In three short, dramatic weeks, a familiar anthem will play. You can almost hear One Shining Moment in the background. If our Journey to Houston is as good as Championship Week – buzzer beaters, overtimes, half-court heaves – it’ll be another event for the ages.
By now you’ve likely read hundreds of previews and tossed a couple of practice brackets in the trash. Which upsets to pick? Who’ll reach the Final Four? Will Cinderella emerge? So rather than simply provide you a list of picks (boring at best, wrong at worst), let’s take a peek at the possibilities – first as a whole, and then Region-by-Region. Along the way, I’ll give you my selections for the Final Four. It’ll give you something to throw in my face next November.
Tournament Questions …
Will a 16-Seed win? Start with an easy question. No. Although it would be a fun to go Dunk City after FGCU’s dominant win over Fairleigh-Dickinson, let’s remember that the Eagles finished behind North Florida in the Atlantic Sun standings and that Hampton is the only 16-seed to win its league’s regular-season title. Asking the Pirates to beat Virginia in Raleigh is a tall order. 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.
This year’s NCAA tournament bubble became that much more intriguing Monday night. If you love drama, it’s shaping up to be an intense week. In that past two days, we’ve seen Wichita State, Monmouth, and Valparaiso join the at-large pool as conference champions with legitimate at-large hopes. That’s three additional resumes for the Selection Committee to review, dissect, and compare at their bunker in downtown Indianapolis. How it all shakes out by Sunday afternoon is unknown. What we do know is that it’s going to be a long wait for Monmouth, one of this year’s most talked-about teams.
We touched on Wichita State yesterday; the Shockers are hoping a dominant run through the Missouri Valley, combined with a strong non-conference SOS and a win over Utah will hold up. Valparaiso has a win at Oregon State, but probably needs a little more help.
Given the results of the past two days, there should be an even greater sense of urgency for those along the cutline. If Wichita State and Monmouth both end up earning bids, there are two less slots available.
For different reasons, St. Bonaventure and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) join the Field of 68 in today’s Seed List update. In the case of VCU, the Rams own the Atlantic 10 lead and thus have a reserved spot as an automatic qualifier (AQ). As for the Bonnies, their win at Saint Joseph’s moved them ahead of Tulsa. Alabama falls out following its home loss to Arkansas. It’s worth noting that Tulsa was actually bumped by VCU regaining the AQ, as it took one at-large spot away. It’s a good illustration of how the process works during Championship Week.
Joining St. Bonaventure in the First Four: Butler, Cincinnati, and Michigan. The four just above them (final byes) are Vanderbilt, USC, Oregon State, Connecticut. The margin (if any) between these eight is very small. It remains true: teams from the 7-line on down still have work to do to reach a safety zone.
The SEC tournament figures to be huge for Vanderbilt, Alabama, Florida, and LSU. It’s unlikely that more than two from that group will make the final bracket. On a similar note, the Atlantic 10 tourney could prove decisive for St. Bonaventure, VCU, George Washington, and even Saint Joseph’s. Without a “bad” loss on their resume, the Hawks are in overall better shape, but if they were to lose to Duquesne and also their first A10 tourney game, it could get a little more interesting. We’ll see.
It’s not easy being green, but it has its benefits. Tom Izzo pushes, prods, and produces tournament-ready teams. And his current collection of cast members in East Lansing is no exception. The Spartans are pushing the top line – hard. When you factor in injuries to Denzel Valentine and others, it took a while for Izzo’s full unit to develop. As of today – with March knocking on the door – not only is MSU healthy, they are playing like one of the best teams in the country.
Kansas remains the No. 1 overall seed, with Virginia, Oklahoma, and Villanova closing out the group. The Jayhawks are likely to stay; the other three lines remain open for debate. Aforementioned MSU is next, with Miami-FL, Xavier, and North Carolina still in the mix. We’ll see if any additional teams emerge.
At the other end of the bracket, Florida and Michigan are running on fumes. If the Gators fail to beat Kentucky and Michigan loses to Iowa, both will likely be on the outside looking in as Championship Week begins. The depth of the bubble is thin outside the bracket, but most of the teams seeded on the seven line or lower today still has work to do. Of course, the cutline could change if teams like Wichita State, Monmouth, Valparaiso, San Diego State, or even Little Rock lose in their conference tourneys. Such scenarios would send those teams into the at-large pool.
On a final note, Wisconsin has engineered one of the best turnarounds in recent history. In December, the Badgers were dropped on the curb, hoping that maybe an NIT bid would be forthcoming. They have now won 10 of 11 games and are squarely in the Field of 68. Assuming they don’t lose to Minnesota, Purdue, and a Big Ten tourney opener to another triple-digit RPI team, the Badgers should be safe.
As we settle in for the final push toward Selection Sunday, the race for No. 1 seeds is as open as it’s been in several years. With its victory at Oklahoma on Saturday, Kansas resides in today’s Pole Position. The aforementioned Sooners are close behind, followed by Villanova and North Carolina.
Within that group of four, Villanova has the easiest path to retain a No. 1 seed. If you look at the Wildcats’ remaining schedule, they should be favored in every game – with the exception of their trip to Xavier. As such, Nova could be 27-4 (assuming just one more loss – which is a dangerous thing this season) heading into the Big East Tournament. Given the likelihood that a few of the other No. 1 contenders will also lose another game or two, it leaves Villanova in prime position to be a top seed next month. It may or may not be in the East Region.
Who are the other No. 1 seed contenders? Today’s two-line includes Virginia, Xavier, Iowa, and West Virginia. We would also have to include Maryland, Michigan State, and Miami-FL. Could someone else sneak in? It’s possible, but not as likely – given the teams ahead of them. Even so, the fact that we have 11 teams in play at this point in February is quite remarkable.
The bubble remains an on-going merry-go-round and that’s unlikely to change. Championship Week is shaping up to be an important separator for the final at-large positions.
You have to give Wisconsin credit. Left on the curb after early losses to Western Illinois and Milwaukee, and the departure of longtime coach Bo Ryan, the Badgers have found a way to navigate some additional bumps and bruises on their way to seven straight wins and an 8-4 mark in Big Ten play. In the past three weeks, Wisconsin has toppled Michigan State, Indiana, and now Maryland, the last of those Saturday in impressive fashion on the road. Given the current landscape, it was enough to boost the Badgers back in the Field of 68. We’ll see if they have enough left in the tank to stay.
On the flip side, Gonzaga and Wichita State have seen their respective at-large profiles fall into further question. With Fred VanVleet back, the Shockers were rolling through the Missouri Valley and distancing themselves from early losses without him. That was before losing at Illinois State and then at home to Northern Iowa. And while neither of those is a horrible miscue, the Shockers profile now has a couple of dings it didn’t need. Will a home win over Utah be enough to carry the Shockers if they lose in the MVC tourney? As for Gonzaga, the Bulldogs missed a golden opportunity to beat SMU and add a nice non-conference victory to an otherwise iffy resume. The Zags best wins are Connecticut (November) and bubbly Washington. A 2-6 mark vs. Top 100 teams could be problematic. Of Gonzaga’s 19 DI wins, 14 are against teams currently ranked 150 or below in the RPI.
This morning, there are questions – to varying degrees – about teams seeded 23 and below on the seed list. A new bracket is coming tomorrow. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day.