March didn't officially start until today, but that didn't prevent lots of madness from happening since our last bracket. In the last seven days, the top three teams in the country all lost (two on the same day), a No. 1 seed lost arguably its best player to a season-ending knee injury, several bubble teams won games that no one expected them to win, and other bubble teams lost games that no one saw them losing. All of that chaos made for a very difficult Sunday night for us, and in the end, it caused us to make three major changes to our bracket: Virginia Tech, Rhode Island, and UConn are out, and Notre Dame, St. Mary's, and Washington are in. Here's our rationale for each:
Virginia Tech - We've been the biggest supporters of the Hokies for the better part of a month now, but after two brutal losses, we don't see how they can make the field (or how the ACC can get seven bids.) They dropped two games this week - at BC and home against Maryland - that we had penciled in as wins form them in their quest to finish 10-6 in conference. Getting to 10-6 now would mean a win at Georgia Tech in their regular season finale this weekend, which we don't see them getting. A 9-7 finish won't be enough to overcome an OOC SOS of 338 and a lack of any good conference road wins.
Rhode Island - Remember when we insisted the A-10 was a four-bid league when some bracketologists gave the league six bids, week after week? Well, it turns out even four may have been too many. URI's loss at St. Bonaventure, coupled with Charlotte's loss at George Washington and Dayton's loss early in the week to Temple leaves the A-10 with just three bids this week. The Rams have two winnable games this week, but we don't have much faith that they will win both. There is still a possibility that the league gets four bids down the road, but it's going to have to involve URI, Charlotte, Dayton, or Saint Louis winning two games this week (not likely given their schedules) or, better yet, one of the four bubble teams making the A-10 final. Given the way those teams have played the last two weeks, we don't like the chances of that happening, either.
UConn - The Huskies were a home win over Louisville from really looking like a solid at-large candidate, but in true schizophrenic UConn fashion, they blew a 13-point first half lead and lost a heartbreaker to the Cardinals. The loss was damaging enough because it dropped them to 7-9 in the Big East, but for our purposes projecting ahead, it meant being removed from the bracket altogether. The Huskies have two road games this week, including a ginormous one in South Bend on Wednesday. The game is a coin-flip, but in the end we gave the edge to the resurgent Irish, who will in all likelihood have Luke Harangody back (on Senior Night) for that game. A loss to ND would probably mean an 8-10 finish for UConn, which means they would have to win at least two games in the Big East tournament to get a bid. That's too much to project right now for a team that has lost as many big games as the Huskies have this season.
Notre Dame - The Huskies' loss was Notre Dame's gain. The Irish had the best week of any bubble team in the country, knocking off Pitt at home and Georgetown on the road (all without Luke Harangody) to improve to 8-8 in conference. We like their chances to beat UConn on Wednesday, and then they have to play at Marquette (not easy) this weekend. A 1-1 split means they'll have to win a couple of Big East tourney games to be safe, but they'd be ahead of UConn in terms of an at-large (provided they beat them) going into NYC.
Washington - The Huskies' name may have a caused a double-take, but we have them in this week as a bid-stealer out of the Pac-10. Cal clinched an at-large berth by winning at least a share of the Pac-10 title on Saturday night, but we still aren't sold on the Bears winning the Pac-10 tourney. We picked Washington as the bid-stealer because we like the fact that they have already beaten Cal once (at home, but still) and that they've played their most consistently good ball of the season over the past three weeks (they've won seven of nine overall). If they end up finishing second or third in conference, which is likely, they would also avoid Cal until the final. The other reason we made this choice is because of the reality of bid-stealers during Championship Week. Every year at least one bid, and usually two to three bids, are stolen due to conference tournaments and we like Cal's chances to lose more than we like Butler's, Gonzaga's, and Northern Iowa's.
St. Mary's - We have been against putting the Gaels in the field for a while now, but the bracket has gotten so soft that they might get a bid on Selection Sunday after all. We think there is a slight chance that they win the WCC tourney, but even if they don't and instead lose in the final to Gonzaga, their wins at Utah State and at home against SDSU are decent enough to fall back on. They are still a shaky inclusion at best, but right now, they have far less left to do than a lot of other bubble teams do in the race for the final few at-larges.
