Welcome to our first 32 Bracketology Gurus report of the 2016-17 college basketball season. So as not to be incorrect, we would love to present our first 32 Bracketology Gurus report, but in truth, this will be a 17 Bracketology Gurus report, since we never received anything from the other 15 gurus.
Our 17 Gurus agree on one thing: 22 leagues will send just one representative, their conference tournament champion to the Big Dance, while ten leagues will send two or more teams to the 68-team party. The Gurus agree that as of today, the West Coast and Missouri Valley Conferences will send two teams to the Dance.
In recent weeks, the ACC and Big 12 have seen their prospective invitees dwindle to more legitimate numbers. At one time, some of the Gurus believed 11 ACC teams and eight Big 12 teams would receive bids. Those numbers have decreased to nine for the ACC and seven for the Big 12. The SEC has doubled from two to four, while the Big East and Big Ten both picked up an invitation.
Let’s break it down by conference first and show you who would be Dancing today if the NCAA Tournament began. This report accounts for all games played by Sunday, January 22.
One Bid Leagues (winner of conference tournament will get the bid)
Regular season champion is guaranteed an NIT bid if not in the NCAA Tournament
Vermont 6-0/16-5 owns an eight-game winning streak, which includes wins over two of the top contenders (at New Hampshire 4-2/13-7 and UMBC 4-2/13-6). It does not include a win over Stony Brook 5-1/10-9, and the Catamounts visit the Seawolves this Saturday.
The top four teams have separated themselves from the bottom four teams, and any of the top quartet could earn the automatic bid. Perennial contender Florida Gulf Coast 4-1/15-6, South Carolina Upstate 4-1/14-8, and North Florida 4-1/9-13 remain tied at the top with Lipscomb 3-2/11-11 right there. SC Upstate has a leg up on the top seed with a road win against FGCU, but any of the top four could move ahead of the pack to at least secure an automatic NIT bid if another team wins the conference tournament.
Weber State is the Duke of this league, and the Wildcats once again find themselves in first place with a 5-1/10-7 mark. The contested race includes top contenders North Dakota 6-2/11-7, Eastern Washington 5-2/13-7, Montana 5-3/10-11, and Portland State 4-3/13-7. The representative of this league has not found success in recent years, and the best team in the last 10 years (Montana in 2013) lost to Syracuse by 44 points in the Round of 64. Don’t expect an upset coming forth this year either.
Winthrop 7-1/15-4 has taken command in the regular season race having just swept its top rivals UNC-Asheville 6-2/14-7 and Liberty 6-2/11-10. The Eagles have now won 10 of 11 games. Earlier in the year, Winthrop stayed within shouting distance at Florida State, won at Illinois, and kept it close at Dayton for about 25 minutes. The Eagles are capable of pulling off an upset in the Round of 64.
An eight-game winning streak has propelled UC-Irvine 6-0/13-9 to the front of the pack with UC Davis in second at 4-1/12-8. Don’t lose track of Long Beach State, even with the 49ers at 3-3/8-14. Five of LBSU’s losses have come on the road against Wichita State, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA, and Kansas. The 49ers have wins over Oregon State and Colorado State.
It would be a shame if UNCW 8-0/19-2 does not win the automatic bid from this league, because Kevin Keatts has a team capable of sneaking into the Sweet 16 this year. If the Seahawks were to get a rematch with Duke this year, UNCW’s winning might not even be an upset. College of Charleston 7-1/16-5 is a formidable challenger in this league, and the Cougars lost to UNCW by just six points even though they connected on just 29% of their shots in that game.
What was just said about UNCW goes double for Middle Tennessee 7-0/17-3 in this league. The Blue Raiders actually beat UNCW in November, and they also pulled off their upset in last year’s tournament. MTSU has enough talent to become the next Mid-Major to make it to the Sweet 16 and if the brackets were really nice, Coach Kermit Davis could sneak this team into the Elite 8. Louisiana Tech 6-1/14-6 has a chance to take over the top spot in the league this week, but the Bulldogs will have to do it on the road with trips to UAB 5-2/12-8 and to Middle. Marshall 5-2/12-8 is the hardest team to match up with on short notice like would happen in the conference tournament, as the Thundering Herd use the “7 seconds or less” principle of pace. A fatigued team not accustomed to playing at this pace could find the going tough if playing for the third consecutive day.
