Just in time for Christmas, here’s Part II of the at-large landscape. This version focuses on teams from the BCS conference along with those from the Mountain West, Conference USA, and Atlantic 10. As we noted in Part I, conference season begins in full force next week, and a lot of basketball remains. The goal is to provide a quick peek into the at-large picture ahead of Bubble Banter in February.
It’s too early to lock any teams into the NCAA Tournament. For the purposes of time and space, however, we’re not going to dwell on the at-large possibilities for teams like Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse, Duke, etc. If January turns sour, then we’ll catch up on those teams in February. Let’s go Inside the Bracket:
Kansas State – The Wildcats play Long Beach State on Sunday for the Diamond Head Classic title in Honolulu. A victory would add LBSU to a win list that includes Alabama and Virgina Tech (road). K-State lost a neutral court game to West Virginia. While the rest of the non-conference resume is light, the Wildcats enter Big 12 play in pretty good position. West Virginia and Virginia Tech are both potential bubble teams, so a split is okay. The key will be finding victories against Kansas, Baylor, and Missouri and finishing among the top four or five in conference play. Kansas State opens at rival KU on January 4. After that, it’s Missouri and Baylor at home. So the Wildcats can set an NCAA footprint early.
Texas AM – If you take a closer look at the Aggies, one thing becomes apparent: an NCAA bid is in serious jeopardy. The Aggies non-conference schedule strength (No. 337) is dreadful, and TxAM’s best win is St. John’s. Furthering the issue is a lopsided loss at Florida and follow-up home loss to Rice. It will take some serious work in the Big 12 to overcome the Aggies’ start. That work begins at Baylor on January 2. Flashback: Colorado (last March). The Buffaloes won some big games in the Big 12 but were left home on Selection Sunday thanks to a non-conference SOS that mirrors the Aggies’ in 2011-12. Read more…
Selection Sunday is quickly approaching. While the bottom of the bracket remains highly volatile, the No. 1 seed contenders are taking shape. We have four front-runners with eight total teams remain in the hunt. Keep in mind that a team’s entire body of work is examined by the Selection Committee. So one good week in early March isn’t justification for a No. 1 seed. Here’s a look at the contenders …
Ohio State – The Buckeyes are a lock. OSU could potentially lose its spot in the East Region, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Buckeyes fall off the top line. OSU’s only two losses are at Wisconsin and at Purdue – both are in line for top-three seeds. The Buckeyes are 15-2 vs. the RPI Top 100 and beat Florida and Florida State on the road.
Pittsburgh – The Panthers lead the Big East and have been very consistent throughout the season. Pitt also has a non-conference victory over Texas on its resume and six Top 25 RPI wins. While not yet a lock, the Panthers control their path to a top seed in the East or Southeast. They may not have to win the Big East Tournament title, but they do need to avoid back-to-back losses to end the season. Their worst loss is Tennessee (neutral court).
Kansas – Kansas sits at No. 1 in the RPI (for what that’s worth) and has 17 wins vs. Top 100 teams – best in the nation. The Jayhawks also own the inside track to a Big 12 regular-season title. Why is Kansas not a lock? Only because there is the potential to be bumped should they lose a couple of games this next week and other teams below them excel. Kansas’ losses are to Texas at home and Kansas State on the road.
Duke – The Blue Devils close their regular season at North Carolina. A victory would give them the outright ACC title. A loss would leave Duke tied with Carolina pending the ACC Tournament. While Duke’s overall body of work is better to this point, if the Blue Devils were to lose twice to UNC in the next week, their odds to stay on the top line would certainly diminish. Duke is 14-3 vs. the Top 100. It’s best non-conference wins are Kansas State and Temple. Read more…
Now that the National Football League has crowned its champion, we look forward to March Madness. Selection Sunday is just over a month away. With that in mind, two quick observations about our bracket update. First, the No. 1 seeds remain solid – Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, and Texas. Second, the bottom half of the bracket is a mess. Bubble Banter opened with an incredible 41 teams on bubble. Not much has changed. See a team seeded eight or lower in the bracket? An NCAA future is far from certain. Thankfully, we have another month for teams to play their way in or out.
Notable changes this week are the inclusion of three teams from the Colonial – George Mason, Old Dominion and VCU. Plus, the departure of Michigan State and Penn State from the Big 10. Then, there’s Alabama. If we set up the bracket as … if the season ended today … the Crimson Tide would be designated with the SEC automatic bid. Although we don’t use that formula directly, we’ve include Alabama as one of the last teams in the field. Alabama is 7-1 in a BCS conference, and despite early struggles, they have won 10 of 12 games, including wins over Kentucky and at Tennessee. Certainly, ‘Bama still has work to do, but so do a large number of other teams with underwhelming profiles. Whether the Crimson Tide stay very long remains to be seen. You’ll find more in our Bubble Banter update on Tuesday.
