As we get closer and closer to the most wonderful time of the year, I give you the final bracketology of February. With this final February version comes my most in-depth analysis yet about the bracket which may or may not be related to recent real-life work filings.
And the full S-Curve:
Last Four In: Tulsa, Cincinnati, Butler, VCU
First Four Out: Gonzaga, St. Bonaventure, Alabama, Vanderbilt
Next Four Out: George Washington, Washington, Clemson, LSU
Note: VCU bumped up to an 11 for play-in purposes.
1-Seeds: Throughout the many versions of this bracketology, the 1 line has remained a relative constant with Kansas, Oklahoma, and, Villanova taking turns at the pole position. Kansas earns the top overall seed this go-around due to their spotless resume. KU ranks #1 in the RPI, #4 in KenPom, and has played the 8th toughest schedule in the land. The Chickenhawks are 6-3 against the RPI top 25 and 15-3 against the top 100 with marquee wins that include a sweep of Oklahoma, a sweep of Baylor, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Nova's resume ain't too shabby either as they boast a 14-4 record against the RPI top 100, but their wins just don't quite match what KU has done. Same story for the Sooners. The fourth one seed, I believe, will be given to the ACC champion be it North Carolina, Virginia, or even dark horse Miami. Xavier makes a great case for a 1-seed, especially after their recent win over Villanova, but I just can't see the committee giving two Big East schools a 1-seed. Carolina gets the nod right now because they sit in sole first place in the ACC (12-3) after coming off an impressive win against the Canes at home.
2-Seeds: Xavier and Virginia both have a strong case for being the 4th 1-seed. The Musketeers are 12-3 against the RPI top 100, sit at #4 in the RPI, and as mentioned above have a key win over Nova in addition to big victories over Dayton, USC, at Michigan, and a sweep of Providence. Honestly resume-wise they should be a 1-seed but again, I just can't see the committee giving it to them. The Cavaliers have a similar resume and boast 5 wins over the top 25 RPI which is tied for second most in the country behind OU and KU's 6. Oregon sits at the top of the Pac-12 and are #5 in the RPI, but a relatively low #18 KenPom rating and recent stumbles to Cal and Stanford have me a little worried about the Ducks. Of course they can shove that worry right up my keister with their 16-5 record against the RPI top 100 and they are the only team to beat Arizona in Tuscon this year. As alluded to above, Miami is surging and is a dark horse to take the ACC (currently tied 2nd at 11-4). A curious stumble against Northeastern at home early in the season is really their only blemish but a recent triumph over Virginia almost negates that folly.
3-Seeds: West Virginia has been sitting in a 3-slot for virtually the entire 2016 half of the season. The Mountaineers are riding off their keystone win over Kansas and a sweep of Iowa State. I consider them the most vulnerable of the 3-seeds (7 losses vs. top 100) to move down to the 4-line especially with teams like Duke, Utah, and Indiana being on an absolute tear right now. Michigan State and Maryland both have sparkling records at 23-5 and 22-5, respectively. These two schools have similar resumes - Sparty: 3-3 vs. top 25, 11-4 vs. top 100; Terps: 2-2 vs. top 25, 10-4 vs. top 100 - but Michigan State ranks #1 in KenPom and has superior wins (Kansas, Louisville, Maryland) even though Maryland somehow ranks higher in the RPI (#10 vs. Sparty's #15). Kentucky joins the 3-seed line after recent stints on the 4-line and even the 6-line. The Cats are surging right now and have seemed to hit their stride with young guns Murray and Ulis after weird losses to freaking Auburn and Tennessee.
4-Seeds: Iowa is in a tailspin as of late losing three of their last four including a bad loss suffered at the hands of Penn State. The Hawkeyes now rank #20 in the RPI but still have a formidable resume. Not many (in fact no) team can boast that they've defeated Michigan State twice this season. Add those wins to a sweep of Purdue and an early season triumph over Wichita State and the Hawkeyes look downright impressive. Hopefully the recent stumble is an anomaly and Iowa can get back on track (Jok and Uthoff are two of my favorite college basketball players at the moment). Duke on the other hand is playing their best basketball of the season with 6 wins in their last 7 contests including victories over UNC (amazing game), Virginia, and Louisville. The Devils could easily hit that 3-line by the end of the year (and subsequently lose to a 14 in the first round *cough Mercer 2014* (boom - roasted). I love what Indiana is doing recently, but their 23-6 record and first place standing in the Big Ten is a bit misleading considering the schedule they've played thus far. The Hoosiers own the 112th toughest schedule in the land and somehow have only played Michigan State, Purdue, Iowa, and Maryland once. Their last two games of the season will come against the latter two, so we will truly know where the Hoosiers stand after those contests (you know cuz the season will be over). Utah is being ignored and its a travesty. The Utes are #9 in the RPI and are 15-7 against the RPI top 100 (they also beat Duke). The Utes sit a half game back of Oregon for first place in the Pac-12 with two home games against Arizona and Colorado remaining.