Having the top player in the league with no real number two in the picture makes Valparaiso 6-1/16-4 the overwhelming favorite to avoid the upset bug this year after falling in the conference semis last year and having to settle for a trip to the NIT finals. The Crusaders have non-conference wins over Alabama, BYU, and Rhode Island, with two of their four losses coming at Oregon and Kentucky. Star big man Alec Peters chose to stay for his senior year rather than declare for the NBA Draft, and Peters currently averages 24 and 11 for Valpo. Don’t think Peters has padded his stats against the weak sisters of the poor. Against Alabama, BYU, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Kentucky, he scored 24, 24, 26, 27, and 23 points respectively. He also tallied 40 points and 27 rebounds in Valpo’s wins over top league contenders Green Bay 5-2/11-8 and Oakland 5-3/15-6.
The last holdout in sponsoring a postseason tournament, the Ivy League will send its top four teams to the Palestra in Philadelphia this March to decide the NCAA automatic qualifier. The home town Penn Quakers do not figure to be part of the quartet, so it will be a truly neutral affair. Princeton 3-0/10-6 and Harvard 2-0/10-5 will almost assuredly be there, while Yale 2-1/10-6 will most likely be there. The final participant should come from whoever emerges from a three-team dogfight between Columbia 1-1/7-8, Cornell 1-1/5-12, and Brown 1-2/10-9. Expect a Princeton-Harvard championship game.
With early season losses to Rider and St. Peter’s (2nd in the MAAC at 6-3/10-9), it looked like Monmouth 8-2/16-5 was suffering a hangover from their 2106 conference tournament loss to Iona, a team that became a really fierce rival last year in the image of the Red Sox and Yankees. Coach King Rice has the Hawks moving on all cylinders since those two stubbings of the toes, and Monmouth has reeled off six wins in a row by an average score of 84-69. Iona 5-4/12-8 is back in the pack this year.
When a team from the MAC is 6-0 in conference play and 16-3 overall with two of the losses to top 10 teams Creighton and Gonzaga, you might think said team would be considered an at-large invitee if it fell in the conference tournament. However, Akron is not bubble-worthy at this point in time. The Zips have a nine-game winning streak, but the Zips are 10-0 at home and just 2-3 on the road this year. They are the class of the league, but there are teams that can upset them in the conference tournament, such as Ohio, Eastern Michigan, and Northern Illinois, all 4-2 in league play. Akron was in this position last year and suffered an upset loss to eventual conference champion Buffalo. The Zips will be loaded for bear in March this year.
In recent years, the MEAC has been underrated by the seedmeisters. Forced to appear in Dayton in the opening round, and almost always given a #15 or #16 seed, the MEAC has done better than forecast in the Big Dance, including one of the biggest upsets in the 21st Century. This year, the MEAC race is tightly contested between nine teams within one game of each other in the loss column. The best shot at avoiding a 16-seed comes from UNC-Central 3-1/12-6, the only team with an overall winning record. Out of the MEAC, the Eagles performed admirably in close losses at Ohio State and LSU, and they whipped Missouri in Columbia.
Almost every season, the MWC conference race goes down to the wire with many teams still in contention in the final weeks. This year is more of the same, as eight of the 11 teams are bunched up within two games of each other. The current contenders in the lead or within a game are Nevada 5-2/16-4, Boise State 5-2/12-6, Fresno State 5-3/13-7, New Mexico 5-3/12-8, Colorado State 4-3/12-8. Recent top team San Diego State started slowly this year and appeared to be out of the race, but the Aztecs are approaching their peak. SDSU is 3-3/11-7 and cannot be overlooked. As a whole, the league has no big wins over a top 25 team, and thus it is to be a one-bid league this year.
When Wagner upset Connecticut to open the season, it looked like the NEC could have a team capable of competing in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Since that big win, the Seahawks have gone 7-10 and just 4-4 in NEC action. Instead, the three teams most frequently in the lead in this conference in the past have ascended to the top of the league standings. Mount St. Mary’s 7-1/9-12 and Fairleigh Dickinson 7-1/9-10 lead Long Island U 6-2/13-8. No other team has a winning league mark at this time. MSM has the upper hand at this time, as the Mountaineers defeated FDU and LIU. It is a strong possibility that the winner of this league will head to Dayton as part of the First Four.
