Saturday, February 15, 2020

Top line stays intact, Utah State moves in, Memphis sliding

Valentine's Day is over and that means we're inching closer and closer to Selection Sunday. We stand just four weeks away from the bracket unveiling.

The top half of the bracket is really beginning to take shape. The top line of Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga and San Diego State is holding firm. The two-line saw a change from the initial committee rankings last week. Maryland moves up in place of West Virginia after their loss at Kansas State. The Terrapins join Duke, Dayton and Louisville.

As for the bubble, San Diego State, at least for now, is not the only Mountain West team in the field. Utah State has moved into the last four in group. Their wins over LSU and Florida could end up looming large among the bubble teams. The downside for the Aggies is they have already been swept in the regular season by the Aztecs. While we can say they could use a win over San Diego State in the Mountain West, that would likely lock up their spot, regardless, as that meeting would likely come in the tournament final and a win would give Utah State the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Memphis has taken a tumble and recently suffered a bad home loss to South Florida. The Tigers are now in danger of missing the tournament in what has been quite the roller-coaster season, which included the suspension and eventual departure from the school of James Wiseman.

Richmond and VCU meet Saturday in a huge bubble contest. Both teams are currently on the outside looking in. VCU suffered an ugly loss Wednesday against George Mason. This game might be more important for the Rams but that certainly doesn't mean this isn't important for the Spiders. The loser will have a bigger hole to climb out of. VCU easily took the first meeting back on January 28, winning at home by 19.

So now let's take a look at the latest bracket before an important weekend of games.

Last Four Byes: Stanford, Cincinnati, Wichita State, Purdue
Last Four In: Memphis, Arizona State, Utah State, Florida
First Four Out: Richmond, Rhode Island, North Carolina State, Xavier
Next Four Out: Mississippi State, VCU, UNC Greensboro, Georgetown

Conference Breakdown

Big Ten - 11

Pac-12 - 6

Big 12 - 5

Big East - 5

SEC - 5

American Athletic - 4

ACC - 4

West Coast - 3

Mountain West - 2

One-bid leagues - 23

Friday, February 7, 2020

Finally back for 2020

It's been a good while coming, but we're finally ready with the first bracket of 2020. I wanted to at least the first bracket ready before Saturday's top-16 reveal by the committee, which is always an interesting exercise to see how the committee values the top teams, especially a season like this one, which has featured so many upsets and craziness across the nation.

We have a strong consensus as to who the top four teams in the country are and who would currently headline each region as of today. The top seeds right now are Baylor, Gonzaga, San Diego State and Kansas. Among that group, it will be interesting to see where the committee slots San Diego State, the last remaining unbeaten team this season at 23-0. Did they show the committee enough to slot them No. 1 overall, ahead of Baylor, who sits atop the AP Poll?

If not, how will they compare to Gonzaga, who has just one loss against Michigan? This is an interesting case. Both teams have four quadrant one victories, but the committee might look at Gonzaga's top wins as a better group than those of San Diego State. The Bulldogs own wins away from home against Arizona and Oregon, along with a home win over BYU. The Aztecs have beaten Creighton, Iowa and BYU away from home. Gonzaga's win over Oregon, who is in play for a No. 2 seed, may be currently enough to push them to the overall No. 2 seed and the West region, sending the Aztecs to the Midwest.

It's not often we see two teams battling for the West region on the top line and not as the final No. 1 seed. But we've got it this season and it's an exciting race to watch.

As for the other side of the bracket, we've got a pair of West Coast teams (Saint Mary's and BYU) and an Atlantic 10 team (Rhode Island) among the last four byes and an Atlantic 10 team (Richmond) among the last four in, helping out the non-power six. Also in that group is defending national champion Virginia, which shows how crazy this season has been. Even last season's runner-up, Texas Tech, currently sits as a No. 9 seed.

You also get a sense of how weak the ACC has been this season. As of now, only four teams from the league are dancing, but three of them all sit on the two-line. You know it's a down year when North Carolina is sitting near the basement of the league.

