Today is college basketball’s equivalent to Christmas Eve. Most of the shopping has been done, and members of the tournament selection committee quarantined on the 18th floor of an Indianapolis hotel since mid-week now have a good idea of how the brackets for the NCAA Tournament will play out.
Andy Bottoms has been doing projections since the start of the season. I wait until the night before Selection Sunday. Here is who I have filling out the bracket:
Now for the explanations…
Michigan: I have the Wolverines getting the final No. 1 seed, contingent on beating Michigan State today. Otherwise the final top seed goes to Virginia, who beat Duke to win the ACC tournament.
Louisville: The Cardinals are as hot as anyone in the country, yet are projected no higher than a three-seed by many so-called experts. Let’s just say there are lies, damn lies, and RPI rankings. As of Saturday Louisville’s number is still down at 23, although their ESPN BPI number is No. 4. And the Cardinals went into the week ranked fifth, before dismantling the rest of the American Athletic Conference field. The eyeball test and common sense has Louisville as at least a two seed and an outside chance at a one seed.
Wisconsin: The Badgers will get to play the first weekend in Milwaukee, but will be relegated to a three seed. Deal? On a previous occasion when Milwaukee was a tourney site the Badgers were under-seeded, but allowed to play there. And decisive losses in the last week to Nebraska and Michigan St. also should have Wisconsin out of the conversation for a two seed.
Last Four In: Providence’s Big East Tournament championship and North Carolina State’s strong showing in the ACC tourney muddied the waters. I did not intend on having Nebraska falling into a play-in game, but their quarterfinal second-half meltdown v. Ohio St. may leave a lasting impression with the panel. Of those I have in the first round, Tennessee has an RPI of 40, Dayton 42, Nebraska 45, and N.C. State 52.
My first four out are Minnesota, BYU, Missouri, and Green Bay. With a RPI of 31, it seems unfair to knock BYU out. The Cougars may be on the wrong side of the bubble due to the trick knee of second-leading scorer Kyle Collinsworth giving out in the West Coast Conference final. It seems unfair to bounce a team due to a recent injury rather than body of work, but it wouldn’t be the first time the NCAA used the loss of a key player as part of the criteria. Minnesota and Nebraska seem to be in a battle for a tourney spot, the Gophers went 9-9 in conference while Nebraska finished 11-7. Only once has a Big Ten team been snubbed despite a 11-7 record in the 64-68 team era.
Andy Bottoms tries to make a case for Green Bay making the field despite their Horizon League tourney loss, but I don’t see it happening. The committee tends not to give breaks to mid-majors who are upset in the conference tourney. Two teams who may have free-fallen to bubble territory are Iowa and SMU. There RPI’s are 54 and 55, while Green Bay sits at 57.