Between Thursday and Friday, three eleven seeds won. We also had the usual 12 over 5-seed. And yet, the first two days of the 2017 NCAA tournament feel rather chalky. Maybe that’s because the twelve seed, Middle Tennessee State, was actually favored to win its matchup with Minnesota. Also, were we surprised to see Xavier beat Maryland? Or Rhode Island trip up a less-than-healthy Creighton? If there was a surprise, it’s USC. The Trojans rallied from double-digit deficits twice, beating Providence in the First Four, and then SMU on Friday.
While the results might leave us a little hungry, the Round of 32 looks might tasty. My Quick Takes on the weekend’s top five matchups …
Gonzaga vs. Northwestern – We could rename this game: Ultimate Underdog vs. New Kids on the Block. While Gonzaga is respected for its consistent excellence, the Bulldogs have never reached a Final Four and remain many people’s pick as first No. 1 seed to lose. Thus, the pressure is squarely on the Zags, who struggled to score against South Dakota State (shooting 39 percent overall and 27 percent from 3). The good news: Gonzaga no longer relies on its offense to carry the day. Flipping the page, Northwestern might be the feel good story of the year. They survived a late rally by Vanderbilt to win their first-ever NCAA tournament game in their first-ever appearance. And who doesn’t enjoy those sidelines shots of Doug Collins and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, right? Read more…
With the Super Bowl behind us, Selection Sunday awaits, along with the Madness of March. Between now and then, college basketball is sure to provide us enough plot twists to hold our attention. Exhibit A is this past Saturday … when eight of the top 16 teams on the Seed List added a loss to their resume. Meanwhile, teams along the cutline meander like a river without direction, and the bubble club numbers 30-plus members. In other words, fasten your seat belt and enjoy what should be a wild four-week ride.
If you’re returning for the first time post-football, reigning NCAA champion Villanova remains entrenched as the overall No. 1 seed. Regarding the rest of today’s No. 1 seeds, Selection Committee member value a team’s full profile over a single result (or two). Although in a different order from last Thursday, Gonzaga, Kansas, and Baylor continue to lead the West, Midwest, and South regions. That said, the margins for the Jayhawks and Bears are waning.
It would take hours of conversation and pages of words to wrangle through the bubble and the process in making the final decisions for at-large spots this morning. From eight seeds on down, every resume has holes to fill and issues to solve ahead of Championship Week.
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…
Sleep well, Spokane, Gonzaga is Dancing again.
Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s joins a growing list of at-large teams hoping there’s a ticket left when they reach the front of the line. That list includes teams like Monmouth, Wichita State, and Valparaiso. Their resumes are complete. All they can do is wait and watch what unfolds around them.
It could be an important day for Syracuse and Pittsburgh at the ACC tournament. Florida State needs to win a few there as well. USC and Oregon State will try to hold their positions via the Pac-12. All-in-all, a busy day to hold serve or build momentum. And it’s only Wednesday.
Enjoy the Madness.
Coaching Power – Sean Miller at Arizona is the young gun among a group of high-profile coaches in the Elite 8. Think about this list … Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, John Calipari, Mark Few, Mike Brey, and Miller. If you remove Few, Brey, and Miller, you have a who’s-who list of “elite” coaches – and that’s not to disparage Few’s dominant tenure at Gonzaga or the work that either Brey and Miller has done at Notre Dame or Arizona. Consider these accomplishments:
- Mike Krzyzewski – Four National Championships, 11 Final Four appearances, 31 NCAA tournament bids
- Rick Pitino – Two National Championships, 7 Final Four appearances, 20 NCAA tournament bids
- Tom Izzo – One National Championship, 6 Final Four appearances, 18 NCAA tournament bids (consecutive)
- John Calipari – One National Championship, 5 Final Four appearances, 17 NCAA tournament bids
- Bo Ryan – 1 Final Four appearance, 14 NCAA tournament bids … Note: Won 4 National Championships at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville
However you slice it, those are impressive resumes. We could see four of the five at the Final Four in Indianapolis; and Pitino and Izzo square off for the East Regional final. Read more…
The bubble continues to ebb and flow with a collection of pedestrian resumes maneuvering toward Championship Week. So instead of discussing a revolving door, let’s address perhaps the most-debated question regarding current bracket projections: Should Gonzaga be a No. 1 seed?
Let’s start here: the Selection Committee would prefer to have a “West-based” team atop the West Region. Gonzaga – and Arizona, obviously – both fit that description and both teams have resumes that would put them in the discussion. Which brings us to the finer points of the ‘Zags resume. The numbers are pretty strong … Gonzaga is 8-1 against both RPI/BPI top 100 teams. Here’s how the Bulldogs rank on various power ratings: RPI (8), BPI (4) and KenPom (5). Gonzaga has non-conference wins over these current NCAA-projected teams: SMU, St. John’s, and Georgia. The ‘Zags only loss was by three points at Arizona.
Those on the other side of the equation will argue that Gonzaga has played only two Top 100 teams (BYU and Saint Mary’s) since beginning West Coast Conference play, and that the league hasn’t challenged them enough to be a No. 1 seed. They will argue that Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule wasn’t as strong as past years. Both of those arguments are – at least to a certain point on the latter – true. Of course, schedules are often made in advance, and Memphis and UCLA (as examples) haven’t been as good as expected.
Whichever side of the argument you fall on, it’s a healthy debate that will continue in Indianapolis prior to Selection Sunday. But if Gonzaga wins out, and finishes with just one loss, odds would place the Bulldogs as favorites to be a No. 1 seed in the West. We’ll see how it plays out. If Gonzaga loses, the door will certainly be open for the four teams currently residing on the two-line: Villanova, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Arizona.