We are just two weeks away from beginning the Harlem Shake that is March college basketball.
It starts with a few undistinguished conference tournaments. These small and mid-major schools are bouncing around and bobbing their heads while the rest of the country goes about the business of sorting out regular season championships. But you can already feel things rising. And you know what is coming.
The buildup has been underway. The anticipation is palpable. No one knows just how wild and weird and wonderful things are going to get, but everyone knows it is going to get wild and weird and wonderful. And oh, it shall. March Madness is the original Harlem Shake. And its fantastical lunacy is lurking, it is mounting, it is ready to unleash a torrent of absurdity on the sports betting public.
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It is just waiting for the bass to drop.
And while college basketball continues to bounce its head, priming itself for The Madness, we are here to lend some insight into just who will be shaking in the tournament just one month from now.
With that in mind, here are my updated NCAA Tournament predictions and projections:
Atlantic-10 (Projected Teams: 4)
Bubble: VCU*, St. Louis*, Temple*, LaSalle
Skinny: I thought that as many as six teams had a shot at the NCAA Tournament from this league. It looks like we’ll have to settle for four. Butler is obviously in. St. Louis needs to be careful. They are one of the best 68 teams, and they can earn a big chip this week by beating either VCU or Butler. But they have a brutal schedule to close the year and they need to at least go 3-3 to stay viable. VCU still needs a marquee league win, but they are playing out of their minds right now. And their history of tourney success will get them the benefit of the doubt, even if their resume is a little flimsy overall. Temple took a horrific loss to Duquesne – at home, no less – last week and that one is an anchor around its neck. But they have home games against LaSalle, Detroit and VCU remaining. If they get two wins there they are going to be hard to ignore, thanks to that win over Syracuse in December. LaSalle is still swimming upstream because their best nonconference win came over Villanova. The Explorers have beaten Butler and VCU, and they get Temple at home this week. This team needs to close the year winning four of five – which would make them 22-7 – and then pick up a couple Ws in the league tournament. If they do that, I think they will be tough to leave out. But for now LaSalle is one of my last teams out of the dance.
ACC (Projected Teams: 6)
In: N.C. State*, Duke*, North Carolina*, Miami*
Bubble: Maryland*, Virginia*
Skinny: It would seem like a win over Duke would virtually guarantee Maryland a spot in the tournament. It does not. Maryland played the No. 345 nonconference schedule in the country, and their best nonconference win was either over Stony Brook or Northwestern.They get UNC at home, and if the Terps can go 4-2 (3-3 might even do it) down the stretch, I think they can weasel their way in.
Big 12 (Projected Teams: 5)
In: Kansas*, Kansas State*, Oklahoma State*
Bubble: Oklahoma*, Iowa State*, Baylor
Skinny: Iowa State has a daunting slate remaining, but it provides them a chance to build a case. The Cyclones get Kansas and Oklahoma State in Ames, and they have to travel to Oklahoma. If they can close the year with four wins (Texas Tech and West Virginia are the other two opponents) then I think they will be dancing. Both Iowa State and Baylor are hindered by the fact that one of their best nonconference wins came against BYU. The Bears also have that win over Kentucky, but that one is getting tainted more and more by the minute. Baylor and Iowa State face off in Waco on Wednesday in an important game for both teams. A Cyclones win would give them a sweep of the Bears. Baylor also has to make a trek to Oklahoma, but they will host Kansas State and Kansas in early March with two shots for an attention-grabbing win. Oklahoma can shore up its resume by beating Iowa State to earn a season split. OU has wins over Kansas and Oklahoma State, and their nonconference resume is steady. They also have one of the easier stretch runs in the Big 12, so they control their own destiny. Although losing point guard Buddy Hield is a huge blow and could cost this team a ‘W’ or two.
Big East (Projected Teams:8)
In: Syracuse*, Louisville*, Pittsburgh*, Marquette*, Georgetown*, Notre Dame*, Cincinnati*
Bubble: St. John’s, Villanova*
Skinny: I apologize that in my last NCAA Tournament projections I included Connecticut, forgetting that they are banned from the postseason. Not sure how I did that. The Big East is the best conference in the country and has 10 teams rated in the Top 60 (including Providence at No. 55). There is no dispute over the top seven teams going dancing. Villanova is kind of the X-Factor. But they have played one of the most difficult schedules in the country. If they can get to 20 wins, and with W’s over Louisville and Syracuse, it will be impossible to keep them out. A win at Seton Hall, the lone game against a non-tournament team left, is a must for the up-and-down Wildcats.
Big Ten (Projected Teams: 7)
In: Indiana*, Michigan*, Michigan State*, Ohio State*, Wisconsin*,
Bubble: Minnesota*, Illinois*, Iowa
Skinny: Like the Big East, the top tier teams in the Big Ten are locks for the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota is nowhere near that top tier, and I think they still have work to do. The Gophers should beat Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue down the stretch to get to 21 wins. But Minnesota’s only victory over a tournament-bound Big Ten team was a lackluster one over Wisconsin. Iowa is a team that is picking up steam. The computers love them. But the reality is that they don’t have anything close to a tournament resume. Yes, they have a lot of close, heartbreaking losses against the best teams in the conference. But the selection committee doesn’t give credit for close losses. Iowa played the No. 339 nonconference schedule in America, and their best non-league win came over bubble team Iowa State. Iowa has to sweep Nebraska, has to beat Purdue, and they have to beat Illinois at home on March 5. That will keep them in the discussion (they also have a trip to Bloomington, and I’m sure Indiana will hammer them). But then the Hawkeyes will still need at least a pair of wins in the Big Ten tournament to fulfill the promise a lot of people have for them right now.
