NCAA Bracket Predictions 2013: Projecting the March Madness Field at Week 16

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 19, 2013

NCAA Bracket Predictions 2013: Projecting the March Madness Field at Week 16

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    The official start date of the NCAA tournament is March 19, but for many teams, the tournament has already begun.

    With Selection Sunday less than one month away, just about everything remains up for grabs.

    At least 10 different teams are in realistic contention for a No. 1 seed, and at least 10 teams currently outside the projected field could very realistically play their way in over the course of the next four weeks.

    Survive and advance. Survive and advance.

    As of the conclusion of games on Monday, February 18, what follows are the five teams just missing the cut, the five teams just making the cut, a snapshot of each of the four regions and the case for each of the No. 1 seeds.

First Five Out

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    First team out: St. John’s (15-10, RPI: 57)

    The 10 losses keep the Johnnies out of the field for now, but an 8-8 record against the RPI Top 150 is also keeping them very much in the discussion.

    They’ve got winnable games against South Florida and Providence, along with three challenges against Pitt, Notre Dame and Marquette. A 3-2 finish would give them a 10-8 record in the Big East and an 11-10 record against the RPI Top 150.

    That’s probably good enough to get in this year.

    Second team out: Maryland (18-7, RPI: 63)

    Maryland picked up a critical win over Duke to get back to .500 in ACC play with six games remaining. Though three of them will be played on the road, the next four games should be wins for the Terrapins.

    The last two games (vs. UNC, at Virginia) will be the deciding factors.

    While winning the next four would put them at 10 wins in the conference, only two of the 10 would be against the RPI Top 100, and they were just 1-1 against the RPI Top 100 during the nonconference portion of the season.

    Third team out: Temple (17-8, RPI: 48)

    Just when things were looking up for the Owls, they go and lose a home game against Duquesne. Now they have a considerable amount of work to do, and three straight difficult games (La Salle, Charlotte, Detroit) in which to do it.

    A 4-2 finish should do the trick, but that one game against Duquesne made their journey a much more difficult one.

    Fourth team out: Baylor (16-9, RPI: 55)

    Baylor is 7-5 in the Big 12, but only one of the seven wins came against the RPI Top 90. The Bears used up their easy games in the first six weeks of the conference season and now face a daunting final three weeks.

    Games this week against Iowa State and Oklahoma will swing the needle for all three teams involved.

    Fifth team out: Iowa (17-9, RPI: 79)

    Don’t look now, but an eighth member of the Big Ten is making a charge.

    Of Iowa’s 13 conference games, 11 have either ended as wins for the Hawkeyes or as losses by four or fewer points.

    Assuming they lose at Indiana and win their remaining games against Nebraska and Purdue, it could all come down to the home game against Illinois on March 5. In fact, it’s a gigantic game for both teams, as they will likely both be 8-8 in conference play at that time.

    RPI could be their death knell, but it should increase slightly over the final five games, with a potential boost in the Big Ten Conference tournament.

Last Five In

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    Last team in: Arizona State (19-7, RPI: 70)

    The Sun Devils suffered a loss to Utah on Wednesday, but rebounded on Saturday by finishing off a season sweep of Colorado, leaving them in the same general position that they’ve been in for over a month.

    They should win both home games against the Washington schools this week before a three-game road trip against UCLA, USC and Arizona. They’ll need one more marquee win down the stretch. A 3-2 finish would leave them on the bubble with the Pac-12 Conference tournament determining their fate.

    Second to last in: Boise State (16-8, RPI: 42)

    The Broncos are 4-6 in the MWC and should finish out the season 5-1 if they want to stay in the field.

    They only have two RPI Top 50 wins (at Creighton, vs. UNLV), but they get three more chances to add to that list. If the Mountain West is going to send five teams to the tournament, Boise State will need to earn it.

    Third to last in: Saint Mary’s (22-5, RPI: 50)

    The Gaels lost to Gonzaga this past week, missing out on what would have been a huge win. However, they should stay in the field until their next loss.

    Wins this week over BYU and Creighton would finally give their resume some much needed highlights, but a loss in either game would likely be the end of their at-large road, necessitating a “third time’s the charm” win over Gonzaga in the WCC championship game.

