Bracketology: Gonzaga Can Lock in a 1 Seed Tonight

Tonight, the top line of the NCAA tournament field can be locked if Gonzaga beats Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference finals.  At 31-1 with neutral court wins over Florida, Arizona, and Iowa State, plus three wins against St. Mary’s – at home, away, and neutral – I don’t see the Committee leaving Gonzaga off the 1 line.

As we move up the line, it’s also very hard to imagine North Carolina falling off the 1 line, even if they lose their opening game in the ACC tournament.  The Tar Heels are the regular season champions of one of the toughest conferences in recent memory and boast wins over Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin.  Finally, I believe Kansas and Villanova are also locked in to 1 seeds at this point.

Plenty of drama will remain, as auto-bids and seeds throughout the rest of the field are decided.  On that note, we had one major move on the bubble today.  Kansas State joins the field as the last team in, and Rhode Island falls to the first team out.  Kansas State broke into the field on the strength of their wins at Baylor and at home against West Virginia.  Rhode Island has a very good win against Cincinnati on a neutral court, but a loss to Fordham (#212 in the RPI) is dragging them down.  Realistically, K-State and Rhode Island are so close right now that how each performs in their conference tournament will determine if either or both make the field.

We’ll get into more bubble analysis over the next couple of days as the major conference tournaments get underway.  For today, four more auto-bids are up for grabs.  Northern Kentucky faces Milwaukee for the Horizon League title, Saint Francis-PA goes up against Mount Saint Mary’s in the Northeast Conference final, South Dakota State faces Omaha in the Summit League final (yet another league where the #1 seed, South Dakota, lost last night), and Gonzaga plays St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference.

With that said, here’s today’s projection.  As always, moves up or down since yesterday are in parentheses after the team’s name, projected auto qualifiers are in bold, and teams who have clinched a bid are bold and underlined.

 In since yesterday’s update: East Tennessee State, Nebraska-Omaha, Iona, Kansas State

Out since yesterday’s update: UNC-Greensboro, South Dakota, Siena, Rhode Island

New auto-bids: East Tennessee State, UNC-Wilmington

1s: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga

2s: Baylor, Oregon, Louisville, Kentucky (+1)

3s: UCLA (-1), Florida State, Arizona, Butler

4s: Florida, Duke, Purdue, Virginia

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

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

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

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

9s: Northwestern, Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, Arkansas (+1)

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

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

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

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

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

15s: Northern Kentucky, Iona (new), Nebraska Omaha (new), North Dakota

16s: Texas Southern (-1), UC-Irvine, Jacksonville State, Mount Saint Mary’s, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

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

NIT Projection

 UNC-Greensboro and South Dakota, as regular season conference champions who lost in their conference tournaments last night, join the field.  UNC-Greensboro replaces East Tennessee State, whom they lost to, as ETSU gets the Southern Conference’s auto bid to the NCAA tournament.  South Dakota replaces Colorado.

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

2s (Next Four Out): Ole Miss, California, Utah (-1), Houston

3s: Indiana, Georgia, Ohio State, Georgia Tech

4s: Texas Tech, Alabama, Clemson (+1), Charleston

5s: BYU (-1), Monmouth, Tennessee, TCU

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

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

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

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

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Bracketology: Mid-Major Madness

Yesterday, I wrote about the Madness in the Horizon League tournament.  With Green Bay’s loss to Illinois-Chicago, the conference has now lost its top three teams in the opening round.  Elsewhere, for the second straight year, Monmouth won the MAAC regular season but lost in the conference tournament.  In what would be a minor upset, I’m picking the 4th-seeded Siena to defeat 3rd-seeded Iona tonight and capture the auto bid from the MAAC, given that the MAAC tournament is being held on Siena’s home floor this year.

For today’s bubble watch, I’m going to focus on one team: Illinois State.  The Redbirds sit at an impressive 27-6 overall, and finished 16-2 in the Missouri Valley for the regular season.  They rank 42nd in KenPom and have an RPI of 32.  Here’s the problem: Illinois State’s strength of schedule is 138th, and they only have two wins against teams in the Top 100 of the RPI.  These are at home against Wichita State and New Mexico.

As stated by Jerry Palm at halftime of the MVC title game yesterday, no team has gotten an at-large bid with that few Top 100 wins.  The blowout loss to Wichita State yesterday (20 points) won’t help matters.  Illinois State is a good team and if it were up to me, they would be in the field.  But, if the Committee were seeding the field today, I believe they would leave Illinois State out and as a result, I have them in my First Four Out today.

Along with Wichita State, Florida Gulf Coast and Winthrop punched their tickets to the Big Dance yesterday.  Tonight, three more bids are on the line, as UNC-Wilmington squares off with Charleston for the Colonial Athletic championship, East Tennessee State takes on UNC-Greensboro for the Southern championship, and Iona faces Siena for the MAAC championship.

