2013 College basketball bracketology, gearing up for March Madness – 2/25 to 3/4

Indiana Hoosiers coach Tom Crean salutes the fans after the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Assembly Hall. Indiana defeats Purdue 83-55. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

What a weekend of hoops we had.  First of all, we enjoyed the start of Bracketbusters, the annual non-conference slate of games between evenly matched (or at least presumed to be) teams and leagues.  It’s too bad that these games are going the way of the Dodo bird, but I understand why some of the leagues wanted to back out.  Take the Missouri Valley, they simply don’t need the game for increased national exposure any longer and their clubs run the risk of a bad loss.  Over in the Mountain West, the situation is the same. Still, there was some great action.  For example, Stephen F. Austin got a big win at Long Beach State.  Speaking of the Valley and avoiding losses, Wichita State did just that, hammering Detroit.  Detroit is still in the top 68 of the RPI but their at-large candidacy is greatly weakened by the national TV no-show.  Perhaps the best result, though, was Belmont.  They already had a good RPI and a strong at-large resume if the unthinkable happened in the OVC tournament but they drubbed — actually, humiliated — Ohio.  The Bobcats were having a surprisingly bad season after last year’s NCAA run, but the Bruins took no pity and scored a dominating win on national TV that had to have raised a few eyebrows.  Lastly, Kentucky scored a major win over Missouri, proving that they aren’t losing their NCAA-bid over an injury.  They might lose it for other reasons, but that was a big victory.

1 Seeds: Indiana, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas

Indiana had the most impressive win of this group recently by winning at Michigan State … or did they?  Gonzaga destroyed Santa Clara on the road (85-42).  That SC team is a top 100 RPI and a 20-game winner and the Bulldogs made them look like a YMCA team … ages 10 to 12 … from Oklahoma … from the Panhandle … yikes.  Also, giving the Jayhawks the slimmest of edges over Michigan since that win at Oklahoma State was mighty impressive.  Not quite as impressive was the horrific officiating that let them escape Ames with a win on Monday night.

[Related: Iowa State fan restrained by security trying to jump Kansas coach Bill Self]

Florida Gators center Patric Young (4) slam dunks against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the second half at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Florida Gators defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 71-54. (USA TODAY Sports)

2 Seeds: Michigan, Georgetown, Miami, Florida

I’ve been on the Hoyas’ bandwagon for a while now.  They play fantastic defense but unlike Louisville, another Big East school with solid D, Georgetown actually executes in the final stages of games.  As for the Sunshine State duo of Miami and Florida, I’m not putting a lot of stock in either loss.  First of all, UF bounced back in a big way against an Arkansas team that has been playing better and their defeat was at Missouri.  Worse, a loss would have put Mizzou at .500 in the SEC.  It wasn’t a must-win for the Tigers, but it was an extremely important game.  As for the Canes, no denying they were feeling some pressure with that target on the back, but I think a loss will re-focus them and they’ll get the swagger back.  I expect them to blitz the Hokies down in Coral Gables on the 27th.

3 Seeds: Louisville, Arizona, Kansas State, New Mexico

Thanks to Georgetown knocking them off and then Marquette beating the Orange, the Lobos finally see some upward movement.  I still can’t get over the fact they are only 14th in the polls.  In fact, of all four of these teams, Alford’s squad would scare me the most if I saw them on the second weekend.

4 Seeds: Syracuse, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Wisconsin

The Spartans are currently ninth in the nation, so a four seed would be below the ranking.  They also have the ninth-best RPI and the fifth-best SOS. So what gives?  Well they coughed up a victory against top-ranked Indiana and then they lost to an Ohio State team that hasn’t played well (at all really) against top-flight teams until MSU.  As for Wisconsin being a head of OSU, well, their head-to-head was pretty definitive.  UW lost by nine in Columbus but beat them by 22 in Madison.  That is a +13 for the Badgers and also final impressions matter more.  OSU’s win was in January.  UW’s was last Sunday.

5 Seeds: Saint Louis, Ohio State, Memphis, Marquette

Woot-woot, all aboard the Saint Louis bandwagon.  Man, I feel good about having them in my bracket for about a month now.  Just to give you an idea about their surge.  Since their appearance in my first bracket in February, they have gone from a play-in 13-seed to a five seed … A five!  Amazing.

6 Seeds: Notre Dame, Butler, Pitt, Oregon

The Ducks only have the 49th best RPI and their SOS is barely inside 100, yet they are ranked in the top 25?  Hmm.  There’s a chance that if they fall out of the AP rankings (by far their most impressive aspect of the resume), they’ll tumble all the way out of the Tournament.  What exactly is the shelf life of a win over Arizona?

