NCAA Bracket Predictions 2013: Projecting the March Madness Field at Week 18

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 5, 2013

NCAA Bracket Predictions 2013: Projecting the March Madness Field at Week 18

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    The 2012-13 NCAA regular season is coming to a close, and the tournament is just around the corner. Conference tournament season tips off on Tuesday with the first round of the Big South and Horizon League tournaments taking place. As always the debates rage over who's in, who's out and who's a No. 1 seed.

    In like a lion

    Bubbles bursting every night

    Who is number one?

    March Madness haikus aren't nearly as popular as they should be. You are more than encouraged to submit your own in the comments.

    Through the end of games on March 4, here's how the tournament field is shaping up.

First 5 out

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    1st out: Tennessee (17-11, RPI: 56)

    Last Tuesday, the Volunteers got a definitive marquee win with an upset over Florida. It extended their winning streak to six games, pushing them into the projected field and keeping them in contention for a second-place finish in the SEC.

    Then, they lost to Georgia and dropped back out of the field. The season finale at home against Missouri will be a critical game.

    Interestingly enough, the Volunteers have a 3-5 record this season against the other nine teams in the first five out and last five in, including a win over Massachusetts and a loss to Virginia.

    2nd out: Massachusetts (18-9, RPI: 54)

    The Minutemen are the definition of average. They enter the bubble discussion with an RPI in the 50s and a strength of schedule in the 70s. They have a 7-7 record against the RPI Top 100 and an 8-6 record in A-10 play. They have one “great” win at La Salle and one “awful” loss against George Washington.

    Thursday’s home game against Butler gives them one final chance during the regular season to stand apart from the crowd. A win would likely result in a tournament bid—provided they also beat Rhode Island on Saturday.

    3rd out: Ole Miss (21-8, RPI: 58)

    In the past two weeks, the Rebels have lost two games against teams in the RPI sub-200. Yet, they’re somehow still on the bubble with just a 1-4 record against teams in the projected tournament field.

    By the way, the bubble is very, very weak. If you're a fan of a team in the second five out—Arkansas, Maryland, LSU, Iowa and Saint Joseph's—there's no time like the present to start looking into NIT ticket prices.

    4th out: Southern Miss (20-7, RPI: 34)

    This is about the ceiling for the Golden Eagles unless they pick up a key win. They’re 0-5 against the RPI Top 50, none of which were decided by fewer than eight points. Anything short of a close loss to Memphis in the C-USA Championship will keep them out of the field. Even that might be generous.

    5th out: Alabama (18-10, RPI: 60)

    The Crimson Tide blew a golden opportunity against Florida over the weekend, letting a six-point lead turn into a 12-point loss by getting outscored 23-5 in the final 9:45. As a result, they’re 0-6 on the road against the RPI Top 100 and still have four losses—three at home!—against the RPI sub-100.

    Wins in their final two games would guarantee them no worse than a share of second place in the SEC, but it would also take a win or two in the SEC tournament to vault this resume into the field.

Last 5 in

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    Last in: Virginia (20-9, RPI: 63)

    Similar to Tennessee, Virginia followed up a huge mid-week win with a dreadful weekend loss. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they started the week in better shape than the Volunteers. They come to rest as the last team in the field for a second consecutive week, becoming the first team to have that honor twice this season.

    The other teams to have once been the last team in—Arizona State, BYU, Indiana State, Maryland and St. John’s—have each become something of a distant memory in tournament discussions. To avoid suffering the same fate, they’ll need to win at least two more games.

    If they win those two games to close out the regular season, they will have effectively clinched their bid by the start of the ACC tournament. However, with a loss to either Florida State or Maryland in the coming days, the Cavaliers would likely need two wins in the ACC tournament to get into the NCAA tournament.

    2nd-to-last in: Villanova (17-12, RPI: 55)

    Despite Sunday’s overtime loss to Pittsburgh, the Wildcats remain in the field for one more week. If they beat Georgetown on Wednesday, they’re in without a doubt. Let’s assume that they lose, though, and play that scenario out.

