After a wild November and December, 28 teams from our preseason bracket find themselves on the outside looking in at the dawn of conference play. Virtually all of those teams have a shot a returning for Selection Sunday, though the road to an at-large will be significantly easier for the Baylor Bears, Cincinnati Bearcats, Florida State Seminoles and Georgetown Hoyas to traverse than it will be for the 17 former auto-bid holders who sit in the departures column here in early January.
With no dominant team and plenty of talented squads asserting themselves over the last eight weeks, you can expect lots of tumult between now and March 13. While the Michigan State Spartans, Kansas Jayhawks, Oklahoma Sooners (both Big 12 teams stick after last night's triple-OT classic) and North Carolina Tar Heels hold the four top seeds in this projection, the Xavier Musketeers, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Cavaliers and a trio of Wildcats from Villanova, Arizona and Kentucky really aren't that far behind.
This season might even produce a surprise on the top line. Perhaps Kris Dunn carries the Providence Friars to a Big East double ... or the Miami Hurricanes better their 2013 run ... or the Iowa Hawkeyes continue to surprise in a loaded Big Ten ... and the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils are lurking too.
|(1) MIDWEST |
|St. Louis (Fri/Sun)||Des Moines (Thu/Sat)|
|1||Michigan State||1||Kansas (Big 12)|
|16||Jackson State/St. Francis, Pa.||16||High Point (Big South)|
|9||Texas Tech||9||Saint Mary's (WCC)|
|Providence (Thu/Sat)||Providence (Thu/Sat)|
|5||Purdue||5||Dayton (A 10)|
|12||Hofstra (CAA)||12||San Diego State (MW)|
|13||Albany (America East)||13||Akron (MAC)|
|Denver (Thu/Sat)||Des Moines (Thu/Sat)|
|11||Chattanooga (SoCon)||11||Syracuse/UT Arlington|
|3||Iowa State||3||Kentucky (SEC)|
|14||Idaho (Big Sky)||14||UTEP (C-USA)|
|Raleigh (Thu/Sat)||St. Louis (Fri/Sun)|
|15||Stephen F. Austin (Southland)||15||Cal State Bakersfield (WAC)|
|(4) EAST |
|Raleigh (Thu/Sat)||Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)|
|1||North Carolina (ACC)||1||Oklahoma|
|16||Bucknell/North Carolina A&T||16||Tennessee Tech (OVC)|
|9||Seton Hall||9||Notre Dame|
|Spokane (Fri/Sun)||Spokane (Fri/Sun)|
|12||Southern Illinois (MVC)||12||South Dakota State (Summit)|
|13||Hawaii (Big West)||13||Green Bay (Horizon)|
|Oklahoma City (Fri/Sun)||Denver (Thu/Sat)|
|11||Ohio State/UCLA||11||Arkansas-Little Rock (Sun Belt)|
|3||Providence (Big East)||3||Arizona (Pac-12)|
|14||Princeton (Ivy)||14||Houston (AAC)|
|Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)||Brooklyn (Fri/Sun)|
|2||Maryland (Big Ten)||2||Villanova (Big East)|
|15||Iona (MAAC)||15||NJIT (A-Sun)|
|FIRST FOUR (Dayton)|
|Tuesday: To Raleigh||Tuesday: To Des Moines|
|16||North Carolina A&T (MEAC)||11||UT Arlington|
|Wednesday: To St. Louis||Wednesday: To Oklahoma City
|16||Jackson State (SWAC)||12||Ohio State|
|16||St. Francis, Pa. (NEC)||12||UCLA|
|BIDS BY CONFERENCE||AVOIDING DAYTON||ARRIVALS||DEPARTURES|
|ACC: 8||Florida (37)||Akron (MAC)||Baylor|
|Big Ten: 7||Saint Joseph's (38)||Albany (AE)||Belmont (OVC)|
|Big 12: 6||Monmouth (39)||CS Bakersfield (WAC)||Boise State|
|Pac-12: 6||USC (40)||Florida||BYU|
|Big East: 5||LAST FOUR IN||Green Bay (Horizon)||Central Michigan (MAC)|
|SEC: 4||Ohio State (43)||Hawaii (Big West)||Cincinnati|
|A 10: 3||UCLA (44)||Houston (AAC)||Florida State|
|AAC: 2||Syracuse (46)||Idaho (Big Sky)||Georgetown|
|MAAC: 2||UT Arlington (47)||Jackson State (SWAC)||Hampton (MEAC)|
|Sun Belt: 2||FIRST FOUR OUT||Little Rock (Sun Belt)||LSU|
|WCC: 2||Boise State||Monmouth||Montana (Big Sky)|
|One-Bid Conferences: 21||Arizona State||N.C. A&T (MEAC)||Mount St. Mary's (NEC)|
|Valparaiso||Ohio State||New Mexico State (WAC)|
|Florida State||Pittsburgh||North Carolina State|
|NEXT FOUR OUT||Princeton (Ivy)||North Dakota State (Summit)|