The last four in are Texas, Richmond, Purdue and Florida. Purdue is helped by their top-30 NET ranking and the fact the Big Ten has been so strong this season. This bracket features 11 teams from the league, which would tie the all-time record for most teams from a single conference in the NCAA Tournament. The Big East sent 11 of their 16 teams back in 2011, the first year the tournament fielded 68 teams.

Just on the outside are Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and VCU, with Tulsa, UNC Greensboro, Utah State and Minnesota behind them.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the full bracket heading into the weekend and tomorrow's top-16 reveal.

Last Four Byes: Rhode Island, Saint Mary's, BYU, Virginia

Last Four In: Texas, Richmond, Purdue, Florida

First Four Out: Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, VCU

Next Four Out: Tulsa, UNC Greensboro, Utah State, Minnesota

Also considered: Alabama, Arizona State, Georgetown, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Providence, SMU, Syracuse, Tennessee, Xavier

Conference Breakdown:

Big Ten - 11

Big 12 - 6

Big East - 5

Pac-12 - 5

SEC - 5

ACC - 4

American Athletic - 3

Atlantic 10 - 3

West Coast - 3

One-bid leagues - 23

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Final bracket and tournament thoughts

The NCAA Tournament has been announced. I am happy to say I did extremely well this season. In fact, this season marked my best performance ever. I correctly selected 67 or 68 teams. Syracuse got in over Baylor, which isn't too bad because Syracuse wound up my first team out after Davidson claimed the automatic bid from the Atlantic 10. I correctly seeded 47 teams and had 64 teams seeded within one line. The remaining three teams I had in the field I only missed by two, which I believe is the first time I had every team I selected within two lines. St. Bonaventure, surprisingly in my opinion, landed in Dayton for the First Four against UCLA (the other at-large First Four will be Arizona State vs. Syracuse). I also missed Alabama, Creighton and Providence by two lines.

Here is my final bracket (top) along with the actual bracket (bottom) so you can see first-hand how I saw the teams compared to the committee.

Pretty neat to also see some of the matchups I correctly nailed, including the entire top quadrant in the Midwest Region (Kansas vs. Penn, Seton Hall vs. NC State). Others include Cincinnati vs. Georgia State and Miami vs. Loyola-Chicago.

Let's talk about the teams that did not make the tournament, and try to understand why they missed out. Let's start with the team that now boasts the highest RPI ever for a Power 5 team to miss the tournament in the 68-team era, the USC Trojans.

Plain and simple, USC didn't beat any surefire NCAA Tournament teams. Their best wins were Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State. And if New Mexico State didn't win the WAC, USC would have had zero wins against tournament teams. Finishing second in the conference means nothing to the committee, especially when it's clear they didn't value the Pac-12 much. Only three teams made the tournament and two of them have to play in Dayton in the First Four. The meat just wasn't there for the Trojans. 

Louisville also finished with a top-40 RPI and was left in the dust. But their issue was not beating any team in the top 50 of the RPI. Their best win was over a Florida State team that was given a No. 8 seed. Louisville went 5-13 against RPI groups one and two and their best non-conference win was against Southern Illinois, who barely made the top 100. They also lost at home to Syracuse, which certainly gave the edge to the Orange coming down the homestretch.

Middle Tennessee became the latest mid-major to be shut out from the at-large party. They weren't even among the first four out. But unfortunately, they didn't win the games they needed to. They had shots against Auburn, Miami and USC, but struck out. The dagger was the loss to Southern Miss in the Conference USA quarterfinals.

But the mid-major probably stinging even more is Saint Mary's. The Gaels went 28-5, but 24 of those wins came against RPI groups three and four. They did win at Gonzaga, but the committee felt that wasn't enough to push them through. Also didn't help that they lost to San Francisco and Washington State.

As it turned out, Notre Dame was knocked out of the tournament by Davidson. The Wildcats also sent UCLA to Dayton for the First Four. The Irish ended up closer to the field than I thought. They did beat Wichita State in the Maui Invitational, but that was one of just two quadrant one wins for Notre Dame. And you can maybe make an argument about Notre Dame having an RPI rank of 70, but Arizona State finished at No. 66 in RPI, the lowest-ranked RPI team to receive an at-large bid. So if it's any consolation for me, I still would've had 67 of 68 regardless of whether Davidson won or not, since I would not have had Notre Dame in, either way.