Our first in-season bracket projection is due out Monday evening (Dec. 6). With it will come a lot of debate (and some complaints). Time to fire away with some notes and observations from a great first month of college hoops.
The first note is to remind ourselves that a lot of meaningful basketball remains. Things don’t necessarily end like they start. Flashback: Georgetown opened the ’08-’09 season 11-1, including a win at Connecticut – an eventual No. 1 seed. From there, the Hoyas stumbled through the Big East – finishing 7-11 in conference play and 16-14 overall – missing the NCAAs. With that, here we go …
- San Diego State and UNLV lead a quadrant of teams (BYU and New Mexico) from the Mountain West that could impact our final bracket in March. SDSU opened with three true road games and two neutral-court affairs – including a win at Gonzaga. It’s the type of schedule that should pay big dividends. UNLV has already beaten Wisconsin (home) and Virginia Tech (neutral court). BYU has victories over WAC-favorite Utah State and St. Mary’s. If there’s a bubble team, it’s likely New Mexico. The Lobos beat Arizona State, but lost a lopsided tilt at Cal.
- If Connecticut continues to get production from Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier, and others, the Huskies are in line for a very good season. Kemba Walker is a front-runner for Player-of-the-Year, and UConn already has three wins over NCAA-level teams: Wichita State, Michigan State, and Kentucky (Maui Invitational).
- Who thought Notre Dame would win the Old Spice Classic in Orlando? While beating Georgia, California, and Wisconsin isn’t quite like UConn’s feat in Maui, the Irish have certainly improved expectations – at least outside South Bend.
- Georgetown is also off to a great start. The Hoyas 111-102 OT win over Missouri ranks as the season’s best game to date. The season-opening road win at Old Dominion is looking better all the time.
- Pittsburgh is solid again – beating Maryland and Texas in New York. A No. 1-seed hopeful, the Panthers’ real questions won’t begin until March. Can they reach a Final Four?
- Overall, the Big East is 17-6 vs. fellow BCS teams.
- The Big Ten – fresh off its second straight ACC-Big Ten title – is 14-10 vs. BCS teams and 9-5 vs. the ACC overall. In our preseason Power 24, we suggested that Ohio State would challenge Michigan State for league supremacy. No team has two bigger true road wins (Florida, Florida State) than the Buckeyes. That said, MSU was 4-2 at this juncture last season and the Spartans ended up in the Final Four. Don’t quit on Tom Izzo’s bunch just because they lost to UConn and at Duke. Read more…
Significant conference battles headline a strong weekend of college hoops. Vanderbilt visits Kentucky (with Vandy leading the SEC) and Kansas visits Kansas State. Don’t forget about the Ivy League tussle between Cornell and Harvard. Outside conference lines, Duke travels to Georgetown. You can see the full slate of meaningful games on our Schedule page.
Our next bracket projection arrives Monday, February 1. Too early to look closer at potential No. 1 seeds? Uh, no. For now, we’ll stick to eight (8) teams. Odds are at least six will remain in the conversation a month from now during the final push toward Selection Sunday. The goal is to make some simple comparisons about the relative strength(s) of each team’s profile. Data is for games through Wednesday, January 28. As always, we give credit to CollegeRPI.com for the data. Top 50 and Top 100 refer to RPI rankings at the time of release.
- Syracuse | 4-1 vs. Top 50 | 12-1 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 4 | Road: 4-0
- Villanova | 5-1 vs. Top 50 | 9-1 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 41 | Road: 6-1
- Kansas | 6-1 vs. Top 50 | 8-1 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 15 | Road: 4-1
- Kentucky | 2-0 vs. Top 50 | 5-1 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 82 | Road: 3-1
- Texas | 4-2 vs. Top 50 | 7-2 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 51 | Road: 3-2
- Michigan State | 2-1 vs. Top 50 | 7-3 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 48 | Road: 5-2
- Duke | 7-2 vs. Top 50 | 10-3 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 7 | Road: 1-3
- Kansas State | 6-3 vs. Top 50 | 9-3 vs. Top 100 | SOS: 5 | Road: 3-1
As the Selection Committee evaluates teams, numbers are just part of the equation. Conference titles carry weight. Individual perceptions of each team vary (by Committee member). For some, schedule strength is an important factor. For others, a dominating overall record. Others look at the number of “quality” wins vs. the RPI and other rankings. Some value consistency throughout the season. Based on figures above, Kentucky has the fewest quality wins and lowest strength of schedule. Syracuse and Duke have the most quality wins; but the Blue Devils are weaker away from home. With a lot of basketball remaining, this picture will become clearer.
