March 10, 2014
By Bruce Marshall
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 March 9 are included.
By the way, didn’t the season just start a few weeks ago?
EAST REGIONAL (New York City)
1 Villanova (SUR 28-3, RPI-4) vs. 16 Vermont (22-10, 106)...A change on the top line in the East for the first time all season, with Syracuse falling back in recent weeks and Villanova surging to take the Big East regular-season crown. Were it not for Creighton, which walloped the Wildcats twice, Jay Wright’s team might be looking at the overall number one seed in the Dance. Vermont will be the host team against the home team of Strat-o-Matic headquarters on Long Island, Stony Brook, in the America East title game on March 15.
8 Arizona State (21-10, 46) vs. 9 Kansas State (20-11, 50)...We might as well pass along our observation about the 8th and 9th seeds, usually very undesirable because the winner almost assuredly faces a No. 1 seed in the Round of 32. This March, however, there doesn’t look to be much separating seeds one thru four or five in any region, so we’re not sure it’s much of an issue for this year’s version of the Dance. Both of these sides hit speed bumps in the past week although we don’t think either is in jeopardy of dropping to the wrong side of the cut line. Partly because the Selection Committee is likely to grant wide berths to both the Pac-12 and Big 12. The Sun Devils can be thankful they can use last month’s home OT win over Arizona as a chit to cash on Selection Sunday, but they have lost five straight on the road. As for K-State, if it had started its recent slump a week or so sooner it might have been in some bubble trouble. Just to be safe, however, Bruce Weber’s Wildcats could use a win over Iowa State in Thursday’s Big 12 Tourney opener to remove any doubts next Sunday.
At San Diego...
4 Michigan State (23-8, 20) vs. 13 Georgia State (24-7, 80)...The rest of the field has been forewarned, as after an injury-plagued past two months, Michigan State has finally gotten healthy for March. Although they have lost three of four entering this week’s Big Ten Tourney at Indianapolis, key Spartans cogs Adreain Payne, Branden Dawson, and Gary Harris are now on the floor at the same time for HC Tom Izzo. Georgia State and its merry band of transfers ran away with the Sun Belt regular season crown, but Ron Hunter’s Panthers have no margin for error as the Belt’s tourney commences later this week in New Orleans at UNO’s Lakefront Arena.
5 Saint Louis (26-5, 21) vs. 12 Harvard (26-4, 51)...The Billikens likely played their way out of a protected seed with their recent three-game losing streak, but did straighten out in time to beat UMass in the regular-season finale to at least stop the bleeding and a slide further down the seeding scale. But unless SLU can win the A-10 Tourney this week in Brooklyn, Jim Crews’ Bills are probably out of protected seed territory. Harvard sewed up the Ivy League crown for a third straight season last weekend, as Tommy Amaker sets his sights on getting the Crimson at least a step further than a year ago (which means the Sweet 16).
At St. Louis...
2 Kansas (23-8, 3) vs. 15 Wofford (19-12, 169)...Upon further inspection, we wonder if there has ever been a team with eight losses (before conference tourney play!) as hyped as this version of Kansas, which was still being projected on to the top line by most bracketologists before last Saturday’s loss at West Virginia. Winning the rugged Big 12 does carry its perks, but we think the precocious Jayhawks have too many losses to climb back into a No. 1 seed before Sunday. With Davidson’s upset loss vs. Western Carolina on Sunday in the SoCon semifinals, recently-surging Wofford (which has won 12 of its last 14 after Sunday’s 71-57 win over Georgia Southern) will be the favorite in the Monday night conference title game vs. the Catamounts at Asheville’s cozy arena.