In any event, with this bubble, I am quite pleased with how everything turned out. I'll be filling out my bracket at some point when I actually get to sit down and take in the bracket. I hope you all enjoy the tournament and I want to thank you all for taking this journey with me again, in what was my seventh year in the Bracket Matrix and eighth year overall doing bracketology.

And speaking of the Bracket Matrix, the person behind the project does an absolutely fantastic job building the matrix. It's a crazy job tracking over 100 brackets online, but the project does a wonderful job of doing so. So go check the Matrix out. And who knows, my score of 360 may very well be among the highest scores! I'm pretty sure I'm right up there with Joe Lunardi again (he seeded 64 teams within one line, but also missed Syracuse and Arizona State). Nonetheless, I'm proud to again be among the higher end of bracketologists. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Bracketology: Final regular season post, for real this time

I said Saturday's update would be the last one of the regular season. Then a lot of changes happened, both on the bubble and with conference tournaments. So I decided to give you guys one more update on this Sunday. Here's your bracket update and then some notes on the weekend,

Last Four Byes: Alabama, Butler, Texas, Providence
Last Four In: Kansas State, Baylor, UCLA, Syracuse
First Four Out: USC, Louisville, Washington, Marquette
Next Six Out: Notre Dame, Utah, Penn State, Mississippi State, Boise State, Temple

Conference Rundown

ACC - 9
Big 12 - 8
SEC - 8
Big East - 6
Big Ten - 4
American - 3
Pac-12 - 3
Atlantic 10 - 2
West Coast - 2
One-bid leagues - 23

First off, congratulations to Murray State on claiming the first official ticket to the NCAA Tournament, after their 68-51 victory over Belmont in the Ohio Valley final. The Racers will enter the tournament with a 26-5 record and winners of 13 straight. They'll likely slot in as a No. 13 seed. 

The main change on the bubble is USC, Washington and Louisville move out of the field and Kansas State, UCLA and Syracuse move in. Yes, I had USC among the last four byes, but a closer look at their profile reveals only one win against a team that could possibly make the NCAA Tournament even if they lose their conference tournament and that's Middle Tennessee. Utah and New Mexico State likely need the automatic bids in their respective leagues. The Trojans also lost at SMU and have an ugly home loss to Princeton, a team that didn't even qualify for the Ivy League tournament (which by the way, in now represented by Harvard in today's update, replacing Penn).

USC lost Saturday night to UCLA, giving the Bruins a season sweep of the Trojans to go along with big wins over Arizona and Kentucky. That win over Kentucky right before Christmas may end up being both an early and late Christmas present for the Bruins as that could very well help push UCLA in if they fare well enough in the Pac-12 tournament, where they are the No. 4 seed. USC is the No. 2 seed.

Syracuse moves in over Louisville. I favor the Orange's profile slightly more than the Cardinals'. Syracuse has wins over Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech, while Louisville's best ACC wins were sweeping Virginia Tech, plus wins at Florida State and Notre Dame. But tipping the scales in Syracuse's favor are the better non-conference victories (Buffalo and Maryland for Syracuse, Southern Illinois, Memphis and Indiana for Louisville) as well as Syracuse winning at Louisville in their lone meeting of the season.

Syracuse just has to hope the committee doesn't ding them for finishing 11th in the standings, though we've seen conference standings aren't a major factor in tournament selection. Both have a chance to pick up a big win early in the tournament. A Syracuse victory over Wake Forest sets them up against North Carolina, while Louisville opens against Florida State, with Virginia awaiting the winner.

Back in the Pac-12, Washington dropped one at home to Oregon, which saw their RPI dip into the 60s. Now, Kansas State also is in the 60s, but they do not have a bad loss, while Washington now has two quadrant three losses, including one at Oregon State, though the Stanford home loss is just outside quadrant two. The Huskies are the No. 7 seed in the Pac-12, setting up a possible bubbly quarterfinal against USC.