So, let’s get to the projection.  As always, moves up or down since yesterday are in parentheses after the team’s name, and projected automatic qualifiers are in bold.  Teams who have clinched an auto bid are bold and underlined.

 In since yesterday: Rhode Island, Siena

Out since yesterday: Illinois State, Monmouth

1s: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga

2s: Baylor, Oregon, Louisville, UCLA

3s: Kentucky, Arizona, Florida State, Butler

4s: Duke, Florida, Purdue, Virginia

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

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

7s: Maryland (-1), Creighton, South Carolina, Wichita State (+1)

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

9s: Northwestern (-1), Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, Providence

10s: Arkansas, Marquette, VCU, Michigan State

11s: Wake Forest, Xavier, Southern California, Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt (+1)

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

13s: Princeton, Vermont, Winthrop, Florida Gulf Coast (+1)

14s: Bucknell, Akron, UNC-Greensboro, Cal-Bakersfield (+1)

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

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

 Last Four In: Southern California, Vanderbilt, Syracuse, Rhode Island

NIT Projection

 Yesterday, I erred and left Oakland out.  The Grizzlies will be in the NIT because they won the Horizon League’s regular season title.  Here’s today’s projection.  Belmont and Monmouth have joined the field, while Auburn and San Francisco have fallen out of it.

1s (First Four Out): Kansas State, Illinois State, Utah, Iowa (+1)

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

3s: Indiana (-1), Georgia, Ohio State, Georgia Tech

4s: BYU, Charleston, Texas Tech, Alabama

5s: Monmouth, Tennessee, Clemson, TCU

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

7s: Fresno State (-1), New Mexico, Central Florida, Texas A & M (+1)

8s: Colorado (-1), East Tennessee State, Belmont, Oakland

 Look for another projection tomorrow, and check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

 

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Bracketology: Bid Clinched and Bubbles Bursting

First off, congratulations to the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, out of Jacksonville, Alabama, for being the first team to clinch a bid to the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament!  They did so by defeating Tennessee-Martin in the Ohio Valley Conference’s championship game last night.

As I wrote yesterday, we are likely to have plenty of teams win their conference in the regular season but lose in the conference tournament and fail to receive an at-large bid.  Yesterday’s victim of the Madness was Oakland.  After winning the Horizon League’s regular season title, the Grizzlies were stunned by Youngstown State’s buzzer-beating layup, falling by a final score of 81-80.  To make the Horizon League tournament even crazier, the second place team from the regular season, Valparaiso, lost as well.

Now, let’s get into today’s Bubble Watch.  Here’s how I see it right now:

Safely In: Seton Hall (20-10, 10-8, current 9 seed) has achieved “safely in” status with an impressive win at Butler yesterday.  The Pirates won’t be left out of the field now regardless of how they perform in the Big East tournament.  Providence (20-11, 10-8, current 9 seed) has also punched their ticket.  With their win at St. John’s yesterday, the Friars finished the Big East regular season on a 6-game winning streak that included wins against Butler, Xavier, and Marquette, and at Creighton.  Finally, it’s very hard to see Arkansas (23-8, 12-6, current 10 seed) or Marquette (19-11, 10-8, current 10 seed) being left out at this point.  Both have several quality wins and fairly strong metrics.

Likely In, but work to do: This category includes VCU (24-7, 14-4, current 10 seed), Michigan State (18-13, 10-8, current 10 seed), Wake Forest (19-11, 9-9, current 11 seed) and Xavier (19-12, 9-9, current 11 seed).  Right now, these are the last four at-large teams receiving a bye (meaning they don’t have to play in the First Four).  All of these teams could use a win or two in their conference tournaments to seal the deal.

Michigan State is an interesting team here.  They have several quality wins already, including a sweep of Minnesota, home wins against Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Michigan, and a neutral court win against Wichita State. But their next loss will bring them to the dreaded 14, a number that makes it very hard to receive an at-large bid.  A win at Maryland yesterday would have sealed the deal for the Spartans, but now they may need to win at least their opening round game in the Big Ten tournament.

Could go either way: This category includes the Last Four In – Southern California, Illinois State, Vanderbilt, and Syracuse. 

 Southern Cal and Illinois State are nowhere near the loss cutoff, but both could use another quality win (for Illinois State, that would mean beating Wichita State in today’s Missouri Valley Conference championship game).  Vandy picked up a great home win against Florida yesterday, giving them the season sweep of the Gators, but they are sitting at 14 losses and no team has ever gotten an at-large bid with 15 losses.  They might need to get all the way to the finals of the SEC tournament to seal an at-large bid.  Finally, Syracuse had an impressive blowout win over Georgia Tech yesterday, but they sit at 13 losses and several of them are of the bad variety.  The Orange also have a woeful 1-8 road record and an RPI of 79, neither of which bode well.