5-Seeds: Arizona seems like a great team capable of making a big run, but the Cats somehow are 0-2 vs. the RPI top 25 and their SOS is 125th. They do however boast a 13-4 record against RPI 26-100. Purdue is another one of those teams kind of slipping as of late. The February 9th win against Sparty was enormous but tough losses at Michigan and Indiana keep the Boilermakers sitting firmly on the 5-line. At 19-9 and 18-10 Iowa State and Texas do not have the prettiest of records, but both Big 12 schools have 5 wins against the RPI top 25. The Clones have defeated Kansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa while the Horns have wins over West Virginia (twice), North Carolina, and Iowa State. Side note: Smart has done an outstanding job at Texas - Barnes would not have this squad sitting on a potential 5-seed in late February.
6-Seeds: Dayton has been great all season but recent slip-ups against the Bonnies and St. Joe's have finally brought the Flyers back down to Earth. Dayton's best win is Iowa, aside from that they do not have a win against a squad currently in the projected tourney field. California is finally starting to play at the level every college basketball pundit in the nation projected them to play at. The Bears have won 6 in a row, are #18 in the RPI and have wins against the three Pac-12 powers - Utah, Oregon, and Arizona. They need to try to get a win or two outside of Berkeley though. All we need to mention about Notre Dame is their 4 best wins: Iowa, at Duke, North Carolina, Louisville. After four straight losses in the SEC, Texas A&M has bounced back to win three straight including a huge OT win over Kentucky. Other wins over Texas, Gonzaga, Baylor, and Iowa State propel the Aggies to the 6-line.
7-Seeds: I can't not put St. Joe's at a 7. The Hawks are #25 in the RPI and are tied for first-place in the A-10. Their recent win over Dayton has solidified their spot as an at-large bid into the tourney. Baylor's resume is, in a word, solid; the Bears are 8-8 vs. the Top 100 RPI and have strong Big 12 wins. Nobody is hotter than the Badgers of Wisconsin right now. The Badg are winners of nine of their last ten propelling their Big Ten record from a measly 1-4 to a muscle-bulging 10-5. After looking as if they'd miss the tourney for majority of the season, the Badgers are now firmly in and climbing higher every week - kudos to Greg Gard. USC is teetering on the edge right now; the Trojans have lost four of their last five and are 0-3 vs. the RPI top 25. They need to right the ship fast to stay on a first round top-line.
8-Seeds: This is where it gets muddy. The 8 through 10 seeds are a jumbled mess and one could really argue they make sense in any order. I like Connecticut here for their 7 wins vs. the RPI top 100 and their recent SMU victory. A #44 RPI ranking doesn't bode well, but a #22 KenPom ranking does; I think the Huskies stick around this line the rest of the way. Seton Hall and Texas Tech are two teams I never expected to stick around in the tourney conversation but recent performance has thrusted these two often overlooked programs firmly in the bracket. Seton Hall has 8 wins against the RPI top 100 and has won 7 of their last 8 while the Red Raiders have won 5 of 6 defeating Iowa State, Baylor, and Oklahoma in that stretch (they're also somehow ranked #23 in the RPI). South Carolina's gaudy 22-5 record is due mostly to their piss-poor schedule (SOS is 152), but with a steady record against the RPI top 100 and a marquee win at A&M, the Cocks ain't going nowhere (they lost to Mizzou though - hehe).
9-Seeds: Colorado's success this season has gotten little attention; the Buffs are a good team sporting a 9-9 record vs. the RPI top 100 and owning the #30 spot in the RPI rankings. One caveat - they have done basically nothing on the road (2-6 on the road in Pac-12 play). Oh how the mighty have fallen; at one point I had Providence sitting at a 3-seed in this bracket and they've managed to tumble all the way down to a 9. Despite having arguably the nation's best point guard (Dunn) and one of the best big men in the country (Bentil), the Friars are struggling hard to get wins as of late, going 2-6 since they beat Villanova (the only two wins came against Georgetown). Wichita State ranks #9 in KenPom yet #47 in the RPI. How? When the Shockers win, they WIN; like they literally (ok not literally) destroy opponents. But with their best win coming against Utah and losses against Illinois State and Northern Iowa, I just can't put them any higher than a 9 currently - though I would not be surprised in the slightest if they still make it to the Elite Eight. Syracuse's resume is pretty blah, but so is everyone else's from here on out. The Orange hang on to a 9-seed due to their victories over Duke, Notre Dame, UConn, and Texas A&M.