7 UConn (24-7, 29) vs. 10 Pitt (23-8, 42)...UConn’s lopsided 81-48 Saturday loss at Louisville was its heaviest defeat in over two decades and probably cost the Huskies a line in the seedings, although Kevin Ollie’s team could probably move back as high as a five if it can win this week’s AAC Tourney in Memphis (and a few other things happen elsewhere in other conference tournaments this week). As for Pitt, it badly needed Saturday’s win at Clemson as its Big Dance profile had weakened considerably over recent weeks. That OT win at Littlejohn should see the Panthers to the safe side of the cut line. This matchup would also intrigue between what were longtime Big East antagonists prior to this season.
3 Syracuse (27-4, 11) vs. 14 Delaware (24-9, 73)...This is the first Bracketology Report of the season in which the ‘Cuse is not on the top line. Four recent defeats (which could easily have been seven) have knocked the Orange down a couple of lines, although a couple of wins in this week’s ACC Tourney could move Jim Boeheim’s bunch back to a two seed. But we think the recent slump has done too much damage for Cuse to ascend back to a one seed. Meanwhile, U-Dee preps for a Monday night CAA title game showdown vs. William & Mary at the Baltimore Arena, known as the Civic Center when the NBA Bullets used to play there in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Just in case Tony Shaver’s underdogs from Williamsburg pull the upset, the Tribe would qualify for its first-ever Big Dance.
6 UCLA (23-8, 24) vs. 11 Tennessee (20-11, 47)...UCLA was thinking about a protected seed as recently as two weeks ago, but that was before Gs Kyle Anderson & Jordan Adams were suspended for a game vs. Oregon (which the Bruins lost in double OT) and the Westwood gang laid a big egg on Saturday at Washington State. We’ll find out how Steve Alford’s team reacts as it hits the postseason off of its worst effort of the season. As for UT, all we’ve seen in the last two weeks are some of the best efforts of the season from the Vols, as four straight impressive wins have Cuonzo Martin’s team positioned to earn the SEC’s third slot (after Florida and recently-fading Kentucky) in the Dance. The UT profile has been boosted in recent weeks by the 87-52 romp past Virginia (admittedly before the Cavs took flight) in late December.
SOUTH REGIONAL (Memphis, TN)
1 Florida (29-2, 2) vs. 16 Alabama State (18-11, 253)/Coastal Carolina (21-12, 216)...There has not been much intrigue about the Gators’ sub-regional destination since December, and it is a virtual certainty that Florida will be playing in nearby Orlando during the first weekend. We also suspect the Gators have a top regional seed no matter what happens in this week’s SEC Tourney at Atlanta. Big news from the Big South, where Coastal Carolina emerged as the tourney champs in nearby Myrtle Beach last week, in the process making veteran Cliff Ellis only the tenth HC to take four teams into the Dance (South Alabama, Clemson, and Auburn). The SWAC tourney is being conducted with four teams ineligible for NCAA Tourney participation, disqualifying reg.-season champ Southern U from the Big Dance. The Hornets of Alabama State enter as slight favorites, but remember that the SWAC’s rep could be decided as early as the quarterfinal round of its tourney this week in Houston!
8 Iowa (20-11, 39) vs. 9 George Washington (23-7, 25)...Iowa has been dropping fast in recent weeks and enters the Big Ten Tourney in Indy having lost five of six. The Hawkeyes might even project to the ninth or tenth line, depending upon results later this week. We project the A-10 to get six bids, one of those to Mike Lonergan’s GWU, which has withstood a couple of brief slumps and avoided the kind of extended skid that could have jeopardized the Colonials’ Big Dance hopes.
At San Antonio...
4 Louisville (26-5, 23) vs. 13 Stephen F. Austin (29-2, 68)...Whatever seed Louisville gets assigned, rest assured Rick Pitino’s bunch is one that nobody wants to face if at all possible. The Russ Smith-led senior class has amassed a school-record 116 wins in its college career, and Pitino aims for a third straight Final Four trip (and second straight title). Prohibitively favored in this week’s Southland Tourney (played in the Houston suburb of Katy) is SFA, which ran away with the regular-season crown for new HC Brad Underwood. We were saying the same things about the Nacodoches bunch last year at this time, however, before the ‘Jacks got KO’d in the conference tourney, which was won by Northwestern State. We don’t think SFA’s RPI suggests it can get an at-large bid if it loses this week, although the thought of two Southland reps in the Big Dance field is kind of neat.
