golden Eagles have quality wins over Georgetown, Xavier and Connecticut. They also lost to Villanova twice by a total of four points. Add in a favorable schedule over the next six games and the Eagles project into the Field.
We’ll be passing the half-way point of conference play soon. League standings are becoming more critical. More thoughts ahead – as the BracketBuster matchups are announced. Teams moving toward the Bracket … South Florida, Seton Hall, Tulsa, South Carolina, Virginia, Arizona; Teams moving away … Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Arizona State. Other opinions always welcome. Send a Rebound.