A fantastic day of basketball awaits. Here are my projections as we enter the weekend, as some teams have concluded their seasons, while many right on the cut line will be in action today.
I will start projecting the specific regions and matchups tomorrow, once the smoke clears. I feel that, while this is all an exercise in some futility, getting too granular with matchups too early is just too much work for absolutely nothing. At least with projections, it provides an assessment of the general range that teams will be viewed.
While the bubble gets all the attention, I feel that the more important outcomes are those in the middle range of teams. There is a large middle class of at-large teams still in action, and what happens the next three days has the potential to move teams along the spectrum from a 5 seed to a 9 seed. Teams like VCU, Missouri, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Colorado State, UNLV, and St. Louis have plenty to play for. The difference could very well be having to play in a 8/9 game, or getting a good draw as a 5 seed.
Turning to the bubble–where is it truly falling? In my opinion, every team I have projected 10th or higher, plus Cincinnati (the highest ranked #11) are in the field, and I am comfortable now projecting Iowa State as an in, and ahead of the team they beat in the pecking order (Oklahoma). That gives me 41 teams that are either in as at-larges, or will claim an auto bid if they already have not. As a result, I have seven spots that I am not willing to lock in, with twelve teams in real contention, and a few more needing at least two wins.
I am not willing to lock Oklahoma or California in yet, after their losses yesterday. California is 6-10 against the RPI top 100, and just took a home loss to Stanford, and their worst loss of the year to Utah. Oklahoma is right on the cut line, probably in, but not willing to call it with several teams just below them able to improve. I will evaluate those teams, and I think they might be in, but today’s outcomes could be huge. I am also not ready to fully declare Villanova in, and will take a closer look at all these teams tomorrow
My 12 for seven spots: Villanova, Oklahoma, California, Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Boise State, Virginia, Tennessee, La Salle, Iowa, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Maryland and Massachusetts have outside shots but need multiple results as well. I am ruling out Southern Miss. If they beat Memphis, their profile would move to at-large worthy. Of course, if they beat Memphis, they get the auto bid anyway. Short of that, I don’t think the results that could happen for Southern Miss are enough to jump the teams in front of them. The rest of the bubble will be rooting for Memphis.
Five teams that I have out, with a chance, are all in action today. Iowa vs. Michigan State. Tennessee vs. Alabama in an elimination game. Ole Miss playing Missouri, and La Salle vs. Butler. All five can add defining wins that place among their best of the year, and jump into the mix. The eliminated teams in front of them cannot be resting easy today.
The projections (bold means clinched automatic bid)
#1 Seeds: Duke, Gonzaga, Indiana, Louisville
#2 Seeds: Georgetown, Michigan State, Michigan, Kansas
#3 Seeds: Miami, Florida, Ohio State, New Mexico
#4 Seeds: Kansas State, Marquette, Arizona, Syracuse
#5 Seeds: Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, UCLA, St. Louis
#6 Seeds: Pittsburgh, Creighton, Wisconsin, VCU
#7 Seeds: North Carolina, Butler, Colorado State, UNLV
#8 Seeds: Missouri, Memphis, NC State, Illinois
#9 Seeds: St. Mary’s, Minnesota, San Diego State, Wichita State
#10 Seeds: Iowa State, Oregon, Temple, Colorado
#11 Seeds: Cincinnati, Belmont, Kentucky, Villanova
#12 Seeds: California, Virginia vs. Middle Tennessee, Oklahoma vs. Boise State, Davidson
#13 Seeds: Bucknell, Valparaiso, Ohio, South Dakota State
#14 Seeds: New Mexico State, Stephen F. Austin, Iona, Florida Gulf Coast
#15 Seeds: Harvard, Long Beach, Montana, Vermont
#16 Seeds: Southern, LIU-Brooklyn, James Madison vs. Savannah State, Liberty vs. Western Kentucky
First Out: La Salle, Iowa, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Alabama
Still in At-Large Consideration and alive: Massachusetts, Maryland
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]