After Big Monday knocked me off-course last week, Rock-M-Tology is back! Two developments I am noticing as we find ourselves deep into mid-February:
1) The Big East's bids are, strangely, solidifying. Every year, we go through the same routine. When conference play begins, the bracketologists (and armchair bracketologists) end up with something ridiculous like 12 Big East teams in their first bracket. Then those teams beat each other up, and a few teams end up too far below .500 in conference to get a serious look at a bid. I assumed the same thing would happen this year. Instead ... just look at the Big East standings. There are seven teams at either 7-5 or 6-6 in conference! If the season ended today, the teams who receive the fifth through 11th seeds in the Big East tournament would be one game apart. And right now, I have all 11 teams currently at 6-6 or better in the Field of 68. I'd have figured the conference would be down to 8-9 in the field right now, but with St. John's solidifying their resume and Marquette holding on by the skin of their teeth, all 11 are still in. Marquette really can't afford to slip any further, though.
2) This bubble is simply awful. Question: would there really be any difference right now between a field of 68 and a field of 96? My last two teams in the Field of 68 right now are, somehow, 15-9 Kansas State and 13-10 Michigan State. (I know, I was as surprised as you.) If there were a field of 96, the bubble would burst somewhere around 14-8 Central Florida, 17-9 Northern Iowa, 14-11 Providence and 13-12 USC. Are those teams weaker than the ones currently in the bracket below? Absolutely. But ... a lot weaker? Not at all.
Anyway, Baylor and Oklahoma State are still teetering on the bubble (though I assume Baylor's improved form will get them in eventually), so the Big 12 still has only five teams in. Which is good, really, because the bracket is already a mess having to account for 11 Big East rivals.
Tennessee (15-10) - For reasons that evade me, Jerry Palm still has the Vols as an 8-seed as of this morning. Lunardi had them a seven as of Friday. They rank 25th in RPI (which does suggest around a 7-seed), but they are 46th in Pomeroy's rankings, and they are just 5-5 in the SEC, having lost three in a row. The exclusion of the "last ten games" measure from Palm's "Gory Details" sheet provided to the committee may help UT, which can hang their hat on handing Pittsburgh an early loss. But ... yuck. I certainly have them in the field, but among the Last Eight In.
St. John's (15-9) - A minor qualm here. I think they are absolutely in now -- they are 4-1 in the last 15 days, with wins over Duke and UConn, and I don't even have them among my Last Eight In -- but Palm has them as a 6-seed this morning, which is ludicrous. Losses still matter, and with the early-season blemishes against St. Bonaventure and Fordham, I'm pretty sure the Johnnies would have the worst pair of losses of anybody among the top 30-40 teams, much less the top 24 that constitute six-seeds. I love this team, and I hate that I have them paired up with Mizzou below, but ... they're not a 6-seed. If they keep winning against their ridiculous schedule (@Marquette, Pittsburgh this week), they might get there. But they're nowhere close yet.
Kansas State (15-9) - Palm has them out as of this morning, so the course corrections may be taking shape correctly, but Lunardi still had them as a 10-seed as of Friday. I have them in as the 67th team in the field, basically, and as we know from previous Championship Weeks, teams that close to the bubble before the tourney week upsets start, do not find themselves in the final Field of 68.
Marquette (15-10) - They're in, but ... an 8-seed, Lunardi? Really? They hadn't earned that even before their weekend loss to Georgetown.
Clemson (17-8) - Want proof of potential over-reliance on RPI? Clemson is 17-8 overall, 6-5 in the ACC, and has only one loss to a team ranked below 60th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. They rank 33rd in Pomeroy's rankings ... but just 73rd in RPI. Their best wins, really, came against Florida State and Boston College, and they don't have an amazing resume by any means ... but Palm has them just out this morning, and Lunardi has them on his "Next Four Out" list. If they miss out on the tourney, they really only have themselves to blame -- they haven't quite landed the marquee win they need and have lost to UNC by 2, Old Dominion by 1, Maryland by 2, and Virginia by 2. But still, the bubble is weak enough that I currently have them in the field, whether I like it or not.
UAB (18-6) - The Blazers are another team that really only have themselves to blame but still don't have that weak a resume. Palm ranks them fourth on the wrong side of the bubble, and Lunardi had them in his Next Four Out as of Friday. They blew opportunities against Memphis and Georgia but currently stand 8-3 in the Conference USA, which somehow currently has three teams in my field. (I can't imagine that lasts too long.) This is a lukewarm endorsement, I realize, but they probably need at least a smidge more credit than they are currently getting.
George Mason (21-5) - Lunardi and Palm both give them 9-seeds currently, which is fine ... but when I originally laid out the teams this morning, I had them at a seven. They've won 11 in a row and are currently the class of a strong Colonial.
Utah State (23-3) - Always.
No Idea Whatsoever
Alabama (16-8) - I'll admit it: I have no idea what to do with Alabama right now. At 8-2, they are a threat to win the SEC's automatic bid, rendering the confusion moot. Their Pomeroy ranking (35th) and overall record suggest a solid team ... but their RPI is so incredibly weak (87th) that I have no idea how the committee will view them if they don't get the auto bid. Their non-conference slate was ridiculous -- their best non-con win came against Lipscomb -- and they lost to St. Peter's, Seton Hall, Iowa, Providence and Oklahoma State. But ... again, they're 8-2 in the SEC. No idea. They could be overrated ... they could be underrated ... I have no idea.
Arizona (21-4) - Two weeks ago, I had them as a 7-seed, now they're a four. They've won nine of ten and just pulled off three straight road conference wins. They haven't really beaten anybody yet (according to Pomeroy, their best win was at Washington State), but three of their four losses (Kansas, BYU, at Washington) are extremely respectable.
