Four teams have already clinched places in the Big Dance by winning their conference tournaments. UNC-Asheville upset top-seeded Coastal Carolina on their home floor in the Big South Championship. One of the best rebounders in NCAA history, Kenneth Faried, led Morehead State to the Ohio Valley title. One of the best shooting teams in the nation, Belmont, blitzkrieged the Atlantic Sun tournament. In a thriller this afternoon, Indiana State beat Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Championship.
As a budding Bracketologist, I like to try my hand at predicting the NCAA Tournament bracket. It's always interesting to see how I stack up against guys like ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBS's Jerry Palm. You know, people that get paid to do this professionally.
So in that spirit, here is how I would make the bracket if the Tournament started now.
The #1 overall seed in the tournament is....
No real surprise here, Ohio State has been the best team in the nation since Kyrie Irving's injury. They are really hitting their stride and easily secure the #1 seed in the East Region, getting an easy path to the Final 4 through Cleveland and Newark.
The #2 overall seed is the Big XII Champion Kansas Jayhawks. They will be the #1 seed in the Southwest Region. They will play their first round games in Tulsa and regional games in San Antonio.
The Big East Champion Pitt Panthers are the #3 overall seed and the #1 seed in the Southeast Region. They will also play their first round games in Cleveland with the Regional games in New Orleans.
The final #1 seed in my bracket is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In my opinion, it's a toss-up right now between Duke and Notre Dame. However, Notre Dame was 10-4 vs the RPI Top 50 while Duke was 7-3 vs the RPI Top 50. Notre Dame gets the benefit of finishing 2nd in the hardest conference in basketball while Duke finished 2nd in the ACC. Notre Dame will be a lock for the #1 seed if they win the Big East Tournament.
So without further ado, here is my bracket (with some logical explanations to follow)...
- St. John's was actually on my S-curve as a #5 seed, but due to bracketing requirements, I had to bump them down to a #6 seed.
- Top Seed First Round Locations:
- Cleveland: Ohio State, Pittsburgh
- Washington, DC: Syracuse, Kentucky
- Charlotte: Duke, UNC
- Tampa: Florida, Wisconsin
- Chicago: Notre Dame, Purdue
- Tulsa: Kansas, Texas
- Denver: BYU, Louisville
- Tuscon: San Diego St, West Virginia
- Bids per conference:
- Big East: 11
- Big 10: 7
- Big XII: 6
- ACC: 5
- SEC: 5
- Pac 10: 3
- Atlantic 10: 3
- Mountain West: 3
- Colonial: 2
- West Coast: 2
- Last 4 In:
- Penn State
- Last 4 Out:
- Virginia Tech
- Virginia Commonwealth
- Washington State
- Next 4 Out:
- Colorado State
- Missouri State
Now, you might be wondering how I came to some of these conclusions about the last teams in and last teams out. Here's the chart that I started with:
Obviously as you can see, I gave the benefit to teams that had more wins against Top 100 RPI teams. Nebraska, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, and Baylor were eliminated from consideration for having a losing record in conference play. Let's face it: if you don't have a winning record in conference play, you're not going dancing. Yes, I realize that two of my last four teams in the tournament are .500 in conference play. They need at least 1 win, if not 2 in their conference tournaments to get into the Dance.
Even though Colorado has a bad RPI at 77, their 5 wins against Top 50 teams is hard to ignore, especially when that out-paces the rest of the teams on my bubble.
A lot of people are high on Alabama right now after their victory over Georgia. However, their RPI is still bad (especially considering their strength of schedule). They have 4 losses to teams with 100+ RPIs and are 0-3 on neutral courts, with those 3 losses to Seton Hall (RPI 92), St Peter's (RPI 118), and Iowa (RPI 168). They have some nice wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia, but their only other win against a Top 100 team is over Mississippi (RPI 80).
I know that Penn State doesn't have the most appealing record or RPI, but their 3 wins over Wisconsin (RPI 13), Illinois (RPI 41), Michigan St (RPI 48), along with their seasons sweep of Minnesota (RPI 62), give them a more impressive slate of victories than Virginia Tech and VCU (who I will address in a minute). The only scar on Penn State's season is a mid-December loss to Maine. Penn State's schedule has been loaded with top-end teams, as they only played 9 games against teams with 100+ RPIs. By contrast, 12 of Virginia Tech's 19 wins came over 100+ RPI teams and 16 of VCU's 23 wins were over 100+ RPI teams.
After Virginia Tech beat Duke, a lot of people were quick to hand them their dancing shoes. But Virginia Tech missed the memo that they still had 2 games left in the season and went out and lost to fellow bubble teams Boston College by 15 and Clemson by 9. Virginia Tech did beat Penn State head to head, but if you remember back to last year, the Committee put Wake Forest in the tournament (who VaTech beat) and left VaTech out. VT also has some bad losses to Georgia Tech (RPI 170) and got swept by Virginia (RPI 135). So why did I put Penn State in over Virginia Tech? Despite the head-to-head loss to VaTech, Penn State has less bad losses, more good wins, and played a tougher schedule. It was a hard decision and to be honest, you could make the case either way (or make the case that neither Penn State nor Virginia Tech deserves to be in the tournament).
Unlike Penn State, Virginia Commonwealth (who could make this whole paragraph obsolete by winning the CAA Championship on Monday night) have only beaten 2 teams that are likely to make the tournament (Old Dominion and UCLA). However, those good wins are marred by bad losses to South Florida (RPI 160), Northeastern (RPI 173), and Georgia St (RPI 217).
As I said at the outset, this is all just my personal opinion. As I said many times in the podcast a few weeks ago, the bubble sucks this year. There are a lot of bad teams with bad losses on the bubble, and some of those bad teams are going to get into the tournament. Feel free to debate me in the comments, I welcome the feedback!