Now it’s getting real. There is just a month until Selection Sunday and the resumes are starting to solidify.
The NCAA Tournament bubble is still a mess. Any of the teams in the top three seeds could make a run into the bracket. It’s particularly hard to figure out how the committee will deal with Illinois State. The RPI is excellent, but the schedule is mediocre at best.
In the middle of the bracket there are a few teams that are flirting with the magical .500 cutoff line. Georgetown and Pittsburgh will probably be in the NIT if they stay above that line, both have some solid wins and played extremely difficult schedules, but whether they actually finish there is still in doubt. KenPom has Georgetown finishing 16-15 (7-11 Big East) and Pittsburgh at 16-15 (5-13 ACC). Some untimely losses or a 1-and-done stint in their respective conference tournaments would probably be enough to drop either team from consideration. For now though they’re hanging around the middle of the bracket.
Two other Big Ten teams are hanging out around the bottom of the bracket: Penn State and Illinois. The Nittany Lions swept the Illini. Both are projected to finish just 16-15 (though PSU at 8-10 Big Ten and Illinois at 6-12). Because Penn State has won more games in Big Ten play its resume is a little stronger, which is why I have the Nittany Lions further away from the bubble.
The other intriguing teams to me? BYU (18-9, 11-7) is the West Coast Conference’s third best team. But the Cougars also have losses to Utah Valley, San Diego and Pepperdine, and their best win is either at the very beginning of the season versus Princeton or in December versus Colorado. BYU could really use to knock off Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga down the stretch. UT Arlington should probably be my projected Sun Belt champion, but they have some work to do in conference play. At a projected Top 50 RPI and currently 69th in KenPom I’m intrigued if that team is in the NIT at-large discussion. They can of course end that by getting the top seed in the conference tournament.
The Mess That Is The AAC
Finally, Temple, Memphis and UCF demonstrate the complexity of evaluating the American Athletic Conference this season. The AAC has a clear top two (SMU / Cincinnati) and Houston, while a step behind, looks like a bubble NCAA team. Then there’s a complicated third tier with Memphis, Connecticut, Tulsa, UCF, and Temple. The Huskies have a brutal schedule down the stretch and Tulsa just isn’t that good (128 in KenPom). Both could easily finish below .500 and aren’t in this bracket. Memphis beat Iowa, Oklahoma, and South Carolina and they don’t have any particularly bad losses. The Tigers are probably the closest thing the AAC has to an NIT lock—and I might have them too low currently. Temple is 14-12 currently, but has an easy schedule down the stretch, swept Memphis and beat West Virginia and Florida State on neutral courts early in the season. If the Owls close strong expect to see them in the NIT as well. Then there’s UCF. The Knights, in Johnny Dawkins’s first season, are a nice story, but they played a weak non-conference schedule and their only really good win is home against Houston. Still, they sneak into the bottom of this bracket. It’s unlikely they’ll stay there.
Without further ado here’s the bracket. Happy to discuss any questions in the comments.
NCAA Bubble (last 10): TCU, Syracuse, VCU, Kansas St., Miami (FL), Rhode Island, Houston, Tennessee, Marquette, Michigan
1. Virginia Tech
5. Penn St.
3. Ohio St.
8. San Diego St.
4. Texas Tech
6. UT Arlington
2. Georgia Tech
7. Mississippi St.
4. Boise St.
6. New Mexico
2. Illinois St.
7. Texas A&M
1. Seton Hall
8. College of Charleston
Also (seriously) considered: Richmond, Davidson, Ohio, Colorado St., La Salle, San Francisco, St. Bonaventure, Furman, Winthrop, Chattanooga, UC Davis