NCAA Bracket Predictions 2013: Projecting the March Madness Field at Week 15

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 12, 2013

NCAA Bracket Predictions 2013: Projecting the March Madness Field at Week 15

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    Quintuple-overtime games, half-court buzzer-beaters and 14 ranked teams losing in a single week.

    Well, that's certainly one way to welcome the football fans to college basketball season.

    The NCAA tournament kicks off in just 35 days, and if you asked 50 experts to pick their Final Four, you would get at least 40 different combinations. More so than in any other season in recent memory, the national championship is completely up for grabs.

    In poker tournaments, there's a phrase "a chip and a chair," which essentially means as long as you aren't dead, you're still alive. This year in college hoops, all you need is a bid and a ball.

    Through the end of games on Monday, Feb. 11, here is the bracket of teams projected to receive those bids.

First Five Out

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    Virginia (17-6, RPI: 75)

    I can’t believe this resume is this close to the field, but the Cavaliers are right on the cusp. Margin of victory doesn’t matter, but it was nice to see them beat both Clemson and Maryland in convincing fashion in the past week.

    Unless they have plans of beating Miami or Duke, they’ll either need to win at North Carolina on Saturday or make a deep run in the ACC Tournament to do better than first team out.

    Baylor (15-8, RPI: 53)

    The Bears are 1-5 against the RPI Top 50 in the past two months, and have another three games against that tier of teams between now and next Saturday (Feb. 23). Translation: they can play their way back in, but recent outcomes make that questionable at best.

    Massachusetts (16-6, RPI: 50)

    The Minutemen probably have a better resume than Indiana State, but the Atlantic 10 can’t possibly send six teams to the tournament, can it? We’ll find out before long whether this team deserves to get in, with games this week at VCU and versus Temple. 

    Stanford (15-9, RPI: 56)

    California (14-9, RPI: 58)

    It’s difficult to differentiate between these two teams, and they probably wouldn’t even remotely be in the discussion if Oregon had been at full strength when playing on the road against each of them two weeks ago.

    Stanford gets the edge for now, as it won the head-to-head battle and sports a 5-8 record against the RPI Top 100 as compared to Cal’s 2-9 record. Cal’s win at Arizona on Sunday was huge, but it doesn’t vault the Bears ahead of the Cardinal, or frankly anywhere near the other three teams ahead of them on this list.

Last Five In

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    Indiana State (16-8, RPI: 48)

    In the past week, the Sycamores blew out Creighton and needed late game heroics to win a home game against Southern Illinois (RPI: 196). I have my doubts that they stay in the field—I suspect it’s Iona that deals the kill shot —but they have the 37th best at-large profile at the moment.

    Arizona State (18-6, RPI: 65)

    Some things never change.

    With a close win over Cal and a close loss to Stanford, the Sun Devils are within five spots of the cut line for a fourth consecutive week. Chances are they’ll be here again next week if they beat Utah and suffer a loss at Colorado. Five of their seven remaining games are on the road, so they may have some difficulty staying in the field.

    Boise State (16-7, RPI: 45)

    Some people may refer to them as the Broncos, but they are the Boise State Pendulums as far as I’m concerned. Beat at the buzzer by San Diego State on Wednesday, the Pendulums bounced back by finishing off a season sweep of Wyoming on Saturday (and finishing off Wyoming’s at-large dreams in the process).

    It’s a fairly safe assumption that the Pendulums will lose to New Mexico this week, slipping out of the field before sliding back in after wins over Air Force and Fresno State. If they go 5-2 the rest of the way, they’ll probably just need to show up for the Mountain West conference tournament in order to get in.

    Temple (16-7, RPI: 40)

    A pair of one-point wins over Charlotte and Dayton carries Temple from second team out of the field to fourth to last team in the field. The Owls have a very favorable schedule the rest of the way and should have little difficulty getting more comfortably into the field than a play-in game.

