Selection Sunday is here. Tonight, the Selection Committee will reveal its 2017 NCAA tournament bracket. While there will be a healthy debate about whether Duke’s late-season run should vault them onto the No. 1 seed line, what we do know – or at least believe – is that reigning champ Villanova will be the No. 1 overall seed.
For now, North Carolina remains the top seed in the South Region. It may change this afternoon. Either way, your top line figures to end up with Villanova (East), Kansas (Midwest), North Carolina/Duke (South), Gonzaga (West).
With league favorites winning most of their conference tournaments, potential bid thieves have largely been eliminated. The biggest bubble debate figures to be centered around Syracuse. Will the Orange’s high quality wins outweigh its losses, record-high RPI, and poor record away from the Carrier Dome? That’s something we won’t know for sure until tonight.
As the final seconds ticked away in Brooklyn on Friday night, Duke celebrated a victory over rival North Carolina. With it, the Blue Devils may also have secured the No. 2 seed in the East Region behind Villanova. They certainly look dangerous. Arizona tripped UCLA in the Pac-12, setting up a rematch with Oregon. The winner will likely be the No. 2 seed out West.
Vanderbilt continues its climb and could become the first at-large team with 15 losses, assuming they fall short in the SEC tourney. Elsewhere on the bubble, teams like Kansas State, Wake Forest, USC, and Illinois State must sit and watch; their resumes complete. Pay special attention to the Atlantic 10 semifinals. Rhode Island is close to grabbing a spot, and two potential bid thieves lurk opposite the sets of Rams (URI, VCU). Today, it’ll be time to re-scrub the seed list again as more resumes fill up.
The bank was open Wednesday night in Syracuse. John Gillon’s three-pointer at the buzzer lifted Syracuse over Duke at the Carrier Dome and back (again) into the bracket. It’s been a wild month for the Orange who now need to close the deal. It was also a big night for Providence, who used a Kyron Cartwright trey to knock off Creighton in Omaha. And then Dillon Brooks nailed a long-distance dagger to beat California and leave the Bears teetering for bracket survival as February comes to a close. Are we ready for March yet?
No changes on the No. 1 seed line. By a whisker, Villanova holds onto the overall No. 1 seed after its second loss to Butler, a team whose profile is far better than its AP ranking. Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga round out the group. UNC moves up to No. 3 after dispatching Louisville.
If last night was any indication, it’s going to be a fun late-season ride to Selection Sunday.
If you’re old enough to remember the now-retired DoubleMint gum commercials, you’ll understand the headline reference. If not, never mind. It wasn’t long ago – last week, in fact – that Duke was coming off three losses in five games and had gone winless in its three previous road games. They were also facing back-to-back road games at Wake Forest and Notre Dame. Had things not gone so well in Winston-Salem and South Bend, the Blue Devils would have been heading into their upcoming home stretch with an 0-5 road record and sub-.500 Atlantic Coast Conference mark. But things went quite well and Duke heads home with a chance to re-merge as a contender in the ACC race. Next up, the Blue Devils host ACC bubble teams Pittsburgh and Clemson along with rival North Carolina. Getting all three would be ideal, as the Blue Devils closing stretch includes four road games – Virginia, Syracuse, Miami, and UNC. Read more…
For Duke, this season hasn’t followed the designated script. With a handful of top-flight recruits and a host of returning talent, the Blue Devils were a preseason favorite to dominate college hoops and cut down the nets in April. Then came the injuries, a one-game suspension for Grayson Allen, and the loss of Coach K to back surgery. And then came Monday night, when the Blue Devils lost at home to NC State for the first time since 1995. Moreover, it was Duke’s third loss in five games, dropping the Blue Devils to 3-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Up next? A two-game road swing through improved Wake Forest and Notre Dame. For what it’s worth, Duke is a surprising 0-3 in true road games this season. Without a win in Winston-Salem or South Bend, the Blue Devils will return home with a 3-6 record in conference play and a date with rival North Carolina on the docket soon after.
It’s way too early (even in late January) to write off the Blue Devils; they could four in a row and make us forget about this unDuke-like stretch. But these next two weeks are an important stretch for the crew from Durham. Duke has just three wins against current at-large teams (Florida, Michigan State, Rhode Island), and the Rams are currently among the Last 4 IN. Time to see how the Blue Devils respond. Read more…
It’s New Year’s weekend. Conference play has started. The race toward March is upon us, and with it, the race for No. 1 Seeds. Today, those slots belong to Villanova, Kansas, Baylor, and UCLA. Villanova’s survival against DePaul, and UCLA’s last-second loss at Oregon do not change those team’s positions. Opinions vary, of course, but the next four spots on the Seed List look like this: Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Gonzaga. If you have a different order, that’s fine. For me, UCLA’s win at Kentucky still trumps a one-loss Duke team, whose best win is Florida on a neutral court.
Indiana and Texas AM take the biggest slides. When the Hoosiers are good, they’re really good – as noted by wins over Kansas and Carolina. But IU has also been inconsistent and played a rather ugly non-conference schedule for a team with its roster and pedigree. The result? IU has an RPI of 122 (as of this posting), with the loss at Fort Wayne and then at home to Nebraska. The Hoosiers are too talented to be concerned, but a protected seed has to be earned. With that in mind, Louisville awaits on Saturday. 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