Barnette continues to monitor the scores, RPI and which 65 teams will end up in the NCAA tournament in March with his latest weekly projections. Also included are the notes on the bracket with a breakdown of why some big name or highly ranked RPI teams are on the outside of the bubble looking in right now. Michigan States odd resume, the bubble teams, one-bid leagues and the last at-large teams that made it are the focus of this weeks column.
You can read Drew's daily look at the happenings of the NCAA and follow his weekly bracket projections on the BracketExpress section of the site.
NOTES ON THE BRACKET
-Let me reiterate that this is not a prediction of what the committee will do on Selection Sunday, but rather a report card of what has happened already. All the teams are selected and seeded using the exact same criteria the selection committee uses and bracketed as if today was Selection Sunday.
AUTOMATIC BIDS are given to all 31 conference champions regardless of how good or bad the league is. The current projected champions are the teams who have either already clinched the regular season title, or are in or tied for first place via the loss column. Those teams are Duke, Connecticut, Memphis, Ohio State, Texas, Gonzaga, LSU, UCLA, George Washington, Wichita State, Nevada, George Mason, Bucknell, San Diego State, Wisconsin Milwaukee, Kent State, Northwestern State, Winthrop, Murray State, Manhattan, Pacific, Penn, Oral Roberts, Northern Arizona, Delaware State, Belmont, Albany, Fairleigh Dickinson, Georgia Southern, Southern
-The Spartans have a very impressive record when it comes to RPI and quality wins, but theyve lost four of their last five and are just 7-7 in conference play. I had them as #25 on my S Curve right behind #24 Wisconsin, who has a two game lead on them in the standings and is much hotter than them right now. That would have made the Spartans the best #7 seed. However, it was impossible to keep them on the 7 line due to the fact that a possible matchup before the Elite Eight existed with another Big Ten team, so they had to be moved to the #8 line. Personally, I think they have a better chance of being seeded 5th than 8th, but I just couldnt seem to arrange it. It is still very possible for the Spartans to get hot and play their way into the pod system. Two things that are hurting them are a less than spectacular road record and the fact that theyve lost four of five lately. Still, the only way theyd end up with a #8 seed is if they continue to lose at the rate they are now, or if what happened during my simulation of the selection process happens during the actual selection process and they must be moved down to avoid a potential matchup with a conference foe.
THE BUBBLE WATCH
-Air Force has an RPI of 39, which is very respectable, but I just cant seem to get them into my bracket. Theyve played a very weak schedule and faced just one RPI top 50 opponent (Washington) and didnt win. They also have just five wins against the RPI top 100, none of which were against the RPI top 50, and very few teams in recent past have gotten at large bids with that few. Pacific got in with four last year, but all four of those were against the RPI top 50 and none of Air Forces are. That Pacific team also won their conference, had a much better RPI and despite playing in the Big West, played a much tougher overall schedule. I wouldnt be terribly surprised if Air Force got in with an at large, but all of those things are working against them and it could result in keeping the Falcons out.
-Texas A&M is the only team on this list who is rising. They have won five games in a row to improve to 8-6 in the conference and have two games remaining against Texas and Texas Tech. Obviously if they win both of those they will be in the tournament. Even if they fail to beat Texas they should be able to play their way in if they advance several rounds into the conference tournament.
-If Colorado faces Texas A&M in the Big Twelve Tournament it could be very interesting. Colorado has some nice wins, but has been absolutely terrible on the road, especially down the stretch here lately. Like TAMU, they can play their way in, but if they cant pick up some neutral floor wins in the conference tournament they are in big trouble.
-Seton Hall is collapsing. They have some very good wins, particularly on the road against Syracuse and North Carolina State, but theyve lost 4 of 5 and their RPI has dipped to 60.
-Utah State simply hasnt done enough. No good wins other than one against Nevada, a mediocre RPI and some bad losses arent good enough to get strong consideration.
LAST TEAMS IN
-Indiana has won two straight and got a big one against Michigan State today. They were originally a #11 seed, but had to be moved down to avoid a potential matchup against a Big Ten team before the Elite Eight. The biggest problem for the Hoosiers is that theyve been unimpressive on the road. A loss at Purdue this upcoming week could knock them right back out of the bracket picture.