5 Oklahoma (23-8, 17) vs. 12 Iona (22-9, 69)...Lon Kruger’s OU was a pleasant surprise this season and is close to a protected seed, though we have still placed the Sooners in what would be their desired sub-regional in San Antonio. Now the question is if Kruger can escape the first weekend and advance to the Sweet 16 with one of his teams for the first time since 2007 at UNLV. Iona has a date on Monday night in Springfield, MA vs. Manhattan for the Metro-Atlantic’s auto bid to the Dance. This will be a grudge match of last year’s thrilling 60-57 Gaels win in the 2013 MAAC finale.
2 Duke (24-7, 7) vs. 15 NC Central (25-5, 111)...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 looking solid for a protected seed, and North Carolina well positioned as well, the local ticket scalpers are smiling. If Duke or any entry would be wise not to overlook NC Central, as MEAC reps have caused trouble in the Dance in the recent past (remember Kyle O’Quinn and Norfolk State dumping Missouri two years ago?). The Eagles look just as formidable, beat ACC NC State in November, and also stayed within reach of Cincinnati and Wichita State prior to New Year’s. First, however, Central has to survive the MEAC Tourney, which has devoured favorites in recent years. This week’s event will take place at the Norfolk Scope, once one of the home courts for the ABA Virginia Squires early in Julius Erving’s career.
7 Oregon (22-8, 26) vs. 10 Xavier (20-11, 48)...One of the real movers in recent weeks has been Oregon, whose Big Dance hopes looked to have flatlined before a current 7-game win streak that includes victimizing the likes of Arizona, UCLA, and Arizona State. We suspect the Ducks are also clear from the cut line, and don’t even need to worry about an early exit in the Pac-12 Tourney this week (Oregon State, however, is an intriguing opening-round opponent on Wednesday in Las Vegas). Xavier enters this week in a more-precarious position, having lost 7 of its last 12, and having a couple of hard-to-conceal wounds on its profile (bad losses to Southern Cal and twice to Seton Hall). The Musketeers are asking for trouble if they can’t beat Marquette in their opening (and first-ever) Big East Tourney game in New York on Thursday night.
3 Wisconsin (25-6, 5) vs. 14 Eastern Kentucky (24-9, 104)...A recent 8-game win streak had put Wiscy back not only into protected seed territory (which for the Badgers means a chance to play in nearby Milwaukee for the sub-regionals), but also as a longshot for a spot on the top line if Bo Ryan could weave some magic at this week’s Big ten Tourney at Indy. But Sunday’s loss at Nebraska has tempered a bit of that enthusiasm and we slot Wiscy as a three instead...but in Milwaukee nonetheless Some were surprised by EKU’s mild upset over Belmont (in the Bruins’ hometown of Nashville, no less) in last Saturday’s OVC title game, but regional observers have had their eyes on the Colonels since November, as HC Jeff Neubauer’s bunch won a school-record 25 games and made it into the second round of the CIT last season.
6 VCU (24-7, 16) vs. 11 Colorado (21-10, 30)/Nebraska (19-11, 41)...No one wants to run into “Shaka Ball” in March, as VCU has caused plenty of trouble lately in March. We project the Rams as one of a half-dozen entries from the loaded A-10. Colorado’s profile has been weakening for two months, or ever since star G Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a season-ending knee injury on January 12 at Washington. The Buffs are 7-8 in his absence and are well-advised to avoid a banana peel against bottom-seed Southern Cal in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tourney. We admit to not even thinking about Nebraska until a couple of weeks ago, but Tim Miles’ Cornhuskers just continue to win and win, and Sunday’s rousing success at Lincoln over Wisconsin gives them a chance to hear their name called next Sunday. Maybe Miles wasn’t so crazy after all to take the job in Lincoln.
