Three of the top four seeds in this week's bracket remain the same as in last Monday's edition. Syracuse, one of two unbeatens remaining in college basketball (alongside sixth-seeded Murray State), once again heads up the field, while Baylor is now a one-loss No. 1 seed, joining Kentucky, as new No. 2 seed Kansas simply crushed the Bears in Lawrence last night. The Jayhawks passed archival Missouri, the nation's third one-loss team, in my S-curve, thanks to a combination of last night's win and a better overall profile, particularly after examining the two teams' non-conference schedules.
However, the No. 1 seed in the West Region did change hands, thanks to Florida State's thrashing of North Carolina on Saturday afternoon. After some deliberation, which may or may not have featured coin flips (because of the similarities in the teams' profiles), Ohio State replaces the Tar Heels at the top of the Phoenix-focused quadrant, getting the nod over Michigan State, who lost Saturday at Northwestern, and Duke, who the Buckeyes hammered earlier in the season.
Perhaps this change foreshadows the destiny of the top line. With the Big Ten being far stronger than the ACC this season, Michigan State and Ohio State will have far more quality win opportunities than North Carolina the rest of the way. If either the Spartans or Buckeyes can seize control of the Big Ten race, the Tar Heels may not have a clear path back to the top line if Syracuse, Baylor, and Kentucky remain entrenched. Note that the two Big Ten favorites meet twice in the second half of the conference season, and March 4th's contest in East Lansing looming as a fitting finale before the shift to Indianapolis and postseason play.
Here's the complete bracket. The numbers in parentheses next to the region names indicate its top seed's position on my S-curve.
|(1) EAST |
St. Louis (Fri/Sun)
|Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)||Nashville (Fri/Sun)|
|1||Syracuse (Big East)||1||Baylor|
|16||Long Island (NEC)||16||
Miss. Valley St./UNC Asheville
|↓ 9||Purdue||↑ 9||Xavier|
|Albuquerque (Thu/Sat)||Portland (Thu/Sat)|
|↑ 5||Creighton (MVC)||↓ 5||West Virginia|
|12||Florida State/Southern Mississippi||12||Harvard|
|↑ 4||Illinois||↑ 4||
Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt)
||↑ 13||Oral Roberts (Summit)|
|Columbus (Fri/Sun)||Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)|
|↓ 6||Kansas State||↑ 6||Murray State (OVC)|
|↓ 11||Saint Louis||↑ 11||Northwestern|
|14||Milwaukee (Horizon)||14||Belmont (Atlantic Sun)|
|Greensboro (Fri/Sun)||Columbus (Fri/Sun)|
|↓ 7||Louisville||7||Mississippi State|
|↑ 10||New Mexico (MWC)||↓ 10||Wichita State|
Michigan State (Big Ten)
|15||Georgia State (CAA)||↑ 15||
|(4) WEST |
|Louisville (Thu/Sat)||Louisville (Thu/Sat)|
|↑ 1||Ohio State||1||Kentucky (SEC)|
|16||Penn (Ivy)||16||Stony Brook/UT Arlington|
|8||Dayton||↑ 8||San Diego State|
|↓ 9||Stanford||↑ 9||Cincinnati|
|Portland (Thu/Sat)||Albuquerque (Thu/Sat)|
|↑ 12||Iona (MAAC)||12||Marshall|
|4||UNLV||↓ 4||Seton Hall|
|13||Davidson (Southern)||13||Massachusetts (Atlantic 10)|
|Nashville (Fri/Sun)||Omaha (Fri/Sun)|
|↑ 6||St. Mary's (WCC)||6||Marquette|
|↑ 11||Long Beach State (Big West)||11||California/UCF|
|↑ 3||Connecticut||↓ 3||Missouri|
|14||Akron (MAC)||14||Nevada (WAC)|
|Omaha (Fri/Sun)||Greensboro (Fri/Sun)|
|↑ 10||Memphis||↓ 10||Temple|
|↑ 2||Kansas (Big 12)||↓ 2||North Carolina|
|15||Weber State (Big Sky)||15||Norfolk State (MEAC)|
|FIRST FOUR (Dayton)|
|Tuesday: To Louisville
||Tuesday: To Albuquerque|
Stony Brook (America East)
|16||UT Arlington (Southland)||↓ 12||Southern Mississippi|
|Wednesday: To Nashville||Wednesday: To Omaha
UNC Asheville (Big South)
Mississippi Valley State (SWAC)
Saturday's wins mean that Northwestern remains in this projection, while Florida State jumps into the First Four. Here's the rundown at the other teams joining them hanging in the field and those looking to crash the gates. This week's conference breakdown sees the Big East and Big Ten leading the way in terms of bids, as both have eight.
