Via Midwest Sports Fans:
The projections below are updated through the games of Friday, March 14.
Friday proved to be another another jam-packed day of college hoops, which featured a handful of upsets and plenty of bubble teams who didn’t leave a strong lasting impression on the selection committee. That sets the stage for an exciting Saturday where 14 automatic bids will be handed out.
The last few spots are still up for grabs, and there is still the potential for quite a bit of movement at the top of the bracket. For now, Wisconsin has held on to the final one seed, but a date with Michigan State looms on Saturday afternoon. At this point, Michigan and Villanova seem the most likely to capitalize if the Badgers fall.
Kansas is tough to assess at this point given the uncertainty surrounding Joel Embiid’s back injury. The Jayhawks have played a historically tough schedule and have amassed an impressive collection of wins to go along with nine losses. By virtue of Iowa State’s win over Kansas (as well as Syracuse’s loss), I’ve moved the Cyclones to the two line. I looked at Virginia for that spot as well, but Iowa State has six Top 40 wins compared to just three for Virginia. If the Cavaliers win the ACC Tournament though, that could certainly change. As usual, I’ve provided a brief rundown on the last four teams to make the field as well as the others I considered for those final few spots.
I’ll be updating these multiple times this weekend as we close in on Selection Sunday.
Last Four In
Cuonzo Martin’s club has now won five straight, including the last four victories which came by a combined 108 points. Non-conference victories over Xavier and Virginia are great, but the Vols have managed to pick up 11 conference wins while beating just one team I currently have in the field. Tennessee can lock up a bid by beating Florida on Saturday.
All the Mustangs really needed to do was avoid a bad loss against Houston in the AAC quarterfinals, and they couldn’t get it done. That loss was SMU’s third to a sub-100 team this season, and a deeper look at the team’s profile has them in the First Four. Ultimately wins over Cincinnati, Memphis, and UConn (twice) will likely get the Mustangs in the field, but those are the team’s only four Top 100 wins. To make matters worse, SMU didn’t play a tough non-conference schedule, and its highest RPI win out of conference came against Sam Houston State.
The Friars avoided a bad loss by knocking off Seton Hall and advanced to the Big East Championship against Creighton in the process. Providence’s January win over the Bluejays is its only victory against the Top 45 this season, and the Friars didn’t do anything of note in the non-conference.
It was down the to Bears and BYU for the final spot, and I intend to take a closer look on Saturday. The Bears lost to Colorado in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, but ultimately, I feel their profile is better than that of Minnesota or Arkansas, who were two of the next teams on the list. Cal has four Top 50 wins, two of which came on the road against Oregon and Stanford, and a non-conference win over fellow bubbler Arkansas helps as well. That being said, the Bears have only five wins since mid-January, and are just one game over .500 against the Top 200, which means they’ll be sweating it out over the next few days. against the Top 200, which means they’ll be sweating it out over the next few days.
Other Teams Considered
It was down the to Bears and BYU for the final spot, and I intend to take a closer look on Saturday. The Bears lost to Colorado in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, but ultimately, I feel their profile is better than that of Minnesota or Arkansas, who were two of the next teams on the list. Cal has four Top 50 wins, two of which came on the road against Oregon and Stanford, and a non-conference win over fellow bubbler Arkansas helps as well. That being said, the Bears have only five wins since mid-January, and are just one game over .500 against the Top 200, which means they’ll be sweating it out over the next few days.
Green Bay (24-6)
The Phoenix have been able to sit back and watch fellow bubble teams trip all over themselves this week, and I feel better about them now than I did even a few days ago. Earlier in the week, I took some time to compare Green Bay’s profile to last year’s Middle Tennessee squad, which garnered one of the final at-large bids. The Phoenix’s marquee win over Virginia is substantially better than MTSU’s best win last season against Ole Miss, but other than that, the comparison isn’t all that favorable for Green Bay. Notably, Middle Tennessee played the ninth toughest non-conference schedule, while Green Bay’s ranks 59th, and MTSU was 9-5 against the Top 150, while the Phoenix are just 5-5. Green Bay has four Top 50 victories compared to just one for last season’s Blue Raiders, but three of those have come against teams ranked 90th or worse.
As for losses, MTSU had just two versus teams outside of the Top 50, while Green Bay has four outside of the Top 90 (even though one came with big man Alec Brown out). I’d personally like to see them get in, but they need to be rooting hard against other bubble teams throughout the week.
The Gophers got crushed by Wisconsin on Friday, which pushes them outside of the field. They finished just 8-10 in the Big Ten and were 4-10 away from home. Minnesota beat just one tournament-caliber team since late January, so even impressive strength of schedule numbers likely won’t be enough to save them.
On the heels of a beatdown against Alabama, the Razorbacks lost to South Carolina in their opening SEC Tournament game. Arkansas boasts a sweep of Kentucky to go with non-conference wins over SMU, Minnesota, and Clemson, but the Razorbacks are now just 4-9 away from home with three sub-100 losses. The Hogs might be able to back their way into the field if others lose. Theirs is definitely a profile I’ll be taking a closer look at in the coming days, as there continues to be very little separation among these last few teams.
NC St. (21-12)
There’s still plenty of work to do for the Wolfpack, but unlike most bubble teams, they’re actually still playing and consequently have the ability to improve their profile. Friday’s win over Syracuse helped to keep hope alive, but the fact remains that NC State is 6-9 against the Top 100 and had zero Top 40 wins before the month of March. They can pick up another one though if they find a way to take down Duke in the ACC semis.
Florida St. (19-13)
FSU’s loss to Virginia on Friday was likely the final nail in the coffin. The Noles are now just 12-13 against the RPI Top 200.
Southern Miss (27-6)
The Golden Eagles fell to Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA semis. They have a high RPI and three Top 100 wins, but 12 of their 25 D-I victories have come versus teams ranked 200 or lower in the RPI.
Here is how the bids broke down by conference. Teams denoted with a * have clinched their conference’s automatic bid.
Big 12 (7): Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas
Pac-12 (7): Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA
Atlantic 10 (6): Dayton, George Washington, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis, VCU
Big Ten (6): Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin
ACC (5): Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia
American (5): Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis, SMU
Big East (4): Creighton, Providence, Villanova, Xavier
SEC (4): Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee
Mountain West (2): New Mexico, San Diego State
America East: Albany*
Atlantic Sun: Mercer*
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Coastal Carolina*
Big West: Cal State Northridge
Conference USA: Tulsa*
MAC: Western Michigan*
MEAC: North Carolina Central*
Missouri Valley: Wichita State*
Northeast: Mount St. Mary’s*
Ohio Valley: Eastern Kentucky*
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State*
Sun Belt: Georgia State
SWAC: Texas Southern*
WAC: New Mexico St.
West Coast: Gonzaga*
Follow me on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops.
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