February 26, 2014
By Bruce Marshall
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We're getting closer to Selection Sunday, so it's time for another Bracketology update as we close February. Recent developments on a very fluid "bubble" have created some different seeding dynamics which have resulted in numerous adjustments from our last complete update two weeks ago.
Remember, for all of our "Bracketology" updates, the term "protected seed" refers to seeds 1 thru 4 in each region, and usual favorable geographic placement in the sub-regional round.
As usual, we break down the projected matchups by each region, beginning with the sub-regionals, which this season will begin on Thursday, March 20, with the Dayton "First Four" games played on March 18 and 19. Straight-up records and RPI as of Sunday, February 23 are included.
By the way, Selection Sunday is just three weeks away.
EAST REGIONAL (New York City)
1 Syracuse (SUR 25-2, RPI-8) vs. 16 Southern (16-11, 186)/Robert Morris (18-11, 128)...After back-to-back losses to BC and Duke following some hair-rasing escapes vs. Pitt and NC State, the 'Cuse is definitely wobbling on the top line and is very close to dropping to a No. 2 seed. Either way, we expect Jim Boeheim's bunch to make an appearance in nearby Buffalo for the sub-regionals. And, whaddya know, here again is Robert Morris, once again taking charge in the Northeast, and the home team of the Pittsburgh Airport could even bypass a 16 vs. 16 play-in game if it keeps winning, as it has done for six straight and 13 of its last 14 games. Southern U continues to set the pace over Alabama State in the SWAC, which will go upscale for this year's conference tourney in the Houston Rockets' Toyota Center.
8 New Mexico (21-5, 21) vs. 9 St. John's (18-10, 53)...Any doubts about New Mexico possibly missing the field have been all but been eliminated after last Saturday's thumping of San Diego State. The Lobos might warrant a better seed than an 8 by Selection Sunday, but we still think the Mountain West is only a 2-bid league unless an upset occurs in the conference tourney at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Even with Saturday's close loss at Villanova, the recent trajectory of St. John's has it safely into the field of 68, especially with so many bubble teams struggling in recent weeks.
At San Diego...
4 Louisville (23-4, 29) vs. 13 Delaware (20-9, 64)...After Saturday's last-second win at Cincinnati, Louisville is looking very good for a protected seed, although in this update we're not sending the Cards anywhere near their home base for the sub-regionals. Delaware's hold on the top seed in the fast-approaching Colonial Tourney is becoming a bit tenuous after recent losses to Towson and Drexel, which are going to believe (along with William & Mary) that they have a real shot in the CAA tourney, which in March moves north on I-95 from its traditional home at the Richmond Coliseum to the Baltimore Arena, former home of the NBA's Baltimore Bullets during the days of the original Gus Johnson as well as Earl Monroe. That venue, however, might be a plus for nearby Towson, located in the Baltimore 'burbs.
5 Ohio State (22-6, 17) vs. 12 Harvard (22-4, 52)...Thad Matta's bunch has steadied since a January slump and won six of its last seven, but we still have the Buckeyes outside of protected seed territory (which could mean the difference between closer-by Milwaukee or Buffalo, and a much longer trip to a place like San Diego, for the sub-regionals...which might be the first time anyone would prefer trips to Milwaukee or Buffalo over San Diego). Harvard was recently challenged by Yale in the Ivies, but the Eli took a tumble last weekend vs. Columbia, and are at risk of losing again this weekend to either Princeton or Penn and perhaps removing the showdown aspect of their March 7 matchup vs. Tommy Amaker's Crimson.
2 Villanova (24-3, 4) vs. 15 Vermont (19-9, 111)...Were it not for Creighton and those two puzzling blowout losses to the Bluejays, Jay Wright's Wildcats would probably be projected onto the top line. Which they still might reach if they win the Big East Tourney and a side such as Syracuse slips another time or two. Meanwhile, Vermont will likely be entering the fast-approaching America East Tourney as the likely top seed. The home team of Strat-o-Matic headquarters on Long Island, Stony Brook, looms as the top challenger for the event that now holds it preliminary rounds at the Albany Great Danes' SEFCU Arena before the highest remaining seed hosts the title game on March 15.
