TGS HOOPS UPDATE...UPDATED EARLY-FEBRUARY BRACKETOLOGY!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor
Okay, we’re well into “bubble talk” season as the NCAA Tournament looms on the horizon. Over the next six weeks, expect to see “St.” Joe Lunardi’s name and face on ESPN more than anyone else on television.
We at TGS have been keeping abreast of how we think the field of 68 is shaping up since November. For years, we have liked this “Bracketology” exercise as it provides us a chance to take a look where the season has been, and where it might be going in coming weeks. And, three weeks after our last update, some things have definitely changed (as will likely be the case into Selection Sunday).
For the first time this season, included with our projections, are the updated, new “NET” (a not-so creative acronym for “NCAA Evaluation Tool”) that has replaced the old “RPI” (Ratings Percentage Index) as the main evaluative metric for the Selection Committee. While the new “NET” is supposed to be an improvement over the previous “RPI” model, we suspect it has simply tilted the proceedings more in favor of the power conference teams. Though emphasis has always been placed on good wins, the new “Quad” categories (1 thru 4, with 1 the best, further delineated by home and road) casts a further division between the top, middle and lower tiers of college hoops.
Simply put, it seems as if the new “NET” has rigged the process even more in favor of the power conferences because of the weight given to “Quad 1" wins. These wins benefit the teams far more than losses that are harmful to the same teams. Effectively, wins and losses for power conference teams are not commensurate; it doesn’t hurt a power team near as much to lose a “Quad 1" game as it helps to win one of those. And once conference season begins, leagues like the ACC and Big Ten have a huge edge with almost all of the games vs. “Quad 1" foes...and a chance to add more “Quad 1" wins. Mid-major loops are thus at a further disadvantage. (This is not all that different from the old “RPI” calculations, but if anything, the NET has exacerbated the advantages for the power conference entries).
Indeed, as we move into February, we can sadly envision a tourney field with absolutely no at-large representation (if not couting the American among those ranks; we have four AAC entries in these new projections) from the mid-major conferences. At the moment, mid-majors such as Utah State and Virginia Commonwealth are at the edge of the bubble, but that’s about it. There is a very good chance that it will take upset results in the Mountain West (Nevada), West Coast (Gonzaga), and MAC (Buffalo) for mid-majors to gain a second ticket to the Dance. And with the A-10 (four bids last season, but possibly only one bid this March) and power league Pac-12 (possibly a one-bid league) likely to be under-represented in March, this year’s field of 68 will probably have a heavy ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC look. By the time we post our next update in a few weeks, we doubt that projection will have changed.
Remember, for all of our “bracketology” updates, the term “protected seed” refers to seeds 1 thru 4 in each region, and likely favorable geographic placement in the sub-regional round.
As usual, we break down the projected matchups by each region; this season, things start a week later than a year ago. The Dayton “First Four” games will be played March 19-20; sub-regional action commences on March 21, with the Final Four pushed to April 6-8. Straight-up records, and NET numbers, thru February 5. Selection Sunday will be here before you know it, this year on St. Patrick’s Day, Sunday, March 17!
EAST REGIONAL (Washington, D.C.-Cap One Arena)
At Columbia, SC...
1 Duke (SUR 20-2, NET 3) vs. 16 Bucknell (14-8, 162)...We expect the ACC to gain two spots on the top line, with Virginia projected as the other No. 1 seed from the loop. The winner of the conference tourney likely gets the top slot in the East Regional, and given Duke’s recent win over the Cavs in Durham, right now it’s slight edge Blue Devils. (They meet again this weekend!) Those spots are not likely to be decided until the ACC Tourney completes. We’ll have an early preview of the conference tourneys in two weeks. Meanwhile, Bucknell has recently moved ahead in the combative Patriot, though Lehigh, American U, and Colgate look to be serious threats. Assuming the Patriot winner comes from that quartet, it should at least avoid a 16 vs. 16 play-in game. Remember, top seed in the Patriot gets to play all of the conference tourney games on its home floor, so the standings will provide the clear favorite for the event.
