Bracketology – First Edition

There is no doubt that this is exactly how the field will look come Selection Sunday.  Book it.

I mean, what could be easier than projecting the March Madness bracket in the middle of December?  Solving a quantum physics equation or figuring out how to travel time come to mind.  The most fun part of this will be seeing just how much the projection changes from now until Selection Sunday.

For now, I’ve seeded the top 12 lines only.  At this point in the season, trying to figure out who will make it from the one-bid leagues is the definition of an exercise in futility, and I’m not even going to bother with it.  Starting around mid-January, once each team has gotten a few conference games in, I’ll begin seeding the entire field.

Before I get to it, a brief explanation of the criteria I use:

  • Strength of schedule
  • KenPom ratings
  • RPI… it’s stupid, but at least it’s used by the Selection Committee in a slightly less stupid way than this year than in the past. Anyway, since this is a projection, and my goal is to be right, I have to take RPI into account.
  • Good wins: in my view, these are wins over teams that are also projected to be in the tournament or who at least have a reasonable shot of getting there right now.
  • Bad losses: I define these as losses to teams that have as much chance of getting to the tournament as one of my middle school Rec & Ed teams. In other words, zero.
  • Road records: go out and play someone!

With that in mind, here we go.  A couple things that jump out at me – the SEC looks stronger than it has in years, and Wichita State might finally get the respect they deserve this year.  Anyway, I ranked the teams 1-50 and here is what I came up with.

1s – Villanova, Duke, Michigan State, Arizona State

2s – Kansas, North Carolina, Wichita State, Gonzaga

3s – Texas A & M, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky

4s – Xavier, TCU, Virginia, Purdue

5s – Florida, Missouri, Syracuse, Butler

6s – Florida State, Arizona, Utah, Seton Hall

7s – Miami, Arkansas, Alabama, Ohio State

8s – Notre Dame, Michigan, St. John’s, Rhode Island

9s – Cincinnati, North Carolina State, UCF, Clemson

10s –Baylor, Minnesota, Nevada, Northern Iowa

11s –SMU, Washington, Maryland, Middle Tennessee

12s – Oklahoma, USC, Texas Tech, LSU, Texas-Arlington, Towson

LAST FOUR IN – Oklahoma, USC, Texas Tech, LSU

FIRST FOUR OUT – Texas, Louisville, Connecticut, UCLA

Beyond the First Four Out, there are 22 other teams in consideration for me right now.  The real issue this time of year is that, with a few exceptions, every team is equivalent to every other team within three seed lines of it.  The sample size of games is very small and teams haven’t had a chance to establish themselves in their own conferences.  In other words, don’t be surprised to see huge moves up and down over the next few projections.

So, that will do it for the first of many projections I will do before the end of the conference tournaments.  If you want to rip me because I have your team too low or want to discuss anything else related to bracketology, feel free to do so in the comments.  And as always, remember to check out the Bracket Matrix, a must for those of us who are obsessed with this stuff.

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College Football Playoff Final Prediction

Last week, I predicted that Alabama would meet Miami in the national championship game.  A week later, I still have these two teams on track to meet… in the Orange Bowl.  Yep, it was that kind of weekend in the world of college football.  The top two teams both found themselves on the losing side of the ledger.  Miami, at least, can help themselves by beating Clemson in the ACC title game (but I don’t think they will).  Alabama will look on helplessly as Auburn battles Georgia for the SEC title, needing help to get back into the top four.

With that, let’s take a look at…

Conference Championship Games

This week’s top four – Clemson, Auburn, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin – can all guarantee their spots in the College Football Playoff with wins in their conference championship games.  But will they?  These are my predictions:

SEC: Auburn over Georgia.  Auburn looked better than expected against Alabama last week.  They will become the first 2-loss team to ever make the College Football Playoff.

ACC: Clemson over Miami.  This is a reversal of what I predicted last week.  I know people are going to overreact to Miami’s loss to Pittsburgh, but it caps off a season-long trend in which Miami has struggled against lesser opponents.  Clemson is anything but a lesser opponent, and I think they will overwhelm the Hurricanes on Saturday night in search of a back-to-back championship.

Big 12: Oklahoma over TCU.  This is what I predicted last week, and while TCU is a solid squad, I haven’t seen anything to change my mind.

Big 10: Ohio State over Wisconsin.  Once again, I’m sticking with the prediction I made last week.  Wisconsin is in the unusual situation of being an undefeated Power Five team but failing to crack the CFP field until the final week of the season.  There’s a good reason for that: their strength of schedule, which is only 45th according to Team Rankings.  The Badgers’ only win against a Top 25 team came against Northwestern, and they pulled off the remarkable feat of avoiding the Top 3 teams in the Big Ten East – Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State – throughout the regular season.  This matchup against the Buckeyes will be a major step up in class, and it is one that Wisconsin will lose.

Pac 12: Stanford over Southern Cal.  This one is a change in my prediction from last week.  The more I think about it, USC has been a bit overrated throughout the year, struggling to put away some pretty weak teams.  As for the College Football Playoff, you need a really wild imagination to figure out how either team gets in at this point.  So, this is for a spot in a non-playoff New Year’s Six bowl.

American Athletic: Central Florida over Memphis.  By winning this game, Central Florida will get the New Year’s Six spot that is awarded to the highest-ranking Group of Five team.

And finally…

The New Year’s Six!

 Rose Bowl: (1) Clemson over (4) Ohio State.  Yes, the Buckeyes jump all the way from 8th in this week’s rankings to 4th after they roll over Wisconsin.  The losses by Georgia and Miami, as well as the fact that Alabama is idle, will be enough.  This will be a rematch of last year’s semifinal, and while Clemson won’t embarrass the Buckeyes by shutting them out again, they will win.

