Let's assume for a moment that we have 36 of the 37 at-large teams chosen for the tournament field and there is just one team left to select. Below there will be four resumes, but no team names attached to them. You decide which of these four teams should get a bid, and at the bottom click the "read more" link to reveal the teams.
Record vs RPI top 50: 0-2
Record vs RPI top 100: 2-3
Wins vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): vs #48
Record vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): 1-2
Losses to RPI 100+: 2
Non-Con Strength of Schedule: 12
Road/Neutral Record: 13-5
Record vs RPI top 50: 1-3
Record vs RPI top 100: 6-4
Wins vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): vs #34
Record vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): 1-3
Losses to RPI 100+: 2
Non-Con Strength of Schedule: 122
Road/Neutral Record: 11-5
Record vs RPI top 50: 4-2
Record vs RPI top 100: 8-3
Wins vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): vs #1, vs #36, vs #42, @ #14, vs 50
Record vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): 5-3
Losses to RPI 100+: 7
Non-Con Strength of Schedule: 303
Road/Neutral Record: 3-9
Record vs RPI top 50: 2-10
Record vs RPI top 100: 5-10
Wins vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): vs #5, vs #15, @ #44
Record vs teams under consideration (by S-Curve ranking): 3-10
Losses to RPI 100+: 3
Non-Con Strength of Schedule: 43
Road/Neutral Record: 6-8
As Selection Sunday draws closer, we're starting to get a better idea of which the top teams will "host" the Second and Third rounds of the NCAA Tournament (although, keep in mind that teams can not play on their home court). For those who are unfamiliar with the process, the Selection Committee will give priority for the top four seeds in each region (or top sixteen teams) to play closest to their campus. For example, it's pretty well known at this point that Duke and Georgetown will likely get placed at the sub-regional site closest to their campus and/or largest alumni base, which is Philadelphia. So if you're a team like, say, Syracuse, hoping to get a top 4 seed and a quick trip to the City of Brotherly Love, you can pretty much forget about it. Let's list the sites that are locked up as of Monday, March 11th:
Salt Lake City
After Sunday's stumble against FIU in the Sun Belt semifinals, questions immediately arose as to whether Middle Tennessee State has a legitimate shot at an at-large bid to the tournament. The best comparison is last year's Iona team, who made the field in spite of not having any wins against the at-large field in 2012. But the Gaels did have five wins against the RPI top 100, while the Blue Raiders have just two. They did have a pretty solid win against Ole Miss in December, but that's pretty much all they've done this year aside from having a stellar 12-4 record away from home. At the end of the day, however, it doesn't seem like it will be enough. There are just one or two at-large bids up for grabs at this point, and I would think the selection committee would be more inclined to award the last bid or two to teams like Tennessee or Baylor who have very impressive wins. It's a shame, because MTSU could have done some major damage in the tournament.
This update will be brief because it's 1AM in the East. But I have a few bullet points on the key aspects of Saturdays surprises.
*From this point until Selection Sunday, results will be pouring in day and night, on weekends and weekdays alike. That means bracket updates and blog posts will be coming at least twice daily for the next week. Be sure to check the site frequently, and please share the updates on twitter (@RJTutton)! It's going to an awesome March.
Takin care of bidness
Congrats to the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast for clinching the first automatic bid of 2013 and the first in the school's short history. Despite playing on the road at Mercer for the Atlantic Sun tournament final, they controlled the game for the final half. They have several transfers from BCS schools and have plenty of talent. It showed today. This was briefly discussed on Twitter earlier, but the Eagles do NOT need to be concerned about getting sent to Dayton for the First Four next Tuesday/Wednesday. Their early season win over Miami should get them to the 15 line at the very lowest. At the moment they are projected as a 14 seed.
Billikens win A-10 Regular Season Crown
What an emotional season for St. Louis. Jim Crews gave his squad more autonomy when he took over for the late Rick Majerus, and it showed after Kwamain Mitchell returned from injury. The Billikens have been truly dominant since the start of December, going 21-3 after a 3-3 start. One could make an argument that VCU has been great in A10 play this year, but SLU has been better. They are now 5-2 vs the RPI top 50 and 12-4 against the top 100 (!), and the selection committee will certainly reward them for their accomplishments. Side note: Dwayne Evans should be a lock for first team All A-10 and should get serious consideration for conference player of the year. The 6-5 forward has scored in double figures in 13 consecutive games and has pulled in five double-doubles in his past ten games. He had 16 points and 17 rebounds in the season finale today against La Salle. Those are ridiculous numbers.