8 Ohio State (14-7, 35) vs. 9 UCF (16-4, 43)...We have always thought that Ohio State would straighten out and move clear of the bubble, and wins in two of the last three into Thursday night’s game vs. Penn State suggest the Buckeyes might be on their way. But considering the recent 5-game losing streak, we admit to an aggressive stance on the Buckeyes, who also benefit from the road win at Cincinnati in November. We will know a lot more about UCF’s candidacy in a few weeks, as the Golden Knights have a slew of potential Quad 1 wins (two vs. both American frontrunners, Houston and Cincy, plus Temple) on the horizon.
At San Jose...
4 Texas Tech (18-5, 16) vs. 13 Davidson (16-5, 63)...Nobody is getting through the Big 12 unscathed, and, as noted in the intro, with so many Quad 1 wins and the resultant bonus available, and not as much harm done by corresponding losses, it’s boon time for loop entries. For example, Chris Beard’s Red Raiders, who made it to the Elite 8 last March, and likely aren’t hurt too much by any of their losses to date (Duke, Iowa State Baylor, Kansas State, and Kansas) while having ample upcoming chances at more Quad 1 wins in league play to solidify a protected seed. As for Davidson, it currently looks the likely top seed for next month’s A-10 Tourney, though there are as many as six, perhaps seven, other contenders who believe they’ll have a shot at Barclays Center which could make for some entertaining viewing with likely just one bid available (after four a year ago).
5 Wisconsin (16-6, 12) vs. 12 Belmont (17-4, 61)...The Selection Committee could go nine or ten deep in the Big Ten this season so we don’t think the Badgers have much to worry about. In fact, a recent six-game win streak after Wednesday’s success at Minnesota has Wiscy a candidate for a protected seed. Whatever, it’s a big difference from a year ago when the Badgers missed the Dance altogether, getting the skeptics wondering about the future of HC Greg Gard. Keep an eye on the Ohio Valley, a top-heavy league with four serious contenders (Belmont, Murray State, Jacksonville State, and Austin Peay) capable of an upset alert in the first round. Slight nod at the moment for Rick Byrd’s Bruins, even as the OVC Tourney has moved out of Belmont’s hometown of Nashville (which has long hosted the event) to Evansville’s Ford Center next month.
2 Villanova (18-4, 19) vs. 15 Vermont (17-5, 73)...We might be jumping the gun a bit with Villanova, pushing the Cats all the way up to the 2-line, but consider that into the midweek game vs. Creighton, Jay Wright’s team was unbeaten in Big East play and hadn’t lost a game since Dec. 15 at Kansas. The arrow is pointing “up” for Nova so we think we’re just a bit ahead of the curve. As for Vermont, it gets a measured vote out of the America East, though we would warn to the presence of UMBC, which made plenty of noise last March and recently began to put things together with a five-game win streak that included a thumping win over the Catamounts and another success vs. top contender Stony Brook, the home team of Strat-o-Matic games on Long Island.
7 Auburn (16-6, 21) vs. 10 Syracuse (16-7, 42)...Bruce Pearl’s Auburn has been a bit more erratic than expected and has taken some Ls in SEC play, but the Tigers are another of those teams not hurt too much by their many “quality” losses (among those vs. Duke, Kentucky, and Mississippi State), costing perhaps a couple of lines in the seeding but nowhere near bubble trouble. Although the midweek home beatdownadministered by Florida State was a bit humbling, we don’t think the ‘Cuse is going to fall into its seemingly annual bubble trouble this March, as that Jan. 14 win at Duke is going to be the gift that keeps on giving for Jim Boeheim.
