NCAA Tournament Preview: First Four

IT’S HERE! IT’S FINALLY HERE! The 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed on Sunday to much fanfare, and thankfully, to very little surprise. The 68 teams that made the field were the 68 teams that most expected, which is a welcome sight. I usually expect the Selection Committee to make a mistake or two, but they did an extremely good job this season.

Although, you could wait to see how it all plays out before you make that decision! The Tournament will kick off, as it has the last few seasons, with the First Four games in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I am here to give you the lowdown on each of those four games. Let’s not waste any more time, here is a preview of this year’s First Four games.

*Any statistics discussed are courtesy of ESPN and KenPom*

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

East Region
#16 Mount St. Mary’s (19-15) vs #16 New Orleans (20-11)
Tuesday 3/14, 6:40 pm TruTV

Overview: The first game of this year’s NCAA Tournament will see the Mountaineers of Mount St. Mary’s take on the Privateers of New Orleans. MSM really challenged themselves in their non-conference schedule this year, taking on teams like West Virginia, Iowa State, Arkansas, Michigan and Minnesota. They lost all of those games, but they’ve played good teams. New Orleans didn’t play quite as difficult a schedule, but they tested themselves a few times with games against USC, Northwestern and Oklahoma State. They also have a win over a power conference team, defeating Washington State 70-54 on December 3. Each of these teams is better on the defensive end, so it could come down to whichever team is able to make more stops.

Key Players: Each of these teams is led by a “mighty mite” if you will, Christavious Gill (5-8, 11.6 PPG) for New Orleans and Junior Robinson (5-5, 14.1 PPG) for MSM. They are two of the four shortest players in the Tournament this season, but they are joined by some really good taller players, guard Elijah Long for the Mountaineers (team leading 15.4 PPG) and forward Erik Thomas for New Orleans (19.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG).

Why MSM will Win: The Mountaineers have been playing great after starting their season playing really good teams on the road. Since Christmas, they are 17-4. They also are one of the better teams at forcing turnovers, while New Orleans can be susceptible to giving the ball away. The Mount forces enough turnovers to get the victory.

Why NO will Win: What a story this program is. Following Hurricane Katrina, monetary issues nearly forced them to leave Division I and head to Division III. Over 10 years later, and the Privateers are back in the Tournament for the first time since 1996. And you know who else is good at forcing turnovers? New Orleans is. In fact, they’re 12th in the country in opponent TO percentage. They win the turnover battle, and end up winning the game as well.

 

South Region
#11 Kansas State (20-13) vs #11 Wake Forest (19-13)
Tuesday 3/14, approx. 9:10 pm TruTV

Overview: Two teams that probably earned their way into the field thanks to big wins at the end of the season will battle it out to see who goes on to face 6-seed Cincinnati in the First Round. Kansas State struggled in Big 12 play, going 8-10, but a quarterfinal win over Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament likely pushed the Wildcats over the edge of the Bubble. On the flip-side, Wake Forest lost twice to Clemson and at Syracuse, but their other 10 losses were all to teams who reached the Tournament. The Demon Deacons beat Louisville at home and Virginia Tech on the road in the last week of the regular season, which was enough to earn this at-large bid.

Key Players: Wake is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and they are led by 6-10 sophomore forward John Collins (18.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG), who may have improved his NBA Draft stock more than any player in the country this season. Kansas State is a more balanced offensive team, with five players averaging over 9 points per game. Seniors Wesley Iwundu (6.4 RPG) and D.J. Johnson (1.5 BPG) add a lot on the defensive end as well for the Wildcats.

Why KSU will Win: Kansas State struggled in the Big 12, but it was probably the toughest league top to bottom this season, so they are definitely battle tested. They are a very good defensive team, and they do a terrific job defending the paint. Wake Forest struggles to get good looks on the interior, and K-State does enough offensively to win a more low-scoring battle than many expect.

Why WAKE will Win: I mentioned that the Deacons are really good on the offensive end. KenPom has them rated as the 8th most efficient offensive team in the country. John Collins is the best player on the floor, and he’ll flex his muscle, going for over 20 points, and late success from the free throw line, where Wake shoots over 77 percent (12th in NCAA), keeps K-State from making a comeback. Wake Forest moves on to face Cincinnati.

 

Midwest Region
#16 NC Central (25-8) vs #16 UC Davis (22-12)
Wednesday 3/15, 6:40 pm TruTV

Overview: UC Davis is one of five teams making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament this year, and the Aggies needed to upset UC Irvine in the Big West finals to get here. You might be surprised to see a 25-8 team in the First Four, but NC Central was the only team in the MEAC ranked inside of KenPom’s Top-300. There’s only 351 D-I teams, so the competition Central has faced this season has not been the best, hence their placement here.

Key Players: The best player on the court will be NC Central senior guard Patrick Cole, who does just about everything for the Eagles (19.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 5.7 APG). UC Davis is led by a senior guard as well, 6-4 Brynton Lamar (16.1 PPG). Lamar scored 20 points in the Big West final to get the Aggies to this point.

Why NCCU will Win: Don’t get stuck on the competition that the Eagles have faced this season, this is a pretty good team, and they deserve to be here. Head Coach LeVelle Moton has been discussed as a potential option for NC State’s coaching search, and he’ll have his team ready to go. They are one of the best teams in the nation at defending the 3-point arc (3rd in the nation according to KenPom), which is where UC Davis does most of their damage. Davis has trouble getting open looks from the perimeter, and NC Central is able to outscore them because of that and pick up the victory.

Why UCD will Win: Simply put, the Aggies have faced tougher competition this season, and that experience will do wonders for them here. They tend to struggle on offense, but they have a lot of size, which NC Central really does not. They have some height, but they don’t use it well. That advantage allows UC Davis to win a low-scoring affair.

 

East Region
#11 Providence (20-12) vs #11 USC (24-9)
Wednesday 3/15, approx. 9:10 pm TruTV

Overview: Talk about two teams that had polar opposite seasons. Providence was barely on the Tournament radar as recently as February 8, when they lost to Seton Hall in overtime, dropping them to 14-11 overall, 4-8 in the Big East. The Friars proceeded to rattle off six straight wins to end the regular season, including wins over Butler, Xavier, Marquette and Creighton, all Tournament teams. Meanwhile, it was a fantastic start to the season for the Trojans, going a perfect 13-0 in non-conference play, including wins over Texas A&M, BYU and SMU. However, USC struggled down the stretch, losing four of their last six, and going just 1-5 against the Pac-12’s other three Tourney teams.

Key Players: Providence is led by a pair of juniors with Tournament experience, point guard Kyron Cartwright (11.4 PPG, 6.7 APG) and forward Rodney Bullock (15.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG). The Friars are extremely athletic, but the Trojans might be even more athletic. They are led by a couple really long, talented sophomore forwards, 6-10 Bennie Boatwright and 6-11 Chimeize Metu, who both average over 14.5 PPG. Boatwright missed 17 games this season, but he is healthy now, and that is huge for USC.

Why PROV will Win: Momentum could play a huge factor in this game. It’s no question that Providence is the hotter team in this matchup. The Friars don’t have the size or length that USC has, so they will play this game on the perimeter. A good outside shooting team going up against a poor perimeter defense. Advantage Providence. They make enough shots to get the win and move on to the First Round.

Why USC will Win: You can easily argue that USC is the more talented team, and sometimes, that’s all it takes. But on top of that, the Trojans have a massive size advantage, and if they can post up their big men and attack with their guards, they can dominate Providence on the interior and get the victory.

That does it for my preview of the First Four games in this season’s NCAA Tournament. It’s looking like we may be snowed in here in Southeast PA on Tuesday, so there’s no excuse for you to not tune in to at least the games on Tuesday night. We usually get some pretty exciting games in the First Four, making it a perfect appetizer for the First Round on Thursday and Friday!

Be sure to stay tuned to the Facebook page as I’ll be posting previews for each Region of the Tournament over the next few days in anticipation of the First Round, which will kickoff Thursday at 12:15 pm!

Conference Tournament Weekend Preview

This post will be a little longer than most, so I’ll keep the intro short and sweet. If you don’t enjoy watching college basketball this time of year, I’m not sure what is wrong with you. I got called off work yesterday and was able to just sit and watch games all day, and it was fantastic.

So many games, so many exciting finishes. March Madness it was indeed. I’m totally prepared for another day jam-packed with incredible action, and here’s a look at all of the games coming your way today.

America East Championship (Burlington, Vermont)
#3 Albany vs #1 Vermont
11:00 am, ESPN2
Vermont has been one of the most dominant teams in the nation this season. Granted, it has been against mostly poor competition, but you have to play the teams on your schedule, and Vermont has beaten most of them. The Catamounts have won 20 games in a row, and their five losses this season include games against Providence, Butler and South Carolina, all Tournament teams. Vermont beat Albany by double digits in both meetings during the regular season, but don’t sleep on the Great Danes. They have a win at Penn State this year, so they are definitely capable. But on their home floor, I’ll go with Vermont to get the win, their 21st in a row.

Sun Belt Semifinals (New Orleans, Louisiana)
#4 Texas State vs #1 UT Arlington (12:30 pm, ESPN3)
#6 Troy vs #2 Georgia State (approx. 3:00 pm, ESPN3)
Championship Game: Sunday 2:00 pm, ESPN2
The team to know here is the 1-seed, UT Arlington. The Mavericks are one of the better mid-majors in the country this season, boasting wins at Texas and Saint Mary’s, and a near miss at Arkansas. If they can win the Sun Belt, they’ll head to the Tournament likely as a 12-seed, and one that no 5-seed will want to play.

