The regular college basketball season still has a month remaining before the Madness of March begins.
And with the latest upsets, such as Stanford’s demolition of Oregon and USC’s upset of UCLA, coupled with what seem to be nightly upsets of ranked teams, as well as a rotation of team’s into the No. 1 slot, it seems clear that this year’s NCAA tournament should be one of the most wide open events in recent tournament history.
With that in mind, one trend became obvious. Right now, there aren’t enough good teams to fill the 68 slots. Using the most generous selection standards, I still came up two teams short.
That will change, of course, as the regular season winds down and conference tournaments take away spots.
Some things haven’t changed. Despite the battering of its image in the past several months, the Big East still looks like the leader in the club house in terms of overall depth.
Right now, my projections have 8 Big East teams in the tournament. The Big Ten, perceived as the best league this season, and the Big 12 each have 6 teams, while the ACC, SEC and Pac-12 all have four teams.
Of the next level of conferences, the biggest surprise is the Mountain West. Right now, four teams–New Mexico, Colorado State, San Diego State and UNLV–look like locks.
The Atlantic 10 also looks like a solid multi-bid conference with 3 and possibly four bids. UMass and Temple are the prime contenders to join Butler and VCU as the A10 entries.
The ACC has four solid picks with Miami, Duke and NC State close to being locks. Then the picture becomes murkier with North Carolina, Virginia and Florida State just a step behind.
This parity should create more excitement at the conference tournaments in March. The general consensus for the power conferences in the past was that tournament time was more like controlled scrimmages for many teams who came into the event knowing they had an NCAA bid locked up.
Such is not the case this year. Even in the blue-blood SEC, the tension should be at a high level, with even defending national champion Kentucky feeling it must win a game or two in Atlanta to guarantee an at-large slot.
Combine that with the normal feeding frenzy in the lower profile conferences, where teams such as Northeastern (Colonial Athletic Association) and Bryant (Northeast Conference) pretty much know that they must win their conference tournaments since at large bids are not likely to be handed out at that level.
One of the better moves the NCAA made in the past few years was to guarantee regular season winners of all 31 conferences a spot in the NIT, no matter what happens in the conference tournament.
Looking closer at the landscape, even the No. 1 seeds are in doubt.
Right now, putting Duke as the No. 1 seed in the East Regionals and Michigan as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest looks pretty secure. Kansas can be the No. 1 seed in the South, while Arizona or Indiana could be the No. 1 seed in the West Regional.
It’s always fun to take a look at the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) which the selection committee and many bracketlogists use at a guideline–and sometimes more–for selecting and seeding teams. As usual, there are some head scratching rankings. Miami as the No 2 (behind Duke, who the Hurricanes buried earlier this season) and Belmont as No. 17 in the latest rankings are the most noteworthy. Both seem to be too high, although who knows with Miami….NCAA’s annual mock selection process with the media in Indianapolis will be held in a couple of weeks. I went to the first one held several years ago and the one point that was evident in the intense 30 hours of evaluation and selection was that the committee really does not focus on how many teams are in the field from the same conference. Each team is really judged individually in head to head evaluations with other teams. While there is a natural tendency to give a Big East team a boost over a Mountain West team, no one is really keeping a count of the number of teams from each conference as the teams are chosen.
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