3 Michigan State (18-5, 7) vs. 14 Hofstra (19-4, 56)...What’s going on with Michigan State? Three straight losses, including as a double-digit favorite vs. both Indiana and Illinois, have dropped the Spartans at least a line in projections over the past week. MSU fans are hoping this is just a blip on the radar, as Sparty seemed to be a threat for the top line a couple of weeks ago, but the memory of recent sub-regional exits by Tom Izzo’s troops are hard to erase. Hofstra is looking like it will be the top seed in the Colonial Tourney next month, and explosive G Justin Wright- Foreman, one of the nation’s top scorers, would add a bit of excitement to the Dance.
6 Buffalo (19-3, 23) vs. 11 Texas (12-10, 41)/Alabama (13-8, 46)...We have penalized Buffalo a couple of lines from our last update, and dropped the Bulls out of protected-seed territory after losses to Northern Illinois and Bowling Green. Though knowledgeable observers realize the MAC is no picnic this season, as plenty of banana peels await on the conference trail. There would be a football theme if a Texas-Bamamatchup materializes in the at-large play-in at the First Four in Dayton. Most projections have the Horns safely in the field despite their so-so 12-10 record into midweek, again citing quality wins and the inane (if you ask us) per-possession scoring margin, another measurable in the new calculations. Plus the Horns had a neutral-court win over North Carolina at Las Vegas in November. But remember that Shaka Smart also lost to Radford, VCU, and Providence in pre-Big 12 play. Indeed, Texas could be the ultimate test case for the new NET. The Tide, with its win over Kentucky, might be a slightly-easier sell, and could have been more safely into the projection field of 68 had Avery Johnson’s bunch pulled off what turned into a near-miss at Tennessee on Jan. 19.
SOUTH REGIONAL (Louisville-KFC Yum! Center)
At Columbia, SC...
1 Tennessee (21-1, 4 ) vs. 16 Norfolk State (13-10, 243)/Robert Morris (12-11, 242)...As Tennessee has now stayed on top of the polls for a third week, there can be no question about the Vols’ credentials for the top line, and, indeed, overall top seed in the tournament. Unbeaten thus far in the combative SEC and heavy-duty non-league wins over Louisville and Gonzaga (neither of those in Knoxville, by the way), and the only loss in OT vs. Kansas at Madison Square Garden, this is a team that belongs on the top line. In 16 vs. 16 play-in land, the MEAC champ, as usual, looks a likely candidate, with Norfolk State having moved into the clear favorite’s role after a rousing recent comeback win on the road over top contender Howard. Meanwhile, look who’s back...it’s the home team of the Pittsburgh Airport, Robert Morris, a few years removed from its last Dance visit but having advanced several times before out of the Northeast under HC Andy Toole.
8 Minnesota (16-6, 53) vs. 9 TCU (15-6, 36)...Among the expected landslide of at-large entries from the power conferences are the Golden Gophers and Horned Frogs. Barring late collapses (not impossible), both should land on the safe side of the cut line. Minnesota, ripped asunder by injuries last season, is helping re-establish the credentials HC Richard Pitino, whose team has a nice road win at Wisconsin and what is turning out to be a valuable non-conference win (on a neutral floor in Vancouver) over Washington. A bit less sure about TCU, which seems to be wobbling a bit into February, losing 5 of last 8 into midweek, but with some good wins (Texas, Florida, Baylor) in its satchel. A road win or two in the next few weeks would help solidify the bid for Jamie Dixon’s team.
At Salt Lake City...
4 Houston (21-1, 8) vs. 13 Lipscomb (18-4, 32)... Should we put Houston higher than the 4-line? Maybe, and we’ve still got plenty of time to move the Cougars up. Put Kelvin Sampson into nomination for Coach of the Year for UH not skipping a beat minus a couple of key components, including star G Rob Gray, from last year’s team that was a split second away from knocking eventual finalist Michigan out of the Dance in the sub-regionals. A sleeper worth avoiding might be Lipscomb, whose rapid-fire offense scored a notable win in non-conference play at TCU, and established itself as the team to beat in the A-Sun with a recent win over the Fightin’ Falwells, er, Flames, of Liberty. The Nashville-based Bison also advanced to the Dance out of the Sun last March.