Sugar Bowl: (3) Oklahoma over (2) Auburn.  Oklahoma made the CFP in 2015 but Clemson denied them a title game appearance.  This year, they get the win over Auburn and advance to play Clemson once again.

Orange Bowl: (8) Miami vs. (5) Alabama.  The Orange Bowl will take the top remaining ACC team, which will be Miami, against the highest-ranked remaining team from among the SEC, Big Ten, and Notre Dame.  That team will be Alabama.

Peach Bowl: (6) Georgia vs. (13) Central Florida.  This matchup makes sense geographically and includes a Georgia team that is sure to remain in the Top 12 against a Central Florida team who will be the highest-ranked among the Group of Five.

 Fiesta Bowl: (6) Wisconsin vs. (11) USC.  This will give us the traditional Big Ten-Pac Twelve (Ten) matchup, just not in the Rose Bowl.  The Fiesta Bowl is close geographically to the Rose Bowl, and this game should draw plenty of fans of both schools.  Also, keep in mind that Wisconsin will very likely NOT end up in the Cotton Bowl, since they played there last year.

 Cotton Bowl: (10) Penn State vs. (9) Stanford.  Another Big Ten-Pac Twelve matchup.  It will look this way because the Committee tries to avoid rematches of last year’s bowl games, one of which was Penn State vs. USC in the Rose.

And the winner is…

 I have absolutely no idea.  This is a tough one, because the team I picked to win it all last week – Alabama – now has just an outside shot at making it to the CFP.  So, I’ll go with Clemson getting the repeat.

Coming soon – my first March Madness projection of the season.  Until then, enjoy this weekend’s college football action!

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College Football Playoff: A Surprise Team Will Make It

Ah, it’s that time of year again where great food fills my stomach, family fills my heart, and football fills my mind (and nearly all of my TV-watching time).  We’re headed towards another edition of the College Football Playoff and the New Year’s Six bowls, and I can’t wait.  As always, at least one fanbase will be furious when their supposedly deserving team is left out.  Who will be on the outside looking in this year?  To figure that out, let’s first examine…

Rivalry Week

If world history has taught us anything, it’s that predicting the results of college football’s Rivalry Week games is an exercise in futility.  So I’m not going to spend much time on it.  What I will say is that I’m going to predict chalk except for Washington beating Washington State and Stanford beating Notre Dame, which will become an important result later.  Oh yeah, I’m also taking an up-and-coming Virginia squad over Virginia Tech, but this isn’t critical in the grand scheme of things.  (And of course, I’m going to be wrong about some of the games, but this is a projection, so I have to pick something.)  Next up…

Conference Championship Games

Next up is the conference championship games.  Here’s a look at the projected matchup and winner for each.

SEC: Alabama over Georgia.  The Crimson Tide gets here by beating Auburn in the Iron Bowl this Saturday.  Georgia is in regardless.  They need to beat Bama to go to the CFP, and they won’t.

ACC: Miami over Clemson.  This matchup is already set regardless of what happens this Thanksgiving weekend.  The turnover chain will reign supreme as the Hurricanes eliminate last year’s national champions from the CFP field.

Big 12: Oklahoma over TCU.  Oklahoma is already locked into this game.  The only way TCU misses it is if they lose to an atrocious 1-10 Baylor and a bunch of other craziness ensues.  I can’t imagine TCU losing to a high school team, so I’m putting them in this game.  But, they won’t get past the Sooners.

Big 10: Ohio State over Wisconsin.  This matchup is set, regardless of what each team does this weekend.  Important note: I’m picking Ohio State to beat Michigan.  Not exactly a bold prediction, but you’ll see why this is critical in a little bit.  Fun fact: from 1985-2000, Ohio State beat Michigan 3 times.  From 2001-2016, Michigan beat Ohio State 2 times.  Not exactly a back and forth rivalry in my lifetime.  Side note: Michigan fans ready to give up on Jim Harbaugh, please read this to remind yourself of what bad coaching actually looks like.  Alright, back to the subject at hand: the Badgers find out what it’s like to play a good team, which they haven’t done since 2016, and they lose to the Buckeyes.

Pac 12: Southern Cal over Stanford.  USC is in this game already, and Stanford gets here when Washington defeats Washington State in the Apple Cup on Saturday.  As for the Playoff, Stanford has no shot and USC is on the absolute fringes of the race, and you need a really wild imagination to figure out how they possibly get in at this point.  So, this is for a spot in a non-playoff New Year’s Six bowl.

American Athletic: Central Florida over Memphis.  By winning this game, Central Florida will get the New Year’s Six spot that is awarded to the highest-ranking Group of Five team.

And finally…

The New Year’s Six!

 Sugar Bowl: (1) Alabama over (4) Ohio State.  Yes, the Buckeyes jump all the way from 9th in this week’s rankings to 4th after they roll over Michigan and Wisconsin.  The losses by teams currently above them – Clemson, Auburn, Georgia, and Notre Dame – will be enough.  In this rematch of the 2014 Sugar Bowl, Alabama prevails and advances to the national championship game.

Rose Bowl: (2) Miami over (3) Oklahoma.  We get to see the turnover chain 4 times as the Canes advance to the title game for the first time since 2002.

Orange Bowl: (5) Clemson vs. (6) Georgia.  The Orange Bowl will take the top remaining ACC team, which will be Clemson, against the highest-ranked remaining team from among the SEC, Big Ten, and Notre Dame.  That team will be Georgia, who I believe will lose a close game to Alabama next week while Wisconsin will get owned by Ohio State.

Peach Bowl: (9) Auburn vs. (12) Central Florida.  This matchup makes sense geographically and includes an Auburn team that is sure to remain in the Top 12 against a Central Florida team who will be the highest-ranked among the Group of Five.