|Cincinnati||Saint Joseph's||Old Dominion (C-USA)|
|Baylor||Saint Mary's (WCC)||Rhode Island|
|Wichita State||Seton Hall||Stony Brook (AE)|
|South Carolina||Texas Southern (SWAC)|
|South Dakota State (Summit)||UC Irvine (Big West)|
|Southern Illinois (MVC)||UL Lafayette (Sun Belt)|
|St. Francis, Pa. (NEC)||Valparaiso (Horizon)|
|Tennessee Tech (OVC)||Vanderbilt|
|USC||Wichita State (MVC)|
|UTEP (C-USA)||Yale (Ivy)|
Also considered: Alabama, College of Charleston, Creighton, Davidson, Evansville, Georgetown, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Long Beach State, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Marquette, Memphis, Northeastern, Northern Iowa, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon State, St. Bonaventure, Stanford, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UNLV, Vanderbilt, VCU, Wake Forest, Washington
A note about automatic bids. This early in the season, expect to see some surprises thanks to uneven scheduling, particularly in mid-major leagues. In general, the team with the best winning percentage in conference games gets the nod. If conference members haven't played the same number of games, the spot goes to the team that's won more conference games. This is why the UTEP Miners have the Conference USA bid ahead of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and the Green Bay Phoenix own the Horizon League bid right now instead of the Valparaiso Crusaders. This helps simulate some of upsets of Championship Week.
If a conference has yet to start conference play (shoutout to the Ivy League), the team with the best record in games against Division I opposition only gets the bid.
As in November, 11 conferences hold multiple bids in the first true projection of 2016. However, two of them are different, as the Metro Atlantic and Sun Belt have replaced the Missouri Valley and Mountain West.
The Monmouth Hawks' wins over the UCLA Bruins (at Pauley Pavilion) and Notre Dame Fighting Irish and USC Trojans (at the Advocare Invitational at Walt Disney World) have given them almost as much attention as their bench's wild in-game celebrations, which have included an homage to the Sistine Chapel's ceiling and timely references to Christmas and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. They've also earned a place as an at-large in this projection, for now.
Also present for the moment are both the Little Rock Trojans and UT Arlington Mavericks from the Sun Belt, who last earned an at-large in 2008. (The MAAC earned one far more recently, as the Iona Gaels played in the First Four in 2012. EDIT: The Sun Belt still wins the race actually, as I forgot about Middle Tennessee's First Four bid in 2013, as mentioned in the comments.) The Trojans have won at both San Diego State and Tulsa earlier this season, though they lost at bracket newcomer Texas Tech. Meanwhile, the Mavericks famously won at Ohio State and Memphis as part of a round-robin exempt event, in which they also lost to Louisiana Tech, who didn't get more consideration for a place because their non-conference schedule was just a little weaker than the Mavericks'.
Can these teams stick in the bracket long-term? On Friday, I'll be back with a look at their profiles along with those of a few other mid-major squads who might give the Selection Committee plenty of discussion material over the final two and a half months of the season.
In recent seasons, I've closed these posts with a quick rundown of games to watch before the arrival of my next projection. Starting this year, however, I'm going to ask that you bookmark Blogging the Bracket, follow me on Twitter or like the Blogging the Bracket Facebook page, so you can get easy access to my more comprehensive daily TV previews and recaps. These will increasingly focus on the conference races and the bid picture as March approaches.