Sports, Thrill of Victory

Breaking ’em down as the NCAA Tournament nears

Watch for Florida to get to the Final Four.

The weekend’s done, and now it’s time for another shot at updating the teams that would be my picks for the NCAA Tournament, regardless of conference tournament results. Remember, this is not me trying to guess what the NCAA Selection Committee will do, it’s just my opinion of who I’d put in and where I’d put those teams if it were up to me. Results are through games of Sunday night, and teams are listed in order of how I rank them within the seeds.

1s: Arizona, Florida, Wichita St., Wisconsin

Florida is still a No. 1 seed this week.

Florida is still a No. 1 seed this week.

 

Arizona, Florida and Wichita State are consensus No. 1 seeds at this point. Wichita State has already won its conference tournament and is virtually guaranteed a 1 at this point, and I see little way that Florida or Arizona are going to fall further. But for the love of Pete, who wants to be the other No. 1?. Virginia had a shot, and it lost to Maryland on Sunday. So did Duke, until a bad loss at Wake Forest. Kansas? The Jayhawks have played a brutal schedule and are without Joel Embiid right now, which contributed to a loss at West Virginia. I was ready to slot Wisconsin here, and then the Badgers lost to Nebraska and I decided to put Kansas here because Sagarin, Pomeroy and the RPI all had KU higher than the rest… until I looked at it again, and again, and decided I liked Wisconsin’s wins, plus the fact it had fewer losses than Kansas or Duke and a much tougher schedule than Virginia, and elevated the Badgers above the rest. But it’s a photo finish and it could easily change this week.

2s: Kansas, Duke, Virginia, Syracuse

I doubt anyone’s got much problem with the 2s except for Syracuse, and I understand that, given that the Orange have lost four of six, and two of those are bad losses. I never thought Syracuse was as good as its 25-0 record it had just 2 1/2 weeks ago, but here’s the point: the ‘Cuse is still 27-4 with 7-9 wins over teams that should make the field. One’s body of work over the entire season does still count for something, right?

3s: Creighton, Villanova, Iowa St., Michigan

I may be the only guy in the country who thinks Villanova’s a 3-seed, and a lot have the Wildcats as a 1. I had Syracuse, Creighton and Villanova all about the same place, but how can you put VU ahead of either when both (and especially Creighton) bombed ‘Nova back into the Stone Age? What about quality wins? Well, ‘Nova’s beaten Kansas and Iowa, but its next-best wins are sweeps against Georgetown, Xavier and Providence, all bubble teams. With the exception of undefeated Wichita State, everyone else in front of Villanova had a better body of work when it came to impressive wins. I’m not saying I’m completely comfortable with where I have ‘Nova, since it’s sixth by Pomeroy, ninth by Sagarin and fifth in the RPI, and I value those things. But you’re making tough judgments and you have to have some criteria. To me, if you’re having a discussion about who belongs among the very elite teams in college basketball, you’ve got to beat those guys when you play them head-to-head and ‘Nova just hasn’t done enough of that compared to all the teams ahead of them except Wichita, which is a special case since it’s unbeaten.

4s: Louisville, San Diego St., Cincinnati, North Carolina

Watch out for Louisville, which is second overall in both Pomeroy and Sagarin’s ratings, but just 24th in the RPI. I am seeding teams in terms of their résumés and not necessarily where I think they may end up. The Cardinals are hurt by the fact that the American Athletic Conference lacks a great team and has an awful bottom half, but it’s hard to bet against coach Rick Pitino in March.

5s: Michigan St., Ohio St., Oklahoma, St. Louis

Just as point guard Keith Appling’s wrist is supposedly getting better, Sparty loses to Ohio State. There’s no shame in that, but when the Spartans haven’t won back-to-back games since mid-January, you have to wonder about their ability to make a deep run in March.

6s: Texas, VCU, New Mexico, Iowa

I continue to like Texas more than the computers do — just too many big wins to ignore. If Iowa could have just closed out a couple of close games against great teams, they’d easily move up a seed, maybe two. I probably have them rated too highly, but keep in mind that everyone from here down has some significant blemishes.

7s: UCLA, SMU, Connecticut, Memphis

The computers love UCLA, but I’m becoming less impressed by the week. When you play the teams the Bruins have and your best win is over Arizona State, it calls into question your ability to make a deep tournament run. The other three play in the same conference and their credentials are too similar to really distinguish from each other with any certainty.

8s: Arizona St., Kansas St., Baylor, Oklahoma St.

I have each of these teams a seed higher than a lot of other people too, but the way my system works, it rewards teams for beating a lot of tournament-caliber teams and rewards you for bad-loss (any team ranked 100-plus by Pomeroy) avoidance. Each of these teams won at least five games against teams that should be in the field, and though K-State had two bad losses, it also has seven wins over teams I’ve got in my field, including Kansas and Iowa State. Baylor and OSU had no bad losses, and ASU’s only bad loss was to Oregon State, and even then, the Beavers rank 102nd.

9s: Oregon, Kentucky, Nebraska, Massachusetts

The computers love Kentucky and most have the Wildcats two seeds higher, but I just can’t buy them much higher than this, and I don’t think anyone else watching much Southeastern Conference hoops right now would much argue. The computers have loved Oregon but I refused to jump on board until the Ducks beat some people, and knocking off Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA over the last two weeks finally did it for me. Most have Nebraska more on the bubble than I do, but I just don’t see how you can keep a team that went 11-7 in the Big Ten, and has beaten Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, out.

10s: George Washington, Colorado, Pitt, Stanford

Pitt and Stanford should start to sweat a bit. Pitt still can’t beat anyone of much stature and the slumping Cardinal haven’t beaten a team that I’ve got ranked better than a 7. The Cardinal may end up being safe by virtue of five wins I’ve got in my field, but if the Panthers don’t beat someone of significance in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, they may be sitting out the NCAAs.

11s with a bye: Tennessee, Gonzaga

Tennessee has been as impressive as anyone in the last couple of weeks, the problem is that as much as the Vols are destroying teams by, the SEC’s relative weakness compared to other power conferences doesn’t allow UT to pick up many needle-moving wins. I still think the Vols belong, it’s just hard to make up a lot of ground that way. Gonzaga, which has no wins against teams in my field (it did beat Arkansas and BYU) shares a similar predicament.

11s play-in: Xavier vs. Minnesota

Most don’t have the Gophers in at this point, but again, big wins matter to me.

12s play-in: Cal vs. Florida St.

Cal’s not in a great spot, but when you get down to this level of the bubble, nobody’s got a win like that one over Arizona. I could just as easily argue for a half-dozen teams as I can for FSU but no bad losses helped put the Seminoles over the top. These would be the first two bumped if there were to be an upset in any of the power conference tournaments.

Next 12 out, in order: Arkansas, Dayton, St. John’s, Providence, St. Joe’s, BYU, Louisiana Tech, Georgetown, Utah, Missouri, Clemson. 

BYU will probably make the field, but with four bad losses, I see other teams as being more deserving.  

Worth noting: Eight teams — Mercer, Coastal Carolina, Delaware, Harvard, Manhattan, Wichita State, Eastern Kentucky and Wofford — have secured automatic bids. You know about WSU but watch out for Harvard (average between Pomeroy, Sagarin and RPI of 51), Manhattan (68), Mercer (91) and Delaward (98) as teams that could challenge for upsets, depending on the draw.