    La Salle (16-6, RPI: 33)

    The blueprint is similar to that of Boise State, though the Explorers’ path should be considerably easier. A 5-2 finish with losses at Temple and at Saint Louis would likely be enough to make the tournament, provided they don’t lay a giant egg in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

East Region

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    No. 1 Duke (21-2, RPI: 1) vs. No. 16 Southern (SWAC auto bid) / North Carolina Central (MEAC auto bid)

    Please see the final slide for a more in-depth analysis of the No. 1 seeds.

    No. 8 Kentucky (17-6, RPI: 44) vs. No. 9 Illinois (16-8, RPI: 26)

    Tuesday’s game at Florida will be a huge test for both teams involved. Kentucky is going to need at least one more marquee win, and that’s one of its three remaining chances to get one.

    Well well well. I left the Illini for dead, and they responded with a pair of massive upset wins over Indiana and Minnesota. They’re still 4-7 in the Big Ten with three extremely winnable home games and a quartet of challenges on the road. There’s a lot of work left to be done if they’re going to get to .500 in conference play.

    No. 5 Oklahoma State (17-5, RPI: 27) vs. No. 12 La Salle (Last Five In)

    Since posting my first bracket on January 24‚—which naturally has just one No. 1 seed in common with this one—Oklahoma State has improved more than any other team, climbing from a No. 12 seed to a No. 5 seed in the process. Once on the bubble, it’s now difficult to envision a scenario in which they miss the tournament.

    No. 4 Pittsburgh (20-5, RPI: 30) vs. No. 13 Akron (MAC auto bid)

    Here’s what I wrote about Pitt three weeks ago:

    “You get the feeling that Pittsburgh is going to fly under the radar all season…making a big run in the Big East tournament as always. If anything, I think I’m seeding the Panthers too low.”

    They were a No. 8 seed then, and I still think they’re flying under the radar as a No. 4 seed now. Every now and then I don’t look so crazy.

    No. 6 Marquette (17-6, RPI: 16) vs. No. 11 Colorado (16-7, RPI: 18)

    The Golden Eagles have no wins against the RPI Top 90 in the past 30 days, but to be fair, their only three opportunities were on the road against Cincinnati, Louisville and Georgetown. They’re still 8-3 and tied for second place in the Big East with key home games remaining against Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame.

    Colorado moves further into the field with road wins over the Oregon schools, but would slide right back into the Last Five In (or further) with a pair of home losses against the Arizona schools this week. Saturday’s game against the Sun Devils could be this year’s first instance of a “Winner Clinches a Bid” game.

    No. 3 Butler (19-4, RPI: 14) vs. No. 14 Harvard (Ivy auto bid)

    It’s been a little while since the Bulldogs were in the national eye, and barring an upset it’ll be at least three more games until they’re back there again. However, this remains the one team that absolutely no one wants to run into in March.

    No. 7 San Diego State (16-5, RPI: 28) vs. No. 10 North Carolina (15-7, RPI: 36)

    It’s tough to compete with the week Ohio State just endured (at Michigan, vs. Indiana), but San Diego State has a very difficult pair of road games against Colorado State and UNLV in the next seven days. If the Aztecs win one of their four remaining road games (and win all three of the much easier home games), they’ll be fine.

    Getting blown out at Miami is all the rage this year, and it’s hardly a kiss of death for a team on the bubble. A potential loss at Duke is equally non-damaging, but losses to both Duke and Virginia in the next week would put UNC at 6-6 in a sub-par ACC and ever-closer to the bubble.

    No. 2 Michigan State (20-4, RPI: 9) vs. No. 15 Montana (Big Sky auto bid)

    This is me officially admitting defeat on Michigan State. Six RPI Top 50 wins while going 9-2 in what is unarguably the greatest conference in the nation is more than enough to earn a No. 2 seed. When one of the No. 1 seeds loses this week for no good reason, the Spartans will effortlessly slip in to replace them.

South Region

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    No. 1 Miami (19-3, RPI: 2) vs. No. 16 Robert Morris (Northeast auto bid) / Charleston Southern (Big South auto bid)

    Please see the final slide for a more in-depth analysis of the No. 1 seeds.

