NCAA Bracket Predictions 2014: Projecting the March Madness Field at Week 11
A lot has changed in the two weeks since our last bracket, but the four No. 1 seeds remain the same in this latest effort to project the March Madness field, as Arizona, Michigan State, Syracuse and Wisconsin hang on to the top spots once again.
Creighton was one of the biggest positive movers. In a span of 14 days, the Bluejays' RPI jumped from 55 to 14, propelling them from a No. 8 seed to a No. 4. Elsewhere, Iowa and San Diego State each made considerable jumps to check in as No. 3 seeds this week.
At the other end of the spectrum, Louisville, North Carolina, Oregon and Colorado each plummeted while remaining somewhat comfortably in the bracket. Illinois wasn't quite so lucky, dropping from a No. 7 seed to entirely out of the current field.
As always, we'll start out at the bottom by looking at the last five teams to be included and excluded from the field. One new wrinkle is a slide dedicated to teams which aren't quite deserving of being in the tournament discussion but are creeping on to the radar.
After that, we'll present each seeded region, including the sub-regional locations in which each pod would be played and some commentary on select teams. Then it's the ranking of the No. 1 seeds followed by a summary of the entire field broken out by conference.
Win-loss records on the following slides exclude games played against opponents not in D-I. All RPI rankings (via ESPN) are current through the start of play on Thursday, Jan. 16.
Last Five In
Southern Methodist (12-4, RPI: 41)
Other than a home win against a struggling Connecticut team, the Mustangs don't have much in terms of quality wins. However, they have already played four of the five most difficult games they will play this season, with the regular-season finale at Memphis still pending. Home games against Cincinnati and Memphis will be big, but if they can avoid bad losses against the five teams from the AAC with an RPI of 155 or worse, they should be dancing for the first time in more than 20 years.
Georgetown (11-5, RPI: 46)
The Puerto Rico Tip-Off giveth and the Puerto Rico Tip-Off taketh away. The Hoyas' two best wins of the season (over Kansas State and VCU) came within 72 hours of their worst loss of the season to Northeastern. Allowing a 15-point second-half lead to turn into a 13-point loss at Xavier on Wednesday night didn't help matters. They'll need to win a few more big games to stay in the field.
Indiana (12-5, RPI: 55)
The Hoosiers would be long gone if they hadn't picked up one of the biggest wins by any team this season against Wisconsin on Tuesday night. It is their only win against an RPI Top 75 opponent so far, but it was enough to keep them in the field for now.
Tennessee (11-5, RPI: 53)
Are the real Volunteers the ones who scored 87 points in a 35-point win over Virginia or the ones who scored 56 in a loss to Texas A&M? Their next three games are at Kentucky, versus Arkansas and at Florida, so perhaps we'll have a better feel for this team in 10 days.
Texas (13-4, RPI: 47)
Texas is the seventh team into the field out of the Big 12. Despite their current state, it seems highly unlikely that the conference will ultimately send that many teams to the tournament. At least one of those seven teams is inevitably going to end up with a sub-.500 conference record. If Texas is that team, it's going to be very difficult to argue for its inclusion, since it has just one nonconference win against the RPI Top 85.
First Five Out
Illinois (13-5, RPI: 40)
Two weeks ago, the Illini were projected for a No. 7 seed. Back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Purdue after a blowout loss to Wisconsin have knocked them completely out of the field. Their five games in the next three weeks are against Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. If they're going to right the ship, they better do it soon.
Dayton (13-4, RPI: 42)
Fun as it would be to see Dayton playing in the opening round in Dayton, the Flyers remain just outside the field for the time being. Losses to USC and Illinois State aren't looking any better than before. They'll almost certainly need to win two of their remaining home games against George Washington, Massachusetts and VCU.
Stanford (11-5, RPI: 57)
We were expecting a 1-1 outcome from Stanford's road trip to Oregon and Oregon State last week, but not in the order that it occurred. As a result, the Cardinal picked up both their best win and worst loss since the last projected bracket. Still a lot of work left to be done, though, starting this weekend against Washington.