    Fourth to last in: Ole Miss (19-6, RPI: 53)

    In most years, a power conference team with four losses in its last six games and a 1-5 record against the RPI Top 65 wouldn’t be anywhere near the tournament field in late February.

    This year, however, no one is stepping up to replace the Rebels.

    Ole Miss has a very favorable six-game stretch to finish the season—zero games against the RPI Top 50 and two games (both at home) against the RPI Top 100—and should be able to waltz into the tournament behind a 14-4 record in the SEC.

    Fifth to last in: Virginia (18-7, RPI: 77)

    Much like Kentucky’s 30-point loss to Tennessee, the Boolean result of Virginia’s loss to North Carolina wasn’t a surprise.

    The fact that the defense gave up 93 points was the shock factor.

    The key to Virginia’s success all season has been stingy defense, but the Tar Heels were hitting shots from everywhere and getting to the free-throw line far too often for the Cavaliers' comfort.

    If the Wahoos can bounce back and pick up a win over either Miami or Duke in the next 10 days, they should be fine. A 4-2 finish with losses against the cream of the crop would leave Virginia and its middling RPI up to the mercy of the selection committee.

Midwest Region

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    No. 1 Indiana (23-3, RPI: 11) vs. No. 16 Long Beach State (Big West auto bid)

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

    No. 8 Wichita State (22-5, RPI: 35) vs. No. 9 San Diego State (18-7, RPI: 34)

    As rough as it got there at the turn of the last calendar month, the Shockers are still head and shoulders above most of the teams on the bubble. They have two difficult road games remaining, but as long as they win one of them, they’ll have nothing to fear on Selection Sunday.

    Since eviscerating New Mexico on January 26 and settling very comfortably into a No. 6 seed, the Aztecs are 2-3 with a trio of close road losses. They’re slipping ever so close to the bubble. A home loss to Wyoming on Tuesday would make their case very interesting.

    No. 5 Oklahoma State (19-5, RPI: 23) vs. No. 12 Virginia (Last Five In)

    The Cowboys are on a seven-game winning streak, which now includes victories over Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor. They get another shot at Kansas on Wednesday night before a three-game stretch against the dregs of the Big 12.

    No. 4 Marquette (18-6, RPI: 14) vs. No. 13 Detroit (Horizon auto bid)

    Marquette’s weekend win over Pittsburgh was even more convincing than the 10-point margin indicates. The Eagles have reasserted themselves as one of the four best teams in the Big East.

    No. 6 Memphis (22-3, RPI: 24) vs. No. 11 Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt auto bid)

    Memphis’ winning streak—now at 16 games—continues to increase, and so does its perceived value. Wins over Houston and Southern Miss in the next five days should finally give Memphis the firepower it needs to ascend in the other experts’ projected brackets.

    No. 3 Kansas (21-4, RPI: 9) vs. No. 14 Harvard (Ivy auto bid)

    The Jayhawks have emerged from their three-game losing streak with a pair of 20-plus-point wins over Kansas State and Texas. The upcoming road trip to Oklahoma State will tell us for certain whether the once unstoppable Jayhawks are back.

    No. 7 UNLV (19-7, RPI: 20) vs. No. 10 La Salle (18-6, RPI: 33)

    The Rebels have lost six of their last seven road games. Last season, they lost six of their final eight games away from home (and needed OT in the two wins) before a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament. You’ve been warned.

    The Explorers are 9-5 against the RPI Top 150 and have an outside shot at winning the A-10 regular-season title if they can pick up road wins over Temple and Saint Louis.

    No. 2 Louisville (21-5, RPI: 6) vs. No. 15 Davidson (Southern auto bid)

    Like several of the other teams in this region, Louisville has bounced back nicely from an earlier three-game losing streak that caused a considerable amount of panic. The Cardinals have won five of their last six and should once again be peaking as they run into Syracuse in two weeks.