MEAC Championship (Norfolk, Virginia)
#2 Norfolk State vs #1 NC Central
1:00 pm, ESPN2
I won’t spend too much time on this game, mostly because I don’t know much about either of these teams. The winner of this game will almost definitely head to Dayton to play in one of the First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday. NC Central is the clear favorite here, as they are the only MEAC team ranked inside of KenPom’s Top-300. They are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, and I believe they will get the job done.

Atlantic 10 Semifinals (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
#9 Davidson vs #4 Rhode Island (1:00 pm, CBSSN)
#3 Richmond vs #2 VCU (approx. 3:30 pm, CBSSN)
Championship Game: Sunday 12:30 pm, CBS
Dayton was the best team in the A-10 all season long, and had pretty much clinched their spot in the Big Dance already, so they didn’t appear to have a whole lot to play for on Friday. It showed, as Jack Gibbs scored 34 points, leading 9-seed Davidson to the upset of Dayton. That leaves Davidson and the 2 through 4-seeds in the conference semifinals Saturday afternoon. Davidson and Richmond need to win the conference to reach the Tournament. VCU is most likely in already like Dayton. Rhode Island is the interesting case. They are squarely on the Bubble, and probably could have used a win over Dayton to improve their resume. I expect them to play as if they think they need to earn the automatic bid, and get to the finals, where I think they will meet VCU.

Big Ten Semifinals (Washington, D.C.)
#8 Michigan vs #4 Minnesota (1:00 pm, CBS)
#6 Northwestern vs #2 Wisconsin (approx. 3:30 pm, CBS)
Championship Game: Sunday 3:00 pm, CBS
Two of the best stories in college basketball right now are both going to be a part of the Big Ten semifinals. Michigan’s plane crashed off the runway on Wednesday, forcing them to fly to D.C. early Thursday morning. They didn’t even have their uniforms because they had to stay on the plane as part of the police investigation. Despite all of that, they defeated Illinois (while wearing practice jerseys), and then knocked out 1-seed Purdue en route to a matchup with Minnesota in the semifinals. Meanwhile, Northwestern, the only original D-I team from a major conference to never reach the NCAA Tournament, has won games against Rutgers and 3-seed Maryland, all but stamping their ticket to the Dance. They are two amazing stories, and it just feels right that they’ll both win their semifinal games and meet up in the title game, which would be a rematch of a game on March 1 that saw Northwestern win on a buzzer-beating layup. I’m all in for that rematch!

SEC Semifinals (Nashville, Tennessee)
#5 Alabama vs #1 Kentucky (1:00 pm, ESPN)
#7 Vanderbilt vs #3 Arkansas (approx. 3:30 pm, ESPN)
Championship Game: Sunday 1:00 pm, ESPN
It’s been a down year overall for the SEC, but the one constant all year has been Kentucky, so it’s no surprise that they are in the semifinals. They’ll take on an Alabama team that is finally starting to live up to expectations. They probably need to win the conference to make it to the Tourney, and I don’t see them getting by the Wildcats. On the other side, Bubble team Vanderbilt defeated Florida for the third time this season in the quarterfinals, making it pretty likely that they will make it to the Field of 68. Arkansas is likely going to the Tournament as well, but Vanderbilt is one of the hotter teams in the country, and I expect them to get another upset en route to the finals.

Ivy League Semifinals (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
#4 Penn vs #1 Princeton (1:30 pm, ESPNU)
#3 Yale vs #2 Harvard (approx. 4:00 pm, ESPNU)
Championship Game: Sunday 12:00 noon, ESPN2
The Ivy League has finally joined the postseason tournament party! Up until this season, the regular season champion in the Ivy would go to the NCAA Tournament, but this year, the league’s four best teams will play a two day tournament at the historic Palestra in Philly. Penn just barely got in, winning their regular season finale to earn the 4-seed, and now they’ll get to host 1-seed Princeton in the semis. Then it’ll be followed by the most historic rivalry in collegiate sports, Yale and Harvard. I think these games are both toss-ups, and I don’t even want to try to predict who will win them.

AAC Semifinals (Hartford, Connecticut)
#4 UCF vs #1 SMU (3:00 pm, ESPN2)
#6 UConn vs #2 Cincinnati (approx. 5:30 pm, ESPN2)
Championship Game: Sunday 3:15 pm, ESPN
The UConn Huskies in March, it’s about as sure a thing as death and taxes. The 6-seed knocked off Houston in the quarterfinals, and will look to keep their Tourney hopes alive with a win over Cincinnati in the semis. I don’t see it happening, though. The Bearcats are just too good. The other team that’s too good is SMU. They survived a late surge from 9-seed East Carolina yesterday, but I think that’ll be a wake-up call for them more than anything. UCF is a great defensive team, but they don’t have the talent to keep up with SMU.

Big East Championship (New York City)
#6 Creighton vs #1 Villanova
5:30 pm, FOX
The defending National Champions are back in the Big East title game for the third straight year. Seton Hall defeated them last year, but they got their revenge last night thanks to a Josh Hart follow of a missed Kris Jenkins shot with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. They didn’t play their best, but they got the job done. Creighton had to squeak out their semifinal as well, with Marcus Foster draining a 3-pointer with 6.5 seconds on the clock to defeat 7-seed Xavier 75-72. Both of these teams will make the Tournament, so it comes down to which team will want this game more. I think Villanova will come flying out of the gates and will hang on down the stretch to win their second Big East title in the last three years.

Big 12 Championship (Kansas City, Missouri)
#4 Iowa State vs #2 West Virginia
6:00 pm, ESPN
Iowa State is en fuego right now. After defeating Oklahoma State in the quarters, they blitzed TCU in the semifinals, and they have to be considered the favorites in this game, and they’ll be a very dangerous team in the Tournament. But don’t think for one second that West Virginia won’t at the very least give the Cyclones all they can handle and then some. Kansas State may have been playing for their Tournament lives last night, but the Mountaineers found a way to steal a 51-50 victory. West Virginia’s pressure will give Iowa State some fits, but I just love the way they are playing right now. Monte Morris and Deonte Burton will lead the Cyclones to their third Big 12 title in the last four seasons.

Mountain West Championship (Las Vegas, Nevada)
#2 Colorado State vs #1 Nevada
6:00 pm, CBS
How the mighty have fallen. Recent history has the Mountain West on the verge of being considered a major conference, sending multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament year in and year out. Not so much in 2017. This has become a one-bid league, and the winner of this game will likely be a 12 or 13-seed in the Dance. At least, for the conference’s sake, they’re going to send one of their best teams, as 1-seed Nevada and 2-seed Colorado State battle for the championship. These teams only played once in the regular season, and it was in the finale just a week ago, with Nevada winning 85-72 on their home floor. Revenge could be a factor for the Rams, but Nevada is the better team, and I think they will get the job done and advance to the Field of 68.

SWAC Championship (Houston, Texas)
#2 Alcorn State vs #1 Texas Southern
6:30 pm, ESPNU
Texas Southern is lead by former Indiana and UAB head coach Mike Davis, and he makes sure they are well prepared for this time of year with their non-conference schedule. They played their first 16 games of the season on the road, and that included games against Arizona, Louisville, Cincinnati, TCU and Baylor. The good thing for them is that they’ve already clinched their spot in the NCAA Tournament, as Alcorn State is ineligible for the Tournament this season. That makes this game pretty meaningless, but I think Texas Southern is the better team and will still win this game.

MAC Championship (Cleveland, Ohio)
#6 Kent State vs #1 Akron
7:30 pm, ESPN2
Kent State is the darling of the MAC Tournament, outlasting the country’s leading scorer Marcus Keene and Central Michigan in overtime in the opening round, then upsetting 3-seed Buffalo and 2-seed Ohio to make it to the title game and a shot at reaching the NCAA’s. They’ll have to go through 1-seed Akron, who survived an upset attempt by Ball State yesterday in the semifinals. Akron has easily been the best team in the conference this season, and their height could cause some problems for Kent State. These teams split their regular season meetings, so it’s anyone’s game, but I’ll take Akron to get the victory and move on to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.

Conference USA Championship (Birmingham, Alabama)
#6 Marshall vs #1 Middle Tennessee
8:00 pm, CBSSN
Middle Tennessee is looking to return to the Tournament for the second consecutive season, after picking up probably the biggest upset in last year’s Tourney, dominating 2-seed Michigan State in the First Round as a 15-seed. A lot of people had the Spartans picked to win the whole thing, and Giddy Potts, Reggie Upshaw and the rest of the Blue Raiders went in and ran Michigan State out of the building. They have kept the momentum from the end of last season going into this year as they are 29-4 with wins over UNC Wilmington, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. This is a very good, experienced basketball team that I would not want to face in the NCAA Tournament. Marshall is looking to play Cinderella here, having already knocked off 3-seed Old Dominion and 2-seed Louisiana Tech to get to this point. Can they get it done? I don’t think so. The Blue Raiders should get the victory.

Big Sky Championship (Reno, Nevada)
#3 Weber State vs #1 North Dakota
8:30 pm, ESPNU
The North Dakota Fighting Hawks won the Big Sky regular season title, but they have much loftier goals. The Hawks are looking to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history (they have been playing D-I basketball since the 2009-2010 season). To get there, they’ll have to defeat Weber State for the third time this season, which is a very difficult thing to do. The Wildcats reached the NCAA Tournament last season, knocking North Dakota out of the Big Sky Tournament in overtime in the semifinals along the way. That’s just extra incentive for North Dakota to play well, which I believe they’ll do, reaching their first NCAA Tournament.