7 Seeds: UNLV, Colorado State, Louisiana Tech, North Carolina

It’s almost universally accepted that the top 25-ranked teams are seeded in relation to rank.  Otherwise, what’s the point of the poll?  It is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Why does this stink?  Let’s take a look at Louisiana Tech.  Now let me say, I like the Bulldogs, they are a fun team and have a very impressive win-loss — but are they the 25th best team in America?  No.  Their RPI is 52, the lowest of this quad.  In fact, UNC has the next lowest; yet it is 22nd.  Tech has the 225th-ranked schedule.  On my big board only seven teams have a worse SOS and the highest seeded of these teams is Stephen F. Austin — at a 14-seed.  Honestly, if it weren’t for that ranking I would have Tech as a 12-seed, the historical ceiling for league champs from sub-par leagues.  Denver and New Mexico State are playing well at the moment, helping to pad the WAC and make it look better, but if Tech was slotted 12th, you know how many pundits would explode seeing a nationally ranked team being seeded below countless un-ranked teams?  My guess is 95-percent of the talking heads would no longer have their head.

Illinois Fighting Illini guard Joseph Bertrand (2) is fouled (very awkwardly) as he shoots by Michigan Wolverines forward Jordan Morgan (52) during the second half at the Crisler Center. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

8 Seeds: Wichita State, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois

Here’s my problem with both Mizzou and Illinois: they are relying on moments of greatness to erase being stupid, which they are the majority of the time …. and by stupid I mean losses like this: Purdue, Northwestern, LSU and Texas A&M and blowouts like this: Minnesota (17), Wisconsin (23), Ole Miss (15) and Kentucky (31).  Honestly, if Illinois had lost to Nebraska but won four or five of the six they lost surrounding it and then lost to Indiana, it would be much more impressive not just in the win-loss, but would have been more accurate of this team’s talents.  The NCAA Tournament doesn’t award invites based on a good win (or two) and it doesn’t improve seeds that much.  The fact of the matter is both teams are inconsistent and consistent means mediocre and mediocre power league teams will be in the 7 -to-10 slot.

9 Seeds: Virginia Commonwealth, Middle Tennessee State, San Diego State, NC State

MTSU really highlights what I said about La Tech. The Blue Raiders have a better RPI, more wins and a SOS more than 100 spots better, yet here they are, below the Bulldogs.

10 Seeds: Iowa State, Akron, Belmont, California

Cal has now ripped off five straight, including wins over Arizona and fellow mid-seed-looking team, UCLA.  My one reservation is the recent Oregon road trip.  Yes they beat the Ducks and Beavers but it was by a combined three points.  Still too inconsistent for my liking, but they do finish up with three home games, including one over RPI darling Colorado.

11 Seeds: La Salle, UCLA, Colorado, Temple

Speaking of those RPI darlings, what has Colorado done to warrant the computer saying they are the No. 29-overall team in the nation? Is it the loss to Utah or the loss to Washington?  Maybe its getting swept by Arizona State.  Perhaps its losing by 36 to Kansas … wait, no, the RPI doesn’t take into account margin of victory/defeat.  In reality, the Buffaloes are clinging to that Arizona win for dear life and hoping their UCLA, California and Colorado State wins also impress.  I’ll grant Colorado fans, they deserve to be in the field, but I won’t concede a very high seed to them; not without this squad finishing strong and doing something in the conference tournament.

12 Seeds: Saint Mary’s, Creighton, Minnesota, PLAY IN

I’m still not crazy about the Gael’s 117th-ranked SOS but in beating Creighton by eight in their Busters match up, they have now won 20 of 23 since that baffling two game skid.  Two of the three losses have come against Gonzaga and sure, neither game was that competitive but the Zags are the No.2-ranked team in the nation for crying out loud.  It is time to cut SMC some slack, and after keeping them out of the field for a while, I’m ready to put them in.  Just too many wins at this point and sweeping BYU as well as knocking off Santa Clara and Harvard has me warming up to this team.

As for the Jays, they are one of two teams really skating by at this point.  They are 2-4 in their last six and their SOS is barely inside the top 100.  Those wins over Wisconsin, Cal and Arizona State seem like forever ago.  The other is Minnesota, who may have the 17th best RPI and the No. 1 SOS but guess what Gophers, you need to win games!  They have won just three of their last eight and their last two have been humbling losses.  They have dipped to two games under .500 in the Big Ten and face Indiana next (on Tuesday) so the damage isn’t done yet.

13 Seeds: Bucknell, Valparaiso, Villanova, PLAY IN

Bucknell probably deserves better than this and their resume supports this; however, I think some committee members will look at Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum going down with injury and arguing that cleared the path for the Bison.  Fair or not, Bucknell can reverse this by winning out, putting them at 25 wins.  Sweeping the tournament would then give them 28 wins compared to just five losses. Considering they almost have a top 50 RPI now and an above average SOS, I think there’s a good chance they’ll be better than a 13-seed come Selection Sunday.  Valpo also picked up a nice Bracketbusters win against Eastern Kentucky and if they keep dominating the Horizon like they are, they might see a little bit better seed too.