East Region

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    No. 1 Miami (21-3, RPI: 2) vs. No. 16 Northeastern (Colonial auto bid)/Southern (SWAC auto bid)

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

    No. 8 Minnesota (18-8, RPI: 15) vs. No. 9 Saint Louis (19-5, RPI: 44)

    Minnesota is a shell of its former self, and upcoming games against Ohio State and Indiana don’t figure to change that fact. The RPI and SOS make it impossible to drop the Gophers any lower than this, but it’s been at least a month since they passed the eye test.

    The Billikens extended their winning streak to seven games with a 17-point win over Charlotte on Saturday. Games this week against VCU and Butler could knock them down a peg or two, but it would take some kind of collapse for Saint Louis to miss the tournament now.

    No. 5 Wisconsin (18-8, RPI: 26) vs. No. 12 Belmont (Ohio Valley auto bid)

    The overtime loss to Minnesota was disappointing, but the subsequent beatdown of Ohio State pushes the Badgers up another seed. At 10-8 against the RPI Top 100, the Badgers are not only a lock for the tournament, but a name that no coach wants to see in his region.

    Belmont is still the favorite to win the Ohio Valley Conference championship, but recent losses to Murray State and Tennessee State have just about put an end to any argument for an at-large bid if they lose in the OVC tournament.

    No. 4 Georgetown (19-4, RPI: 16) vs. 13. Bucknell (Patriot auto bid)

    Since losing to South Florida and nearly slipping out of the field, the Hoyas are 7-0 with six wins over the RPI Top 100. They’re never fun to watch—neither team has scored more than 74 points in any of Georgetown’s past 13 games—but the Hoyas are one of the best grind-it-out teams in the country.

    No. 6 Oklahoma (16-8, RPI: 17) vs. No. 11 California (16-9, RPI: 54)

    The Sooners already have an excellent resume and finish the season with six games that could pad their win total. They might not be done surprising us.

    Recent wins over Arizona, Oregon, UCLA and USC have shoved the Golden Bears into the spotlight. Three weeks ago, they were 11-8 with zero wins over the RPI Top 50, yet here they are. It’s nice to see at least one team from the Pac-12 trying to play its way into the field as the rest of the conference falls apart.

    No. 3 Syracuse (21-4, RPI: 8) vs. No. 14 South Dakota State (Summit auto bid)

    Whether the opponent is No. 1 in the nation or ineligible for the postseason, losing a road game in a long-standing rivalry should never count against you.

    Don’t forget that two of Syracuse’s other three losses came during life without James Southerland. This would be a very dangerous No. 3 seed.

    No. 7 VCU (21-5, RPI: 36) vs. No. 10 North Carolina (17-8, RPI: 30)

    The Rams have won five straight and are a few wins away from locking up their tournament bid for a third straight year. (This is the third straight week that I’ve had VCU pitted for a second-round showdown with Michigan. How much fun would that be?)

    Despite losses to Miami and Duke, the win over Virginia puts UNC back on track for a bid. If the Tar Heels can win either of their rematches at home against North Carolina State and Duke, they’ll get in with room to spare.

    No. 2 Michigan (22-4, RPI: 7) vs. No. 15 Loyola (MD) (MAAC auto bid)

    There’s no fault in losing four of the toughest road games that any team has faced this season, but the fact that the Wolverines didn’t even show up against Michigan State was concerning. The subsequent struggle to pull away at home against Penn State (2-17 vs. RPI Top 150) didn’t do much to ease those concerns.

South Region

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    No. 1 Michigan State (22-4, RPI: 5) vs. No. 16 Robert Morris (Northeast auto bid)

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

    No. 8 North Carolina State (18-7, RPI: 22) vs. No. 9 UCLA (19-7, RPI: 41)

    The Wolfpack needed overtime to win a home game against Virginia Tech. However, because they were one of the only teams formerly in the No. 7-11 range that didn’t lose a game in the past seven days, they move up a bit in this week’s projected field.

    It would only be fitting if these colossal disappointments had to play each other in the No. 8/9 game. The Bruins have lost three of their last six games, and none of the remaining five come with particular ease. With Ben Howland at the helm, a complete collapse is a definite possibility.

