The first seven days of November have come and gone. The election is mercifully over, Thanksgiving looms in just two short weeks, but most importantly, the college basketball offseason finally meets its end on Friday.
It's been far too long since college basketball fans were debating the worthiness of Drexel, Iona, Marshall, N.C. State, USF, Washington and others for the final spots in 2012's field of 68. Now, nearly eight months later, we will be treated to a true Opening Night, an evening highlighted by March-quality matchups, many of which will be surrounded by patriotic flair (though the Syracuse vs. San Diego State carrier game was moved to Sunday due to some typically non-Southern California weather).
Speaking of March, the season's arrival means its time for me to juggle spreadsheets and preview publications and create a highly questionable preseason bracket. Remember to print it out and save it for the purpose of unending laughter and ridicule when Selection Sunday arrives, on St. Patrick's Day 2013.
Automatic bids are denoted by conference names in parentheses.
|(1) MIDWEST |
|Lexington (Thu/Sat)||Dayton (Fri/Sun)|
|1||Louisville (Big East)||1||Kentucky (SEC)|
|16||Mercer or Prairie View||16||Charleston Sthn. or Stony Brook|
|San Jose (Thu/Sat)||Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)|
|5||Missouri||5||San Diego State|
|4||Creighton (MVC)||4||Memphis (C-USA)|
|13||Ohio (MAC)||13||Long Beach State (Big West)|
|Kansas City (Fri/Sun)||Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)|
|14||Middle Tenn.(Sun Belt)||14||Iona (MAAC)|
|Kansas City (Fri/Sun)||Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)|
|10||St. Mary's||10||Murray State (OVC)|
|2||Kansas (Big 12)||2||Michigan|
|15||Oral Roberts (Southland)||15||Montana (Big Sky)|
|(3) WEST |
Los Angeles (Thu/Sat)
|Dayton (Fri/Sun)||Lexington (Thu/Sat)|
|1||Ohio State||1||Indiana (Big Ten)|
|16||Long Island (NEC)||16||Savannah State (MEAC)|
|Austin (Fri/Sun)||San Jose (Thu/Sat)|
|5||Gonzaga (WCC)||5||UNLV (MWC)|
|12||Drexel (CAA)||12||Arkansas or St. Joseph's|
|13||Miami or USF||13||Lehigh (Patriot)|
|Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)||Austin (Fri/Sun)|
|6||Kansas State||6||Notre Dame|
|3||Arizona (Pac-12)||3||Michigan State|
|14||South Dakota State (Summit)||14||Utah State (WAC)|
|Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)||Philadelphia (Thu/Sat)|
|2||N.C. State (ACC)||2||Duke|
|15||Princeton (Ivy)||15||Detroit (Horizon)|
|FIRST FOUR (Dayton)|
|Tuesday: To Lexington
||Tuesday: To San Jose|
|16||Prairie View (SWAC)||12||St. Joseph's|
|Wednesday: To Dayton||Wednesday: To Austin
|16||Charleston Southern (Big South)||13||Miami|
|16||Stony Brook (AmEast)||13||South Florida|
You may be a bit puzzled by how the top four lines of "protected" seeds are assigned among the first weekend sites. That's because the eight hosts aren't all that evenly distributed geographically for the second straight year. Since the 2013 NCAA Tournament is the 75th edition, the Men's Division I Basketball Committee primarily handed out hosting duties to cities that feature prominently in the event's history. This is also why there was a real, though sentimental push to award the East Regional to Madison Square Garden, which ended up in the Nation's Capital.
So, if this bracket were to hold (insert your laughter here), you could grab a hotel in, say, Cincinnati for the tournament's opening weekend and be able to conveniently traverse Interstate 75 to check out all four No. 1 seeds -- Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State -- in Lexington and Dayton. This is even more convenient than last year's Louisville/Nashville and Columbus/Pittsburgh pairings. You could even arrive a couple of days early and take in the First Four, which will again be played at the University of Dayton Arena.
The geography of the top line, along with the presence of Michigan and Michigan State among the protected seeds, means the battle for the top spot in the Indianapolis-based Midwest Region will be fierce, perhaps just as contentious as the struggle for a trip to Atlanta itself. Originally, I placed Indiana in this coveted spot, but thanks to the ridiculous suspensions of Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin, which happens to conveniently include the Legends Classic and a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game with North Carolina, Louisville is a late substitution. The Hoosiers even fall behind Kentucky, in a year where the two teams won't meet during the regular season.
