It’s full-on bracketology time once again! From this week forward, you can expect to see my weekly projections on the NCAA tournament, based on what would happen if the draw were being held on that day.
Rather than jump directly into the deep end, this week we’re slowly wading into the water, by focusing only on the top 20 spots in the S-curve. Ranking the top teams right now is not easy, as there is very little distinction between even the top squads at this point.
For those who aren’t aware of the process, here’s basically how it works. The NCAA tournament selection committee is required to rank all of the teams in the tournament 1-68, and that ranking is called an “S-curve” for reasons that I’ll describe in coming weeks. These rankings take several items into account, including a team’s overall “resume” (i.e., their good wins and bad losses), their current injury situation, their power rankings in various metrics, and how well they pass the eye test.
For the top 16 teams in the overall bracket, they are also assigned a location based upon their geography, with teams higher in the S-curve getting the most beneficial geographical locations. It is this area that is going to be fascinating to see watch out this season, because of the number of top-level teams that are currently packed into the Midwest geographical region . For teams like Indiana, Louisville, Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State, playing their regional (Sweet 16 / Elite 8 games) in Indianapolis could be a huge advantage, similiar to what North Carolina and Duke have enjoyed over the years by playing regional finals in Charlotte, Raleigh, or Greensboro. In this year’s field, it’s not just a race to the top seeds, it’s also a race to the best regions.
Below, I’ve gone ahead and given you my projected committee S-curve based upon college basketball as it sat on Monday morning, January 14. Each team is listed with its initial host site, as well as the regional it would feed into. Keep in mind, this is not necessarily my own personal ranking of these teams, but rather is my analysis of how the committee will place these teams on the S-curve and in their regions. The first team listed is #1 overall on the S-curve (and therefore is the top overall seed).
1. Kansas Jayhawks (Kansas City —> Arlington): The Jayhawks have gotten a significant amount of love from the basketball media as far as being the best overall team this year. They have a fairly impressive resume, with a big road win at Ohio State, impressive home wins against Temple, Belmont, and Colorado, and a top-100 non-conference SOS. Their only loss was on a neutral floor to Michigan State during the first week of the season. More importantly, they have played at a consistently high level for two straight months, and the perception of the Jayhawks is of a team getting progressively better. They didn’t look great against Iowa State last week, but they still won the game.
2. Louisville Cardinals (Lexington —> Indianapolis): Louisville may end up being the #1 team in the AP poll this week, but I’m not seeing it yet from this team. While Louisville’s efficiency numbers are very impressive, their best win thus far is against a Missouri team that is rapidly falling back to earth. Their second best win is at home, against Kentucky, a team that will struggle to make the tournament this year. Still, it doesn’t matter at this point, because the perception of Louisville is still that they’re currently slightly better than their other midwestern rivals, and so therefore they get the coveted spot in Indianapolis in the regional.
3. Duke Blue Devils (Philadelphia —> Washington DC): Duke is difficult to rate at this point. They have the best resume of any team by far in college basketball, having beaten Minnesota, Louisville, Ohio State, Temple, and VCU. Oh, and Kentucky too, I guess. However, the injury to Ryan Kelly makes them a different team. If he was healthy, I would put them first overall. But he’s not, and the only evidence we have for them without Kelly is a loss at NC State. They still get a plumb selection spot, as a #1 seed that doesn’t have to leave the mid-atlantic.
4. Indiana Hoosiers (Dayton —> Los Angeles): The Hoosiers jump into a #1 seed position this week, thanks to a big win over Minnesota coupled with Michigan’s loss to Ohio State. Their non-conference SOS still hurts them, but the great news for the Hoosiers is that they’ve got a bunch of chances to fix things moving forward. Getting to play Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State twice each, plus Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota once each, is both beneficial to their resume and EXTREMELY masochistic. That schedule may end up being more impressive than Duke and Kansas’ overall resume, given the relative weakness of the ACC and Big 12. At this point, Indiana needs to keep winning big games, and hope that Louisville drops a few unexpected games in Big East play. If not, the Hoosiers will end up in D.C. or Arlington for the Sweet 16. Or, in the worst-case scenario, in Los Angeles.
5. Michigan Wolverines (Auburn Hills —> Washington DC): Michigan falls out of the 1-seed line due to their loss at Ohio State. The trouble with Michigan is that they have looked amazing offensively, decent defensively, but don’t have any really big wins on their resume. Kansas State on a neutral floor is a good win, not a great one. Pittsburgh’s performance thus far has been questionable. North Carolina State is looking like a better victory, but still not an elite one. Much like IU, the Wolverines get plenty of chances to fix those problems in conference. As it is, they get the consolation prize of a 2 seed in the East regional, likely facing up against a Ryan Kelly-less Duke team in the elite 8.
