As I make the shift from "What I would do" to "What I think the committee would do," here are a few notes from the last week or so of basketball.
- There are basically five top teams, followed by two Mountain West teams, followed by everybody else. The top five teams (Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Texas) were so close together that I bumped Duke all the way from fifth overall to first after the top four teams all lost. The five teams stayed the same, but the order changed. I'm really curious what BYU or San Diego State would have to do to get a 1-seed at this point -- really, I think it would take multiple losses by at least two of that top five. Those five, in some order, are pretty entrenched at this point.
- One of the annoying parts of putting together these brackets before the conference tourneys is figuring out automatic bids. Do you go with the team that ranks the highest on the list? Do you just go with conference leaders? Right now UTEP is atop the Conference USA standings, but I have both UAB and Memphis ranking above them overall (and Southern Miss gaining ground). Do I give them the auto bid? I did this week, but I don't trust them to win the conference tourney.
- Alabama, meanwhile, is right on the bubble without the SEC's automatic bid ... but do they get the auto nod since they're tied with Florida in the standings? I said no, but it's all very mushy until teams start winning (and losing) conference tournaments.
- The Big East still has 11 teams in the field. Marquette lost to St. John's (then again, who hasn't recently?) but beat Seton Hall at home, and in a week where seemingly everybody lost a game, that was enough to keep them above water. Amazingly, the other 10 bids are all quite solid. The Big East is in position to benefit from a weak mid-major class more than anybody.
- This really was an interesting week. Of the 68 teams in last week's field, 38 lost at least one game this week. I marked 29 teams to fall and only 12 to rise. Two of the four new teams in this week's field (Maryland and VCU) even lost a game this week ... meaning they rose into the field while going 1-1.
- Looking at others' brackets (and Friday's bracket "mock draft"), I think I'm putting less value on big wins than others. I tend to value big wins and big losses with the same weight, but looking at how others have been seeding teams like St. John's and Tennessee (and how I've been putting them much lower) makes me think that I should probably be placing a bit more value on that.
Let's take a look at the four teams who fell out of last week's bracket.
Colorado State (18-8) - The Rams really didn't have a bad week. They took out TCU on the road with ease (69-55), but they failed to close out UNLV at home, losing by seven on Saturday. That's not a bad win, but CSU's spot on the bubble was, to me, pretty precarious. They get shots at BYU and San Diego State in coming weeks, so they can play themselves back in. Especially if everybody else keeps losing.
Memphis (20-7) - They held off UAB at home on Wednesday, but they suffered one of the worst losses of a bad-loss weekend on Saturday: they lost by 15 points at Rice. That's 12-14 Rice. That knocks you down a few notches. Memphis was due -- they'd been having to win far too many close games recently -- and they're just as likely as anybody to win the conference tourney in a couple of weeks. But for now, they're back on the outside, looking in.
Clemson (18-9) - This is how you show me gratitude, CU? By losing at N.C. State? The Tigers are still 36th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, and they're over .500 in the ACC, but their RPI ranking of 66th is a big red flag, as is the fact that their best win is over Florida State.
Richmond (21-7) - The Spiders are still 10-3 in the A10, and they've still got a chance, but losing by 20 at Temple was both bad timing and a blown opportunity.
Alabama (18-8) - The Tide are now 10-2 in the SEC, playing their way into the field despite an egregiously awful non-conference season. Not only did they not play anybody ... but they went 8-6 in the process. Best non-con win? Lipscomb. But they're winning now. They held serve against LSU and Arkansas this week, and in a week where everybody else was losing, simply winning games you're supposed to win got them into the field.
Butler (20-9) - They're 55th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, and their RPI is 49th. And they play in the Horizon League. Needless to say, if their name was Wright State and not Butler, they probably wouldn't have a place in the field right now. But they've won six in a row, they swept conference leader Cleveland State, and they've beaten at least one other tourney team, Florida State. I don't feel good putting them in, but if I had to guess where the committee is at with them right now, I think they're in.
