On Thursday, it was the teams at the very bottom of the field that faltered, putting the tournament lives in jeopardy. On Friday, it was the teams on the opposite end of the spectrum that sputtered, and now the Selection Committee has been presented with a question that seemed unlikely one week ago. Which teams are the No. 1 seeds?
Kentucky is locked into not just a spot on the top line, but the No. 1 overall seed. Villanova, too, will likely be a 1-seed, and definitely will be if it beats Xavier in the Big East championship on Saturday. That leaves four teams for two spots. The first two teams, Duke and Virginia, seemed locked into the top line heading into the ACC tournament, but both fell in the semifinals. The next two, Wisconsin and Arizona, remain alive in the Big Ten and Pac-12, respectively, and could force their way to the top of a region by winning their conference tournaments.
Let’s first address the teams on top on Saturday morning. While Wisconsin and Arizona could be crowed tournament champions in their conferences, they haven’t done so yet. That means Duke and Virginia are still both No. 1 seeds. It’s important, too, not to fall victim to recency bias. Even if Wisconsin and Arizona win their conference tournaments, Duke and Virginia could still be worthy of being on the top line.
[daily_cut.college basketball]What, exactly, did either the Blue Devils or Cavaliers do to lose a 1-seed? Virginia lost to a North Carolina team that is ranked 12th in RPI and was playing a virtual home game 50 miles from its campus. Duke, meanwhile, lost to Notre Dame, which is in the top 25 in RPI, already beat the Blue Devils once and also knocked off North Carolina and Louisville on the road. Those are forgivable losses.
If you’re making a list of the most impressive individual wins of the season, Duke would definitely have two of the top five, if not the top two. This team won at Wisconsin and Virginia. It swept North Carolina, won at Louisville, beat Notre Dame at home in the regular season and racked up five top-20 wins. Virginia won the ACC regular season championship outright, won road games over Maryland, Notre Dame, North Carolina and a full-strength VCU, and only lost to teams ranked in the top 20.
In short, both Duke and Virginia have done enough to remain on the top line. For now. If either Wisconsin or Arizona go on to win their conference tournaments, they could certainly vault in front of either of the top two teams in the ACC. But neither has done that yet. If and when they do, the committee may have to revisit its top seeds. As play begins Saturday, however, Duke and Virginia remain 1-seeds.
New Locks: Georgia, Purdue
No longer in at-large consideration: Richmond, UCLA
Last Four In
1. Indiana: The Hoosiers are one of the last four teams into the field, but they remain dangerous. This team beat Maryland, SMU, Butler and Ohio State in the regular season. They became one of the last four in after Wyoming won the Mountain West tournament.
2. LSU. The Tigers made their own bed by losing to Auburn in the SEC quarterfinals, and it's the bed of one of the last four teams in the field of 68. Now they'll have to sleep in it, thought it probably won't provide much rest leading up to Selection Sunday.
3. Boise State. The Broncos should be in the field of 68, thanks primarily to a sweep of San Diego State, but they don't have an overwhelming RPI ranking and, after losing to Wyoming on Friday, have five losses to sub-80 teams.
4. Miami: The Hurricanes fought for their tournament lives in an impressive second-half comeback against Notre Dame in the ACC quarterfinals, but the Irish counterpunched and sent Miami to the very brink of the at-large pool. They’re one of our last two teams in for now, but if a team like Tulsa can get a big win or two, the Hurricanes will be in trouble.
First four out
1. Mississippi: You know what Mississippi really couldn’t afford to do? Lose to South Carolina. That’s exactly what the Rebels did on Thursday, however, and now they’re cheering for anyone who plays Temple and Tulsa the rest of the week, and against any surprise conference champions. We’re keeping Mississippi in the dance for now, but they’ll be the first team on the chopping block.
3. Tulsa: Heading into the AAC tourney, the Golden Hurricane had hopes for an at-large bid, but a loss to Connecticut in the conference semis likely relegated them to the NIT. Despite a pair of wins against Temple, Tulsa's resume falls short of one of the 36 best at-large teams.
4. UCLA: Realistically, the Bruins needed to beat Arizona on Friday to earn an at-large bid. There's an outside chance that the committee looks more favorably on their resume than we do, but Steve Alford's team is likely headed to the NIT.
Next four out
These teams are extreme longshots to make the field, but we’ll keep them here in case something unexpected happens.
1. Illinois: That the Illini made it back to this spot should tell you just how ugly things were on the bubble this week. Illinois will be one of the highest-seeded teams in the NIT.
3. Texas A&M: The Aggies’ at-large case blew up in the second half against Auburn on Thursday. After falling to the Tigers, the Aggies no longer have a shot for an at-large bid. Two wins over an LSU team that is just barely off the bubble itself doesn’t get you a dance card.
4. Murray State: The Racers had a great regular season, but they didn’t play anyone notable in the non-conference, meaning they really had to win the Ohio Valley tournament to get a bid. They didn't, so they won't.
