A few thoughts on the developments of this past week.
- As of this exact moment, I believe Joe Lunardi and I have the exact same Field of 68. Different seedings (VERY different in some cases), but same 68. I ... don't know how to feel about that.
- I'm starting to realize that while the bubble is horrifically bad, the 7-10 seeds are excellent. As it stands now, you've got an interesting mix of teams who thought they might be a 4-5 -- or better -- at one point (i.e. Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, UConn, Villanova ... who I admittedly might have underseeded right now), stellar mid-majors (Temple, Old Dominion, George Mason, Richmond), and majors who have had some really nice moments (Washington, UCLA, Vanderbilt). If things hold -- and if some of the 1's and 2's continue to look quite vulnerable -- we could have some serious, 2000-style bracket carnage before the second weekend.
- Despite all sorts of crazy results this week, I only ended up making one change on the "in or out" list (not including conference tourney results): Alabama's out and Clemson's back in. I still think I might be underestimating how the committee will view Alabama for going 12-4 in the SEC ... but losing at Ole Miss, then losing by 27 at Florida, was not a strong way to finish the regular season. At least they beat Georgia at the end.
- For some reason, I still can't see the committee giving San Diego State a 1-seed. At this point, I'm not totally sure why. And speaking of Mountain West teams ... what the hell do you do with BYU now? They were a 1-seed a week ago, but after Brandon Davies' suspension (and the home loss to New Mexico that followed), I assume the committee will overreact and drop them further than would seem fair. Jerry Palm had them a 4-seed this weekend ... for now, I dropped them to a 3.
- So is there any sort of rule about conference teams playing each other in the First Four? Because I've got three ACC teams in those four right now.
- We've got some bid-stealer games AND some bid-opener games on the horizon.
I'm feeling quite good about vetoing Memphis for Michigan a week ago. I was a week ahead of the curve on that one. Now, Michigan is semi-safe after a weekend win over Michigan State (a game I saw in its entirety despite the fact that KU-MU was still ongoing, ahem), and Memphis is on life support after losing at East Carolina.
Conference 1-Seeds - Vermont gets blown out by 5-seed Stony Brook in the America East semis. Coastal Carolina is upset by UNC-Asheville in the Big South finals. George Mason is whipped by VCU in the Colonial semis, though they should still be safely in the field (now VCU faces Old Dominion in the finals -- they could steal a bubble slot with a win). Fairfield gets drubbed by 4-seed St. Peter's in the MAAC semis. Missouri State dribbles the ball out of bounds and loses to Indiana State in the MVC finals (their chances for an at-large bid are precarious at best). Murray State loses to Tennessee Tech. And in losing to Harvard in the de facto Ivy championship game, Princeton is out too. (UPDATE: I just read that Princeton isn't officially out yet. Apparently if they win at Penn, the two schools will go to a playoff.)
Alabama (20-10) - As mentioned above, the only thing the Tide have going for them is the 12-4 SEC record. Their non-conference schedule and performance were both semi-embarrassing. If they can make the SEC finals -- beating Georgia and Kentucky along the way -- I think they'll be in pretty good shape. But they're precarious enough that they should have to at least beat Georgia to have a chance.
Conference Tourney Winners - Belmont murders former Mizzou victim North Florida in the Atlantic Sun. Morehead State beats Tennessee Tech to win the Ohio Valley. Along with UNC-Asheville, Indiana State, and Harvard, that's your field so far.
Clemson (20-10) - In the last few weeks, I've had them way out, then in, then out again ... and now, after their home win over Virginia Tech, they are, for now, in one more time. They'll play Boston College on Friday in what might end up being an elimination game if there are a few more upsets in conference tournaments.
Notre Dame (25-5) - Honestly, they might not be overrated at all, but Jerry Palm had them a 1-seed this morning ... and it just surprised me a little. Duke ranks above the Irish in both RPI and KenPom ratings, so I still have the Blue Devils on the top line. But ... winning 11 of 12 in the Big East will get you noticed, that's for sure.
Vanderbilt (21-9) - Palm still has Vandy as a 5-seed this week, which ... I cannot cosign. In the last two weeks, the 'Dores are 1-3 with respectable losses to Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida. They went 9-7 in a decent-not-great SEC. Let's put it this way: if they're still a five, then Mizzou's still a six or seven. And Mizzou's not still a six or seven.
UConn (21-9) - They're 26th in KenPom's rankings, which suggests a 7-seed. They're 23rd in RPI, which suggests a six. They've lost four of five and five of eight. So ... why are they still a five with both Lunardi and Palm?
VCU (23-10) - I can't believe I'm saying this. I will have no problem getting this one wrong if the committee decides to include VCU if they are to lose tonight. I would love for one or two of the extra spots in the field go to promising mid-majors. But they lost to Drexel and James Madison to end the regular season, and they rank just 83rd in KenPom. That doesn't do it for me. Agan, though, I'd be okay with being wrong for selecting somebody like Clemson over VCU.
BYU (27-3) - They might be fairly rated too. But the Davies suspension brings up one of the NCAA Tournament's ongoing debates -- how much of a team's selection/seeding should be due to their accomplishment, and how much should be due to their potential. Palm has them on the 4-seed line now, but ... they were a one a week ago and only lost once. It was a bad loss, but obviously Palm is guessing that BYU will be punished for losing Davies. Should they? I go back and forth on this.
Georgia (20-10) - They're just about properly rated, but Lunardi has them a hair closer to the bubble line than I do. They don't have any great wins to speak of, but neither do a majority of the teams on the bubble. But all ten losses were either in overtime or by single digits, and they haven't lost to a team worse than Tennessee. No great stars on the resume, but no red flags either.
