- With so many major conference teams falling apart (looking at you, Illinois, Minnesota, West Virginia, Mississippi State, etc.), we could be in for an interesting (and telling) bracket. We may not only see a lot of mid-majors in the 3-6 seed range, but we may also see quite a few automatic qualifiers (think Long Beach, Drexel/VCU, Iona, Middle Tennessee) getting placed ahead of the last few at-large teams. So the First Four could determine 13-seeds instead of 12-seeds, and we could end up with a few mid-major vs mid-major matchups in the 6-11, 5-12 or 4-13 games. I know I did below.
- Seeding at the top is pretty easy right now. Kentucky and Syracuse are far and away the top two, and I have some pretty decent separation between 3-4 (Kansas and Michigan State), 5-6 (Duke and North Carolina), 7 (Missouri), 8 (Ohio State) and everybody else. That Ohio State is still a pretty easy 2-seed despite having lost three of five (including two at home) tells you what you need to know. Marquette might be the closest to crashing the party, but for the most part the 3's and 4's are a good distance behind the 1's and 2's.
Notre Dame (20-10) - As is generally the custom, we find a Big East team going straight from underrated to far overrated. The Irish earned earned a 5-seed from both Lunardi and Dobbertean this week, which is staggering considering they were 11-8 on January 16. They won nine in a row but lost to St. John's over the weekend and looked like more of a 6- or 7-seed to me. And then they got destroyed by Georgetown last night.
Washington (20-8) - Right now, the Huskies are getting an 8-seed from Dobbertean and a 10 from Lunardi. I gave them a 12. They're 53rd in RPI and 68th in Pomeroy, and while they've won nine of ten ... it's nine of ten in the Pac-12. Their five best wins (according to Pomeroy): Arizona, Arizona, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon. Their best non-conference win: Georgia State. They've lost to South Dakota State, Nevada, Oregon and Colorado. That is not the resume of an 8-seed. That really isn't the resume of an NCAA Tourney team.
Mississippi State (19-10) - They continue to receive semi-easy placement in the field from bracketologists, and I continue to be completely befuddled. They rank 66th in RPI and 82nd in Pomeroy. They have losses to Georgia (at home), Ole Miss, LSU, Akron and Auburn. Oh yeah, and they've lost five in a row, and actual MSU players think they're doomed. I had to think long and hard before giving them the final at-large bid over Northwestern. Then again, if current trends hold, this won't matter -- they could lose their final three games and take themselves all the way off of the bubble.
Michigan (20-8) - The Wolverines confuse me a bit. Everything about their resume screams "5-seed" to me -- their record, their RPI (14th), their Pomeroy ranking (25th), their combination of good wins (Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, all at home) and iffy losses (Arkansas, Iowa, Purdue at home). Yet, they're getting a 3-seed from both Dobbertean and Lunardi. This is a quality team by all means, but ... 3-seed?
Kansas State (19-9) - And not just because they swept Mizzou. Their RPI (45th) is dinging them a bit, and to be sure, they have a lack of interesting non-conference wins after Alabama and Long Beach (their next-best non-conference win: Virginia Tech), but to an extent their RPI is being punished by really weak cupcakes (a problem Missouri fans should understand well), and their four wins over Top 26 teams in conference play (Missouri twice, Baylor, Texas) should balance that out. I don't have major qualms here -- I think they should probably be a 7-seed instead of the 8-9 they are mostly receiving -- but it's a qualm nonetheless. And I guess I don't have an enormous leg to stand on with their home loss to Iowa State (and that whole "swept by Oklahoma" thing).
Long Beach (19-7) - Almost no team has proven more in its losses than Long Beach State. They lost by six points at North Carolina, eight points at Kansas, four points at San Diego State, and two points at Creighton. Only their losses to Kansas State (because of the 17-point margin) and Montana (being Montana) are questionable. Plus, they beat major opponents Pittsburgh, Xavier and Auburn by an average of 14 points. Meanwhile, they have lost just once since Christmas, at Creighton. Even if they slip up in the Big West Tournament (and they probably won't -- only four of their 14 conference wins have come by single digits), they should have a spot in the field of 68, and they should probably be a 10- or 11-seed instead of a 12.
Harvard (23-4) - Their one-point loss to Penn last Saturday means they still have some work to do to win the Ivy, but the fact that they are still Top 40 in both RPI (37) and Pomeroy (35) should make them, to me, an 8-9 seed instead of their current 10-11 average. They absolutely have a couple of bad losses, and after Florida State, their resume of wins gets pretty shady, but still, they are exactly the type of mid-major to which I tend to give the benefit of the doubt.
Memphis (21-8) - They're 15th in Pomeroy and 20th in RPI ... and they're stuck on the 8-9 line? As with K-State, I don't have major qualms here, but they only really have two questionable losses (at Central Florida, at UTEP), and they have beaten six Pomeroy Top 70 teams. Seems like they're a 7 to me.
Last Few In
Names in italics would be among the last in without their conference's automatic bid.
Middle Tennessee (24-5)
West Virginia (17-12)
Mississippi State (19-10)
This is probably too mid-major friendly, but ... look at the First Few Out list. My goodness, there is a lack of quality there.