5 Virginia Tech (18-4, 20) vs. 12 Wofford (19-4, 27)...Maybe VPI didn’t believe it was as good defensively as that recent 47-24 scoreline vs. NC State indicated, because the Holies went out and lost at home to Louisville barely 48 hours later. Not a damaging loss per se, but in VPI’s case, straddling the protected seed line, results like that could prove the difference between a 4 and 5 slot. Though Buzz Williams is getting more mileage by the week out of that Charleston Tourney win in November over Purdue. SoCon reps often cause trouble in the Dance (remember NC Greensboro scaring the daylights out of Gonzaga last March?), and Wofford, led by G Fletcher Magee, looks capable of being a nuisance in the opening round, too. Aforementioned Greensboro, plus East Tennessee State and early-season sensation Furman (with a win over Villanova), should offer stiff challenges in the SoCon Tourney at Asheville.
2 North Carolina (18-4, 9) vs. 15 Radford (16-7, 109)...It was just a matter of time before Roy Williams got the bugs worked out of this Tar Heel edition that was blooding several frosh (including I-want-the-ball CobyWhite) around his senior stalwarts Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye. Now UNC is rolling and is a comfy recommendation for the 2-line. We would advise the Heels or any power team not to sleep on Radford, which beat both Notre Dame and Texas on their home courts in wonderful November. First, however, the Highlanders are going to have to survive next month’s Big South Tourney, and expected challenges from Campbell (featuring the nation’s top scorer, 5-9 G Chris Clemons), Winthrop, and Tubby Smith’s High Point. Remember, the regular-season champ gets home edge all the way thru the Big South Tourney.
7 Mississippi State (16-5, 26) vs. 10 Temple (16-6, 54)...We might be under-seeding MSU, which looks to finally make a breakthrough to the Big Dance under Ben Howland, whose program has been working its way up to this point (remember, the Bulldogs reached the NIT semis last March). Kentucky and Tennessee are still to come for Howland and a chance to move MSU up the seeding queue. It might be a bit wishful thinking for us to put Temple so clearly away from the cut line, but maybe we just want to see vet HC and future HOFer Fran Dunphy end his career with a bid to the Dance. But the Owls were the only team to beat Houston into early February. And we do think the American has a good shot to get four bids in March.
At Des Moines...
3 Marquette (19-4, 18) vs. 14 Old Dominion (18-6, 89)... Wojo’s Marquette has exceeded all expectations, and if not for St. John’s (which has beaten Wojo twice), the Golden Eagles could be looking at something better than a 3 seed. Look forward to G Markus (with a “k”) Howard enlivening March Madness. Meanwhile, Conference USA will be entering land of the unknown with its unique scheduling format for the last three weeks of the season when the top teams in the standings will be playing one another, ostensibly to avoid any “bad” losses and help the NET numbers. That’s not getting C-USA an extra bid, however, at least not this season. For the moment, ODU looks the team to beat, though last year’s CBI winner North Texas and surging UTSA are also in the discussion.
6 Iowa (17-5, 22) vs. 11 Florida (12-10, 40)...The 6-line is about as low as we should go with Iowa, which might deserve something better after the latest of its impressive wins, this one vs. Michigan. No bad losses for the Hawkeyes, either, which will help the seeding argument for Fran McCaffery’s troops. We’re projecting a bit with Florida, which took 10 losses into early February. But there are lots of chances for Quad 1 wins still to come in the SEC, which should be sending a boatload of entries into this Dance.
MIDWEST REGIONAL (Kansas City-Sprint Center)
1 Virginia (21-1, 4) vs. 16 Prairie View (11-1, 231)/Sam Houston (14-8, 174)...We’re keeping Virginia on the top line until further notice, though, as mentioned earlier, for the moment we’ve moved the Cavs out of the preferred East Regional after the loss to Duke in late January. Win the ACC Tourney, and Tony Bennett likely stays East. In any event, don’t look for UVa to get dumped as a 1 for the second straight year, at least not by Prairie View, which has assumed the favorite’s role in the SWAC. Nor by Sam Houston, though the hot Bearkats (11 SU wins in a row into the weekend) might be the one Southland team that could move out of a 16 vs. 16 play-in assignment. For those of you who can bet Southland games, note that Sam Houston also just covered its 13th in a row at midweek against McNeese State!