Arizona State (13-5, RPI: 63)
No great wins, no terrible losses. The Sun Devils' 2013-14 resume is basically a carbon copy of last year's. No one would have expected them to win on the road against UCLA or Arizona, but they need to find some quality wins somewhere along the way. A home win over a depleted Colorado on Jan. 25 feels like a must-have.
Boise State (12-5, RPI: 60)
The three-point loss at San Diego State was not only understandable, but inspired. The Broncos had one of the best teams in the nation on the ropes on its own court. However, their subsequent loss at home to Wyoming was quite disappointing. The Broncos are currently 0-5 against the RPI Top 100. Yikes. If they don't win their next two games (versus Utah State, at New Mexico), it might be curtains for their at-large dreams.
Gone but Not Forgotten
This isn't so much a "Next Five Out" section as it is a look below the radar at a handful of intriguing teams that could get into the tournament discussion in a hurry.
Indiana State (14-3, RPI: 58)
With all of the "Wichita State will go undefeated" talk, you might be led to believe that the Missouri Valley Conference is made up of a bunch of junior varsity teams. For the most part, that isn't too far from accurate, but Indiana State is for real. Outside of a road loss to Saint Louis, the Sycamores haven't lost in nearly two months. They have a huge opportunity to make some national noise this weekend at Wichita State.
Brigham Young (12-7, RPI: 50)
BYU is a bracket-maker's nightmare. The Cougars are not allowed to play on Sundays for religious reasons, thus blacklisting four of the eight sub-regional sites and two of the four regional ones. It's not an issue yet, but it could be if they can go 4-0 on their current 10-day road trip. Earlier losses to Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine might keep them from ever getting into the field, but that great RPI will keep them on the fringe for a while.
Providence (12-5, RPI: 65)
With Butler, Marquette and St. John's hopelessly floundering, someone else from the Big East is inevitably going to step up and make a little bit of noise. The smart money is on Providence filling that role. The Friars are about to play three straight home games against Creighton, Butler and Xavier.
The winner between Clemson and Wake Forest on Saturday
Neither is quite in the conversation yet, but Saturday's winner will be. If it's Clemson, the Tigers move to 4-1 in ACC play with wins over Duke and Wake Forest and a defense that no one can seem to figure out. If Wake Forest wins, the Demon Deacons improve to 6-5 versus the RPI Top 100, which includes wins against potential bubble teams like North Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson, Richmond and St. Bonaventure.
Pick a middling A-10 team
I'm not specifically buying into La Salle, Richmond, St. Bonaventure or St. Joseph's as a sleeper, but I would bet on one of those teams making a run. Just by virtue of being in the A-10, each team has about 10 more games left against the RPI Top 100. Throw together a 7-3 record in those games with an upset over one of the conference's top teams, and suddenly you're a near-lock for the tournament.
East Region (New York City)
No. 1 Syracuse (17-0, RPI: 7) vs. No. 16 Radford (Big South auto bid, RPI: 223) / Stony Brook (America East auto bid, RPI: 171)
No. 8 Kansas State (13-4, RPI: 33) vs. No. 9 Michigan (12-4, RPI: 38)
San Diego, Calif.
No. 4 Creighton (15-2, RPI: 14) vs. No. 13 Manhattan (MAAC auto bid, RPI: 70)
No. 5 Memphis (12-4, RPI: 21) vs. No. 12 North Dakota State (Summit auto bid, RPI: 49)
No. 3 Massachusetts (15-1, RPI: 5) vs. No. 14 Tennessee / Southern Methodist (Last Five In)
No. 6 Oklahoma (13-4, RPI: 22) vs. No. 11 Minnesota (14-4, RPI: 34)
No. 2 Villanova (15-1, RPI: 3) vs. No. 15 Boston (Patriot auto bid, RPI: 100)
No. 7 Louisville (15-3, RPI: 37) vs. No. 10 New Mexico (12-4, RPI: 36)
It feels weird to see the Minutemen as a No. 3 seed, but their computer profile demands nothing less. They don't have any RPI Top 25 wins, but they do have 10 wins against the RPI Top 90. It's been nearly a month since they won a game by more than double digits, though, so perhaps their magic is starting to wear off.