 Fiesta Bowl: (7) Wisconsin vs. (8) USC.  This will give us the traditional Big Ten-Pac Twelve (Ten) matchup, just not in the Rose Bowl.  The Fiesta Bowl is close geographically to the Rose Bowl, and this game should draw plenty of fans of both schools.  Also, keep in mind that Wisconsin will very likely NOT end up in the Cotton Bowl, since they played there last year.

Cotton Bowl: (10) Penn State vs. (11) Notre Dame.  A fun matchup of two traditional powers.

And the winner is…

 The Crimson Tide, for the fifth time in the past nine years.  They will defeat the Hurricanes to capture yet another national title.

Join me again next week, when the rankings are sure to be entirely different than what I’m predicting right now!  I will have another projection heading into the conference championship weekend.  In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving!

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Bracketology: Final Edition!

As we approach the Selection Show and the three most exciting weeks in sports, I want to thank everyone who has read my blog this season.  Once again, it has been a blast watching so much college basketball and putting out these projections.  Two years ago, when I first did this, I started in late February; last year, I started at the end of January; this season, I started on December 12.  At that rate, a preseason projection might be in the works this year!

The final 1 seed figures to be hotly debated.  I have kept Villanova, Kansas and Gonzaga on the 1 line.  But in a twist that seemed hard to imagine a few days ago, I have replaced North Carolina with Duke as the final 1 seed.  Let’s look at the comparison:

  • First, Duke won the ACC tournament, beating Louisville, North Carolina, and Notre Dame in the span of three days. No team in the country can claim such an impressive run.
  • Looking at the entire body of work – which is the most important – we see that Duke went 8-4 vs teams in the Top 25 of the RPI. No other team in the nation can claim eight wins against that tier.  North Carolina went 5-3 against RPI Top 25 teams.
  • Continuing the RPI discussion, Duke has eight wins on the road against RPI Top 50 teams! (Thanks to this article on CBS Sports for that stat.)
  • We’ve seen in the past that the Selection Committee bumps teams up a bit when they lost games with key injuries, or if the coach missed games for some reason (see Syracuse and Jim Boeheim last year). Duke did lose 8 games overall, and no team with that many losses has ever gotten a 1 seed.  But, North Carolina lost 7, and Duke can claim that only 2 of theirs were at full strength.  Also, Duke went 4-3 when Mike Krzyzewski was out at the start of the year.
  • Finally, let’s face it; a very strong case can be made for either team. But this tips it in Duke’s favor: the teams each won on the other’s home floor, and then Duke beat UNC in the ACC semifinals.

So, advantage, Duke.  Of course, I won’t be surprised if UNC keeps the 1 seed.  I would be very surprised if Arizona got a 1 because even with wins over UCLA and Oregon the past two nights, their resume isn’t as strong as that of Villanova, Kansas, Gonzaga, Duke, or UNC.  Also, by getting a 2, Arizona can remain in the West regional, on a collision course with Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.

Elsewhere, in some bubble news, Rhode Island took matters into their own hands by beating VCU in the Atlantic 10 championship game this afternoon.  The majority of bracketologists on the Bracket Matrix had Rhode Island in as an at-large anyway, but this of course seals the deal.  For those who felt Rhode Island wouldn’t get an at-large, this shrinks the bubble by one bid.

So, with that analysis in mind, let’s jump into the projection.  There are two contingencies.  One is regarding the Big Ten championship game.  If Michigan beats Wisconsin (as I am projecting currently), they stay on the 6 line.  If they lose, they fall to the 7 line and Creighton jumps to the 6 line.  Wisconsin remains on the 6 line regardless of outcome.

The other is regarding the AAC championship game.  I am projecting that Cincinnati beats SMU.  If this happens, they remain seeded as they are below, with Cinci at a 5 and SMU at a 6.  If not, they switch, such that SMU is a 5 and Cinci is a 6.

And here we go.  Moves up or down are in parentheses after the team’s name, and automatic qualifiers are in bold. 

 In since yesterday: UC-Davis, New Mexico State, Kent State

 Out since yesterday: UC-Irvine, Cal-Bakersfield, Akron

 1s: Villanova, Kansas, Gonzaga, Duke (+1)

2s: North Carolina (-1), Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor (+1)

3s: Oregon (-1), Louisville, UCLA, Florida State

4s: Florida, West Virginia, Butler, Notre Dame

5s: Purdue, Virginia, Iowa State (+1), Cincinnati

6s: Minnesota (-1), SMU, Wisconsin, Michigan (+1)

7s: Creighton (-1), Saint Mary’s, Maryland, Wichita State

8s: Miami, Oklahoma State, Arkansas (+1), Virginia Tech (+1)

9s: Dayton (-1), South Carolina (-1), Northwestern, Seton Hall (+1)

10s: VCU (-1), Xavier, Michigan State, Marquette (+1)

11s: Rhode Island, Vanderbilt, Providence (-1), Wake Forest, Middle Tennessee

12s: Kansas State, Southern California, Nevada, UNC-Wilmington, Vermont

13s: Princeton, East Tennessee State, New Mexico State (new), Bucknell

14s: Winthrop (-1), Florida Gulf Coast, Iona, Northern Kentucky (+1)

15s: Texas Southern, North Dakota, Kent State (new), Troy (+1)

16s: South Dakota State, Jacksonville State, Mount Saint Mary’s, New Orleans, UC-Davis (new), North Carolina Central

 Last Four In: Providence, Wake Forest, Kansas State, Southern California

 First Five Out: Illinois State, Syracuse, California, Texas Arlington, Iowa

 NIT Projection

 New auto qualifiers: UC-Irvine, Cal-Bakersfield, Akron

 Out since yesterday: Fresno State, Tennessee (these were my last two at-large teams in the NIT, so they fall out because of UC-Irvine and Akron getting auto bids.  Cal-Bakersfield replaced New Mexico State.)