If the Pac-12's forecasted resurgence comes to pass, there may be plenty of Western teams available to fill the Salt Lake City and San Jose pods, especially when you consider the presence of national threats at the top of the Mountain West and West Coast Conferences. (Note though, that I slightly discount UCLA's preseason chances thanks to the eligibility saga surrounding Shabazz Muhammad.) On the other hand, fans on Tobacco Road, used to seeing their favorite teams in familiar arenas within driving distance, may have to hit the travel websites to make plans, thanks to the lack of venues in the Southeast. This bracket sees N.C. State and Duke headed to Philadelphia as No. 2 seeds. Meanwhile, North Carolina travels to Kansas City, where they'll join Kansas as a protected seed, a prospect that must absolutely thrill some Jayhawk fans.
With the logistics of the Tournament explained, here's a look at the conference breakdown, the arrivals and departures from the 2012 field, and a rundown of some of the teams I considered for a place in this bracket. Keep in mind that the majority of teams will have the opportunity to at least earn an automatic bid, unless they happen to be barred from their conference tournaments.
|BIDS BY CONFERENCE||LAST FOUR BYES||ARRIVALS||DEPARTURES FROM 2012|
|Big East: 8
|Big Ten: 6||Northern Iowa||Arkansas||Colorado|
|Big 12: 6||Oklahoma||Butler||Colorado State|
|SEC: 6||BYU||Charleston Southern||Connecticut|
||LAST FOUR IN||Drexel||Harvard|
|WCC: 3||Miami||Middle Tennessee||Loyola, Md.|
|MVC: 2||St. Joseph's||Minnesota||Miss. Valley State|
|MWC: 2||LAST FOUR OUT||Northern Iowa||New Mexico|
|1-Bid Conferences: 21||Colorado State||Oklahoma||New Mexico State|
|Northwestern||Oral Roberts||Norfolk State|
|Oregon||Prairie View||Southern Miss.|
|NEXT FOUR OUT||Princeton||St. Bonaventure|
|Marshall||St. Joseph's||UNC Asheville|
|New Mexico||Savannah State||Vanderbilt|
|Illinois State||Stony Brook||Virginia|
Also considered: Akron, Colorado, Dayton, Delaware, Denver, George Mason, Iowa, Loyola Marymount, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico State, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Providence, Purdue, Rutgers, St. John's, Seton Hall, USC, Washington, Wichita State, Xavier
I've purposely kept this bracket light on analysis for two simple, practical reasons. The first: the predictive value of this stab in the dark is rather mediocre. More specifically, you can assume that roughly a third of the teams in this field won't be around in five months' time.
In the first two seasons of the 68-team field, I had roughly the same success in predicting the final product. Last season, 43 teams in my preseason bracket were there in March, meaning 25 missed. The biggest whiffs on my part were Pittsburgh (projected as a 2 seed, won the CBI), Georgetown (left out, ended up as a 3) and Indiana (also absent, earned a 4). My 2012 numbers were actually just marginally worse than my 2011 ones, as I selected 44 of the 68 teams correctly in the first year of the expanded bracket. For comparison's sake, in the final year of the 65-team tournament, 2010, I managed to name only 38 of the final field in November.
However, my efforts are improving from a seeding perspective. In 2012, I pegged eight teams' seeds exactly in November, with another 15 off by just a single line. A year earlier, I seeded seven teams perfectly with a further eight off by one seed. Note that I paid extra attention to each team's non-conference schedule when working on my S-curve for 2013, as the Selection Committee is more seriously emphasizing how a team builds its slate in the selection and seeding processes.
Oddly enough, the same team provided my biggest seeding miss in both 2011 and 2012. Two seasons ago, I figured the Connecticut Huskies would sneak into the tournament as an 11 seed. They ended up grabbing a No. 3 seed and, eventually, the National Championship. With that in mind, I gave UConn a preseason No. 1 seed for 2012. Naturally, Jim Calhoun's team reversed the previous season's eight-line improvement exactly and crashed out in the Second Round as a No. 9 seed. The Huskies won't be able to repeat that trick this season, as the team is one of 10 that will sit out the postseason because of poor Academic Progress Rate performance.
As for the second reason to ignore the preseason bracket ... isn't it more fun to watch the season play out than expect things to go exactly as I have it projected here? Keep in mind that you may not want to answer that question if your team is among the unlucky third that ends up absent from the real field of 68 on March 17th.
That's five months away though. In the meantime, get your mind and remote control ready for the return of meaningful college basketball.
Follow Chris' ongoing coverage of the 2012-13 college basketball season on his Twitter account.