March is here. Can you feel it? We are just 13 days away from what I believe should be a national holiday (since no one who follows college hoops does any work on it anyway), the first day of the NCAA tournament. And before that, we have the thrill of the conference tournaments, which are sure to yield some auto bids to teams who haven’t even been on the radar all year.
Along with the smaller conference tournaments and the surprises in them, the bubble is the most exciting part of college basketball to me right now. Teams on the top few seed lines are locked in. But as we down to the 10 line or so, there is no certainty at all. So, I am going to bring you some analysis of various bubble teams today. Keep in mind, no team has received an at-large bid with 14 losses since 2011, and no team has ever received an at-large bid with 15 losses.
Wisconsin (22-8 overall, 10-7 Big Ten, current 8 seed): The Badgers aren’t truly on the bubble, but they deserve a mention here for this reason: their fanbase’s collective head absolutely exploded on Twitter and elsewhere when they weren’t on the top 4 seed lines in the Bracket Preview on February 11. And how has their team responded since then? By losing 5 out of 6, most recently at home against a marginal Iowa team. I felt Wisconsin was overrated all year, and the recent stretch supports that belief.
Northwestern (21-9, 10-7, current 9 seed): The Wildcats will receive their first-ever NCAA bid. Even as a Michigan fan, I couldn’t help but be excited for them when they beat my Wolverines on Wednesday night.
Xavier (18-12, 8-9, current 10 seed): At this point, I am wondering if the Musketeers can even stay in the field. Just three weeks ago, I had them on the 6 line. Now, it’s like someone tied a 500-pound weight around their season and threw it into the ocean. They are on a 6-game losing streak, with 4 of those losses coming by double digits. Xavier has a strength of schedule of 7 working in their favor, but that won’t help much if they don’t start winning, fast. A loss to Depaul this weekend would certainly drop them out of the field, with work to do in the Big East tournament.
Wake Forest (18-11, 8-9, current Last Four In): All season, the Demon Deacons have had an impressive strength of schedule number (currently 12th) but lacked the quality wins to go with it. Until this week, when they knocked off Louisville at home. Plus, that win over Miami earlier in the season looks nicer and nicer, as the Hurricanes have been surging.
Vanderbilt (16-14, 9-8, current Last Four In): Remember how no team with 15 losses has ever received an at-large bid? That by itself makes Vandy so interesting right now. They have an array of quality wins, including at Florida and Arkansas, and home versus South Carolina and Iowa State. They currently have the country’s 5th-best strength of schedule and a respectable KenPom number of 40. So, what will happen if the Vols fail to win out – a likely scenario given the upcoming SEC tournament?
Syracuse (17-13, 9-8, current First Four Out): Dick Vitale emphatically assured us that the Orange were “a lock” for March Madness when they knocked off Duke a couple of weeks ago. But the Orange followed up that great win with a blowout loss at Louisville. There’s no shame in losing to Louisville, who is a great team, but this isn’t the time of year for blowouts when you’re on the bubble. In addition to the Duke win, the Orange have also beaten Florida State, Virginia, Wake Forest, Miami, and Monmouth, all at home. The problem is that they’ve lost to (in order from bad to worse) Georgetown (at home), Connecticut, St. John’s (at home, by a lot) and a pitiful Boston College.
Tomorrow, the Orange play Georgia Tech in a critical matchup for both. Lose that and lose again in the ACC tournament, and they reach the dreaded 15 losses. Three weeks ago, a poster on this Syracuse fan board joked that my mind is influenced by crack because I didn’t have his team in the field. Unfortunately, the joke is on him right now.
Georgia Tech (17-13, 8-9, current Next Four Out): A lot of people hate the RPI. Unfortunately for those people, the Selection Committee leans on it heavily. The lowest RPI ranking that ever received an at-large bid was 70, owned by last year’s Syracuse team. Georgia Tech’s current RPI is 94. End of discussion. The Yellow Jackets better beat Syracuse tomorrow and come up with some big wins in the ACC tournament in order to get an at-large.
As we get closer to Selection Sunday, I’ll bring you more analysis of teams in various parts of the bracket. For now, let’s get into the projection. As always, moves up or down since the previous projection are in parentheses after the team’s name, and projected automatic qualifiers are in bold.
In since Tuesday’s update: Eastern Washington, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt
Out since Tuesday’s update: North Dakota, Syracuse, California
1s: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga
2s: Baylor, Oregon, UCLA (+1), Louisville
3s: Arizona (-1), Butler, Kentucky, Duke (+1)
4s: Florida, Florida State (-1), Purdue (+1), Virginia
5s: West Virginia (-1), Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Minnesota (+1)
6s: SMU, Saint Mary’s (-1), Iowa State, Creighton
7s: South Carolina, Oklahoma State, Miami, Maryland (+1)
8s: Dayton, Wisconsin (-1), Virginia Tech, Wichita State (+1)
9s: Northwestern (+1), Michigan (-1), Michigan State, Providence (+1)
10s: Seton Hall, VCU (-1), Arkansas, Xavier (-1)
11s: Southern California, Marquette, Wake Forest (new), Middle Tennessee, Illinois State
12s: Texas-Arlington, Rhode Island, Vanderbilt (new), UNC-Wilmington, Monmouth
13s: Nevada, Vermont, Princeton, Winthrop (+1)
14s: Belmont, Bucknell (+1), Oakland, Akron (-1)
15s: Florida Gulf Coast, UNC-Greensboro (-1), Cal-Bakersfield, Eastern Washington
16s: Texas Southern, South Dakota, UC-Davis, Mount Saint Mary’s, New Orleans, North Carolina Central
Last Four In: Wake Forest, Illinois State, Rhode Island, Vanderbilt
1s (First Four Out of NCAA Tournament field): Kansas State, California, Syracuse, Illinois (+1)
2s (Next Four Out): Georgia Tech (-1), Ohio State (+1), Georgia (+1), Utah (+1)
3s (Third Four Out): Iowa (+2), TCU (-1), Houston (-1), Indiana (-1)
4s: Texas Tech, Alabama, BYU, Charleston
5s: Clemson, Colorado State (+1), Valparaiso (+1), Richmond (+2)
6s: Tennessee (-3), Pittsburgh (-1), Boise State (-1), Ole Miss
7s: Arkansas State (-1), Auburn, San Francisco, Central Florida (+1)
8s: East Tennessee State, Memphis (new), Colorado (new), Texas A & M (new)
Out since Tuesday’s update: UNC-Asheville, Georgetown, Stanford
Look for many more updates in the next few days, starting Saturday morning. In the meantime, check out the Bracket Matrix for the full perspective on where teams are in the field!