Maryland (17-10) - The kings of the respectable loss, the Terps have lost only two games to teams ranked outside Ken Pomeroy's Top 35 (both Boston College, strangely enough). They lost a potential resume builder against Virginia Tech, then TCB'd against N.C. State. This is another team I don't like putting in, but ... again, somebody has to fill the 68 slots. We can't look at the field and decide to just go with 60 teams this year.
VCU (21-8) - They've lost two of three (to tourney teams Old Dominion and George Mason) ... but they gave their resume a boost with their one-point win over Wichita State on Friday night. I assume I have them higher than the committee right now, but I really like the Colonial Athletic Association at the moment -- their top teams went 5-1 in BracketBuster games this weekend -- and I think they deserve three teams. Consider this me holding onto a little "What I Would Do" power instead of completely going with my mind-reading of the committee.
St. John's (17-9) - I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had St. John's rated lower than most, but that they would either play their way in or out with their brutal schedule ahead. Well ... they've won six of seven against that brutal schedule. They're in. Really, really in. They've beaten two of the "Top Five" I mentioned above (Duke and Pittsburgh), and they have eight wins against Ken Pomeroy's top 32. Eight! Their losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham are still eyesores, and they're preventing me from giving them too good a seed right now ... but I'm fully accepting that this is a team I'm going to have rated lower than the committee.
Duke (25-2) - They won by not losing this week. They're back to No. 1 after cruising to beyond-easy wins over Virginia and Georgia Tech.
Arizona (23-4) - Now that Texas has lost, Arizona might lay claim to "hottest team in the country" status right now. They've won eight in a row and 11 of 12, and they likely locked up the Pac-10 title with their last-second, awesome-block-aided win over Washington. Yes, the Pac-10 is a bit shoddy, but I'm starting to believe in this team. (Which means they'll lose to USC and UCLA this week.)
Nebraska (18-8) - Are they in? No way. But they've got a resume now. Before this game, their best wins of the season were against Texas A&M and USC. But in the same week, they both won a road game (yes, against Oklahoma, but still) and knocked off would-have-been No. 1 Texas. The rest of the way, they've got winnable home games against Kansas State and Missouri, and winnable road games against Iowa State and Colorado. Go 3-1, get to 9-7 in conference and 21-9 overall, win a game or two in the conference tourney, and they could end up being the Big 12's sixth team in the field (since Baylor once again had second thoughts about stealing a bid this week).
In a week where almost everybody lost, there were still three teams/entities who lost more.
St. Mary's (22-6) - I love St. Mary's, and I love Randy Bennett. They're one of my favorite mid-majors, and I'd still have them in the Field of 68 without the automatic bid. But ... San Diego? You lost to 6-21 San Diego? Ggh. And then the Gaels faded and blew an opportunity to rebuild their resume at home against Utah State (my other favorite mid-major). I do still have them in the field, but they fell from a reasonably high perch to the bubble in one week. They better beat Gonzaga and Portland at home this week.
New Mexico (17-10) - Nine days ago, the Lobos were at least somewhat threatening to slip onto the bubble. They lost at Colorado State and San Diego State (both by six points), which was excusable. But then they lost at home to 12-15 Utah via banked-in buzzer beater. So ends their stay on the bubble.
The Missouri Valley Conference - The MVC went 3-7 in BracketBuster games this week. SMS lost by double digits at Valparaiso. Wichita State lost at home to VCU. Northern Iowa lost at home to George Mason. Indiana State lost at home to Morehead State. Just a brutal weekend for the MVC. I would still have Wichita State in the field without the automatic bid, but it's dicey.
Boston College (16-10) - They're 45th in RPI, 70th in Pomeroy, 6-6 in the ACC, and they've lost five of seven ... and Lunardi has them IN right now? When I drew everything up, I didn't even have them in my first EIGHT out! Huh. I'm apparently missing something here.
Gonzaga (19-9) - Wait ... when did they become a viable option again? They're 71st in RPI, 49th in Pomeroy, their best wins are against Marquette and Xavier, and they lost to Santa Clara, San Francisco and, among other potential tourney teams, the Memphis squad I bagged on above? And now Pomeroy has them in as well (Palm had them in as of Friday, too)? Give me VCU over the 'Zags.