    A loss drops them to 6-10 against the RPI Top 100 and 9-9 in the Big East with 13 overall losses. Pending the outcome of a few other games, they would be playing in either the No. 7/10 or 8/9 game in the Big East tournament against Cincinnati, Providence, or St. John’s—against whom they are 1-3 this season.

    Losing that opening game would leave them with about a five percent chance of making the tournament, but a win certainly doesn’t guarantee them a bid. They may need to upset the No. 1 or 2 seed they would face in the next round, which could well be a second game against Georgetown in the span of eight days.

    Please Villanova—for the sake of everyone who writes about the bubble—beat Georgetown on Wednesday.

    3rd-to-last in: Iowa State (19-10, RPI: 53)

    The Cyclones have played just once since the last projected bracket and were destroyed by Oklahoma. Just like Virginia, they’re two wins away from locking up their bid. They can either win a home game against Oklahoma State this Wednesday or try their luck again with Oklahoma next Thursday in the Big 12 tournament.

    4th-to-last in: La Salle (20-7, RPI: 45)

    As promised three weeks ago, the Explorers should make the tournament with a win over George Washington this week. A win over Saint Louis on Saturday would be delightful for their resume, but shouldn’t be necessary unless they plan on losing to a team like Xavier or Charlotte in their first game in the A-10 tournament.

    5th-to-last in: Kentucky (20-9, RPI: 51)

    If we include the game in which he was injured, the Wildcats are now 0-3 on the road without Nerlens Noel and have been outscored by 20 points per game in those losses. Falling to 0-4 this week against Georgia would knock them out of the field unless they win the season finale against Florida.

    However, a win over Georgia would give them 12 SEC wins, a 6-9 record against the RPI Top 100 and no losses to teams outside the RPI Top 100. Show me a resume outside of the field that’s better than that, and I’ll consider dropping Kentucky a few pegs next week.

South Region

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    No. 1 Kansas (26-4, RPI: 5) vs. No. 16 Southern (SWAC auto bid) / Delaware (CAA auto bid)

    Please see the final slide for analysis of the No. 1 seeds.

    No. 8 NC State (21-8, RPI: 24) vs. No. 9 California (20-9, RPI: 43)

    When the Wolfpack lost at Duke, they were 5-5 in ACC play with seven easy games and a road trip to UNC remaining. Thus far, they’ve won five of the easy games and lost the one at Carolina. Provided they win the final two games—vs. Wake, at FSU—they could still salvage a fairly high seed from a relatively disappointing season.

    After picking up wins over Utah and Colorado, the Golden Bears are a home win over Stanford away from a 13-5 conference record and wins in 10 of the final 11 games of the regular season. Their lack of nonconference wins is a bit concerning, but you can’t realistically argue against Cal as one of the 37 best at-large teams.

    No. 5 Wisconsin (20-9, RPI: 41) vs. No. 12 Bucknell (24-5, RPI: 52)

    A month ago, I postulated a scenario in which the Badgers would be 2-9 against the RPI Top 50 and in serious danger of falling out of the tournament field. Instead, they’re 7-6 against the RPI Top 50 and 100 percent bound for the tournament. The loss to Purdue was discouraging, but hardly season-altering.

    The Bison have won nine of their last 10 games and enter the Patriot tournament as the overwhelming favorite to obtain the conference’s auto bid. Their chances of making the NCAA tournament as an at-large are doubtful, at best.

    No. 4 Marquette (21-7, RPI: 12) vs. No. 13 Virginia / La Salle (Last Five In)

    Road games against Rutgers and St. John’s are the only things standing between Marquette and a 14-4 record in the Big East, which could be good enough for the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament. Should they also win that tournament, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is within the realm of possibility.

    No. 6 VCU (23-6, RPI: 31) vs. No. 11 Boise State (18-8, RPI: 44)

    Courtesy of the complete and utter destruction of Butler over the weekend, VCU returns to a No. 6 seed for the first time in over a month. The Rams have earned it by winning seven of their past eight games.

