The end of January means the NCAA Tournament Bracketology report begins to get serious. Many teams have now played themselves into the Dance short of pulling a 1964 Philadelphia Phillies collapse. Many teams now know that their only hope is to win their conference tournament. They may have actually already thrown in the towel until then.
Then, you have about 30 to 40 teams that are in the hoops Twilight Zone as the Ground Hog prepares for his big day. These three dozen or so teams are the infamous Bubblers. From this group, about a dozen will receive invitations, while the rest will have to make due with the NIT. Of course, with every 11-20 team that gets hot for four days and becomes quick-exit fodder for a high seed, one of those bubbles will pop.
As for our Gurus, we have made some major changes. Because not all of our Gurus from last season returned this year, and because we decided to stop including seven bracketologists due to ridiculous brackets (like including two Ivy League teams in last year’s bracket), we have reduced our numbers to just 11 Gurus this week. However, we are attempting to include five more nationally renowned Gurus, a quintet of rather accurate Bracketologists, as soon as next week. One new Guru has already agreed to join us, and his bracketology ratings are included in this report.
Once again, the Guru Composite shows 22 conferences that will send just one team to the tournament. That leaves 46 teams from among the remaining 10 leagues, so that means 36 at-large teams will be needed if the one-bid leagues stay consistent. As of this week, there are 54 teams competing for those 36 spots, meaning 18 will be disappointed. This number of disappointments will go up as surprise conference champions emerge from the 10 top leagues.
At 8-0/18-5, Vermont has lapped the field with road wins over Stony Brook 6-2/11-10, New Hampshire 5-3/14-8, and Albany 4-4/13-10, three of the next four teams. The Catamounts also beat UMBC 5-3/14-7, but it was at home. The Retrievers host Vermont on Sunday, February 12. Vermont has a 14.3 points per game scoring margin in A-East play.
Two teams have pulled away from the pack in the last two weeks. Florida Gulf Coast 7-1/18-6 and Lipscomb 6-2/14-11 have shown they are the class of the league this year. The always competitive FGCU won at Lipscomb in early January, and the two play on Thursday, February 9, in Fort Myers. FGCU has won 11 of their last 12 games.
After a 2-6 start, Weber State has won 10 of 11 games to improve to 7-1/12-7. The Wildcats are heavy favorites to earn what should be a number 16 seed and possible demotion to Dayton in the opening round. Top contenders include North Dakota 7-3/12-8 and Eastern Washington 6-3/14-8.
The race is wide open with three co-leaders at the moment. Winthrop 8-2/16-5, UNC-Asheville 8-2/16-7, and Liberty 8-2/13-10 are two games clear of the field, but the hot team in the league at the end of Janaury is High Point 6-4/12-10. The Panthers own a five-game winning streak that includes a comeback overtime win at Winthrop.
An off year in the league makes for excellent parity, as five teams could still win the regular season title. UC-Davis 5-1/13-8 has the lead, but it is precarious. Hot on the Aggies’ heels are UC-Irvine 6-2/13-11, Cal State Northridge 5-3/9-12, Long Beach State 4-3/9-14, and UC Riverside 4-3/6-12. Long Beach State is our choice to become the eventual representative, but the Gurus go with the top team at the time of their reports, so UC Davis will be the team listed in our report.
UNC-Wilmington 9-1/20-3 proved they could be defeated in league play last week, as William & Mary 6-4/12-9 rode the arms of Omar Prewitt and Daniel Dixon to shoot the Seahawks out of Kaplan Arena. Other top contenders in the CAA include College of Charleston 8-2/17-6, Elon 6-4/14-9, and Northeastern 6-4/13-9. Still, it will be a major surprise if UNCW doesn’t threepeat in the CAA Tournament.
It is now a near metaphysical certitude that Middle Tennessee State 9-0/19-3 is the top mid-major team in the land this year (this statement is true only if you consider the Missouri Valley and West Coast Conferences to be Power Conferences with multiple bids forthcoming from both leagues). The Blue Raiders have double digit wins over three top contenders, UAB 7-2/14-8, Louisiana Tech 6-3/14-8, and Marshall 6-3/13-9. MTSU has yet to play Old Dominion 6-3/13-8. Kermit Davis’s squad faces a three-game road gauntlet in the second half of the month against Western Kentucky, Marshall, and UAB, one of whom is sure to give the Blue Raiders a loss. If Middle runs the table and then wins the CUSA Tournament, at 31-3, they would have to be favored to make it to the Sweet 16 a year after trouncing Michigan State in the Round of 64.