According to KenPom (subscription required), Creighton has the most efficient offense in the country. The Bluejays are averaging 85.8 points per game in conference play. At the time, their losses to San Diego State and George Washington felt somewhat inexcusable, but they have won 10 straight since losing those neutral-court games against teams that have become much better than expected.
Louisville at No. 7 has a bit of "sticker shock" to it, but we're still waiting on the Cardinals to actually win a game away from home against an RPI Top 150 team. If they can win at Connecticut on Saturday, it will easily become their best victory of the season, and would likely vault them back up a couple of lines.
Believe it or not, Michigan hasn't lost since its near-win over Arizona on Dec. 14. Things are about to get serious for the Wolverines, though. In their next three games, they play at home against Iowa and on the road against Wisconsin and Michigan State. A 3-0 record in those games might push them as high as a No. 2 seed. An 0-3 record, however, could knock them out of the field. No pressure!
South Region (Memphis)
St. Louis, Mo.
No. 1 Michigan State (16-1, RPI: 8) vs. No. 16 Southern (SWAC auto bid, RPI: 187) / Bryant (NEC auto bid, RPI: 175)
No. 8 Xavier (14-4, RPI: 31) vs. No. 9 Missouri (13-3, RPI: 39)
No. 4 Pittsburgh (16-1, RPI: 16) vs. No. 13 Belmont (OVC auto bid, RPI: 73)
No. 5 Baylor (13-3, RPI: 17) vs. No. 12 Toledo (MAC auto bid, RPI: 45)
No. 3 San Diego State (15-1, RPI: 15) vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland auto bid, RPI: 99)
No. 6 Duke (13-4, RPI: 25) vs. No. 11 Harvard (Ivy auto bid, RPI: 43)
St. Louis, Mo.
No. 2 Kansas (12-4, RPI: 1) vs. No. 15 Delaware (Colonial auto bid, RPI: 90)
No. 7 Oregon (13-3, RPI: 20) vs. No. 10 VCU (13-4, RPI: 48)
Kansas has the top RPI and top SOS in the country. Even with the four losses, it was tempting to give the Jayhawks a spot on the top line. If they win home games against Oklahoma State and Baylor in the next few days, it would give them nine wins against the RPI Top 50.
Speaking of Baylor, true road games have not been kind to the Bears. They were blown out by both Iowa State and Texas Tech in the past 10 days. Their next three road games are against Kansas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, so they very well may be taking an 0-5 road record to TCU on Feb. 12.
Neither Duke nor Oregon has fared much better than Baylor in conference play. They have combined for five losses in the past two weeks, and have each plummeted from their perch in the AP Top 10. Duke may have turned a corner with a win over Virginia on Monday, but Oregon is in a full-fledged free fall with three straight road games coming up.
Since the last update, Missouri has lost twice without having played any games against teams in the RPI Top 125. Georgia and Vanderbilt are now a combined 0-9 against RPI Top 100 teams not named Missouri, but they're 2-0 against the Tigers. A No. 9 seed is probably too generous for them.
Keep an eye on Harvard at No. 11. Playing in the Ivy League is going to cripple the Crimson's RPI—10 of their remaining 14 games are against teams with an RPI of worse than 230—but if they can win out and get to 27-2 (and into the AP Top 25), it'll be interesting to see how the committee treats them.
Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
No. 1 Wisconsin (16-1, RPI: 2) vs. No. 16 Northern Colorado (Big Sky auto bid, RPI: 180)
No. 8 California (13-4, RPI: 30) vs. No. 9 North Carolina (10-6, RPI: 52)
No. 4 Iowa State (14-2, RPI: 9) vs. No. 13 UC Santa Barbara (Big West auto bid, RPI: 64)
No. 5 Kentucky (12-4, RPI: 18) vs. No. 12 Green Bay (Horizon auto bid, RPI: 44)
No. 3 Wichita State (18-0, RPI: 11) vs. No. 14 Georgetown / Indiana (Last Five In)
No. 6 Saint Louis (16-2, RPI: 29) vs. No. 11 Texas (Last Five In)
No. 2 Florida (14-2, RPI: 6) vs. No. 15 Davidson (Southern auto bid, RPI: 182)
No. 7 Connecticut (14-3, RPI: 27) vs. No. 10 Colorado (14-4, RPI: 12)
I've seen some people projecting Wichita State for a No. 1 seed, but that's a little crazy at this point in the year—and that's coming from the person who spent much of last season pushing for New Mexico as a No. 1 seed. If the Shockers beat Indiana State this weekend, they'll jump up to a No. 2 in place of the loser of the Oklahoma State vs. Kansas game, but let's at least let them get into February with an undefeated record before we put them on the top line.
Florida makes a better case for a No. 1 seed. The Gators have never quite gotten to full strength, and yet they have three RPI Top 25 wins and haven't lost in more than a month.
Jumping down to a team with no case for a No. 1 seed, North Carolina is still pretty comfortably in the tournament field despite opening ACC play with three consecutive losses. Lose at home to Boston College this weekend, and that'll change the story, but the Tar Heels are playing to stay in the field rather than trying to work their way back into it.
Colorado's profile deserves better than a No. 10 seed, but we're proactively dropping the Buffaloes in light of Spencer Dinwiddie's season-ending injury. They were blown out at home by UCLA on Thursday night, and it seems unlikely that they'll figure out how to be an elite team without Dinwiddie.
West Region (Anaheim)
San Diego, Calif.
No. 1 Arizona (18-0, RPI: 4) vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central (MEAC auto bid, RPI: 135)
No. 8 Virginia (12-5, RPI: 23) vs. No. 9 Gonzaga (15-3, RPI: 28)
San Antonio, Texas
No. 4 Cincinnati (16-2, RPI: 24) vs. No. 13 New Mexico State (WAC auto bid, RPI: 66)
No. 5 Ohio State (15-3, RPI: 13) vs. No. 12 Southern Miss (C-USA auto bid, RPI: 51)
No. 3 Iowa (14-3, RPI: 32) vs. No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt auto bid, RPI: 109)
No. 6 UCLA (14-3, RPI: 35) vs. No. 11 George Washington (14-3, RPI: 26)
San Antonio, Texas
No. 2 Oklahoma State (15-2, RPI: 10) vs. No. 15 Mercer (Atlantic Sun auto bid, RPI: 88)
No. 7 Florida State (12-4, RPI: 19) vs. No. 10 Arkansas (12-4, RPI: 61)
Not surprisingly, Ohio State has been exposed in Big Ten play. Save for furious second-half comebacks against Notre Dame and Michigan State, the Buckeyes have been pretty hapless for the past month. LaQuinton Ross is doing his best Deshaun Thomas impression, but the team desperately needs to find another reliable source of offensive production.
With the Buckeyes losing three straight games, the Hawkeyes have slid into the third-best slot from the Big Ten, earning a No. 3 seed in the West region. Both teams have three losses, but Iowa has the head-to-head win over Ohio State, and each of Iowa's three losses came against teams in the RPI Top 10.
Kudos to Cincinnati, which has now gone 18 straight games without allowing an opponent to score more than 67 points. Despite an adjusted offensive efficiency that ranks 148th in the nation, the Bearcats have won nine straight. If they ever figure out that whole scoring baskets thing, they could realistically make a run at a spot on the top line.