    With Arizona State essentially out of the tournament picture, Boise State is the new West Coast team to root for, provided it doesn’t create a conflict of interest. In most sports, fan polygamy is frowned upon, but with 347 teams in college basketball you need to find a non-powerhouse team to bandwagon-follow every March.

    The Broncos are just one win away from clinching their bid, but neither the trip to UNLV nor the home game against San Diego State will come easily. 8-8 in the Mountain West won’t cut it without at least one win in the conference tournament.

    No. 3 Miami (23-5, RPI: 3) vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland auto bid)

    It’s tough to fault a team for losing at Cameron, but the Hurricanes remain a No. 3 seed because of the loss to Wake Forest two weeks ago. With just home games against Georgia Tech and Clemson remaining, they should finish the season 16-2 and climb at least back to a No. 2 seed before the ACC tournament begins.

    No. 7 Colorado State (20-7, RPI: 17) vs. No. 10 Saint Mary’s (25-5, RPI: 37)

    The Rams ran into Boise State at the wrong time and picked up a 13-point loss to a bubble team this past weekend. They’re still in great shape, but having now lost three of their last four games, it’s becoming easier to justify seeding them by their record instead of by their inflated computer numbers.

    Unless all hell breaks loose in the WCC tournament and Saint Mary’s loses in the semis to Pepperdine, there’s no chance of the Gaels missing the tournament at this point. They finished the season winning 18 of their final 20 games, only suffering losses to Gonzaga along the way.

    No. 2 Michigan (23-5, RPI: 10) vs. No. 15 Loyola (MD) (MAAC auto bid)

    The Wolverines got a crucial home win over Michigan State on Sunday after inexplicably losing at Penn State earlier in the week. They’ve now lost four straight games away from home with a trip to Purdue on the schedule this week.

    That game might be more indicative of their potential bracket success than Sunday’s home game against Indiana.

Midwest Region

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    No. 1 Indiana (25-4, RPI: 6) vs. No. 16 Gardner Webb (Big South auto bid) / Norfolk State (MEAC auto bid)

    Please see the final slide for analysis of the No. 1 seeds.

    No. 8 Oklahoma (19-9, RPI: 22) vs. No. 9 Missouri (21-8, RPI: 33)

    I was clearly drunk on the Sooners’ Kool-Aid by having them as a No. 5 seed last week. The loss to Texas, though a very close game, had a sobering effect. Wins over WVU and TCU to close out the season will likely bump them up at least one seed line, but a loss in either game could drop a great computer resume onto the bubble.

    Missouri remains undefeated at home and winless on the road against the RPI Top 200—although, they do win their road games against the RPI Sub 200 by an average of 32 PPG. If those trends continue, the Tigers will likely be a No. 9 seed for a third consecutive week next Monday.

    No. 5 Syracuse (22-7, RPI: 15) vs. No. 12 Akron (22-5, RPI: 46)

    The Orange have lost three straight and six of their last 10. Granted, all of those losses came against teams in the tournament field—or at least that would be in the tournament field if academically eligible—but it hardly instills confidence to lose that regularly against above-average teams.

    Akron lost by 14 to Buffalo over the weekend, ending a perfect MAC season and perhaps fatally wounding an argument for an at-large bid if the Zips fail to win their conference tournament. They still have a better resume than Ole Miss, though.

    No. 4 Arizona (23-6, RPI: 13) vs. No. 13 Valparaiso (Horizon auto bid)

    It always felt like Arizona’s hot start was the work of smoke and mirrors. The Wildcats are now in fourth place in the Pac-12 with a 0-5 record against the RPI Top 50 since the Sabatino Chen game on January 3. Perhaps karma has finally come around.

    No. 6 UNLV (21-7, RPI: 13) vs. No. 11 Wichita State (24-7, RPI: 38)

    The Rebels blew out Wyoming and Nevada on the road in the past two weeks, easing concerns that they’re unable to play away from home. A pair of wins this week against Boise State and Fresno State would give them at least a share of second place in the MWC.