Also included here are the First Five Out – Kansas State, Rhode Island, Utah, California, and Iowa.  Kansas State and Syracuse are neck and neck for the last at-large spot right now, but I gave the nod to Syracuse because of a couple more quality wins.  Rhode Island actually dropped out of the field, being replaced by Syracuse, after a 3-point overtime win at home against a weak Davidson team.  Utah needs a quality win in the Pac-12 tournament.  California is sinking fast, following up their blowout 30-point loss at Utah on Thursday night with a borderline bad loss at Colorado by 8 points yesterday.  Finally, Iowa has several quality wins but sits at 13 losses, along with an RPI number of 76.  Just as with Syracuse, these figures don’t bode well.

Hanging on by a thread: Ole Miss, Indiana, Illinois, Houston, and Georgia.  All of these teams need to reach the finals of their conference tournaments to have a shot at an at-large bid.

Ole Miss picked up a nice win over South Carolina yesterday, which got my attention and caused me to move them up several seed lines, ahead of teams who have been eliminated from at-large consideration.  Still, their only other quality win is at Vanderbilt and they currently sit at 19-12.  It would be tough to get in with that resume.  Indiana is still in it, even with 14 losses, thanks to wins over two current 1 seeds (North Carolina and Kansas) earlier in the year.  But that will only take them so far.  Illinois had a terrible loss at Rutgers yesterday that puts them on the thinnest of ice.  Houston and Georgia are technically still alive but as with the others in this category, do not have strong enough resumes right now to be in the field.

 Bubbles Burst: Ohio State, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Texas Tech, TCU.  Ohio State, Georgia Tech, and TCU all have 14 losses now.  As you know, no team has made the field yet as an at-large with 15 losses, and none of these teams have the resume to be the first.  Alabama and Texas Tech sit at 13 losses, but Alabama has several bad losses and Texas Tech has an RPI of 103.  Consider these bubbles burst.

With all that said, here is today’s projection.  As always, moves up or down since yesterday are in parentheses after the team’s name, and projected automatic qualifiers are in bold.

In since yesterday’s update: UC-Irvine, Northern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, North Dakota, Syracuse

Out since yesterday’s update: UC-Davis, Oakland, Tennessee-Martin, and Eastern Washington, Rhode Island

1s: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga

2s: Baylor, Oregon, Louisville, UCLA

3s: Kentucky, Arizona, Florida State (+1), Butler

4s: Duke (-1), Florida, Virginia (+1), Purdue

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

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

7s: Creighton (-1), Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Wisconsin (+1)

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

9s: Virginia Tech (-1), Michigan, Seton Hall (+1), Providence

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

11s: Middle Tennessee, Wake Forest, Xavier (-1), Southern California, Illinois State

12s: Vanderbilt, Syracuse (new), Nevada (+1), UNC-Wilmington, Texas-Arlington

13s: Monmouth (-1), Princeton, Vermont, Winthrop

14s: Bucknell, Florida Gulf Coast, Akron, UNC-Greensboro (+1)

15s: Cal-Bakersfield, Northern Kentucky (new), North Dakota (new), South Dakota

16s: Texas Southern, Cal-Irvine (new), Jacksonville State (new), Mount Saint Mary’s, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

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

NIT Projection

1s (First Four Out of NCAA tournament field): Kansas State, Rhode Island, Utah (+1), California

2s (Next Four Out): Iowa (+1), Ole Miss (+4), Indiana (+1), Illinois (-1)

3s: Houston, Georgia (-1), Ohio State (-1), Georgia Tech (-1)

4s: BYU, Alabama, Texas Tech, Charleston

5s: TCU (-2), Clemson, Richmond, Tennessee (+1)

6s: Boise State, Colorado State (-1), Fresno State (new), Auburn (+1)

7s: Valparaiso (-2), Central Florida, New Mexico (+2), Colorado (+2)

8s: San Francisco (-1), Belmont, Texas A & M, East Tennessee State

Thanks for reading, and look for several more updates throughout the week.  As always, check out the Bracket Matrix for over 100 more projections!

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Bracketology: Belmont Officially Bows Out

Last year, eleven teams who won their conferences in the regular season failed to win their conference tournament and were left out of the Big Dance (thanks to this article for that fact – I remembered it was a high number, but couldn’t remember the number exactly).  Last night, Belmont became 2017’s first victim of the Madness, losing by six to Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley Conference’s semifinal matchup.  As a result, Belmont now automatically qualifies for the NIT, and a clearly weaker team will go to the NCAA tournament.

