In possibly the most unpredictable season in college basketball history, predicting which teams will make the NCAA tournament and where those teams will be seeded is quite a tall task.
Usually, placing schools on the top line is the easy part, but in 2013 that is just as difficult, if not harder, than guessing who will be on the right side of the bubble.
The only sure thing appears to be Louisville, who should be the overall No. 1 seed after earning a share of the Big East regular-season title and winning the conference tournament. The Cardinals finished in the top five in both RPI and strength of schedule and were 10-4 against the top 50, 15-5 versus the top 100 and 14-4 in road/neutral games.
The Selection Committee tends to reward champions. Since 2005, 27 of the 31 top seeds have been regular-season conference champs and 21 of 32 have been league tournament winners, which makes my choice to keep Duke as a No. 1 seed a bit of a stretch. But it's not without precedent. In 2009, both Pittsburgh and UConn finished in a tie for second in the Big East before losing in the conference quarters, but were still awarded a top seed.
This season's Blue Devils are certainly deserving of becoming the third team since '05 to garner a top seed without winning a regular-season or conference title. That's because Duke ranked first in the country in RPI, SOS and nonconference SOS, in addition to being 6-1 versus the RPI top 25, 9-2 against the top 50, 14-5 versus the top 100 and 11-5 away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. Finally, Coach K's bunch was 18-1 with Ryan Kelly, and he is now healthy.
Kansas seems like a deserving choice after winning Big 12 regular-season and tournament crowns. The Jayhawks were 6-1 against the RPI top 25, 13-3 versus the top 50 and 15-4 against the top 100.
My final spot goes to Indiana, who won the Big Ten regular-season championship. The Hoosiers were 6-2 against the RPI top 25, but I wouldn't be shocked if they slipped to a No. 2 seed due to their 9-6 mark versus the top 50 and 64th-ranked nonconference SOS.
So that means I have top-ranked Gonzaga as a No. 2 seed. The Bulldogs' 76th-ranked SOS and low number of wins against the RPI top 25 (1), top 50 (6) and top 100 (11) don't compare well to the teams previously discussed.
In my mind, New Mexico and Miami are also deserving of consideration, but I feel the Committee will overlook the Lobos because they play in the Mountain West and recently lost to Air Force, and the Hurricanes will miss out thanks to just seven top-50 wins and two relatively recent bad losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Still, ACC regular-season and tournament titles are hard to overlook.
Here is the first part of my projections:
1. Louisville, Duke, Kansas, Indiana
2. Gonzaga, New Mexico, Florida, Miami
3. Michigan State, Georgetown, Ohio State, Arizona
4. Kansas State, Saint Louis, VCU, UCLA
5. Memphis, Wisconsin, Marquette, Syracuse
6. Creighton, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma State
7. Pittsburgh, UNLV, North Carolina, Butler
8. Oregon, San Diego State, California, Temple
9. Illinois, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Colorado State
10. Missouri, Wichita State, NC State, Colorado
11. Oklahoma, Ole Miss
So that leaves six spots for 15 teams (This was reduced by one after Ole Miss knocked off Florida to earn the automatic bid out of the SEC. Previously, the Rebels were my fourth team out) ...
No. 11 seed—Boise State (RPI 44, SOS 52, 3-5 vs. top 25, 4-7 vs. top 50, 8-8 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 losses, 7-9 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 202)
Boise State's six-point loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West quarters is not enough to knock the Broncos from the bracket, especially since they beat the Aztecs in the regular-season finale.
Boise State's computer numbers are good, as are its wins over Creighton, UNLV and Colorado State.
No. 11 seed—Villanova (RPI 52, SOS 21, 4-2 vs. top 25, 5-8 vs. top 50, 8-11 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 losses, 8-9 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 158)
The Wildcats' 4-2 mark against the RPI top 25 is sparkling. They have defeated Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette and Georgetown. The only reason Villanova is even on the bubble is its middling RPI and two bad losses to Columbia and Seton Hall, but this team should be fine.
No. 12 seed (First Four game)—Iowa State (RPI 45, SOS 41, 1-5 vs. top 25, 4-8 vs. top 50, 8-9 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 losses, 6-10 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 137)
Iowa State pretty much punched its ticket with a win over Oklahoma in the Big 12 quarters. That really should have been all the Cyclones needed to do after beating Oklahoma State on March 6. The computer numbers and eight top-100 wins are tournament worthy.
No. 12 seed (First Four game)—Tennessee (RPI 59, SOS 58, 1-2 vs. top 25, 3-5 vs. top 50, 8-10 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 losses, 7-9 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 43)
The Vols could have made things academic with a win over Alabama in the SEC quarters, but a 10-point loss leaves them squarely on the bubble. Tennessee should still get in thanks to its solid strength of schedule numbers, both overall and out of conference. In addition, the Volunteers defeated Wichita State, Florida and Missouri, as well as five other teams ranked in the top 100.