Valparaiso won the regular season title a year ago but suffered an upset in the conference tournament and had to make do with the NIT. This year, the Crusaders 8-1/18-4 have a new coach in Matt Lotich, but they still have the top player in the league in Alex Peters, who averages 24 points and 11 rebounds per game. Valpo’s path to the top seed will not be easy, though, as Green Bay 7-3/13-9 and Oakland 6-4/16-7 get to host the Crusaders in February. Oakland previously won at Valpo.
With the inaugural Ivy League Tournament just 39 days away, it’s all about finishing in the top four, since the first Ivy League tourney will have just four participants. If you ask us, and since you are reading this, you have in essence asked us, the four teams that will make it to the Palestra on March 11 have already been determined. Princeton 3-0/10-6, Harvard 3-1/11-6, Yale 3-1/11-6, and Columbia 3-1/9-8 were the top four teams last year, and they appear to be so again. None of this quartet appears to be talented enough to get past the Round of 64.
They don’t have the resume they had last year when they felt they were jilted by the Big Guys that look out for the Big Guys, but Monmouth 10-2/18-5 is starting to look like a prohibitive favorite in the MAAC. The Hawks have outscored their opponents by 15 points per game in their eight game winning streak. Iona 8-4/15-8 and St. Peter’s 8-4/12-10 are the top two contenders.
With each passing week, Akron 8-0/18-3 distances themselves from the rest of the league. The Zips have opened up a three-game lead over the pack in the MAC, with a pair of 6-10 dominators inside in Kwan Cheatham, Jr. and Isaiah Johnson teaming to average 28 points and 15 rebounds per game. Akron is not an at-large candidate at this point, as the Zips have no Top 100 wins along with a nasty loss to Youngstown State, who rates below #250. Additionally, even though they have run the table in the first half of the conference schedule, the Zips are not blowing opponents away. So, keep an eye on four teams all with 5-3 conference marks (Ohio, Ball State, Eastern Michigan, and Northern Illinois). The MAC Tournament is usually chock full of upsets, and if we had to pick a team today, we would go with EMU.
Four teams have moved to the top of the pack, and the quartet is red hot with a combined 20-game winning streak. The second half of the 2017 MEAC race promises to be about as exciting as a low-major conference race can be, and if you have access to this league’s televised games, you will be entertained with some exciting basketball.
Morgan State 7-1/10-11 has a great inside/outside presence teaming for 42 points per game in wing man Tiwian Kendley and post man Philip Carr. The Bears are led by former Cal head coach Todd Bozeman with former Michigan head coach Brian Ellerbe as his top assistant. MSU may not have the talent to compete for a Sweet 16 bid, but the Bears will not be an easy out if they make the round of 64.
The remaining hot teams in the MEAC include UNC-Central 6-1/15-6, Savannah State 7-2/10-12, and Norfolk State 6-2/9-13. Savannah State games are some of the most exciting on the hardwoods in America. There is a good chance that one team will top 100 points when the Tigers play, but it could be SSU or the opposition.
Any chance for mulitple bids from the MWC crashed and burned in the last week as the top contenders suffered losses. It makes for a wide open regular season race as well as a wide open conference tournament with all the marbles up for grabs. Nevada 7-2/18-4 has led all the way, but the Wolf Pack have no signature wins that can get them into the Dance, as their lone game against a top 50 opponent was an 18-point loss to Saint Mary’s. Boise State 6-3/13-7 has a win over SMU, but the Broncos are not close to the Bubble. Five other teams have the talent to eeke through a three-day marathon and earn the automatic bid.
In the last three weeks, Mount St. Mary’s 9-1/11-12 has emerged as the clear choice to win the regular season title and the favorite to earn the lone bid. Bryant 5-5/8-15 is well back in the pack, but the Bulldogs already have a win over MSM and plays the Mountaineers a second time Thursday night in a game that will be televised on ESPNU.
Like their CUSA Counterpart in the same Metropolitan Area (MTSU), Belmont 10-0/16-4 is pulling away from the field like Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes. The Bruins own a 12-game winning streak. They put that streak on the line Thursday night, when the Bruins venture to Murrary, Kentucky, to take on West Division co-leader Murray State 6-3/12-11. Belmont beat the other co-leader Southeast Missouri 6-3/11-13 by double digits and own a 13.4 ppg scoring margin in OVC play.
Bucknell 9-1/17-6 is the favorite but not overwhelming favorite to win the Patriot League’s lone bid this year. Even though the top seed gets to host every game in the postseason tournament, Bucknell’s long league loss came at home to Lehigh 6-4/12-9. Besides these two teams, five other teams have the talent to win the tournament. Navy and Boston U are tied for second at 7-3/12-10, with Loyola (MD), Holy Cross, and Colgate tied at 5-5 in league play. If a team other than Bucknell wins the conference tournament, they better be prepared for a trip to Dayton.