Two teams have dominated this league like Ohio State and Michigan dominated Big Ten football for more than a decade, and they currently lead their respective divisions yet again this season. In the East, Belmont 7-0/13-4 has outscored its last nine foes by an average of 80-67. The Bruins four losses came at Vanderbilt to open their season, against Florida in a so-called neutral site game in the Sunshine State, at then #23 Rhode Island, and at home to the top mid-major in the nation in Middle Tennessee. Belmont has come close before, including a last-second loss to Duke in the Big Dance, but Coach Rick Byrd has pulled off some incredible road upsets in the past including wins at Marquette, North Carolina, Stanford, Cincinnati, and Alabama. Additionally, the Bruins went to Cameron Indoor Stadium and lost to Duke by a point. In the West, Murray State 5-2/11-10 leads UT-Martin and SEMO by a game.
Bucknell has been the dominant team in this league this century, and the Bison are on top again this year with a 7-1/15-6 slate. Keep an eye on Navy. The Middies have won five games in a row and sit in a tie for second at 5-3/10-10. Lehigh 5-3/11-8 hung the lone conference loss on Bucknell.
Two hot teams have begun to create distance from the rest of the league. UNC-Greensboro 7-1/16-5 has won six consecutive games, while Chattanooga 6-1/15-4 has won five in a row. There is a shelf at 5-2 in league play where two more teams have separated from the remainder of the league. Furman 12-8 and East Tennessee State 15-5 have nights when they can beat UNCG and UC, but the top seed will probably be decided on February 2, when UNCG heads to Chattanooga.
New Orleans has fielded some mighty good basketball teams in the past with some outstanding coaches (Ron Greene, Butch Van Breda Kolff, Benny Dees, Tim Floyd) that would go on to big time universities or who had come from big time programs. After Hurricane Katrina decimated the Crescent City, UNO struggled and even de-emphasized the sport for three seasons. Mark Slessinger came on board when the Privateers came back to D1 and re-joined the SLC. With Stephen F. Austin on the decline after a brief dominance, UNO is on top of the league with a 6-1/11-7 record. Perennial contender Sam Houston 6-2/15-6 won at UNO and might be the team to beat this year.
Texas Southern 6-0/10-9 may be the only team in this league that could avoid playing in Dayton in the opening round of the tournament. Still, the Tigers would most assuredly be a 16-seed. This league has the two weakest teams in D1 basketball in Mississippi Valley and Alabama A&M, both of whom are being outscored by close to 20 points per game.
This league shows promise every year as usually one or more members beat a power conference team. This year’s major upset belongs to Ft. Wayne, as the Mastodons, with their high-octane offense, knocked off Indiana. However FW is just 3-4 in league play and 14-7 overall, proving that the Summit is one tough league. North Dakota State is the current top tomato with a 6-1/14-6 record, two games ahead of Denver and South Dakota.
Eight of the 12 teams in the SBC have reasonable chances to win the conference tournament, and this league features a host of playing styles that should make the tournament quite interesting. You like fast-paced racehorse basketball? Then, follow UL-Lafayette 3-3/13-6 and Troy 2-4/10-10. Texas State 3-3/10-8 controls the pace and rarely challenges the tempo. But, if you like to go with the top contenders, look at Georgia Southern 6-0/13-6 winners of seven consecutive games in which the Eagles have averaged better than 85 points per game. Four teams are tied for second at 4-2–UT-Arlington, Georgia State, Arkansas State, and Coastal Carolina.
New Mexico State 5-0/18-2 has been in the Final Four in the past, so it should come as no surprise that the Aggies are once again in control in the WAC race. Coach Paul Weir is a successful recruiter and knows how to get his players to play tough defense. You would think Weir was destined for the big time, but he may be a lifer at NMSU. Because Grand Canyon is not eligible as a transitioning team, the only real rival the Aggies might have is from Cal State Bakersfield 3-1/12-7. The Roadrunners lost by just five points at NMSU and get to host the Aggies on February 9.
Multiple Bid Leagues
Cincinnati 7-0/17-2 has a win at Iowa State as well as losses to Rhode Island and Butler. The Bearcats are close to becoming a lock for the Dance. In AAC play, UC enjoys a scoring margin of more than 12 points and holds opponents to 58.4 points per game. The Cinti defense is outstanding, limiting opponents to 36% shooting and enjoying hefty rebounding and turnover margins. They will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament and must be considered a possible Elite 8 team.
SMU 7-1/17-4 may not be the best shooting or ball-handling team in the nation, but few teams can match the Mustangs on the glass, where they enjoy an enormous rebounding edge. They are gathering offensive rebounds on 41% of their missed shots, and a 40% shooting team can be as effective as a 50% shooting team when they can rebound the ball on two out of every five missed shots.
