Now That's More Like It!
In the second-to-last week of the major conference regular season, some teams finally decided to start acting like they wanted an at-large bid. Notre Dame went from dead and buried to almost in (with a very good case to be in). Florida officially decided to look like a tourney team, as did UConn (despite yesterday's loss). Louisville solidified their case, as did (obviously) Oklahoma State. In all, I'm not nearly as grossed out by my Last 8 In as I was last week, though Illinois and Dayton are holding on for dear life at this point. It's currently a pretty precarious spot for mid-majors -- they take up four of the eight spots on the Last In list, while the First Out list starts off with five major conference teams. Once we get to March, it's a lot easier for the major conference teams to score a big win and get themselves in, while one mid-major slip-up could mean elimination.
Championship Week(s) Starts Tomorrow!!!
That's right, three conferences start up their tournaments tomorrow. Championship Week(s) is(are) officially upon us!
Horizon League Round One
5 Cleveland State vs 9 Loyola (IL) (6:00pm CST)
3 UW-Green Bay vs 10 Youngstown State (7:00pm CST)
4 Milwaukee vs 8 UI-Chicago (7:00pm CST)
6 Valparaiso vs 7 Detroit (7:00pm CST)
Big South Quarterfinals
1 Coastal Carolina vs 8 VMI (6:00pm CST)
4 UNC-Asheville vs 5 High Point (6:00pm CST)
2 Radford vs 7 Charleston Southern (6:00pm CST)
3 Winthrop vs 6 Liberty (6:00pm CST)
Ohio Valley Quarterfinals
2 Morehead State vs 7 Jacksonville State (6:30pm CST)
1 Murray State vs 8 Tennessee State (7:00pm CST)
4 Eastern Illinois vs 5 Eastern Kentucky (7:30pm CST)
3 Austin Peay vs 6 Tennessee Tech (7:30pm CST)
Charlotte - Jerry Palm still had the Niners in the tournament as of Friday, though it's probably safe to say that Saturday's loss to George Washington officially shoveled dirt on their casket.
Illinois - Let's just say that, heading into the final week of the regular season, it's probably not a good thing when your RPI is between that of Northeastern and Sam Houston. A 10-6 Big Ten record keeps them in the tourney, but barely. Saturday's home loss to Minnesota hurt quite a bit. The Illini have now lost three of four and stand at #50 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings and an egregious #73 in the RPI. They play at Ohio State this week, then host Wisconsin. They'll need to win at LEAST one of those games to stay on the right side of the line.
Cincinnati - I'm kind of picking nits with this one, but while nobody actually has Cincy in the field of 65 right now, they're still showing up on "First __ Out" lists, and it's REALLY hard to make that case right now. They've lost six of nine, are 7-9 in the Big East, and their best win since December 1 was against UConn. Not good.
Wake Forest - This is a REALLY bad time of the year to lose three games in a row. Wake is still safely in and everything, but getting blown out at N.C. State, then losing at home to lowly (tee hee) North Carolina is not the sign of a team that is planning on playing too far into March. I think they're in even if they lose at Florida State and at home to Clemson this week, but that wouldn't be tremendously advisable.
Pittsburgh - More nit-picking here. Palm had them as a 3-seed on Friday, and I can't justify higher than a 4 at this point. I still want nothing to do with them in the tourney, though.
Utah State - Always.
Louisville - With other Big East teams (UConn, Notre Dame) starting to surge and me getting a migraine thinking about how to fit nine conference teams into an NCAA bracket, the Cardinals needed to come up with a big win, especially after their mid-week home loss to Georgetown (not a bad loss, but a missed opportunity). So they visited surging UConn and beat them thanks to 19th-year senior Edgar Sosa's last-second drive. That'll do it.
Michigan State - The Spartans lost four of six between February 2 and February 21, but their tough road win over Purdue solidified them as a top four seed again. They're not really underrated (Lunardi already had them as a four), but it does appear they've begun to bounce back.
California - At this point, I think if Cal makes the finals of the Pac-10 Tournament, they're in whether they win it or not. Maybe the semis, too. As long as they don't trip up against Oregon State or somebody in the quarterfinals, they've done enough to make their case.
New Mexico - This team was underrated by me last week -- I said I couldn't justify giving them a 3-seed (translation: I didn't see the committee giving them a 3-seed) last week -- but after winning at Provo in one of Saturday's more exciting games, I'm in.
