Sports' calmest period will soon make way for mayhem when this year's NCAA tournament begins on March 15. Before enjoying March Madness in all its chaotic glory, the selection committee must carefully design the men's basketball bracket.
Even if the NCAA extended the playing field to 150 teams, schools Nos. 151 and 152 would have a gripe. Few tournaments feature as many contestants, but a 68-team pool will still exclude several intriguing squads.
With the regular season winding down, schools are running out of opportunities to bolster their stock. Among the most noteworthy bubble teams, March Madness mainstays from drastically different backgrounds remain on the edge. As always, there isn't enough room on the dance floor for all of them.
|March 15, 16||First Four||UD Arena (Dayton, Ohio)|
|March 17, 19||First/Second Rounds||Dunkin Donuts Center (Providence, R.I.); Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, Iowa); PNC Arena (Raleigh, N.C.); Pepsi Center (Denver)|
|March 18, 20||First/Second Rounds||Barclays Center (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Scottrade Center (St. Louis); Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City); Spokane Arena (Spokane, Wash.)|
|March 24, 26||West Regional (Sweet 16, Elite Eight)||Honda Center (Anaheim, Calif.)|
|March 24, 26||South Regional (Sweet 16, Elite Eight)||KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Ky.)|
|March 25, 27||Midwest Regional (Sweet 16, Elite Eight)||United Center (Chicago)|
|March 25, 27||East Regional (Sweet 16, Elite Eight)||Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)|
|April 2||Final Four (Semifinals)||NRG Stadium (Houston)|
|April 4||Championship Game||NRG Stadium (Houston)|
Since making back-to-back national championship game appearances in 2010 and 2011, the Butler Bulldogs have traded early eliminations with getting left off the list altogether. At 19-9, they're in danger of missing the cut for the third time in five years.
Nationally ranked in the Associated Press preseason poll, the former Cinderella has stumbled against firmer competition. Along with splitting 16 games against Big East foes, Butler has gone a paltry 2-7 against top-50 clubs in terms of ESPN's RPI. Among those losses, only No. 5 Xavier triumphed (twice) by more than 10 points.
One of those two victories came against the Seton Hall Pirates, whom the Bulldogs play again on Wednesday night in a crucial contest for their tournament hopes. As noted by the team's official Twitter page, both teams have caught fire down the stretch:
Butler has won 5 of 7. Seton Hall has won 8 of 9 (only loss in stretch is to Butler). Wednesday night will be fun at Hinkle. Don't miss it!— Butler Basketball (@ButlerMBB) February 29, 2016
Even if it's not always pretty, the Bulldogs boast an efficient offense ranked No. 21 in both points per game (80.6) and offensive rating (114.1 points per 100 possessions). Roosevelt Jones embodies the mascot well; the undersized forward (6'4") leads the Bulldogs in rebounds (6.8) and assists (4.6) per bout while registering 14.1 points per game with a 48.5 field-goal percentage.
Even though it doesn't possess the star power and upside for another title run, Butler would make a pesky opening opponent. Concluding a hot finish with victories over Seton Hall and Marquette would cement its standing as one of the final teams to survive the cutting board.
Bracket veterans and novices know the likes of Kansas, Duke and Michigan State all too well. They're in the tournament every year, and they receive plenty of attention as a result of their prestige.
The people socially filling out a sheet know those names, but they likely don't give as much thought to Gonzaga, an unlikely mainstay. According to NCAA.com's Brian Mull, only the previously listed trio of college basketball juggernauts hold longer active streaks of consecutive tournament visits:
|Rank||Team||NCAA Tourney Bids|
Along with making the tournament in all 16 seasons under head coach Mark Few, the Bulldogs have notched at least one tournament triumph in each of their last six tries. This year, however, the familiar face is in jeopardy of vanishing.
Despite Gonzaga winning nine of its last dozen games, ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi has it listed as one of the first four out. These Bulldogs have fared even worse than Butler against stout opponents, losing all five of their matchups against top-50 RPI teams.
Then again, Sunday's road victory over BYU didn't make the cut, a fact KenPom.com's Ken Pomeroy derided during the heated battle:
It is somewhat hilarious that if Gonzaga finds a way to win this game, it will not be considered a top 50 win.— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) February 28, 2016
Although the win gives Gonzaga a fighting chance, a West Coast Conference crown represents its most likely path to another NCAA tournament. While they have captured three straight conference titles, the Bulldogs also lost twice to Saint Mary's this season. Without an automatic bid, Gonzaga is in grave danger of getting snubbed.
Following two deep tournament runs, the Michigan Wolverines are now gasping for breath down the stretch.
After losing three of the last four games, Michigan fell to 20-10. Playing all but 11 minutes of 2016 without leading scorer Caris LeVert has taken its toll, but Michigan will have to make a run without him. On Tuesday, the senior said he'll miss the remainder of the season as he recovers from a leg injury, per the team's official site.
"After some prayer and talking it over with my family, Coach [John] Beilein and the medical staff, we all feel it is best for me to concentrate on getting fully healthy," LeVert said. "There is still some discomfort that does not allow me to help this team the way I want."
In addition to recording a team-high 16.5 points per contest, LeVert led the Wolverines with a 28.8 player efficiency rating (PER). The selection committee will also take Michigan's 8-7 record without him into account, as it doesn't want to include a vulnerable group.
Michigan wouldn't be a strong bracket-buster without LeVert, but Duncan Robinson and Derrick Walton could orchestrate an upset or two by getting hot from behind the arc. If Michigan closes the regular season with a win over Iowa, expect it to sneak into the fold because of the program's pedigree and strong start.