ACC Championship (Brooklyn, New York)
#5 Duke vs #3 Notre Dame
9:00 pm, ESPN
I guess it makes sense that the two hottest teams in the conference would end up meeting in the title game, but I have to say that I’m a little shocked at this matchup. Duke came from behind in the second half to defeat rival UNC 93-83. The Blue Devils are finally showing the form that everyone has been waiting to see from them this season. They are arguably the most talented team in the country, and they are starting to live up to expectations. Don’t sleep on the Irish though. Mike Brey has done an amazing job with this team, picked to finish 7th in the ACC in the preseason. Bonzie Colson is the league’s leading rebounder at 6-5, and the team has been shooting the lights out from distance. If the Irish get hot, they can certainly get the win here, but Duke is just playing too well right now. I like the Blue Devils to go into the Tournament with the momentum of an ACC championship.

Southland Championship (Katy, Texas)
#2 Texas A&M-CC vs #1 New Orleans
9:30 pm, ESPN2
Another 16-seed is on the line in this game, and it should be a really good one. New Orleans and Corpus Christi faced each other just once in the regular season, and it was a 73-72 overtime home win for New Orleans. I did not see that game, but based on those facts, I’m sure Corpus Christi easily could have taken it had the ball bounced their way one or two more times. It’s a relative toss-up, and I’ll go with Corpus Christi to pull off the mild upset and advance to the NCAA Tournament.

WAC Championship (Las Vegas, Nevada)
#2 New Mexico State vs #1 CSU Bakersfield
11:00 pm, ESPNU
It was on really late, and you could only access the broadcast via WatchESPN, but I hope I wasn’t the only one who got to watch the end of CSU Bakersfield’s FOUR OVERTIME thriller with Utah Valley in the semifinals last night. I didn’t catch it until the overtimes had started, but that was clearly the most exciting part of the game. Utah Valley gave the Roadrunners everything they could handle, but Bakersfield was able to survive and advance. They’ll take on a New Mexico State team that routed UMKC in the semis, making them the fresher team if you will. That could be a big advantage, but I’m a believer in momentum, and the momentum from a 4OT victory will put Bakersfield over the top and into the NCAA Tournament.

Pac-12 Championship (Las Vegas, Nevada)
#2 Arizona vs #1 Oregon
11:00 pm, ESPN
West Coast basketball is back! The top three teams in the Pac 12 have been fantastic this season, and we’ll see the two best do battle for the championship late tonight. Could this game be for a 1-seed in the Tournament? It’s certainly possible, but at the very least, the winner of this game will get to stay in the West Region while the loser will have to travel elsewhere in the Tournament. These teams played just once in the regular season, with Oregon dominating the game in every facet, winning 85-58 in Eugene. Arizona will be out for revenge, but I love this Oregon team. They are extremely balanced, and they have a star in Dillon Brooks that can take over any game. They also have more postseason experience than a young Arizona team. I like the Ducks to win their second consecutive Pac 12 title.

Big West Championship (Anaheim, California)
#2 UC Davis vs #1 UC Irvine
11:30 pm, ESPN2
The final game of conference tournament Saturday will be for the Big West championship between 1-seed UC Irvine and 2-seed UC Davis. Both had difficulties getting to this point. UC Irvine held off Long Beach State 62-57, while UC Davis needed overtime to take out Cal State Fullerton 66-64. These teams split their season series, but the last game was exactly a week ago, and it was a 30-point Irvine victory. You’d think that would make them the easy pick, but Davis beat them in the other meeting, and the wound from that 30-point loss is still fresh. I think revenge will play a bigger role here than in other games, fueling UC Davis to an upset victory and a trip to the Big Dance.

 

How to Fix Conference Tournaments

Let me just start by saying that the title of this post may be a little misleading, as I do not think the conference tournaments need fixing. I very much enjoy the current set-up, with leagues handing their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to the winner of their conference tournaments.

Does that ultimately result in a few regular season champions being left heading to the, for all intents and purposes, meaningless NIT? Yes, it does. Do I feel somewhat bad for teams like Belmont and Monmouth, who dominated their league competition during the regular season, only to slip-up in the tournament and miss out on a trip to the Big Dance? I genuinely do.

But on the other hand, if your team is that good, and that dominant, then I am of the belief that you should be able to win the games when they matter the most. Especially when some conferences give their regular season champs advantages in their conference tournaments. Belmont got a bye to the semifinals. All they needed to do was win two games against teams that they had already beaten at least once this season. They couldn’t get the job done.

belmont
Rick Byrd’s Belmont Bruins dominated the OVC all season long, but they couldn’t get the job done when it counted the most (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

The system has its flaws, I can admit that. Despite the loss, Belmont is the team that would have best represented the Ohio Valley Conference in the NCAA Tournament this season. That is not a knock on Jacksonville State, the eventual champion, but more praising how good Belmont was this season. This is just one example, and we get at least one just about every season.

Many complain that the regular season is basically meaningless in the current set-up. I don’t feel that way, but I understand the viewpoint. Another widespread complaint is that the conference tournaments are just a money grab. In a sense, yeah, that’s exactly what they are, but you can’t blame conferences for doing something that will get them more money. That’s the world we live in, get used to it.

The reason I do not think the system needs to be changed is that it can create magical moments and unbelievable excitement. Championship Week is must-see TV for any college basketball fan. I spend most of this week in front of televisions, laptops, tablets and cellphones, watching multiple conference tournament games.

Just last night, at 7:00 pm, I had the Horizon League championship game on my TV, the NEC title game on my tablet and an ACC first round game between Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh on my laptop, watching all three simultaneously. Why? Because these games were all win and advance, lose and go home, and I didn’t want to miss anything amazing. And that is what we get this time of year. Amazing moments. Go on YouTube and type “March Madness” into the search bar. There is no end to the amount of incredible games and shots that have occurred during March throughout the last 50 years, and even prior to that.

For those reasons and more, I think “March Madness” is fine just the way it is. Is it perfect? Not by any stretch, but it is extremely exciting, and it is a wonderful time for basketball fans. Championship Week is the perfect lead-in to the NCAA Tournament, with teams fighting and clawing their way towards the chance to play in the Big Dance.

champ week
Championship Week is massive for ESPN and other networks every season, meaning it’s not going anywhere fast (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Despite how I feel about it, many basketball people are clamoring for a change. ESPN’s Jay Williams said two nights ago that he hates conference championship tournaments because they devalue the regular season. His word choice might not have been the best (I doubt he actually hates these games), but I see his point.

Some have given their ideas for how to fix the system. CBS’s Gary Parrish thinks that one-bid conferences should give their regular season champs a bye to the championship game, so that winning the regular season means something great, but it still gives the other teams a shot to make it to the NCAA Tournament. I would not be completely against that proposal. He also said that the 1-seeds should be given a 10-0 lead to start off the championship games. That I’m not so crazy about.

The overwhelming problem that basketball people have with the current system is that it renders the regular season somewhat meaningless. I don’t feel that way completely, but I see what they are getting at. I do not think we need to change anything, but since a lot of people do, I have an idea that I believe would be good for just about everybody involved. Regular season champs in one-bid leagues, tournament champs in one-bid leagues, Bubble teams and conference figureheads would all benefit from my idea. There are a lot of people who would be opposed to my idea, for reasons that I definitely recognize, but you can’t make everyone happy. My idea, is to increase the number of teams in the NCAA Tournament from 68 to 96.

This has been discussed as a possibility in the past, recently in years where the Bubble seems to be strong, and teams that deserve to make it to the NCAA Tournament are left out. Talk of increasing the number of teams in the Big Dance has not been as prevalent in the last few seasons, but I think it is the best way to make the regular season meaningful while maintaining the luster and excitement that surrounds Championship Week. Here is how this whole plan would work:

The regular season champions in each of the 32 Division-I conferences would receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. This solves the issue of the regular season not meaning very much. Some people wish that the conferences would do it this way in the current setup, but there is just too much money in conference tournaments for this to happen. Remember, money will always come first.

By increasing the number of teams in the NCAA’s to 96, you can give an auto-bid to the regular season champs AND the conference tournament champs. I’m honestly surprised that I haven’t seen an idea like this discussed. It certainly may be out there somewhere on the interwebs, but I have not seen it. This way, a 1-seed can lose in the conference tournament and still make it to the NCAA Tournament by way of having the best record in the regular season.

Now, I realize there are a few kinks in this plan that would need some figuring out. For example, what happens when there’s a tie at the top of the conference, like in the SoCon this year, where UNC Greensboro, Furman and East Tennessee State all finished with a 14-4 record in league play. My plan would be to leave it up to the conferences. The conferences are not required to give their automatic bid to the team that wins their postseason tournament. They choose to do so. The Ivy League has given the regular season champ the auto-bid every year until this season, finally joining the postseason tournament party. Let the leagues decide how to deal with a tiebreaker. In the case of a two-way tie, head-to head could be used, or best overall record. Or you could even have a playoff game prior to the conference tournament, with the winner earning the regular season championship. There’s another opportunity for more money right there!

etsu
East Tennessee State entered the SoCon Tournament as the 3-seed despite having just as many conference wins as Furman and UNC Greensboro. They won when it counted though (Photo courtesy of TriCitiesSports.com)

Three-way ties could be handled similarly. Do a round-robin tournament between the three teams, with a point-differential system being used in the case of each team winning one game. It could be similar to how soccer uses aggregate scoring. There are many ways this could be done, this is just one example.

