Do you feel that? Do you hear that? Do you know what that is? That, is March. It is just about here. Every four years we get an extra day in February, just to toy with our emotions. Today is that day. Come tomorrow morning, it will finally be March, and it will be time to really get excited.
Championship Week begins on Wednesday, and runs right up until Sunday the 13th, otherwise known as Selection Sunday (I know, it’s longer than a week. Ask ESPN about that one). I will be doing five more Bracketology posts, including this one. You can look for the others on Thursday, next Monday, next Thursday and one final prediction on Selection Sunday.
This is the time of year that we usually start to get a really good idea of where these teams are going to end up, but in this crazy year, we definitely have more questions than answers. Here is my latest bracket prediction!
*Auto-bids in bold, regions listed by 1-seed ranking*
Kansas has been the best team in the country for the last few weeks, and they have clinched at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title, their 12th in a row. That is unprecedented consistency. Xavier looked primed to move up to a 1-seed after knocking off #1 Villanova, but they followed that up with a loss to Seton Hall, so they remain a 2-seed. Despite recent losses to Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, I still think Kentucky is definitely a big threat, and I think name recognition will play a part in their seeding. We all like to think that anything other than the resume won’t influence the Committee, but I think we’re just lying to ourselves by giving them more credit than they might deserve. Texas and Pitt scored big wins this weekend over Oklahoma and Duke respectively, cementing their spots in the tourney. Meanwhile, Dayton continues to struggle. They have lost three of their last four, including their last two games at home. You can’t lose home games at this point in the season if you’re looking to be a high seed. That’s the main reason they’ve dropped all the way down to an 8-seed for me. This region finds what will be a few trendy upset picks, in 11-seed Valparaiso, 12-seed Monmouth, 14-seed Yale and 15-seed Stephen F. Austin. Those are four teams to definitely look out for here in the last two weeks of the season.
Rising Teams: Indiana, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin
Falling Teams: Kentucky, Dayton, Monmouth
Villanova suffered a tough road loss to a good Xavier team this past week, but their resume is definitely strong enough for them to remain a 1-seed. They’ll be the favorite to win the Big East Tournament. North Carolina is on the cusp of a 1-seed, but I can’t move them there after failing to defeat Virginia on Saturday. Lots of experts think the Tar Heels are the most talented team in the nation. I’m not sold, but we’ll see here down the home stretch. Maryland is really struggling right now, with losses to Minnesota and Purdue and a close home win over Michigan in their last three. They’ve fallen to a 4-seed in this projection. Duke and South Carolina are two more teams that have fallen down a seed-line this week, Duke following a loss at Pitt and South Carolina after a loss this weekend to lowly Mississippi State. The Gamecocks should still be safe, but they’d be wise to avoid any more bad losses at the end of the year. Vanderbilt is the lone new at-large team in my projection this week, entering the Last Four In after knocking off Kentucky on Saturday. They have a lot of losses, but they have some really good wins. It would be in their best interest to make a little run in the SEC Tournament.
Rising Teams: West Virginia, VCU, Vanderbilt
Falling Teams: Maryland, Duke, UConn
Virginia is a team that has some bad losses on their resume, but their overall body of work is one of the strongest of any team in the nation, and that is why I have them as my #3 overall team this week. They lost a tough one on the road to a good Miami team, but were able to defeat North Carolina at home in their next game. Virginia will definitely be a favorite to win the ACC Tournament. For as good as Oklahoma looked earlier this season, they look mediocre at times right now. Their strengths, outside shooting and interior presence, look like weaknesses right now, and they need to right the ship soon, or they could see an early exit from the Big Dance. Another team on a downward path right now is Iowa, but there’s is more like an epic collapse. The Hawkeyes have lost three straight, which includes losses to non-tourney teams Penn State and Ohio State. This team struggled early in the season too, so the hope for their fans is that they can turn it around again just in time for the postseason. Arguably the hottest team in the country right now is Cuonzo Martin’s California Golden Bears. They have won seven consecutive games since the return of senior guard Tyrone Wallace, including triumphs over Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, UCLA and USC. Nobody will want to see Cal in the Tournament, that’s for sure. They could be a sleeper pick to reach the Final Four.
Rising Teams: Virginia, California, St. Joseph’s
Falling Teams: Oklahoma, Iowa, Michigan
This is the prediction that I’m sure most experts would argue, but I have Michigan State up to a 1-seed. Yes, they have five losses in Big Ten play, but watch that team play right now and tell me that you don’t think they’re one of the three most likely teams to win the whole thing this year. The Spartans are finding a groove, and I think they’ll be a popular pick this year, rightfully so. Another arguable prediction of mine is having Miami up to a 2-seed. They beat two really good teams in Virginia and Louisville this week, and I certainly wouldn’t be shocked to see them win an ACC Championship, or even a National Championship. Along with Cal, Utah is another Pac 12 team making huge strides here at the end of the season. The Utes have won 12 of their last 15 games, including six straight. Their only losses in that stretch are to Oregon teams (at Oregon State, at Oregon, vs Oregon). This is another team that you will not want to see near you in the bracket. The 8/9 match-up in this region would be between two teams that are plummeting when it counts the most, Providence and USC. The Trojans have lost five of their last six, with games against Oregon State and Oregon left to go. They could conceivably miss the tourney altogether if they don’t right the ship soon. Providence, meanwhile, has lost six of their last nine since knocking off Villanova in Philly. They need to make a run in the Big East Tournament to build some confidence heading into the Big Dance.
Rising Teams: Miami FL, Utah, Seton Hall
Falling Teams: Notre Dame, Gonzaga, Florida