This league is on a mini-upswing, but no team has an at-large shot this year. East Tennessee 7-2/17-5, Furman 7-2/14-8, UNC-Greensboro 7-3/16-7, and Chattanooga 6-3/15-6 could all be formidbale underdogs in the Round of 64.
For Sam Houston 7-2/16-6, the sum of their whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Bearkats have raced to the top of the league with a seven-game winning streak even though the team lacks a go-to star. Instead, they play a stifling tough defense and rarely give up a second shot to the opponents on a possession. SHSU has pulled even with New Orleans 7-2/12-8 in the standings, which includes a win at Lakefront Arena in NO over the Privateers.
Five lopsided losses to top 50 teams means that Texas Southern 8-1/12-10 is not likely to challenge a #1 or 2 seed in the Round of 64, but if the Tigers can earn the automatic bid, they should be able to avoid an opening round game in Dayton. Alcorn State 6-3/9-11 has won four games in a row. The Braves lost to TSU at home on a buzzer-beater, and that is all that has kept ASU out of a first place tie in the SWAC.
They may be the third place team in the league at the present time, but Fort Wayne 5-4/16-7 has the big out of conference win over Indiana. The Mastodons get the teams ahead of them in the standings in Forth Wayne in February, and it would not surprise us if FW moved to the top in time to secure the number one seed. Don’t expect North Dakota State 7-1/15-6, and South Dakota 6-3/15-9 to lay down and cede first place to the Mastodons. The Bison and Coyotes are tough teams, and they won’t wither when they go to Hilliard Gates Sports Center in February.
How about a six-team race where the best resume belongs to the fourth place team. Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State lead the way with 7-2 SBC records. UT-Arlington 6-3/16-6 is tied for fourth with Texas State 6-3/13-8. UTA has that nice resume with a 14-point win over Saint Mary’s. It is not enought to propel the Mavericks into the Bubble picture.
A 19-game winning streak and a perfect 7-0 record in league play is not enough to push New Mexico State 7-0/21-2 into the Bubble talk. Our own opinion is that the Aggies deserve equal billing with Wichita State at this juncture. Neither team has a bad loss, and neither team has a top 50 win.
The Aggies are 1-1 against the next 50 teams (a win and loss against rival New Mexico), while Wichita State is still winless to team number 100. NMSU presents some matchup issues for opponents, so if the Agiiges get into the Dance, they could be a hot underdog in the Round of 64.
Cal State Bakersfield 5-1/14-7 is the principal contender to NMSU, but in this league the Roadrunners are almost like the Washington Generals and not a true contender. The lack of competition is what will hurt NMSU’s seeding if they run the table and enter the Dance at 30-2.
MULTIPLE BID LEAGUES
Cincinnati 8-0/19-2 is a sure thing now after beating Xavier and padding its resume. Can the Bearcats contend for the Final Four? Cinti dominates in everything but foul shooting, but in the NCAA Tournament, referees tend to call fewer fouls, and this will help UC in two ways–they won’t take as many foul shots, and they will be able to get away with increased physical play, where they can exploit finesse teams.
SMU 8-1/18-4 should receive an at-large bid if the Mustangs do not win the AAC Tournament. SMU has six top 100 wins and no losses outside of the top 100.
Memphis 6-3/16-6 and Houston 6-4/15-7 are squarely on the Bubble, while Tulsa 6-2/12-8 has moved into position to earn a Bubble spot if the Golden Hurricane can go 2-2 in their four future games against the top two teams.
Dayton 6-2/15-5 and VCU 6-2/16-5 would be in the Dance if the season ended today, but the two teams are not locks for the Tournament yet. In fact, neither is in first place in the A-10, as Richmond 7-2/13-8 has stormed to the top by a half-game. The Spiders were never in their game at Dayton earlier this year, losing by 16, and they have yet to face VCU, so it is likely that VCU or Dayton will eventually take the top two seeds.
A three-way tie at 5-3 for fourth place exists between LaSalle, Rhode Island, and St. Bonaventure. Rhode Island has a win against Cincinnati, and the Rams have been in the top 25 this year. They could still work their way back into at-large status.
Figuring out the possible number of ACC teams headed Dancing this year has almost become a cottage industry. At one time, many pundits believed 11 teams would earn invitations to the Tournament. We never agreed with that number, and now the so-called experts are coming around to our belief that the ACC will send eight or nine to the tourney.