Notre Dame - Left for dead after three straight losses and an injury to Luke Harangody, the irish somehow beat Pittsburgh and Georgetown (in DC) this week, taking them straight from "no chance" to "top of the bubble." I still have them out, but that should really be of no concern to them -- beat UConn and Marquette this week, and they're absolutely in. Split, and they'll still have some work to do in the clusterf*** known as the 16-team Big East Tournament. Either way, when you're in the Big East, you'll have no problem playing your way in if you keep winning.
Florida - The way I rank teams, you generally get more credit for a big win than a tough loss. Florida played their way into the field of 65 with an easy home win over Tennessee, and I still have them in (barely) after a 2-point road loss to a salty Georgia squad.
Marquette - Remember earlier in the season, when Marquette lost all those close games and I said I almost felt sorry for them? Well let's just say that after three straight overtime wins, all on the road, I think luck has evened out. They didn't beat any Big East heavyweights -- it was Cincy, St. John's and Seton Hall -- but those were three hungry home teams looking for resume-quality wins, and the Golden Eagles beat them all.
Maryland - No, they didn't rise because I got complaints from a Maryland fan about their low placement. They rose because they followed up two home wins over KenPom Top 25 teams (Georgia Tech, Clemson) with an overtime road win over a suddenly desperate Virginia Tech team. As you'll see in the bracket below, they still missed out on a 6-seed -- once again, I couldn't get them on the 6 line, so they ended up a 7 -- but with Duke visiting on Wednesday, they could be an easy 5 this time next week.
Xavier - It was a nice "solidifying your position" week for XU, who avoided a land mine by winning at St. Louis on Wednesday, then took advantage of a little home cookin' in beating Richmond in double OT yesterday. I came away impressed with both teams yesterday (Mizzou fans should know how good Richmond is), and the Musketeers have now positioned themselves for a potential 4-seed if they keep winning.
Cincinnati - Again, a bad time to lose six of nine.
Northern Iowa - I know they were without Jordan Eglseder and all, but they lost to Evansville this week. Evansville is ranked #243 in the RPI, #220 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. They're obviously still in, but their seeding took a swift blow.
Seton Hall - I showed some faith in the Pirates last week, becoming just about the only person to put them in the field ... and they responded by creeping by Rutgers and losing to Marquette. A loss to Marquette shouldn't be the end of the world, but with the way UConn and Notre Dame are now playing, it kind of is.
Illinois - You better at least beat Wisconsin this week, guys. If you wanted to take out Ohio State too, that wouldn't be a terrible idea.
Last 8 In
So with all the maneuvering, I think this where we currently stand:
San Diego State
First 8 Out
8 - Big East
7 - ACC, Big 12
5 - Big Ten
4 - Atlantic 10, Mountain West, SEC
2 - West Coast, Conference USA
South Region (in Houston)
1 Syracuse vs 16 Lehigh
8 Clemson vs 9 Florida
5 Butler vs 12 Dayton
4 Baylor vs 13 Cornell
6 Texas A&M vs 11 UTEP
3 New Mexico vs 14 Weber State
in San Jose
7 Maryland vs 10 Louisville
2 Purdue vs 15 Coastal Carolina
West Region (in Salt Lake City)
1 Duke vs 16 Lipscomb / Jackson State
8 Richmond vs 9 Northern Iowa
5 Tennessee vs 12 Illinois
4 Pittsburgh vs 13 Murray State
6 Gonzaga vs 11 UAB
3 Georgetown vs 14 Wofford
7 UNLV vs 10 Utah State
2 Kansas State vs 15 Quinnipiac
in Oklahoma City
Midwest Region (in St. Louis)
1 Kansas vs 16 Troy
8 Georgia Tech vs 9 Marquette
in Oklahoma City
5 Xavier vs 12 Siena
4 Wisconsin vs 13 San Diego State
6 Vanderbilt vs 11 Virginia Tech
3 Ohio State vs 14 Sam Houston
7 Missouri vs 10 California
2 Villanova vs 15 UC-Santa Barbara
East Region (in Syracuse)
1 Kentucky vs 16 Stony Brook
8 Wake Forest vs 9 Oklahoma State
in New Orleans
5 Temple vs 12 Connecticut
4 BYU vs 13 Kent State
in San Jose
6 Texas vs 11 St. Mary's
3 Michigan State vs 14 Oakland
in New Orleans
7 Florida State vs 10 Old Dominion
2 West Virginia vs 15 Morgan State
My At-First-Glance Final Four
Syracuse, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky
Second glance: Texas A&M (couldn't make myself pick Purdue), Duke, Villanova, Michigan State
Missouri's inevitable path to destiny™ (ahem)
California, Villanova, Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse