Between Thursday and Friday, three eleven seeds won. We also had the usual 12 over 5-seed. And yet, the first two days of the 2017 NCAA tournament feel rather chalky. Maybe that’s because the twelve seed, Middle Tennessee State, was actually favored to win its matchup with Minnesota. Also, were we surprised to see Xavier beat Maryland? Or Rhode Island trip up a less-than-healthy Creighton? If there was a surprise, it’s USC. The Trojans rallied from double-digit deficits twice, beating Providence in the First Four, and then SMU on Friday.
While the results might leave us a little hungry, the Round of 32 looks might tasty. My Quick Takes on the weekend’s top five matchups …
Gonzaga vs. Northwestern – We could rename this game: Ultimate Underdog vs. New Kids on the Block. While Gonzaga is respected for its consistent excellence, the Bulldogs have never reached a Final Four and remain many people’s pick as first No. 1 seed to lose. Thus, the pressure is squarely on the Zags, who struggled to score against South Dakota State (shooting 39 percent overall and 27 percent from 3). The good news: Gonzaga no longer relies on its offense to carry the day. Flipping the page, Northwestern might be the feel good story of the year. They survived a late rally by Vanderbilt to win their first-ever NCAA tournament game in their first-ever appearance. And who doesn’t enjoy those sidelines shots of Doug Collins and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, right? Read more…
Selection Sunday is here. Tonight, the Selection Committee will reveal its 2017 NCAA tournament bracket. While there will be a healthy debate about whether Duke’s late-season run should vault them onto the No. 1 seed line, what we do know – or at least believe – is that reigning champ Villanova will be the No. 1 overall seed.
For now, North Carolina remains the top seed in the South Region. It may change this afternoon. Either way, your top line figures to end up with Villanova (East), Kansas (Midwest), North Carolina/Duke (South), Gonzaga (West).
With league favorites winning most of their conference tournaments, potential bid thieves have largely been eliminated. The biggest bubble debate figures to be centered around Syracuse. Will the Orange’s high quality wins outweigh its losses, record-high RPI, and poor record away from the Carrier Dome? That’s something we won’t know for sure until tonight.
The bank was open Wednesday night in Syracuse. John Gillon’s three-pointer at the buzzer lifted Syracuse over Duke at the Carrier Dome and back (again) into the bracket. It’s been a wild month for the Orange who now need to close the deal. It was also a big night for Providence, who used a Kyron Cartwright trey to knock off Creighton in Omaha. And then Dillon Brooks nailed a long-distance dagger to beat California and leave the Bears teetering for bracket survival as February comes to a close. Are we ready for March yet?
No changes on the No. 1 seed line. By a whisker, Villanova holds onto the overall No. 1 seed after its second loss to Butler, a team whose profile is far better than its AP ranking. Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga round out the group. UNC moves up to No. 3 after dispatching Louisville.
If last night was any indication, it’s going to be a fun late-season ride to Selection Sunday.
If today were Selection Sunday, and North Carolina was the ACC champion, the Selection Committee would likely be inclined to reward the Tar Heels with a No. 1 seed over a very good Baylor team whose profile is equally impressive but lacks a conference title. In the world of splitting hairs, we just did. On that note, two interesting twists await. First, UNC hosts Louisville on Wednesday, and the Cardinals are No. 6 on the Seed List. If Louisville wins in Chapel Hill, the Cards could make a strong case for the top line on Thursday. Second, the Tar Heels close with an incredibly tough slate, going to Pittsburgh and Virginia before finishing at home with Duke. Baylor can easily play its way back up.
In the race for No. 1 seeds, Villanova and Kansas are sitting in strong positions as the regular season comes to a close. Should Gonzaga finish unbeaten, it would hard to drop the Zags from their No. 1 perch in the West. Which leaves, at least for now, one top seed up for grabs, and it could go any number of ways.
Another meh and blah weekend along the cutline. Should we lose solid mid-major programs like Middle Tennessee State, UNC Wilmington, and say, Monmouth or Illinois State during their conference championships, the Committee will have to heavily weigh a bunch of mediocre power teams versus some solid programs who have fewer chances for marquee wins.
With the Super Bowl behind us, Selection Sunday awaits, along with the Madness of March. Between now and then, college basketball is sure to provide us enough plot twists to hold our attention. Exhibit A is this past Saturday … when eight of the top 16 teams on the Seed List added a loss to their resume. Meanwhile, teams along the cutline meander like a river without direction, and the bubble club numbers 30-plus members. In other words, fasten your seat belt and enjoy what should be a wild four-week ride.
If you’re returning for the first time post-football, reigning NCAA champion Villanova remains entrenched as the overall No. 1 seed. Regarding the rest of today’s No. 1 seeds, Selection Committee member value a team’s full profile over a single result (or two). Although in a different order from last Thursday, Gonzaga, Kansas, and Baylor continue to lead the West, Midwest, and South regions. That said, the margins for the Jayhawks and Bears are waning.
It would take hours of conversation and pages of words to wrangle through the bubble and the process in making the final decisions for at-large spots this morning. From eight seeds on down, every resume has holes to fill and issues to solve ahead of Championship Week.
As the race for top seeds continues, Kansas showed its mettle in recent days – backing up road win at Kentucky with a home victory against Big 12 rival Baylor. That’s a strong two-game parlay, and keeps KU firmly entrenched as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. By a slim margin, Villanova holds the overall No. 1 seed position. Baylor and unbeaten Gonzaga also reside on the top line.
Bubble Update: This year’s collection of bubble teams remains quite fluid. It’s also about 30-teams deep as we begin the February push. How long will teams be able to circumvent poor road records and sub-.500 league records? It’s a valid and good question. The answer is unknown. Teams do not play in a vacuum. We’ll see how the landscape looks next week and next month.
The Bubble picture is particularly intriguing and volatile in the Big 12 and ACC. A collection of teams continues to bounce around the cutline. Previous Big Ten bubble teams Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State, and even Nebraska have fallen off the pace. Tennessee might be one of the year’s biggest surprises. I don’t know if the Volunteers can stay the course in February, but they’ve done enough to be firmly in the conversation – at least with the current batch of contenders.
Florida State keeps piling up quality wins. After beating Duke in Tallahassee on Tuesday, the Seminoles are 4-0 in the ACC and have seven wins against the Top 50 of the RPI – the most of any team in the nation. The only remaining question is this: Can FSU take it on the road? We ask because, to date, the Seminoles only true road game has been their win at UVA. Next up, a trip to Chapel Hill. There’s also a three-game road swing at the end of January. Navigate those and FSU will be in the No. 1 seed discussion as the calendar flips to February.
No real surprise that Baylor lost at West Virginia. The margin might be a little surprising, but the Mountaineers are a tough matchup, particularly in Morgantown. We’ll see how the Bears respond. Read more…