That’s about all we know for now about this year’s tournament. That means concerns such as trying to identify at-large teams despite having limited (or, for some teams, no) nonconference play are not immediate concerns.
They’ll need to be eventually, and the selection committee will be challenged while dealing with a smaller set of scheduled games — to the point the dreaded “eye test” might be a justifiable evaluation method. The ability to confidently compare, say, the eighth-place team in the Big Ten and the second-place team in the Southern Conference is going to be impaired compared with a normal year.
This is not a normal year, and a rash of postponements and cancellations are already piling up thanks to the already ubiquitous “14-day pause” stemming from positive coronavirus tests. Those challenging comparisons could occur within a league. What if a Big Ten team piles up a 9-4 record in conference play but most of its seven shelved games are against teams with winning league records?
The scenarios are endless, and there will be plenty of time to dive into all of them when theoretical possibilities make the jump to reality in the next couple months -- assuming the sport can slog through the next couple months.
The Ivy League isn’t bothering, which is why this attempt at a field includes only 31 automatic qualifiers and 37 at-large berths. Still, a run through this exercise does reveal at least a few ways the selection committee could make lemonade out of lemons if it so chooses.
With every game played within a couple hours of one another, there won’t be any opening-round winners arriving at a subregional site at 4 a.m. after winning in Dayton, Ohio. Without geographic concerns, the bracket should be as competitively balanced as ever.
One last thing: For those who haven’t paid attention to college football this fall, the obvious and logical question of “Should this season be played?” was superseded by “Can we afford not to play this season?” That trolley long ago left the station, and regardless of how many (if any) regrets ultimately emerge, there will almost certainly be an NCAA tournament in March and April (and May, if necessary).
Last four in: Miami, Loyola Chicago, Georgia Tech, Utah State
First four on the outside: Arizona, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Colorado
Eight more to keep an eye on (in alphabetical order): Connecticut, Davidson, Notre Dame, Purdue, St. Bonaventure, UNC Greensboro, Western Kentucky, Xavier
Conference call: ACC (9), Big Ten (8), Big 12 (6), SEC (6), Big East (4), Pac-12 (4), Atlantic 10 (3), American Athletic (2), Missouri Valley (2), Mountain West (2), West Coast (2)
Bracket format: West vs. Midwest, South vs. East
Note: This bracket has been updated to reflect Auburn’s self-imposed postseason ban.
(1) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (16) NORTHEAST/Long Island-SWAC/Southern winner
(8) Seton Hall vs. (9) Alabama
(5) North Carolina vs. (12) SUMMIT/South Dakota State
(4) PAC-12/Oregon vs. (13) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin
(3) Wisconsin vs. (14) ATLANTIC SUN/Lipscomb
(6) Texas vs. (11) Dayton
(7) Michigan vs. (10) MISSOURI VALLEY/Northern Iowa
(2) SEC/Tennessee vs. (15) HORIZON/Wright State
Gonzaga should be the favorite in the WCC by a larger margin than usual. In a year with so many unknowns, the Zags are a reliable, stable, consistent force. … Expect a North Carolina bounceback after last year’s stunning slip to the bottom of the ACC. It’s tough to keep Roy Williams and Co. down for long. … South Dakota State brings back five starters from a team that shared the Summit League regular season title.
Mid-major name to know: Ahsan Asadullah of Lipscomb, who ranked second in the Atlantic Sun in scoring (18.6), rebounding (10.1) and assists (3.9) last year as a sophomore. … Yes, Obi Toppin is gone, and Dayton probably isn’t going to enjoy quite the same sort of magic. But the Flyers have a veteran backcourt led by Jalen Crutcher, and they’re going to be a tough out. … Flip a coin between Tennessee and Kentucky as the favorite in the SEC.