No. 12 seed (First Four game)—Kentucky (RPI 57, SOS 69, 1-3 vs. top 25, 3-4 vs. top 50, 6-8 vs. top 100, 3 sub-100 losses, 5-9 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 60)
The Wildcats spent the past month squarely on the bubble and they should sneak in with one of the final three spots. The blowout loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC quarters was about the worse thing they could've done, but Kentucky proved it could beat a top-flight team without Nerlens Noel when it downed Florida on March 9. UK also won at Ole Miss (with Noel) and beat Missouri (without him). Coach Calipari's team also challenged itself out of conference, which is something the Committee stresses.
No. 12 seed (First Four game)—La Salle (RPI 46, SOS 67, 2-3 vs. top 25, 2-4 vs. top 50, 6-8 vs. top 100, 1 sub-100 losses, 8-7 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 101)
The computer numbers are acceptable in comparison to teams fighting for the final two spots in the field. La Salle also has two very good wins over Butler and VCU, the last of which came away from home, where the Explorers had a winning record. Just one sub-100 loss is another positive and that came all the way back on Nov. 18 against Central Connecticut.
First team out—Saint Mary's (RPI 30, SOS 96, 1-3 vs. top 25, 1-3 vs. top 50, 5-5 vs. top 100, 1 sub-100 losses, 11-5 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 119)
I had never had more difficulty deciding my last team in. In my opinion, it was an absolute toss-up between Saint Mary's, Middle Tennessee and Massachusetts. I finally went with the Gaels because they are the only team with an RPI top-25 win (Creighton) and they have just one sub-100 loss. But in the end, they got knocked out when Ole Miss stole a bid by winning the SEC tournament. Saint Mary's overall and nonconference SOS, as well as just one top-50 and five top-100 wins were not enough.
Second team out—Massachusetts (RPI 56, SOS 71, 0-5 vs. top 25, 2-7 vs. top 50, 9-9 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 losses, 12-7 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 72)
Most people don't have UMass anywhere near the field, but I think the Minutemen deserve a long hard look thanks to their schedule strength and nine top-100 wins. In the end, however, I think they just miss due to a mediocre RPI, two bad losses and an 0-5 mark vs the RPI top 25. They had their chances, and they missed.
Third team out—Middle Tennessee (RPI 29, SOS 129, 0-2 vs. top 25, 1-3 vs. top 50, 1-3 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 losses, 12-5 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 9)
Middle Tennessee doesn't deserve to be in this conversation, but the Selection Committee loves teams that win away from home and challenge themselves out of conference. The Blue Raiders' 28 wins would be the most for a team to miss the field, but that win total is fictitious—27 came against teams ranked outside the top 100. But who knows? Remember, Iona somehow made the field last year.
Fourth team out—Southern Miss (RPI 32, SOS 75, 0-4 vs. top 25, 0-5 vs. top 50, 5-7 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 losses, 13-8 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 76)
In reality, Southern Miss shouldn't even be this close because the Golden Eagles didn't beat a single team ranked in the top 50, but that didn't stop Iona from making the field last year. Southern Miss' inflated RPI and solid road/neutral and nonconference SOS numbers give it a chance, but I just don't see how you can get in when you're best win is Denver.
Fifth team out—Virginia (RPI 75, SOS 114, 2-2 vs. top 25, 4-3 vs. top 50, 8-4 vs. top 100, 7 sub-100 losses, 3-10 road/neutral, Nonconference SOS 303)
We've known for weeks that Virginia would be one of the most talked-about teams on Selection Sunday and that hasn't changed since the Wahoos dropped three of four games after beating Duke. The high-end wins are there, but no team has ever made the tournament as an at-large with anywhere near seven sub-100 losses.
In addition, no team has earned an at-large with an RPI lower than 67 since the last significant change in the RPI formula, which was first used for the 2005 tournament. That is why Baylor (71), Maryland (70) and Iowa (80) will also be heading to the NIT. Alabama misses due to an 0-6 record against the top 50.
Sixth team out—Baylor
Seventh team out—Maryland
Eighth team out—Alabama
Ninth team out—Iowa
So, here's the bottom of the bracket:
11. Boise State, Villanova
12. Belmont, Akron, Tennessee vs Iowa State, Kentucky vs La Salle
13. New Mexico State, South Dakota State, Bucknell, Pacific
14. Northwestern State, Montana, Valparaiso, Davidson
15. Harvard, Iona, Albany, Florida Gulf Coast
16. Western Kentucky, Long Island, Liberty vs Southern, James Madison vs NC A&T
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