    No. 5 Pittsburgh (20-7, RPI: 32) vs. No. 12 Akron (MAC auto bid)

    After two straight losses, the Panthers should probably be a No. 6 seed, but because there is already a Big East team in the bottom half of each region, they get bumped up a line. No matter. They’ll win their remaining four games and make their annual deep run in the Big East tournament to deserve this spot before long.

    No. 4 Kansas State (21-5, RPI: 19) vs. No. 13 Boise State/Arizona State (Last Five In)

    Four of the Wildcats’ five losses have come against the RPI Top 12, and the fifth loss was to an Iowa State team that’s 14-0 at home this season. This might be the team below a No. 3 seed with the best chance at winning it all this year.

    No. 6 Ohio State (18-7, RPI: 27) vs. No. 11 Kentucky (17-8, RPI: 43)

    The Buckeyes are 1-3 in the past two weeks and still have four remaining against the RPI Top 30. The opportunities to climb as high as a No. 3 seed are there, but those could quickly devolve into pitfalls. If they finish the season 19-11, they’ll be an extremely difficult second-round opponent for a No. 1 or 2 seed.

    No one outside of Lexington believes Kentucky will stay in the field, but if the season ended today, this is where the Wildcats would be. Until those expected losses become actual losses, their resume remains one of the 37 best among at-large candidates.

    No. 3 Arizona (21-4, RPI: 10) vs. No. 14 Stony Brook (America East auto bid)

    After losses to a pair of Pac-12 teams on the rise and a near loss to Utah, the Wildcats (why are there so many Wildcats in this region?) are slip-sliding further away from the No. 1 seed they once held dear. If they slip up at home against the Washington schools this week, they’ll drop at least another seed.

    No. 7 Cincinnati (19-7, RPI: 39) vs. No. 10 Creighton (21-6, RPI: 45)

    The Bearcats have lost three of four, and the next four will be even more difficult. At just 7-6 in the Big East, things could go downhill in a hurry for Cincinnati.

    The Bluejays have two remaining games that they must win (vs. Southern Illinois, at Bradley), and two other games from which they’ll want to find at least one win (at Saint Mary’s, vs. Wichita State). Anything short of a 4-0 finish will leave their bid in the hands of an always drama-filled Arch Madness tournament.

    No. 2 Florida (21-3, RPI: 4) vs. No. 15 Montana (Big Sky auto bid)

    By the eye test, Florida is a better team than Duke, but Florida's computer profile doesn't quite warrant a No. 1 seed. As long as the Gators keep destroying the SEC, they’ll eventually get back onto the top line ahead of either the ACC or Big Ten runner-up.

West Region

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    No. 1 Duke (22-3, RPI: 1) vs. No. 16 Charleston Southern (Big South auto bid)/Norfolk State (MEAC auto bid)

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

    No. 8 Illinois (19-8, RPI: 28) vs. No. 9 Colorado (17-8, RPI: 21)

    Four straight wins have taken the Illini off of life support and placed them safely in the tournament, for now. Home games against Penn State and Nebraska should get them to eight conference wins. A road game against Michigan should get them to eight conference losses. The last two games of the season (at Iowa, at Ohio State) will decide their fate.

    A home split against the Arizona schools was the expected outcome for the week for the Buffaloes, even if it didn’t split in the expected order. They’re 7-6 in a fading conference with a difficult upcoming road trip to Stanford and California. The rematch with Oregon (March 7) should determine whether they finish above .500 in the Pac-12.

    No. 5 Colorado State (???) vs. No. 12 Ole Miss/Saint Mary’s (Last Five In)

    Time for a blind resume comparison!

    Team A: 21-4 overall, 8-2 in conference, RPI 13, SOS 54, 9-3 vs. RPI Top 100

    Team B: 22-4 overall, 9-4 in conference, RPI 6, SOS 34, 10-4 vs. RPI Top 100

    Team A is Colorado State. Team B is Michigan. The Rams need to be taken more seriously.

    No. 4 Butler (21-5, RPI: 18) vs. No. 13 Louisiana Tech (WAC auto bid)

    If it weren’t for recent losses to La Salle, Saint Louis and Charlotte, Butler would be a No. 2 seed and the A-10 would be lucky to send three teams to the tournament, rather than lobbying for a fifth (Temple) and sixth (Charlotte).