(1) BIG TEN/Iowa vs. (16) BIG WEST/UC Santa Barbara
(8) Memphis vs. (9) N.C. State
(5) UCLA vs. (12) Miami/Utah State winner
(4) Creighton vs. (13) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State
(3) Florida State vs. (14) COLONIAL/Towson
(6) Ohio State vs. (11) SOUTHERN/Furman
(7) LSU vs. (10) Indiana
(2) Kansas vs. (15) BIG SKY/Eastern Washington
The question with Iowa isn’t whether it has enough star power (Luka Garza solves that), enough experience or enough offense. It's whether the Hawkeyes can get enough stops. … UCLA wasn’t much good in nonconference play, but it went 12-6 in the Pac-12 under first-year coach Mick Cronin. The Bruins should be back in the tournament this year. … New Mexico State was favored to make it nine NCAA trips in 10 seasons last March. No reason to pick against the Aggies in the WAC until proved otherwise. …
It feels like Florida State is about where Virginia was four years ago: They’re at least a little underrated year after year, yet the Seminoles keep piling up a lot of victories. If Leonard Hamilton’s bunch is undersold here, it won’t be by much. … The return this summer of Zane Martin, who began his career at Towson before transferring to New Mexico and then boomeranging back, helps give the Tigers the nod to end a 30-year NCAA drought. … Furman is the latest in a line of Southern Conference teams (2019 Wofford, 2020 East Tennessee State) capable of creating havoc if given the opportunity.
(1) BIG 12/Baylor vs. (16) PATRIOT/Colgate-BIG SOUTH/Winthrop winner
(8) Providence vs. (9) Saint Louis
(5) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Houston vs. (12) Syracuse
(4) Texas Tech vs. (13) MID-AMERICAN/Buffalo
(3) Duke vs. (14) SUN BELT/Little Rock
(6) Arizona State vs. (11) Brigham Young
(7) Florida vs. (10) Oklahoma
(2) Illinois vs. (15) AMERICA EAST/Vermont
Baylor has a decent-sized “what if?” to ask about last season, but much of the core from that team is back. The Bears have serious Final Four potential. … If Saint Louis could make free throws, it would be a lot easier to trust. As it stands, tenacious Billikens guard Jordan Goodwin (who averaged double figures in rebounds last season) is an obvious potential March star if the chance presents itself. … It wouldn’t be a bracket without Syracuse occupying a double-digit seed as an at-large pick, now would it? …
The potential Duke-Arizona State matchup (i.e. Coach K vs. Bobby Hurley) happened entirely by chance in constructing the bracket. But toss up that possibility on Selection Sunday and watch the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists have a field day. … Florida, Oklahoma, Illinois -- go get UNLV or Kansas State or Texas Rio Grande Valley (formerly Texas Pan American) and the Lon Kruger Invitational is complete.
(1) BIG EAST/Villanova vs. (16) MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/N.C. Central
(8) Louisville vs. (9) MOUNTAIN WEST/San Diego State
(5) West Virginia vs. (12) Georgia Tech/Loyola Chicago winner
(4) Michigan State vs. (13) CONFERENCE USA/North Texas
(3) Kentucky vs. (14) OHIO VALLEY/Austin Peay
(6) ATLANTIC 10/Richmond vs. (11) South Carolina
(7) Rutgers vs. (10) Stanford
(2) ACC/Virginia vs. (15) METRO ATLANTIC/Siena
Historically speaking, this is an incredibly deep bracket. Five teams with national titles since 2000 are in this group, as are four more schools with a Final Four appearance in that span. … Malik Williams’s foot injury is a cause for pause when it comes to Louisville. The Cardinals have conservatively been pegged as a No. 8 seed as a result. … Georgia Tech quietly finished fifth in the ACC last season and has most of its important pieces back. The Yellow Jackets’ defense will keep them in nearly every game. …
Richmond’s ceiling probably dropped some because of senior guard Nick Sherod’s knee injury, but it’s still a 24-team win team with four capable starters back. The Spiders are primed for their first NCAA trip in a decade. … Consider South Carolina to be one of two SEC teams this projection regards more highly than most. (The other is Texas A&M, which sits just outside the field.) The Gamecocks haven’t been back to the tournament since their 2017 Final Four run, but they’ve won at least 10 SEC games in consecutive seasons. … Rutgers last March would have made its first NCAA trip since 1991, a drought the Scarlet Knights should be able to end this season.
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