|BIDS BY CONFERENCE||LAST FOUR BYES*||ARRIVALS||DEPARTURES|
|Big East: 8
|Big Ten: 8||Saint Louis||California||Ball State|
|A-10: 5||Northwestern||Florida State||BYU|
|SEC: 5||California||Georgia State||Cleveland State|
||LAST FOUR IN*||Massachusetts||Colorado|
|Big 12: 4
||Southern Mississippi||Milwaukee||George Mason|
|C-USA: 4||Harvard||Mississippi Valley State||Lamar|
|MWC: 3||Florida State||Penn||LSU|
||UCF||UT Arlington||Notre Dame|
|MVC: 2||LAST FOUR OUT|
|1-Bid Conferences: 19||NC State|
|NEXT FOUR OUT|
|* Last Four In and Last Four Byes do not match the bracket exactly this week because I had to make adjustments based on bracketing principles.|
Your eyes are not deceiving you, there are two Ivy League teams in this week's bracket. Penn owns this week's auto bid, thanks to the Ancient Eight's unique approach to scheduling its 14-game slate. Harvard opened conference play like they did last season, with a single game against Dartmouth, before taking a week off while the other six teams begin their schedules. Penn gets in simply because they played, and won, one more Ivy game than the Crimson. (For information on how I determine who gets auto bids during the regular season, click here to read more.)
Tommy Amaker's team remains in thanks to their wins over UCF and Florida State in the Bahamas, along with a sneaky good win over St. Joseph's-a team that has a chance to sneak in the field with a nice run through the Atlantic 10. A January 3rd loss to Fordham-a truly bad one-should see them in Dayton. However, they avoid that fate because of procedural considerations. Contrast that to Northwestern, who avoids the Opening Round outright thanks to two Top 10 RPI wins (Michigan State at home and Seton Hall in Charleston) and no bad losses (their worst came at Michigan in overtime on Wednesday).
In placing California, Florida State, Southern Mississippi, and UCF in Dayton, I attempted to somewhat replicate the Selection Committee's approach for setting up the inaugural First Four last March, providing an opportunity for bubble teams with a variety of profile strengths and shortcomings to play their way into the main field. All I was really missing was a VCU-like mid-major from a surprisingly strong conference. Northern Iowa was slated for that spot until they lost to Bradley Sunday afternoon.
As for the quartet in this First Four, the Seminoles and Golden Bears serve in the role of the "competitive major conference team with a questionable profile" that Clemson and USC filled in 2011, with FSU comparing favorably to the up-and-down Trojan team of a year ago. On the other hand, the Golden Bears only land here because of the need to balance the bracket out a bit. Southern Mississippi replaces UAB (and UTEP if you want to go back to 2010) as the Conference USA team whose selection has everyone scratching their heads at about 6:45 p.m. Eastern on Selection Sunday night. Larry Eustachy's team has great computer numbers, but nothing that really stands out when you look deeper. Conversely, UCF, a C-USA rival with profile holes, does have a standout win over Connecticut in the Bahamas. Note that the Seminoles and Knights, two of the three teams Harvard defeated en route to the Battle 4 Atlantis crown are in line to play the extra game, which is the primary reason why the Crimson are bumped up and Cal slides down. Otherwise, there would be a guaranteed rematch in Dayton.