10-Seeds: Michigan earns some points here due to star player Caris LeVert being (once again) hurt for most of the year (though they did somehow beat Maryland without him). Beilein is a great coach and if LeVert gets healthy come tournament time, this could be a dangerous Wolverine squad capable of a major run from an 8,9, or 10 spot. Saint Mary's resume is not outstanding; in fact the only reason they are in this field is because they beat Gonzaga twice. The Gaels have played one (1) team in the top 50 RPI this season (they lost) - but they are 22-4. Florida is lucky they beat West Virginia. Without that marquee win we may be talking about the Gators being on the outside looking in. The eye test tells me this is a good squad, but the numbers scream "average". Pittsburgh is 0-6 vs. the RPI top 25, but 7-1 vs. 26-100; I think the Panthers need one more big win (like Duke on Sunday) to feel comfortable.
11-Seeds: I have six teams sitting at an 11 right now (VCU gets bumped up due to play-in game rules). Monmouth is an auto-bid, but they do make a case for an at-large if they happen to lose the MAAC tourney (mainly because ESPN has hyped up their bench so much this season). I agree early season wins over USC, Notre Dame, and at UCLA are impressive, but to me you can't give an at-large to a mid-major who's lost to Canisius, Manhattan, and Army. Oregon State is a team that I am really rooting for to make the field. Luckily for me, their #1 SOS has them sitting pretty as one of the final teams in. A 3-4 record vs. the RPI top 25 is pretty good - especially for an 11 seed, and wins over California, USC, and Utah don't hurt either. As with most Pac-12 schools they have yet to be impressive on the road. It crushes my soul that I have to put Tulsa in the field given my loathing for Frank Haith, but the Hurricane is a good squad with a good resume. They are #36 in the RPI, #39 in KenPom and are #36 in SOS. They've defeated all the good AAC teams and have a win over Wichita State. I hope they blow it. Cincinnati should be better, it's mind-blowing how difficult its been for them to win ball games. Thank goodness for the UConn sweep or the Bearcats would be out of the field. Same thing with Butler, I'm very surprised at their lack of ability to win tough games - 2-7 vs. the RPI top 50. VCU is the definition of a bubble team; I think they have just enough of an edge over outside teams to get the nod for now.
The Rest: Temple is in the field right now as they sit atop the AAC standings. I think the Owls are a good team and I would love to see them make the tourney, but they likely will need to win the AAC tournament. Valparaiso from the Horizon is a sure-fire upset pick come tourney-time especially if they end up in that magical 5-12 game. The Crusaders boast the nation's 4th best defense. San Diego State and the entire Mountain West this season has been a joke and a disappointment - one-bid league for sure. Arkansas-Little Rock has potential to earn even higher than a 12-seed as they are #35 currently in the RPI. I love Chattanooga, they have trendy/sexy upset pick written all over them. Yale is the class of the Ivy; I expect them to hold off a late-season push from Princeton. Akron leads a down MAC conference; the Zips are more than capable of knocking out a 4-seed. It's nice to see Hawaii in the field, I hope they hold off a charging UC Irvine to win the Big West (shout out to Stefan Jankovic). Stony Brook is another team that is sure to be touted by college bball talking heads when the bracket is released; they are #52 currently in the RPI. UAB should feel slightly disrespected after their tourney win last season to be projected between a 14 and 15 this year, but C-USA is total crap this season. IPFW has one of the best nicknames in college basketball (the Mastodons) but I don't expect them to be in this field for long - I've got my eyes set on the South Dakota State Jack Rabbits representing the Summit. The top of the Colonial is a blood bath, so place-holder UNC Wilmington likely won't be the team representing the conference (Hofstra, James Madison, William & Mary, and Towson are all lurking). It feels like Belmont and Stephen F. Austin are in the field every year - I would not want to draw either of these squads if I'm a 2-seed. North Florida is the class of the Atlantic Sun; they should cruise to an easy tourney berth. I like what UNC Asheville is doing this season, but my money is on Winthrop or High Point representing the Big South come tourney time. Bucknell and Weber State could quite possibly be the two best 16-seeds ever - do I smell a 1-seed upset? No, but maybe! New Mexico State is a tourney veteran that should give a 1-seed a little scare before ultimately succumbing. It's nice seeing new teams in the field like Wagner from the Northeast Conference. The Seahawks have made one tournament in their D1 history (losing to Pitt in 2003). Finally, Hampton and Texas Southern are two teams who are wayyyy better than every other team in their respective conferences (MEAC and SWAC), but still not good enough to earn higher than a 16-seed.