1s: Illinois State, Syracuse, California, Texas-Arlington

2s: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Houston

3s: Alabama, Ole Miss, TCU, Georgia

4s: Utah, Clemson, Monmouth, Charleston

5s: Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Boise State, BYU

6s: Central Florida, Richmond, Texas Tech, Colorado State

7s: Valparaiso, Akron, Cal-Bakersfield, Belmont

8s: UC-Irvine, Oakland, UNC-Greensboro, South Dakota

 Thanks for reading.  Look for some recaps and reactions from me to the tournaments as they unfold over the next couple of weeks.  Check out the Bracket Matrix to see everyone’s final projections!

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Bracketology: Will Texas-Arlington Make It?

Just like on the eve of the Selection Show last year, I decided one projection wasn’t enough for the day, so I doubled up.  I’m fully locked in right now, as are so many of the teams around the country on their way to wrapping up bids.  Let’s start with one who didn’t wrap up a bid and who may, in fact, have relegated itself to the NIT.

Texas-Arlington will be a really interesting case tomorrow.  They’re a quality mid-major who didn’t win their conference tournament, falling today by 21 points to Texas State in the Sun Belt semifinals.  So what will their fate be?  They had a very nice non-conference win at Saint Mary’s, but that was their only win vs. a team in the Top 100 of the RPI.  Much like their mid-major counterpart Illinois State, I believe Texas-Arlington is destined for a 1 seed in the NIT right now.

Speaking of Illinois State, that makes me think of their conference, the Missouri Valley, and Wichita State.  The Shockers might be the hardest team to seed in the entire field.  A look at today’s update of the Bracket Matrix speaks to that, as they are anywhere from a 3 to an 11!  Most teams stopped having such a disparity in where bracketologists were seeding them in early January.

What makes it so difficult with the Shockers is they are clearly a good team, having compiled an overall record of 30-4 that consisted mostly of blowing teams out.  KenPom ranks them 9th But they only have three wins vs. Top 100 teams in the RPI – two against Illinois State and one against Colorado State.  I have the Shockers on the 7 line for now, but I don’t feel good about it at all and I am liable to go back and forth about it 50 times before my final projection tomorrow afternoon.

Elsewhere tonight, a ton is on the line.  If Creighton beats Villanova for the Big East title, they have a shot at a 5 seed.  But, they will need Iowa State to fall to West Virginia in the Big 12 title game, because Iowa State is first in line for that spot going into the evening.  In the ACC title game, Duke will solidify their grip on a 2 seed if they knock off Notre Dame. 

On the other sides of these coins, Villanova is a 1 seed regardless. I think West Virginia and Notre Dame have reached their ceiling.  Both have unsightly non-conference strength of schedules.  West Virginia has losses to bad Temple and Oklahoma teams, while Notre Dame’s only quality non-con win is against Northwestern.  This is to take nothing away from either, as they are both very good teams, but I don’t see them rising above the 4 line even with a win tonight.

Later on, we’ll have Arizona and Oregon squaring off for the Pac-12 title.  The winner gets a 2 seed.  Arizona drops back to the 3 line if they lose, while with Oregon, it would be a close call between them and Baylor or Louisville.  Regardless, this game could be the night’s most entertaining simply because Bill Walton and Dave Pasch will call it.

Looking at the bubble, teams in the Last Four In breathed a collective sigh of relief a few minutes ago when VCU topped Richmond in overtime.  Richmond winning that game and beating Rhode Island in tomorrow’s A-10 title game would be a nightmare scenario for those teams, as VCU would then get an at-large, taking away a previously available bid.  But, those bubble teams will be feeling the stress once again if Colorado State defeats Nevada in the upcoming Mountain West title game.  Nevada could potentially nab an at-large.  The same can be said for the Conference USA title game.  If Middle Tennessee falls to Marshall, they are very likely an at-large qualifier.

And beyond the games I’ve written about here, five more automatic bids are on the line tonight:

  • Kent State Akron in the MAC
  • Weber State North Dakota in the Big Sky
  • Texas A & M – Corpus Christi New Orleans in the Southland
  • New Mexico State Cal-Bakersfield in the WAC
  • Cal-Davis Cal-Irvine in the Big West

It’s going to be a fun night.  So to start it off, here’s the updated projection.  Moves up or down since earlier today are in parentheses after the team’s name.  Projected auto qualifiers are in bold, and teams who have clinched bids are bold and underlined.

 New auto bids: Vermont, North Carolina Central, Texas Southern (actually clinched it Friday night because of Alcorn State winning the other SWAC semifinal but being ineligible for the NCAA tournament)

In since earlier today: Troy

Out since earlier today: Texas-Arlington

1s: Villanova, Kansas, Gonzaga, North Carolina

2s: Kentucky, Oregon, Duke, Arizona

3s: Baylor, Louisville, UCLA, Florida State

4s: Florida, West Virginia, Butler, Notre Dame

5s: Purdue, Virginia, Cincinnati, Minnesota

6s: SMU, Wisconsin, Iowa State, Creighton

7s: Michigan, Saint Mary’s, Maryland, Wichita State (+1)

8s: Oklahoma State (-1), Miami (+1), Dayton, South Carolina

9s: Arkansas, VCU (+1), Virginia Tech, Northwestern (-1)

10s: Seton Hall (-1), Xavier, Michigan State, Providence (+1)

11s: Vanderbilt (-1), Marquette, Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Middle Tennessee

12s: Kansas State (-1), Southern California (-1), Nevada, UNC-Wilmington, Vermont (+1)

13s: Princeton, East Tennessee State, Bucknell, Winthrop (+1)

14s: Akron, Cal-Bakersfield, Florida Gulf Coast, Iona (+1)

15s: Northern Kentucky, Texas Southern, North Dakota, Cal-Irvine (+1)

16s: Troy (new), South Dakota State, Mount Saint Mary’s, Jacksonville State, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

 First Five Out: Illinois State, Syracuse, California, Texas-Arlington, Iowa

NIT Projection

 Texas-Arlington grabbed an auto-bid to the NIT, since they were the Sun Belt regular season champions.  This pushed New Mexico out of the field.  This also caused one team from each seed line earlier to fall, as UT-Arlington is projected on the top line.