Memphis 5-2/15-5 is not far away from getting into the at-large conversation. Give Coach Tubby Smith credit. He has taken Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Texas Tech to the Big Dance, so taking a great program like Memphis would come as no surprise.
The ACC may not get 11 teams in the Dance like once thought possible, but nine teams would not be a reach. The Three co-leaders, North Carolina 6-1/18-3, Florida State 6-1/18-2, and Notre Dame 6-1/17-3 are locks to make it into the tournament. It is close to lock status for Virginia 5-2/15-3 and Louisville 4-3/16-4. It is a good bet that Virginia Tech 4-3/15-4 and Duke 3-3/15-4 will be there as well. There could should be two additional invitations, which will come from a pool of Wake Forest 3-4/12-7, Georgia Tech 3-4/11-8, Syracuse 3-4/11-9, Miami 2-4/12-6, and NC State 2-5/13-7. However, current last place team Clemson 1-6/11-8 has enough talent to do what Virginia did in 1976 when the Cavs finished last in the ACC and then won the conference tournament.
This league is a near lock for at least two bids if not three or four. It will depend on what happens in the second half of the conference schedule. Dayton 6-1/15-4 should finish strong enough to avoid having to play an opponent on their home floor in the opening round. Virginia Commonwealth 5-2/15-5 has one signature win, but it is a home victory over Middle Tennessee. The Rams need to finish strong to earn an at-large bid.
LaSalle 5-2/11-6 has been to one NCAA Tournament in a quarter century, but Coach John Giannini has his best offensive squad in his 13 years in Philadelphia and best overall since he was at Maine in the 1990’s.
Three other contenders for an at-large bid should any of the trio go on an extended winning streak include Richmond 5-2/11-8, St. Bonaventure 4-2/12-6, and Rhode Island 4-2/12-6. URI was in good shape until a swoon sent them on a 6-6 mark before turning things around.
Reigning National Champion Villanova 7-1/19-1 is very much alive as a repeat possibility this year. The Wildcats are 4-1 against the top 25, and they outscore opponents by an average of 16.5 points per game. VU is just one of four sure things for the Dance and as many as six teams if teams number five and six can stay in contention.
Butler 6-2/17-3, Creighton 5-2/18-2, and Xavier 4-3/14-5 are locks for Dance invitations, while Marquette 4-3/13-6 and Seton Hall 3-4/13-6 are top contenders for the Bubble. Providence 3-5/13-8 is a team to watch in the Big East Tournament, as they have enough talent to get to the championship game.
This league usually gets six to eight teams in the Dance, and this year should be no different. However, this league has been a big disappointment in this century, as no team has won the thing this century (the century began in 2001 and not 2000). Co-leaders Maryland 5-1/17-2 and Wisconsin 5-1/16-3 are locks, as is Purdue 5-2/16-4.
This is where it gets interesting. Northwestern has NEVER been to the NCAA Tournament! The Wildcats would be in if the season ended today, and their 5-2/16-4 record includes wins over Dayton and Ohio State. NU needs to pad the resume a little more to break through their glass ceiling, and a home win over Maryland or Indiana might be enough if the Wildcats finish 11-7 or better in league play.
Indiana 4-3/14-6 and Michigan State 4-3/12-8 have not yet earned for sure invitations. As for Minnesota 3-4/15-5 and Michigan 3-4/13-7, neither has done enough to earn a bid at this point.
Ohio State 2-5/12-8 sits in 13th place in the league, but the Buckeyes are dangerous enough to get on a role and win the conference tournament.
Kansas 7-0/18-1 keeps dominating this league. Bill Self is the sixth KU head coach to dominate in this league, and the Jayhawks could easily be primed to win the whole ball of wax for the first time since 2008.
Baylor 6-1/18-1 could give the league more than one team in the Final Four, but the Bears must show they can hold onto the ball against quality pressure defenses.
Speaking of handling the ball, Kansas State 4-3/15-4 showed West (Press) Virginia 4-3/15-4 it can handle the havoc, but the Mountaineers will get a chance to solidify their lock status when they host Kansas Tuesday night in what should be can’t-miss action if you are a gym rat.
Iowa State 4-3/12-6, TCU 3-4/14-5, and Texas Tech 3-4/14-5 compete for what could be two or three additional bids. Okahoma State was once firmly in this pack, but the Cowboys are now just 1-6 in the league and will have to win the conference tournament to make the Dance.
What was once considered a two-bid league only if Wichita State 7-1/17-4 finished with no more than one or two conference losses and then lost in the Championship Round of Arch Madness has now moved into the two-bid league even if the Shockers finish second in the league race and lose in the Championship Round.