Big Blue Nation can exhale
The 'Cats front court must have channeled their inner Nerlens today, because they drove the Gators crazy in the paint. Willie Cauley-Stein blocked four shots and combined with Alex Poythress for 20 rebounds. Kentucky's guards were efficient enough on the offensive end and forced Florida to take a high number of low percentage shots. Any team that can hold the Gators to 57 points deserves a gold star. What does this mean for the Wildcats NCAA hopes? Barring a large number of bid thieves, Kentucky is in after their win today. Despite only being 2-6 vs the RPI top 50, they now add a Florida to a list of good wins over Maryland-N, Tennessee, and Missouri with only one bad loss to Georgia.
*Photo credit to the Fort Myers News-Press.
It's that time of year, folks. The calendar has turned to March and we are now less than two weeks away from Selection Sunday. While the next 12 days will certainly be a frenzy, the range of possibilities is getting narrower by the day. For some teams that's a bad thing (i.e. - Ole Miss, Iowa, Charlotte, UMass), while for some it's a good thing. How could this be a good thing? Well, for an increasing amount of teams, this means that they've accomplished enough to date that even if they took a collective nap they would still get a bid. Lets take a peak at the obvious and not so obvious teams that have a 100 percent chance of having their name called on St. Patrick's Day, even if they don't win their conference tournament.
The obvious locks:
The not-so-obvious locks:
Record vs RPI top 50: 5-5
Record vs RPI top 100: 7-7
Good wins: Marquette - N, North Carolina - N, Indiana - N, Gonzaga, Temple
Bad losses: None
You can't look at the above good wins and tell me with a straight face this team will get left out of the tournament. Have they played well since A-10 play began? Not really. Rotnei Clarke isn't as efficient offensively as he was in the first part of the season and sporadic injuries have hurt the Bulldogs. But a win in November counts just as much as a win in March, and the fact that almost all of their big wins came away from home will only help their seeding. Butler will be no worse than a 7 seed on Selection Sunday.
Record vs RPI top 50: 5-5
Record vs RPI top 100: 8-9
Good wins: Oregon, @Arizona, UCLA, @Oregon, Colorado
Bad losses: Harvard
Who would have thought the Golden Bears would get to lock status after starting 13-8 with one top 100 win through January? Since then they've racked up four wins against tournament teams, two of which were on the road in impressive fashion. Their non-conference performance was pretty awful, but their recent play gives them enough notches to overcome this. With one remaining game at home against Stanford and a Pac-12 Quarterfinal, not even two straight losses would keep Cal out.
Record vs RPI top 50: 4-4
Record vs RPI top 100: 9-8
Good wins: Baylor - N, Colorado State, Cal, @Oregon, Arizona
Bad losses: @Utah
In addition to two very solid out of conference wins and two big wins in conference, the Buffaloes should also get credit for a win at Arizona, because they were completely robbed of that game on January 3rd. At the very least, the selection committee will see that they played the Wildcats to a draw and then beat them convincingly at home. They may not have a great seed in the dance, but there's enough margin of error that they shouldn't worry about getting their name called in twelve days.
Record vs RPI top 50: 4-3
Record vs RPI top 100: 8-6
Good wins: Wisconsin - N, @Cal, Wichita State
Bad losses: Illinois State, @Drake
There's been a lot of chatter about the Jays stumbling down the stretch, especially after losing four of six in the past month. Yet their out of conference wins are pretty impressive. Since their regular season is complete, they can only lose one more game, at worst, before the NCAA tournament starts. Plus, this team passes the eye test, this squad has an experienced roster that is physically big and has great length, which can't be discounted. There's a lot more to Creighton than Doug McDermott. If they win the MVC tournament, they can get out of the dreaded 8/9 slot. Even if they don't, they'll still be dancing.
Record vs RPI top 50: 3-5
Record vs RPI top 100: 6-7
Good wins: UConn - N, UMass, Duke, North Carolina
Bad losses: None
See the fourth line of their profile above? Bad losses? None. When you've beaten Connecticut on a neutral floor, taken care of the number one RPI team and supplemented those with a good win against North Carolina, you're in good shape. The Wolfpack could fall a few seed lines if they collapsed in their last three remaining games (Wake, @Florida State, ACC Tournament), but that won't keep them out.
