The calendar has turned to March.
We’re now less than two weeks away from Selection Sunday.
There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, but things at the top of the bracket are starting to take shape.
The bubble, however, continues to be a mess, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. (More on that in my Last Four In and Last Five Out below.)
Before getting into this week’s projections, here are a few teams that I’m a bit lower on compared to where they sit in the Bracket Matrix. It doesn’t mean I don’t like these teams, because in most cases I actually do. It’s more to highlight reasons why their profiles might be a little worse than you think.
The Irish have knocked off Duke at home and won at the Dean Dome, which are the best of their eight Top-100 wins, and they don’t have a loss outside of the Top 65. The issue is a non-conference strength of schedule that is somehow in the 300s despite playing Providence, Michigan State, and Purdue, all of whom are in the Top 60.
Following Saturday’s loss to Arizona, the Utes have just two Top-50 wins, both of which came in December against Wichita St. and BYU. They have no losses outside the Top 60 and have racked up a number of wins over teams in the 51-100 range. Utah is just 6-5 away from home as well, so despite the fact that they have the pieces to make a run in the Big Dance, I don’t see them getting a protected seed as of now.
Like Utah, UNC doesn’t have a bad loss, but there aren’t as many quality wins as you might expect. The Heels have just one Top-25 win and are only 3-8 against the Top 50. They’re just 9-9 versus the Top 100, but they do boast great strength of schedule numbers and are 10-5 away from home. That helps, but the Heels need to beat Duke on Saturday to make their case for a protected seed more compelling.
I just don’t understand how this team is in the 7 or 8 seed range on so many projections. The Spartans have no Top-25 wins and are just 3-6 against the Top 50. They have a pair of sub-100 losses to Nebraska and Texas Southern, and last week’s collapse at home against Minnesota won’t do them any favors either. MSU is just 6-8 against the Top 100, and their best non-conference wins are against Loyola-Chicago, Oakland, and Rider.
Below are my projections through the games from March 2. I’ve also listed my last four in and first four out, along with my reasoning for those selections.
|MIDWEST (CLEVELAND)||EAST (SYRACUSE)|
|Louisville – March 19/21||Charlotte – March 20/22|
|1) Kentucky (29-0)||1) Virginia (28-1)|
|16) N. Florida (20-11)/St. Francis-NY (21-10)||16) Bucknell (18-13)/Sac. St. (19-8)|
|8) Dayton (22-6)
||8) LSU (21-8)|
|9) Iowa (19-10)||9) Colorado St. (24-5)|
|Columbus – March 20/22||Portland – March 19/21|
|5) West Virginia (22-7)
||5) Butler (21-8)|
|12) Illinois (18-11)/Temple (20-9)||12) Stephen F. Austin (25-4)
|4) Notre Dame (24-5)||4) Wichita St. (27-3)|
|13) Iona (24-7)||13) Valparaiso (26-5)|
|Omaha – March 20/22||Pittsburgh – March 19/21|
|6) Providence (20-9)||6) VCU (21-8)|
|11) North Carolina St. (17-12)||11) Texas A&M (20-8)/Tulsa (21-7)|
|3) Iowa St. (21-8)||3) Maryland (24-5)|
|14) UC Davis (22-5)||14) North Carolina Central (23-6)|
|Columbus – March 20/22||Omaha – March 20/22|
|7) San Diego St. (22-7)||7) St. John’s (20-9)|
|10) Mississippi (19-10)||10) Oregon (22-8)|
|2) Wisconsin (26-3)||2) Kansas (23-6)|
|15) High Point (22-8)
||15) William & Mary (18-11)|
|SOUTH (HOUSTON)||WEST (LOS ANGELES)|
|Charlotte – March 20/22||Pittsburgh – March 19/21|
|1) Duke (26-3)||1) Villanova (27-2)|
|16) New Mexico St. (19-10)||16) Texas Southern (17-12)|
|8) Ohio St. (21-8)||8) Oklahoma St. (17-11)|
|9) Xavier (18-12)||9) Georgia (19-9)|
|Jacksonville – March 19/21||Seattle – March 20/22|
|5) Utah (22-6)||5) Northern Iowa (27-3)|
|12) Wofford (25-6)||12) Louisiana Tech (23-7)|
|4) Arkansas (23-6)||4) Louisville (23-6)|
|13) Murray St. (26-4)||13) Harvard (20-6)|
|Jacksonville – March 19/21||Louisville – March 19/21|
|6) SMU (23-6)||6) North Carolina (20-9)|
|11) Purdue (19-10)
||11) Boise St. (22-7)|
|3) Baylor (22-8)||3) Oklahoma (20-9)|
|14) Toledo (19-10)||14) Georgia St. (20-9)|
|Seattle – March 20/22||Portland – March 19/21|
|7) Georgetown (18-9)||7) Indiana (19-10)|
|10) Michigan St. (19-10)||10) Cincinnati (20-9)|
|2) Gonzaga (29-2)||2) Arizona (26-3)|
|15) Albany (21-8)||15) South Dakota St. (21-9)|
Last Four In
Thanks to LSU moving up in the RPI, the Aggies now own a pair of Top-50 wins. Outside of that sweep of the Tigers though, they have no other victories against the Top 80.