1s: Illinois State, Syracuse, California, Texas-Arlington

2s: Iowa (-1), Illinois, Indiana, Houston

3s: Alabama (-1), Ole Miss, TCU, Georgia

4s: Utah (-1), Clemson, Monmouth, Charleston

5s: Georgia Tech (-1), Ohio State, Boise State, BYU

6s: Texas Tech (-1), Central Florida, Colorado State, Richmond

7s: Valparaiso (-1), Fresno State, Tennessee, New Mexico State

8s: Belmont (-1), Oakland, UNC-Greensboro, South Dakota

 Thanks for reading, and catch my final projection before the Selection Show tomorrow.  Check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

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Bracketology: Movement Up and Down the Bracket

Earlier this week, it seemed likely that Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga were all safe on the 1 line.  Now?  I’m not so sure.  Villanova is, without a doubt.  Kansas very likely is, with an RPI of 2 and just 4 losses on the year.  But, Kentucky and the winner of the Pac-12 – either Oregon or Arizona – could still make a case.  While I don’t expect it (see this analysis from Wednesday night), the Selection Committee surprises us every year, and there will no doubt be some surprises this Selection Sunday too.

As we look further down, the bubble is shrinking and we’re getting more clarity on who’s in and who’s out.  Due to their losses last night, I believe Indiana, TCU, Houston, and Ole Miss are all out of consideration.  Georgia has also fallen out of consideration after losing to Kentucky yesterday afternoon.

On the right side of the bubble, I believe today’s Last Four In – Kansas State, Wake Forest, Southern Cal, and Rhode Island are vulnerable to falling out of the field, but it is unlikely for K-State or Wake, and probably a 50-50 proposition for USC and Rhode Island.  As far as Rhode Island goes, they benefit from still being alive in their conference tournament, facing Davidson in the semis of the A-10 tourney today.  While a win won’t cement their bid, it certainly won’t hurt, either.  Of the five teams I currently have out but still in consideration – Illinois State, Syracuse, California, Iowa, and Alabama – only Alabama is still alive.

So, it promises to be yet another exciting day of conference tournament action!  As you will see, we have quite a bit of movement up and down the bracket since yesterday.  As always, moves are in parentheses after the team’s name.  Projected auto qualifiers are bold, and those who’ve clinched bids are bold and underlined. 

 Eliminated from consideration since yesterday: Georgia, Indiana, TCU, Houston, Ole Miss

1s: Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Gonzaga

2s: Kentucky, Oregon Arizona, Duke (+1)

3s: Baylor (-1), Louisville (-1), UCLA, Florida State

4s: Florida, West Virginia, Butler, Notre Dame (+1)

5s: Purdue (-1), Virginia, Cincinnati, Minnesota (+1)

6s: SMU (-1), Iowa State, Wisconsin, Creighton (+1)

7s: Saint Mary’s (-1), Maryland, Michigan (+1), Oklahoma State (+1)

8s: Wichita State, South Carolina (-1), Dayton (-1), Northwestern (+1)

9s: Miami (-1), Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, Arkansas

10s: VCU, Vanderbilt, Xavier, Michigan State

11s: Providence, Marquette, Kansas State, Wake Forest, Southern California, Rhode Island

12s: Middle Tennessee, Nevada, UNC-Wilmington, Texas-Arlington

13s: Vermont, Princeton, East Tennessee State, Bucknell

14s: Winthrop, Akron, Cal-Bakersfield, Florida Gulf Coast

15s: Iona, Northern Kentucky, Texas Southern, North Dakota

16s: Cal-Irvine, South Dakota State, Mount Saint Mary’s, Jacksonville State, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

 First Five Out: Illinois State, Syracuse, California, Iowa (+1), Alabama (+1)

 

NIT Projection

Eliminated from consideration: Memphis, George Mason

In since yesterday: Tennessee

Out since yesterday: Saint Bonaventure

1s: Illinois State, Syracuse, California, Iowa (+1)

2s: Alabama (+2), Illinois (+1), Indiana, Houston (-1)

3s: Ole Miss (-1), TCU (-1), Georgia, Utah

4s: Clemson, Monmouth, Charleston, Georgia Tech

5s: Texas Tech, Ohio State, Boise State, BYU

6s: Richmond, Valparaiso, Colorado State, Central Florida (+1)

7s: Fresno State (-1), Belmont, Tennessee (new), New Mexico State (+1)

8s: Oakland (-1), New Mexico, South Dakota, UNC-Greensboro

 Thanks for reading, and look for later today.  Check out the Bracket Matrix for more of what’s going on in the world of bracketology as we approach the Selection Show!

 

 

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Bracketology: A Shrinking Bubble?

If you’re waiting until next week to get into the action, why aren’t you already watching?  The Madness is fully upon us with upsets throughout the conference tournaments!  Let’s look at the notable ones from last night.