San Diego State:
Record vs RPI top 50: 4-6
Record vs RPI top 100: 7-8
Good wins: UCLA - N, Colorado State, New Mexico, Boise State
Bad losses: None
The Aztecs have sealed their fate with some big wins and no bad losses. The neutral court win against UCLA is looking better with each passing day, and that's exactly what the selection committee wants to see: teams that can win impressive out of conference games in an NCAA tournament type setting. Credit Steve Fisher for getting the most out of his defense this season. That's one heck of an adjustment, because the offense has been underwhelming to say the least. Don't count San Diego State out in March though, they could be a nightmare match up in the round of 32 or Sweet 16.
Record vs RPI top 50: 3-5
Record vs RPI top 100: 8-6
Good wins: Memphis - N, Belmont, UMass, Butler
Bad losses: None
There's a clear trend here with the teams on this list. Most of them have few bad losses despite marginal resumes, and the Rams are no exception. The outlook was extremely questionable for VCU early in the second half of the Xavier game just a little over a week ago. They had just gotten pummeled by St. Louis on the road and the Musketeers were doing the same early. But Troy Daniels starting making threes and the defense totally changed the complexion of the game. The win changed everything, as they carried that momentum into the Butler game and gave a very good Bulldogs squad their worst loss of the decade. That 60 minutes of basketball changed the whole tune of the regular season. They have an excellent road record and are above .500 against the RPI top 100. Those accomplishments will guarantee them a spot in the tournament.
In what is surely the most challenging game (on paper at least) remaining on Gonzaga's schedule this season, the Bulldogs will travel to Moraga on Thursday night to attempt a season sweep of Saint Mary's. Much has been made of the Gael's chances for an at-large bid, and however remote that chance may be, a Valentine's Day victory for Randy Bennett's squad is essential to that formula. RPI aside, the Gaels have no quality wins this season (BYU doesn't count). The only two opportunities that remain are at home against the Zags and next weekend in the Bracketbuster against Creighton. Yes, the expansion of the at-large field has weakened the bubble to some degree and that would seem to benefit the Gaels, but they need more than one signature win to have a realisitic shot on Selection Sunday (see Virginia Tech, 2011). They need to take both games. Otherwise its WCC Auto-Bid or bust.
This is not to say the Gaels aren't talented. Their guards can flat out shoot the deep ball and their big men can bruise it down low when needed. But can they match up with Gonzaga's depth and balance? In order to determine what the chances of pulling the upset are, let's look at a key portion of the last game between the two on January 10th.
With 15:00 minutes left in the second half, the Zags held a comfortable 19 point lead. Olynyk was torturing the Gaels front line, with entry pass after top of key isolation after entry pass getting easy buckets for Gonzaga. Making matters worse, this made it easy to get the ball to Pangos outside for wide open shots and points. The game seemed to be out of hand after the Gaels star guard Matthew Dellevadova committed his fourth turnover and temporarily exited the game. Changes had to be made immediately, and Randy Bennett made them. Defensively, he switched to more of a match up zone and gave more space to Olynyk at the top of the key. His penetrations weren't as effective in the second half, and he began to turn the ball over and got two offensive fouls. In fact, this reminded me of the Olynyk of old, the player who just two years was making maddening mistakes on a regular basis. Consquently the Zags offense fell stagnant, while on the offensive end the focus for the Gaels switched to Stephen Holt.
Holt began to penetrate the Gonzaga defense with ease, and on each possession Holt had a high ball screen waiting for him. He scored 11 of the Gaels next 13 and was able to get the Zags front court in serious foul trouble. Mark Few adjusted by trying to trap Holt, but he was able to find the open man and St. Mary's was able to work the ball into the paint for easy baskets. By the 11 minute mark the lead was down to just 6, and they eventually got the game down to four. While the Zags were able to stunt the Gaels momentum and pull out the win, carving into the lead in that fashion was impressive (especially for a road game).
It's a near certainty Bennett will try to run the offense through Holt this time, probably for the majority of the game. Will it work the way it did in the second half in their first meeting? The jury is out on that. Despite Holt's excellent stint in the last game, his field goal percentage is way down this year (from 50% to 41% respectively). This is clearly a sign that St. Mary's has been very much impacted negatively by the departure of 2012 graduate and three man Rob Jones, as now more consistent attention is paid to Holt. That being said, it's a safe bet that one of the top shooting teams in the nation will shoot better than 7-27 (26%) from deep as they did in Spokane. This favors Holt in a major way, as this will leave holes in the defense for him to get free and create plays in space. If the Zags find a way to close out on Holt and/or Dellevadova and contest shots, that works in Gonzagas favor. The Zags can also win on this by knowing what to expect on those high ball screens and trying their best not to switch if they can avoid it. If Mark Few's group fails to do this, the St. Mary guards could very well pull off a shocker in NoCal.