Fair, or no?  There is a great debate about that.  I love the conference tournaments because they add to the chaos of college basketball in March, but I think a Belmont squad that went 15-1 in the Ohio Valley’s regular season deserves a bid to the NCAA tournament.  So, I’m not sure what the solution is, but I am sure we will have several more of these situations over the next few days.

With that, I’m going to continue the bubble analysis I started yesterday.  Today, we start with…

 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1, current 8 seed): Is Wichita State really on the bubble?  Of course, if they win the Missouri Valley conference tournament, they get an auto bid.  But what if they don’t?

Wichita State could be the hardest team to seed in the entire field right now.  Why?  Their metrics are all over the place.  Strength of schedule is poor for a tournament team – 150th overall, 169th non-conference.  Their RPI is a middling 41.  They really only have one quality win, against Illinois State (by 41 points).

But, Wichita State ranks 10th in KenPom.  And the eye test?  The Shockers ace that, as they have been absolutely obliterating teams.  Take their margin of victory in their last five games: 26, 19, 26, 29, and 19 points.  None of those were against good teams, but go back a couple games before that stretch, and you have a 41-point destruction of Illinois State.  Proving my point about how tough it is to seed Wichita State, bracketologists on the Bracket Matrix who updated their projections yesterday have the Shockers anywhere from a 5 seed to a 12 seed.

We all remember last year, when a Wichita State team with a better resume than this year’s squad (SOS 105th overall, 12th non-conference, RPI 46, and a win against a very good Utah team) was comically underseeded as an 11.  Will history repeat itself this year?  I really think that as it stands today, the Shockers are better than a double-digit seed.

Here are nine other teams I want to analyze today.  First, a table showing various metrics for these teams.

Team Record (Overall/Conf) RPI SOS KenPom Best Win Worst Loss
A 26-4, 16-1 30 147 53 Vs. Vanderbilt At UTEP
B 26-5, 16-2 32 140 45 Vs. Wichita St. At Murray St.
C 24-6, 14-3 34 144 71 At St. Mary’s At Troy
D 26-5, 15-3 37 135 58 At Charleston At Elon
E 27-5, 18-2 43 165 78 Vs. Princeton Vs. Rider
F 24-6, 13-4 42 133 60 At Boise St. At Utah St.
G 20-6, 13-0 54 151 67 At Bucknell Vs. St. Joe’s
H 27-5, 16-0 50 187 68 At Stony Brook Vs. Northeastern
I 25-6, 15-3 74 231 116 At Illinois Vs. Radford

What do you think?  I think teams A, B, and C deserve an at-large bid.  Team D has a case as well.  Note that these teams all have RPIs in the 30s (whether people like it or not, the Committee uses it a lot).  Team C’s best win is over a team who is certain to get an at-large bid, Team B’s best win is over a team that would likely get one, and Team A’s best win is over a team that has a good shot at one.

Teams E and F could make an argument too.  Their best win is over a decent opponent.  However, at this point, I would not give these teams an at-large bid.  The argument isn’t as strong for teams G, H, or I.  We see the KenPom and the RPI numbers get lower for these teams.  Team G is undefeated in its conference, impressive no doubt, but has a very bad loss to St. Joe’s and their best win is over a team that has no shot at an at-large bid.  The same can be said of Team H (except Northeastern isn’t quite as bad at St. Joe’s).  Team I has a very strong win at Illinois, but a very bad loss to Radford and by far the weakest RPI, strength of schedule, and KenPom numbers of the bunch.

Have you figured out who these teams are?  A is Middle Tennessee, B is Illinois State, C is Texas-Arlington, D is UNC-Wilmington, E is Monmouth, F is Nevada, G is Princeton, H is Vermont, and I is Winthrop (a special shout out to Winthrop for having TWO players with the last name Broman).  With the exception of Illinois State, all of them have won their regular season conference championship.  All, including Illinois State, are mid-majors.

Many people expect this to be the year where we see fewer at-large bids than ever from the mid-major conferences.  So, what will happen to any of these squads who don’t win their conference tourneys?  Will they have the same fate as Belmont?  Let’s say all of these teams lose in their conference tourneys.  I think it would be an absolute snub if at least a couple of them don’t receive at-large bids.  These are all quality squads.

With that said, let’s see where these teams and others fall in today’s projection.  As always, moves up or down are in parentheses after the team’s name, and projected automatic qualifiers are in bold.