7 Texas (20-7, 24) vs. 10 Saint Joseph's (19-7, 39)...A couple of heavy losses over the past week at Iowa State and Kansas have dropped Texas a couple of lines and make it unlikely that the Longhorns can qualify as a protected seed and a chance at the desired San Antonio sub-regional. As for St. Joe's, we are now projecting the Hawks comfortably into the field and away from the cut line after ascending to second place in the rugged A-10 and winning 15 of their last 18. All a sweet redemption for HC Phil Martelli, who was feeling some heat on Hawk Hill not long ago.
3 Michigan (19-7, 18) vs. 14 Iona (19-8, 78)...Last Sunday's impressive comeback win over Michigan State solidified John Beilein's Wolverines into protected seed territory, as we expect the Selection Committee to grant a pretty wide berth to Big Ten members. Surging in recent weeks has been Iona, which has moved clear form the pack in the Metro-Atlantic and will likely enter the conference tourney in Springfield, MA as the top seed and favorite. Jim Baron's Golden Griffs from Canisius, the "Pollsters" from Quinnipiac, and the Jaspers from Manhattan (which is actually in The Bronx!) are all going to think they have a real shot in that event, too.
6 UConn (21-6, 26) vs. 11 Cal (18-9, 49)...After moving within sight of protected seed territory, UConn took a step backward on Sunday when losing at home vs. SMU. Still, the Huskies look safely into the field after last year's academic-related ineligibility. Cal does not have a lot of room for error after several losses over the past five weeks, but the Feb. 1 win over Arizona is a nice chit to cash on Selection Sunday, and the Bears avoided a potentially-disastrous weekend at home by handling Southern Cal on Sunday after absorbing a beating at the hands of UCLA on Thursday night.
SOUTH REGIONAL (Memphis, TN)
1 Florida (25-2, 3) vs. 16 Davidson (17-11, 150)...There is not much intrigue about the Gators' sub-regional destination, almost assuredly to be Orlando, and results elsewhere over the past couple of weeks suggest it is not too far-fetched to assume Billy Donovan's team could end up as the number one seed in the entire Big Dance. Stay tuned. The SoCon race has had more turns than Sunday's Dayton 500, but as the regular-season checkered flag gets ready to fall, familiar Davidson is back in front after a recent surge that has seen the Wildcats win 10 in a row.
8 Kansas State (18-9, 42) vs. 9 Xavier (18-9, 57)...Both of these sides have hit some bumps lately but still look to be clear of the cut line...at least for now. Bruce Weber's K-State has been alternating wins and losses for almost a month and can probably back into the field of 68 continuing the same pattern, although the Wildcats' seed could continue to fall. Much the same for the "X" men, but keep in mind that Chris Mack's Musketeers have a pretty tricky slate before we even get to the Big East Tourney, with surging St. John's and league leaders Villanova and Creighton still to come. Yes, there is still time for Xavier to play itself into some serious bubble trouble.
4 Saint Louis (25-2, 11) vs. 13 Stephen F. Austin (25-2, 71)...At this point, we don't think there is any doubt that Saint Louis will advance into the Dance as a protected seed, as the Billikens have not lost in almost three months (and that was vs. still-unbeaten Wichita State) and lead the well-regarded A-10. Even more prohibitively favored in its conference tourney will be SFA, which is in the process of running away with the Southland's regular-season crown for new HC Brad Underwood. We were saying the same things about the Nacogdoches bunch last year at this time, however, before the 'Jacks got KO'd in the conference tourney, which was won by Northwestern State. In the same scenario this March, could SFA merit some at-large consideration?
5 Iowa (19-7, 34) vs. 12 Green Bay (22-5, 56)...We have had Iowa hovering in the 4-6 seed range since New Year's and simply split the difference with the Hawkeyes, who would probably be thrilled to have a sub-regional assignment in Milwaukee. So, of course, would nearby Green Bay, which has overcome a few bumpy efforts to assume command of the Horizon League. The Packers, er, Fighting Phoenix, will get to host the conference tourney in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds if they hold on to the reg.-season crown, and then would get play again at home for the conference tourney title if they reach the final round.
2 Duke (22-6, 9) vs. 15 Boston U (20-9, 86)...Interestingly, it was not long ago that there was concern about selling tickets for the sub-regional at PNC Arena if no Carolina-based ACC teams would be participating, as was originally expected. Now, however, with nearby Duke appearing solid for a protected seed, and red-hot North Carolina knocking on the door as well, the local ticket scalpers are smiling. Homecourt edge in the Patriot League Tourney is probably going to be decided between loop newcomer Boston U and D.C.-based American U, which sits just across the street from where Norah O'Donnell used to work at the NBC News Washington bureau before she moved to CBS.