Other teams that could sneak into the conversation? West Virginia is probably the best bet given the strength of the Big East schedule. Georgetown perhaps. It would take a lot more work for teams like Purdue. If you’re wondering about a team like BYU, the Cougars just didn’t play a strong enough non-conference schedule (ranked No. 200). As good as the Mountain West is BYU will probably top out as a No. 4 seed (perhaps a No. 3 if they win out). Enjoy the games … rebounds are always welcome.
Mid-January often provides an early shake-up in conference standings and expectations. It also gives rise to a variety of quirky resumes and an expanding bubble. Conference play is just different. Who can win on the road? Who can protect home court? Who will make a push toward earning a bid? Who will play their way out? The answers will be somewhat clearer in another two weeks. For now, however, we’re left with a lot of uncertaintly. Teams at the bottom of our latest bracket projection (Jan. 18) – along with those next in line – all have noticeable question marks on their resumes.
January 18 Bracket Projection.
Several mid-line teams are also on shaky ground … think about this group: North Carolina, Connecticut, UNLV, Cincinnati, Rhode Island, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Dayton, Xavier, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest … some have more work ahead than expected.
More thoughts as the week progresses. The No. 1 seeds remain the same, but with a slightly different order – Texas (South), Kansas (Midwest), Syracuse (West), Kentucky (East). Because Syracuse can’t be placed in the East (host) the only way for the Orange to move out of the West Region is to overtake Kansas or Texas. It could happen, but at this point, we’ll leave it alone. If Villanova were to reach the Top Line, the Wildcats could be in the East Region if ranked above the fourth No. 1 seed.
Moving in: Richmond, Illinois. Moving out: Texas Tech, Minnesota. What kind of weekend was it? Friday night we said that Illinois had to win or make a good showing in East Lansing to get a spot. Neither happened, really. But nothing happens in a vacuum. A variety of factors – including Minnesota’s loss at Indiana – changed some outlooks. The Gophers have to find a way to win on the road. For Texas Tech, an 0-3 start in Big 12 play puts a serious question mark on the Red Raiders’ ability to make the field.
As a final note … Several one-line seeding adjustments were necessary (see notes on the bracket). Also remember, teams are evaluated on their whole body of work, not a one or two-game scenario (Purdue, for example). Upcoming schedules played a role in determining our last in and first out. It’s also important to compare quality wins and whether a team is trending up or down. I’m sure there are lots of opinions – rebounds are always welcome.
Whether its early January or early March, remember one thing when it comes to bracket projections: Nothing happens in a vacuum. Sometimes team lose ground when they win and sometimes they gain ground when they lose. Odd, but true. Take for example, Purdue. The Boilermakers actually jumped two spots on the S-Curve (No. 5) despite a loss at Wisconsin. Why? For one, almost no one wins at the Kohl Center – so close is good. Second, Tennessee put on quite a show for the home folks in Knoxville, handing Kansas its first loss. Back in November, Purdue edged Tennessee at the Paradise Jam. Outcomes and outlooks change for all three teams – perhaps others.
The NCAA men’s basketball season didn’t end on Sunday. That’s why we try to base projections on both where teams stand today and where we anticipate they might be next week and next month (either bracket projection method is fun; just a bit different). Washington is a good example. The Huskies are a good team, but would lack an NCAA profile if today were Selection Sunday. As down as the Pac-10 is, it’s hard to imagine a BCS league earning just one bid. Until we know whether such a train-wreck would actually occur, Washington still projects as the best bet to make a run (behind California). As we progress through conference play, however, a losing league record is much less acceptable.
Mountain West and the BYU factor … Take your pick of New Mexico, UNLV, and BYU. All three should contend – with San Diego State on the fringe. Who emerges as champ is anyone’s guess at this point. Thus, the three are bunched very close in today’s bracket. The BYU factor? Because the Cougars can only be assigned to Thursday-Saturday sites and regions, they bump down a line (from a true 7 seed to an 8). This happens during bracketing for a variety of reasons. Only six spots separate the three on the S-Curve. Several other teams also moved one seed line this week – see the Notes on the Bracket. Read more…