Another pitfall would be if the regular season champion also wins the conference tournament. What would happen then? Some would argue that the regular season champion would have no reason to even play in the conference tournament since they already earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament. That’s a fair assessment, and again, I believe you could leave it up to the conferences to decide how they want to handle it. Maybe you give the regular season champion the option of playing in the conference tournament. If they would choose not to, then you have the other teams in the league battling for one more spot in the Big Dance.

But if the regular season champion chooses to play in the conference tournament and wins it, I have two potential ideas. The first would be for the team that reached the championship game and lost to be given the league’s second auto-bid. The problem with this would be the conference championship game would then be pretty meaningless if both teams are going to advance to the NCAA’s no matter who wins. I could see losing viewers if that were the case.

The other possibility would be for that league’s second auto-bid to become an extra at-large bid. There are flaws with this as well, as the conference, in all likelihood, would lose the chance to send two teams to the Tournament, but a more deserving team would probably end up making it in this scenario.

An NCAA Tournament with 96 teams would be set up mostly the same, with the First Four games in Dayton becoming the First Round, with the top eight seeds in each region getting a bye to the Second Round. Each region would now have 24 teams. The 16-seed would play the 17-seed with the winner facing the 1-seed in the Second Round. The 9-seed would face the 24-seed with the winner facing the 8-seed in the Second Round. You could set it up as simply as that, resulting with an extra two days of 16 games each. Hey, that’s more money (see what I’m getting at).

96teambracket
Could this be the future look of the NCAA Tournament bracket? It would solve a lot of problems people have with the current setup (Photo courtesy of AllKyHoops.com)

You could also re-seed after the First Round, allowing the 1-seed to play the lowest remaining seed in their region. So if the 24-seed would upset the 9-seed, they would automatically face the 1-seed in the Second Round, and then the Tournament would play out just like it does now from there on out. I personally just don’t see the NCAA balking at the idea of adding 32 more games to the Tournament when they consider the potential increase in revenue.

Let me reiterate, I am totally fine with the set-up the way it is right now. With the conference tournament champions going to the Big Dance, and 68 teams in total making it to the Tournament. But if so many people have a problem with it, and change needs to be made, I think expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams would be the best way to make as many people happy as possible. You can’t make everyone happy, but I can’t figure out who wouldn’t be happy with this.

2017 Conference Tournament Preview: Part Two

Championship Week is just heating up, and the list of teams who have clinched their spots in the Big Dance looks like this:

Jacksonville State (OVC)
Winthrop (Big South)
Wichita State (MVC)
Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun)
UNC Wilmington (CAA)
East Tennessee State (SoCon)
Iona (MAAC)

Four more automatic bids will be handed out tonight, and we also now have a look at what the American and Big Ten Tournaments will look like, with those tourneys kicking off on Thursday and Wednesday respectively.

American Tournament (Hartford, CT)

First Round: March 9
Game 1: #9 East Carolina vs #8 Temple, 3:30 pm (ESPNU)
Game 2: #10 Tulane vs #7 Tulsa, 6:00 pm (ESPN NEWS)
Game 3: #11 USF vs #6 UConn, 8:30 pm (ESPN NEWS)
Quarterfinals: March 10
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs #1 SMU, 12:00 pm (ESPN2)
Game 5: #5 Memphis vs #4 UCF, 2:30 pm (ESPN2)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #2 Cincinnati, 7:00 pm (ESPNU)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #3 Houston, 9:30 pm (ESPNU)
Semifinals: March 11 (ESPN2)
Game 12: Winner Game 8 vs Winner Game 9, 7:00 pm
Game 13: Winner Game 10 vs Winner Game 11, 9:30 pm
Championship: March 12 (ESPN)
Game 14: Winner Game 12 vs Winner Game 13, 9:00 pm

Favorite: SMU
You could flip a coin between SMU and Cincinnati to decide who the favorite is in this tournament, because in the American this year, it’s those two teams, and then everybody else. They split the season series, but SMU lost by just two points at Cincy, and that was their last loss, entering the postseason on a 13-game winning streak. For that reason, SMU has to be considered the favorite here.
Dark Horse: UConn
Boy oh boy, what a disappointing season it’s been in Storrs. The preseason pick to win the American enters the conference tourney as the 6-seed with a losing record and a 4-game losing streak. Despite all of that, they are basically hosting this tournament, and the Huskies usually tend to play well in the postseason. Stranger things have happened…
Most to Gain: Houston
SMU and Cincinnati are locks to make the NCAA Tournament. After that, there isn’t a team here that deserves to get in without the league’s auto-bid. I guess you could argue Houston’s case, so I’ll highlight them as the team with the most to gain. A win over Cincinnati in the semifinals will improve their resume, but I doubt that would be enough to get them in.
Prediction: Cincinnati
SMU is easily one of the most underrated teams in the country, and I think they have a legit shot to advance to the second weekend (or further) of the Tournament. I think they’ll enter the Tourney coming off a loss to Cincy in the American title game though. The Bearcats are underrated as well, and they’ll play with a chip on their shoulder this postseason.

Big Ten Tournament (Washington, D.C.)

First Round: March 8
Game 1: #13 Penn State vs #12 Nebraska, 4:30 pm (ESPN2)
Game 2: #14 Rutgers vs #11 Ohio State, 7:00 pm (BTN)
Second Round: March 9 
Game 3: #9 Illinois vs #8 Michigan, 12:00 pm (BTN)
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs #5 Michigan State, 2:30 pm (BTN)
Game 5: #10 Indiana vs #7 Iowa, 6:30 pm (ESPN2)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #6 Northwestern, 9:00 pm (ESPN2)
Quarterfinals: March 10 
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #1 Purdue, 12:00 pm (ESPN)
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs #4 Minnesota, 2:30 pm (ESPN)
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs #2 Wisconsin, 6:30 pm (BTN)
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs #3 Maryland, 9:00 pm (BTN)
Semifinals: March 11 (CBS)
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 1:00 pm
Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs Winner Game 10, 3:30 pm
Championship: March 12 (CBS)
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs Winner Game 12, 3:00 pm

Favorite: Purdue
The Boilermakers absolutely earned the outright Big Ten regular season title down the stretch, closing the season having won eight of their last nine games. They look like the Big Ten team with the best chance to make a deep run in the Tournament, and as such, they have to be considered the favorites to win the Big Ten Tournament.
Dark Horse: Michigan
That one loss Purdue suffered? That was in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines. Michigan closed strong, winning six of their last eight, with the two losses coming in overtime at Minnesota and on a last second prayer at Northwestern. This team has a ton of momentum heading into the postseason, and I would not be surprised to see them make a deep run in this tournament.
Most to Gain: Iowa
No team has vaulted themselves up the Bubble faster than Iowa here at the end of the season. They lost three in a row in early February, seemingly ending their Tournament hopes, but they have responded with a four-game winning streak to end the regular season, including wins at Wisconsin and Maryland. I still think they need to get to the Big Ten title game to have a chance at an at-large bid, but they are set up to improve their resume with potential games against Wisconsin in the quarters and Maryland or Northwestern in the semis.
Prediction: Michigan State
Are you going to bet against Izzo in March? I’m still not, even though they burned me in the Tournament last season. They have a decent draw here, and their last two games were close road losses, so I’m discounting them. It’s hard to rationalize this pick, just feels right to me. Don’t be shocked when Sparty makes a run to a Big Ten Tournament title.

Five more automatic bids will be given out over the next two nights as well, in these conference championships:

Horizon League Championship
#10 Milwaukee vs #4 Northern Kentucky
Tuesday 3/7, 7:00 pm, ESPN
I promise you, that is not a typo. 10-seed Milwaukee, the last place team in the Horizon League during the regular season, has won three straight games against 7-seed Detroit, 2-seed Valparaiso and 6-seed Illinois-Chicago to reach the conference championship game with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line. If they win, they will enter the Tournament with a 12-23 record, becoming one of the worst teams in history to reach the NCAA Tournament. It’s still an incredible story, considering that this team won just four conference games in the regular season, and might win four straight in the conference tournament. And if they don’t already have the confidence/momentum, their opponent here, Northern Kentucky, is one of the four teams that Milwaukee defeated in the regular season. They played them tough in the second meeting as well. I’ll honestly be rooting for Milwaukee, but you know what they say, the cream rises to the top, and Northern Kentucky, the better team, should win this game and advance to the Big Dance.

Northeast Conference Championship
#4 St. Francis (PA) vs #1 Mount St. Mary’s
Tuesday 3/7, 7:00 pm, ESPN2
KenPom has the Northeast as the third worst conference in college basketball this season, so this will be a battle for a 16-seed in the Tournament, likely in one of the First Four games. Mount St. Mary’s was the regular season champion of the league, led by guards sophomore Elijah Long and 5-5 junior Junior Robinson. They will take on 4-seed St. Francis (PA), who made it here thanks to an acrobatic, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from freshman Keith Braxton, knocking off 3-seed Wagner 71-70. Sophomore Isaiah Blackmon scored 20 to lead the way in that game for the Red Flash. I admittedly do not know much about either of these teams, so I’ll go with the favorites and pick Mount St. Mary’s to come out on top, probably getting themselves a trip to Dayton where they’ll play for the chance to lose to a 1-seed next Thursday or Friday.