14 Seeds: Stephen F. Austin, Harvard, South Dakota State, Davidson

The Summit could have been a multi-bid league if South Dakota State and North Dakota State, along with spoiler Western Illinois, had just taken care of business.  That chance was blown up when they went a combined 0-3 in Bracketbuster games.

15 Seeds: Stony Brook, Montana, Niagara, Long Beach State

Something to keep an eye on: Niagara is ahead of Loyola (MD) in the MAAC standings, but Loyola has a slim chance of working their way up the RPI standings into at-large contention.  The committee stunned many by giving the MAAC two bids last season.  I wouldn’t be stunned if it happened this year, since I would simply get it over with and keel over dead with shock, but it is something to keep an eye on.

16 Seeds: Robert Morris, Northeastern, PLAY IN x 2

Play In 16: MEAC vs Big South and Southern vs Mercer

So the Big South has two teams tied atop the standings, Charleston Southern and High Point.  The funny thing is, both teams have the worst RPI of the entire field and would surely be the lowest-seeded team.  Keep an eye on the conference tournament, especially if both make it to the finals since that will be a fantastic scrap between two schools just hoping for an auto-bid, even if it is an extremely short trip in the dance.  Similarly, the MEAC has 13-0 Norfolk State and 12-1 North Carolina Central that will also make for good TV if they square off in their league’s final.

Kentucky Wildcats forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) dunks the ball against the Missouri Tigers in the first half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Missouri 90-83. (Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports)

Play in 12: Cincinnati vs Kentucky*

This is a great matchup between bordering state teams.  As to why I dislike the Bearcats these days, well, they’ve lost five of six and all their losses have come since Christmas.  No committee member in their right mind will look at Cincy’s 12-0 start against a weak out of conference slate and stand by this team after the mess they have displayed in league play.

Play in 13 St. John’s vs Arizona State*

Another matchup of power league teams.  The NCAA and Dayton would be thrilled to get schools with the fan bases of these four, especially Cincy and Kentucky being driving distance away, to pack the arena for the “opening round.”

*I haven’t heard if there is a formal rule against league teams playing in the first four but I would be stunned if the committee pitted two league teams against each other since in the opening round clubs are split.  Keeping with that tradition, I have split my final three Big East teams up; as a result Nova and St. John’s are seeded a touch lower than they should be.

Final Seven Rationale:

Five slots and more than 20 teams with legit arguments.  Here is how I cleaned it up:

With five teams already in the field from the A-10, I decided to remove both Massachusetts and Charlotte from further consideration.  Similarly, with two other WCC teams in and BYU losing to both of them, I decided to drop the Cougars.  After losing six of eight and two of them offering utterly lifeless performances, I also dumped Baylor.  The SEC may be a mess and there is no telling who will be the third (and fourth?) representative, but I did know this: Despite working their way onto the furthest fringe of the bubble, I couldn’t justify Arkansas or LSU from moving past the big board.  Finally, Iowa’s choke job at Nebraska is not what tournament teams do.  Seriously, can you think of an NCAA team to blow a 19-point lead to a team as bad as Nebraska and still warrant a bid?

I  trimmed a little more fat with the OVC.  Despite loving the league and having 20 wins, Murray State’s computer numbers are pretty bad.  Eastern Kentucky is also getting worrisome for at-large hopefuls (so is New Mexico State and Denver) but they still have plenty of work left.

So, sitting at 12 teams and five spots, I took out my trusty chart and crunched the numbers like this:

**does not include win over Kentucky without Noel

So what does the trusty chart show us? First, that all three Big East teams deserve to be in, even with Nova’s loss to Seton Hall recently. The other two teams, that its a lot harder.  Southern Miss and Kentucky have the next highest totals, but clearly it is a log jam.  In the hopes of more clarity, I turned back to the same chart but removed the Big East trio that joined The Dance:

So in this second round, primarily SEC teams picked up points (other than Boise) so when the committee does this exercise, they’ll have to really get into the nitty gritty of these clubs; but let’s be honest, the SEC is not getting four teams in.  Tennessee has the fewest wins, Ole Miss has the worst schedule and Alabama’s performance in the chart game was the worst; this means despite Noel’s injury, the Missouri win counteracted it and gets Kentucky in.

This leaves Virginia, Maryland, Southern Miss, Boise State and Arizona State.  I think that Virginia and Arizona State’s amount of important wins gives them the edge.  The fact that ASU’s losses are more forgivable (I mean UVA lost to Old Dominion and Delaware this year, yikes) has me more comfortable with Sparky than the Cavs.

Last 5 In by safety
St. John’s
Arizona State

First 5 Out
Southern Miss
Ole Miss
Boise State

Next 5 Out

Invitations Breakdown:
31 Champions
28 “Power” at-larges
9 “Mid Major” at-larges

League Breakdown:
9: Big East
7: Big Ten
6: Pac 12
5: Atlantic 10, Big 12
4: ACC, Mountain West
3: SEC
2: Missouri Valley, West Coast
1: 21 Others

 Where does your favorite team rank in the most recent AP basketball polls?