First Few Out
Saint Joseph's (19-11)
Oral Roberts (26-5)
Colorado State (16-10)
South Florida (17-11)
N.C. State (18-11)
The major issue right now for me: Mississippi State versus Northwestern. I know we all want Northwestern to finally make the field for the first time -- we rarely have the chance at a major conference underdog tale -- but I just don't see it. Yes, they beat Michigan State at home a while back. But their next-best conference wins (at Illinois, Minnesota) suddenly look unimpressive, and they're 7-10 since December 18. I just don't see it. BUT ... they host Ohio State tomorrow night. Just saying.
Field Of 96
Out of curiosity, I wanted to flash back to the "96-team field" rumors of a couple of years ago. As I mentioned while we were all freaking out about that, the difference between at-large team No. 37 and No. 65 really isn't as large as we like to think. Let's see who else would be in the Field of 96 (including the "First Few Out" teams above).
Extra Teams In The Field
Weber State (21-4)
La Salle (18-11)
St. Bonaventure (16-10)
George Mason (23-8)
Northern Iowa (18-12)
Old Dominion (19-12)
None of those teams are winning the national title, but I really cannot say I think there's any difference between, say, Second Team Out Saint Joseph's and Old Dominion.
(The new "First Four Out" list, however, leaves something to be desired.)
First Four Out
Ole Miss (16-12)
So basically, using the bracket below and adding some more teams, here's how Missouri's 24-team East Region would be taking shape:
16 UCF or 17 Colorado
8 Iowa State
9 Saint Louis or 24 Montana
12 Washington or 21 Cleveland State
13 Miami or 20 Denver
11 Iona or 22 St. Bonaventure
3 Wichita State
14 Oregon or 19 LSU
7 Florida State
10 UConn or 23 Old Dominion
15 South Dakota State or 18 Nevada
Plenty of interesting teams there. The obvious issue, of course, is ... what's the point? Anyway, thought that would be fun. Consider that my apology gift for being a day late with this post.
9 - Big East
6 - Big Ten, Big 12
5 - ACC, SEC
3 - Atlantic 10, Mountain West, Pac-12, West Coast
2 - Colonial, Conference USA, Missouri Valley
FIRST FOUR (in Dayton)
Texas (18-11) vs West Virginia (17-12)
Arizona (21-9) vs Mississippi State (19-10)
UNC-Asheville (18-9) vs Mississippi Valley State (18-11)
Stony Brook (19-8) vs Savannah State (18-10)
SOUTH REGIONAL (in Atlanta)
1 Kentucky (28-1) vs 16 Wagner (24-5)
8 Notre Dame (20-10) vs 9 Harvard (23-4)
5 Michigan (20-8) vs 12 Cincinnati (20-9)
4 UNLV (22-6) vs 13 Middle Tennessee (24-5)
6 Murray State (25-1) vs 11 Long Beach (19-7)
3 Marquette (24-5) vs 14 New Mexico State (20-8)
7 Virginia (21-7) vs 10 BYU (22-7)
2 Ohio State (23-6) vs 15 Akron (19-9)
WEST REGIONAL (in Phoenix)
1 Michigan State (23-5) vs 16 UNC-Asheville / Mississippi Valley State
8 Kansas State (19-9) vs 9 Alabama (19-9)
5 Creighton (25-5) vs 12 VCU (25-6)
4 Temple (22-6) vs 13 Texas / West Virginia
6 New Mexico (21-6) vs 11 Seton Hall (19-10)
3 Baylor (24-5) vs 14 Belmont (23-7)
7 St. Mary's (23-5) vs 10 Southern Miss (21-6)
2 Duke (25-4) vs 15 Bucknell (21-8)
EAST REGIONAL (in Boston)
1 Syracuse (29-1) vs 16 Montana (20-6)
8 Iowa State (21-8) vs 9 Saint Louis (21-6)
5 Florida (22-7) vs 12 Washington (20-8)
4 Indiana (22-7) vs 13 Miami (17-10)
6 Gonzaga (24-5) vs 11 Iona (24-6)
3 Wichita State (25-4) vs 14 South Dakota State (22-7)
7 Florida State (19-9) vs 10 Connecticut (17-11)
2 Missouri (25-4) vs 15 Cleveland State (21-9)
MIDWEST REGIONAL (in St. Louis)
1 Kansas (25-5) vs 16 Stony Brook / Savannah State
8 San Diego State (20-6) vs 9 Purdue (19-10)
5 Louisville (22-7) vs 12 Drexel (25-5)
4 Wisconsin (21-8) vs 13 Arizona / Mississippi State
6 Vanderbilt (20-9) vs 11 Xavier (18-10)
3 Georgetown (21-6) vs 14 Davidson (21-7)
7 Memphis (21-8) vs 10 California (23-7)
2 North Carolina (25-4) vs 15 UT-Arlington (21-6)
My At-First-Glance Final Four
Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina
Second glance: Marquette, Michigan State, Missouri, Kansas
Missouri's inevitable path to destiny™ (ahem)
Cleveland State, Florida State, Gonzaga, Syracuse, North Carolina, Kentucky. Woof.