Notes as we head into the first week of the two-week CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK!!!
- Marquette has Cincy at home and Seton Hall on the road this week. Unless they go 1-2 in these games and their first Big East Tournament game, it's all but certain that we're getting 11 Big East teams in the field. And even 1-2 might get them in. Their road win over UConn this week all but punched their ticket.
It's interesting -- I don't think this is the best the 16-team Big East has ever been, but the number of bids isn't about simple quality ... it's about balance. If you are too top heavy, then teams in the middle are going to possibly have too many losses to sneak in the field (see: Big 12). But if everybody in the top half loses to each other and nobody really runs away with the title (see: Big East, SEC), you can probably sneak more teams in. I don't think it's much of a competition about which conference is better -- Big 12 or SEC -- but right now the SEC has six teams in the field. The only way the Big 12 is getting six is if either Nebraska or Colorado catch fire or somebody unexpected wins the conference tourney.
- I know, I know ... we're saying this at the end of February every year ... but man oh MAN is the bubble weak. I'm looking forward to a couple of surprise tourney champions eating up a couple of at-large bids because I could barely differentiate from the last three or four names on the "In" list and the 10-12 on the "Out" list. Gonzaga vs VCU ... Memphis vs Nebraska ... Minnesota vs Michigan ... Boston College vs Wichita State ... really difficult to figure out who's deserving and who isn't.
- Once again I ask ... what's the difference between 68 and 96 teams? With 68, we're drawing the "in or out" line between 17-11 Boston College and 17-11 Minnesota. With 96, it's 18-10 Arkansas and 18-12 Northern Iowa. Once you get past 60 teams, there are about 50 teams with all-too-similar resumes.
Here are the teams who either made their way into the field in the last week or found themselves to the door.
Missouri State (23-7) - SMS took the Missouri Valley crown, so they hold the symbolic automatic bid until the conference tourney kicks up this weekend.
Memphis (21-8) - I still have no idea how they're in my Field of 68.
Actually, you know what? Screw it. They're out. They just lost at UTEP by 27 points. I can't make myself do it, even though Palm and Lunardi both had them in heading into the weekend. And you know who's in instead? Michigan.
Michigan (18-12) - They're really not on Lunardi's or Palm's radar at the moment, but in the last two weeks, they've won two Big Ten road games (one against fellow bubble member Minnesota), and they've lost to tourney teams Illinois and Wisconsin by a combined three points. They don't appear to have much support from pundits right now, but ... screw it. I like their resume better than Memphis'. At least they only lost to UTEP by nine...
Richmond (22-7) - All the Spiders did was take out a bad Charlotte team this week, but by simply not shooting themselves in the foot this week, they moved up.
Gonzaga (20-9) - A week ago, I was scoffing at the notion of the Zags still having a shot at an at-large bid. Then other teams fell apart while Gonzaga won at St. Mary's (who is also falling apart). Their No. 65 RPI is putrid, but they're No. 37 in Pomeroy, and ... again, nobody else really deserves it any more than they do.
Wichita State (22-7) - They sneaked by Creighton at home, then they lost at SMS to lose the MVC title. Their Pomeroy ranking is 52nd, RPI 57th. They've beaten one Pomeroy Top 100 team: No. 100 Tulsa. In other words, they haven't beaten a Top 99 team. Can't do it. They're out.
Maryland (18-11) - The Terps actually didn't have a bad week -- they knocked off tourney-bound Florida State, and they lost by a respectable 11 points at smoking hot North Carolina. Honestly, they have as good a case for inclusion as Gonzaga, Richmond or Michigan. But the more I think about their RPI (No. 83), the more I talk myself out of the committee including them. Especially considering they were swept by fellow bubble team Boston College.
VCU (21-10) - Look, I good to you, VCU. I stick up for you. You no help me now (they lost to Drexel and James Madison this week and have lost four of five) ... say f*** you, VCU ... I
do it myself give your spot to Michigan.
UTEP (20-8) - They lost two in a row to Central Florida and East Carolina, then their coach lost his mind.
Yes, the blowout win over Memphis was nice, but they no longer lead the CUSA ... and they're not getting an at-large bid.
I'm doing all of this before Lunardi and Palm update their brackets, so chances are a couple of these teams will drop when the new brackets are out.
Arizona (23-6) - I was advocating for them receiving a 3-seed last week ... and they repaid me by losing by 8 at USC and 22 at UCLA. I dropped them to a six this week, which seems harsh, but really they probably shouldn't have been a three last week either. I was jumping the gun a bit on that.
Tennessee (17-12) - I say the same thing every week. Yes, they should be in the field. And yes, they should be 2-3 seeds lower than where Lunardi and Palm consistently project them. Losses matter too, not just good wins.
Vanderbilt (21-7) - The 'Dores lost at home to Tennessee, but Lunardi still had them as a 5-seed heading into the weekend. Their resume SCREAMS "six."
Villanova (21-8) - I'm curious how far they fall when Lunardi and Palm break out their brackets later today. This is not a good time of year to lose three straight at home, even if they came at the hands of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and St. John's. The Johnnies took them out by 13 on Saturday, and when I initially drew up this bracket, I had them as a six-seed. I bumped them up to a five.
Colorado State (18-10) - Both Lunardi and Palm had them still in the field heading into the weekend. I assume their blowout road loss to Air Force changed that, but still ... I didn't even have them in my First Four Out before the weekend. Their best win: UNLV. Their second-best win: ...Southern Miss.