6. Florida Gators (Lexington —> Indianapolis): I’m sure everyone is really fired up about a rematch of Florida-Louisville in the tournament, right? Okay, no. Florida is hard to gauge at this point. They’ve got gaudy efficiency numbers, but their best win (Wisconsin) is against a team that wasn’t very good at the time of the game. Losses to Arizona and Kansas State are puzzling. And unfortunately, they will apparently have zero real competition in the SEC this season, so we may not know how good this Florida team is until the tournament actually gets under way. I still think this Florida team is in solid 2 seed territory, and in this case, they get to take a trip to Indianapolis to match up opposite Louisville.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers (Kansas City —> Arlington): Minnesota’s got a lot of things going for it, including two good in-conference wins and losses exclusively to teams in the 1-seed category. If they want to be considered for a 1 seed themselves, they need to win a few more games, starting this week at home versus Michigan.
8. Arizona Wildcats (Salt Lake City —> Los Angeles): This team is hard to peg, because they’ve got a few really good wins (Florida, Miami, SDSU), yet they haven’t played that well in a weak Pac 12, and should have two losses right now if the referees could properly view a TV monitor. Still a 2-seed, but more because of what lies behind them on the S-curve than due to anything they themselves are doing.
9. Syracuse Orange (Philadelphia —> Washington DC): 2013 is shaping up to be like every other Syracuse year when it comes to the Orange’s resume — one good non-conference win, a bunch of decent-but-not-great wins elsewhere, and a key player being lost to eligibility issues for an unspecified amount of time. There is room for the Orange to improve during the Big East season, but there’s also room for them to fall down the S-curve a bit more.
10. Gonzaga Bulldogs (San Jose —> Los Angeles): There’s no single “great” win on the Zags’ resume, but there are a whole bunch of really good ones, including victories over Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor, and Oklahoma. Gonzaga could further solidify this spot by beating Butler this weekend. The problem for Gonzaga, though, is that they have almost no chance of improving their stock from that point forward.
11. Michigan State Spartans (Auburn Hills —> Indianapolis): The win over Kansas looks more and more impresive every week. So does the Boise State victory. And the win at Iowa could end up being important as the season winds down. Thanks to the peculiarities of the NCAA selection process, Michigan State somehow ends up in Indianapolis as the last three seed.
12. Ohio State Buckeyes (Dayton —> Arlington*): The big win versus Michigan catapults the Buckeyes back into the 3-seed line. Ohio State needs to win more games like that to maintain their position, because the list of victories outside of Michigan isn’t that impressive. Now, here’s the problem for Ohio State — even though they are a 3 seed in terms of the S-curve, the huge number of Big Ten teams currently packed into the top of the bracket means that the Buckeyes get bumped down one seed line, to maintain protections for the higher-seeded conference teams. So instead of being the 3-seed in Arlington, they become the 4-seed in Arlington. Taking their place…
13. North Carolina State Wolfpack (Austin —> Arlington): The Wolfpack dropped off the radar screen a bit after getting blown out by Oklahoma State, barely beating UNC-Asheville, and then losing at Michigan. Okay, so this isn’t a top-5 team. But they are very much in the conversation for a 3-seed, as the win versus Duke demonstrated. They will feast on a severely weakened ACC and rack up a gaudy record from this point forward. As of now, they’re technically our first 4-seed, but benefit from the Big Ten logjam to move up one spot.
14. New Mexico (Salt Lake City —> Los Angeles): Wins over Cincinnati, Connecticut, and UNLV, plus an added respect for Mountain West teams in general, help to propel New Mexico to the 4 seed in the West.
15. San Diego State Aztecs (San Jose —> Washington DC): The UCLA win will get more and more impressive as the season goes by. Truth be told, there’s not much else on their resume that’s particularly noteworthy. They’ll get their chance in conference play to improve their stock, but right now I’d rank them barely behind New Mexico. As a result, they get shipped out east.
16. Creighton Bluejays (Austin —> Indianapolis): Another case of a team that’s hard to seed simply because their resume is nice overall, but without any huge highlights. Beating Wisconsin on a neutral floor will grow in value. As for everything else…meh. Much like Gonzaga, there aren’t many chances to improve their seeding moving forward, and the Valley is tough enough that they need to avoid stubbing their toes if they want to maintain this spot. The games against Wichita State will be huge.
17. Butler Bulldogs (Austin —> Arlington): Butler has one of the best wins of the season (vs Indiana), and a very good one (buzzer-beater vs Marquette), both on neutral floors. Not much else, though. A lot of Butler’s seeding will rely on two remaining games: Gonzaga this weekend and Virginia Commonwealth in early March.
18. Marquette Golden Eagles (Salt Lake City —> Los Angeles): They have a win against Wisconsin on their resume, which is good. They have an impressive start to the Big East going, with victories over UConn, Georgetown, and Pitt. If they want to rise above the 5-seed line, they need to avoid bad losses at the very least. Lots of growth potential here.
19. Oregon Ducks (San Jose —> Indianapolis): The Ducks now have two tournament-caliber wins (Arizona and UNLV). They need to keep winning in a weak Pac 12.
20. Missouri Tigers (Austin —> Washington DC): Their stock is falling, with losses to Ole Miss and UCLA in recent weeks. Their VCU win is impressive, but the Illinois win may not be as impressive as it seemed at the time. The Tigers’ game at Florida this weekend has huge seeding implications.
So with that said, here are your seeding pods for each region: