By Kyle Beery
A little more than a month ago, I was thinking the best case scenario for Michigan would be winning a couple games in the Big Ten Tournament before losing in the semifinals and winding up in the 6-7-seed range.
But then they got hot. Michigan just marched to its second straight Big Ten Tournament Championship and picked up a pair of very nice wins along the way. The Wolverines have played some great basketball over the last month, winning their last nine and doing everything they could to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Wins over Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State in a two week span have Michigan looking at geographic protection-range come Sunday, but they’re likely out of range for getting to play in Detroit.
Their rival Michigan State, on the other hand, took a blow by losing to Michigan, likely falling out of contention for a No. 1-seed, and possibly out of playing in Detroit as well. The Spartans are still in position to potentially grab a No. 2-seed, but by the end of the week, it’s more likely they could be a 3, possibly even a 4-seed.
There is a lot to be decided over the next six days before Selection Sunday. 27 automatic bids will be handed out, while 32 dreams of an at-large bid will either be sealed or busted. Champ Week is a glorious time of year. I enjoy seeing the little guys battle it out for their shot at the Big Dance; I love the heartbreak; I love the buzzer beaters – which we got our first of yesterday:
The next six days are going to be great. Buckle up. [Here’s a schedule guide for every conference tournament, via SB Nation].
This projected bracket is based off of what has happened so far this season, not what might happen. Bracket principles were followed closely in constructing the bracket. My projected winners of conference tournaments are automatically the 1-seeds, even if I feel someone else is going to win the tournament. AUTO-BIDS ARE LISTED IN ALL CAPS. Teams that have already secured bids are listed in bold.
In this version of the bracket, the winner of the South Regional will meet the winner of the West in the Final Four, while the winners of the East and Midwest Regionals will face off in San Antonio.
SOUTH REGIONAL — Atlanta — Thursday, March 22 & Saturday, March 24
- Virginia is still the No. 1 overall seed, and even losing in the first round of the ACC Tournament probably can’t take it from them. There’s no way the Hoos fall to a No. 2-seed.
- Cincinnati got a big time win at Wichita State Sunday to help them move to the 2-line. They’re by no means safe on that line, especially with a loss in the AAC and a handful of good teams like Auburn and North Carolina right behind them
- St. Bonaventure benefitted from another wacky weekend on the bubble. The Bonnies earned their 12th straight win and saw teams like Alabama, Louisville and Middle Tennessee State suffer losses that opened the door for them to slide up.
- Butler also benefitted from a lot of teams behind them in last week’s projected bracket taking losses. The Bulldogs aren’t safe by any means. A win over Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament would secure a bid, and a loss would mean an uneasy weekend awaiting the announcement. But there are just too many teams behind the Bulldogs that have clearly worse resumes for Butler fans to be too worried about missing the tournament. Now whether they should be worried about an early exit, that’s an entirely different question.
- Friendly reminder on teams not falling after losses:
EAST REGIONAL — Boston — Friday, March 23 & Sunday, March 25
- Villanova likely climbed back to 1-seed safety with Michigan State and Kansas losing, as long as they avoid an early loss in the Big East Tournament. Tell me how owning 15 wins against Q1+Q2, plus being ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in every metric available to the Selection Committee (RPI, KenPom, Sagarin, BPI) wouldn’t be good enough for a 1-seed.
- Michigan’s march to a second straight Big Ten Tournament crown has lifted them all the way to a No. 3-seed in my projections. That doesn’t mean they ca’t fall back down to the 4-line (or even beyond) in the coming days with all of the other action. Michigan’s biggest challenge now is finding a way to stay fresh with a minimum of 10 days off between games.
- Duke is within striking range of a No. 1-seed. If the Blue Devils can at least advance to the ACC Championship Game, they would have a very strong case with the right amount of losses by other teams. Winning it would make it hard to keep Duke off the 1-line.
MIDWEST REGIONAL — Omaha — Friday, March 23 & Sunday, March 25
- Before anyone gets upset about Michigan State still being a No. 2-seed (and still holding onto that coveted Detroit location), consider this: The Spartans (29-4) have not lost to an unranked team this season; they don’t have a loss outside of Q1; they have a handful of wins against teams that were at the time billed to be much better than their resumes show (Notre Dame; Oakland; Maryland twice).
- With that being said, the Spartans just don’t have the wins that so many other teams do. They’ve only got three Q1 wins. While nine against Q1+Q2 is pretty solid, there are a lot of other teams right on their heels. I would expect MSU to drop at least one line while they’re idle for the next week.
- North Carolina is one of those teams right behind Michigan State, but the Spartans do hold a nice edge with a head-to-head blowout win over the Tar Heels on a neutral floor.
- South Dakota State. Read about them in my list of mid-major teams and players to get to know this week before you fill out your brackets.
WEST REGIONAL — Los Angeles — Thursday, March 22 & Saturday, March 24
- Kansas got swept by Oklahoma State over the weekend. That’s not helpful to the resume. What is helpful: being tied for the most Q1 wins and owning the most wins between Q1+Q2. I’m not saying that’s the be-all-end-all (because while I do like the Quadrant system, it is flawed because it relies only on RPI), we saw how heavily the committee relied on the quadrants and RPI in its mid-season bracket preview.
- Purdue may drop down a line as well. All these Big Ten teams being idle for a week may hurt their seeding. The Selection Committee won’t have them fresh in their memories. Or maybe that will help Purdue after its poor offensive showing against Michigan Sunday.
- Alabama is in danger of falling out of the field. If the Crimson Tide can’t put a stop to a five-game losing streak with a win in the first round of the SEC Tournament against Texas A&M, they may be destined for the NIT.
Last four at-large bids (from least safe to safest)
- Alabama – See above.
- St. Bonaventure – The Bonnies have won 12 in a row. Reaching the A-10 finals may be enough to get in.
- Arizona State – The Sun Devils were once the No. 3 team in the country. Now they’re a first-round loss to Colorado away from falling out of the bracket completely. At least they’d be very close to doing so if they can’t beat the Buffs.
- Providence – The Friars shouldn’t be in too much danger. A loss to Creighton on Thursday wouldn’t be the end of the world, but they’d be sitting in the next category below with anxious days ahead.
Last four in (First Four @ Dayton March 13-14)
- Texas – The Longhorns are in trouble.
- Louisville – Louisville should have wrapped up a bid Thursday night. But it didn’t. A win over Florida State on Wednesday could do it.
- UCLA – Completing the season sweep of rival USC moves the Bruins above the Trojans and closer to safety. A win over Stanford may do the trick, but beating Cal probably wouldn’t. Losing to either team would knock them out for good.
- USC – See above, but replace the two other teams with Washington and Oregon State.
First four out (from closest to field)
- Oklahoma State – A season sweep of Kansas is a gem on the resume. 13 losses? Not so much. Work left to be done – beating rival Oklahoma would be a good place to start.
- Syracuse – This is familiar territory for the Orange. They’ve been on the bubble three straight years and just when we think they’re out, they pull off a nice upset.
- Notre Dame – The curious case of Bonzie Colson. The Irish finally got their star player back. They were 6-9 without him after starting 11-3 with him. A couple wins in the ACC Tournament could go a long, long way for a team we thought was dead in the water just a few weeks ago.
- Marquette – Beating Creighton over the weekend was a lifeline for this team. They just need to beat DePaul to get a shot at Villanova.
Next Four out
- Baylor – The Bears are good. Don’t believe that because they’re this far on the bubble that they’re not capable of winning a couple games in the NCAA Tournament. But they’ll need to beat West Virginia and possibly Baylor to even have a shot to do so.
- Penn State – Thanks for playing, Penn State.
- Oregon – The Ducks still need some help. A lot of it.
- Utah – Ditto for the Utes.