Michigan (18-12) - Again, their case for tourney inclusion is precarious at best ... but again, it's no worse than the case for most other bubble teams. I'm not sure they should be in, but they should at least be getting "First Four Out" love.
Cleveland State (24-7) - After their Bracket Busters loss to Old Dominion, CSU turned around and lost their Horizon League lead via home loss to now-in-the-field UW-Milwaukee. I can't justify them being included in the field, but their resume is not even one percent worse than Wichita State's. So if WSU is still being considered, so should CSU.
UNLV (22-7) - The Rebels have won four in a row since a tight home loss to San Diego State, including two against bubble teams Colorado State and New Mexico. They took out Kansas State, Wisconsin and Virginia Tech in non-conference play. Lunardi had them an eight on Friday ... I had to talk myself out of giving them a six today.
Belmont (27-4) - When I initially drew up the bracket, I had them as a 10-seed. They're 27-4 and absolutely throttling the Atlantic Sun. Granted, they haven't beaten anybody, but three of their four losses came away from home against Tennessee (by nine), Vanderbilt (by nine) and Tennessee again (by one). I'm probably overrating them simply because a) I just talked down about Tennessee, who still knocked Belmont off twice, and b) they did still lose to Lipscomb. But still ... they should at least be in the conversation for an 11. Palm still had them a 13 on Friday.
Utah State (25-3) - Always.
Alabama (19-9) - I still have no idea what the committee will do with 'Bama. Neither do Lunardi and Palm. Lunardi had them safely in as a 10-seed on Friday ... and Palm didn't even have them in his first four out. And that was before they lose at Ole Miss. I think the committee will appreciate that they're doing well (11-3) in a six-bid league (even if it's still not an amazingly strong conference), so I think they're in ... but it would greatly behoove them to knock off Georgia at home this coming weekend. Or better yet, beat Florida in Gainesville.
8 9 Few In
Virginia Tech (19-8)
St. Mary's (21-7)
Michigan State (15-12)
Boston College (17-11)
Names in italics would be among the last in without their conference's automatic bid.
8 9 Few Out
Wichita State (22-7)
Cleveland State (22-7)
Colorado State (18-10)
11 - Big East
6 - SEC, Big Ten
5 - Big 12,
Big Ten, ACC
3 - Mountain West, Atlantic 10, Pac-10
2 - Colonial, Horizon,
Conference USA, West Coast
FIRST FOUR (in Dayton)
Memphis (21-8) Michigan (18-12) vs Gonzaga (20-9)
Butler (20-9) vs Boston College (17-11)
Texas Southern (16-10) vs McNeese State (14-9)
Florida Atlantic (21-9) vs Bethune Cookman (14-11)
EAST REGIONAL (in Newark)
1 Ohio State vs 16 Texas Southern / McNeese State
8 Old Dominion (24-6) vs 9 Washington (19-8)
5 Kentucky (20-8) vs 12 Michigan / Gonzaga
4 Louisville (22-7) vs 13 Princeton (21-5)
6 Missouri (21-7) vs 11 Georgia (19-8)
3 Georgetown (21-8) vs 14 Bucknell (22-8)
7 Temple (22-6) vs 10 Michigan State (15-12)
2 San Diego State (25-2) vs 15 Long Beach (17-10)
WEST REGIONAL (in Anaheim)
1 BYU (26-2) vs 16 Northern Colorado (15-10)
8 Kansas State (19-9) vs 9 UCLA (21-8)
5 Villanova (21-8) vs 12 Butler / Boston College
4 Florida (22-6) vs 13 College of Charleston (22-9)
6 West Virginia (18-10) vs 11 Richmond (22-7)
3 Wisconsin (22-6) vs 14 Fairfield (23-6)
7 George Mason (25-5) vs 10 Florida State (20-8)
2 Pittsburgh (25-4) vs 15 Long Island (24-5)
in Washington, DC
SOUTHWEST REGIONAL (in San Antonio)
1 Kansas (27-2) vs 16 Florida Atlantic / Bethune Cookman
8 Xavier (22-6) vs 9 Marquette (18-11)
5 St. John's (19-9) vs 12 Alabama (19-9)
4 North Carolina (22-6) vs 13 Oakland (21-9)
6 Vanderbilt (21-7) vs 11 St. Mary's (21-7)
3 Notre Dame (23-5) vs 14 Coastal Carolina (22-4)
7 UNLV (22-7) vs 10 Virginia Tech (19-8)
2 Purdue vs 15 Kent State (18-10)
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL (in New Orleans)
1 Duke (26-3) vs 16 Murray State (21-7)
8 Cincinnati (22-7) vs 9 Tennessee (17-12)
5 Texas A&M (21-6) vs 12 UAB (20-7)
4 Connecticut (22-7) vs 13 Missouri State (23-7)
in Washington, DC
6 Arizona (23-6) vs 11 Belmont (27-4)
3 Syracuse vs 14 Vermont (22-7)
7 Utah State (25-3) vs 10 Illinois (18-11)
2 Texas (24-5) vs 15 UW-Milwaukee (18-12)
My At-First-Glance Final Four
Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Kansas, Duke.
Second glance: Georgetown, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and ... why not ... UTAH STATE!!
Missouri's inevitable path to destiny™ (ahem)
Georgia, Georgetown, San Diego State, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Kansas.
I assume the committee would try to avoid a rematch in the second, er, third round (Mizzou-Georgetown), but ... when you've got 11 teams from the same conference crammed into your bracket, making exceptions like that gets very difficult.