Biggest Early-Week Games
Monday, March 7
Old Dominion vs VCU (Colonial Finals, 6:00 PM CT, ESPN) - VCU could get in with a loss, but I doubt it. ODU's in regardless, so all the bubble teams should be rooting for the Monarchs. A VCU would would solve my "three ACC teams in the First Four" problem, I think.
St. Mary's vs Gonzaga (West Coast Finals, 8:00 PM CT, ESPN) - The Gaels lost three in a row late in the regular season, and their loss to San Diego might be the single worst loss of any possible bubble team. I think they'll end up on the outside looking in if they don't beat the Zags. In other words, fans of bubble teams should be rooting for Gonzaga as well. A VCU win might eat up a bubble slot, but a St. Mary's loss might open up another one.
Iona vs St. Peters (MAAC Finals, 6:00 PM CT, ESPN2) - Winner take all.
College of Charleston vs Wofford (Southern Finals, 8:00 PM CT, ESPN2) - Winner take all, though Charleston is possibly one or two wins away from a decent case for an at-large.
Tuesday, March 8
Butler vs UW-Milwaukee (Horizon Finals, 8:00 PM CT, ESPN) - If Butler wins like I assume they will, then they will open up another bubble slot, as there's no way in hell Milwaukee gets an at-large bid. It's funny -- typically at this point in the season, we're watching these games to see if bubble spots disappear. This year, bubble slots might be opening up. There's hope for you yet, Colorado.
Marquette vs Providence (Big East First Round, 8:00 PM CT, ESPNU) - Marquette is probably still in with a loss here, but they'll have "First Four play-in game" written all over them.
Wednesday, March 9
Long Island vs Robert Morris (Northeast Finals, 6:00 PM CT, ESPN2) - Winner take all.
Colorado vs Iowa State (Big 12 First Round, 2:00 PM CT) - Whatever chance Colorado has for an at-large will vanish with a loss.
Nebraska vs Oklahoma State (Big 12 First Round, 11:30 AM CT) - Whatever chance Nebraska has for an at-large will vanish with a loss.
Last 8 In
UAB (22-7) - this is where they would be without the at-large bid.
Boston College (19-11)
Virginia Tech (19-10)
St. Mary's (22-7) - this is where they would be without the at-large bid.
Michigan State (16-13)
8 11 Out
As far as I can tell, these are the 11 teams who still have a chance of a bubble bid. After going 0-fer against Penn State and Northwestern this week, Minnesota is officially eliminated from competition.
Colorado State (18-11)
New Mexico (19-11)
Missouri State (25-8)
Washington State (19-11)
Wichita State (23-8)
11 - Big East
6 - Big Ten, ACC
5 - Big 12
3 - Atlantic 10, Mountain West, Pac-10
2 - Colonial, Horizon, West Coast
FIRST FOUR (in Dayton)
Boston College (19-11) vs Virginia Tech (19-10)
Clemson (20-10) vs Michigan State (16-13)
McNeese State (15-10) vs Texas Southern (18-11)
Florida Atlantic (19-9) vs Bethune Cookman (16-11)
SOUTHWEST REGIONAL (in San Antonio)
1 Kansas (29-2) vs 16 McNeese State / Texas Southern
8 Old Dominion (26-6) vs 9 Washington (20-10)
5 UNLV (23-7) vs 12 Boston College / Virginia Tech
4 St. John's (20-10) vs 13 Harvard (21-5)
6 Kansas State (21-9) vs 11 Marquette (18-13)
3 Florida (24-6) vs 14 Morehead State (22-9)
7 Temple (24-6) vs 10 UAB (22-7)
2 Notre Dame (25-5) vs 15 Long Island (25-5)
WEST REGIONAL (in Anaheim)
1 Duke (27-4) vs 16 Northern Colorado (17-10)
8 Utah State (27-3) vs 9 George Mason (26-6)
5 Xavier (24-6) vs 12 St. Mary's (22-7)
4 Georgetown (21-9) vs 13 Iona (22-10)
6 Cincinnati (24-7) vs 11 Butler (21-9)
3 Purdue (25-6) vs 14 Indiana State (20-13)
7 Villanova (21-10) vs 10 Georgia (20-10)
2 San Diego State (27-2) vs 15 UW-Milwaukee (19-12)
EAST REGIONAL (in Newark)
1 Ohio State (29-2) vs 16 Florida Atlantic / Bethune Cookman
8 Missouri (21-9) vs 9 Florida State (21-9)
5 West Virginia (20-10) vs 12 Clemson / Michigan State
4 Kentucky vs 13 Oakland (22-9)
in Washington, DC
6 Arizona (25-6) vs 11 Michigan (18-12)
3 Syracuse (25-6) vs 14 Bucknell (23-8)
7 Connecticut (21-9) vs 10 Richmond (24-7)
2 Texas (25-6) vs 15 Kent State (20-10)
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL (in New Orleans)
1 Pittsburgh (27-4) vs 16 UNC-Asheville (16-13)
8 UCLA (22-9) vs 9 Tennessee (18-13)
in Washington, DC
5 Texas A&M (22-7) vs 12 Belmont (30-4)
4 Wisconsin (23-7) vs 13 College of Charleston (23-9)
6 Louisville (23-8) vs 11 Gonzaga (22-9)
3 BYU (27-3) vs 14 Long Beach (18-10)
7 Vanderbilt (21-9) vs 10 Illinois (19-12)
2 North Carolina (24-6) vs 15 Boston U. (20-13)
My At-First-Glance Final Four
Kansas, Georgetown, Ohio State, North Carolina.
Second glance: Florida, Duke, West Virginia, Pittsburgh.
Missouri's inevitable path to destiny™ (ahem)
Florida State, Ohio State, West Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Kansas.