    No. 6 Oregon (21-5, RPI; 38) vs. No. 11 Iowa State (17-8, RPI: 46)

    Prior to losing Dominic Artis, the Ducks had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.00. In the seven games without Artis, that ratio is 0.55. That was good enough for wins over Utah and the Washington schools, but it won’t cut it this week against Cal and Stanford. A pair of losses would submerge them in a bit of hot water.

    When Iowa State visits Baylor on Wednesday, it’s a do-or-die game for both teams. The Cyclones are 0-7 away from Ames against the RPI Top 150. If they don’t beat Baylor, they might not win any road games against the RPI Top 150, which wouldn’t sit well with the selection committee.

    No. 3 New Mexico (???) vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland auto bid)

    How about one more blind resume comparison?

    Team A: 22-4 overall, 9-2 in conference, RPI 3, SOS 5, 13-4 vs. RPI Top 100

    Team B: 23-3 overall, 11-2 in conference, RPI 11, SOS 39, 9-3 vs. RPI Top 100

    Team A is New Mexico. Team B is Indiana. Yet, the Lobos are 15 spots behind the Hoosiers in the latest AP poll. Media bias is a crazy thing.

    No. 7 Notre Dame (21-6, RPI: 47) vs. No. 10 Missouri (18-7, RPI: 37)

    In a span of two days, Notre Dame went from giving up 71 points to Providence to holding Pittsburgh to just 42. The Irish aren’t often going to put up a lot of points—unless you give them five overtimes to do so—but when they’re defending and rebounding to the fullest of their ability, they can beat anyone.

    Missouri is 0-6 in true road games against the RPI Top 150. Unless they reverse that trend in their remaining games against Kentucky and Tennessee or pick up a home win over Florida—or a little of both—the Tigers could be bound for the NIT.

    No. 2 Gonzaga (25-2, RPI: 12) vs. No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun auto bid)

    The Zags are abusing the West Coast Conference en route to a potential No. 1 seed. They’re currently sitting at No. 7 overall with significantly fewer potential stumbling blocks than the six teams ahead of them.

Who Is the No. 1 Overall Seed?

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    No. 4 Duke (22-3, RPI: 1, SOS: 1)

    Despite the road struggles against Miami, North Carolina State and Maryland, the Blue Devils remain the top dogs in the two primary computer ranking systems.

    Whether they actually look like the best team in the nation is up to the eye of the beholder, but giving Duke anything other than a No. 1 seed would be admitting that the computer numbers are poppycock.

    No. 3 Michigan State (22-4, RPI: 5, SOS: 22)

    The Spartans haven’t been that impressive on the road—one-possession wins over Kansas, Wisconsin and Iowa; losses to Connecticut, Miami, Minnesota and Indiana—but winning 11 of 12 games against the best conference in the nation is no small feat.

    The next four games (vs. Indiana, at Ohio State, at Michigan, vs. Wisconsin) will more than likely bump them from the top line, but at this point, they’ve earned a No. 1 seed.

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

    Miami struggled on the road against Florida State and Clemson, while Indiana obliterated Nebraska and Purdue at home, which is just enough for them to swap spots atop the field this week.

    At any rate, it’s now a tossup between the two teams, so the edge goes to the one that didn’t lose to Florida Gulf Coast three months ago without its leading scorer.

    However, the Hurricanes are 13-2 against the RPI Top 100, so you would be a fool to still think they don’t deserve a No. 1 seed in March because of something that happened in mid-November.

    No. 1 Indiana (23-3, RPI: 11, SOS: 39)

    The computer profiles of Duke and Indiana are Exhibits A and B for the forced extinction of computer profiles. If you put Indiana and Duke on a neutral floor tonight, what would you expect the result to be? Indiana by 20? Unless you live in Krzyzewskiville, you certainly aren’t putting money on Duke in that game, right?

    Aside from the last three minutes in the game against Illinois, the Hoosiers have clearly been the best team in the country over the past month. If they still hold that crown after road trips to Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan, they’ll be the overwhelming favorite to win the NCAA tournament.