Four championship games tip off today. In the Atlantic Sun, it's Florida Gulf Coast against Lipscomb. The two teams split their regular season meetings, with the home team winning both times. That's good news for Dunk City, as they will host the final.

With Liberty upsetting UNC Asheville, Radford will get to host the Big South championship later today. The Highlanders took both meetings against Liberty.

Arch Madness will crown a new champion today as top seed Loyola-Chicago goes up against Illinois State. The Ramblers come in with a 26-5 record and a top-30 RPI. They did also win at Florida in the regular season. They'd be an interesting at-large case should they lose. They did sweep the Redbirds during the regular season. Illinois State returns to the final after losing to Wichita State last season and being one of the first four teams out of the NCAA Tournament, resulting in a No. 1 seed in the NIT, a run that ended in the second round at the hands of UCF.

And in the Big Ten, it will be Purdue taking on Michigan. The Boilermakers can make a claim for a No. 1 seed with a win. In fact, they are currently sitting as the last No. 1 seed after Kansas was swept by Oklahoma State. Purdue went 2-0 against the Wolverines.

Here's a rundown of the rest of the tournament action today.

Colonial Quarterfinals

No. 1 Charleston vs. No. 8 Drexel
No. 4 William & Mary vs. No. 5 Towson
No. 2 Northeastern vs. No. 7 Delaware
No. 3 UNC Wilmington vs. No. 6 Hofstra

Horizon League Quarterfinals

No. 3 Illinois-Chicago vs. No. 6 Milwaukee
No. 4 Oakland vs. No. 5 IUPUI

MAAC Semifinals

No. 4 Iona vs. No. 9 St. Peter's
No. 6 Fairfield vs. No. 7 Quinnipiac

Patriot League Semifinals

No. 1 Bucknell vs. No. 5 Boston University
No. 2 Colgate vs. No. 6 Holy Cross

Southern Semifinals

No. 1 UNC Greensboro vs. No. 5 Wofford
No. 2 East Tennessee State vs. No. 3 Furman

Summit League Quarterfinals

No. 3 Denver vs. No. 6 Oral Roberts
No. 4 Fort Wayne vs. No. 5 North Dakota State

Today also marks the end of the regular season in the American Athletic, including a marquee showdown between Cincinnati and Wichita State in Wichita, where the winner will be the No. 1 seed in the AAC tournament. Elsewhere, Houston looks to improve their seeding case against Connecticut and Temple tries to keep their hopes alive as they visit Tulsa.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bracketology: Final regular season bracket

Welcome back to March! And what a way to kick the month off than with Virginia's epic win over Louisville on Thursday. Now we've reached the final regular season weekend of the season before all the big conference tournaments kick off next week, minus the Big Ten, which will crown their champion tomorrow. Let's take a look at the bracket and then look at some of the biggest games this weekend, including the first of the automatic bids handed out for the NCAA Tournament.

Last Four Byes: North Carolina State, St. Bonaventure, USC, Providence
Last Four In: Washington, Baylor, Texas, Louisville
First Four Out: UCLA, Kansas State, Syracuse, Marquette
Next Six Out: Notre Dame, Utah, Penn State, Mississippi State, Boise State, Temple

Conference Breakdown

ACC - 9
SEC - 8
Big 12 - 7
Big East - 6
Big Ten - 4
Pac-12 - 4
American - 3
Atlantic 10 - 2
West Coast - 2
One-bid leagues - 23

Saturday night will see the first ticket officially punched to the big dance, as the top two seeds in the Ohio Valley will square off. It's Murray State vs. Belmont in what has become the rivalry in the OVC. Both teams have the look of a No. 13 seed in the tournament.

Then on Sunday, four bids will be handed out from the Atlantic Sun, Big Ten, Big South and Missouri Valley. Two of those games are set. Florida Gulf Coast will host Lipscomb for the A-Sun title, while Radford and Liberty square off in the Big South.

Today's Big Ten semifinals will feature Michigan State against Michigan and Purdue against the Cinderella of the Big Ten, No. 7 seed Penn State, coming off their upset of No. 2 Ohio State. A win over the Boilermakers would give the Nittany Lions serious consideration, with three victories over the Buckeyes and a fourth quadrant one win over Purdue. Losses to Wisconsin, Northwestern and Minnesota are dragging down their profile. But two more wins this weekend and there will be no questions.

