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…
If today were Selection Sunday, and North Carolina was the ACC champion, the Selection Committee would likely be inclined to reward the Tar Heels with a No. 1 seed over a very good Baylor team whose profile is equally impressive but lacks a conference title. In the world of splitting hairs, we just did. On that note, two interesting twists await. First, UNC hosts Louisville on Wednesday, and the Cardinals are No. 6 on the Seed List. If Louisville wins in Chapel Hill, the Cards could make a strong case for the top line on Thursday. Second, the Tar Heels close with an incredibly tough slate, going to Pittsburgh and Virginia before finishing at home with Duke. Baylor can easily play its way back up.
In the race for No. 1 seeds, Villanova and Kansas are sitting in strong positions as the regular season comes to a close. Should Gonzaga finish unbeaten, it would hard to drop the Zags from their No. 1 perch in the West. Which leaves, at least for now, one top seed up for grabs, and it could go any number of ways.
Another meh and blah weekend along the cutline. Should we lose solid mid-major programs like Middle Tennessee State, UNC Wilmington, and say, Monmouth or Illinois State during their conference championships, the Committee will have to heavily weigh a bunch of mediocre power teams versus some solid programs who have fewer chances for marquee wins.
North Carolina is pushing for a No. 1 seed. So is Louisville, for that matter. And Baylor remains firmly in the mix despite four losses in six games, the most recent a two-pointer at home to Kansas in one of Saturday’s best games. If you’re up for Round 3 of KU-Baylor in the Big 12 tournament, raise your hand. I thought so. We also have to keep track of the Pac-12 race.
Bubble Talk debuted on Saturday morning. We’ll update it again next Saturday, if not before. There’ll be a new bracket on Monday, along with a Seed List update.
More Quick Takes from Saturday … Read more…
NCAA Tournament bids are not earned or lost in November. But with the regular season upon us, members of the Selection Committee will be watching. So here are a few potential “bracket” games to track this weekend; results that could be interesting down the road …
Friday, November 14
- Minnesota vs. Louisville – The Cardinals should be a lock; not the case for Minnesota. It’s also a family affair.
- New Mexico State at Wichita State – Both favored to win conference titles.
- Georgia at Georgia Tech – Is this the year Georgia earns an at-large bid out of the SEC?
- Washington State at UTEP – The Miners could be in the mix for at-large consideration.
- Houston at Murray State – The Racers are an early pick to win the OVC and this could be an “up” game.
With two months until Selection Sunday, there are a few curious profiles among name-heavy teams. As an illustration, let’s look at an interesting group of eight. None are having bad seasons, but their profiles are lighter than you might think. Combined, the eight have five wins against teams that were included in the January 14 bracket update. Three of the teams have yet to beat a team currently in the Field. When it comes to Top 50 RPI wins (through games played on January 16), these eight squads have a combined six wins and none has more than one …
Louisville – The defending NCAA champions are 1-2 vs. the Top 50 and have no wins against teams in the current field. Their non-conference schedules ranks No. 174. Their best wins are bubble teams SMU and Southern Miss. Eleven of their 15 wins are against teams ranked 150 or worse in the RPI.
Gonzaga – The Bulldogs are 0-2 vs. the Top 50 and also have no wins against the current field. GU’s best wins are bubble teams Arkansas and Saint Mary’s, plus a victory at West Virginia. The Bulldogs are 5-2 vs. the Top 100. They also have a loss at Portland. Note: Had the bracket been updated Friday, Arkansas would have returned to the Field after beating Kentucky.
Missouri – The Tigers are 1-1 vs. the Top 50 and have beaten UCLA – a team in the current field. However, they have only two other Top 100 wins and only one of those – NC State – is currently on the realistic bubble. Mizzou’s non-conference SOS comes in at No. 157. Read more…
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.
Arizona is slotted as the No. 1 overall seed. The Wildcats have put together a solid non-conference resume that includes road wins at San Diego State and Michigan, and a neutral court victory over Duke. Wisconsin, the top seed in the South Region, may have the most complete pre-conference resume. The Badgers have put together an impressive stretch. The other top seeds in our first in-season bracket: Syracuse and Louisville.
A couple of quick notes about the bracket:
- The overall body of work for teams remains relatively small – so s-curve slots continue to ebb and flow. A single significant victory (especially on the road) has a greater impact on the rankings now than it will in two months.
- We still don’t know much about a few teams. Pittsburgh is one example. The Panthers have looked dominant, but they have not beaten a team in the current field and have played only two games against teams among the Top 100 on the current s-curve.
- BYU is the only team to move a seed line (from a true 11 to a 12 in the South). Remember: BYU must be slotted in Thursday-Saturday sites only; sometimes that creates a situation where the Cougars have to move. The NCAA adjusted its bracketing procedures for the 2014 season (and beyond) to help the Selection Committee keep more teams as close to their true seed as possible.
I expect additional movement – especially at the bottom of the bracket – when regular (weekly) bracket updates begin in January. Enjoy the upcoming season of Holiday hoops.