In since yesterday’s update: Tennessee-Martin

Out since yesterday’s update: Belmont

1s: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga

2s: Baylor, Oregon, UCLA, Louisville

3s: Arizona, Butler, Kentucky, Duke

4s: Florida, Florida State, Purdue, West Virginia (+1)

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

6s: SMU, Saint Mary’s, Creighton, Iowa State

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

8s: Dayton, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Wichita State

9s: Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Providence

10s: Seton Hall, VCU, Arkansas, Xavier

11s: Southern California, Marquette, Wake Forest, Middle Tennessee, Illinois State

12s: Texas-Arlington, Rhode Island, Vanderbilt, UNC-Wilmington, Monmouth

13s: Nevada, Princeton, Vermont, Winthrop

14s: Bucknell, Oakland, Florida Gulf Coast (+1), Akron

15s: UNC-Greensboro, Cal-Bakersfield, Eastern Washington, South Dakota (+1)

16s: Texas Southern, Tennessee-Martin (new), UC-Davis, Mount Saint Mary’s, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

 Last Four In: Wake Forest, Illinois State, Rhode Island, Vanderbilt

NIT Projection

 Having won the Ohio Valley regular season conference championship, Belmont is an auto qualifier for the NIT.  This pushes Colorado out in today’s projection.

 1s (First Four Out of NCAA tournament field): Kansas State, California, Syracuse, Illinois

2s (Next Four Out): Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Georgia, Utah

3s (Third Four Out): Iowa, TCU, Houston, Indiana

4s: Texas Tech, Alabama, BYU, Charleston

5s: Clemson, Colorado State, Valparaiso, Richmond

6s: Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Boise State, Ole Miss

7s: Arkansas State, Auburn, San Francisco, Central Florida

8s: Belmont (new), East Tennessee State, Memphis, Texas A & M

Thanks for reading, and look for my next projection and analysis tomorrow.  In the meantime, check out the Bracket Matrix for over 100 other projections!

 

 

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Bracketology: Who’s on the Bubble?

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

NIT Projection

 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!

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Bracketology: Where is the Big Ten?

Where will the Big Ten end up?  The Bracket Preview on February 11 featured zero Big Ten teams on the top 4 seed lines.  Today, my highest-seeded Big Ten team is Purdue, who fell from a 4 to a 5 seed.  This was tough, because I think Purdue really is a 4 seed, but Virginia had to move up after beating North Carolina last night.  There is no doubt, though, that the conference tournaments will clear up the picture.  Some of the top teams are bound to be upset in the early rounds, depriving them of the chance to pick up quality wins going into Selection Sunday, and others are going to get those wins.

With that said, let’s get right into today’s projection.  As always, moves up or down since the previous update are in parentheses after the team’s name, and projected automatic qualifiers are in bold.

 In since Sunday’s update: UNC-Greensboro

Out since Sunday’s update: East Tennessee State

Trending up: Oregon, Butler, UCLA, Virginia, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Iowa State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wichita State, Arkansas, Providence, Texas-Arlington, Monmouth, Oakland, Vanderbilt, Illinois

Trending down: Duke, Wisconsin, Maryland, Xavier, Northwestern, Southern California, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, TCU, Tennessee

1s: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga

2s: Baylor, Louisville, Oregon, Arizona

3s: Florida State, Butler, UCLA, Kentucky

4s: Florida, Duke, Virginia (+1), West Virginia

5s: Purdue (-1), Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, Cincinnati

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

7s: Wisconsin (-1), Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Miami

8s: Maryland, Dayton, Virginia Tech (+1), Michigan

9s: Xavier (-1), Michigan State (+1), Wichita State, VCU

10s: Arkansas, Northwestern (-1), Seton Hall, Providence (+1)

11s: Southern California (-1), Illinois State, California, Marquette (+1), Middle Tennessee

12s: Syracuse (-1), Rhode Island, Texas-Arlington, UNC-Wilmington, Monmouth (+1)

13s: Nevada (-1), Vermont, Princeton, Akron

14s: UNC-Greensboro (new), Winthrop, Oakland (+1), Belmont

15s: Florida Gulf Coast, Bucknell (-1), Cal-Bakersfield, North Dakota

16s: Texas Southern, South Dakota, UC-Davis, Mount Saint Mary’s, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

 Last four in: California, Marquette, Syracuse, Rhode Island

NIT Projection

 1s (First Four Out of NCAA tournament field): Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Kansas State

2s (Next Four Out of NCAA tournament field): TCU, Houston, Illinois (+1), Indiana

3s (Third Four Out of NCAA tournament field): Tennessee (-1), Georgia, Ohio State (+1), Utah

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

5s: Clemson, Iowa, Boise State, Pittsburgh (+1)

6s: Valparaiso (-1), Colorado State, Ole Miss, Arkansas State (+1)

7s: Georgetown (-1), Richmond, Auburn, San Francisco

8s: UNC-Asheville, Stanford, Central Florida (+1), East Tennessee State

Thanks for reading, and look for my next update soon.  Check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

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Bracketology: Is Gonzaga a 1 Seed?

How does BYU do it?  Over the last four seasons, the Cougars have beaten Gonzaga as many times as the entire rest of the West Coast Conference has beaten Gonzaga.  BYU is 4-4 against the Zags in this time frame, while the rest of the conference is 4-66.