Elsewhere, Gonzaga has a lot of work left to do after losing to Portland last week. Without a single RPI Top 50 win yet this season, the Bulldogs might be just two more losses away from being in jeopardy of missing the tournament for the first time since 1998.
Ranking the No. 1 Seeds
No. 4 Michigan State (16-1, RPI: 8, SOS: 37)
No. 3 Wisconsin (16-1, RPI: 2, SOS: 7)
Despite the loss to Indiana, Wisconsin remains a No. 1 seed with room to spare.
The Badgers have nine wins against the RPI Top 85, and five of those victories came away from home. Much respect to Michigan State for being one of just three teams with five RPI Top 50 wins, but the Spartans' computer profile doesn't stand a chance against Wisconsin's.
Neither ends up travelling too far for its regional site, but Wisconsin gets the benefit of playing in Indianapolis.
No. 2 Syracuse (17-0, RPI: 7, SOS: 90)
No. 1 Arizona (18-0, RPI: 4, SOS: 41)
Syracuse was the No. 1 overall seed two weeks ago, but playing in the ACC has incredibly decimated the Orange's computer profile. It'll get better in upcoming weeks against Pittsburgh and Duke, but opening conference play with two out of four games against Boston College and Virginia Tech would put a beating on anyone's RPI.
As a result, the top team in the AP poll jumps to the top spot in the bracket.
Arizona's road win over UCLA was huge. It's the only game that the Wildcats play against the Bruins this season. With Colorado losing Spencer Dinwiddie for the season and Oregon struggling to play anything resembling defense, an undefeated season for Arizona doesn't seem anywhere near as crazy as it once did.
One thing to note for the Wildcats: Even if they lose a couple of games and drop off the top line, it's all but a guarantee that they'll play their first two games in San Diego before moving on to Anaheim for the next two games. San Diego State is the only other West Coast team on the top five lines, and the Aztecs aren't even allowed to play in San Diego because it's their home court.
One-bid conferences: 23
- America East (Stony Brook)
- Atlantic Sun (Mercer)
- Big Sky (Northern Colorado)
- Big South (Radford)
- Big West (UC Santa Barbara)
- C-USA (Southern Miss)
- Colonial (Delaware)
- Horizon (Green Bay
- Ivy (Harvard)
- MAAC (Manhattan)
- MAC (Toledo)
- MEAC (North Carolina Central)
- Missouri Valley (Wichita State)
- NEC (Bryant)
- OVC (Belmont)
- Patriot (Boston)
- Southern (Davidson)
- Southland (Stephen F. Austin)
- Summit (North Dakota State)
- Sun Belt (Louisiana-Lafayette)
- SWAC (Southern)
- WAC (New Mexico State)
- WCC (Gonzaga)
Multi-bid conferences: 9
American: Cincinnati (4), Memphis (5), Louisville (7), Connecticut (7), Southern Methodist (last five in)
Atlantic 10: Massachusetts (3), Saint Louis (6), VCU (10), George Washington (11), Dayton (first five out)
ACC: Syracuse (1), Pittsburgh (4), Duke (6), Florida State (7), Virginia (8), North Carolina (9)
Big East: Villanova (2), Creighton (4), Xavier (8), Georgetown (last five in)
Big 10: Wisconsin (1), Michigan State (1), Iowa (3), Ohio State (5), Michigan (9), Minnesota (11), Indiana (Last five in), Illinois (first five out)
Big 12: Oklahoma State (2), Kansas (2), Iowa State (4), Baylor (5), Oklahoma (6), Kansas State (8), Texas (last five in)
Mountain West: San Diego State (3), New Mexico (10), Boise State (first five out)
Pac-12: Arizona (1), UCLA (6), Oregon (7), California (9), Colorado (10), Arizona State (First five out), Stanford (first five out)
SEC: Florida (2), Kentucky (5), Missouri (9), Arkansas (10), Tennessee (last five in)
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.