    Just when we thought it was safe to trust the Shockers again, they go and lose back-to-back games to drop out of first place in the Valley. Creighton and Wichita State could both still get in, but it may only happen if they play each other in the conference championship this Sunday.

    No. 3 Kansas State (23-5, RPI: 19) vs. No. 14 Davidson (Southern auto bid)

    The Wildcats have won nine of their last 10 and could realistically still get a No. 1 seed if they don’t lose again before Selection Sunday.

    No. 7 North Carolina (20-8, RPI: 20) vs. No. 10 Colorado (19-9, RPI: 27)

    The Tar Heels have convincingly won five straight games since losing to Duke. As much as it’s possible for a national powerhouse to be a sleeper team, they might be peaking for an opportunity to break some brackets.

    The Buffaloes split their road trip against Cal and Stanford and remain a No. 10 seed this week. A pair of home wins over the Oregon schools would make them a lock for the tournament.

    No. 2 Georgetown (23-4, RPI: 11) vs. No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast (A Sun auto bid)

    Georgetown’s inability to play in the East region is creating something of an issue. It’s really a tossup between Georgetown, Gonzaga and Duke for the fourth No. 1 seed, and the only region not claimed by one of the top three No. 1 seeds is the East. Thus, the Hoyas get shipped to the Midwest as a No. 2 seed.

    If they win remaining games against Villanova and Syracuse, they would likely become the No. 1 overall seed in next week’s bracket, in which case we’ll find a spot for them on the top line.

West Region

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    No. 1 New Mexico (25-4, RPI: 2) vs. No. 16 Long Beach State (Big West auto bid)

    Please see the final slide for analysis of the No. 1 seeds.

    No. 8 Butler (21-7, RPI: 28) vs. No. 9 Creighton (24-7, RPI: 36)

    Both Butler and Creighton were at one time projected for a No. 3 seed before experiencing some conference season turmoil. Butler has lost five of its last six games against the RPI Top 100. Creighton suffered five straight losses against the RPI Top 150 from January 19 through February 13.

    Can either mid-major staple turn things around and make a tournament run?

    Creighton seems to have at least started the transition, but that could be quickly undone by an early exit in the MVC tournament. Butler, on the other hand, suffered its worst-looking loss of the season this weekend and just seems lost on the court as of late.

    No. 5 Pitt (23-7, RPI: 39) vs. No. 12 Louisiana Tech (25-3, RPI: 48)

    The Panthers held on for a win over Villanova on Sunday and remain in contention for one of the double byes in the Big East tournament. The RPI and SOS are pretty weak from only playing two RPI Top 100 teams in the nonconference, but a 12-6 record in the Big East is worth enough to get at least a No. 6 seed.

    The Bulldogs were ranked 25th last week, responded by winning two consecutive games by 25 points per game and dropped out of the AP Top 25 this week. Ridiculous. If they win remaining road games against NMSU and Denver—arguably their two toughest games of the season—they would be deserving of an at-large bid if they lost in the WAC tournament.

    No. 4 Oklahoma State (22-6, RPI: 26) vs. No. 13 Kentucky (Last Five In)

    The Cowboys have won 10 of their last 11 games, with the one loss coming in double overtime against Kansas. This might be the best team in the country. Games against Iowa State and Kansas State this week will either reinforce or disprove that claim.

    No. 6 Memphis (25-4, RPI: 18) vs. No. 11 Temple (21-8, RPI: 42)

    Amid the fallout of Indiana losing to Minnesota and Florida losing to Tennessee, it may have been forgotten that Memphis was upset by Xavier in a bizarre late-season nonconference battle. The Tigers are still in great shape and should end up winning the C-USA tournament, but a protected seed may be out of reach.

