If you’re a team that plays in a power conference you can survive an average (or even below average) non-conference slate and still earn an at-large bid. Last year’s Purdue team is a good example. The Boilermakers dropped non-conference decisions to Kansas State, North Florida, Vanderbilt, and Gardner-Webb. What Purdue was able to do, however, was win 8 of 9 Big Ten games during a mid-season stretch and finish 12-6 in league play en-route to a 9-seed in the Midwest Region.
If you’re a team from outside the power conferences, non-conference results become much more critical. Opportunities for resume-changing wins are more limited. With that thought in mind, here are five opening weekend games with March in mind … Read more…
If you’re already looking for a couple of mid-majors to keep an eye on next March, consider Valparaiso and Stephen F. Austin. If those names sound familiar, they should. Both the Crusaders and Lumberjacks have been in this position before, and both are heavy favorites to again win their respective leagues. Each team might also be better this go-around. Considering Valpo nearly upset Maryland a year ago, that’s noteworthy.
Valparaiso – Head coach Bryce Drew welcomes back a host of talent, including Horizon League Player-of-the-Year candidate Alec Peters. In all, the Crusaders return nine players who logged significant minutes. Valparaiso is balanced, experienced, and confident. Those traits generally bode well for teams in search of March Magic. Nothing is certain once the ball is tipped, but expect the Crusaders to push for a 30-win season. Valpo has non-conference games against MAAC favorite Iona, improving A-10 power Rhode Island, and Pac-12 teams Oregon and Oregon State. If the Crusaders can win at least two of those they have a chance to bump their seed line and possibly contend for an at-large berth. 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
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…
As the dust settles from Thursday’s bubble carnage, we’re left with two quick takeaways … 1) the final few teams “IN” remained in place, although in a slightly different order; … and 2) at-large opportunities improved for teams like Tulsa and UCLA, along with a couple of teams from the Atlantic 10.
Today is a potentially important day for the top of the bracket, too. Virginia, Duke, Villanova, Wisconsin, and Arizona all take the court in search of a No. 1 seed position on Sunday. Kentucky is locked in as the No. 1 overall seed, regardless; but spots 2-4 are still undecided. We have six teams for three spots.
Friday’s Bubble Tracker …
Temple – the Owls take on Memphis; a game they probably need to win. Read more…
When the First Four is revealed on Sunday, one of those teams might want to send a thank-you card to Northern Iowa. Trailing Illinois State at halftime in the Missouri Valley Conference finale, UNI rallied to beat the Redbirds and grab the Valley’s automatic bid. That saved at least one at-large position in the Field of 68.
Today, that team would be Texas; the Longhorns are paired with BYU in a First Four contest; with Indiana and Temple also slotted for a trip to Dayton.
The No. 1 seed line remains in tact: Kentucky, Virginia, Duke, and Villanova. Wisconsin and Arizona are next in line; the Badgers looked quite impressive Sunday in Columbus. It appears we have five teams for three spots. That noted, it’s hard to see both Duke and Virginia losing spots on the top line. We’ll see how the ACC tournament goes.
The middle of the bracket remains fluid in terms of final seed position; we could see teams move 1-3 lines over the next several days. And Championship Week will, as it turns out, be a decisive week for several bubble teams. We’re almost home.
With just over a week until Selection Sunday, the No. 1 seed line remains unsettled. Kentucky will be the No. 1 overall seed; that much is clear. We’re also confident that some combination of these teams will comprise the other three spots on the top line: Virginia, Duke, Villanova, Wisconsin, Arizona, or Gonzaga. That’s six teams for three spots.
Virginia also looks pretty locked-in as a one-seed; it would take a loss Saturday at Louisville, and an earlier-than-expected exit from the ACC tournament, to create the potential for a slip. Which leaves us, more realistically, with five teams for two spots. In today’s bracket, Duke and Villanova hold spots three and four on the Seed List, with Wisconsin and Arizona next in line. Gonzaga will be discussed, but the Bulldogs likely need every team ahead of them to lose in order to move back up. Read more…