Even more importantly, this throws into question something I strongly believed just two short days ago: will the Zags still earn a 1 seed?  They are certainly worthy.  But, the winner of the Pac-12 will be worthy, as well.  Think about it: the top three teams in the Pac-12 are Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA.  All are in the top 6 of the AP poll.  Assuming one of them wins the Pac-12 tournament, they will have to beat at least one of the other top three teams in the conference to do it.  On the other hand, the best win Gonzaga can get at this point is against St. Mary’s.  That is definitely a good win, but not as good a win as one over Oregon, Arizona, or UCLA.

So, just like last year’s debate over whether Michigan State or Oregon deserved the final 1 seed, this one is likely to come right down to the wire on Selection Sunday as well.  Stay tuned, because we have an exciting couple of weeks ahead as regular season play finishes and the madness begins in the conference tournaments.

Here’s today’s projection.  As always, moves up or down since my last update are in parentheses after the team’s name, and projected automatic qualifiers are in bold.  I’m also including a list of teams that I feel are trending in either the right or the wrong direction.  Not all of these teams changed seed lines in this update, but they are likely to do so quickly if they continue their current trend.

 In since Friday’s update: Rhode Island, South Dakota

Out since Friday’s update: Kansas State, North Dakota State

Trending up: Oregon, UCLA, Butler, Saint Mary’s, SMU, Minnesota, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Miami, Michigan, Arkansas, Providence, Illinois State, Texas-Arlington, UNC-Wilmington, Vermont, Monmouth, Oakland, Vanderbilt

Trending down: Baylor, Duke, Wisconsin, Creighton, Maryland, Xavier, Northwestern, Southern California, Marquette, Kansas State, TCU, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Alabama

1s: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga

2s: Oregon, Baylor, Louisville, Arizona

3s: Florida State, UCLA (+1), Butler, Kentucky (+1)

4s: Florida (-1), Duke (-1), West Virginia, Purdue

5s: Virginia, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s

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

7s: Creighton (-1), Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Miami (+1)

8s: Dayton, Maryland (-1), Xavier, Michigan (+1)

9s: Virginia Tech, Wichita State, VCU (-1), Northwestern

10s: Arkansas, Michigan State, Southern California, Seton Hall

11s: Providence, Illinois State (+1), California (+1), Syracuse, Middle Tennessee

12s: Marquette (-1), Rhode Island (new), Texas-Arlington, UNC-Wilmington, Nevada

13s: Vermont, Monmouth, Princeton, Akron

14s: East Tennessee State, Winthrop, Bucknell (+1), Belmont

15s: Oakland, Florida Gulf Coast (-1), Cal-Bakersfield, North Dakota (+1)

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

 Last Four In: California, Syracuse, Marquette, Rhode Island

NIT Projection

 1s (First Four Out of NCAA Tournament field): Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt (+1), Kansas State

2s (Next Four Out of NCAA Tournament field): TCU (-1), Houston, Indiana (+1), Tennessee

3s (Third Four Out of NCAA Tournament field): Georgia, Illinois, Utah (+1), Texas Tech (-1)

4s: Alabama, Ohio State, BYU (+2), Charleston (+1)

5s: Clemson (-1), Boise State, Valparaiso, Iowa (+2)

6s: Georgetown (-2), Pittsburgh (-1), Ole Miss, Colorado State (+1)

7s: Arkansas State (-1), Auburn (-1), San Francisco (+1), Richmond (+1)

8s: Chattanooga (-1), New Mexico (-1), Stanford, UNC-Asheville (new)

Thanks for reading, and look for my next update early in the week.  Check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

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Bracketology: Is Gonzaga a Lock for a 1 Seed?

Could the Gonzaga Bulldogs have a 1 seed locked up?  A couple weeks ago, the discussion was about what would happen if they lost a game.  Many seemed to think that this would keep the Zags from the 1 line.  Now, I think the Zags are safely on the 1 line, even if they do lose before Selection Sunday.  Not only have they beaten Florida and Arizona, plus Saint Mary’s twice, but they are also crushing teams by unheard-of margins.  Last night’s win by 58 points at San Diego stands out.  In their last nine games, the Zags have won by 30 or more points six times!  That is absolute domination.

Further down the field, some teams are making a strong push to wrap up an at-large bid.  Syracuse jumped back into the field after their buzzer-beating win against Duke on Wednesday night.  The Orange still have work to do, but that was their third win over a top ACC opponent (the others being Florida State and Virginia).  Impressive for a team that looked totally out of it after losing to a bad UConn team and a far worse St. John’s team (in a blowout) before conference play.

