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…
It’s been a topic of discussion for several weeks. What would happen if Gonzaga lost? Would they fall? Who would take their place as a No. 1 seed? Following the ‘Zags home loss to BYU – which also vaulted the Cougars into a First Four game in today’s bracket – we have an answer: Villanova, at least for now.
The Wildcats – there are two of them (Kentucky) on the top line – slide into the West Region; following UK, Virginia, and Duke. We say for now, because Wisconsin and Arizona also continue to push for that final spot. And it’s conceivable we could see a shift among spots 2-6 on the Seed List between now and Selection Sunday. We know that either Virginia or Duke will lose at least one more game – both play in the ACC tournament. If Wisconsin, Villanova, and Arizona all win out it’ll be interesting to see how the Committee dissects that group of profiles.
With just under two weeks until Selection Sunday, we have several unclaimed spots in the bracket. Perhaps more than ever, conference tournament games could prove decisive . It’ll be even more interesting should we have an upset winner or two. The Atlantic 10 race is a good example – as of this posting, there are three teams tied atop the standings. There are another three teams – VCU, Richmond, and Massachusetts – all within a game or two of the top. It’s perfectly conceivable that anyone of those teams could grab the automatic bid.
It’s March. The Madness is almost here.
Given this year’s rather unimpressive Bubble, there’s been ample opportunities for so-called “mid-majors” to cash in. But as the calendar turns to March, Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley) is the only one to really take advantage: the Panthers will be Dancing. Old Dominion was in a similar position in mid-January until some unsightly Conference USA losses clouded their horizon. The Monarchs can still make it, but not without a strong finish, and maybe a little help.
Which brings us to the next question: Are there any other potential mid-major teams who could make a late push toward at-large consideration? Here are the leading candidates (records are D1 only) …
Wofford (21-6) | (Southern) – The Terriers might be the leading candidate thanks to a Top 20 non-conference schedule that includes a victory at NC State. Wofford’s other Top 100 wins include Iona and Sam Houston State. The biggest hang-up, and it sticks out like a 300-pound gorilla, is a loss at The Citadel, which stands at No. 310 on the RPI rankings as of this posting. It would also be a bit unusual for a six-loss team in Wofford’s situation to gain momentum on the At-Large Board. Assuming the Terriers would lose only to Chattanooga in the SoCon tourney finale, there’s an outside chance, but it’s just that. Read more…