    No. 8 Memphis (20-3, RPI: 35) vs. No. 9 Iowa State (16-7, RPI: 37)

    Memphis is on a 14-game winning streak and back in the rankings. However, the Tigers only have one win over a team in this projected field, and Harvard’s bid is in doubt after this weekend’s loss to Columbia. Any more regular-season losses could mean they need to win the Conference USA tournament to stay in the field.

    The Cyclones are 6-0 at home and 0-6 on the road against the RPI Top 100. They should be able to win their next four games before running something of a gauntlet over the final four. Stay tuned, as they’ll likely remain near the bubble for at least another two weeks.

    No. 5 Georgetown (18-4, RPI: 25) vs. No. 12 Wichita State (20-5, RPI: 43)

    The Hoyas are on a six-game winning streak which has moved them to 9-3 against the RPI Top 100. With both games against Syracuse still upcoming, a great finish could carry them at least as high as a No. 3 seed. As long as they win home games against DePaul and Rutgers, they should be safely in the field.

    The Shockers finally stopped the bleeding with a home win over Missouri State, but the damage has been done. Road games remaining against Indiana State and Creighton will more than likely do them in.

    No. 4 Ohio State (17-6, RPI: 22) vs. No. 13 Bucknell (Patriot auto bid)

    The Buckeyes are 2-6 against the RPI Top 50, and will likely finish the regular season at 4-9 against those teams. While they might be one of the 12 best teams in the country, they’ve had the misfortune of playing too many games against the other 11 teams ahead of them, leaving them with too many losses for a No. 3 seed or better.

    No. 6 Cincinnati (18-6, RPI: 34) vs. No. 11 Ole Miss (18-5, RPI: 47)

    Apparently I gave the Bearcats way too much credit in last week’s projections, as they responded with losses to Providence and Pittsburgh. They should still win six of their final seven games to settle into a No. 5 seed, but I had no choice but to drop them a line this week.

    The Rebels are in free fall, but the worst is behind them, leaving an eight-game winning streak at their doorstep. Whether they choose to open the door or settle into the NIT is yet to be determined.

    No. 3 Kansas (20-4, RPI: 10) vs. No. 14 Stony Brook (America East auto bid)

    Nothing quite like an in-state home rivalry game to help you bounce back from three straight unforeseen losses. After trouncing the Wildcats, the Jayhawks remain a viable threat to make a late-season run back to a No. 1 seed.

    No. 7 Minnesota (17-7, RPI: 13) vs. No. 10 Belmont (20-5, RPI: 23)

    Minnesota’s collapse has been so fantastic that North Carolina State and Ole Miss don’t look so bad by comparison. The Gophers have lost six of eight, and have a very difficult four games coming up next.

    Here we thought 2013 Illinois was emulating what 2012 Illinois did by starting out 13-1 and losing a dozen games in conference play; but perhaps it’s Minnesota who’s destined to play that role.

    By losing to Murray State, the Bruins are no longer certain to receive an at-large bid if they lose in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. I believe they still would, but any other losses in their final five games would just about completely rule out that possibility.

    No. 2 Florida (19-3, RPI: 5) vs. No. 15 Canisius (MAAC auto bid)

    The Gators might still be the best team in the country, but they no longer have one of the four best resumes. I'll be interested to see how they fare in the long run without Will Yeguete.

West Region

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    No. 1 Michigan (20-3, RPI: 4) vs. No. 16 Northeastern (Colonial auto bid)

    Please see the final slide for a more in-depth analysis of the No. 1 seeds.

    No. 8 Virginia Commonwealth (19-5, RPI: 39) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma (15-7, RPI: 19)

    VCU picked up its best win of the Atlantic 10 season at Charlotte on Sunday. The Rams still have four considerable challenges left on their schedule, and that doesn’t include this Thursday’s home game against UMass. 24-7 (12-4) would be good enough to get in, but if they lose three more, things could get interesting.