7 Stanford (18-8, 41) vs. 10 George Washington (20-7, 30)...The significance of Stanford's win over UCLA last Saturday goes beyond moving the Cardinal a good distance on the safe side of the Big Dance cut line. It also likely means that HC Johnny Dawkins, widely rumored to need an NCAA bid to save his job, can finally start breathing a bit easier. It would also intrigue greatly if Stanford drew the same sub-regional pod as Dawkins' alma mater Duke, and mentor Coach K, as those sorts of things often happen in the NCAA Tournament. As for George Washington, it could have been in a some bubble trouble had it a lost last week at Richmond, but the Colonials survived. Still, with losses in three of four, Mike Lonergan's crew is advised to stop the bleeding quickly before Selection Sunday.
At San Antonio...
3 Creighton (23-4, 7) vs. 14 Georgia State (20-7, 95)...It was a bit too close for comfort on Sunday vs. Seton Hall, but another escape by Creighton increases the likelihood Doug McDermott ends his college career with a protected seed in the Big Dance. One team the big boys might want to avoid is Georgia State, with an explosive backcourt featuring HC Ron Hunter's son R.J., plus a slew of higher-profile D-I transfers. The Panthers have run away with the Sun Belt's regular-season crown, but will need to survive the conference tourney in New Orleans to advance to the Dance, or settle for an NIT berth instead.
6 Oklahoma (20-7, 23) vs. 11 Colorado (20-8, 27)...Colorado did not help itself with that Saturday blowout loss vs. Arizona, but the Buffs still have enough cushion to stay on the right side of the cut line. Besides, it's not as if there is a surge of contenders moving off of the bubble to steal a bid in recent weeks. Lon Kruger's Oklahoma has no such worries, and would surely like a sub-regional assignment in San Antonio, probably the most convenient available site for OU. If this matchup were to occur, it would pit old Big 8/12 rivals.
MIDWEST REGIONAL (Indianapolis, IN)
At St. Louis...
1 Wichita State (29-0, 9) vs. 16 NC Central (21-5, 126)...We continue to hear some chatter about Wichita not being worthy of a regional number one seed. Not only do we think the Shockers will land on the top line, we think they could even lose in "Arch Madness" in St. Louis and probably stay a number one seed. Have the experts forgotten that Gregg Marshall's team made the Final Four last spring? The MEAC reps often get sent to one of the 16 vs. 16 play-in games at Dayton, but if league leader NC Central should win the conference tourney, we suspect the loop will miss the First Four entirely this season. The conference tourney begins March 10 at the venerable Norfolk Scope, long ago one of the home courts for Julius Erving and the ABA Virginia Squires.
8 SMU (22-6, 45) vs. 9 VCU (20-7, 25)...The last time SMU made the Big Dance, Bill Clinton had been living in the White House for only a couple of months (1993), and the Ponies were representing the long-forgotten Southwest Conference. But vet HC Larry Brown knows his way around the NCAA Tourney and can begin to make reservations after Sunday's win over UConn. VCU has taken a few road losses lately which have likely pushed its seed down into the dreaded 8-9 range, where a number-one seed almost surely awaits in the following round of the sub-regional.
4 Michigan State (22-6, 16) vs. 13 Toledo (23-4, 28)...Frankly, we were considering moving Michigan State out of protected seed territory after Sunday's loss at Michigan, as the Spartans continue to alternate wins and losses for the fifth straight week. Tom Izzo's team hasn't been fully healthy that entire stretch, and if those nagging injuries continue to persist, MSU could drop another line or two. As for Toledo, it will be favored in the fast-approaching MAC Tourney at Cleveland, which seems to annually have a thrill-packed title game. A team to watch in that event might be Bobby Hurley's Buffalo Bulls, who have the look of a spoiler and own perhaps the loop's top weapon in PF Javon McCrea.
