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…
Wichita State took care of business Sunday in St. Louis, locking up the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid, and with it, a ticket to the Big Dance. Winners of 15 straight, the Shockers enter the 2017 tournament on quite a roll. Advanced metric models like their profile more than the RPI. We’ll know more about how the Selection Committee views them when seeding is revealed on Sunday. Regardless of where they fall, the Shockers will be a dangerous opponent.
Meanwhile, Illinois State begins a long, arduous wait. The Redbirds’ body of work is complete. All they can do is watch what unfolds in places like the Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic 10, SEC, and even the Pac-12. They’ll be rooting for league favorites to advance.
It’s a big day in the Valley. The Missouri Valley, that is. Illinois State and Wichita State square off for the MVC championship under the Arch in St. Louis. The winner punches its dance ticket. The loser figures to have an anxiously long wait until Selection Sunday. As of this morning, Wichita State retains its at-large spot in the bracket. Illinois State is in as the auto bid due to its No. 1 seed in the league tourney.
The questions are easy. The answers not so much. Both Wichita State and Illinois State have put together outstanding seasons. Unfortunately, the rest of the MVC was along for the ride; no other team cracked the Top 100 of the RPI. Which leaves this year’s Selection Committee with an intriguing debate. How to weigh consistency on the court over a full season versus the opportunities to collect notable wins in a more accomplished conference? We’ll have to see how it plays out.
What a Saturday in college hoops – and it’s February!
Four of the top eight teams on Saturday morning’s Seed List lost, two at home and two in blowout fashion on the road. Another two lost in slots 9-12, and another two in slots 13-16. Simple math equates to eight of the top 16 teams on the Seed List losing Saturday. The flip side, of course, is that eight other teams (the winners) posted signature or marquee victories on their resumes. My initial takeaways are that Florida and three Big 12 “States” benefitted most from a wild Saturday.
Florida’s win over Kentucky added an important piece to the Gators’ otherwise solid profile: a victory over a sure-fire NCAA team. Prior to Saturday, Florida had nice wins against Arkansas, Seton Hall, and Miami-FL, among others. But are you confident all of those teams will reach the final Field of 68? See bullet-point below about the Razorbacks loss at Missouri. On a related note … with South Carolina’s win over Georgia, the SEC title chase is up for grabs. Read more…
This year’s NCAA tournament bubble became that much more intriguing Monday night. If you love drama, it’s shaping up to be an intense week. In that past two days, we’ve seen Wichita State, Monmouth, and Valparaiso join the at-large pool as conference champions with legitimate at-large hopes. That’s three additional resumes for the Selection Committee to review, dissect, and compare at their bunker in downtown Indianapolis. How it all shakes out by Sunday afternoon is unknown. What we do know is that it’s going to be a long wait for Monmouth, one of this year’s most talked-about teams.
We touched on Wichita State yesterday; the Shockers are hoping a dominant run through the Missouri Valley, combined with a strong non-conference SOS and a win over Utah will hold up. Valparaiso has a win at Oregon State, but probably needs a little more help.
Given the results of the past two days, there should be an even greater sense of urgency for those along the cutline. If Wichita State and Monmouth both end up earning bids, there are two less slots available.
Syracuse and Xavier are among the biggest Seed List movers as December arrives. Ahead of an exciting Big Ten-ACC Challenge, the Orange sit at No. 10 (a three-seed) and Xavier at No. 13 (top four seed).
It’s certainly been a wild couple of weeks in college hoops. We’ve already written about the Monmouth Hawks, one of several mid-majors to put notable non-conference wins on their resumes. The challenge will be maintaining momentum in the weeks and months ahead. Fast starts do not always equate to strong finishes.
It’s early, so the Seed List will continue to ebb and flow. We’ve seen unexpected slow starts from teams like Indiana, California, and LSU. Not to mention Wichita State, which has been devastated by injuries and a heap of early losses.
With such a small sample size, it’s too soon to draw lasting conclusions. But November has certainly left several power-conference teams with work to do in December. We’ll see how it plays out. As a quick reminder, SMU is not listed on the Seed List because the Mustangs are not eligible for post-season play. Enjoy another week of hoops!
Missouri Valley regular-season champion Wichita State and runner-up Northern Iowa cleared the rest of the MVC by five full games in the standings. Both the Shockers and Panthers will be Dancing when the NCAA tournament pairings are announced on March 15. For that reason, bubble teams will be paying attention to Arch Madness, which begins Thursday in St. Louis.
If either of the favorites loses, it’ll open the door for a potential bid thief – a Valley team that could claim the league’s automatic bid and thus remove one of the “bubble” spots available to someone else. Which teams might create such havoc? The most likely candidates are Illinois State, Evansville, or Indiana State.
Illinois State owns a victory over Old Dominion and swept Evansville in the regular season; the teams meet again Thursday in the 4/5 quarterfinal matchup. ISU lost its pair of meetings with both WSU and UNI, but every game was close with the exception of its away game at Northern Iowa. Read more…