You can almost feel it now. It’s next week! One week from tonight, eight lucky – or maybe unlucky – teams will begin March Madness 2015 by playing in the First Four. And right now, we really don’t know who those teams will be. We have an idea, but consider all the movement in the last few days as some unlikely conference winners have emerged.
Coastal Carolina took the Big South after finishing behind High Point and Charleston Southern in the regular season. Last night, Manhattan edged the MAAC’s regular season conference champion, Iona, to advance to the Big Dance. In the Patriot League, Lafayette, who finished fourth in the regular season, upset first seed Bucknell to advance to the conference championship game. They will meet American tomorrow night – the sixth place finisher – for the right to go to the tourney. Who would have ever thought?
And then we have the thrilling case of Belmont beating Murray State on a last-second shot to take the Ohio Valley championship and the automatic bid that comes with it. Murray State, who went 16-0 in regular season conference play, now finds themselves in a nearly impossible position. I have them in the Next Four Out. Murray State might be a good team. But the problem is, they never proved it. Their best win came against Illinois State, while a below-average Portland squad and a very poor Houston squad accounted for 2 of their 5 losses. Historically, this hasn’t been a formula for receiving an at-large bid.
Will Sunday be different? Who knows? I doubt it, but that’s what makes these next few days so great, as we head towards the main event. The remaining conference tournaments will bring more surprises and more shuffling of teams in the bracket.
With that being said, here is my latest projection. Bolded teams are those that are projected as conference winners. Again, this is way more important for teams on the lower seed lines, whose conferences tend to only send one team to the tourney. Teams with an asterisk next to their name have already won their conference tournament and clinched a bid. I also noted which teams moved up or down since my last projection on Friday, March 6 with a (+) or (-).
1s: Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, Virginia
2s: Arizona, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Kansas
3s: Notre Dame, Maryland, Oklahoma, Iowa State
4s: Baylor, Louisville (+), Northern Iowa* (+), West Virginia (+)
5s: Butler, Georgetown (+), North Carolina (-), Arkansas (-)
6s: Wichita State (-), Southern Methodist, Providence, Utah
7s: Iowa, Virginia Commonwealth, San Diego State (+), Saint John’s
8s: Michigan State (+), Cincinnati, Dayton (-), Boise State
9s: Oregon (-), Xavier, Georgia, Davidson (+)
10s: Purdue, Ohio State (-), Colorado State, North Carolina State (+)
11s: Indiana (-), Louisiana State (+), Brigham Young, Temple, Mississippi
12s: Texas A & M (-), Texas (NEW), Wofford*, Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech
13s: Valparaiso, Buffalo, California-Davis (+), Harvard (+)
14s: Georgia State, Eastern Washington (+), South Dakota State (+), North Carolina Central (+)
15s: Belmont* (NEW), Albany, North Florida* (+), New Mexico State (+)
16s: Texas Southern, Northeastern* (NEW), Coastal Carolina* (NEW), Saint Francis-New York, Manhattan* (NEW), Lafayette (NEW)
LAST FOUR IN: Temple, Mississippi, Texas A & M, Texas
FIRST FOUR OUT: Tulsa (-), Oklahoma State, Miami (Florida), Old Dominion (+)
NEXT FOUR OUT: UCLA (-), Richmond, Murray State (-), Illinois
’ll be back with an updated projection on Thursday after a few more mid-major conferences have determined a champion, and the first wave of games in the major conference tournaments is complete. For now, enjoy the games!