MIDWEST REGIONAL (Indianapolis, IN)
At St. Louis...
1 Wichita State (34-0, 6) vs. 16 Weber State (17-11, 167)/Robert Morris (21-12, 122)...The chatter about Wichita not being worthy of a regional number one seed has mostly disappeared in recent weeks as the Shockers enter the Dance with the most-ever wins for an undefeated team. To put things into perspective, the last time the Shockers lost a game was in the Final Four vs. Louisville last season. The Big Sky Tourney begins this week in Ogden where Weber State will be favored, though for the first time we suspect the Sky rep will eb required to participate in one of the 16 vs. 16 play-in games. As might the Northeast champ, where the home team of the Pittsburgh Airport, Robert Morris, will host longshot Mount Saint Mary’s (with a 15-16 SU record) in the Tuesday night NEC title game, near the runways in Moon Township.
8 SMU (23-8, 44) vs. 9 UMass (23-7, 12)...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, having won this event in 1988, long before any of his players were born, when authoring one of the Big Dance’s best-ever storylines while coaching Danny Manning and Kansas to the title. UMass might be able to do better than a nine seed on Selection Sunday with a decent showing in this week’s conference tourney at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but we suspect multiple A-10 reps ending up in the 7-11 seed range.
4 Iowa State (23-7, 9) vs. 13 Toledo (26-5, 13)...The computer numbers seem to love ISU, whose RPI has been in the Top Ten for much of the past two months. Even if some customers at the Las Vegas sports books don’t care for the Cyclones, especially those losing money lately on Fred Hoiberg’s team which has only three spread covers in its last 16 games. 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 and tourney. The Rockets have not been dominating foes lately, however, and could be vulnerable to an upset (some regional insiders are suddenly starting to think that Tom Izzo disciple and Northern Illinois HC Mark Montgomery’s mini-version of Michigan State might have a chance in Cleveland). Has Ted Kowalczyk’s team done enough to earn an at-large bid if it gets dumped later this week at The Q?
5 Cincinnati (26-5, 14) vs. 12 Southern Miss (26-5, 34)...Bearcat HC Mick “The Ghost” Cronin looks ready for the Big Dance, at least based upon his recent confrontation with ref Ted Valentine (what coach doesn’t get made at Valentine?). Cincy is also the top seed (via tiebreakers) for this week’s American Tourney in Memphis, and the Bearcats probably move into protected seed territory if they win the event at FedEx Forum. We also can’t wait to see what transpires at this week’s scrum otherwise known as the C-USA Tourney in El Paso, where Donnie Tyndall’s Southern Miss will enter as a very slight favorite. Remember the venue, however, which makes Tim Floyd’s host UTEP Miners a team to watch at the Don Haskins Center.
2 Michigan (23-7, 13) vs. 15 New Mexico State (23-9, 72)...At the beginning of the season, we didn’t think it was possible any team could win the well-balanced Big Ten in a runaway. But that’s exactly what John Beilein’s Michigan accomplished, which should answer any questions about the Wolverines landing on the second line. 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. Since our last update, the Wolverines and Aggies and some fans got involved in a melee at the end of a recent UVSU win in Orem, adding another level of intrigue to a possible rematch in front of a few hundred fans in this week’s conference tourney to be held at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
7 Kentucky (22-9, 19) vs. 10 Oklahoma State (20-11, 38)...A few weeks ago we had Kentucky pegged as a protected seed. That’s when we also thought the US Olympic men’s hockey team was going to medal in Sochi, too. A lot can change in a couple of weeks. Now the Wildcats look a bit lost after dropping three of four, and we wonder if some UK players are instead starting to think about how Jay-Z will be helping them in their upcoming NBA careers. As for Ok State, it will be providing an interesting test case for the Selection Committee, as no team has yo-yo’d as much in the projections this season. But the Cowboys recently won four straight vs. quality foes since Marcus Smart’s return from suspension, and were unfortunate to lose in OT last Saturday at Iowa State, when the Cyclones leveled the score at the end of regulation ona long three by backup Naz Long. As long as the Pokes avoid an early exit in the Big 12 Tourney, we suspect their name is called next Sunday on CBS.
