Sports, Thrill of Victory

Monday’s look at the NCAA Tournament pecking order

It was a crazy, crazy weekend of college hoops; five of America’s top 10 teams were beaten, and a number of “bubble teams” had nice Saturdays. Here’s my latest look at how the teams trying to make it into the tournament stack up. Remember, I’m not trying to pick what the Selection Committee will do; I’m just giving my opinion of who belongs where. Take a look at my criteria from Friday’s blog if you want to know more about how I make my selections.

Once again, I’ll do this in order of seeds, strongest to weakest within each group.

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

Florida is still a No. 1 seed this week.

Florida is still a No. 1 seed this week.

The top seeds kept rolling except for the ‘Cuse, which got waxed at Virginia as many predicted. As a result, some people (including Joe Lunardi) have knocked the Orange down a seed in favor of Kansas, which also lost on the road on Saturday. I can understand the reasoning and while I would probably rather play Syracuse than Kansas if I were an opponent, Syracuse’s top seven or eight wins are about as good as Kansas’s and it has lost four fewer games.

2s: Kansas, Wisconsin, Duke, Virginia

The only change here is the addition of UVA for its big win. Oddly enough, the 2s have more big wins as a whole than the 1s.

3s: Creighton, Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan

A loss at Xavier, combined with what UVA did, knocked Creighton from a 2 to a 3 this week. Everybody else held serve.

4s: Louisville, San Diego St., Michigan St., Cincinnati

It was a bad weekend for the 4s, with each except for San Diego State losing this weekend. Why did they all stay where they were? Because it was a bad weekend for the teams behind them, too.

5s: Iowa, UCLA, North Carolina, Oklahoma

Carolina, riding an 11-game winning streak, continues to surge and moves up a slot. UCLA lost to Oregon late on Thursday as it suspended two key players for that game, but stayed where it was. Neither Sagarin or Pomeroy are crazy about Oklahoma, but it’s hard to argue with the body of work.

6s: Texas, Ohio St., St. Louis, SMU

The computers love Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have only beaten two teams (Wisconsin, Iowa) that are certain to make the field. I have qualms about having SMU too high but I have them and UConn about the same place, and if you beat someone the two times you play them as SMU has, then you deserve the nod. St. Louis lost its first two games in a month, one of which (home at Duquesne) definitely fit the “bad loss” category.

7s: Connecticut, VCU, Kentucky, New Mexico

It’s hard to rank Kentucky below here because Pomeroy (24), Sagarin (19) and the RPI (17) all have UK at least a seed higher, but Louisville is the only really great team this bunch has, and it can’t even win in Rupp any more to borderline NCAA Tournament teams and it had an awful loss at South Carolina. It’s going to be tough to keep the ‘Cats out of the Big Dance, but nobody right now expects them to be dancing for long.

8s: Kansas St., Arizona St., Stanford, Massachusetts

If K-State could just have a do-over on November (bad losses to Northern Colorado and Charlotte, and a smashing by Georgetown), it might well be looking at a 4-seed.

9s: Memphis, Pitt, Baylor, Oklahoma St.

I continue to give both the Big 12 teams a little more grace than most. Some people say OSU has likely clinched a tournament bid; I won’t go that far yet but I don’t see how you keep the Cowboys out if they just win one of the last two regular-season games (Kansas St., Iowa St.). Strangely enough, those are also Baylor’s last two games.

10s: Xavier, George Washington, Minnesota, Colorado

A win over Creighton moved Xavier from a play-in game in my field last Thursday all the way up to where they look safe for now. Nobody else seems to like Minnesota as much as I do, and the Gophers sure better beat Penn State in their last remaining regular-season game if they want to be playing with the big boys in March.

11s with byes: Gonzaga, Tennessee

If you listen to the computers, the ‘Zags are a 6- or 7-seed but as I said last week, the Bulldogs may end the season with zero wins over teams in the field. I don’t have any more confidence in Tennessee than anyone else does, but those three wins over Virginia, Xavier and Arkansas look better than ever and the 38-point demolition of Vanderbilt on Saturday sure didn’t hurt.

Teams with play-in games: Florida St., Cal, Oregon, Arkansas

Most see Florida St. as out but it has no bad losses and wins over over Pitt, VCU and Massachusetts. Cal and Oregon are opposites; the computers hate Cal but it has big wins (Arizona, at Stanford, Arkansas and at Oregon) and love Oregon despite a lackluster list of big wins (Thursday’s road win at UCLA is the only accomplishment of note). Arkansas is getting hot at the right time and now owns a sweep of Kentucky, plus victories over SMU and Minnesota. I have 11 conferences represented in the field, and so a team that pulls a shocker in its league tournament from any of those leagues starts knocking off the teams listed here.

On the outside looking in:

Providence is the best team I’ve left out; it was a victim of Arkansas’s late success. … Nebraska was in by a thread, and that thread broke with a loss at Illinois. … St. John’s has 11 losses and no wins over teams in the field besides Creighton. … I don’t see the fascination with St. Joe’s. Yes, it has wins over VCU and UMass but it also lost to lowly Temple. Sagarin has the Hawks at 62 and Pomeroy, at 53. … Missouri’s wins over UCLA, Tennessee and Arkansas (twice) are looking better, but it’s a double-edged sword as the Tigers are fighting with those last two for a spot. … I still don’t see BYU, with four terrible losses and 10 overall, as deserving.

Deep sleepers nobody’s talking about:

Indiana is now 17-12 and has wins over Wisconsin, Michigan St., Iowa and Ohio St. If the Hoosiers can grab one or two more like that, I think they have to get considered. … The RPI abhors Utah (80th), but Pomeroy (35th) and Sagarin (44) see something that the RPI does not. So do I: wins over UCLA, Arizona St. and Colorado. If the Utes can knock off Cal and Stanford this week, they become a fascinating case.