Seven teams are basically sure things at this point. North Carolina 7-2/19-4, Virginia 6-2/16-4, Florida St. 6-3/18-4, Louisville 6-3/18-4, Notre Dame 6-4/17-6, and Duke 5-4/17-5 are locks at this point. Virginia Tech 5-4/16-5 is in short of a major collapse. Six other ACC teams are still alive, but we believe that at most, three of the six will be happy in Mid-March. Those six teams are: Georgia Tech 5-4/13-8, Syracuse 5-4/13-9, Miami 4-4/14-6, North Carolina St. 3-6/14-8, Wake Forest 3-6/12-9, and Clemson 2-6/12-8. We do not see an ACC team getting an at-large bid with a conference record weaker than 8-10 or with more than 13 overall losses by Selection Sunday.
The Big 12 was supposed to blitz the SEC Saturday in the 10-game challenge. Forecasters called for eight and even nine wins out of the 10 games, but when the dust cleared Saturday night, the leagues finished in a 5-5 standoff. Surprisingly, those five winning SEC teams did not include Kentucky.
How does this affect the Big 12’s NCAA Tournament outlook? We have reduced the number of expected representatives by one this week, reducing the number from eight to seven. Kansas 7-1/19-2 moved into a comfortable top-seed position with its win at Kentucky. Baylor 7-1/20-1 stayed on the top line with their big comeback win at Ole Miss. West Virginia 5-3/17-4 held on to edge Texas A&M at home and stay in contention for a number two or three seed. Five teams will compete for the other four likely at-large bids, with one probably facing some disappointment. Iowa St. 5-3/13-7 and Kansas St. 4-4/15-6 are the top contenders, so it is more than likely going to come down to two teams from among Texas Tech 3-5/15-6, TCU 3-5/14-7, and Oklahoma St. 3-6/14-8, and one of these teams could be facing an opening round game in Dayton.
We added a sixth team to the Big East riches as the ACC and Big 12 lost teams. The league that produced the 2016 champion might have three teams with Final Four potential and five teams with Sweet 16 talent. Start with the reigning national champs, Villanova 7-2/20-2. Also close to sure things are Butler 7-3/18-4 and Creighton 6-3/19-3. Xavier 5-3/15-6 and Marquette 5-4/14-7 are in good shape but still have work to do to become locks.
Three more teams, Providence 4-6/14-9, St. John’s 4-6/10-13, and Seton Hall 3-5/13-7, still have NCAA Tourney aspirations, while Georgetown 3-6/12-10 has not been completely eliminated.
The Big Ten took a big hit in the football season with the league losing out in the Playoff race and performing poorly in the bowls. The great fans in the Upper Midwest hoped that basketball season would give the league a chance to redeem itself for the poor results on the gridiron, but there are few teams in this league that look like they are headed to the Sweet 16.
One of those teams that does look Sweet 16 secure is Wisconsin 7-1/18-3, currently tied for first in the league with Maryland 7-1/19-2. The Terps’ nasty losses to Pittsburgh and Nebraska leave a little doubt in the mind of our Gurus and thus cannot be considered a Sweet 16 lock. They will be dancing for sure though.
We are moving Northwestern 7-2/18-4 into the safely in the Tournament status. Maybe it is a year for long Chicago curses to be broken, as the Wildcats look certain to break through with their first ever NCAA Tournament bid, leaving no room for doubt. Joining NU in near lock status is Purdue 6-3/17-5.
Six more teams are competing for what we believe to be four more bids. If the season ended today, Michigan St. 5-4/13-9, Indiana 4-5/14-8, Michigan 4-5/14-8, and Minnesota 3-6/15-7 would get the four at-large bids, while Illinois 3-6/13-9 and Ohio St. 3-6/13-9 would be on the outside looking in. Iowa, Penn St., and Nebraska are actually ahead of Minnesota, Illinois, and Ohio State in the conference standings at 4-5, but their resumes are not tourney-worthy at this time.
There is not a consensus among all the Gurus here, but a majority of six Gurus say two MVC teams will get bids.
Editor’s Note: This piece was written before we had all 11 Guru results submitted. At the time there were 7 Guru reports available, it looked like the Shockers would be in their Field, but the final four Gurus omitted WSU in their brackets.
Illinois State 10-0/18-4 has a one-game edge on Wichita St. 9-1/19-4, but the Redbirds win over the Shockers came in Bloomington-Normal. The two teams meet again in Wichita this Saturday in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 at 8PM EST. If you are a rabid basketball fan, be sure to tune into this game to see two aggressive defenses battle it out. We believe there will be a third match between these two Valley behemoths at Arch Madness in early March. The loser should still get into the Field of 68 if they have no other conference losses or maybe one additional loss.