Saturday's bubble games
SMU defeated Temple, 69-56
Connecticut defeated Tulsa, 47-42
Locks: SMU, Cincinnati, Temple
IN THE MIX
Tulsa (22-9, RPI: 42, SOS: 89): Tulsa entered the AAC tournament needing at least two wins to earn an at-large bid. They've taken down Tulane and Houston, and now face a suddenly very hot UConn team on Saturday.
Locks: Davidson, Dayton, VCU
IN THE MIX
Richmond (19-13, RPI: 59, SOS: 51): The Spiders built a decent at-large case during the second half of the A-10 schedule, sweeping VCU and splitting with Davidson. We have them as one of the First Four Out of the field, so they likely had to impress in the conference tourney, and perhaps get some help in other pockets of the country. They nearly got a third win against VCU but fell just short, losing by three. They'll present an interesting case to the selection committee but it probably won't be enough.
IN THE MIX
Miami (21-12, RPI: 61, SOS: 67): And now, the Hurricanes wait. They rallied back from an 18-point halftime deficit to actually take a slim lead on Notre Dame in the second half on Thursday, but the Irish got it together and pulled away in the game’s waning minutes. Miami remains one of our last four teams in the tournament, but it is going to land in the 34-to-38 range among at-large teams. That’s the most uneasy place to be leading into Selection Sunday.
IN THE MIX
Oklahoma State (18-13, RPI: 48, SOS: 10): The Cowboys should be safe thanks to six top-50 wins, including a victory over Kansas and a sweep of Baylor, but they sure made their lives a whole lot more tenuous over the last month. They've now lost seven of their last eight, including a 15-point defeat to Oklahoma in their first and only Big 12 tournament game. They likely did enough to earn an at-large bid, but they may not get a ton of sleep until Sunday night.
IN THE MIX
Indiana (20-13, RPI: 53, SOS: 31): A win over Maryland in the Big Ten quarterfinals would have locked Indiana into the NCAA tournament, but it was hardly a must-win game. This team boasts wins over SMU, Butler, Maryland and Ohio State this season. No matter the Hoosiers late-season slide in the conference, they’ll hear their name called on Sunday.
Purdue (21-12, RPI: 56, SOS: 67):The Boilermakers may have fallen to Wisconsin in the Big Ten semis, but this team is safely into the dance after what it did during the regular season. Not only can they rest easy heading into Selection Sunday, they'll be a dangerous team no matter where they end up being seeded.
Illinois (19-13, RPI: 71, SOS: 60): When the Illini's schedule stepped up in weight class over the final three weeks of the season, they just couldn't hang. They went 2-4 in their last six regular season games, losing to Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue, while beating sub-.500 teams Northwestern and Nebraska. They needed, at the very least, one win in the Big Ten tournament. Instead, they got run out of the United Center by Michigan in an 18-point loss. They're almost certainly headed to the NIT.
Locks: San Diego State
IN THE MIX
Colorado State (27-6, RPI: 26, SOS: 121): While the Rams have been in the field of every edition of our Bracket Watch this season, they can’t breathe easy just yet. They have only two top-50 wins on the year, one fewer than their number of sub-100 losses. After clearing the bad-loss hurdle by beating Fresno State in the conference tournament quarterfinals, the Rams should be safe, but stranger things have happened.
Boise State (25-8, RPI: 38, SOS: 117): The Broncos should be on tourney-bound, but there won’t be many easy moments between now and Selection Sunday after they lost to Wyoming in the Mountain West tournament. Their sweep of San Diego State, along with a third top-30 win over Colorado State, should be enough to get them an at-large bid, but they’re not safe by any means.
IN THE MIX
UCLA (20-12, RPI: 65, SOS: 43): The Bruins had a lead over Arizona, and an at-large berth in their sights, with 11 minutes left in the Pac-12 semifinals, but the Wildcats turned the tables and held off a late charge to win 70-64. The Bruins will wait impatiently for Selection Sunday, but the bet here is they just don’t have enough for an at-large bid.
IN THE MIX
LSU (22-10, RPI: 49, SOS: 80): Even after losing to Auburn in the SEC quarterfinals, LSU should be in decent shape heading into Selection Sunday, They have three top-50 wins, and won at West Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi. What’s more, they have an impressive 13-5 record against the top 100. With all that in their favor, as well as teams that entered championship week on the bubble like Illinois, Texas A&M and Mississippi falling early, the Tigers should earn an at-large invite.
Mississippi (20-12, RPI: 50, SOS: 48): Six weeks ago, the Rebels weren’t really all that close to the bubble. Now they’re in a whole lot of trouble after losing to South Carolina in the SEC tournament on Thursday. They may have wins over Arkansas, Cincinnati and Oregon, but they have five losses outside the top 80, three of which were at home to teams with RPIs worse than 100.
IN THE MIX
BYU (West Coast, 24-9, RPI: 37, SOS: 71): After losing to Gonzaga in the WCC championship, the Cougars have to hope they did enough this season to earn an at-large bid. Their regular season win over Gonzaga was their only top-50 win, and they had just four against the top 100. Three combined losses to Pepperdine and San Diego may prove too much for an invite. More likely than not, BYU is going to be one of the most dangerous teams in the NIT.