West Coast Conference Championship
#2 Saint Mary’s vs #1 Gonzaga
Tuesday 3/7, 9:00 pm, ESPN
There isn’t much I should have to say to convince you to watch this game, but I’ll give you a little something anyway. Gonzaga is on it’s way to the NCAA Tournament for the 18th straight season, which is incredible. Even more amazing, though, is that this might be the best team in Gonzaga’s history. This team has a legitimate chance to reach the Final Four. Saint Mary’s was expected to be the biggest challenge to the Zags in the WCC this season, but the Gaels were beaten rather easily in both meetings with Gonzaga this season. Both of these teams are going to the Tournament, but a 1-seed is likely for Gonzaga with a win here. A loss, and that could be less certain. That will be all the motivation they need to win this game.

Summit League Championship
#4 South Dakota State vs #3 Omaha
Tuesday 3/7, 9:00 pm, ESPN2
The Summit was a very tight league this season, with six teams finishing at least .500 in conference play, so it’s no real surprise that the 1 and 2-seeds were knocked out prior to the championship game. 4-seed South Dakota State knocked off 1-seed South Dakota 74-71 on a last-second 3-pointer from senior guard Michael Orris. 3-seed Omaha was able to avoid 2-seed North Dakota State, instead dominating 7-seed IUPUI in the semifinals. This game will pit what most consider to be the league’s two best players in SDSU sophomore Mike Daum and Omaha senior Tra-Deon Hollins. Daum is second in the nation in scoring at 25 points per game, while Hollins is one of the best two-way guards in the nation, being the team’s main scoring threat and best lockdown defender. This should be a great game, but I think experience will play a factor. SDSU won the Summit League last season, reaching the NCAA Tournament, and I expect Daum to lead them there once again.

Patriot League Championship
#3 Lehigh vs #1 Bucknell
Wednesday 3/8, 7:30 pm, CBS Sports Network
Despite Lehigh being the 3-seed, this is a matchup between the top two teams in the Patriot League this season, and they’ll battle Wednesday night for a berth in the Big Dance. Lehigh needed double overtime to get a win at Boston U in the semifinals, and they’ll look to carry that momentum into another road game in the conference championship. Bucknell might be the best team, but Lehigh has the best player in the league in senior forward Tim Kempton. Kempton had 31 points and 13 rebounds in the semifinals, and he is being fueled by the fact that he has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament, after the Mountain Hawks lost to Holy Cross in the title game last season. Bucknell has been the best team in the conference this year, and they even have wins over Richmond and Vanderbilt to their name, but they lost to Lehigh twice during the regular season. Can they get over the hump and finally knock off Lehigh? I don’t believe so. Kempton is on a mission to get to the Big Dance, and this is his last chance. His supporting cast will help him out enough to send the Mountain Hawks back to the Tournament for the first time since 2012, when they defeated 2-seed Duke in the First Round.

That concludes Part Two of my Conference Championship Preview! I’ll be back later this week with a new edition of Bracketology. In the meantime, enjoy all of the basketball over the next week, leading into the best four days of the calendar year starting next Thursday!

2017 Conference Tournament Preview: Part One

The season began back in mid-November, and after four months of action, we have finally reached Championship Week in the 2016-17 college basketball season.

The first four automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament were given out this weekend, and they went to the following teams:

Jacksonville State (OVC)
Winthrop (Big South)
Wichita State (MVC)
Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun)

Over the next week, 28 more teams will punch their tickets to the Big Dance. Selection Sunday is less than a week away, but there is still so much yet to be determined!

For Part One of my Conference Tournament Preview, you’ll see the brackets for six major conference tournaments, and I’ll give you who I believe is the favorite, a dark horse, which teams have the most to gain in the tournaments, and also who I believe will come out on top. At the end, I also have short previews for three conference title games taking place on Monday night, which will get us to seven official teams in the NCAA Tournament.

We’ll kick it off with the tournament that has had no shortage of excitement over the last few seasons.

ACC Tournament (Brooklyn, NY)

First Round: March 7
Game 1: #13 NC State vs #12 Clemson, 12:00 pm (ESPN2)
Game 2: #15 Boston College vs #10 Wake Forest, 2:30 pm (ESPN2)
Game 3: #14 Pittsburgh vs #11 Georgia Tech, 7:00 pm (ESPNU)
Second Round: March 8
Game 4: #9 Miami FL vs #8 Syracuse, 12:00 pm (ESPN)
Game 5: Winner Game 1 vs #5 Duke, 2:30 pm (ESPN)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #7 Virginia Tech, 7:00 pm (ESPN2)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #6 Virginia, 9:30 pm (ESPN2)
Quarterfinals: March 9 (ESPN)
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs #1 North Carolina, 12:00 pm
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs #4 Louisville, 2:30 pm
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs #2 Florida State, 7:00 pm
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs #3 Notre Dame, 9:30 pm
Semifinals: March 10 (ESPN)
Game 12: Winner Game 8 vs Winner Game 9, 7:00 pm
Game 13: Winner Game 10 vs Winner Game 11, 9:30 pm
Championship: March 11 (ESPN)
Game 14: Winner Game 12 vs Winner Game 13, 9:00 pm

Favorite: North Carolina
The ACC is stacked once again, and figures to send at least nine or so teams to the Big Dance, but one of the hottest teams in the conference the second half of the season, and one of the hottest teams in the country, is North Carolina. They have wins over Virginia, Louisville and Duke all within the last two weeks. Their side of the bracket is going to be tough to get through, but if they get to the title game, it will be hard to pick against them.
Dark Horse: Notre Dame
Hard to call a 3-seed in a league as tough as this one a dark horse, but when people talk about the top teams in the ACC, you hear UNC, Duke, Louisville, Florida State and Virginia most often. A lot of people, yet again, are sleeping on Notre Dame. They have been to the Elite 8 two year in a row, and I believe they are talented enough to get there yet again this season. They have the postseason experience that can make all the difference in a conference tournament.
Most to Gain: Georgia Tech
Wake Forest could have gone in this spot as well, but I look at Georgia Tech as the team best positioned to improve their Tournament resume. If they get past Pitt in the opening round, they’ll face 6-seed Virginia, who is a good team, but is very beatable. Get past Virginia, and a quarterfinal match-up with Notre Dame awaits. Wins over Virginia and ND probably would be enough to put the Yellow Jackets onto the right side of the Bubble.
Prediction: Louisville
A new venue for the ACC Tournament could play a much bigger factor than you may think. When the tourney was in Greensboro or Washington D.C., it gave teams like Duke and North Carolina an advantage. With it moving to Brooklyn this season, that advantage might be no more. Whichever team gets out of the top half of this bracket will have earned it. After wins over Duke and North Carolina, the Louisville Cardinals will win the ACC Tournament, and have their fans campaigning for a 1-seed in the Big Dance (but they’ll settle for a 2-seed).

Atlantic 10 Tournament (Pittsburgh, PA)

First Round: March 8 (American Sports Network)
Game 1: #13 St. Joseph’s vs #12 Massachusetts, 6:00 pm
Game 2: #14 Duquesne vs #11 Saint Louis, 8:30 pm
Second Round: March 9 (NBC Sports Network)
Game 3: #9 Davidson vs #8 La Salle, 12:00 pm
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs #5 St. Bonaventure, 2:30 pm
Game 5: #10 Fordham vs #7 George Mason, 6:30 pm
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #6 George Washington, 9:00 pm
Quarterfinals: March 10 (NBC Sports Network)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #1 Dayton, 12:00 pm
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs #4 Rhode Island, 2:30 pm
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs #2 VCU, 6:30 pm
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs #3 Richmond, 9:00 pm
Semifinals: March 11 (CBS Sports Network)
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 1:00 pm
Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs Winner Game 10, approx. 3:30 pm
Championship: March 12 (CBS)
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs Winner Game 12, 12:30 pm

Favorite: Dayton
Death, taxes, Dayton at the top of the Atlantic 10. It’s certainly been that way for the last four years. Seniors Charles Cooke, Kendall Pollard and Scoochie Smith lead this team, which has been to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years. They enter the postseason coming off a loss to George Washington, which could be the fuel that they need to go out and win the A-10 Tournament.
Dark Horse: George Washington
This was tough, as I don’t think there are many teams that have a legit chance to win this tournament this season, but I’ll go with a GW team who has won six of seven to finish the regular season, including a big win over 1-seed Dayton to cap it off. I also believe that they have the easiest road to the semifinals of any team that did not receive a double-bye. Don’t be surprised if the Colonials make a run.
Most to Gain: Rhode Island
The Rams are squarely on the Bubble right now, with some experts having them in and some having them out. Right now they are ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s first team out of the field. They’ll need to win their first game here, likely against St. Bonaventure, but then they will probably get another crack at Dayton in the semifinals. A win there and I think they can get into the Tournament without the auto-bid.
Prediction: Dayton
The Flyers are the best team in the conference, and I expect them to prove that by beating Rhode Island for the third time this season in the semis, then taking the rubber match against VCU in the finals.