8 Baylor (15-6, 29) vs. 9 St. John’s (17-6, 45)...We’re still at a point this season where things can change dramatically in the projected field of 68. Look no further than Baylor, nowhere to be found in our last update three weeks ago, but six good wins later now looking at an 8-9 slot. There is the matter of early bad Quad 4 losses to Stephen F Austin and Texas Southern, but the Bears have been piling up plenty of good wins since New Year’s. Good wins were scarce for St. John’s in a soft pre-league slate, so the Red Storm didn’t have quite as much wiggle room as other unbeatens in non-conference play. A couple of wins over Marquette, however, have moved Chris Mullin’s bunch clear of the bubble, where several other Big East reps remain.
4 Purdue (16-6, 11) vs. 13 Georgia State (16-6, 133)...Back in late December when we did our first Bracketology update, we had the Boilermakers as one of the “first four out” teams. But Purdue’s only loss since has been at Michigan State, a result the Riveters reversed a few weeks later at Mackey Arena, and G Carsen Edwards has moved into serious Wooden Award consideration. Now Purdue looks a likely protected seed. We’ll see what goes in a jumbled Sun Belt race, but we have always expected Ron Hunter’s Georgia State to eventually emerge as the team to beat, and the Panthers finally look to be hitting stride into early February.
5 Iowa State (18-5, 13) vs. 12 South Dakota State (19-6, 95)...We might be guilty of under-seeding the Cyclones, who have no bad losses and a burgeoning collections of good wins (Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas), and the possibility of more to come in the Big 12. Put an “up” arrow next to ISU. One of the scary mid-majors would be South Dakota State, which put a scare into Ohio State last March and looks for a fourth straight visit to the Dance. Beware of high-scoring 6-9 sr. F Mike Daum, he of the endless college career and now moving up the NCAA’s all-time scoring list (17th and rising). The Jackrabbits will be a clear favorite in always-lively Summit extravaganza in hoops-mad Sioux Falls.
2 Kentucky (19-3, 5) vs. 15 Princeton (12-5, 57)...For those who haven’t seen John Calipari’s Cats since they suffered a wicked bludgeoning at the hands of Duke at Chicago on opening night, this might be a surprise to see UK on the 2-line. But almost everything since then has fallen into place as it usually does for Coach Cal, who has two, and maybe three shots at Tennessee before the Dance to perhaps move to the 1-line. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, in the Ivies, Princeton has shown good early foot and maintains a slight lead, and already with a pair of wins over blood-rival and top contender Penn. The Quakers will not be happy that the 4-team Ivy Tourney has moved from their own Palestra to Yale’s John J. Lee Amphitheater at historic Payne Whitney Gym in March.
7 Cincinnati (19-3, 25) vs. 10 Indiana (13-9, 44)...The Bearcats have a real “Queen on the chessboard” look right now, able to be moved in a variety of directions. For the moment Cincy appears outside of protected seed territory but the opportunity exists to change all of that with a pair of upcoming games vs. both Houston and UCF. We would probably have Mick “The Ghost” Cronin’s team a line higher without that inexplicable loss at East Carolina a few weeks ago. As for Indiana, we’re perhaps jumping back on the bandwagon a bit too quick after the rousing upset win at Michigan State. After all, the Hoosiers had lost seven in a row previous. But any team with wins over the Spartans (on the road, no less) and Marquette has two very big tickets to cash on Selection Sunday, and has many more opportunities for Quad 1 wins to come in the Big Ten.
