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…
What a Saturday in college hoops – and it’s February!
Four of the top eight teams on Saturday morning’s Seed List lost, two at home and two in blowout fashion on the road. Another two lost in slots 9-12, and another two in slots 13-16. Simple math equates to eight of the top 16 teams on the Seed List losing Saturday. The flip side, of course, is that eight other teams (the winners) posted signature or marquee victories on their resumes. My initial takeaways are that Florida and three Big 12 “States” benefitted most from a wild Saturday.
Florida’s win over Kentucky added an important piece to the Gators’ otherwise solid profile: a victory over a sure-fire NCAA team. Prior to Saturday, Florida had nice wins against Arkansas, Seton Hall, and Miami-FL, among others. But are you confident all of those teams will reach the final Field of 68? See bullet-point below about the Razorbacks loss at Missouri. On a related note … with South Carolina’s win over Georgia, the SEC title chase is up for grabs. Read more…
Although this week’s No. 1 seeds remain intact, Kentucky and Florida State are pushing for slots on the top line of the bracket. One could make the case for dropping Baylor after the Bears’ loss at West Virginia, but the seed list doesn’t always work the same as a poll. Baylor’s resume is still quite strong, and a lone loss in Morgantown doesn’t change that – much the same as Villanova’s loss at Butler last week didn’t drop the Wildcats from the overall No. 1 seed position. That said, resumes are still very much a recurring work in progress.
It’s no surprise that the cutline is quite fluid. With another full slate of games tonight, the bottom of the bracket might look different if we updated it again tomorrow. The process slows in mid-February and resumes become more complete.
As a reminder, conference champions are determined by league standings until Championship Week. In the event of a tie in the loss column, the automatic bid for the bracket is awarded to the team with the best RPI at the time of publication. To an extent, this helps simulate some variances that occur in the process. 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
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…
My picks for the 2015 NCAA tournament are posted below. Of course, I went 1-3 while selecting First Four games in Dayton (the Flyers were my only winning pick, and they needed a late-game rally to beat Boise State). In other words, take these picks and run the other direction.
Having watched a lot of college hoops this season, six teams stand out as the most elite: Kentucky, Villanova, Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Virginia. Working through the bracket, my champion was going to come from this group. And I, like most others, settled on Kentucky; not because the Wildcats can’t be beat, rather because they have proven to be the best team.
Here we go – with some early upsets mixed in, including a pick with my head (Texas) and not my heart (Butler) … Read more…