Illinois State 8-0/16-4 has won nine straight games, which includes a 14-point pasting over the Shockers. The Redbirds would earn the keys to lock up their at-large bid if they beat Wichita State in Wichita, or else they might have to beat them in St. Louis in March. For now, we go with two MVC teams.
UCLA discovered there’s more to the game than just shooting. Arizona 7-0/18-2 showed the Bruins 6-2/19-2 that a quality defense and equally strong fastbreaking offense can dominate, even on the road. The Wildcats completed the massacre of the City of Angels after previously smashing USC 4-4/17-4.
It is Oregon 7-0/18-2 that is a Final Four contender. The Ducks began the year 2-2 and have now won 16 games in a row, most of them by lopsided margins. The two co-leaders finally face off February 4 in their only regular season meeting, and the game will be played in Eugene, where OU has won 38 straight games, the last loss coming at the hands of Arizona in 2015.
Even with the losses, the LA schools figure to be in the Dance. Whether Utah 5-2/14-5 and/or California 5-3/14-6 can find that invitation in their mailbox is still to be determined. Anywhere between four and six bids will go to Pac-12 teams. Like the Big Ten, the Pac-12 has not seen a member team cut the nets in this century.
Kentucky 7-0/17-2 could run through six opponents and easily take the National Title, but they could just as easily go down in an upset loss as early as the Round of 32. That’s what you get with an inexperienced, young team with incredible talent. The Wildcats can run like the former teams of Adolph Rupp, but Rupp liked to have experienced upperclassmen in his starting lineup. John Calipari usually fields a team that could pass for Harry Lancaster’s freshmen teams under Rupp.
South Carolina 5-1/15-4 and Florida 5-2/14-5 are good bets to continue winning enough to get at-large bids, while Arkansas 4-3/15-4 is getting to that point. If all three teams do not get into the tournament, at least two of the three should.
Alabama 4-2/11-7 has just enough talent and a fabulous coach in Avery Johnson to sneak into the Dance, but it will most likely take a 9-3 finish in league play and at least a visit to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the Crimson Tide to get that bid.
Georgia 4-3/12-7 most likely has a date with the NIT after losing a most controversial game to Texas A&M on Saturday. Aside from the terrible clock malfunction, it sure looked like the Bulldogs scored in enough time to get the win that was taken from them. Teams have missed out on the tournament by one controversial loss before.
With Arizona looking like a Final Four team more and more each day, it really makes this year’s Gonzaga team 7-0/19-0 like a legitimate Final Four team. The Bulldogs once again face fierce competition from rival St. Mary’s 7-1/17-2, and the Gaels have a resume worthy of receiving an at-large bid, even if they lose thrice to the Zags.
BYU 6-2/15-6 lurks back in third place, and the Cougars have the talent to upset both of the big two ahead of them in the standings.
The Guru’s Seeding Conensus
1: Villanova, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Kansas
2: Baylor, Florida St., North Carolina, Virginia
3: West Virginia, Louisville, Wisconsin, Arizona
4: Butler, Duke, UCLA, Purdue
5: Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Creighton, Oregon
6: Florida, SMU, St. Mary’s, Iowa St.
7: South Carolina, Kansas St., Xavier, Northwestern
8: Marquette, Indiana, Wichita St., TCU
9: Illinois St., Maryland, Dayton, Middle Tennessee
10: Michigan St., Virginia Tech, Arkansas, USC
11: Seton Hall, UNC-Wilmington, Utah, Texas Tech
12: Minnesota, Wake Forest, Virginia Commonwealth, California, Akron, Nevada
13: Chattanooga, Vermont, Monmouth, Valparaiso
14: Winthrop, Belmont, New Mexico St., Georgia Southern
15: North Dakota St., Bucknell, Florida Gulf Coast, Princeton
16: Texas Southern, Weber St., UNC-Central, New Orleans, UC-Irvine, Mount St. Mary’s
The Last 4 In & Headed to Dayton
66 Virginia Commonwealth
65 Wake Forest
The First 8 Out
69 Miami (Fla)
70 Rhode Island
The 4 Weakest Automatic Teams & Headed to Dayton
UC-Irvine, New Orleans, UNC-Central, Mount St. Mary’s
Lowest Seed Seen as Capable of Winning the National Championship
5 Seed (Oregon)
Lowest Seed in Sweet 16
13 Seed (Monmouth)
Highest Seed Eliminated Before Sweet 16
4 Seed (UCLA & Purdue)