5 North Carolina (20-7, 22) vs. 12 BYU (20-10, 36)/Missouri (18-9, 44)...We are getting real close to putting the Tar Heels into a protected seed slot and perhaps ticket Roy Williams' bunch for the nearby Raleigh sub-regional. That is all in the cards if Carolina continues its sizzling recent form that sees it take nine straight wins into Wednesday's bloodbath vs. NC State. We're finally siding with ESPN's Joe Lunardi and relenting on BYU, whose November wins over Stanford and Texas have looked better as the season progresses. Of course, the Cougs can still make it easy on themselves and simply win the WCC's automatic bid in its conference tourney two weeks hence at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Missouri is one of several SEC teams that can't seem to win on the road and is in deep bubble trouble. A quick glimpse at the league table at the start of the week notes a stunning seven-way (!) tie for fourth place, all with 7-7 league SU records!
At St. Louis...
2 Kansas (21-6, 1) vs. 15 New Mexico State (21-8, 79)...Kansas continues to cut it close at times (such as last week's 1-point escape at Texas Tech) and lurks just off of the top line, but the St. Louis sub-regional still seems a safe bet. These games will be played in the Scottrade Center, home of the NHL's St. Louis Blues and the Missouri Valley "Arch Madness" Tourney, and not the Edward Jones Dome, so we wonder if there are going to be enough tickets for the crush of Jayhawks fans, who have numbered more than 20,000 alone for games played at the Rams' dome in March from past years. What is left of the WAC has turned into a more interesting race than many expected, with Dick Hunsaker's Utah Valley State challenging consensus favorite and recent familiar Big Dance face New Mexico State. Tickets are very available for a tourney to be held in front of a smattering of fans at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
7 Memphis (21-6, 37) vs. 10 Providence (18-10, 62)...Memphis has missed some of its chances to move into protected seed territory, and efforts like last Saturday's against lowly Temple make us wonder if the Tigers are even good enough for a number seven. The American reps, however, will likely be given plenty of respect by the Selection Committee. Providence is by no means clear of bubble trouble, but considering recent efforts by many in that clump of teams, the Friars have a leg up on most of those, especially when straightening out just in time after blowing a big halftime lead, then recovering, against Butler last Sunday.
3 Virginia (23-5, 15) vs. 14 Belmont (21-8, 61)...There was a point this season, as recently as late December, when we weren't even projecting Virginia into the field of 68. But nearly two months of steady performance suggests Tony Bennett's Cavs have to be taken seriously in March. One of these years, maybe Belmont finally wins one of these sub-regional games, although Rick Byrd's Bruins have only come close once (vs. Duke in 2009) in six previous Big Dance tries since 2006. Belmont will be favored in the upcoming OVC Tourney in Nashville, played across town from campus and the Bruins' Mike Curb Center at the Municipal Auditorium, which looks as if it landed in Music City from an episode of the The Jetsons.
6 UCLA (21-6, 14) vs. 11 Arkansas (18-9, 65)...UCLA was positioning itself into protected seed territory (and a likely sub-regional assignment in San Diego) until last Saturday's loss at Stanford. The Bruins can still climb to a three or four seed, but they'll need to finish fast to do so. Speaking of finishing fast, Mike Anderson's Arkansas is one SEC side that is threatening to break from that logjam in the middle of the pack, as the Razorbacks have won five of their last six entering a crucial showdown on Thursday at Kentucky.
WEST REGIONAL (Anaheim)
at San Diego...
1 Arizona (25-2, 2) vs. 16 Weber State (13-7, 163)/VMI (17-10, 222)...Arizona, now minus injured key cog F Brandon Ashley, has looked a bit unsteady at times lately. But after sweeping last week's challenging road trip at Utah and Colorado (and thumping the Buffs in the process), we can still project the Cats on the top line. Regional observers believe the Big Sky is a bit down this season, and Weber State is only a provisional favorite for what should be a wide-open tourney that begins in a few weeks. The Sky champ is likely to be involved in one of the 16 vs. 16 play-in games at Dayton. So is the Big South champ, with VMI (which reached the Elite Eight back in 1976) and Scott Cherry's High Point looking like the teams to beat in the conference tourney.
8 Gonzaga (23-6, 31) vs. 9 Pitt (20-7, 33)...Both of these sides have lost a little bit of luster in recent weeks. Especially Pitt, which was on the wrong end for the fifth time in its last seven games on Sunday vs. Florida State. The Panthers have been dropped down the seeding ladder accordingly. Gonzaga is still likely to win the WCC regular-season crown, but serious contenders don't lose games to San Diego, as the Zags did last Saturday. These two look like candidates for the dreaded 8-9 seeds.