3 Virginia (25-6, 8) vs. 14 Wright State (20-13, 168)...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. The Horizon Tourney has been turned inside-out with top seeds Green bay and Cleveland State dumped before the finale, which now features Wright State hosting UW-Milwaukee on Tuesday night at the Nutter Center, to this point better known as the venue where John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his GOP running mate in late August of 2008.
6 New Mexico (24-6, 22) vs. 11 St. John’s (20-11, 57)...We’ll see how New Mexico recovers from blowing a 16-point lead with 12 minutes to play in the Mountain West regular-season title decider at San Diego State on Saturday. Some regional insiders, however, are keeping a close eye on the Lobos, who ought to be primed to atone for their early sub-regional exit vs. Harvard last March. Practically the same team returns, with Craig Neal having moved over from the assistant position to the HC job after Steve Alford bolted for UCLA. Speaking of UCLA, former Bruin HC Steve Lavin has St. John’s right on the cut line and still alive for an at-large after Saturday’s OT thriller vs. Marquette. The Red Storm might have to win a game or two in this week’s Big East Tourney at MSG, but Lavin’s team has been one of the hottest in the league for the past month.
WEST REGIONAL (Anaheim)
at San Diego...
1 Arizona (28-3, 1) vs. 16 UC Irvine (22-10, 109)...We suppose there is a scenario wherein Arizona could lose a number one seed, especially after Saturday’s loss at Oregon. But it is more likely that the Wildcats can stay on the top line even if they don’t win this week’s Pac-12 Tourney at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. Regardless, expect the Cats to be sent to their preferred San Diego destination for the sub-regional round. The Big West Tourney kicks off this week in the cavernous Honda Center, where plenty of empty seats will welcome the teams at the NHL Ducks’ home venue. Local favorite UC Irvine enters as the top seed and gunning for its first-ever Big Dance invitation with a big lineup featuring one of the potential main curiosities of March, 7-6 frosh C Mamadou Ndiaye. The Anteaters, UCSB Long Beach State, and Hawaii appear to be the favorites in Anaheim. Zot!
8 Gonzaga (26-6, 28) vs. 9 Baylor (21-10, 36)...Along with many regional observers, we don’t think this is a vintage Mark Few Gonzaga team, but its numbers suggest it has already done enough to make a 16th straight appearance in the Dance even if it loses early in the week in the continuing WCC Tourney in Las Vegas, which seemed to begin two weeks ago. Like Oregon and Oklahoma State, Baylor’s Big Dance hopes appeared to have disappeared a month ago, but a late rally by the Bears that included Saturday’s road win at Kansas State has Scott Drew’s team back in the at-large mix. Seven wins in the last eight games has Baylor in good shape and likely able to survive and early exit in this week’s Big 12 Tourney at Kansas City.
4 North Carolina (23-8, 18) vs. 13 North Dakota State (23-6, 43)...There are some important things that this North Carolina team cannot do very well, including shoot the ball from the outside (a pretty big negative for a basketball team), which makes Roy Williams’ coaching job all the more remarkable. Even Saturday’s loss in the blood feud at nearby Duke probably doesn’t knock the Heels out of protected seed territory after the 12 preceding wins in a row that extended back to a week before the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, we advise everyone to check out this week’s Summit Tourney in Sioux Falls, where the locals are packing the old aircraft hangar of an arena and creating a Final Four-like atmosphere for the event. Early in the week, the favored North Dakota State Fighting Sioux had yet to play in the event, but will get their chance, with local preference South Dakota State, Denver, and IPFW all considered worthy contenders in one of the most-crackling environments for a college tourney in the country.