-Hofstra has an RPI of 38, has been very hot down the stretch, and has a good RPI win against George Mason. Still, their overall strength of schedule is weak and an early loss in the Colonial Conference Tournament could knock them back outside the bubble.
-California has some good wins on their resume, but they also have some bad losses, most recently a home loss to Arizona State. Their RPI is hovering right around 60 and they arent safe by any means. They really need to win against UCLA and USC this upcoming week. Two losses there would knock them out barring an impressive showing in the Pac Ten Tournament.
-There isnt anything particularly wrong with UABs resume in terms of bad losses, but the problem is there arent a whole lot of good things on it either. Their RPI is 52 and they are tied for second in C-USA, but they have no quality wins. They are very similar to last years Buffalo team, who missed the NCAA Tournament despite the fact that they had no bad losses. They didnt have any quality wins either and didnt win their regular season conference title.
-Connecticuts win over Villanova moved them back up to #2 on my S Curve, which is important because it means they get into the Washington DC Region, which is much closer to home. Villanova is #3 and is placed in Minneapolis.
-Duke is pretty safe for the #1 seed in the Atlanta Region and should remain that way even if they lose one or two more games.
-I still have Memphis as my fourth #1 seed, but Ohio State is really making a case. They lead the Big Ten Conference, which is one of the two strongest in the nation. They are also one of the few Big Ten teams who seem to be able to win on the road. They have a very impressive six wins against the RPI top 25, four of which have come in their last six games, so they have been very hot down the stretch and I could very easily see them playing their way into position to get the #1. The problem Memphis has is that they do not play the quality competition late in the season. Its not their fault obviously, but the fact is that it may be hard for them to keep pace with the other teams gunning for a #1.
-Texas blew out Kansas in a very impressive showing. They also have wins against Villanova and Memphis so I dont think they are out of the picture for a #1 seed by any means. They probably need to win out and win the Big Twelve Tournament to get any strong consideration though because, like Memphis, they dont face that many high RPI teams who are gunning for the pod system the rest of the way.
OTHER POD TEAMS
-George Washington is an interesting case. If recent history is an indicator of what the present will be, they arent likely to be seeded any better than 4th and may not even end up with a seed that good. If you look at last years Louisville team and how they won 30 games, racked up a few really good wins, and finished ranked very high and see how they only got a #4 seed, there is no reason to think this George Washington team will be seeded any better than that. That Louisville team played a much tougher schedule, was ranked higher, had a better RPI and had better wins. If the committee didnt think that was worthy of a #3 seed or better, then I dont see how they could possibly see George Washington as being worthy of it. In 2002, Gonzaga finished the year with just three losses and had more good wins, a better RPI and a tougher schedule than George Washington has this year, and they were actually seeded #6, so I wouldnt be at all surprised if George Washington ended up seeded that poorly.
-The one thing GW has going for them is that several teams appear to be playing their way out of the pod system. Florida has lost three in a row and seeing as how Syracuse is struggling and Wake isnt anywhere near the tournament picture, those early season wins arent as impressive as they originally seemed.
-Michigan State has lost four of five and has plummeted in the Big Ten Standings.
-North Carolina State has a good record, but is lacking in quality wins and just fell in double overtime to Boston College, which would knock them behind them on the S-Curve ranking as well.
-Tennessee is solidly in the pod system, but they fell to Alabama over the weekend which knocked them down a bit. Barring a collapse they should be safely in and should get a pretty good geographic placement.
-Iowa has been struggling lately, but still has a very high amount of quality wins that came in the latter part of the year. Still, theyve lost two in a row and need to win a few between now and the end if they want to secure that seed.
-North Carolina is very hot right now. Theyve won eight of nine and absolutely killed Maryland this past Sunday. Their only loss in that stretch was a close game to Duke, so they could make a ton of noise in the ACC Tournament and end up in the pod system, which would be hugely advantageous to them if they could be placed in Greensboro.
-UCLA struggled, but picked up two more wins this past week against Oregon State and Oregon. Their final two games are against California and Stanford and if they can win both of those (which wont be easy) they should be safe for a #4 seed or better. That is big because they want to be placed in San Diego.