What happened this weekend? Is there anyone out there who can claim that this wasn't the most upside down week in college basketball over the past decade? After all, every top five team lost during the week, the first time that has happened since 1992. There is no question that the top of college basketball is down compared to most years, but what's creating a lot of upsets is that there are very strong teams outside the top 30 that can beat the teams in the top tier. Here are some notes on how the past week affected Monday's new bracket.
At first glance it may appear that there are a dearth of games to get excited about on Saturday. There are no games between top ten teams and very few games between two top 25 teams at all. Don't be fooled. This is one of the biggest Saturdays of the college basketball season. Why? Well, for starters, the term "ranked" implies poll rankings, which have absolutely zero tangible value to the NCAA selection process. But I digress. There are a ton of games between top teams and teams who are either fighting for an at large bid or teams who can all but seal an at-large bid with a signature win. Let's briefly discuss today's top three games, who will play key roles, and what it will mean in the grand scheme of things.
3) Michigan at Wisconsin (12:00 EST, ESPN)
This game is huge for the Badgers, but they don't need this win. However, a victory would all but lock up an NCAA bid, as it would give them their third signature win and put them at eight wins in Big Ten play. Why is that important? The threshold for teams in top ranked conferences to get an NCAA bid is typically to get within two games of .500 in conference play. If Wisconsin wins today, the worst they could do is finish 8-10 in the Big Ten and 17-16 overall. In that worst case scenario, they'd still have wins against Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, and two against Illinois. That would still be worthy of an at-large selection. How do they come out with a W? A slow pace must be established early on. The Badgers have serious depth issues and the Wolverines love to make the game a track meet. In order to prevent this from happening, Wisconsin has to methodically work for good shots that either drop or don't cause long rebounds. Jared Berggren has been an enigma this season, but he has the potential to have a breakout game in the front court. If they find ways to get him isolated and get open shots, they can pull this out. If they don't, they'll play right into Michigan's hands, who is great at forcing a lot of low percentage shots. This in turn gets them great opportunities to get down the floor with numbers.
Afternoon update: Berggren and Evans will get recognition for their scoring (24 points between them), but defensively they were great today. While the Badgers needed a prayer at the end of regulation, those two deserve a lot of credit for keeping the game close. Three pointers aren't easy to knock down against Michigan, but Brust and Jackson can thank the big fellas for giving them room to get off decent shots. Congrats to the Badgers, they are now an absolute lock for the NCAA tournament, which will make 2013 their 15th (!) consecutive appearance.
2) North Carolina at Miami (2:00PM EST, ESPN)
The Tarheels have been playing better of late and have steadily improved their at-large profile, but they have yet to get a signature win. A win at Miami today would give North Carolina a solid grip on an at-large and increase their seeding greatly. There's no need to beat around the bush, this team was terrible defensively in the first two months, giving up 80+ points with regularity (including East Carolina!). Since mid-January they've played with a lot more discipline, allowing 72 points or more just once. It's no coincidence that they've won five of six. They'll need to keep that up today, as the Canes have multiple guys who can shoot it quite efficiently. Miami loves to set screens for Durand Scott, who in turn will either slash and score or (if the defense collapses) kick it out to shooters like Shane Larkin. They key will be to not have to switch and help a lot on screens and drives. While a tall task, it can be done. Roy Williams would be wise to give extra minutes to Dexter Strickland, as he can match up from a size and experience perspective with Scott.
Post-game Update: The Tarheels didn't accomplish any of what was discussed in the game preview. Their defense was totally dictated by what Miami wanted to do. Larkin and Scott were able to get open and find the open man on nearly every possession. Teams don't shoot 57% from three because they are simply "hot." They shoot like that because they've found serious holes in the opposing defense. North Carolina has to be very careful. They are a bubble team because their resume is very shaky, they have not done much away from Chapel Hill, and have not passed the eye test. Miami, on the other hand, is cruising. Even if they lose a couple more games the remainder of the season, I can't see them going any lower than a two seed.