Conference USA (Projected Teams: 1)
Bubble: Southern Mississippi, Memphis*
Skinny: Back-to-back losses to Central Florida and Memphis early in February took a lot of wind out of Southern Miss’s sails. They have another crack at Memphis, on the road, this Saturday. I think they have to win that game. If they don’t then the Golden Eagles will at worst need to close the regular season 4-1 and then make the CUSA Championship Game. That would leave them at 26-9 and among the last few teams considered.
Missouri Valley (Projected Teams: 2)
In: Creighton*, Wichita State*
Bubble: Indiana State
Skinny: No changes here. Wichita State leads The Valley, and Creighton, despite a stunning recent slide, is right behind them. Teams like Indiana State and Illinois State are good enough to knock off other tournament teams. But neither of them have the complete body of work to warrant consideration at this point. Illinois State is a dark horse, though. If they can somehow win brutal road games at Evansville, Utah State and Northern Iowa during their stretch run, and if they can make the MVC Tournament Finals they would be around 22-12 with some nice computer numbers. But I think it is too little, too late thanks to some heartbreaking losses in December and early January. Indiana State coughed up games at Missouri State and at Bradley last week. Those should’ve been two Ws, and they would’ve been 18-8 with nonconference wins over Miami and Ole Miss as well as wins over Creighton and Wichita State. The Sycamores need to be 19-11 heading to Arch Madness, and then they would need to make the conference finals. It is possible. Just not probable.
Mountain West (Projected Teams: 4)
In: UNLV*, San Diego State*, Colorado State*, New Mexico*
Bubble: Boise State, Wyoming
Skinny: This is the No. 4-ranked conference in the country, and it is going to get at least four bids. I think that Wyoming is the walking dead. But they have one more cycle through the top four teams in the conference. If by some Act of God they could win three of those games, they could have a shot. But this team is decimated by injuries and is playing horribly right now. Boise State is a team I want to pull for. They have nonconference wins over Creighton and LSU. But they are just 3-6 in their last nine games. The schedule does lighten up though. They have a must-win game against Air Force on Wednesday and then winnable games against Fresno State and Nevada. After that they host Colorado State and San Diego State and have a trip to UNLV. If the Broncos bust out for four or five wins they will be in the bubble discussion heading into the MWC Tournament. But that is a tall order for a short team.
Pac-12 (Projected Teams: 4)
In: Arizona*, UCLA*, Oregon*
Bubble: Colorado*, Arizona State, California
Skinny: Yet again, the Pac-12 is completely underrated. I think this league is better than both the Big 12 and the SEC right now, and you can make a case that the Pac-12 is superior to the Mountain West. Arizona and Oregon are playing for seeding and are 42-9 combined. UCLA is in. Arizona State and Cal are both playing their best basketball. ASU’s problem is their nonexistent nonconference resume. They are a team that will have to play well in the Pac-12 Tournament to be taken seriously. Cal has won three straight and five of six, and they have wins over Arizona and UCLA. Cal’s nonconference metrics are sound thanks to wins over Denver and Georgia Tech, but that is hardly an exemplary curriculum vitae. In the end, I think that Colorado is going to find its way in. They are 17-8 with the best nonconference resume – by far – of the three Pac-12 bubble teams. If they don’t lose again at home and can take a split in a trip to California to face Stanford and Cal next week then that is 21-9 heading into the league tournament. That will be good enough to get this team in the field.
SEC (Projected Teams: 5)
In: Florida*, Missouri*
Bubble: Kentucky*, Mississippi*, Alabama*, Arkansas
Skinny: The SEC has been a sham the last five years and is once again the most pathetic of the “major” conferences. Kentucky is actually a team that probably shouldn’t get in. Their best win – of the season – was a three-point win over Maryland in the opener. Beyond that the Wildcats have done jack. Ole Miss is in the same boat. Their nonconference slate was No. 327 in the land, and their best league victory was a lone win over Missouri. Alabama is closing hard, winning nine of its last 11 games. But, again, their best win of the year was over Kentucky. The Crimson Tide to take care of business at home against Miss State, Auburn and Georgia. And then I think they need to either beat Florida (in Gainesville) or at least sweep road games against LSU and Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide will probably be one of the last ones in or last ones out.
WCC (Projected Teams: 2)
Bubble: BYU, St. Mary’s*
Skinny: The Bulldogs have the inside track for a No. 1 seed, and, barring a late-season collapse, they should be able to secure their highest seed since 2004. BYU is a long shot to go dancing. But they face Utah State, St. Mary’s (on the road) and Gonzaga in their next three games. If they can pull off a sweep they can get themselves back in the discussion. St. Mary’s is one of the best 68 teams in the country. But they just haven’t proved it. The Gaels play that huge game against BYU, and then they get an opportunity for a tremendous win on Saturday when they host Creighton in the marquee Bracket Buster matchup. If St. Mary’s can sweep this week and take care of their business against Pepperdine and Santa Clara, they would be 26-5 heading into the WCC tourney. That might earn them a third shot at beating Gonzaga.
Automatic Bid Leagues (Projected Teams: 20):
America East – Stony Brook
Atlantic Sun – Florida-Gulf Coast
Big Sky – Montana
Big South – Charleston Southern
Big West – Long Beach State
Colonial – Towson
Horizon – Detroit
Ivy League – Harvard
Metro – Loyola-Maryland
Mid-American – Akron
MEAC – N.C. Central
Northeast – Long Island
Ohio Valley – Belmont
Patriot League – Bucknell
Southern – Davidson
Southland – Stephen F. Austin
SWAC – Southern
Summit – North Dakota State
Sun Belt – Middle Tennessee State
WAC – New Mexico State
*Denotes team projected for the NCAA Tournament.
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