Wisconsin (20-6) - Technicality, really. The threes, fours and fives are jumbled very closely together right now, and Lunardi has the Badgers a three, while I have them a five. Not too worried about this one. Wiscy's really good.
Arizona - Lunardi still has them a 5-seed as of this morning.
Minnesota (17-9) - Can't really say I'm passionate about this one either, but I still have them on the 9-10 line, and Lunardi has them a 12. I can be talked out of this one, by all means.
Utah State (25-3) - Always!!!
Last 8 In
Virginia Tech (17-8)
Wichita State (22-6) - this is where they would be if they weren't snagging the auto bid
St. Mary's (22-6) - this is where they would be if they weren't snagging the auto bid
Michigan State (15-11)
First 8 Out
Colorado State (18-8)
Missouri State (21-7)
UTEP (20-6) - this is where they would be if they weren't snagging the auto bid
11 - Big East
6 - Big Ten, SEC
5 - ACC, Big 12
3 - Colonial, Mountain West, Pac-10
2 - Atlantic 10, Horizon, Conference USA
FIRST FOUR (in Dayton)
Alabama (18-8) vs VCU (21-8)
Butler (20-9) vs Maryland (17-10)
Murray State (21-7) vs Bethune Cookman (16-11)
Texas Southern (14-10) vs McNeese State (16-9)
EAST REGIONAL (in Newark)
1 Duke (25-2) vs 16 Texas Southern / McNeese State
8 Old Dominion (22-6) vs 9 Minnesota (17-9)
5 Kentucky (19-7) vs 12 St. Mary's (22-6)
4 Villanova (21-6) vs 13 Princeton (20-5)
6 Temple (21-5) vs 11 Wichita State (22-6)
3 Georgetown (21-6) vs 14 Bucknell (20-8)
7 Washington (18-8) vs 10 Tennessee (16-11)
2 Purdue (22-5) vs 15 Vermont (22-6)
WEST REGIONAL (in Anaheim)
1 Pittsburgh (24-3) vs 16 Long Beach (17-10)
8 UNLV (20-7) vs 9 Illinois (17-10)
in Washington, DC
5 Texas A&M (21-5) vs 12 Marquette (16-11)
4 Florida (21-5) vs 13 UTEP (20-6)
6 Louisville (20-7) vs 11 Virginia Tech (17-8)
3 Arizona (23-4) vs 14 Oakland (20-9)
7 St. John's (17-9) vs 10 Cleveland State (23-6)
2 Texas (23-4) vs 15 Long Island (22-5)
SOUTHWEST REGIONAL (in San Antonio)
1 Kansas (25-2) vs 16 Murray State / Bethune Cookman
8 Georgia (18-8) vs 9 Florida State (19-7)
5 Wisconsin (20-6) vs 12 Alabama / VCU
4 Syracuse (22-6) vs 13 Butler / Maryland
6 Missouri (21-6) vs 11 UAB (19-7)
3 Notre Dame (21-5) vs 14 Fairfield (22-5)
7 George Mason (23-5) vs 10 UCLA (19-8)
2 San Diego State (27-1) vs 15 Kent State (17-9)
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL (in New Orleans)
1 Ohio State (25-2) vs 16 Florida Atlantic (19-9)
8 Cincinnati vs 9 Utah State (25-3)
5 Vanderbilt (20-6) vs 12 Kansas State (18-9)
4 Connecticut (20-6) vs 13 Coastal Carolina (25-3)
6 West Virginia (17-9) vs 11 Michigan State (15-11)
3 North Carolina (20-6) vs 14 College of Charleston (21-7)
7 Xavier (20-6) vs 10 Belmont (25-4)
2 BYU (25-2) vs 15 Montana (19-8)
My At-First-Glance Final Four
Duke, Texas, Kansas, Ohio State
Second glance: Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, UConn
Okay, just kidding. Third glance: Purdue, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, North Carolina. Least watchable Final Four since 2000.
Missouri's inevitable path to destiny™ (ahem)
UAB, Notre Dame, San Diego State (or George Mason!), Kansas, Ohio State, Duke.