Biggest Movers from Prior Projection
Maryland (+6 spots) – Maryland picked up their best win of the season at Minnesota over the weekend, and their win over Oklahoma State earlier in the season is starting to look better and better as the Cowboys work their way into the field. The computers aren’t too high on the Terps, but 19-2 against the 66th ranked schedule in the nation garners a 5 seed in my book.
Cincinnati (+5 spots) – In a week where a lot of teams lost at least one game, Cincinnati went out and won both of their games, including a win in the Crosstown Shootout over rival Xavier. The Bearcats are 19-2 on the season with losses to #49 Rhode Island on a neutral court and #6 Butler on the road. They already had wins over #28 SMU and at #44 Iowa State.
Marquette (+5 spots) – Marquette finds themselves on this list again. Even though they lost to Providence, they beat #2 Villanova in shocking fashion, coming back from a 17 point deficit. That was, in my opinion, the craziest outcome in a week filled with head scratching results. Marquette also benefited from a couple teams that were previously ahead of them losing a couple games this week.
Last Four Teams In
Miami FL – Last week I mentioned that Miami is fortunate that they play in the ACC because they have multiple chances at picking up quality wins like the game against North Carolina on Saturday. The Hurricanes did just that and picked up their best win of the season to date. They get Florida State at home (who has lost 2 straight games) and the volatile and bubbly Wolfpack of NC State this week.
Kansas State – The Wildcats went from being off my radar, to being in the field with two wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia, to being one of the last four teams in after dropping games to Iowa State and Tennessee this week. While neither loss is bad (both teams are top 50 in RPI, both losses came on the road), Kansas State only has two top 100 RPI wins (the two mentioned earlier).They get fellow bubble team TCU at home before traveling to #1 Baylor this coming weekend. Big week ahead for K-State
Oklahoma State – The Pokes started conference play 0-6, but have since won at Texas Tech, vs. TCU and vs. Arkansas. Couple that with non-conference wins at Wichita State and on a neutral court over Georgetown (which looks a lot better this week) and Oklahoma State has found themselves on the right side of the bubble. 7 of their 8 losses are against RPI top 50 opponents. They have a tricky schedule this week with games at rival Oklahoma and at West Virginia.
VCU – VCU picked up their biggest win of the season against Dayton on Friday night, giving them their second top 50 RPI win of the season. The Rams have five total losses, including one terrible loss to Fordham, but challenged themselves out of conference (60th ranked non-conference strength of schedule). That final point is key, and I think it’ll be enough to keep them ahead of the first team I have left out of the field.
First Four Teams Out
Texas Tech – The Red Raiders almost pulled off the huge upset at Baylor this past week, but fell short by 4 points. Their resumes has just three top 100 RPI wins over West Virginia, Kansas State, and TCU coupled with six losses. But what is keeping them out of the field is that non-conference strength of schedule ranked 326th….there are only 351 D-1 teams. South Carolina had a similar non-con SOS last season and was left out because of it. I fear Texas Tech may have the same fate.
Georgia – I continue to view Georgia more highly than others primarily because three of their five top 100 RPI wins came on the road, and they have a 36th ranked non-conference SOS. Their next three games will determine whether or not they make the field of 68. They play at Kentucky, at South Carolina, and home against a Florida team that they should have beat a couple weeks ago but let the game get away from them late.
NC State – NC State did something very, very few teams do, and that is win a game a Cameron Indoor. The win over Duke was enough for me to take notice, but after being blow out at Louisville on Sunday (which is seemingly happening to everyone these days) I am not quite ready to give them an at-large bid. Home games against Syracuse and fellow bubble team Miami this week are must wins for the Wolfpack to be considered come next round of projections.
Wake Forest – Wake Forest has nine losses this season, but sic of them have come against top 25 foes and eight against top 50 opponents. They blew a golden opportunity against Duke, a game that they win 9 times out of 10 if you play the final 2 minutes over again. While I believe that teams like this should not be considered for an at large bid because they have already had their shot at picking up quality wins and failed to do so, the committee last year gave Vanderbilt a bid (with a similar resume) over Monmouth. I don’t agree with this thinking, but the point of this exercise is to mimic the committee’s decision.
Games of Interest This Week
In this section, I will list one game I am most interested in each weekday, and will select a few weekend games. These games won’t necessarily be the best matchup in terms of top 25 rankings on those days, but rather games that could have a material impact on a team’s seed or inclusion into the field come Selection Sunday.
Duke @ Notre Dame (Monday) – Both teams are currently projected as a 5 seed in my bracket. Notre Dame has lost 3 of their last 4 as they hit the meat of their ACC schedule. Duke, meanwhile, picked up a come-from-behind win at Wake Forest on Saturday after losing at home to NC State earlier in the week. Could that be the turning point that finally gels all this talent on the Duke roster together?