5 Ohio State (23-8, 27) vs. 12 BYU (22-10, 39)/St. Joseph’s (21-9, 37)...Ohio State is one of those sides that could move up into protected seed territory with a big showing in this week’s Big Ten Tourney at Indianapolis. But a pair of losses to Penn State might keep that door locked for the Buckeyes, who have not looked quite as formidable as last year’s Thad Matta edition that reached the Elite 8. Teams involved in the at-large play0in are really straddling the cut line. BYU’s candidacy might depend upon the Cougs at least reaching the WCC Tourney final in Las Vegas, although Dave Rose’s team can make it much easier in itself by simply winning the event. As for St. Joe’s, it has played itself into a bit of trouble with the past week’s losses vs. George Washington (which didn’t hurt too much) and LaSalle (which did hurt). The Hawks have to avoid a quick exit at this week’s Atlantic Ten Tourney in Brooklyn, or the Phil Martelli bald jokes might start again in Philly.
2 San Diego State (27-3, 15) vs. 15 Boston U (24-9, 82)...After Saturday night’s rousing comeback win vs. New Mexico to win the Mountain West regular-season crown, we think the Aztecs have climbed their way back to the second line after losses at Wyoming and against the Lobos in the last month. The only problem for SDSU in the sub-regional round is that it is prohibited from playing games on its home floor at Viejas Arena, which will instead be hosting Arizona and seven others next Friday and Sunday. The Patriot League Tourney has come down to a showdown between the top two seeds, Boston U (which picked a good year to move from the America East) and American U. The finale will be played on Wednesday in Beantown and not D.C., where the AU campus sits right across the street from the NBC News Washington bureau, where Chris Matthews works and Norah O'Donnell used to work.
7 Texas (23-8, 33) vs. 10 Stanford (19-11, 45)...Texas was in contention for a protected seed (and possible sub-regional in San Antonio) until a few weeks ago, as a handful of losses have shoved the Longhorns down the seeding scale. But the Longhorns are going to be one of many Big 12 reps in the Dance. As for Stanford, it badly needed last Saturday’s 61-60 win over Utah to stay out of serious bubble trouble. The Cardinal is hardly home free, however, and HC Johnny Dawkins no guarantee to return next season, if it does not make a decent showing in this week’s Pac-12 Tourney at Las Vegas.
At St. Louis...
3 Creighton (24-6, 10) vs. 14 Mercer (26-8, 88)...The sub-regionals could seem like old-home week for Creighton, which will be able to recall its past days in the Missouri Valley and many “Arch Madness” appearances at the Scottrade Center if sent to the sub-regional under the arch, as many expect will be the case. Which would be a fitting portion of the final chapter being written by Doug McDermott’s storybook career with the Bluejays. Meanwhile, kudos to Mercer, which finally got over the hump in the Atlantic Sun Tourney and exorcized some recent demons with Sunday’s win at nemesis Florida Gulf Coast in Ft. Myers. Remember, the Bears were good enough to win the CIT two years ago.
6 Memphis (23-8, 32) vs. 11 Dayton (22-9, 40)...Early March wins over Louisville (the second of the season) and SMU have probably helped move Josh Pastner’s Memphis up a line in the seeding ladder, and hosting this week’s American Tourney at the FedEx Forum is a golden opportunity for the Tigers to stay in the 6 range, or perhaps get in contention for a five slot. One of the recent movers has been Dayton, which closed the regular season with a rush (9-1 last 10) and owns a profile that suggests it can probably avoid an at-large play-in game, the only time the Selection Committee would make an exception and allow a team to play on its home court (the First Four is annually held at the Flyers’ UD Arena).
Last four byes: Dayton, St. John’s, Texas, Xavier
Last four in: BYU, St. Joseph’s, Nebraska, Colorado
Last four out: Minnesota, Arkansas, Cal, La Tech
Next four out: Georgetown, Florida State, Green Bay, Belmont
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