Consider this the best unheeded advice for projecting next month’s NCAA tournament bracket: Whatever you do, don’t look at the edge of the field.
The arguments are certain to come regarding plenty of teams’ postseason-worthiness. Does Marquette belong in the field of 68? Or Syracuse? Or Arkansas? Or Clemson? Or Texas Christian? Those with a sense of what a Tournament Team Should Look Like™ probably wouldn’t be thrilled by the giant stack of losses many of those teams have accumulated. Or Arkansas’ logic-defying setback at Missouri. Or Syracuse’s crummy road play. Or Marquette’s poor nonconference schedule.
Consider this, then, a reminder required every year: No team exists in a vacuum, and one of the major tasks of the NCAA tournament selection committee is to select the 36 best at-large teams.
Whether they’re the best teams or the teams with the best overall profiles is a matter of debate (it’s usually the latter), but the fact is that the committee will not throw its collective hands in the air and stop at 60 teams. Like it or not, the field is getting filled out with 36 programs that didn’t win their conference tournament.
So however flawed the teams sitting on the edge of the field are at the moment, some of them are probably getting into the tournament. And if any of them happen to uncork an excellent two- or three-week stretch over the next month, they might not even sweat it on Selection Sunday.
The No. 1 overall seed for the moment, Villanova is going to be a favorite to take the Buffalo-New York route to Arizona barring an unexpected plunge in the next month. … One of this bracket’s biggest flaws is the potential for rematches of regular season games involving a play-in winner. In this regional, Wisconsin and Syracuse have already met this season. …
Texas Christian doesn’t own a boatload of great victories, but it has done nothing to embarrass itself this season. In a lot of years, that sounds like a profile perched at the edge of the field. This year, it might be enough to avoid getting shipped to Dayton. … It’s tough to say for sure what the ceiling is for Saint Mary’s (maybe a No. 5 seed if things break perfectly?), but it’s safe to assert that it fell when the Gaels lost at home to Gonzaga. Maybe Saint Mary’s can win Round Three in the West Coast Conference Tournament.
There’s a case to be made for both North Carolina and Baylor (after its Monday loss to Texas Tech) for the last No. 1 seed. Truth be told, slotting Baylor as a No. 2 made it substantially easier to bracket mid-pack Big 12 teams. That’s a problem that will probably solve itself in the coming weeks. … A round-of-32 game featuring UCLA‘s Lonzo Ball and Purdue‘s Caleb Swanigan would be worth tuning for more than just about any contest during the first weekend of the tournament. …
Just stating the obvious, but Kentucky would probably be favored to make it through this bracket as a No. 3 seed. … Is there an escalator Maryland can take to get closer to, say, a No. 5 seed? That gets answered in the next few days when the Terrapins visit Northwestern and Wisconsin.
might be as fated to get paired together in the postseason as much as Kansas and North Carolina. … Fair to say
is an underdog a crowd could get behind against
. And the thing about Justin Robinson and the veteran Hawks is they would have a chance to win that game, too. …
Middle Tennessee: Big Ten postseason slayer? … This would make for a fun chalky regional: Kansas vs. Duke and Louisville vs. Arizona are two fun, potential meaningful matchups. … Xavier–Kansas State would be a solid enough game, but a rerun of the teams’ 2010 Sweet 16 showdown would be even better. Where have you gone, Jacob Pullen? (According to the indispensable Eurobasket, the answer is Russia.)
Gonzaga moves up to the third No. 1 seed after Baylor lost earlier this week. … A Creighton–Notre Dame–Texas-Arlington–Valparaiso subregional is as big a roulette spin as anything in this projection. All four of those teams have the ability to win a couple tournament games. …
South Carolina played Michigan and Seton Hall in the regular season, which means this projection goes 2 for 2 in setting up possible rematches involving play-in winners. … Minnesota’s profile prompts a double take. As in, “Wait, it’s actually this good?” Yup. The Gophers have some unexpected wiggle room at this stage.
Last four included: Michigan, Seton Hall, Arkansas, Syracuse
First four just on the outside: Clemson, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Marquette
Next four just on the outside: Tennessee, Wake Forest, Mississippi, Georgia
Moving in: Cal State Bakersfield, Michigan, New Orleans, Seton Hall, Texas-Arlington
Moving out: Arkansas State, Marquette, New Mexico State, Sam Houston State, Tennessee
Conference call: Atlantic Coast (9), Big 12 (7), Big Ten (7), Big East (5), Pac-12 (5), Southeastern (4), Atlantic 10 (3), American Athletic (2), Missouri Valley (2), West Coast (2)