By Kyle Beery
Is it March? Because Wednesday night sure felt like March.
Syracuse snagged a much needed win when John Gillon banked in a three-point buzzer beater to beat Duke and climb back into the projected field of 68. Gillon flew down the floor and pulled up from the top of the key to give the Orange their third signature win in ACC play.
That wasn’t the only dramatic moment of the night. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks hit a three-pointer to lift the Ducks over California on the road. It was Brooks’ second game-winner this season. He hit a three-pointer to beat UCLA in Eugene back in January.
That shot helped the Ducks hold onto a No. 2-seed for the time being, while it prevented Cal from moving any higher up the bracket. It would have been the Golden Bears’ first signature win of the season, though they have come within two possessions of beating Arizona twice and Virginia once.
As if that wasn’t enough drama for one night, Butler strengthened its already dazzling NCAA Tournament résumé by beating No. 2 Villanova for the second time this season.
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) February 23, 2017
Yes, the Bulldogs do have a few bad losses — at Indiana State and St. John’s, and at home against Georgetown — but they have 16 wins against the RPI Top 100, the most in the country. Two wins against Villanova — widely considered a lock for a No. 1-seed, possibly the overall No. 1-seed — along with signature wins against Arizona (now No. 9 in the RPI rankings), Cincinnati, (No. 14) and five other RPI top 50 wins put the Bulldogs in prime position to be a top-3 seed.
Butler has found itself again after slumping in late January and early February when it lost three of four games, with two losses coming inside Hinkle Fieldhouse. Coach Chris Holtmann has seemingly found what works with two of his best players in Kelan Martin and Tyler Lewis coming off the bench. Lewis is the eighth-most efficitent offensive player in the country according to kenpom.com, and he has been playing like it over the last few weeks.
It will be interesting to see how the Selection Committee values the Bulldogs’ recent play compared with its bad losses earlier in the season. It is important to keep in mind that Butler was the committee’s highest No. 4-seed back on Feb. 11 before losing to Providence later that day. Butler has won three straight since then and took advantage of Duke’s loss Wednesday with the big win over the defending national champs.
Projected field of 68
FIRST FOUR (DAYTON; TUE/WED (March 14, 15)
Midwest: 16. Mount St. Mary’s / 16. New Orleans
Midwest: 12. Kansas St. / 12. Marquette
West: 16. UC Irvine / 16. North Carolina Central
South: 12. Syracuse / 12. TCU
*Conference champions have conference in parenthesis
(Note: The winner of the Midwest Regional will matchup with the winner of the South in the Final Four, and the winners of the East and West will play each other)
MIDWEST REGIONAL (Kansas City; March 23, 25)
South REGIONAL (Memphis; March 24, 26)
WEST REGIONAL (San Jose; March 23, 25)
EAST REGIONAL (New York City; March 24, 26)
Last five at-large bids: Michigan State, Michigan, Syracuse, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech
Last four in (First Four in Dayton): Kansas State, Marquette, Providence, TCU
First five out: Texas Tech, Illinois State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Colorado State
Next five out: Pittsburgh, Houston, Vanderbilt, Indiana, Boise State
Syracuse obviously did a lot for its résumé by beating Duke Wednesday, but the Orange are still squarely on the bubble. Seton Hall moved from one of the last four teams in to one of the last five teams receiving an at-large bid by beating a tough team in Xavier on Wednesday.
Michigan and Michigan State both have some work left to do. The Spartans have undoubtedly been playing better over the last few weeks, but they suffered a setback with an ugly loss at Purdue Saturday. Michigan barely eeked out a road win against a bad Rutgers team on Wednesday.
Illinois State is tied with Wichita State for first place in the Missouri Valley, but the Shockers get the nod for the auto-bid, thanks to their 41-point rout of the Redbirds earlier this month. Illinois State has also struggled in its last three games, beating three mediocre teams by a combined seven points.
Top of the class:
Kansas jumps up to the No. 1 overall seed after taking it to TCU Wednesday night en route to wrapping up an historic 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title. The Jayhawks have won five straight since losing to Iowa State. They have gained a lot of confidence since coming back against West Virginia and finding out that they are never out of a game.
Villanova’s loss to Butler wasn’t enough to knock them out of a top seed. The Wildcats only have three losses this season — two against Butler and one to Marquette — and they have 15 wins against the RPI top 100, including five against the top 25.
North Carolina solidified its case for a No. 1-seed with a nice win over Louisville in Chapel Hill. ACC foe Florida State has a chance to overtake Louisville for a No. 2-seed this weekend with a very winnable game against Clemson, while the Cardinals will get a tough test from Syracuse.
Now that Butler has jumped up to a No. 3-seed, its next step of improving its tournament seeding is earning first and second round games just six miles from home at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. The Bulldogs are currently placed in Milwaukee because they are one spot behind Kentucky, who will face a tough test against Florida this weekend.
Should the Wildcats lose that game, Butler can slide right in and gain some home court advantage if they win on the road at rival Xavier. The Bulldogs could also be looking to surpass Louisville, who is pegged to play in Indy but is within Butler’s reach.
Big East: 7
Big Ten: 7
Big 12: 7
Atlantic 10: 2