Big 12 Tournament (Kansas City, MO)

First Round: March 8 (ESPNU)
Game 1: #9 Oklahoma vs #8 TCU, 7:00 pm
Game 2: #10 Texas vs #7 Texas Tech, 9:30 pm
Quarterfinals: March 9
Game 3: #5 Oklahoma State vs #4 Iowa State, 12:30 pm (ESPN2)
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs #1 Kansas, 3:00 pm (ESPN2)
Game 5: Winner Game 2 vs #2 West Virginia, 7:00 pm (ESPNU)
Game 6: #6 Kansas State vs #3 Baylor, 9:30 pm (ESPNU)
Semifinals: March 10 (ESPN2)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs Winner Game 4, 7:00 pm
Game 8: Winner Game 5 vs Winner Game 6, 9:30 pm
Championship: March 11 (ESPN)
Game 9: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 6:00 pm

Favorite: Kansas
“Not only is Kansas the favorite to win the Big 12 Tournament, but right now, they’re the favorite to win the National Championship. The Jayhawks have looked borderline unbeatable the last few weeks. If any team can beat Kansas, that will be mighty impressive.” -Me, in this same post from last season. New year, same Kansas. They might seem a little more beatable this year, but I’ll still be impressed if anybody beats them.
Dark Horse: Oklahoma State
They lost their last two regular season games (at Iowa State and vs Kansas), but before that, the Cowboys had won 10 of 11 games with the only loss coming by three against Baylor. This is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and if they can get hot, they can go on a run. They face Iowa State in the quarterfinals, and it’s very hard to beat a team three times in one season, which is what the Cyclones will look to do. A win, and they’d get another shot at Kansas, who would also be looking to beat OK State for the third time this season. Look out for the Pokes.
Most to Gain: Kansas State
Another Bubble team with a massive opportunity thanks to their conference tourney draw. The Wildcats will take on Baylor in the quarterfinal, and a win over the Bears could be enough to get Kansas State into the field of 68. But just in case, a semifinal win over West Virginia would definitely get them in. Bruce Weber’s team controls their own destiny in my opinion at this stage.
Prediction: West Virginia
I’m not even sure why exactly I didn’t go with Kansas here, but the potential for a Kansas-West Virginia grudge match in the championship game is intriguing to me, and if it comes down to that, I like the Mountaineers to avenge their absolutely deflating overtime loss to the Jayhawks back on February 13th by stealing the Big 12 Championship.

Big East Tournament (New York City)

First Round: March 8 (FS1)
Game 1: #9 Georgetown vs #8 St. John’s, 7:00 pm
Game 2: #10 DePaul vs #7 Xavier, 9:30 pm
Quarterfinals: March 9 (FS1)
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs #1 Villanova, 12:00 pm
Game 4: #5 Seton Hall vs #4 Marquette, 2:30 pm
Game 5: Winner Game 2 vs #2 Butler, 7:00 pm
Game 6: #6 Creighton vs #3 Providence, 9:30 pm
Semifinals: March 10 (FS1)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs Winner Game 4, 6:30 pm
Game 8: Winner Game 5 vs Winner Game 6, 9:00 pm
Championship: March 11 (FOX)
Game 9: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 5:30 pm

Favorite: Villanova
The defending National Champions have won the Big East regular season title for the fourth straight season, establishing themselves a one of the favorites to win the National Title yet again this year. The Wildcats won the Big East Tournament two years ago, but the other two years, they were knocked out by Seton Hall (quarters in 2014, finals in 2016). Avoid them and Butler, who swept Nova this season, and they have a great shot to win this tournament.
Dark Horse: Seton Hall
Speaking of Seton Hall, they have quietly put together a nice stretch to close the regular season, winning five of their last six, with the lone loss there coming against Villanova. The Pirates are the defending Big East Tournament champs, and they’ll meet Marquette in the quarterfinals in a rubber match, and with a win, they will get a chance to eliminate Villanova from the Big East Tournament for the third time in the last four seasons.
Most to Gain: Providence
Despite six wins in a row to finish the regular season, the Friars are still on the Bubble (in fact, they weren’t even on the Bubble prior to the beginning of this winning streak), and they received a draw that appears designed to improve their Tournament resume. They get likely Tournament team Creighton in the quarterfinals, and if they get past them, they’ll probably face Butler in the semis. If Providence can get to the Big East Final, they’ll get into the Tourney no problem. A loss prior to that, and they might sweat it out on Selection Sunday.
Prediction: Villanova
It won’t be easy, but it just feels like Villanova is on a mission this year despite coming off a National Championship, and I like them to enter this year’s Tournament with the momentum of a Big East Championship. They’ll get over the Seton Hall-Big East Tournament hurdle in the semis, and then they’ll finally get the best of Butler this season in the Title game.

Pac-12 Tournament (Las Vegas, NV)

First Round: March 8 (Pac-12 Network)
Game 1: #9 Stanford vs #8 Arizona State, 3 p.m.
Game 2: #12 Oregon State vs #5 California, 5:30 p.m.
Game 3: #10 Washington State vs #7 Colorado, 9 p.m.
Game 4: #11 Washington vs #6 USC, 11:30 p.m.
Quarterfinals: March 9
Game 5: Winner Game 1 vs #1 Oregon, 3:00 pm (Pac-12 Network)
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #4 Utah, 5:30 pm (Pac-12 Network)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #2 Arizona, 9:00 pm (Pac-12 Network)
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs #3 UCLA, 11:30 pm (ESPN)
Semifinals: March 10
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs Winner Game 6, 9:00 pm (Pac-12 Network)
Game 10: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 11:30 pm (ESPN)
Championship: March 11 (ESPN)
Game 11: Winner Game 9 vs Winner Game 10, 11:00 pm

Favorite: UCLA
The Bruins are ranked #3 in the AP Poll for a reason. Despite not having a Tournament resume normally befitting of a highly ranked team at this point in the season, UCLA is playing it’s best basketball of the season right now, and that makes them the Pac-12 Tournament favorites in my eyes.
Dark Horse: Arizona
I know, it’s a major stretch to call a 2-seed a dark horse, but I think most people believe UCLA and Oregon are the top two teams in this conference, and Arizona is a pretty large step below those two teams. I tend to agree, but that doesn’t mean this team can’t go and win the Pac-12 Tournament. I’d love to see a UCLA-Arizona rubber match in the semis. That would be a fun game.
Most to Gain: California
Even though their opener is against lowly Oregon State, the win will still help a little bit. They have to beat Utah in the quarterfinals, and then they might even need to beat Oregon in the semifinals to earn a trip to the Tournament. That all seems unlikely, but Cal is the team in the Pac-12 with the most to gain.
Prediction: Oregon
The Ducks are the most complete team in the Pac-12, and they have the easiest path to the Championship game. A final against UCLA or Arizona will be a great game late next Saturday night, but on a neutral floor, I like Oregon to defeat either of those teams.

SEC Tournament (Nashville, TN)

First Round: March 8 (SEC Network)
Game 1: #13 LSU vs #12 Mississippi State, 7:00 pm
Game 2: #14 Missouri vs #11 Auburn, 9:30 pm
Second Round: March 9 (SEC Network)
Game 3: #9 Tennessee vs #8 Georgia, 1:00 pm
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs #5 Alabama, 3:30 pm
Game 5: #10 Texas A&M vs #7 Vanderbilt, 7:00 pm
Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs #6 Ole Miss, 9:30 pm
Quarterfinals: March 10 (SEC Network)
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs #1 Kentucky, 1:00 pm
Game 8: Winner Game 4 vs #4 South Carolina, 3:30 pm
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs #2 Florida, 7:00 pm
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs #3 Arkansas, 9:30 pm
Semifinals: March 11 (ESPN)
Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8, 1:00 pm
Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs Winner Game 10, 3:30 pm
Championship: March 12 (ESPN)
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs Winner Game 12, 1:00 pm

Favorite: Kentucky
The young Wildcats have had their ups and downs this season, but they enter the postseason having won eight games in a row, and they definitely look like a National Championship contender. I personally can’t say that for any other team in the SEC (sorry Florida), so Kentucky is my favorite here.
Dark Horse: Vanderbilt
The Commodores were my dark horse in the SEC Tournament last year, but they were upset by Tennessee in a nail-biter. They have a little more momentum this year, having won five of their last six in the regular season, including a victory over South Carolina and a second win this season over Florida. A chance to beat Florida a third time will come in the quarterfinals if they get past Texas A&M. Vandy needs a run to get into the Tournament. I think they can do it.
Most to Gain: Georgia
Easily could have put Vandy here as well, but I’ll go with the Bulldogs. They’ll face fellow Bubble team Tennessee in the second round, and if they get the win there, they’ll take on Kentucky in the quarterfinals. They gave Kentucky all they could handle this season, losing in overtime in Rupp Arena and then by just five points at home back on February 18. Georgia needs to make a deep run if they want to go to the Big Dance, and quality wins are there on that path.
Prediction: Vanderbilt
There’s usually at least a little bit of craziness among the major conferences this time of year. I’ve watched a lot of Vanderbilt over the last few weeks, and I really like what I see. I’ll make a bold prediction, saying they knock off Florida for a third time in the quarters en route to a title game victory over Kentucky to win the SEC and take things out of the Selection Committee’s hands.