And in the Missouri Valley, it's top seed Loyola-Chicago against Bradley and Southern Illinois against Illinois State.

Here's who the teams listed among our bubble groups will play this weekend.

Providence vs. St. John's
Texas vs. West Virginia
Mississippi State at LSU
Baylor at Kansas State
Syracuse vs. Clemson
Marquette vs. Creighton
Notre Dame at Virginia
Washington vs. Oregon
Louisville at North Carolina State
Utah vs. Colorado
Boise State vs. Wyoming
St. Bonaventure at Saint Louis
Temple at Tulsa (Sunday)

As you can see, two games are huge, as they feature bubble teams against each other, as they jockey for position.

Stay tuned for bracket updates all week as tournament bids are handed out and the bubble continues to be fluid and ultimately shrink. Enjoy all the action.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Quick Update with conference tournaments starting

This is going to be a quick post, updating the bracket projections. Note, this does not reflect Monday's action, rather games through this past weekend. But expect plenty of movement, especially with conference tournaments officially underway, including the Big Ten tournament beginning Wednesday.

Last Four Byes: North Carolina State, Butler, Providence, St. Bonaventure
Last Four In: Washington, USC, UCLA, Louisville
First Four Out: Kansas State, Baylor, Syracuse, Temple
Next Four Out: Georgia, LSU, Utah, Marquette

Conference Breakdown

ACC - 9
SEC - 8
Big 12 - 6
Big East - 6
Pac-12 - 5
Big Ten - 4
American - 3
Atlantic 10 - 2
West Coast - 2
One-bid leagues - 23

Monday, February 19, 2018

Bracketology: Bonnies score big win, Jayhawks back to top line

For most of the season, the Atlantic 10 conference was looking like a one-bid conference, dominated by Rhode Island. But thanks to their win over the Rams during weekend, St. Bonaventure has climbed into the top 30 of the RPI and into today's bracket projection.

If you recall, two seasons ago, the Bonnies finished the season among the RPI top 30. But they're lack of non-conference success likely held them out of the field. This season, they're in the top 30, but have non-conference road victories over MAC leader Buffalo, who is also in the top 30, as well as, and maybe more importantly, Syracuse, who is also in today's projection after their win at Miami. The Bonnies are among the last four byes in this update, while Syracuse is projected for Dayton.

Also in the field is LSU. Sure, their RPI is low (No. 75), but they have time to improve that. Their inclusion is due to the fact that it is very hard to ignore their seven quadrant one victories, including season-sweeps of Arkansas and Texas A&M. Their win over Houston is also looking better and better. They do have a quadrant three loss against Stephen F. Austin, but the seven quadrant one wins and eight quadrant one and two wins will outweigh that loss. As long as the Tigers stay the course, they could sneak into the field.

Auburn surprisingly dropped one at South Carolina over the weekend. That, coupled with Kansas' come-from-behind victory over West Virginia, puts the Jayhawks and their nine quadrant one wins back on the top line, along with Virginia, Villanova and Xavier..

Kansas also has more combined quadrant one and two wins than any other team, with 16. Kansas is 9-4 against quadrant one and 7-1 against quadrant two. And they've pulled back to a tie with Texas Tech atop the Big 12 standings, with both at 10-4. The Red Raiders won in Lawrence, but the teams meet again in Lubbock on Saturday. Kansas hosts Oklahoma tonight.

Here now is your full bracket update.

Last Four Byes: Butler, North Carolina State, Baylor, Providence
Last Four In: St. Bonaventure, Washington, Syracuse, LSU
First Four Out: UCLA, Kansas State, USC, Temple
Next Four Out: Georgia, Louisville, Utah, Marquette

Conference Breakdown

ACC - 9
SEC - 9
Big 12 - 7
Big East - 6
Big Ten - 4
American - 3
Pac-12 - 3
Atlantic 10 - 2
West Coast - 2
One-bid leagues - 23