In last night’s action, two teams inched closer to securing a spot in the March Madness field.  First, Xavier scored an impressive win over Butler to put their recent woes behind them.  This adds to wins at Creighton and at home against Seton Hall, as well as at home against fellow bubble-dwellers Providence and  Wake Forest.  The Musketeers now sit at 21-12 overall with the nation’s 10th-ranked strength of schedule and it is hard to see them being left out on Selection Sunday

Later, Kansas State scored an equally impressive win over Baylor.  This was the second time they beat Baylor this season, having earned a road victory there in February.  The Wildcats have also beaten West Virginia and Oklahoma State.  With a decent but not great SOS of 52, an RPI of 55, and a couple of bad losses on their ledger, K-State could use a win over West Virginia tonight to feel fully confident on Sunday, but I’d already give them a very good chance of getting in.

Other important results on the bubble include:

  • Providence dropped their Big East quarterfinal matchup to It would take a lot for the Friars to fall out of the field at this point, but it’s not out of the question yet.
  • USC made a great comeback against UCLA but lost by 2 points. Side note: if you missed this game (which I can’t really blame you for if you live in the Eastern Time Zone, as it went until 1:30 AM), you missed some incredible entertainment with Bill Walton and Dave Pasch calling it.  Anyway, this leaves USC with just two quality wins going into Sunday (home against UCLA and SMU) along with other shaky metrics.  It’s unusual to see a major conference team with 9 losses miss out, but it could still happen.
  • In the Big Ten, Indiana blasted Iowa by the score of 95-73. This keeps Indiana alive, and all but ends Iowa’s chances.

With that in mind, let’s get to today’s projection.  As always, moves up or down since the last projection are in parentheses after the team’s name.  Projected auto qualifiers are in bold, and teams who have clinched bids are bold and underlined.

 In since yesterday: None

Out since yesterday: None

1s: Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Gonzaga

2s: Oregon, Kentucky, Baylor, Louisville

3s: Florida State, UCLA, Arizona, Duke

4s: Duke, Butler, Purdue, West Virginia (+1)

5s: Virginia (-1), Cincinnati, SMU, Notre Dame (+1)

6s: Minnesota (-1), Iowa State, Wisconsin, Saint Mary’s

7s: Creighton, Maryland, South Carolina, Dayton

8s: Wichita State, Oklahoma State, Michigan, Miami

9s: Northwestern, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech, Arkansas

10s: Michigan State, VCU, Xavier (+1), Vanderbilt (+1)

11s: Providence (-1), Marquette (-1), Kansas State (+1), Wake Forest, Southern California, Rhode Island (+1)

12s: Middle Tennessee, UNC-Wilmington, Nevada, Texas-Arlington

13s: Vermont, Princeton, East Tennessee State, Bucknell

14s: Winthrop, Akron, Florida Gulf Coast, Cal-Bakersfield

15s: Iona, Northern Kentucky, Texas Southern, North Dakota

16s: Cal-Irvine, Mount Saint Mary’s, South Dakota State, Jacksonville State, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

 Last Four In: Kansas State, Wake Forest, Southern California, Rhode Island

I’ll add that I think Middle Tennessee’s “true seed” right now is an 11.  But Kansas State absolutely had to move up after beating Baylor, and I wasn’t dropping Providence or Marquette all the way down to a 12.  So, we have Middle Tennessee on the 12 line for now.  We’ll see how this plays out over the weekend.

NIT Projection

 There was a lot of shifting around near the top of the NIT field because of all of the bubble action yesterday.  Further down, we have New Mexico State entering the field, with Texas A & M falling out of it.

1s (First Four Out): Illinois State, California, Syracuse, Houston (+1)

2s (Next Four Out): Indiana (+1), TCU, Ole Miss, Iowa (-1)

3s: Illinois (-1), Georgia, Utah, Clemson

4s: Alabama, Monmouth, Charleston, Georgia Tech

5s: Ohio State, Texas Tech, BYU, Boise State

6s: Richmond, Valparaiso, Colorado State, Fresno State

7s: Central Florida, Belmont, Saint Bonaventure, Oakland (+1)

8s: UNC-Greensboro, South Dakota, New Mexico, New Mexico State

Thanks for reading, and look for another update Saturday morning.  Check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

 

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Bracketology: TCU Comes Back to Life

With the major conference tournaments in full swing, our bubble watch really goes into high gear.  Last night saw Xavier get a win over a miserable Depaul squad after struggling in the first half, and Southern Cal beat an equally terrible Washington.  So, Xavier and USC live to fight another day.  Meanwhile, Wake Forest lost, but it was to a solid Virginia Tech squad in a close game, and they are still in the field.

Today has already seen some major winners and losers on the bubble.  First, after a truly frightening situation yesterday in which their plane skidded off the runway in a windstorm, Michigan flew to DC this morning and looked plenty rested against Illinois, winning 75-55.  This makes it a near certainty that Illinois is out of the field, though I won’t put them out of consideration yet.  Also in the Big Ten, Michigan State blew out Penn State and edged closer to wrapping up an at-large bid, though the Spartans still have work to do in order to breathe easy on Sunday.

In a game just finished, California beat Utah.  This has two implications: Cal is still alive and could jump into the field with a win over Oregon tomorrow.  On the other side of that coin, I can say without hesitation that Utah is done.  They were light on quality wins coming into the Pac-12 tourney (along with an RPI of 74) and they were going to need to get by Cal and Oregon to have a shot at an at-large bid.

Going even further into the depths of the bubble, Georgia kept alive whatever minimal chance they have by knocking off Tennessee.  Like Utah, Georgia is suffering from a severe shortage of quality wins.  Unlike Utah, they have a chance to change that tomorrow if they can knock off Kentucky.  That would at least give them a minor argument on Sunday.

And finally, I have to resurrect TCU from the dead.  Coming into the Big 12 tournament on a seven game losing streak – most recently to Oklahoma – and with a record of 19-13 overall, 6-12 in the Big 12, I thought TCU had no shot at an at-large.  Then, somehow, they beat Kansas today.  The Horned Frogs (what a name) still have work to do but this gets them back into the discussion and they could surprise some people on Sunday if they can defeat Iowa State tomorrow.

