The bracket and field notes have been updated based on Monday’s late results.
Cincinnati is a team about which we know a lot, that also has one big question mark.
It is known the Bearcats possess one of the nation’s top defenses, and it might be the best overall in the non-Virginia division. Only eight teams have reached 60 points against Cincinnati (21-2, 10-0 American Athletic). Only three (Houston, Savannah State and Xavier) have dropped 70 on the Bearcats. A single foe (Xavier) made it to 80. This is nothing new. In the last eight seasons, Cincinnati has finished 22nd or better in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings every time. This year, the Bearcats rank second.
It is known Cincinnati boasts a superb blend of experience, from ruthlessly efficient senior forward Gary Clark (plucked right off Tobacco Road) to fifth-year senior Kyle Washington (who started his career at N.C. State) to fourth-year junior and ex-Sacred Heart guard Cane Broome. Junior wing Jacob Evans played a bunch last year, and sophomore guard Jarron Cumberland was a major bench piece a season ago.
It is known the Bearcats ferociously attack the offensive glass, as they do every year. Mick Cronin’s team boasts the nation’s second-best offensive rebounding percentage and is on its way to a top-30 finish in the category for the ninth time in 10 years.
And thanks to a quick glance at the AAC standings, it is known the Bearcats are dominating their league. They sit three games clear of Houston and Wichita State, though they have a combined three regular season games left against those teams (including trips to both).
The question mark involves just how the NCAA tournament selection committee will treat this edition of Cincinnati, a program on its way to an eighth NCAA bid in a row and perhaps the most capable bunch of Bearcats since the Steve Logan-led team in 2002 earned a No. 1 seed (though the Jason Maxiell-headlined Cincinnati team two years later was pretty good, too.)
The Bearcats have no questionable losses (at Xavier and against Florida on a neutral floor are their only missteps) and played a decent enough nonconference schedule. They have four triumphs in the NCAA’s new formula of top-quadrant victories (wins at home over teams in the RPI top 30, top-50 wins on neutral floors and top-75 wins on the road), against Buffalo, Central Florida, Temple and UCLA. Not exactly a collection of Final Four contenders.
For this week’s Washington Post bracket projection, Cincinnati checks in as a No. 4 seed. It was No. 5 in the KenPom rankings entering the week, and No. 11 in the RPI. But the committee has shown an affinity for noteworthy victories the last few years, and the Bearcats probably won’t have the chance to earn many more in a league with a large midpack rather than a clear-cut top half.
Another positive for Cronin and Co.? Cincinnati has shown little sign of vulnerability outside its two losses. Only three times have the Bearcats won by less than 10 points, and just once all year have they played a one-possession game (a 55-53 victory at Temple). Chances are, the Bearcats’ knowns will help them pile up a gaudy victory total and allow for a solid shot at landing on one of the top four seed lines regardless of the strength at the top of its resume.
Last four included: Houston, UCLA, St. Bonaventure, Kansas State
First four on the outside: Syracuse, Nebraska, Marquette, Southern Methodist
Next four on the outside: Utah, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State, Maryland
Moving in: College of Charleston, Nicholls State, Penn, St. Bonaventure, UC Davis, UCLA, Washington
Moving out: Harvard, Marquette, Northeastern, Southern Methodist, Stephen F. Austin, Syracuse, UC Santa Barbara
Conference call: Atlantic Coast (8), Southeastern (8), Big 12 (7), Big East (6), Pac-12 (5), Big Ten (4), American Athletic (3), Atlantic 10 (2), West Coast (2)
Latest bracket projection
(1) BIG EAST/Villanova vs. (16) SOUTHLAND/Nicholls State — IVY/Penn winner
(8) Southern California vs. (9) Wichita State
(5) Ohio State vs. (12) MID-AMERICAN/Buffalo
(4) Oklahoma vs. (13) SUMMIT/South Dakota State
(3) Clemson vs. (14) HORIZON/Wright State
(6) ATLANTIC 10/Rhode Island vs. (11) Kansas State-UCLA winner
(7) WEST COAST/Saint Mary’s vs. (10) Providence
(2) SOUTHEASTERN/Auburn vs. (15) BIG WEST/UC Davis
The top overall seed might as well be a coinflip at this point. Based on the current résumés, there’s no going wrong with either Villanova or Virginia. … It’s a big week for Southern Cal (and UCLA, for that matter) with a trip to Arizona and Arizona State looming. …
Credit to Clemson, which bounced back from an ugly showing at Virginia (its first game without Donte Grantham) to win three in a row. That streak should reach four with Pittsburgh coming to Littlejohn Coliseum on Thursday. … Auburn has no minuses at this point. A team with its set of accomplishments has a case for a No. 1 seed at this stage. … Teams with more Quadrant 1 victories (top-30 wins at home, top-50 on neutral sites and top-75 on the road) than Providence’s five: Alabama, Kansas, Oklahoma, Purdue, Villanova and Virginia. That will help as long as the Friars keep winning their share of games.