3 Kansas (17-6, 17) vs. 14 Northern Kentucky (18-6, 110)...Until a few weeks ago, we were still talking about Kansas on the top line. Now we’re wondering if the Jayhawks even deserve a protected seed as they look lost on the road, losing 5 of their last 6 away. Unless they’re playing the entire Dance at The Phog, maybe time for KU followers to worry a little. Some good wins over Michigan State and Villanova in pre-league are keeping the Jayhawks on the 3-line for now, but it’s tenuous. Speaking of tenuous, that’s how NKU’s lead in the Horizon looks after recent losses to IUPUI and UIC have cut into the Norse’s edge at the top of the league table. A warning for the Horizon, however, that a rep other than NKU would be in danger of falling into a 16 vs. 16 play-in consideration if winning the conference tourney at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit next month.
6 Maryland (17-6, 24) vs. 11 Arizona State (15-6, 61)...Another of the expected Big Ten tidal wave to hit the Dance in March, Maryland is being alternately projected anywhere between a 5 and 7 seed in early February brackets and we’ll split the difference and put the Terrapins on the 6-line. Maryland’s prowess off the glass (where the Terps rank as one fo the nation’s leaders in rebound margin) could be a very difficult matchup for many potential March foes. Yes, we think there is a chance the Pac-12 can get an extra team into the Dance in this decidedly down year for the loop as long as it’s ASU (or Washington if the Huskies don’t win the Pac-12 Tourney). The Sun Devils have two pretty good non-conference wins, vs. Kansas (like a year ago) and Mississippi State (on a neutral floor), to separate from the other non-U-Dub Pac contenders.
WEST REGIONAL (Anaheim-Honda Center)
At Salt Lake City...
1 Gonzaga (21-2, 2) vs. 16 Rider (12-10, 176)...We suspect the Zags are going to be able to stay on the 1-line into the Dance, as there would seem few chances for them to actually slip in the WCC, having already won by double digits at potential trip-wires USF and BYU. The win over Duke in Maui will help keep Mark Few’s team on the top line, and remember the Zags were down a couple of key contributors (Killian Tillie andGeno Crandall) in December losses vs. Tennessee and North Carolina. We’re thinking the Metro-Atlantic winner can avoid the 16 vs. 16 play-in game, especially if it’s Rider, which figured as the class of the loop but had to endure a tough pre-league slate. This looks to be a bit of a down year, however, in the Metro.
8 Washington (18-4, 28) vs. 9 Ole Miss (14-7, 39)...We might be short-changing the Huskies by putting them on the 8-line, as there is talk in the Pac about U-Dub perhaps running the table in league play. Which might be more of an indictment of the league, admittedly in a down year, but into February, the Huskies look like the only sure Big Dance entry from the Pac. Ole Miss got a needed win at midweek over Texas A&M to stop the bleeding from a 4-game losing streak that was not long after a 10-game win streak. Very good wins over Auburn (at home) and Mississippi State (on the road) have the Rebs on the safe side of the cut line, at least for now.
4 Louisville (17-6, 14) vs. 13 New Mexico State (18-4, 61)...It hasn’t taken Chris Mack long to pull out his magic wand at the ‘Ville, which rates as one of the nation’s pleasant surprises thus far. Plenty of top tier wins, including Michigan State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge back on Nov. 27, at North Carolina, and last Monday at Virginia Tech have us overlooking a few of the Card losses and putting them as a protected seed. Due to its athleticism, New Mexico State has the potential to cause some matchup problems for a variety of foes in March. First, however, looks to be an inevitable expected showdown with Dan Majerle’s Grand Canyon in the WAC Tourney at Vegas’ Orleans Arena in March.
5 Kansas State (17-5, 30) vs. 12 Loyola-Chicago (15-9, 134)...Maybe we ought to consider moving K-State into protected seed territory. After all, the Wildcats haven’t lost a Big 12 game since key F Dean Wade returned to active duty in January, and just knocked off Kansas at Bramlage Coliseum on Monday night. If Bruce Weber keeps his team atop the Big 12, and breaks the long Kansas streak, 15 and counting, of reg.-season conference titles, we’ll do it gladly. You know the Cats would love another crack at Loyola-Chicago, which knocked K-State out in the Elite 8 last March. The Ramblers lost a few key cogs from that magical Final Four run last March, and are probably not the same threat, but recent developments in the Missouri Valley suggests that HC Porter Moser might at least earn a return engagement.