Before I give you the projection, let me mention a notable result up top too: Duke beating Louisville, 81-77, in the ACC quarterfinals.  This keeps Duke in the running for a 2 seed and ends any chance of Louisville pulling off a 1 seed.

So with all of that in mind, let’s get into the projection.  Today features a lot more movement than the last couple of days.  As always, moves up or down since the last projection are in parentheses after the team’s name.  Projected auto qualifiers are in bold, and teams who have clinched bids are bold and underlined.

In since yesterday: Rhode Island

Out since yesterday: Syracuse

New Auto-bid: Bucknell

Eliminated from consideration: Utah

1s: Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Gonzaga

2s: Baylor, Oregon, Kentucky, Louisville

3s: UCLA, Florida State, Arizona, Duke (+1)

4s: Butler (-1), Florida, Virginia, Purdue

5s: West Virginia, Cincinnati, SMU, Minnesota (+1)

6s: Notre Dame (-1), Iowa State, Wisconsin, Saint Mary’s

7s: Maryland, Creighton, South Carolina, Dayton (+1)

8s: Wichita State, Oklahoma State (-1), Michigan, Miami

9s: Virginia Tech, Northwestern, Seton Hall, Arkansas

10s: Providence, Michigan State, VCU, Marquette

11s: Xavier, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee, Southern California

12s: Kansas State, Rhode Island (new), UNC-Wilmington, Nevada, Texas-Arlington

13s: Vermont, Princeton, East Tennessee State, Bucknell

14s: Akron, Winthrop, Florida Gulf Coast, Cal-Bakersfield

15s: Northern Kentucky, Iona, North Dakota, Texas Southern

16s: Cal-Irvine, Mount Saint Mary’s, Jacksonville State, South Dakota State, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

Last Four In: Vanderbilt, Southern California, Kansas State, Rhode Island

NIT Projection

Today, a few very marginal teams were eliminated from consideration for the NIT (as you’ll see below).

In since yesterday: St. Bonaventure

Out since yesterday: Tennessee

 Eliminated from consideration: Pittsburgh, La Salle, Chattanooga, Arkansas State, Temple

Temple was one of the weirdest teams this year… they beat Florida State and West Virginia on neutral courts in the non-con, then managed to lose to all of these teams: UCF twice, Tulsa, George Washington, Umass, UConn twice, New Hampshire, and East Carolina twice.  I had them in my projections early on when others didn’t, thinking they’d get it together, but man, did that not happen.  Their loss to East Carolina in the American Athletic’s opening round today was the final insult.  Here’s the projection:

1s (First Four Out): Illinois State, California (+1), Syracuse, Iowa

2s (Next Four Out): Ole Miss, TCU (+3), Houston, Illinois (-1)

3s: Indiana, Georgia, Utah (-1), Clemson

4s: Alabama, Monmouth (+1), Charleston, Georgia Tech

5s: Ohio State (-2), Texas Tech (-1), BYU, Boise State (+1)

6s: Richmond, Valparaiso, Colorado State, Fresno State (+1)

7s: Central Florida, Texas A & M, Belmont (+1), Saint Bonaventure

8s: UNC-Greensboro, South Dakota, New Mexico (-1), Oakland

 Thanks for reading, and look for another projection Friday morning.  In the meantime, check out the Bracket Matrix!

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Why Gonzaga Will be a 1 Seed

So this morning, I told you I would give you my analysis as to why I think Gonzaga is very likely to be a 1 seed.  First, who are the other teams who could threaten the 1 line?  The common belief is that those teams are the Pac 12 winner (assuming that’s Oregon, UCLA, or Arizona), Baylor, Louisville, or Kentucky. 

 Now, let’s look at why that’s unlikely for any of those teams.  To do this, we’re going to use everyone’s favorite metric, the RPI.  Well, we’ll combine that with one that everyone considers more meaningful, quality wins.  And let’s throw in bad losses while we’re at it.

Gonzaga: We all know the West Coast Conference isn’t great, but the Zags have a respectable non-con strength of schedule (62) and are 5-0 vs Top 25 RPI teams (1-0 vs RPI 26-50).  That, combined with a 32-1 record, and making opponents in the WCC look like middle school JV squads, all works in their favor.

Now, here’s a rundown of the top Pac-12 teams.

Oregon: The Ducks have only played six games against Top 50 RPI teams.  They are 2-2 vs 1-25, those two wins being at home against Arizona and UCLA, and 2-0 vs RPI 26-50, both against Southern Cal, whose RPI far outpaces any of their other metrics (which is why they are a Last Four In team).  They also have a borderline bad loss at Colorado and a clearly bad one on a neutral court vs. a sorry Georgetown team.

UCLA: The Bruins had the nation’s 251st hardest non-conference schedule.  In other words, not too hard.  It does help their case that they are 5-3 against Top 50 RPI teams, the best wins being home against Oregon and at Arizona and Kentucky, and have no bad losses.

Arizona: Their best win is at UCLA.  That’s great.  Their second best?  Against Michigan State.  I rest my case.

UCLA may actually have the best chance at a 1 seed of the Pac-12 contenders because they could beat both Arizona and Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament.  Oregon would only get a shot at Arizona or UCLA.  This is because the seeding for that tournament goes Oregon, Arizona, then UCLA, putting the Wildcats and the Bruins on track to meet in the semis.  But either way, it’s a minute chance.  And Arizona?  No chance at all.  Moving on to the other contenders.