The other notable changes this week were Duke replacing Purdue as a 1 seed and Minnesota staying in the bracket on the 13 line. The Blue Devils, who were knocking on the door of the 1 line anyway, were the biggest beneficiaries of Robbie Hummel's torn ACL. Purdue looked awful offensively without Hummel against Michigan State, and going forward, we don't see them making it past the Big Ten tourney semis without him. We also think that the committee will weigh his injury heavily considering how important a role he played for the Boilers on both ends of the floor. If their first game without him was any indication, Purdue's more likely to drop seed-wise from here on out than they are to get back to the 1 line. Duke, meanwhile, has continued to tear through the ACC, and is the favorite to win the ACC tourney. That title alone might be enough to get them a 1 seed, even if they end up tying with Maryland for the ACC regular season title.
The Gophers are still in the field - as our last team in - because of their win at Illinois on Saturday. We thought going into last week that they would beat Purdue at home and then lose in Champaign. They did the opposite instead, but that was enough to keep them in the field because of the other happenings around the bubble. We like their chances to go 2-0 this week (they play at Michigan and at home against Iowa), and then they would have to get to the Big Ten semis to be a lock. If they end up finishing sixth in conference, that would mean winning two games in the Big Ten tourney. If they finish fifth, they would have to beat the four seed (Wisconsin?) to get a bid. We admit that's not an easy road, but it's an easier one than UConn or anyone on the A-10 bubble faces right now, so that's why we opted for the Gophers again this week.
Seed-wise, the biggest moves up were made by Baylor (from an 8 to a 5) and Cal (from an 11 to a 9), and the biggest moves down were made by Georgetown (from a 3 to a 5) and Wake Forest (from a 5 to a 7). We had to move two teams for grouping purposes: Louisville went from a 9 to a 10, and Illinois went from an 11 to a 12.
Last Four In
Mississippi State, Notre Dame, St. Mary's, Minnesota
Last Four Out
Connecticut, Virginia Tech, Rhode Island, Dayton
Next Four Out
San Diego State, Charlotte, Mississippi, Saint Louis
Big East (8), Big XII (7), ACC (6), Big Ten (6), SEC (5), A-10 (3), MWC (3), C-USA (2), WCC (2)
America East - Stony Brook
ACC - Duke, Maryland, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech
Atlantic Sun - Lipscomb
A-10 - Temple, Xavier, Richmond
Big East - Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame
Big Sky - Weber State
Big South - Coastal Carolina
Big Ten - Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota
Big XII - Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma State
Big West - UC-Santa Barbara
Colonial - Old Dominion
Conference USA - UTEP, UAB
Horizon - Butler
Ivy - Cornell
MAAC - Siena
MAC - Kent State
MEAC - Morgan State
MVC - Northern Iowa
MWC - New Mexico, BYU, UNLV
Northeast - Quinnipiac
Ohio Valley - Murray State
Pac-10 - Washington, California
Patriot - Lehigh
SEC - Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi State
Southern - Wofford
Southland - Sam Houston State
Summit - Oakland
Sun Belt - Troy
SWAC - Jackson State
WAC - Utah State
WCC - Gonzaga, St. Mary's
Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, Duke
Purdue, Kansas State, Ohio State, Villanova
New Mexico, West Virginia, Temple, Michigan State
Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Tennessee
Georgetown, Butler, Baylor, Gonzaga
Xavier, Texas A&M, BYU, Maryland
Texas, Missouri, Richmond, Wake Forest
Oklahoma State, Clemson, Marquette, Northern Iowa
UTEP, California, Florida State, UNLV
Louisville, Utah State, Florida, Georgia Tech
Old Dominion, UAB, Cornell, Notre Dame
Illinois, Mississippi State, St. Mary's, Siena
Minnesota, Washington, Kent State, Murray State
Oakland, Wofford, Weber State, UC-Santa Barbara
Sam Houston State, Morgan State, Coastal Carolina, Troy
Stony Brook, Lipscomb, Lehigh, Quinnipiac (Play-In Game), Jackson State (Play-In Game)
(Bracket courtesy Matt Reeves)
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