    The Sooners have already played all four of their games against the Kansas schools, and with the exception of Saturday’s game at Oklahoma State, they should be favored in all of their remaining games. It’s far more likely they move up in seeding than fall back into the double-digit range.

    No. 5 Colorado State (17-4, RPI: 15) vs. No. 12 Louisiana Tech (WAC auto bid)

    These Rams finally received some recognition in the AP Top 25, coming in at No. 24 this week. As there are hardly any nights off in the Mountain West this season, they’ll be challenged several more times before season’s end, but they’ve shown an ability to handle challenges thus far.

    No. 4 Louisville (19-5, RPI: 7) vs. No. 13 Arizona State / Indiana State (Last Five In)

    While it doesn’t much impact their computer profile, the 5OT loss to Notre Dame was quite discouraging for the Cardinals. They led by eight with 50 seconds remaining, but let it slip away. They had an opportunity to win at the end of each of the first four overtimes, but failed, oftentimes in horrific fashion.

    They’re missing something. I don’t know what it is, but they’ll have four relatively easy games in a row to try to figure it out. They certainly aren’t in danger of missing the field, but their title odds have gone from respectable to non-existent over the past month.

    No. 6 UNLV (18-6, RPI: 20) vs. No. 11 Saint Louis (18-5, RPI: 56)

    It was a weird week for the Rebels, losing at Fresno State (RPI: 159) before knocking off New Mexico (RPI: 3) at home. They’re 11-0 at home since losing to Oregon in November, but 1-5 on the road since a win at UTEP in mid-December. Remaining road games shouldn’t be too challenging, but neither was the Fresno game.

    Saint Louis is looking better and better each week. Everyone knows about Butler, VCU and Temple, but this might be the Atlantic 10's team that does the most damage in March.

    No. 3 Arizona (20-3, RPI: 7) vs. No. 14 Valparaiso (Horizon auto bid)

    Turn the miracle wins over Florida, SDSU and Colorado into losses and at least consider the circumstances when they beat Miami, and you really begin to question whether Arizona is this good. Remaining games at Colorado and UCLA should speak volumes to their tournament potential.

    No. 7 Notre Dame (19-5, RPI: 41) vs. No. 10 North Carolina State (17-7, RPI: 17)

    Beating Louisville was a huge resume booster. I’ve said for weeks that the Irish should get in if they can get to 10-8 in Big East play. They’re currently at 7-4 with games this week against DePaul and Providence. Avoid a land mine and they’ll be dancing.

    NC State’s stock is plummeting, but its schedule gets much less difficult in a hurry. The Wolfpack still play at UNC and have a pair of games against Florida State, but the other four games should be easy wins. Despite their recent string of bad luck, they’re five wins away from ensuring their bid.

    No. 2 Gonzaga (22-2, RPI: 12) vs. No. 15 Long Beach State (Big West auto bid)

    Gonzaga has won 14 of its last 15 with a battle against Saint Mary’s coming up on Valentine’s Day. My guess is the Zags will max out as a No. 2 seed, dropping one line for each loss they suffer from this point forward.

Midwest Region

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    No. 1 Indiana (21-3, RPI: 11) vs. No. 16 Davidson (Southern auto bid)

    Please see the final slide for a more in-depth analysis of the No. 1 seeds.

    No. 8 Missouri (17-6, RPI: 32) vs. No. 9 Creighton (20-5, RPI: 46)

    Here’s a pair of teams that can’t seem to buy a break lately. Missouri has looked good at home, but has lost five consecutive road games; and there’s no excuse for losing the last two against LSU and Texas A&M.

    Creighton, on the other hand, can’t win anywhere recently. Winless in its last four games against the RPI Top 160, Creighton is frankly lucky to remain in the tournament field at all. Though there are currently three teams from the Missouri Valley in the field, it’s really starting to look like a one-bid league.