After A&M’s comeback effort fell short against Arkansas last week, there really aren’t other chances for key wins until the SEC Tournament starts. For now, the Aggies just need to take care of business at Florida and home against Alabama.
The Golden Hurricane currently lead the AAC, but I have them in the First Four since I’m projecting SMU to get the automatic bid. Tulsa pulled out Saturday’s overtime game at Memphis to give them another Top-100 win, but outside of a sweep of fellow bubbler Temple, there’s not a lot to see here.
A poor non-conference showing makes this week’s games against Cincinnati and at SMU critical for Tulsa’ at-large hopes.
This is one of the tougher teams to evaluate, which is how I justified the lengthy amount of time I spent looking at their profile today. Transfers Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman both missed the first 10 games of the season, so the current incarnation of the Temple team has really been together for 19 of their 29 games.
In those games, they have a pair of Top-25 wins over Kansas and Cincinnati, and all five losses have come against Top-50 squads. They are 14-5 overall during that stretch, although eight of the wins came against teams outside of the Top 200.
For now, the Owls are still in the field, but they can’t afford to slip up at East Carolina or in the home finale against UConn this week.
The final spot came down to Illinois and BYU, and I gave the nod to the Illini based on a couple factors.
First, they have four strong wins, a pair of Top-10 victories over Baylor and Maryland, a road win over Michigan State at the Breslin Center, and a home win against Purdue. BYU has Saturday’s win at Gonzaga (one of the most impressive all year), but their next best victory came against a Stanford team who is on the outside looking in.
Second, the Illini have one really bad loss, which came at Nebraska. Their next worst loss from an RPI perspective came in overtime at Michigan, which at the time was at full strength. BYU has three losses to teams with an RPI lower than Nebraska’s.
That being said, Illinois would be wise to sweep games against Nebraska and at Purdue this week. Otherwise a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament becomes a necessity.
First Five Out
I touched on the Cougars above, and I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see them end up in the field. In fact, I think they’re one of the best 36 at-large teams, but the profile doesn’t exactly back that up for the reasons I mentioned.
With such little margin for error, the Cougars have to at least get to the WCC Finals, which would likely entail another win over Saint Mary’s.
The Wildcats stayed alive with wins over Rhode Island and George Washington last week, setting the stage for a huge date with VCU on Thursday. Davidson has a terrific offense, but unfortunately they have just one Top-60 win (vs. Dayton). Throw in a pair of sub-100 losses to St. Bonaventure and at St. Joe’s to go along with an uninspiring non-conference slate, and Thursday’s game is a must-win.
The Bruins squeaked out a win over Washington State on Sunday night to give them a weekend sweep of the Washington schools, which was really an exercise in avoiding bad losses. They have home victories over Utah and Oregon to go with a sweep of Stanford, but that’s really about it.
With five losses to teams outside of the Top 80 and a 3-10 mark away from home, UCLA needs to close out the regular season with a win over USC this week. A strong showing in the Pac-12 Tournament is a must.
Sunday’s loss at Wake Forest made a tough task even tougher for the Panthers. They have home wins over Notre Dame and North Carolina as well as a sweep of Syracuse, but they’re also just 4-9 away from home, have three bad losses, and did very little in the non-conference part of the schedule.
As a result, the Panthers can ill afford to drop either of this week’s games at home against Miami and at FSU.
Monday’s comeback win over Baylor saves Texas’ season … for now. That victory moved the Longhorns to 3-11 against the Top 50 with no losses outside the Top 60.
Saturday’s home finale against Kansas State is another must-win affair for the Longhorns. A victory there, plus a win in the Big 12 Tournament, might be enough to push them back in the field.
Here is how the bids broke down by conference:
Big Ten (8): Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
ACC (6): Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Virginia
Big East (6): Butler, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Villanova, Xavier
Big 12 (6): Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia
SEC (6): Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Texas A&M
American (4): Cincinnati, SMU, Temple, Tulsa
Mountain West (3): Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State
Pac-12 (3): Arizona, Oregon, Utah
Atlantic 10 (2): Dayton, VCU
Missouri Valley (2): Northern Iowa, Wichita State
America East: Albany
Atlantic Sun: North Florida
Big Sky: Sacramento State
Big South: High Point
Big West: UC Davis
Colonial: William & Mary
Conference USA: Louisiana Tech
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Northeast: St. Francis (NY)
Ohio Valley: Murray State
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: South Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
SWAC: Texas Southern
WAC: New Mexico State
West Coast: Gonzaga
Follow Andy on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops and to receive an update whenever new brackets are posted.