Elsewhere, Providence pulled off a nice last-second win at Creighton on Wednesday to strengthen their case.  Michigan State, who many have had close to the cut line for a while, solidified their case with a 16-point home win over Nebraska last night.  Nebraska has fallen apart since the early part of Big Ten play, when they won at Maryland and at Indiana, but this gives MSU five wins in their last seven games.  They also own a season sweep over Minnesota, who is now up to the 6 line.  This will only add to the quality of their resume.

With that analysis, let’s get into the projection.  As always, moves up or down since the last update are in parentheses after the team’s name, and projected automatic qualifiers are in bold.

 In since Wednesday’s update: Winthrop, UC-Davis, East Tennessee State, Syracuse

 Out since Wednesday’s update: UNC-Asheville, UC-Irvine, Furman, TCU

1s: Kansas, Gonzaga, Villanova, North Carolina

2s: Baylor, Oregon, Louisville, Arizona (+1)

3s: Florida State, Florida, Butler (+1), Duke (-1)

4s: UCLA (-1), Kentucky, Purdue, West Virginia

5s: Cincinnati, Virginia, Notre Dame (+1), Saint Mary’s (+1)

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

7s: Iowa State, Maryland (-1), Oklahoma State, South Carolina

8s: VCU, Dayton, Xavier, Miami

9s: Northwestern, Virginia Tech, Wichita State, Michigan

10s: Michigan State, Arkansas (+1), Southern California, Seton Hall (+1)

11s: Marquette (-1), Providence, Syracuse (new), Kansas State (-1), Middle Tennessee

12s: Illinois State, California (-1), Texas-Arlington, Nevada, UNC-Wilmington

13s: Vermont, Monmouth, Princeton, Akron

14s: Winthrop (new), East Tennessee State (new), Florida Gulf Coast, Belmont

15s: Oakland (-1), Bucknell, Cal-Bakersfield, North Dakota State

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

 Last Four In: Syracuse, Kansas State, Illinois State, California

NIT Projection

 1s (First Four Out of NCAA tournament field): Wake Forest, Rhode Island, TCU, Georgia Tech (+1)

2s (Next Four Out): Tennessee (-1), Houston (+1), Vanderbilt (+1), Texas Tech

3s (Third Four Out): Alabama (-1), Georgia (+1), Indiana, Illinois

4s: Utah, Ohio State (+1), Clemson, Georgetown (-2)

5s: Boise State (-1), Pittsburgh, Charleston, Valparaiso

6s: Ole Miss, Auburn, Arkansas State, BYU (+1)

7s: Chattanooga (-1), New Mexico, Colorado State, Iowa (+1)

8s: Memphis (-1), Richmond, San Francisco, Stanford (+1)

Look for more updates over the weekend, and check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

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Bracketology: The Field is Narrowing

With March almost here, the field is narrowing.  Once we get past the Next Four Out, teams are hanging on by a thread.  Take Indiana, for example.  With last night’s loss at Iowa, the Hoosiers fall to 15-13 overall, 5-10 in the Big Ten.  Since 2011, no team has gotten an at-large bid with more than 13 losses.  By that logic, the Hoosiers need to win out, including through the Big Ten tournament.

I still think that because of their early season wins against Kansas and North Carolina, the Hoosiers could sneak into the NCAA field by winning their three remaining regular season games – Northwestern, Purdue, and Ohio State, which would add two more quality wins – and getting to the finals of the Big Ten tourney.  But, that’s a tall order for a team that has lost 5 in a row and doesn’t ever seem interested in playing defense.

Of course, every team still has chances for good wins and bad losses, with the last few regular season games and the conference tournaments approaching.  The field could look much different by Selection Sunday.  With that said, let’s get to today’s projection.

As always, moves up or down since the previous update are in parentheses after the team’s name, and projected automatic qualifiers are in bold.

 In since Sunday’s update: Providence

Out since Sunday’s update: Syracuse

1s: Villanova, Kansas, Gonzaga, North Carolina

2s: Louisville, Baylor, Oregon, Duke

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

4s: Kentucky (-1), West Virginia, Purdue, Butler

5s: Creighton, Wisconsin (+1), Cincinnati, Virginia

6s: Notre Dame (-1), SMU, Saint Mary’s, Maryland

7s: Iowa State, Minnesota, South Carolina, Oklahoma State

8s: Xavier, Dayton, VCU, Miami (+1)

9s: Northwestern (-1), Virginia Tech, Wichita State (+1), Michigan

10s: Michigan State, Kansas State (-1), Marquette, Southern California

11s: Arkansas, Seton Hall, California, Providence (new), Middle Tennessee

12s: Illinois State, TCU, Texas-Arlington, UNC-Wilmington, Nevada

13s: Vermont, Monmouth, Princeton, Akron

14s: UNC-Asheville, Belmont, Oakland, Florida Gulf Coast

15s: Bucknell, Cal-Bakersfield, Furman, North Dakota State

16s: North Dakota, Texas Southern, Cal-Irvine, Mount Saint Mary’s, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