    No. 5 Oregon (19-5, RPI: 42) vs. No. 12 Boise State / Temple (Last Five In)

    It wasn’t pretty, but the Ducks put an end to their three-game losing streak with a home win over Utah. According to a quick Twitter search, Dominic Artis is still in a walking boot and unlikely to return for this week’s trip against the Washington schools. A pair of losses would cause them to drop like a lead balloon.

    No. 4 Kansas State (18-5, RPI: 21) vs. No. 13 South Dakota State (Summit auto bid)

    Despite Monday night’s blowout loss at Kansas, Kansas State comes in as a No. 4 seed. Of the Wildcats’ five losses, only one came against a team currently seeded lower than a No. 3. Five RPI Top 50 wins and no bad losses is a much better resume than most can claim.

    No. 6 Wisconsin (17-7, RPI: 31) vs. No. 11 Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt auto bid)

    I spent a lot of time last week breaking down what would happen if Wisconsin lost both its home games against Iowa and Michigan. Turns out I wasted a lot of time. After a pair of important wins, the Badgers are now 8-3 in Big Ten play and comfortably in the field with at least four more wins likely to come.

    No. 3 New Mexico (20-4, RPI: 3) vs. No. 14 Stephen F Austin (Southland auto bid)

    No shame in losing at UNLV; New Mexico remains a No. 3 seed. The Lobos might lose at Colorado State in two weeks, but they should finish the regular season no worse than 26-5, which might be enough to earn a No. 2 seed.

    No. 7 UCLA (18-6, RPI: 38) vs. No. 10 Saint Mary’s (20-4, RPI: 51)

    UCLA is in good shape at the moment, but still has five road games and a pair of home games against the Arizona schools remaining. A Minnesota-ish collapse is within the realm of possibility, especially when you consider who's coaching this team.

    A win over Gonzaga this week would just about lock up Saint Mary’s bid, while a loss could make this a hotly debated bubble team for what feels like the eighth consecutive season.

    No. 2 Syracuse (20-3, RPI: 6) vs. No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun auto bid)

    The Orange have recovered nicely from that pair of losses to Villanova and Pittsburgh, surviving last week as one of the few Top 10 teams that didn’t suffer a loss. Getting James Southerland back was a big help. Certainly not an easy slate of games remaining, but they look like the class of the Big East at the moment.

Who Is the No. 1 Overall Seed?

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    No. 4: Michigan (20-3, RPI: 4, SOS: 22)

    What does Michigan earn for competing valiantly at Indiana, versus Ohio State and at Wisconsin? Why, a road trip to Michigan State, of course! A win in that game (and a presumed win at home against Penn State on Sunday) would potentially vault the Wolverines to overall No. 1 next week.

    No. 3: Duke (21-2, RPI: 1, SOS: 2)

    Duke probably has the best resume of the bunch, but as a Duke fan, I can just about promise you the Blue Devils will lose at least one of this week’s games against North Carolina and Maryland. As weak as the ACC has been, Duke may have the most difficult remaining schedule of these four teams.

    No. 2: Indiana (21-3, RPI: 11, SOS: 17)

    Apparently the Hoosiers picked the wrong time to run into the Illini, but the subsequent convincing road win over the Buckeyes ensures they remain on the top line. They have just about the easiest week you can have in the Big Ten (vs. Nebraska, vs. Purdue) before a ferocious final five games.

    No. 1: Miami (19-3, RPI: 2, SOS: 1)

    Not only did Miami not lose last week, but it won its two games by an average of 24 points per game. The Hurricanes have wins over Duke and Michigan State, as well as a pair of wins over North Carolina.

    Yes, they have the worst loss of any No. 1 seed (at Florida Gulf Coast), but it happened three months ago and they played the game without their leading scorer, Durand Scott. The other two losses took place in Maui while playing very late ET games without Reggie Johnson. At full strength, they’re the best team in the nation.

    (I promise, this ranking is only 1-2 percent curiosity in whether I’m actually cursing teams by putting them as the No. 1 Overall Seed.)