At Des Moines...
2 Michigan (21-2, 6) vs. 15 Montana (15-6, 108)...Staying on the top line is not easy. Recent losses at Wisconsin and Iowa have knocked John Beilein and his Wolverines down to the 2-line in our latest projections, though that is still a remarkable position that few envisioned early in the season. A move back to the top line is hardly out of the question, with several chances for Quad 1 wins still to come in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, though it has taken a while, preseason favorite Montana has emerged as the frontrunner in the Big Sky and should be the top seed when the tourney tips off next month in Boise. If this matchup happens, it would be a rematch of a first-round battle last March that was not that easy for the Wolverines, who finally pulled away late to a 61-47 win.
7 Florida State (17-5, 31) vs. 10 Oklahoma (15-8, 38)...Keep an eye on FSU, as many believe the Noles could pose many of the same problems they did a year ago when advancing to the Elite 8, where they lost narrowly to Michigan. Tuesday’s romp at Syracuse was the latest warning shot from Leonard Hamilton’s crew that might be a bit under-seeded here at a 7. On the other, not sure if we have over-seeded Oklahoma at a 10, as the Sooners have started to fade like they did a year ago when Trae Young was taking too many shots. Lon Kruger’s team has lost three straight and five of seven into the weekend, and two of its three Big 12 wins are vs. also-ran Oklahoma State. OU falls dangerously close to the cut line if the slump continues.
At San Jose....
3 Nevada (21-1, 15) vs. 14 UC Irvine (19-5, 123)...With a 21-1 mark, why isn’t the Wolf Pack on the 1 or 2 line? Unfortunately, Eric Musselman might have erred when focusing on Pac-12 foes to upgrade this year’s non-league slate; last year, Nevada got more benefit from facing Big 12 opponents in SOS (Strength of Schauble) calculations. The likes of USC and Utah, however, don’t help too much this season. The only remaining chance at a Quad 1 win comes on the road at Utah State, so even if the Pack runs the table thru the MW Tourney, not sure the Reno bunch gets above the 3-line. Russell Turner’s big, rugged UC Irvine, a throwback team that runs things thru its various bigs, could be a tricky matchup in March. The Anteaters’ recent OT win at UCSB has put them in the driver’s seat for top seed at the Big West Tourney in Anaheim next month.
6 LSU (17-4, 20) vs. 11 Seton Hall (13-9, 67)/NC State (1-7, 34)...LSU has been making noise all season as Will Wade’s rebuild in Baton Rouge seems to be progressing ahead of schedule. The defense is much improved, and plenty more chances exist in the SEC schedule for wins that could conceivably move LSU up in the seeding queue. Among the most “bubbly” of teams is the Hall, which might be hanging by its fingernails into the field of 68, not as much on its current 4-6 Big East mark but big pre-league wins over Kentucky (on a neutral floor) and at Maryland. The best we can do for the Pirates right now is an at-large play-in spot, and expect the Hall and a few others from the Big East to ride the bubble into Selection Sunday. So might suddenly slumping NC State, with a couple of very alarming defeats in a row, an offensive blackout vs. Virginia Tech in a historically-bad 47-24 loss, and a defensive disappearance when allowing 113 to North Carolina. Maybe HC Kevin Keatts should consult with Dr. Phil to help straighten out his team before it’s too late!
Last four byes: Florida, Arizona State, Temple, Oklahoma.
Last four in: Texas, Alabama, Seton Hall, NC State.
Last four out: Utah State, VCU, San Francisco, Georgetown.
Next four out: Creighton, Butler, Clemson, Saint Mary’s.
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