THE OTHER TEAMS
-Kentucky remains on the bubble in a lot of peoples minds, but when comparing them to most other teams they seem to be safer. They dont have any bad losses and do have a big win against West Virginia on a neutral floor. That alone is more than what most of the other bubble teams have accomplished, so I tend to think they are further inside. They had a chance to end all doubts this past weekend against LSU, but came up just short. It wasnt a damaging loss, but they dont have a lot of good wins and this would have really helped their profile. Their final two games are not easy. They are at Tennessee and at home against Florida. If they lose both of those and suffer an early exit from the SEC Tournament they will have a big reason to worry, but if they manage a win in their final two games I think that should be enough to get them into the dance.
-George Mason tied for the Colonial Athletic Association Title, but did not win the tiebreaker and wont get the #1 seed. UNC Wilmington is close to the bubble, but they appear to be inside it and if they can win a game or two in the CAA Tourney they should be in the Big Dance. George Mason may not have won the tiebreaker, but they have a much better profile and appear to be in regardless of what happens.
-Southern Illinois is a very hard team to figure out. They have a loss to Div2 Alaska Anchorage as well as other losses to Indiana State, Evansville and Monmouth, all of whom have poor RPIs. The good on their resume is that they have four wins against the RPI top 50 and tied for second in the Missouri Valley Standings. I think theyve done enough to get in, especially since they got another big RPI win against Northern Iowa, but other than that they didnt finish all that strong and would have been in big time trouble had they not won that last game. They really need to win at least one in the Missouri Valley tournament. They will face the winner of Evansville vs Illinois State and both those teams have poor RPIs, so they really need to take care of business.
ONE BID LEAGUES
-Fairleigh Dickinson will face Monmouth on Monday to decide the regular season Northeast Conference Champion. The winner gets home court advantage throughout the conference tournament, so quite a bit is at stake.
-Albany has clinched the top seed in the America East Conference. If they advance to the championship game theyll get to play it on their home floor. The quarters and semifinals will be played on Binghamtons home floor, which was a predetermined site.
-Lipscomb and Belmont tied for the Atlantic Sun title, but Belmont won the tiebreaker. All that means is that theyll be the home team if they advance to the championship game because the tournament is at a neutral site and the seeding is standard.
-Northern Arizona has clinched the Big Sky and gets home court advantage throughout that conference tournament.
-Winthrop clinched the Big South by beating Birmingham Southern this past Saturday and will get home court advantage throughout the conference tournament.
-Pacific won the Big West Title and earns a bye into the conference tournament semifinals. UC Irvine also earned a bye.
-Butler had a chance to win the Horizon League title, but fell on the road to Detroit which gives it to Wisconsin Milwaukee instead. Wisconsin Milwaukee byes into the semifinals and gets home court advantage throughout the tournament.
-Princeton clinches the automatic bid from the Ivy League with either two more wins or a win in their regular season game against Penn.
-Manhattan defeated Iona for the second time this season to win the Metro Atlantic regular season championship, which means they bye into the semifinals of the conference tournament.
-Kent State has a one game lead over Akron for the #1 seed in the MAC Tournament. The two meet on the final game of the season which could decide the #1 seed. The MAC has two divisions, but the teams are seeded based on their conference record regardless of what division they are in. Both teams should bye into the quarterfinals regardless of what happens.
-IUPUI and Oral Roberts are tied for first place in the MidCon with just one game remaining. That doesnt mean much because the seeding is standard and the tournament is in Tulsa, which is a predetermined site. That obviously benefits Oral Roberts, but there is really nothing IUPUI or anyone else can do about it.
-Delaware State is 15-1 in league play and absolutely ran away with the regular season MEAC Title. Obviously theyll need to win the conference tournament to get to the dance though.
-Murray State has clinched the #1 seed in the Ohio Valley, which means they play at home in the quarterfinals and will face the lowest (worst) remaining seed in the semifinals.
-Bucknell probably doesnt need to win the Patriot to get a bid, but they ran the table during the regular season and get all the conference tournament games on their floor.
-Elon clinched the North and Georgia Southern clinched the South in the Southern Conference. That does little for them because the seeding is standard and the tournament is played at a predetermined site.
-Northwestern State clinched the Southland Conference title and gets home court advantage throughout the conference tournament.
-Western Kentucky clinched the East and South Alabama clinched the West in the Sun Belt Conference. No one else was even close. They both receive byes to the quarterfinals, but the tournament is played at a predetermined site.
The conference tournaments begin this Tuesday. Check BracketExpress every day for updates between now and Selection Sunday.