4 Kentucky (21-6, 10) vs. 13 North Dakota State (21-6, 67)...There are only two sure Big Dance bids coming out of the SEC, and Kentucky is going to get one of them. A seed in the 3-4 range looks likely for Coach Cal's latest diaper dandies edition. Meanwhile, in the Summit, a topsy-turvy race has finally developed some definition with North Dakota State emerging as the team to beat. The Mastodons of IPFW, Joe Scott's Pioneers of Denver, and the local favorite South Dakota State Jackrabbits will be other teams to watch in the upcoming league tourney at Sioux Falls, SD.
5 Cincinnati (24-4, 19) vs. 12 Oregon (18-8, 39)/Baylor (18-9, 39)...Mick "The Ghost" Cronin and his Cincinnati Bearcats might warrant a seed better than a five, but we have simply moved them down a line after Saturday's American showdown vs. Louisville. Still time for Cincy to move into a number three or four slot. We had counted both Oregon and Baylor out of the mix as recently as our last update. But extreme fluidity on the bubble and recent surges by the Ducks (three straight wins) and Bears (four straight wins, including a romp last Saturday at West Virginia) have put them both back in the mix.
2 Wisconsin (22-5, 5) vs. 15 UCSB (18-7, 103)...A couple of weeks ago we had moved Wisconsin out of a protected seed, which is extra-important for the Badgers this season considering the chance to play in nearby Milwaukee during the first weekend. But a recent surge, capped by Saturday's rousing win at Iowa, has Wiscy and the pride of Chester, PA, HC Bo Ryan, now up to a two line in our projections. Have a hoagie, Bo! UC Irvine's loss Saturday at Cal State Northridge has allowed Bob Williams' UCSB Gauchos to move back into pole position for the upcoming Big West Tourney at the Anaheim Ducks' Honda Center. The team with the best chance to reach the Dance this season currently with a sub-.500 mark, however, might be the Big West's recently-surging Long Beach State, sitting at 12-14 after wins in 8 of its last 11 games. Watch these guys.
7 UMass (21-5, 13) vs. 10 Arizona State (19-8, 32)...After hitting a few bumps in late January and then getting dumped at home by underdog George Mason, UMass needed to bounce back against George Washington and VCU last week and the Minutemen did so, solidifying their spot in the field and (for the moment) likely staying out of the dreaded 8-9 seed slot. ASU is off a difficult week with losses at Colorado and Utah (the Sun Devils thumped in the latter) and could fall into some bubble trouble if the same thing happens later this week at home vs. Stanford and Cal. ASU's win a few weeks back vs. Arizona, however, is going to come in handy if needed on Selection Sunday.
3 San Diego State (23-5, 20) vs. 14 Mercer (22-7, 73)...Losing a bit of gloss in recent weeks has been San Diego State, as losses at Wyoming and New Mexico have cost it a line in our latest projections. The Aztecs also can't play in the sub-regional on their own Viejas Arena court in San Diego. At the moment, Mercer holds a tiebreaker edge over pesky Florida Gulf Coast for homecourt edge in the Atlantic Sun Tourney, but that didn't help the Bears last season, as Andy Enfield's "Dunk City" caught an updraft at just the right time in the conference tourney. By the way, who will be the "Dunk City" of this March?
6 Iowa State (21-5, 12) vs. 11 Southern Miss (23-5, 35)...Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones have recovered from a January slump to win six of their last seven, though three of those are vs. lower-division TCU and Texas Tech sides. ISU has a case to make for a protected seed, but let's see how the Cyclones do in a difficult final stretch of their season with K-State, plus rejuvenated Baylor and Ok State, still to come before the Big 12 Tourney. As for Conference USA, it could be a 2 or 3-bid league, especially with the bubble in flux, but USM recovered from a pair of road defeats with a couple of impressive home wins last weekend, including comeback job vs. pesky UTEP, to suggest it might emerge from that scrum that will decide itself in the conference tourney at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso (edge to Tim Floyd's Miners) in a couple of weeks.
Last four byes: Cal, Colorado, Arkansas, Providence.
Last four in: BYU, Missouri, Oregon, Baylor.
Last four out: Minnesota, Georgetown, La Tech, Tennessee.
Next four out: Saint Mary's, LSU, Clemson, Dayton.
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