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Basketball Christmas Time is Here! Time for Joy, and Time for Cheer!

March 12, 2017

Just to torture this analogy a bit more … The brackets are almost trimmed, the chicken wings are sauced, and the chimney is ready for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Committee to slide on down and let us know who has presents under the NCAA tree, and who has NIT coal in their stocking. Selection Sunday is upon us, a prelude to the 12 Days of Basketball Christmas that is March (and early April) Madness, where at 5:30pm EST, we’ll see the field, seeding, and opening matchups for the 2017 NCAA® Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.

Merely an amateur “bracketologist” at the moment, I’m calling my shot at the 68 teams in the field, leaving predicted seeding, locations and matchups to those who get paid for a living to do so. Last year I only had 65/68 teams correct, missing on one of my “Locks” for the first time ever (South Carolina).  This year’s bubble seems especially smaller than prior years, while the amount of teams that could find their way to Glendale in the first weekend of April (More to come in my preview this Wednesday) seems larger than in any prior season.

For now, here’s what we know, what I know, what I think I know, what I think that I think I know, and my educated guesses at who will be of good cheer during this most wonderful time of the year (check once again in the mail to Andy Williams’ estate) and who receives that aforementioned coal.

We know that all 32 automatic bids have been decided, as determined by conference tournaments, including for the first time, the Ivy League Surprise! It’s Princeton); seven (7) of which repeated from last season (marked below with a *) while a whopping 17 of the 32 Conference Tournament No. 1 seeds (indicative of the regular season champion or leader) went on to win their conference tournament (marked with a ^).

American Athletic – SMU^

America East – Vermont^

ACC – Duke

Atlantic Sun – Florida Gulf Coast*^

Atlantic-10 – Rhode Island

Big 12 – Iowa State

Big East – Villanova^

Big Sky – North Dakota^

Big South – Winthrop^

Big Ten – Michigan

Big West – UC Davis

Colonial – UNC Wilmington*^

Conference USA – Middle Tennessee*^

Horizon – Northern Kentucky

Ivy – Princeton^

Metro Atlantic – Iona*

Mid-American – Kent State

Mid-Eastern – North Carolina Central^

Missouri Valley – Wichita State

Mountain West – Nevada^

Northeast – Mount St. Mary’s^

Ohio Valley – Jacksonville State

Pac-12 – Arizona

Patriot – Bucknell^

SEC – Kentucky*^

Southern – East Tennessee State

Southland – New Orleans^

Southwestern Athletic – Texas Southern^

Summit League – South Dakota State*

Sun Belt – Troy

West Coast – Gonzaga*^

WAC – New Mexico State

This leaves 36 at-large bids to be decided. Looking at several metrics, the official NCAA RPI as well as CBS Sports’ “Nitty Gritty Report”, Ken Pomeroy’s data, The Bracket Matrix and volumes of bracketology sites, as well as ESPN’s and CBS’s handy “Bubble Watch” running features, and what I have personally observed this season having watched every team play at least once, here are the teams that should be locks, listed by conference (number of teams in parentheses):

American Athletic (1): Cincinnati

ACC (7) – North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Notre Dame, Virginia, Miami, Virginia Tech

Atlantic-10 (2) – Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth

Big 12 (4) – Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State

Big East (2) – Butler, Creighton

Big Ten (5) – Purdue, Minnesota, Maryland, Wisconsin, Northwestern

Pac-12 (2) – Oregon, UCLA

SEC (3) – Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina

West Coast (1) – St. Mary’s

That’s a grand total of 27 teams that should be safe, which would leave nine (9) at-large spots. Here’s who I think are the teams competing for these spots, again listed by conference

ACC (2) – Syracuse, Wake Forest

Big 12 (1) – Kansas State

Big East (4) – Xavier, Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette

Big Ten (1) – Michigan State

Missouri Valley (1) – Illinois State

Mountain West (1) – Colorado State

Pac-12 (3) – USC, California, Utah

SEC (1) – Vanderbilt

That is only 14 teams competing for the last nine (9) spots, the second year in a row with a relatively small bubble, partially due to the large amount of #1 seeds who won their conference tourneys. Flipping coins and rolling dice, here’s my best guess as to the Semi-Fine Nine, in order from safest to least safe:

Michigan State

Marquette

Xavier

Syracuse

Wake Forest

Seton Hall

Kansas State

Illinois State

USC

My “First Four Out”, or the top teams not selected, would be Vanderbilt, Providence, California and Utah. If it were up to me, I’d leave Syracuse out as well with their RPI #84 and Ken Pom #50 rating, but their 8 RPI Top 100 wins will be hard for the committee to ignore. Vanderbilt would be the first 15-loss at-large invitee, and I just don’t like that precedent. I just can’t leave USC out, 24 wins, #42 RPI and a win over UCLA is a hill I’m willing to die on. Plus with Illinois State, I’m a Champion for the “little guy”, although their RPI #33 should suggest they are good enough.

The NCAA Selection Show will be underway in roughly 5 minutes, with its usual bag of surprises and head-scratchers, so we’ll know shortly who was on Basketball Santa’s Naughty list.

As always, Happy March Madness Eve, and an early Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

EDIT 4:27 PST – With the field announced, I had 66/68 teams correct above, with the bubble bursting for Syracuse (Yay!) and Illinois State (Boo!). Syracuse was obviously dinged for its 2-11 road record, while Illinois State was made an example of due to their poor non-conference schedule, with only 2 RPI Top 100 wins.  Then again, show me a Power 5 school willing to schedule a home-and-home or even a 2-for-1 for a game in to come to Normal, Illinois.  Providence and Vanderbilt were selected instead. According to The 2017 Bracket Matrix, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi got 67/68 teams right, missing USC for Syracuse (East Coast Bias perhaps Joe?) while correctly picking Vanderbilt and Providence and excluding Illinois St. In fact, 35 of the 73 brackets recorded by the Bracket Matrix got all 68 teams right, so relatively anti-climactic. Kansas State and USC were the last two teams in according to the NCAA’s Seed List, while Cal, Illinois State, Iowa and Syracuse were the first four teams left out according to the official NCAA March Madness Twitter, earning (for lack of a better word) #1 seeds in the NIT. I’ll leave the NIT “Bracketology” to someone else …

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