With the NCAA Tournament only a month and a half away the college basketball world is just getting warmed up. The storms of upsets and buzzer-beaters are brewing and chaos waits to retain its place amongst the greatest moments of “The Big Dance.”
The “blue blood” programs have found themselves in familiar positions going into a very crucial month in the season, some are playing with their backs against the wall. With many anticipated fist-fight February matchups, the emphasis on sound play amongst conference opponents is even more intently narrowed. Most of the current field has had a taste of the tournament within the last several seasons and has played well enough to continue the success that has brought them there before.
As for all the underdogs and potential glass slipper Cinderella stories, the odds are always stacked against them, and Power 5 conferences are currently projecting 30 teams in the tournament come Selection Sunday on March 13th. Not to worry for all the fans of the sickening chaos we all hold on for in March, there are plenty of sleeper teams from schools you haven’t heard of who could be gearing up for some bracket-busting performances.
MIDWEST Projected Seeds
- 1 Auburn vs 16. New Orleans/Southern
- 8 Oklahoma vs 9 LSU
- 5 Xavier vs 12 North Texas
- 4 Illinois vs 13 Drake
- 6 Indiana vs 11 Davidson
- 3 Baylor vs 14 Chattanooga
- 7 St. Mary’s vs 10 Notre Dame
- 2 UCLA vs 15 CSU Fullerton
The midwest has some talented squads and a lot of exciting teams to watch in this part of the projected bracket. Auburn has rolled through treacherous SEC play with some key matchups coming this week on the road and at home. They have been the clear top seed through the first three months of the season. LSU started hot with a 12-0 run until conference play ran them down to seven losses out of the first 10 games, and the “Bayou Bengals” slip farther with each loss, last week it was against a notoriously underachieving Vanderbilt team.
The Baylor Bears, who won it all last year, look to reciprocate excitement from their championship performance last season and have put themselves in a solid position to receive a bid in March. Baylor is second in the Big 12 with a 7-3 record. For “blue bloods” like UCLA, who look to return to prominence after a fabled Final Four run last spring, the buzzword is “consistency”. They’ve won big games against Marquette and Villanova but dropped conference games to Arizona State and Oregon. More needs to be done to solidify their hopes of a title.
The winners of 7 straight, The Saint Mary’s Gaels have won all 12 games at home and secured wins against Notre Dame and Oregon. The Big Ten rivals in this bracket are separated by 20 spots in the same NET rankings with the Illini checking in at #13. Indiana checked off a nice Quad 1 victory over projected 1 seed Purdue back in January, but are 2-2 since. 11 seed Davidson has only lost three times this year and is undefeated on the road.
WEST Projected Seeds
- 1 Gonzaga vs 16 Colgate
- 8 Boise State vs 9 Miami (Fla.)
- 5 Villanova vs 12 Iona
- 4 Wisconsin vs 13 Vermont
- 6 Tennessee vs 11 Wyoming/Creighton
- 3 Texas Tech vs 14 Oakland
- 7 Iowa vs 10 Colorado State
- 2 Arizona vs 15 Seattle
In the wild, unconquered western frontier the battles on the hardwood are as legendary as ever. The Zags have only dropped a pair of games this whole season and look to hang more banners come April. Boise State sits in gridlock with Wyoming for the top spot in the Mountain West. Five Quad 1 wins help their case, not flashy but tough and efficient basketball.
Villanova hadn’t found themselves projected out of the 4th seed in any prognostication thus far, yet two losses to Marquette has them in the second spot of their conference. No strangers to the tournament Jay Wright’s crew has to step up and secure more wins in the bloodthirsty Big East, which is currently on pace to send seven teams to the tourney. Tennessee is sitting comfortably at third in the SEC and #12 in the NET with a big Q1 win against Arizona in Knoxville before this last Christmas.
The Red Raiders of Texas Tech reloaded in the transfer portal this past year and have been playing well in the Big 12 only two games behind Kansas. They score fast and in a hurry under the helm of Mark Adams. The Hawkeyes have shown some promise in games, but toil one game below .500 in their conference. Arizona has stayed undefeated at home and sits at #3 in the NET and first in the PAC-12, having only lost one game to the Bruins so far. The Wildcats are looking to bring some hardware back to the desert.
EAST Projected Seeds
- 1 Purdue vs 16 Southern/UNC Wilmington
- 8 TCU vs 9 Wake Forest
- 5 Alabama vs 12 Toledo
- 4 Providence vs 13 Furman
- 6 Texas vs 11 Seton Hall
- 3 Houston vs 14 Wagner
- 7 USC vs 10 Loyola Chicago
- 2 Duke vs 15 Princeton
Lots of heavy hitters in the East. #1 Seed Purdue is 20-3 and #5 in the NET, but the Boilermakers are not on the mountaintop of Big Ten competition, and with the tougher part of the schedule coming up (four out of the next nine games are against opponents ranked inside the Top 25 AP Poll) look for the black and gold to slip in the seedings.
TCU and Wake Forest sit in similar spots in different, but equally brutal conferences. This would also be a quality mascot matchup! The Demon Deacons own a better conference record and are 17 spots higher in NET rankings at #38, the Horned Frogs are .500 in the Big 12, with two wins against ranked teams. Toledo is 18-5 and sitting below an Ohio Bobcats team with five straight wins, these Rockets might burn up upon re-entry. Nate Oats’ Crimson Tide team boasts a rollercoaster resume with wins over Gonzaga and Houston, but losses to Missouri, Georgia, and Mississippi State, all SEC bottom feeders.