    At 21-8 with a 9-5 record against the RPI Top 100, it’s getting difficult to remember why Temple was ever on the bubble. The loss to Duquesne was bad, yes, but Kansas and Michigan each lost a terrible game this season yet remain in the discussion for a No. 1 seed. If they avoid an even worse loss to Fordham this week, the Owls will be fine.

    No. 3 Michigan State (21-7, RPI: 8) vs. No. 14 South Dakota State (Summit auto bid)

    The Spartans are the latest team to suffer a three-game losing streak—though this one wasn’t nearly as unforeseen as some others, given the difficulty of the three games they just played. Though now laden with seven regular-season losses, this is arguably the team with the highest probability of making it to the Final Four.

    No. 7 UCLA (22-7, RPI: 30) vs.  No. 10 Middle Tennessee (27-4, RPI: 25)

    The Bruins finished off a season sweep of Arizona this weekend, removing any doubts over their inclusion in the tournament. Should they win both games in Washington this week, they would enter the NCAA tournament with no worse than a No. 6 seed. Should they also win the Pac-12 tournament, they could earn a No. 3 seed.

    The Blue Raiders have won 16 consecutive games and enter the Sun Belt conference tournament with a very strong computer profile, albeit only one win in four tries against the RPI Top 100. Should they fail to win their conference tournament, they will be the elephant in the room of every bubble discussion until Selection Sunday.

    No. 2 Louisville (25-5, RPI: 4) vs. No. 15 Weber State (Big Sky auto bid)

    Georgetown is stealing all of the Big East spotlight, but Louisville has been outstanding as of late. Monday’s win over Cincinnati was the Cardinals’ 19th against the RPI Top 150—second only to New Mexico’s 20.

East Region

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    No. 1 Gonzaga (28-2, RPI: 9) vs. No. 16 Robert Morris (NEC auto bid)

    Please see the final slide for analysis of the No. 1 seeds.

    No. 8 Oregon (23-6, RPI: 50) vs. No. 9 Illinois (20-9, RPI: 35)

    The Ducks have just a few games left to prove that they are a markedly better team with Dominic Artis back in the lineup. They could conceivably merit a No. 4 seed if they look dominant this week against Colorado and Utah.

    The Illini have finally clawed their way to a .500 record in Big Ten play after winning six of their last seven games. Road games against Iowa and Ohio State could have a negative impact on their seed, but they’re no longer in danger of missing the tournament.

    No. 5 Saint Louis (23-5, RPI: 29) vs. No. 12 Cincinnati (20-10, RPI: 49)

    Winners of 11 straight and in sole possession of first place in the A-10, the Billikens are just as hot as Georgetown, if not hotter.

    Cincinnati has lost six of its last eight games, needing a win over South Florida on Saturday just to get to .500 in Big East play. The win over Connecticut kept the Bearcats in the field, but the loss to Louisville kept them on the bubble. Should they play Villanova in the conference tournament, it’ll be do or die for both teams.

    No. 4 Ohio State (21-7, RPI: 21) vs. No. 13 Villanova / Iowa State (Last Five In)

    Ohio State’s resume is very similar to Michigan State’s in that they both have seven losses and they are all against the RPI Top 50. However, the Buckeyes have two fewer quality wins, and thus are slotted behind the Spartans.

    No. 6 Notre Dame (22-7, RPI: 47) vs. No. 11 Belmont (22-6, RPI: 23)

    The beauty of five-overtime games is that they become statement games for the winner and overlooked for the loser. With the season sweep of Cincinnati losing value by the day, Notre Dame’s three best wins are Kentucky, Pittsburgh and that thriller against Louisville. Imagine how different the Irish’s resume would be without it.

    With a strength of schedule in the 70s and a 6-2 record against the RPI Top 100, Belmont has the best computer profile of the mid-major favorites. They may need it, because the OVC championship should be more hotly contested than the MAC, Patriot, Sun Belt or WAC.

    No. 3 Florida (23-5, RPI: 7) vs. No. 14 Stony Brook (America East auto bid)

    After losing to Tennessee, the Gators are now winless away from home against the RPI Top 75. Buyer beware.