Keep an eye on Loyola of Chicago 6-4/16-7. Maybe, it is a year meant to be for Chicagoans. The Ramblers have been to just one NCAA Tournament since legendary coach George Ireland had a dynasty in the 1960s. We’re not saying this current cache of Ramblers is to be compared to the Leslie Hunter and Vic Rouse teams, but this is Loyola’s best team since the Alfredrick Hughes and Andre Moore team scared the Pat Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas for 30 minutes plus in the 1985 Sweet 16.
Arizona 9-0/20-2 marched through Los Angeles, sweeping USC and UCLA like General Sherman marched through Georgia. The Wildcats are clearly the second best team in the West, and they can solidify a hold on a two-seed if they go to Oregon 8-1/19-3 this Saturday night and take care of the Ducks. The game will be televised on ESPN at 4 PM EST, and it should be as exciting as the Kansas-Kentucky game was this past Saturday.
UCLA 6-3/19-3 has dropped back-to-back games to Arizona and USC 5-4/18-4, as the Wildcats and Trojans exploited the Bruins’ defensive liabilities and softness in the paint. As for the Trojans, Andy Enfield’s team has a slight bubble advantage over Utah and California, both 6-3/15-6. The league should get four teams minimum, but we do not see all six of these squads going Dancing. The bottom half of this league is really week this year, and it is going to hurt strengths of schedule if any contender loses to one of the bottom six.
At the start of the season, the SEC was considered just a two-bid league this year. Then, eventually, it became a three-bid league, and now it is most likely a four-bid league. Could a fifth bid be forthcoming before the bids go live? It is highly possible as seven or eight teams are still in contention for the fourth bid, and a fifth bid would not be out of the ordinary.
Start with Kentucky and South Carolina, both 7-1/17-4. The Wildcats have the better overall resume, but the Gamecocks are not that far behind. Add sure thing Florida 6-2/16-5 as team number three.
After that, there is a logjam vying for the fourth bid, but first among equals goes to Arkansas 5-3/16-5. The Razorbacks left the Big 12-SEC Challenge with their tails between their legs, and the 28-point loss to Oklahoma State certainly dimmed their rising star. It has allowed teams like Alabama 6-2/13-7, Georgia, 4-4/13-8, Mississippi State 4-4/13-7, and Tennessee 4-4/12-9 to move into contention to be in contention. The Volunteers were picked to finish 13th in the league by many publications, so kudos go to Coach Rick Barnes, who should compete with USC coach Frank Martin for Coach of the Year honors. If Tennessee had held onto leads in the final 30 seconds against Oregon in Hawaii and North Carolina at the Dean Dome, the Vols would be at the top of the Bubble and looking like a seed high enough to avoid playing in Dayton.
Gonzaga 10-0/22-0 deserves its number one ranking. The Bulldogs have not fatten up just on cream puffs. Included in their 22 wins are neutral site victories over Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, and Iowa State, as well as wins at home over St. Mary’s and Akron, all current top 50 teams. They have gone 15-0 against teams rated under 100, but their average margin of victory in those wins has been 30 points per game. You would expect a number one team to beat a lower-ranked team by 30 points.
St. Mary’s 9-1/19-2 belongs in the field on its own merits. The Gaels have defeated Dayton at Dayton and have a 6-2 record against top 100 teams. One of those two losses is a defeat at Gonzaga, and SMC still has a home date with the Bulldogs to try to even the score.
Brigham Young 7-3/16-7 is not in contention for an at-large bid at this time, but the Cougars still have a chance to make some noise, as they have home dates against the top two teams in the month of February (as well as a return trip to Gonzaga in the regular season finale.) BYU hosts Gonzaga Thursday night at 11 PM EST in a game that will air on ESPN2.
THIS WEEK’s BRACKETOLOGY GURU REPORT
|6||St. Mary’s (CA)||WCC|
|13||New Mexico State||WAC|
|14||Florida Gulf Coast||ASun|
|14||E. Tennessee State||Sou|
|15||North Dakota State||Summ|
|16||Sam Houston State||SLC|
|16||North Carolina Central||MEAC|
|16||Mount St. Mary’s||NEC|
First Four Participants
12-Seeds: Texas Tech, Michigan, TCU, Indiana (last 4 in)
16-Seeds: UC-Irvine, Mount St. Mary’s, UNC-Central, and Weber St.
First Four Out
69 Seton Hall
70 Wichita St.
Next Four Out
75 Wake Forest
The Bubble Contenders
North Carolina St.