Tournament week is here. Well, at least if you are in the Big Ten, or a lot of the smaller conferences (the Atlantic Sun gets us started tonight). For most of the other power conferences, this presents the final week of big games and movement before the conference tourneys. By Sunday night, we should have the answers to a lot of questions, and probably a few more questions that open up.
Last week, I laid out a case for Michigan State as a selection for a #1 seed. Then, Kansas went out and won at Texas Tech, and Michigan (who is on the Spartans side of the bracket) continues to surge. The combination of those two factors caused me to flip to Kansas, but I’ll say that the final two #1 seeds come down to some combination of who wins in the conference tourneys between Xavier, Kansas, Michigan State, and Duke. If Michigan State wins the Big Ten tourney and adds two top wins over, say, Michigan and Purdue, then they move back to the #1 line.
After those four, North Carolina would need to win the ACC tourney and get help, and the same is true for Auburn. Purdue also has a shot if they win the Big Ten tournament. I really think that those are the only teams still in contention. Texas Tech’s chances disappeared with the home loss to Kansas.
Arizona drops to a 5, after another loss at Oregon. With all the controversy surrounding the program, it’s easy to also miss that their tournament profile isn’t that good. I’d be surprised if they get in the top 4 lines now, which could impact whether they get to San Diego as a first game site.
In the next group, there’s still room for plenty of movement entering the final regular season week, and it’s dominate by teams from the SEC, ACC, and Big East.
The bubble got a little clear but there’s still plenty to be decided. UCLA and Syracuse did not have good weeks and missed opportunities, and I think are out as of now. Kansas State, 4th in the Big 12, is probably okay but they don’t have a “great” win over a top tournament team that would make them feel safe, while the RPI is outside the top 50 (0-6 versus Kansas, West Virginia, and Texas Tech, 9-1 against rest of league).
I’ve got USC vs. St. Bonaventure in one of the First Four games, and Texas vs. Temple in the other. USC has an RPI that should have them safe, but a closer look at their Tier 1 wins shows that most are of the “just on the edge” variety and they don’t have a signature win that would make them completely safe. As for Temple, I’m bumping them based on (1) other teams failing on some chances this week, and (2) a closer look at their profile. They’ve got neutral court wins over Tennessee, Auburn, and a win over Wichita State. That’s three wins over teams that could be on the Top 4 seed lines. Add in a RPI rank currently inside the Top 50, and I think they are getting a nod if they stay inside the Top 50. They are this year’s Vanderbilt–an RPI darling with a mediocre overall record and some bad losses, but also enough good wins.
As for the teams just out, the top 6 are very much in the mix with a good result. Mississippi State should be in consideration but the RPI is holding them down at the moment. They need a big win. Western Kentucky could become a major sleeper if they can win at Middle Tennessee, because they already beat Purdue on a neutral court this year and played the kind of aggressive schedule the committee rewards at times among mid-majors.
Starting now, I’m also bracketing the specific regions and locations. A couple of bracketing notes:
- It’s going to be a potential issue that the 3 and 4 seeds are probably going to heavily draw the Dallas, San Diego, and Boise sites, as the West is underrepresented at the top of the bracket this year. That matters because the First Four games in Dayton generally try to then ship to a close site geographically. For the last four at-larges, that likely means an 11 or 12 seed matchup. Those teams may be traveling a good distance this year.
- The glut of SEC and ACC teams in the middle of the draw is going to create some complicated adjustments for the committee.
- The brackets include some swaps to make things work. Missouri and Arizona State swapped to prevent Missouri from being in same quadrant as Tennessee. Middle Tennessee and St. Mary’s were swapped to prevent the Blue Raiders from getting Nashville site as lower seed against Nevada and potential North Carolina.