    No. 7 Minnesota (20-9, RPI: 16) vs. No. 10 San Diego State (18-8, RPI: 32)

    A win over Indiana? A 29-point win over Penn State? Is Minnesota finally back? Traveling to Purdue and Nebraska will be the final determination. The Golden Gophers have lost six consecutive road games, and the two most recent games were particularly ugly.

    With Boise State on the rise, someone from the Mountain West was inevitably going to fall. The Aztecs are just 6-6 in their last 12 games and finish the season with a trip to Boise. It’s an opportunity for the winner to clinch more than it is an elimination game for the loser, but the fifth-place finisher in the conference may be in some trouble.

    No. 2 Duke (25-4, RPI: 1) vs. No. 15 Princeton (Ivy auto bid)

    The Blue Devils would have been the No. 1 overall seed this week had they not lost to Virginia on Thursday night. If they win the ACC tournament, they’ll more than likely replace Gonzaga on the top line.

Who Is the No. 1 Overall Seed?

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    No. 4 Gonzaga (28-2, RPI: 9, SOS: 94)

    Neither Gonzaga nor New Mexico will actually be a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. As long as one of the top teams wins the ACC and Big East tournaments, they will inevitably supplant these "mid-majors."

    Bumping Gonzaga from the top line is totally justified.

    The Bulldogs have a nearly triple-digit strength of schedule. Regardless of how much you hate computer numbers, your argument for Gonzaga begins to crumble when you factor in the caliber of opponents they've faced in the West Coast Conference.

    If you want to say that it's not fair to count their conference's strength against them, I say do a search for conference realignment and ask why Gonzaga doesn't leave the WCC and start playing games at a higher difficulty level. It's clear from the past year of moves and rumors of moves that teams have the power to move to a better conference.

    If you want to say that it doesn't matter who their opponents are as long as they're beating them and not losing to the likes of TCU and Penn State, may I assume that you also have Louisiana Tech as a No. 1 seed?

    The only reason they're No. 1 in the AP poll is because they've lost just one game in nearly three months. As teams ahead of them lost, they continued rising by default until they reached the top. Even at that, 14 of the 65 AP voters had the common sense to step back and say, "This isn't the best team in America." 

    No. 3 New Mexico (25-4, RPI: 2, SOS: 3)

    Bumping New Mexico from the top line would be a mistake.

    I took a lot of abuse in the comments last week by giving the Lobos a No. 1 seed, but they absolutely deserve to be here. At 17-4 against the RPI Top 100, not only do they have the most wins against those teams, but the next best teams—Kansas, Duke and Miami—only have 13 such wins.

    The Lobos have faced the third-toughest schedule in the nation, yet have only four losses to show for it. Michigan State has seven losses against the fifth-toughest schedule. Minnesota has nine losses against the second-toughest schedule.

    Even in Joe Lunardi's Preferred RPI Formula they're the third-best team in the nation. When the founder of bracketology makes his own RPI formula because he doesn't like the traditional one and a team is still in the top three of both those formulas, how can you argue against that team for a No. 1 seed?

    The Mountain West might not be as good as the Big Ten or Big East, but it's at least on par with the Big 12 and ACC this year, and it's clearly better than the SEC or Pac-12. Writing off the Lobos for playing in a "mid-major" conference is just plain ignorant.

    No. 2 Indiana (25-4, RPI: 6, SOS: 19)

    The Hoosiers have a two-game lead in the best conference in the country. A loss to Minnesota drops them all of one spot, and they would absolutely regain the No. 1 overall seed by closing the season with wins over Ohio State and Michigan.

    No. 1 Kansas (26-4, RPI: 5, SOS: 16)

    The Jayhawks are on a warpath. They were the best team in the nation at the end of January before losing three consecutive games. It took a little while for them to regain our trust, but they're back to being the best team in the nation and will prove it by rampaging through the Big 12 conference tournament.