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What is This Madness?

March 12, 2023

Indeed. Saving deeper analysis for my Tournament Preview Wednesday evening, I’ll just say that I have never seen a prospective NCAA Tournament Field this wide open. There are several really good teams, but no great teams have revealed themselves yet, and I can see any of 15-20 teams winning it all under the right matchups and pathways, with another 10-15 capable of making the Final Four. Parity has never been more widespread, and it should make for an unpredictable and volatile Tournament full of “upsets”, most of which will be in seed name only. Despite that, I actually think the bubble itself is rather small, as we’ll see below.

My canned prologue: College Basketball’s Christmas Eve is upon us, a prelude to “12 Days of Basketball Christmas” a.k.a. March (and April) Madness where at 5:00pm EST on CBS today, the field, seeding, and opening matchups for the 2022 NCAA® Division I Men’s Basketball Championship will be revealed. What follows is my educated guess at the 68 teams in the field, and specifically the 36 at-large invites (I leave predictions of seedings, locations, and matchups to others so inclined).

Here’s what I know, what I think I know, what I think I think I know, what I think that I know of what I don’t know, and my informed conjecture about whose hearts will be glowing when tournament games are near (check once again in the mail to Andy Williams’ estate) and who receives NIT coal in their stocking from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Committee. All 32 automatic bids have been decided, as determined by conference tournaments, and half of the 32 Conference Tournament No. 1 seeds (16 teams that were the regular season champion or leader) won their conference tournament (marked with a ^), while only 7 schools repeated as auto-bid conference tournament winners (marked with a *) from last season:

American Athletic – Memphis
America East – Vermont*^
ACC – Duke
Atlantic Sun – Kennesaw State^
Atlantic-10 – Virginia Commonwealth^
Big East – Marquette^
Big Sky – Montana State*
Big South – UNC Asheville^
Big Ten – Purdue^
Big 12 – Texas
Big West – UC Santa Barbara
Colonial – Charleston
Conference USA – Florida Atlantic^
Horizon – Northern Kentucky
Ivy – Princeton^
Metro Atlantic – Iona^
Mid-American – Kent State
Mid-Eastern – Howard^
Missouri Valley – Drake
Mountain West – San Diego State^
Northeast – Farleigh Dickinson#
Ohio Valley – Southeast Missouri State
Pac-12 – Arizona*
Patriot – Colgate*^
SEC – Alabama^
Southern – Furman^
Southland – Texas A&M-Corpus Christi*^
Southwestern Athletic – Texas Southern*
Summit League – Oral Roberts^
Sun Belt – Louisiana
WAC – Grand Canyon
West Coast – Gonzaga*

This leaves 36 at-large bids to be decided. Taking a gander at several metrics, including the NCAA NET Rankings, Ken Pomeroy’s data, The Bracket Matrix, Bracket Research, and a myriad of amateur and professional bracketology sites, in addition to logging countless hours of college basketball this season, here are the teams that should be “Locks”, listed by conference (number of teams in parentheses)

American Athletic (1) – Houston

ACC (2) – Miami, Virginia

Big 12 (5) – Kansas, Baylor, Kansas State, TCU, Iowa State

Big East (3) – Xavier, Creighton, Connecticut

Big Ten (7) – Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland

Mountain West (2) – Utah State, Boise State

Pac-12 (2) – UCLA, USC

SEC (6) – Tennessee, Texas A&M, Missouri, Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas

West Coast (1) – St. Mary’s

That’s a grand total of 29 teams, that by my estimation, should be safe, which leaves seven (7) at-large spots. Here’s who I think are the “Bubble” teams competing for these spots, again listed by conference:

ACC (4) – Pittsburgh, Clemson, North Carolina State, North Carolina

Big 12 (2) –  West Virginia, Oklahoma State

Big East (1) – Providence

Big Ten (3) – Rutgers, Wisconsin, Michigan

Mountain West (1) – Nevada

Pac-12 (1) – Arizona State

SEC (2) – Mississippi State, Vanderbilt

That’s only 14 teams (and that’s being charitable) competing for the last seven (7) spots. Drawing straws and playing Rock-Paper-Scissors with my dog Mona Lisa (I always win), below is my best guess as to the The Less-Than-Magnificent Seven, in order from safest to least safe:

West Virginia


North Carolina State



Mississippi State

Arizona State

No mid-major Cinderellas above, and a bit Eastern Time Zone-heavy. My “First Four Out”, or the top teams not selected, would be Nevada, Clemson, Oklahoma State and North Carolina, but aside from Nevada and Clemson, the arguments for inclusion are relatively weak. A few seconds away, the NCAA Selection Show awaits with what’s sure to be some curious decisions, enigmas and further questions. As always, Happy March Madness Eve!

EDIT: Once again, 67/68 teams correct, with Nevada (my First Team Out) getting the nod over a 9th team from the Big 10, Rutgers (for which, as a part-time West Coast Honk, I am grateful). My other six (6) bubble teams got invites. According to the NCAA Selection Committee, Oklahoma State, Rutgers, North Carolina, and Clemson were the First Four Teams Out, in order. All my locks were comfortably in the field, with #10 seed Utah State at 40th on the overall NCAA Bracket seed list as the lowest “lock”, while #9 seed West Virginia at 34th was most comfortably in the field among my bubble teams. No complaints from me about who made the field and who did not, but some of the seedings and regional placements deserve further scrutiny. For instance, UCLA (5th overall on the seed list) being ahead of Arizona (7th) and staying in the West Region is questionable, considering Arizona beat UCLA two of three times head-to-head, including the Pac-12 Conference Tournament Final – Same for Kansas (3rd) being ahead of Texas (6th), who beat Kansas, two of three times head-to-head, including the Big 12 Conference Tournament Final – which tells me the Top 4 seeds were basically set by Friday, and that Conference Tournament Finals in conferences earning multiple bids just don’t matter for NCAA Tournament placement, except for bragging rights. Biggest surprise for me is that neither Kansas (#1 West) nor Kansas State (#3 East) were placed in the Midwest Regional hosted by Kansas City. Texas, Houston, and Indiana should all travel well to Kansas City if they make it, but that seems like a missed opportunity to put more butts in the seats. The Road to Houston starts with the “First Four” games on Tuesday and Wednesday, buckle up!

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