Creighton @ Butler (Tuesday) – I’m most intrigued to see how Creighton plays in what will be their fourth game without Mo Watson. Since the injury, they have lost to Marquette and Georgetown before picking up a win against DePaul over the weekend. I was hesitant to knock the Blue Jays down the second the injury was announced, as I wanted to see them play to assess the team without Watson. This week I did indeed drop them from a 2 seed to a 4 seed, in part due to the loss at Georgetown; however, Georgetown followed up that win against Creighton with a huge upset win at…Butler. Butler doesn’t drop many games at home, so I expect Creighton to lose, but I want to see how they play and whether they can keep it close in a tough road environment against a tough team.
Georgia Tech @ Clemson (Wednesday) – Another bubbly ACC game on this list. Georgia Tech picked up two of their best wins of the season against Florida State and Notre Dame last week to propel them into the field, while Clemson won at Pitt. I’m most interested to see if Georgia Tech can bring the same intensity they play with at home, or if they will have a letdown game following the two wins last week. The loser here could find themselves on the outside looking in come next week’s projection.
Gonzaga @ BYU (Thursday) – Gonzaga is last remaining undefeated team in the nation, and should find themselves as the number one team come Monday afternoon when the new AP poll is released. This is one of the two remaining games that they have a realistic shot of losing (the other being at St. Mary’s), so that’s why this game gets some recognition. Now, for a rant. Personally, I expect Gonzaga to be undefeated heading into the NCAA tournament. I also expect people to complain about their inevitable 1 seed and shrug it off and say “Gonzaga underachieves in the NCAA tournament every year so who cares.” I will refer you to Mark Titus’ article from a couple weeks ago showing Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament history dating back to 1999. Essentially, the only years they “underachieved” were in 2008 to Steph Curry’s Davidson squad and in 2013 to an eventual Final Four team in Wichita State. That’s it. People think Gonzaga gets a high seed every season and chokes in March, when in actuality over the past decade they have been a 1 seed (lost in second round to 9 seed Wichita State, a Final Four team), 2 seed (made Elite Eight, lost to national champion and 1 seed Duke), 4 seed (lost in Sweet 16 to national champion and 1 seed North Carolina) and the other years they were a 7 seed or worse. In other words, they play to the seed they are given. This Gonzaga team is damn good, and I hope they make a deep run in March this year to silence the critics of a program that is one of the most successful in the nation.
Georgia @ South Carolina (Saturday) – Georgia has a big week ahead of them, with road games at Kentucky and at South Carolina. Given Kentucky is coming off 2 straight losses, I don’t expect the Bulldogs to walk out of Rupp Arena with a victory. That means this game is one of the final chances Georgia has to lock in on a signature win to boast on Selection Sunday.
Arizona @ Oregon (Saturday) – Before Oregon stubbed their toe at Colorado this past Saturday, this game was set up as a chance for either school to get in the driver’s seat of the Pac 12 title. Now, Oregon needs this win to keep pace with Arizona since this is the only time these two teams play each other. Both teams are safely in the field, so the intrigue in this game, outside of the Pac 12 title race, is Arizona’s chances at picking up a 1 seed on Selection Sunday.
Xavier @ Creighton (Saturday) – Similar to Creighton’s game against Butler that I highlighted earlier, I really just want to see how Creighton plays without Mo Watson. Xavier is on somewhat of a skid, but is still projected as a 7 seed in my bracket. Both teams have a chance to pick up a good win here.
Oklahoma State @ West Virginia (Saturday) – West Virginia is a tough resume to figure out. On one hand they have beaten Baylor, Kansas, and Virginia, but on the other hand they have lost to Temple, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Kansas State. West Virginia already won at Oklahoma State soundly to open conference play, but the Pokes have won three straight against tournament quality competition after starting 0-6 in conference play. Oklahoma State is one of the last four teams in my bracket, but a win here in Morgantown would make them feel safer on Selection Sunday.
Indiana @ Wisconsin (Sunday) – Wisconsin may be in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten thanks to Purdue refusing to play defense against Nebraska on Sunday, but they have been far from impressive thus far in conference play, highlighted by their game against Rutgers on Saturday in which they scored 45 points in regulation but still won in OT because Rutgers went 2-6 from the free throw line in the final minutes of regulation and inexplicably left the most clutch three point shooter in the nation (sans Kris Jenkins) wide freaking open on one of the last possessions of regulation. The blueprint on Wisconsin is simple: stop Koenig from getting open looks from three and play off Happ on the perimeter as he doesn’t have a great jump shot, but has great footwork and finishing ability at the rim. Consider this: if you take the lowest win probability (per KenPom) in their recent games against Michigan, Minnesota, and Rutgers, it would suggest they had a 0.6% chance of winning all three of those games…and yet they did. Indiana meanwhile has been decimated by injuries, losing senior Colin Hartman before the season started, their best defender OG Anunoby a couple weeks ago, and now their best offensive player James Blackmon is out indefinitely. I’m not sure how the committee will handle IU’s case, as they have wins over Kansas and North Carolina, but this team is by no means the same team that won those games. A win in Madison would certainly help the Hoosier’s case for an at large bid.