On Monday night, three more auto-bids to the NCAA Tournament will be handed out in the following conference championship games:

Colonial Athletic Association Championship
#2 College of Charleston vs #1 UNC Wilmington
7:00 pm, CBS Sports Network
This game should be extremely fun, as the teams split their two regular season meetings, each winning on the other’s home floor. UNC Wilmington won the CAA last season and went to the NCAA’s as a 13-seed, giving 4-seed Duke everything they could handle in the opening game of the First Round, eventually falling 93-85. Three of the Seahawks’ four leading scorers from that game are back this season, and looking for a return trip to the Big Dance. Standing in their way are the Cougars of Charleston, who have been knocked out of the CAA Tournament by UNC Wilmington the last two seasons. The Cougars haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1999, and are seeking their 5th trip all time. On a neutral floor, this will be a true rubber match, but I think UNC Wilmington is the more talented team, and should win this game. They’ll be a dangerous 12 or 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Southern Conference Championship
#3 East Tennessee State vs #1 UNC Greensboro
7:00 pm, ESPN
UNC Greensboro is the higher seed, but East Tennessee State is the team you’ll want to pay attention to here, as they are the team more likely to bust your bracket if they make it to the Big Dance. The Buccaneers are ranked 66th on KenPom, and are a very experienced group led by seniors TJ Cromer, Wichita State-transfer Tevin Glass and Indiana-transfer Hanner Mosquera-Perea. The Bucs are looking for their first trip to the Tournament since 2010. The Spartans of UNC Greensboro have been a thorn in their side this season though. They beat ETSU in both meetings in the regular season en route to a three-way tie at the top of the league’s standings along with ETSU and Furman. UNC Greensboro is looking to return to the NCAA’s for the first time since 2001, when they were coached by current Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. I’ve discussed already how difficult it is to defeat a team three times in one season, and I think that will rear it’s head in this game. East Tennessee is the better team, and I expect them to get over the hump and defeat UNC Greensboro, stamping their ticket in the process.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Association Championship
#4 Siena vs #3 Iona
9:00 pm, ESPN2
Monmouth was the overwhelming favorite to win the MAAC and head to the Tournament. Siena was having none of that, or maybe more specifically, Siena senior Nico Clareth, who came off the bench to score 27 points on 7-9 shooting from 3-point range in the massive upset of Monmouth in the semifinals. Oh yeah, and all of that scoring came in the second half of the game. Clareth didn’t score in the first half. He only took one shot before halftime. It was an incredible performance, something that really shouldn’t be that surprising because, well, March. Clareth and the Saints will look to ride that momentum to their first trip to the NCAA’s since 2010, when Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery was at the helm. Hey, wait, I feel like I recently mentioned McCaffery… Anyway, Iona is the team that will try to keep them from making that trip, and a fair amount of the Gaels’ players knows what it takes to get there, having won the MAAC Title last season, and going on to the NCAA Tournament, falling to Iowa State 94-81. Iona is led by senior Jordan Washington, who played second-fiddle to AJ English last season, but has emerged as the go-to guy for Coach Tim Cluess this season. A win would result in the 12th trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history. The teams split the season series, each winning on the road, so this could go either way. I truly believe in momentum as a major factor this time of year, and for that reason, I expect Siena to pull off another *upset* and advance to the NCAA Tournament.

That’s it for Part One of my Conference Tournament preview, stay tuned very soon for Part Two! I hope you all enjoy a week chock full of college basketball, a nice appetizer for the real “Madness” next week!

Bubble Watch: 3/1/17

I’ve decided that my Top-25 rankings are pretty much useless now that we have entered March, and nobody cares about anything but March Madness and the NCAA Tournament Bracket. So instead of a new Top-25 this week, I’m giving you, my loyal readers, another edition of Bubble Watch!

This week, I’ll be giving you a look at the teams on the Bubble in the same way I look at them when putting together a Bracket projection. First will be my “Last Four Byes,” which are the last four teams that I have getting into the Tournament that would not have to play a play-in game in Dayton.

Following that will be my “Last Four In,” which is the four teams I would have playing in the Tuesday-Wednesday play-in games in Dayton.

After that is my “First Four Out,” which is the four teams I have closest to getting in, but would currently be out.

Finally, we’ll have my “Next Four Out,” which are the next four teams out of the field, but that I think still have an outside shot at securing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Enough explanation, here we go starting with the “Last Four Byes.”

 

Last Four Byes:

Michigan State (18-11, 10-6 B10)
The Spartans picked up a huge win Sunday on Senior Day over Wisconsin, which for now puts them in fairly safe territory. They finish with two road games against Illinois and Maryland. A loss to Illinois would be cause for a little concern, but a win at Maryland could make them a lock for the Tourney. I say one more win, regardless of when or against who, gets them into the field.

 

Syracuse (17-13, 9-8 ACC)
I don’t feel good about how high I have Syracuse in my bracket projection, but I think all factors considered, they’d be in right now. They have a bad RPI ranking, but on a soft Bubble, a team with a winning record in ACC play is worthy of a Tourney berth. That being said, I could easily see them being left out. A win in their regular season finale at home against Georgia Tech on Saturday could be a must-win.

 

Arkansas (22-7, 11-5 SEC)
The Razorbacks have won five games in a row to get themselves into the conversation, and it includes their best win of the season at South Carolina. The issue is other than that win, their only other wins against teams I have in my bracket projection are against UT Arlington (12-seed) and Mount St. Mary’s (16-seed, play-in game). A loss at Florida on Wednesday will not hurt, but a win would probably be enough to get them in. A loss at home to Georgia in their finale could be harmful to their Tourney hopes though.

 

California (19-9, 10-6 P12)
A win over Oregon State on Friday snapped a three-game losing streak for the Golden Bears, but that win won’t do much for their resume. They close out the regular season with road games against Utah and Colorado, and I believe a win in one of those two games, in addition to at least one win in the Pac-12 Tournament should be enough for Cal to make the field.

 

Last Four In:

Marquette (17-11, 8-8 BE)
In most other seasons, a team with Marquette’s resume would probably be further down on the list. But the Golden Eagles have the ultimate resume-defining win over the defending National Champs, Villanova. Marquette faces Xavier on the road and hosts Creighton to end their season. 1-1 in those games and a win in the Big East Tournament, and I think they’re in good shape.

 

Wake Forest (16-12, 7-9 ACC)
The Demon Deacons have played one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year, so they’ve had no shortage of opportunities to pick up big wins that can get them into the Tourney. Problem is that they haven’t been able to take advantage. Their best win is over Miami, and I’m not sure if that’s enough to get them in. They have a HUGE home game against Louisville on Wednesday. A win in that game is exactly what Wake’s resume needs.

 

Providence (19-11, 9-8 BE)
The Friars are getting hot at the perfect time. They’ve now won five straight, including wins over Butler, Xavier, Marquette and Creighton, four likely Tournament teams. Losses to DePaul and Boston College aren’t great, but I think they have done enough to overcome that. Avoid a letdown in their regular season finale at St. John’s, and Providence should feel pretty good about their chances.

 

Illinois State (25-5, 17-1 MVC)
The mid-majors aren’t likely to receive a whole lot of love from the Committee this year, but if Illinois State can’t win the Missouri Valley Tournament, I think they still deserve to get in, as long as they make it to the Championship game, and as long as the loss in that game is to Wichita State. The best case scenario for the Redbirds is to just win the conference tournament and get the league’s auto-bid. But if they can’t get it done, I think they still have a good chance to get in as an at-large.

 

First Four Out:

Rhode Island (19-9, 11-5 A10)
The Rams were expected to be a favorite to win the Atlantic-10 this year, but they have underachieved for the better part of the season. Despite that, they still are right on the cusp of the Tournament cut-line, thanks to a win over VCU on Saturday. They can’t afford any more slip-ups though. They must beat St. Joe’s and Davidson to close out the regular season, then a nice run in the A-10 Tournament, and Rhode Island has a decent chance to make the field of 68.

 

Georgia Tech (17-13, 8-9 ACC)
I really do think that Georgia Tech is a good enough team to make the NCAA Tournament. The issues lies in their RPI, which is in the 90s, and teams that have RPI’s that high do not make the Tournament as at-large teams. It just doesn’t happen. That is why Georgia Tech is among the First Four Out, and not the Last Four In. They might need to win at Syracuse on Saturday to have a shot at getting in. Lose that game, and they’ll need to pull off multiple upsets in the ACC Tournament to have a shot at getting in.

 

Vanderbilt (16-14, 9-8 SEC)
They were up 19 points on Kentucky in Rupp Arena, and it was looking like they were going to win that game and it was going to be exactly what they needed to solidify their spot in the Big Dance. Then the biggest comeback in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky happened, and Vanderbilt lost a huge chance to enhance their resume. But not to worry! They close the regular season Saturday at home against Florida, who they beat in Gainesville earlier this season. A win in that game might be enough to push the Commodores into the Tournament.

 

TCU (17-12, 6-10 B12)
While other teams are getting red-hot down the stretch, Jamie Dixon’s TCU team is doing the exact opposite. The Horned Frogs have lost five straight games, but those games were all to the top five teams in the conference. The unfortunate thing is that a win in just one of those games would have definitely had TCU higher on the list right now. They might need to win three games in the Big 12 Tournament just to have a shot at an at-large bid, and I just don’t see that happening.

 

Next Four Out:

Tennessee (15-14, 7-9 SEC)
Pretty crazy that a team with those records still has an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament, but that’s the case this season. They have a win over Kentucky, and that might be the only thing keeping them in the conversation. I don’t see them being considered without a run to at least the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. They probably need to get the auto-bid, but I’ll leave open the slim possibility of an at-large berth.

 

Georgia (17-12, 8-8 SEC)
I kinda feel bad for the Bulldogs. They have been so close this year, and just haven’t been able to secure that big win that their resume sorely lacks. They took Florida and Kentucky to overtime, and they nearly beat Kentucky again the second time they played them. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, so the SEC auto-bid might also be the only shot for Georgia to go dancing.

 

Houston (20-8, 11-5 AAC)
The American is a pretty weak conference this year after Cincinnati and SMU. Houston has had a decent season, but I’m not sure that they’ve done enough to get into the Tournament. They play at Cincinnati on Thursday, and a win in that game is absolutely crucial to Houston’s at-large hopes. Otherwise, they’ll need to win the American Championship.
Clemson (14-14, 4-12 ACC)
I don’t think Clemson has a shot at the Tournament unless they win the ACC, but I’m putting them here because they have been extremely unlucky this year, and I truly believe they could be capable of making an unlikely run to the ACC Championship game. The craziest thing is that 8 of their 12 losses in ACC play are by five points or less. Win half of those games and they are 8-8 in conference play and would probably be in a great position right now.