Florida (20-5) - Like Arizona, they've moved up (from six to four) by simply winning. They've won tight games over Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Tennessee in the last two weeks, and they're now 9-2 in the SEC.
North Carolina (18-6) - Another six-to-four riser. The Heels are now 11th in Pomeroy's rankings and have won six of seven since losing at Clemson to fall to 12-5. They played well at Duke and held off Clemson on the road on Saturday. Larry Drew's departure appears to have freed them from a cancerous presence as much as anything else.
Vanderbilt (18-6) - It was a good week for the 'Dores -- they held off both Alabama and Kentucky at home this week. They're just 6-4 in the SEC, so a 5-seed might be a little too generous, but this is a solid team.
Temple (19-5) - They've won six in a row to move to 9-2 in a solid A10, and they can claim wins over Georgetown, Georgia and Maryland.
Tennessee (15-10) - They've lost three in a row and are .500 in the SEC. They're in ... but barely. They need to beat South Carolina and Georgia this week, is all I'm saying.
Maryland (16-9) - They're still 19th in Pomeroy's rankings, but they missed some opportunities in the last two weeks. They wrecked weaklings Wake Forest and Longwood (and sadly, there really isn't much distance between those two teams) but lost by 18 at home against Duke and couldn't knock off Boston College in Massachusetts on Saturday. The committee doesn't really consider Pomeroy very strongly, sadly enough, so I doubt they're looking too fondly at the Terps right now.
Washington State (17-8) - Like Maryland, they've fallen from an 11-seed to no seed. Let's just say that losing at home to Stanford is not the best thing to do when you're on the bubble.
Minnesota (17-8) - The Gophas have fallen from a six to an eight, though that might be generous considering they had lost four in a row (granted, two were to Purdue and Ohio State) before wrecking Iowa in Iowa City yesterday.
Villanova (19-6) - 'Nova falls from a three to a five following an 0-2 week. They lost to Rutgers via the rare, game-winning four-point play, and they put up a strong fight in a home loss to Pittsburgh. They're still a solid team, but they have slipped a bit.
West Virginia (16-8) - The reason the Big East is in such good shape right now is because the teams that are slipping ('Nova, WVU, Syracuse) are still quite safely in, while the teams near the middle (St. John's) are hot. The Mountaineers lost to Villanova and Pittsburgh recently, but they're still 7-5 in conference, and they'll probably end up higher than the 7-seed they currently have. But for now ... they're a seven.
Last 8 In
Colorado State (16-7)
Kansas State (15-9)
Michigan State (13-10)
8 9 Out
Missouri State (20-6)
New Mexico (16-8)
Boston College (16-9)
Oklahoma State (16-8)
11 - Big East
6 - Big Ten
5 - ACC, Big 12, SEC
4 - Mountain West
3 - Atlantic 10, Conference USA, Pac-10
2 - Colonial
FIRST FOUR (in Dayton)
Clemson (17-8) vs Michigan State (13-10)
Richmond (20-6) vs Kansas State (15-9)
Hampton (18-5) vs McNeese State (10-8)
Long Beach (13-10) vs Texas Southern (12-10)
SOUTHWEST REGIONAL (in San Antonio)
1 Kansas (24-1) vs 16 Murray State (18-6)
8 Cincinnati (19-6) vs 9 Illinois (16-9)
5 Vanderbilt (18-6) vs 12 Memphis (19-6)
4 Arizona (21-4) vs 13 Princeton (18-4)
6 Temple (19-5) vs 11 Virginia Tech (16-7)
3 Notre Dame (21-4) vs 14 Fairfield (20-5)
7 West Virginia (16-8) vs 10 Wichita State (20-5)
2 San Diego State (23-1) vs 15 Long Island (20-5)
WEST REGIONAL (in Anaheim)
1 Texas (22-3) vs 16 Long Beach / Texas Southern
8 Minnesota (17-8) vs 9 Cleveland State (20-5)
5 Villanova (19-6) vs 12 UTEP (18-5)
4 Florida (20-5) vs 13 Clemson / Michigan State
6 St. Mary's (20-4) vs 11 Tennessee (15-10)
3 Connecticut (19-5) vs 14 College of Charleston (19-7)
in Washington, DC
7 Washington (17-7) vs 10 Belmont (23-4)
2 Duke (23-2) vs 15 Bucknell (18-8)
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL (in New Orleans)
1 Ohio State (24-1) vs 16 Florida Atlantic (16-9)
8 Old Dominion (20-6) vs 9 Utah State (23-3)
5 Kentucky (17-7) vs 12 Colorado State (16-7)
4 Syracuse (20-6) vs 13 Richmond / Kansas State
6 Missouri (18-6) vs 11 St. John's (15-9)
3 Wisconsin (19-5) vs 14 Vermont (21-5)
7 Xavier (18-6) vs 10 UCLA (18-7)
2 Georgetown (20-5) vs 15 Kent State (16-7)
EAST REGIONAL (in Newark)
1 Pittsburgh (23-2) vs 16 Hampton / McNeese State
8 UNLV (18-7) vs 9 Georgia (17-7)
in Washington, DC
5 Texas A&M (18-5) vs 12 Marquette (15-10)
4 North Carolina (18-6) vs 13 Coastal Carolina (20-2)
6 Louisville (19-6) vs 11 UAB (18-6)
3 Purdue (20-5) vs 14 Oakland (17-9)
7 George Mason (21-5) vs 10 Florida State (18-7)
2 BYU (23-2) vs 15 Montana (16-7)
My At-First-Glance Final Four
Kansas, Duke, Georgetown, Pittsburgh
Second glance: Notre Dame, Texas, Ohio State, GEORGE MASON!!!
Missouri's inevitable path to destiny™ (ahem)
St. John's, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Kansas. Gross, gross, gross.