1) New Mexico at UNLV (9:00PM EST, NBC Sports)
I'm pretty sure the "Worldwide Leader" doesn't want you to know that the Mountain West is the third best league in the country this season. After all, they don't have a contract with the conference and can't show any of their games in which half of the teams are likely to make the tournament this season. Forget College Gameday and Notre Dame-Louisville, the Lobos and Running Rebels are playing the game of the day. This rivalry is quickly becoming one of the best in college basketball and will have huge ripple effects for both teams, win or lose. One bad loss to South Dakota State aside, New Mexico is quietly building one of the best resumes in college basketball this season. They already have neutral court/away wins against Connecticut, Indiana State, Boise State, Wyoming, and Cincinnati and home wins against UNLV and Colorado State. The Lobos are a ridiculous 5-1 against the RPI top 50 through today. UNLV, on the other hand desperately needs a win to stop the bleeding. The Rebels appeared to be destined for a high seed in mid-January, but have lost three of their last five since, clearly struggling on the road.
What has gone wrong for UNLV? While Anthony Bennett is getting well deserved consideration for freshman of the year, he's come back down to Earth slightly after starting the season white hot. In the first 17 games, Bennett shot 56% from the field and 40% from three point range while leading the Rebels to a 14-3 record. In their last five games, he's still been good, shooting at a 45% clip, but he's been a putrid 2-14 from three and gotten into foul trouble in two of those losses. Freshman deep threat Katin Reinhardt has gone cold as well, shooting just 23% in the three most recent defeats. What's the answer? Veteran Anthony Marshall hasn't cooled off at all and is an extremely reliable scorer. The Runnin Rebs should run the offense through him during every possession. If the Lobos try to deny him the ball, set double screens and get him free. If New Mexico over commits, Bennett will get open under the basket and easily score. Remember, Bennett is too good for New Mexico (or anyone) to double team Marshall.
On the other side of the ball, New Mexico's guards will decide this game, unlike their first tilt in Albuquerque when Alex Kirk dominated down low. Because of Kirk's inside presence, it seems like a safe bet that there will be minimal defensive help with the guards. The problem with that is that there isn't anyone who can defend Tony Snell playing man to man without help. He's less effective against the zone, but then Kendall Williams will find open spaces on the floor and either make shots or find someone who is open (and against a zone, Hugh Greenwood and Chad Adams will get open and make shots).
I think this comes down to turnovers. If UNLV turns over the ball more, Williams and the Lobo guards will find open spaces and make shots, thereby controlling the pace. If it's New Mexico with the high amount of turnovers, Bennett and Marshall will dictate the game. At the end of the day, I don't trust Anthony Bennett offensively to make consistently solid decisions. New Mexico will take advantage and will get a huge road win. Lobo fans take note: A win will put them in strong contention for a 2 seed in March.
Post-game Update: I had it all wrong yesterday. UNLV committed itself to stopping the New Mexico guards and were willing to live with Kirk and Bairstow getting theirs. That team is hard to beat at home, especially when Bennett sticks to what he does best. Credit the Runnin Rebels defense for defending the three the way they did last night. Dave Rice is finally starting to figure out that Moser has hurt the team more than helped since he came back from injury. They are a different team away from Thomas and Mack, though. It has to be frustrating as a Lobo fan that the MWC tournament is on UNLV's home court. The selection committee will hold them accountable for that, though.
The loss does not hurt the Lobos from a seeding perspective. They had more to gain on Saturday than they had to lose. Other than the game at CSU, the away schedule is favorable. As long as they get back on track at Fresno, this game will be a distant memory.
For those who missed the epic ending in Champaign last night, hit the play button above. You're welcome.
You're killing, me Illini fans. Really. I wrote extensiviely about how well the Illlini were playing through December, only to collapse early in Big Ten play just like last year. This made things easy for me, because despite their resume there was no way they could be considered for at-large selection at 2-7 in Big Ten play. Now things have become much more complicated. Illinois now boasts epic wins over what was 1 seed Indiana (more on them later), 2 seed Gonzaga, 3 seed Butler, and 5 seed Ohio State. But they're an awful 3-7 in conference play. There is one example in the history of the NCAA at-large berths where a team got selected being four games below .500 in conference. That being said, there are plenty of examples of teams that finished 8-10 in conference and received an at-large. I'm not comfortable quite (yet) including them back in my bracket, but as soon as they get within three games of .500 in Big Ten play, they'll immediately move back in.
*Note: to get to eight wins, the Illini need to win the following games and lock up an NCAA bid: Purdue, @Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, and one of ANY of their games @Minnesota, @Iowa, Ohio State, @Michigan.
Growing up outside of Richmond, Virginia in the heart of ACC Country, college hoops was set into the fabric of Rusty Tutton at an early age. A 2008 graduate of VCU, he lives in the Fan District of Richmond and works full-time in higher education.