CBB Top-25: 2/21/17

I apologize for this coming a day later than usual, but with some unseasonably warm weather here in Southeast PA, I was pretty busy at work this weekend. So I’m a day late, but I’m definitely not a dollar short!

Anyway, being unable to afford the same amount of time to this as I normally do, I’ve switched it up a little bit this week. With just under three weeks until Selection Sunday, the Bubble is as exciting as ever. With most teams having just three or four games left in their regular season, some Bubble teams are better positioned to improve their resume than others. So before I get to my Top-25, here’s a look at five Bubble teams that can really increase their Tournament chances over the next couple weeks, and three teams that have quite the uphill battle ahead of them.

 

Bubble Teams with Best Chance to Improve Resume:

Iowa State (18-9, 10-5 B12)

The Cyclones may have played their way off of the Bubble recently, having won four in a row after last night’s 82-80 overtime win at Texas Tech. That being said, they could play their way right back onto the bubble if they struggle down the stretch. They finish with home games against Baylor and Oklahoma State, then travel to Morgantown to face West Virginia to close out the regular season. Win one of those three games against likely Tournament teams, and I’d say they’re in for sure. But if they go 0-3 in those games (which is not likely, but possible), a win in the Big 12 Tournament could be essential to their Tourney hopes.

Miami FL (19-8, 9-6 ACC)

Speaking of teams that have probably worked their way off the Bubble, the Hurricanes outlasted Virginia in overtime last night, picking up a huge road win, one that could stamp their ticket to the Dance. If they are still on the Bubble, though, they have a few marquee games remaining to enhance their resume. They’ll host Duke this weekend, which will be followed by trips to likely Tournament teams Virginia Tech and Florida State. Similarly to Iowa State, I think one more win gets Miami into the Tournament. If they can find a way to win two of their last three, or even possibly all three, I could see them rising to as high as a 6 or 7-seed believe it or not.

TCU (17-10, 6-8 B12)

The Horned Frogs have been on the Bubble for most of this season, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon. Jamie Dixon has done a remarkable job in his first season in Fort Worth, but his work is not done if he wants to get his team into the Tournament. Their next two games are at Kansas and versus West Virginia. A win in one of those games is exactly the kind of win TCU’s resume is lacking. I don’t expect them to win either of those, which will make their last two games, versus Kansas State and at Oklahoma, absolute must-wins. Otherwise, it’s NIT for TCU.

California (18-8, 9-5 P12)

In most seasons, a team with Cal’s resume would probably be fighting for their Tournament lives. But it’s a pretty soft Bubble this season, so right now, most experts have the Golden Bears in the field. That being said, they could use a few more big wins, and they’ll get chances. They host Oregon this week, and a win could punch their ticket to the Big Dance. If they aren’t able to knock off the Ducks, they close their season with the Utah-Colorado trip that has proven very tough for teams this year. Two wins there could impress the Committee enough to get them in.

Syracuse (16-12. 8-7 ACC)

The Orange started the year 11-9, 3-4 in the ACC with a loss to Boston College, and nobody had them even sniffing the Bubble. Then they won five in a row, including wins over Florida State and Virginia, and that got them back into the conversation. Now, they are currently on a three-game losing streak, they have 12 losses, and they need to finish at least 2-1 in their last three games to have a shot, and it won’t be easy. They host Duke on Wednesday, then travel to Louisville Sunday. The following weekend, they close with a home game against Georgia Tech. They are not easy games, but lose two of them, and I think Syracuse is out.

 

Bubble Teams with Worst Chance to Improve Resume:

Kansas State (17-10, 6-8 B12)

Wins versus West Virginia and at Baylor are driving the Wildcats’ hopes for making the Tournament. Outside of those two wins, it’s a very lackluster resume, and unfortunately for K-State fans, there aren’t any potential marquee wins left in the regular season. They still have to face fellow Bubble teams Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech, but two of those games are at home, and in my opinion, they cannot afford to lose either of those games. Win all three and I think they have a good shot to get in, but getting to face, and defeat, one of the top teams in the league in the Big 12 Tournament could end up as the only chance they have to get into the Tournament.

Texas Tech (17-11, 5-10 B12)

It’s amazing to me that a team five games under .500 in their own league is being discussed as a possible Tournament team, but that is what this year’s Bubble has given us. The Red Raiders have lost two consecutive games in overtime, missing out on two wins that could have greatly improved their chances to get into the Big Dance. Just like Kansas State, Texas Tech has wins over West Virginia and Baylor that they hope can be enough to get them in. They have road games against Oklahoma State and Kansas State left on their schedule, and I’m saying they need to win both of those games, or they have no chance to get in.

Clemson (14-12, 4-10 ACC)

Clemson sees Texas Tech’s 5-10 Big 12 record and raises them a 4-10 record in the ACC. Now, in my opinion, the ACC is tougher than the Big 12 this year, and with that, I believe that Clemson is a better team than Texas Tech, but equally as deserving (or undeserving) of a berth in the Tournament. Clemson has one huge resume-booster left when they host Florida State this weekend. The Seminoles have struggled on the road in conference play, so Clemson needs to win that game. Especially considering that their final two games are at home against basement-dwellers NC State and Boston College. Wins in those games won’t help Clemson’s chances at all.

 

And now, here’s this week’s Top-25!

 

  1. VCU (Prev: NR)

This Week: Wed 2/22 vs Saint Louis (7:00 pm); Sat 2/25 @ Rhode Island (2:00 pm, ESPN2)

  1. Virginia (Prev: 16)

This Week: Sat 2/25 @ NC State (12:00 pm, ESPN)

  1. Oklahoma State (Prev: NR)

This Week: Wed 2/22 @ Kansas State (9:00 pm, ESPNU); Sat 2/25 vs Texas Tech (2:00 pm, ESPNU)

  1. Saint Mary’s (Prev: 25)

This Week: Thu 2/23 @ Pepperdine (10:00 pm); Sat 2/25 vs Santa Clara (10:00 pm)

  1. Notre Dame (Prev: 24)

This Week: Sun 2/26 vs Georgia Tech (6:30 pm, ESPNU)

  1. Wisconsin (Prev: 21)

This Week: Thu 2/23 @ Ohio State (9:00 pm, ESPN); Sun 2/26 @ Michigan State (4:00 pm, CBS)

  1. Creighton (Prev: 19)

This Week: Wed 2/22 vs Providence (9:00 pm); Sat 2/25 @ Villanova (3:00 pm, FOX)

  1. Florida State (Prev: 11)

This Week: Sat 2/25 @ Clemson (12:00 pm, ESPN3)

  1. Butler (Prev: 20)

This Week: Wed 2/22 @ Villanova (9:00 pm, FS1); Sun 2/26 @ Xavier (3:30 pm, FS1)

  1. Florida (Prev: 17)

This Week: Tue 2/21 vs South Carolina (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/25 @ Kentucky (2:00 pm, CBS)

  1. Cincinnati (Prev: 14)

This Week: Thu 2/23 vs Memphis (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sun 2/26 @ UCF (3:00 pm, CBSSN)

  1. West Virginia (Prev: 12)

This Week: Sat 2/25 @ TCU (2:00 pm, ESPN)

  1. SMU (Prev: 15)

This Week: Sat 2/25 @ Connecticut (12:00 pm, CBS)

  1. Purdue (Prev: 13)

This Week: Tue 2/21 @ Penn State (6:00 pm, BTN); Sat 2/25 @ Michigan (4:00 pm, ESPN2)

  1. Baylor (Prev: 4)

This Week: Tue 2/21 vs Oklahoma (7:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/25 @ Iowa State (4:00 pm, ESPN)

  1. Kentucky (Prev: 10)

This Week: Tue 2/21 @ Missouri (9:00 pm, SECN); Sat 2/25 vs Florida (2:00 pm, CBS)

  1. Duke (Prev: 18)

This Week: Wed 2/22 @ Syracuse (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/25 @ Miami FL (4:00 pm, CBS)

  1. Arizona (Prev: 9)

This Week: Thu 2/23 vs USC (10:00 pm, P12N); Sat 2/25 vs UCLA (8:15 pm, ESPN)

  1. UCLA (Prev: 6)

This Week: Thu 2/23 @ Arizona State (9:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/25 @ Arizona (8:15 pm, ESPN)

  1. Oregon (Prev: 7)

This Week: Wed 2/22 @ California (9:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/25 @ Stanford (4:00 pm, P12N)

  1. North Carolina (Prev: 8)

This Week: Wed 2/22 vs Louisville (9:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 2/25 @ Pittsburgh (12:00 pm, ESPN3)

  1. Louisville (Prev: 5)

This Week: Wed 2/22 @ North Carolina (9:00 pm, ESPN); Sun 2/26 vs Syracuse (2:00 pm, CBS)

  1. Kansas (Prev: 3)

This Week: Wed 2/22 vs TCU (7:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 2/25 @ Texas (6:00 pm, ESPN)

  1. Gonzaga (Prev: 1)

This Week: Thu 2/23 @ San Diego (10:00 pm); Sat 2/25 vs BYU (10:00 pm, ESPN2)

  1. Villanova (Prev: 2)

This Week: Wed 2/22 vs Butler (9:00 pm, FS1); Sat 2/25 vs Creighton (3:00 pm, FOX)