Printable Version of Bracket »
(Bubble breakdown below)
Notes: If you saw my bracket early in the morning (around 2 a.m. or so), you'd know that I have had some second thoughts with Minnesota, Penn State and Providence playing musical chairs, and the Friars being the ones left out right now.
Second, the committee tries to avoid regular-season rematches or rematches of recent tournament matchups in the first two rounds, though the Selection Committee doesn't always do a good job with this. I have three such instances of potential rematches. In the South, Arizona and Gonzaga could meet up in the Second Round -- the Cats beat the Bulldogs earlier this season. In the Midwest, Oklahoma State and Michigan State could be in line of a rematch from the Old Spice Classic in Orlando -- Michigan State won that one comfortably. Finally, Florida could face UCLA in the Second Round out West. The Gators and Bruins met in the Final Four in both 2006 and 2007. Ideally, these potential rematches wouldn't happen, but it's better to keep them in rather than to ruin the balance of the bracket.
Finally, I don't buy the Louisville No. 1 seed hype yet, and the Cards certainly should not get in over UConn, who annihilated Louisville on its home floor and has two fewer losses on the season. Maybe if UConn got to play West Virginia and USF twice instead of Pittsburgh and Seton Hall, it would have gone 16-2 as well. If Louisville wins the Big East Tournament, it will be deserving of a No. 1 but not a second sooner.
Rather than separating out the conferences for their own breakdown, let's look at who's a lock, who's looking good and everyone else.
ACC: North Carolina (1), Duke (2), Wake Forest (3), Florida State (4), Clemson (5)
Atlantic 10: Xavier (5)
Big 12: Oklahoma (2), Kansas (3), Missouri (4)
Big East: Pittsburgh (1), Connecticut (1), Louisville (2), Villanova (3), Syracuse (5), West Virginia (6), Marquette (7)
Big Ten: Michigan State (1), Illinois (5), Purdue (6)
Conference USA: Memphis (2)
Horizon: Butler (6)
Mountain West: Utah (6), Brigham Young (8)
Pac-10: Washington (3), UCLA (4), Arizona State (7), California (8)
SEC: LSU (7), Tennessee (9)
West Coast: Gonzaga (4)
Top Teams from one-bid leagues with hope for at-larges (2):
WAC: Utah State (9)
MAAC: Siena (11)
Other automatics (already clinched in itacics) (18):
America East: Binghamton (15)
Atlantic Sun:East Tennessee State (15)
Big Sky: Weber State (14)
Big South: Radford (16)
Big West: Cal State-Northride (16)
Colonial: Virginia Commonwealth (13)
Ivy: Cornell (15)
MEAC: Morgan State (16)
Mid-American: Miami (Ohio) (13)
Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa (12)
Northeast: Robert Morris (15)
Ohio Valley: Morehead State (16)
Patriot: American (14)
Southern: College of Charleston (13)
Southland: Stephen F. Austin (14)
Summit: North Dakota State (14)
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky (13)
SWAC: Alabama State (16)
Almost home (6):
ACC: Boston College (10)
Big 12: Texas A&M (7), Oklahoma State (8), Texas (8)
Big Ten: Ohio State (9)
Atlantic 10: Dayton (9)
The Bubble (14 for nine spots):
Big East: Providence
Big Ten: Michigan (10), Wisconsin (10), Minnesota (11), Penn State (12)
Pac-10: Arizona (12)
Missouri Valley: Creighton (11)
West Coast: Saint Mary's (10)
Mountain West: New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
SEC: South Carolina (11), Florida (12), Auburn
In need of two wins to get on bubble (6):
ACC: Miami (Fla.), Maryland, Virginia Tech
Atlantic 10: Temple
Big 12: Kansas State
Pac-10: Southern California
Conference Final and Pray (10):
Atlantic 10: Rhode Island
Big 12: Nebraska
Big East: Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Georgetown
Big Ten: Northwestern
Conference USA: Tulsa, UAB
SEC: Kentucky, Mississippi State
Praying Has Already Begun (2):
Missouri Valley: Illinois State
Here's why we did what we did. Let's start with the two mid-majors that got in the field.
First, Saint Mary's. After a lot of consideration, we decided prior to Sunday night's semifinal that a Saint Mary's win over Portland with a healthy Patrick Mills would probably be enough to get SMC in. The West Coast Conference final appearance coupled with the recent win over Utah State made the Gaels more viable, and barring a 25-point loss to Gonzaga or a Mills re-injury, we think this team gets in.
Second, Creighton. A lot of people may be surprised at how far the Bluejays are from the cutline, and this isn't a matter of how close they'll be on Selection Sunday but more that we think this team has done enough to get in. Unlike Illinois State last season, the Bluejays tied for the conference regular-season title, have a better record (26-7 vs. 23-9), have more top-50 wins (three to two) and more top-100 wins (10 to five). Those 10 wins against top-100 teams should serve Creighton well. The Bluejays had also won 11 straight before the embarrassing performance against Illinois State. The blowout loss after a buzzer-beating win the night before will not sit well with the committee, but to keep Creighton out would be quite harsh -- harsher than ISU's exclusion last year.
Third, the two teams in better shape from the Big Ten, Michigan and Wisconsin. The Wolverines came up with a huge, comeback victory at Minnesota on Saturday, which completes a sweep of the Gophers. It's almost unheard of for a major-conference team with six top-50 wins to be left out, and that win in Minneapolis gave John Beilein's team six. If Michigan defeats Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines are a lock. Even with a loss, it would take some very good performances from bubble teams for them to move out. People are treating Wisconsin as a lock, but we don't see it that way at all. If the Badgers lose to Ohio State in the Big Ten quarters, they should not feel comfortable on Selection Sunday. We still think they'll get in thanks to the nine top-100 wins, but Wisconsin doesn't have as many high-quality wins to fall back on as Michigan.