(1) ATLANTIC COAST/Virginia vs. (16) SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC/Arkansas-Pine Bluff — ATLANTIC SUN/Florida Gulf Coast winner
(8) MOUNTAIN WEST/Nevada vs. (9) Texas
(5) Seton Hall vs. (12) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State
(4) Tennessee vs. (13) SUN BELT/UL Lafayette
(3) West Virginia vs. (14) OHIO VALLEY/Belmont
(6) Florida State vs. (11) Houston-St. Bonaventure winner
(7) Arizona State vs. (10) Missouri
(2) Michigan State vs. (15) BIG SKY/Montana
The distinct lack of high-profile victories is going to prove costly to Nevada when it comes time to seed the Wolf Pack, but this is still a team no one will want any part of in the opening weekend. … It would be helpful for Tennessee to beat either Alabama or Kentucky on the road this week, but that’s more of a nitpicky suggestion given the work the Volunteers have done outside of Knoxville this season. …
Florida State’s accomplishments stand up to scrutiny, especially with Saturday’s victory at Louisville in the bag. The Seminoles get Virginia, Notre Dame and Clemson next. … St. Bonaventure has won four in a row and sneaks back into the field. The Feb. 16 visit from Rhode Island looms large for the Bonnies. … Missouri isn’t the most consistent bunch, but it is 5-6 in Quadrant 1 games. … Michigan State is on the No. 2 line because someone has to be; the Spartans’ numbers are pedestrian for that sort of placement.
(1) BIG TEN/Purdue vs. (16) MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/North Carolina A&T
(8) Butler vs. (9) Texas A&M
(5) Miami vs. (12) MISSOURI VALLEY/Loyola Chicago
(4) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Cincinnati vs. (13) AMERICA EAST/Vermont
(3) Texas Tech vs. (14) COLONIAL/College of Charleston
(6) Gonzaga vs. (11) N.C. State
(7) Florida vs. (10) Washington
(2) Duke vs. (15) PATRIOT/Bucknell
Butler really is all grown up as a power conference team. The Bulldogs are 3-7 against Quadrant 1, undefeated against everyone else. … That projected Boise subregional, with a Loyola Chicago team that won at Florida and a Vermont bunch again riding roughshod over the America East, would be a popular source of upset picks the third week of March. Not saying those would happen, but there would be chatter. …
Among teams near the edge of the field, N.C. State has differentiators both good (four Quadrant 1 victories) and bad (nonconference strength of schedule ranked 288th). The Wolfpack can still create separation from other borderline teams, and this week (at Virginia Tech, vs. North Carolina) provide chances to do so. … The eyeballs might say Duke can’t (won’t?) play any defense, but the numbers suggest it still comfortably belongs on the top two lines.
(1) BIG 12/Kansas vs. (16) BIG SOUTH/UNC Asheville
(8) Creighton vs. (9) Alabama
(5) Kentucky vs. (12) CONFERENCE USA/Middle Tennessee
(4) North Carolina vs. (13) SOUTHERN/East Tennessee State
(3) PAC-12/Arizona vs. (14) METRO ATLANTIC/Rider
(6) Michigan vs. (11) Arkansas
(7) Louisville vs. (10) Texas Christian
(2) Xavier vs. (15) NORTHEAST/Wagner
Almost had an old Missouri Valley showdown with Creighton and Wichita State in an 8-9 game, but the Shockers aren’t permitted to play at a site where they are the host school. Creighton has a similar issue; it hosts the Midwest regional and can’t be placed in that quarter of the draw. … Yes, that’s Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina all slotted for Wichita for the opening weekend. …
Michigan vs. Arkansas would be a great candidate for this year’s game of “Random At-Large Pairing” or “Outback Bowl Matchup” … Louisville’s seeding could be all over the place in the next month. A closing stretch of North Carolina, Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and N.C. State (plus the ACC tournament) looms after this week . . . The top of TCU’s resume is a bit wobbly, but there isn’t anything particularly bad. Still, picking off one of Kansas, West Virginia or Texas Tech on the road would be quite useful.
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