Last Four In: California, Providence, Illinois State, TCU

NIT Projection

 1s (First Four Out of NCAA Tournament field): Syracuse, Rhode Island, Tennessee (+1), Wake Forest

2s (Next Four Out): Georgia Tech, Texas Tech (-1), Alabama (+1), Georgetown

3s (Third Four Out): Houston, Vanderbilt, Indiana (-1), Illinois (+2)

4s: Boise State, Georgia, Clemson (-1), Utah

5s: Ohio State, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Valparaiso (+1)

6s: Ole Miss (-1), Arkansas State, Auburn (+1), Chattanooga (+1)

7s: New Mexico (-1), Memphis (-1), BYU, Colorado State (+1)

8s: Iowa (+1), Winthrop (-1), San Francisco, Richmond (+1)

Look for my next update before the weekend, and check out the Bracket Matrix in the meantime!

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Bracketology: North Carolina is a 1 Seed

We all knew this would happen.  An ACC team has reached the top line.  With the strength and depth of the conference, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the ACC doesn’t get a 1 seed.  A classic between Kansas and Baylor, won by the former after Baylor failed to score in the final three minutes, moved Baylor down to the 2 line and opened up the last 1 seed.

The winner, for the moment, is North Carolina.  An embarrassment – to the tune of 65-41 – of a very good Virginia team was the selling point.  That adds to very high-quality wins over Florida State (home), Wisconsin (neutral), and Notre Dame (home).  Beyond that, the Tar Heels have four more wins over teams currently in the field.

Louisville also has a strong case for the 1 seed right now.  They actually have a better strength of schedule than North Carolina at the moment, and a KenPom rating of 4, to North Carolina’s 6.  It is really a thin margin between the two teams.  They even have similar quality wins, or it could be argued that Louisville’s are better, having beaten a current 2, 3, and 4 seed: Duke, Kentucky, and Purdue.  It really came down to the style points: Louisville beat a good Virginia Tech team at home by 4 yesterday, while North Carolina crushed an excellent Virginia team.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this seed goes back and forth in the next couple of weeks.  For now, Louisville is the top 2 seed.

With all that said, it’s time for me to watch Michigan take on Minnesota in a key matchup for both teams, so here’s the projection.  As always, moves up or down are in parentheses after the team’s name, and projected automatic qualifiers are in bold.

 In since yesterday’s update: North Dakota

 Out since yesterday’s update: Weber State

1s: Villanova, Kansas, Gonzaga, North Carolina (+1)

2s: Louisville, Baylor (-1), Oregon, Duke (+1)

3s: Arizona, Florida State (-1), Florida, Kentucky

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

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

6s: SMU, Maryland, Wisconsin, Saint Mary’s (+1)

7s: Iowa State, South Carolina (-1), Minnesota, Oklahoma State (+1)

8s: Xavier (-1), Northwestern (+1), Dayton (+1), VCU

9s: Virginia Tech, Michigan, Miami (+1), Kansas State (+1)

10s: Wichita State, Marquette (+1), Michigan State (-2), Southern California (-2)

11s: Arkansas, Seton Hall (-1), Syracuse, California, Middle Tennessee (+1)

12s: Illinois State (-1), TCU (-1), Texas-Arlington, UNC-Wilmington, Nevada (+1)

13s: Vermont (-1), Princeton, Monmouth, Akron

14s: UNC-Asheville, Belmont, Florida Gulf Coast (+1), Oakland

15s: Cal-Bakersfield, Bucknell, Furman (-1), North Dakota State

16s: North Dakota (new), Texas Southern, UC-Irvine, Mount Saint Mary’s, New Orleans, North Carolina Central

 Last Four In: Syracuse, California, Illinois State, TCU

NIT Projection

 In since yesterday’s update: La Salle, Eastern Tennessee State, San Francisco

Out since yesterday’s update: Penn State, Iowa, Colorado

 1s (First Four Out of NCAA tournament field): Providence, Texas Tech, Rhode Island, Wake Forest (+1)

2s (Next Four Out): Tennessee, Georgetown, Indiana (-1), Georgia Tech

3s (Third Four Out): Alabama, Vanderbilt (+1), Clemson, Houston

4s (Fourth Four Out): Utah, Boise State, Georgia, Ohio State (-1)

5s: Illinois, Charleston, Ole Miss, Pittsburgh (+2)

6s: Valparaiso (-1), New Mexico, Arkansas State (+1), Memphis (+2)

7s: Auburn (-1), Chattanooga (-1), BYU (-1), Winthrop (+1)

8s: Colorado State, La Salle (+1), Eastern Tennessee State (+1), San Francisco (+1)

Look for my next projection early in the week, and check out the Bracket Matrix for more bracketology in the meantime!

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