Fourth, the two SEC teams we have in right now, South Carolina and Florida. The Gamecocks are in the unlikely position of winning 10 conference games in a major conference but having just a single top-50 win to show for it -- that dramatic home victory over No. 47 Florida. It's for that reason why the 21-8 record isn't the cinch for inclusion that it would normally be. South Carolina does have a 10-6 conference record in the tougher half of the SEC -- a relative term, for sure -- and the Gamecocks are 6-2 against teams ranked 51-100. If South Carolina should lose its quarterfinal SEC Tournament games (likely against Mississippi State), though, it would hard to justify its inclusion.
As for Florida, the win over Kentucky held off the dogs for a while, but UF enters the SEC Tournament in need of two wins to make the field. First up is Arkansas, and then comes Auburn. That second matchup in the SEC quarters would likely be an elimination game. In Florida's favor are its 22 wins and 7-2 record against teams ranked 51-100. Against the Gators are the 9-7 conference record and just two wins against the top-50.
Fifth, let's go to the Pac-10 where our bracket found room for Arizona. The Wildcats defeated Stanford on Saturday but have many strikes against them. First, there's the 2-9 record in true road games. Second, there are the four losses that directly preceded the win over Stanford. On the Wildcats' side are nine top-100 wins, including five agains the top-50. Among those wins were non-conference defeats of Kansas and Gonzaga.
Sixth, we come back to the Big Ten for the two choices we're least comfortable with, Minnesota and Penn State. The Golden Gophers had a chance to seal up their bid with a home win over Michigan but let a 10-point, second-half lead slip away. Minnesota has also lost six of its last nine with all three wins at home. The recent form made me think long and hard about leaving the Gophers out, but in the end, five top-50 wins and no bad losses won out. Minnesota plays Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. A loss surely means the Gophers are done.
For the Nittany Lions, theirs is perhaps the strangest profile out there. It's full of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, the non-conference profile is very poor. On the other hand, PSU has been very good in conference with four wins combined over Michigan State, Illinois and Purdue. Still, Penn State has looked shaky over the last few weeks, including barely avoiding a home loss to Indiana before dropping a two-overtime decision to Iowa. And, in between that, PSU managed to squeak out a last-second win over Illinois. Go figure. Penn State has Indiana first in the Big Ten Tournament. Like Minnesota, a loss means PSU is done, but we're not quite confident that a win gets the Nittany Lions in. Considering that PSU defeated Purdue when Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer were out with injuries, Ed DeChellis' team may need to do it again in the Big Ten quarters or risk a nervous Selection Sunday.
On the other side of the cut line, we begin with Providence. The Friars had the weekend off and now know their opponent for the Big East Tournament -- the winner of Cincinnati and DePaul, also known as Cincinnati. A third win over the Bearcats is probably not the ideal statement that PC would have preferred to make, but a win would give the Friars 11 against Big East competition. The ease of PC's schedule in the Big East is vastly inflated. It was virtually identical to Syracuse's, and I like the Friars' chances of matching Syracuse's 11-7 mark if they got to play Marquette back in January without Dominic James. Those Big East wins along with the statement victory over Pittsburgh are really the only things Providence has going for it.
The non-conference schedule left nothing but a win over Rhode Island, and losses to Baylor and Northeastern look worse and worse by the day. In PC's favor is the idea that the Friars have played like a tournament team since point guard Sharaud Curry has been fully healthy after a year off and that most of the losses were with him not himself and while the players were learning new coach Keno Davis' system. This would be a generous interpretation of Providence's non-conference season and one that would surely put the Friars in with a win against Cincy.
On the other hand, a series of blowout losses in conference might indicate to the committee that PC is actually more like that November team than Friars fans would like to admit. The committee wouldn't have a hard time justifying a 10-win team from the Big East with no non-top-100 losses and a win over No. 1, but we could see it going either way. The overall profile doesn't match up based on how the committee has judged teams historically, but Providence has all the makings of an exception to the rule.
Next up is Auburn. The Tigers are one of the hottest bubble teams, winners of eight of nine, including Saturday's blowout victory over LSU. Working against Auburn is its absolute dearth of quality wins out of conference. The best win was a two-point December victory at Virginia. Auburn will need to at least win its quarterfinal game -- likely against Florida -- and maybe another to get in. Fans of non-SEC bubble teams should root for Arkansas to make a run to the semis by knocking off Florida and Auburn. That may be the best shot for the SEC to be held to just three teams. We can't see five from this league.
Finally, we have the three Mountain West teams, New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV. Of these three, NMU is the form team right now, winners of eight of nine including a one-point win at Wyoming on Saturday. The Lobos also tied Utah and BYU for the conference regular-season title, but working against them is a dreadful non-conference slate that included losses to Drake, Texas Tech, UTEP and Virginia Commonwealth (and none of those was on a buzzer-beater). San Diego State completed a sweep of UNLV on Saturday to finish 11-5 in conference. SDSU, though, is not far removed from a 26-point defeat to New Mexico, and the Aztecs' best non-conference win was probably against Cal State-Northridge. Finally, UNLV has all that non-conference stuff going for it -- wins over Louisville, Arizona and UTEP -- but the conference hasn't worked out so well, as the Rebels finished just 9-7. It's hard to imagine a Mountain West team with seven conference losses getting an at-large bid. UNLV plays SDSU again in the MWC quarters -- the tournament is in Las Vegas -- and New Mexico plays Wyoming again. BYU is on the UNLV-SDSU side of the bracket, and Utah is on the NMU side. My guess is that whoever gets to the conference final will get an at-large. If, say, UNLV and New Mexico make it, the Mountain West could be looking at four bids.