Alabama is 4-6 in the SEC and 14-9 overall on the tail end of a two-game skid. The Friars of Providence cut their way into contention with a 20-2 record overall with one loss in the Big East, and quality wins over Texas Tech, Wisconsin, and Connecticut; they will square off against Villanova two more times to likely decide the regular-season champion for that conference.
The Longhorns and Seton Hall have both had up and down seasons and have to play the top teams in their respective conferences to finish the season. The Pirates beat Texas by 4 at the Prudential Center this past December. Texas has to play defending National Champion Baylor twice more this season and has played within their bounds in the conference.
Sister Jean has been willing Loyola Chicago to the upper echelon of Missouri Valley play, the Ramblers are 18-4, and played a close game against Auburn in November, they are matched up against a USC team loaded with talent and #27 in the NET. For the #2 and #15 matchup, an academic decathlon between these two elite educational institutions would likely be more entertaining.
Duke is listed as #10 in NET rankings and has won five straight. Their pair of losses to Florida schools in the ACC has diminished their accolades some, and they are not likely to play another ranked team the rest of this season. Princeton is the sacrificial lamb of the Ivy League, which has not sent a team to the second weekend of the tournament since 2010. The Tigers have the most selections from their conference in its history. But the Tigers are #133 in the current NET and have no Q1 games to boost their chances.
SOUTH Projected Seeds
- 1 Kansas vs 16 Appalachian State
- 8 Arkansas vs 9 Murray State
- 5 Ohio State vs 12 San Diego State/Oregon
- 4 Marquette vs 13 South Dakota State
- 6 Connecticut vs 11 BYU
- 3 Michigan State vs 14 Weber State
- 7 Iowa State vs 10 North Carolina
- 2 Kentucky vs 15 Longwood
The dirty South portion of this field of 68 features the storied programs of Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina, and UConn. Not to mention a handful of other schools with titles from the tournament. The Jayhawks are 19-3 overall losing only one to Texas Tech in Lubbock from Big 12 play. The Bill Self faithful would like to see him cut down the nets sooner rather than later, he has them ranked #8 in the NET.
The Razorbacks have rattled off eight consecutive victories over conference opponents, including a ranked LSU team in Baton Rouge. Their defensive prowess has proved stifling for a number of teams in the SEC this season after a rough start with losses to Oklahoma and….Hofstra? Yes! But this squad was an Elite Eight team in Indianapolis this past year, and third-year coach Eric Musselman has got their groove back. They take on Auburn in Bud Walton Arena this week.
Out in middle America, Ohio State is 14-5 with signature wins over Duke and two against Wisconsin. They go through a gauntlet as is anticipated into March, but have the key pieces to make a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Marquette, scrappy as ever knocked off Villanova last week to drop the Wildcats and boost their seeding, which paired nicely with wins over two other Big East projected tournament teams, the Golden Eagles sit at 16-7 this season and #25 in the NET rankings. Dan Hurley has his Huskies hanging around with a six-win, four-loss conference record, they knocked off Auburn in a shootout at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas this past November.
Brigham Young University has been middle of the road so far this year in the West Coast Conference, the Cougars showed promise early this year but have fizzled down the stretch, a stellar performance in the WCC Tournament might be their only hope.
Out in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels are in similar territory to where they ended up in the Atlantic Coast Conference last year, out of the top three. Hubert Davis is trying to fill the shoes of the legendary Roy Williams and the boys in Carolina blue have let him down when it has mattered most this year, they are 0-7 in Quad 1 games. With only a ranked Duke left, North Carolina will need to move up in conference play to qualify. In Ames, Iowa the Cyclones have also found themselves traversing the peaks and valleys of college basketball. They have beaten Texas twice, but those games and another against Oklahoma State have been their lone notches in the conference win column. Iowa State is .500 in games with Q1 opportunities.
On The Bubble
LAST 4 IN: Oregon, Creighton, San Diego State, Wyoming.
FIRST 4 OUT: Florida, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, West Virginia
TOP 4 SEEDS: Auburn, Gonzaga, Purdue, Baylor
SLEEPER PICKS?: Houston, Texas Tech, Providence
BRACKET BUSTERS: Murray State, Boise State, Davidson, Loyola Chicago
With still nearly 40 days until Selection Sunday, the book is far from all-but-written on the season and some key matchups in the coming days should tell us more about who has what it takes to cut down the nets. The Big 12 and the SEC feature some marquee games with top teams facing off, as well as some games with big implications on who may or may not be dancing later this spring.
The NCAA Tournament is set to begin its 83rd annual commencement with “win-and-in” games on March 15th. Sites for the Sweet Sixteens and Elite Eight are San Francisco, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Chicago. The Final Four and National Championship will be played in New Orleans. CBS, TruTV, TNT and TBS will be airing coverage of all the games during this tournament season. Conference tournament season kicks off beginning on March 1 and carries on through the first two weeks. To qualify for the tournament teams must either win their conference tournament or receive an at-large bid by the selection committee, which appointed five new members last April.
Look for dominant teams to stay dominant and unlikely underdogs to emerge and gain the affection of a generation’s worth of basketball fanatics. The narratives of redemption, persistence, and resilience from players, programs, coaches, and teams will come in droves; as will the dunks and threes. The stage is set for all of these players to have their heralded “one shining moment” with Dick Vitale calling the game, or Bill Raferty screaming “ONIONS!”
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