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…
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.
We’re three weeks into the season, having enjoyed Feast Week, Thanksgiving, and the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. About time for a quick bracket update, don’t you think?
Says so here, too.
With victories over Kansas, Providence, and Louisville on its early resume, Michigan State sits at No. 1 on the Seed List, headlining the Midwest Region. The other No. 1 seeds in order are Kansas (South), North Carolina (East), and Maryland (West). As side notes, Marcus Paige has returned for Carolina and Cheick Diallo has been cleared for Kansas. Both figure to have significant impacts for the Tar Heels and Jayhawks. Thus, despite its loss at Northern Iowa (without Paige), UNC returns to the top line after beating Maryland. 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
The bubble is much like a recent weather forecast for the Midwest or East Coast: unpredictable and generally less than welcoming. So instead of debating the final few teams IN our OUT in today’s bracket, let’s look at the No. 1 seed contenders. We have just over a month until Selection Sunday.
Syracuse, Arizona, Kansas, and Florida retain No. 1 seeds (same as Monday). Syracuse is in the strongest position to hold its post – although road trips through Pittsburgh, Duke, and Virginia remain. Arizona’s biggest question isn’t RPI numbers or quality wins, it’s a notable injury: how will the Wildcats play without Brandon Ashley? He’s out for the season with a foot injury. The Selection Committee will be watching how Arizona responds. Kansas owns the top spot in the RPI and has played the nation’s top-rated schedule. Will that offset five (or more) losses? If the Jayhawks claim an outright Big 12 title and win the Big 12 tournament, history would suggest that, yes, KU would be a top seed given its profile. Florida’s biggest advantage – and disadvantage – is its schedule. Once again, the SEC isn’t particularly deep. With Missouri and Tennessee hovering around the bubble, Kentucky is the Gators’ top resume-builder. That said, Florida is among the most talented teams in the nation when healthy. It’s conceivable the Gators could enter the SEC Tournament with a record of 29-3. That would be hard to ignore.
Here are some other contenders:
- Michigan State – if the Spartans heal up and win the Big Ten, they will push for the top line. Keep in mind, MSU has not lost a game when playing at full strength.
- Wichita State – after winning at Indiana State, the Shockers will be favored to enter the Missouri Valley Tournament with a perfect record. Although the MVC isn’t as strong as it’s been in recent years, one could easily argue that WSU has earned a No. 1 seed. Read more…
Since losing to San Diego State, the Kansas Jayhawks have put together a five-game surge that includes victories over its biggest competitors in the Big 12 conference – Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Baylor. Two of those (Oklahoma, Iowa State) were on the road. Add in victories over Duke and New Mexico in non-conference play, and KU has notched eight Top 50 RPI victories. That’s two more than Syracuse, four more than Arizona, and three more than Michigan State – the other members of today’s No. 1 seed club. It’s also worth noting that Kansas has played the nation’s toughest schedule and currently sits atop the RPI. That’s a pretty strong profile (despite four losses – all to Top 25 RPI Teams), and the primary reason why the Jayhawks received the No. 4 slot on this week’s seed list (s-curve). When evaluating KU’s overall body of work, it’s pretty strong.
We still have two months to go and several other teams could reach the No. 1 seed line by March. Teams like Florida and Wichita State are building strong resumes, as is San Diego State. And it’s too early to count out Iowa, Michigan, or Wisconsin from the Big Ten title chase. The final contenders will be much more clear by mid-February.
On the flip side, January hasn’t been a good month for teams like Ohio State, Baylor, and North Carolina – or Georgetown for that matter; as the Hoyas are among the First Five OUT today. Through the first third of conference play, the Buckeyes, Bears, and Tar Heels own a combined 4-12 record (in league play). Some of that is due to scheduling and some of it has been inconsistent play. Either way, it would be a good time for those squads to reverse course. By the time we reach mid-February, a seriously sub-par conference record will not be endearing to the Selection Committee.
One of the best things about college basketball is that we never know what will happen. Enjoy the hoops.
The countdown to March Madness has officially arrived. We begin the trek toward Selection Sunday with Arizona and Syracuse as the top two seeds in the Field of 68. Joining the Wildcats and Orange on the top line … two teams from the Big Ten: Wisconsin and Michigan State. Villanova and Ohio State are close behind.
If you’re new to bracket watching or are returning for the new year, a couple of quick housekeeping notes:
- The NCAA Selection Committee implemented new bracketing procedures designed to keep more teams on their true seed line (from the seed list or s-curve). If you want all the details, visit http://www.ncaa.com. Today’s (January 6) bracket is a fitting example. In the South Region, Saint Louis is the No. 8 seed – which puts the Billikens in the same half of the bracket as Massachusetts, the No. 5 seed. Both reside in the Atlantic 10 conference. In previous years, Saint Louis would have had been bumped a seed line higher or lower – or moved out of its geographic region – to avoid two teams from the same conference (unless more than eight were selected) meeting before a Regional Final. That bump would have affected more than Saint Louis, perhaps dropping another team from a seven seed to an eight. The new configuration is allowable in part because SLU and UMass are scheduled to meet only once during the A10 regular season. Without going into detail, you’ll also notice Florida and Tennessee engaged in a similar scenario. If those two happened to meet in the SEC tourney (which would be their third meeting), the set-up in this bracket would not be possible. But since we don’t know whether that will occur, it’s accurate for today.
- Teams are selected and seeded based on their overall body of work (now and moving forward). Just because Team A beat Team B doesn’t necessarily mean Team A’s overall body of work – such as quality wins, strength of schedule, etc – is superior to Team B’s. Teams lose games. If overall accomplishments weren’t considered, we would rank Belmont ahead of North Carolina and Northern Colorado ahead of Kansas State. But that would not be an accurate way to assess either team’s overall performance.
- It’s too early to be overly concerned about the bubble or cutline. Conference play us just beginning. Try not to overreact to a team being one of the last few in or first few out. We have a long way to go. Some teams currently in the bracket will miss the tournament and others will climb into the bracket come March.
- Teams earn bids, not conferences. Although it’s unlikely the Big 12 will earn seven bids on Selection Sunday, it worked out that way through games played on January 5. Next week, it could be different.
College hoops is entering its annual March to Madness. Enjoy the journey to Selection Sunday.