Baylor: The Bears went 4-3 vs Top 25 RPI teams and 5-1 vs. RPI 26-50.  Impressive.  But they could have fortified their resume and made this debate a lot more interesting with a win against Kansas in February.  They didn’t do that, and they also own a loss at Texas Tech (RPI 106).  I suppose the winning the Big 12 tournament would give them an outside shot at a 1 seed, but that’s it.

Louisville: Very good team with some impressive wins – home against Kentucky, Duke, and Notre Dame, and neutral against Purdue.  But only 4-6 vs RPI Top 25 teams, not too helpful (3-1 vs. 26-50).  Like Baylor, I believe the Cardinals would have an outside shot at a 1 seed by winning the ACC tournament.

Kentucky: It won’t happen for the Wildcats.  They went 2-4 vs RPI Top 25 teams.  The SEC just doesn’t present that many quality win opportunities, either.  The Wildcats did beat North Carolina on a natural court and beat Florida at home, to their credit.  But they won’t have quite enough to get to the 1 line, even if they win the SEC tournament.  South Carolina, who they could play in the semis, has faded lately.  Beating Florida in the finals would be great but not enough to put them over the top.

So, that’s my case for Gonzaga, if you will.  Now the question is, can they get to that elusive Final Four?

I don’t know, but I do know that you’ll find my next bracket projection Thursday evening, with several more to come leading up to the Selection Show.  I’ll be in my own bracket bunker, Joe Lunardi style.  Which really means the living room with a couple of TVs, a computer, and plenty of food.   In the meantime, as always, check out the great work of other bracketologists on the Bracket Matrix.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Bracketology: More Bids Clinched

Last night, four more automatic bids to the NCAA tournament were clinched.  In the Northeast Conference, Mount Saint Mary’s defeated Saint Francis-Pennsylvania.  Over in the Horizon League, Northern Kentucky beat Milwaukee.  Realistically, this is a good thing for college basketball, because Milwaukee is now 11-24 and it is absolutely unfathomable that a team that bad could even stay within 30 points of whatever 1 seed it would face in the first round.  I love the Madness of March – within reason!

In the later time slot, Gonzaga dominated Saint Mary’s, holding them to only 18 points in the first half on their way to an easy 76-58 win. As I wrote about yesterday, it’s hard for me to see the Zags being left off the 1 line now.  I’ll go into more detail about this in my next post, comparing resumes of the teams close to the 1 line.  Finally, in a game that matched the excitement of Monday night’s overtime thriller between Siena and Iona, the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State knocked off Nebraska-Omaha, 79-77, for the Summit League title.

In bubble action, two major results took place.  First, Wake Forest beat Boston College in the opening round of the ACC tournament.  While beating an awful BC squad does nothing to assure Wake Forest of an at-large bid, the opposite would have been disastrous – a loss could have dropped the Demon Deacons from the field and left them dependent on teams ahead of them losing.

Speaking of disastrous, we also saw Georgia Tech lose to Pittsburgh in the ACC’s opening round.  I already thought Georgia Tech was out of at-large consideration anyway, but this cements it.  At 17-15, an RPI approaching 100, an atrocious road record of 2-10, and a litany of bad losses, there is no chance at all of the Yellow Jackets making the field.

Today’s games will bring us a lot more bubble action, as the major conference tournaments get into full swing.  Here are a couple of notable matchups.  In the Pac-12, California faces a must-win against a pitiful Oregon State.  A win certainly won’t put the Bears in the field, but a loss will end any hope of getting into it.  Over in the ACC, Syracuse could help their cause with a win against Miami.  At this point, the Orange have some very unfavorable metrics and a lot of bad losses, so this could go either way.

Finally, one more auto-bid is for the taking, as Bucknell squares off with Lehigh in the Patriot League’s championship game.  So with all that said, let’s get into the projection!  Moves up or down since yesterday are in parentheses after the team’s name (with little action yesterday, there weren’t a lot of moves).  Projected automatic qualifiers are in bold, and teams who have clinched a bid are bold and underlined.

 1s: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga

2s: Baylor, Oregon, Louisville, Kentucky

3s: UCLA, Florida State, Arizona, Butler

4s: Florida, Duke, Purdue, Virginia

5s: West Virginia, Cincinnati, SMU, Notre Dame

6s: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa State, Saint Mary’s

7s: Maryland, Creighton, South Carolina, Oklahoma State

8s: Wichita State, Miami, Dayton, Michigan

9s: Northwestern, Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, Arkansas

10s: Providence, Marquette, VCU, Michigan State

11s: Wake Forest, Xavier, Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee, Southern California

12s: Syracuse, Kansas State, UNC-Wilmington, Nevada, Texas-Arlington

13s: Vermont, Princeton, East Tennessee State, Bucknell

14s: Winthrop, Florida Gulf Coast, Akron, Cal-Bakersfield

15s: Northern Kentucky, Iona, North Dakota, Texas Southern (+1)

16s: Cal-Irvine, Mount Saint Mary’s, Jacksonville State, South Dakota State, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

 Last Four In: Vanderbilt, Southern California, Syracuse, Kansas State

NIT Projection

No new automatic qualifiers in the NIT today, as none of the teams who lost conference tournament finals last night were regular season conference champions.

1s (First Four Out): Rhode Island, Illinois State, Iowa, Illinois

2s (Next Four Out): Ole Miss, California, Utah, Houston

3s: Indiana, Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson (+1)

4s: Texas Tech, Alabama, Charleston, Georgia Tech (-1)

5s: Monmouth, BYU, Tennessee, TCU

6s: Richmond, Boise State, Colorado State, Valparaiso

7s: Fresno State, New Mexico, Central Florida, Texas A & M

8s: Belmont, Oakland, South Dakota, UNC-Greensboro

 Thanks for reading, and look for another projection tomorrow.  Check out the Bracket Matrix for over 100 more in the meantime!

 

 

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