BYU is the last team out this week. The Cougars will need to make a run through the West Coast Conference to get back in, as they don't yet own a top 50 win, a flaw they can rectify with games against St. Mary's (at home) and Gonzaga (home-and-away) before the end of the regular season. N.C. State is in a similar position when it comes to quality wins, and being embarrassed at home by Georgia Tech Wednesday night didn't help matters. Oklahoma now has a pair of RPI top 50 wins, thanks to Saturday's home victory over Kansas State and an earlier one over Oral Roberts (a top 50 team depending on your site of choice), but even though the Sooners and Wildcats share a 1-3 Big 12 record, Frank Martin's team sees itself safely in the field as a 6 seed while Lon Kruger's team isn't even sniffing Dayton this week. That all boils down to the Sooners' relatively weak non-conference performance and Monday night's loss at archrival Oklahoma State. The Sooners' other main rival, Texas, is the fourth team closest to knocking the door down. The Longhorns need to improve upon their 1-5 road/neutral record before they can book a place.
Yet for teams like Texas and Minnesota, Iowa State, Rutgers, Oregon, and others, conference play provides plenty of opportunities to make a case to the Committee. With that in mind, here is a sampling of this week's games that will impact the finished product revealed on Sunday, March 11th.
Tuesday, January 17
Michigan State at Michigan, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Last year, the Wolverines' sweep of the Spartans helped set them up for an NCAA bid. With Michigan State's resurgence, John Beilein's team will struggle to repeat the feat this time around.
Arkansas at Kentucky, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Michigan travels to Fayetteville on Saturday. If the Razorbacks can pull a stunner at Rupp, the weekend's contest will have added meaning to their selection chances.
Wednesday, January 18
Marshall vs. West Virginia at Charleston, W.V., 7:30 p.m. ET (WOWK/Full Court/ESPN3)
Last season, the Thundering Herd stunned the Mountaineers, but it wasn't enough to earn them a bid. This time around, Marshall has the benefit of playing (and leading) a stronger Conference USA.
Memphis at UCF, 8 p.m. ET (CBS College Sports)
Speaking of C-USA, the Tigers can join the Herd at 4-0 if they can grab a win in Orlando against a Knight team that was in it until the very end in Huntington on Saturday night.
Northwestern at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
The Badgers have already lost to Iowa at the Kohl Center. Can the Wildcats do the same and boost their selection case?
San Diego State at New Mexico, 10 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network/Cox 4 San Diego)
The Aztecs and Lobos meet just days after they each grabbed a share of the early Mountain West lead with victories over UNLV and Wyoming, respectively.
Thursday, January 19
College of Charleston at Davidson, 7 p.m. ET
The Wildcats, who defeated Kansas in Kansas City back in December, can open up a three-game lead on their main Southern Conference challenger if they defend their home court.
California at Washington, 8:30 p.m. ET (Root Sports Northwest)
Even though the Pac-12 really only deserves one bid, I find it difficult to believe they won't earn two. (Remember 2010?) These two teams are likely to be in the hunt for them, just like two seasons ago.
Saturday, January 21
Xavier at Dayton, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The Southwestern Ohio rivals meet in a game that has serious Atlantic 10 and national implications, especially since the Musketeers seem to have rebounded from some recent struggles.
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt. 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The Bulldogs' second road game of the week (they visit archrival Ole Miss on Wednesday night) will go a long way toward determining if they can hang with the (now former) SEC East powers. Meanwhile, the Commodores face their second (former) SEC West NCAA contender in 48 hours, as they visit Alabama on Thursday night.
New Mexico at UNLV, 10 p.m. ET (CBS College Sports)
If the Lobos happen to defeat San Diego State on Wednesday, they may not have control of the Mountain West for long, thanks to this trip to the Thomas and Mack Center.
Long Beach State at UC Santa Barbara, 11 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
The 49ers have started Big West play well, and are in line for a decent seed should they earn the conference's automatic bid. Standing in their way are the two-time defending Big West Tournament champion Gauchos.
Sunday, January 22
Milwaukee at Cleveland State, 2 p.m. ET (TWC Sports 32/Horizon League Network)
This season, the Panthers and Vikings have usurped Butler at the top of the Horizon League. In terms of bracketology, Cleveland State would likely earn a better seed than Milwaukee, thanks to their early season success (winning at Vanderbilt), but the Panthers have looked stronger in conference play.
My next bracket will be released on Monday, January 23rd. Expect plenty of changes before then.