NCAA Tournament Field Projections and Predictions, March 6
by Robert Ferringo - 3/6/2013
You don’t need to be Christopher Langan to know that there is plenty of uncertainty in the college basketball landscape right now. Who is the best team in the country? Who will be the No. 1 seeds? Who has a realistic shot at winning the NCAA Tournament, and will this be one of the craziest dances we’ve seen in a decade?
While there are some legitimate questions surrounding the sport, one thing that is actually a lot more stable and secure than people would let on is what teams will be in the NCAA Tournament field and who still has a legitimate shot at the Big Dance.
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On the one hand, the “bubble” is bigger this year than normal. Usually at this time of the year there are really only about six or seven teams fighting for about four or five slots. But by my count, this year we have about 15 teams slugging for the 11 final at-large bids.
Of course, we still have two weeks of wild conference tournament action. It starts this week with “Arch Madness,” the Missouri Valley Tournament, and over the next 12 days there will be hundreds of teams flailing wildly while attempting to steal one of those precious bids to the Big Dance. And it will happen – it always does – further shrinking the field, as well as the margin for error for those teams still trying to play their way into the party.
But for now, the bubble teams are still clinging to their final breaths and raging against the dying of the light. Or at least they are making and missing enough ill-advised jumpers to keep everyone interested.
According to my NCAA Tournament predictions and projections, in no particular order, Maryland, Iowa State, Villanova, Cincinnati, Wichita State, Colorado, Cal, Kentucky, St. Mary’s and Temple are in the field. They all still have a little work to do. But if things were being decided tomorrow, I think they would be in. Then LaSalle, Boise State, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas are the teams I have on the outside looking in. (I know that’s 10 teams “in,” and I said there were 11 slots. But I am already projecting at least one bid to be stolen by an upset in one of the mid-major tournaments.)
So that’s it. Don’t get roped in by snake oil salesmen like Joe Lunardi or the rest of the sports hype machine. The fact is those are the only teams you need to keep your eye on over the next two weeks. And those are the teams that we’ll be comparing while it all plays out. And, oh, what a two weeks it will be.
Here is my updated NCAA Tournament predictions and projections:
Atlantic-10 (Projected Teams: 4)
In: Butler*, VCU*, St. Louis*
Bubble: Temple*, LaSalle
Skinny: There isn’t any doubt that the A-10 will get at least three teams. And Temple is certainly playing like a team that is going to the NCAA Tournament, winning five straight games, including a tough road win at UMass, a home win over fellow bubbler LaSalle, and a tricky nonconference victory over Horizon favorite Detroit. Temple should take care of business Wednesday at Fordham, and then they can all but punch their own ticket in their final home game of the year versus smoking-hot VCU. LaSalle won’t go away. And they have a chance for a major win when they travel to St. Louis on Saturday. That would be a tough one to get. And even if they do, this team probably needs to make it to at least the A-10 semifinals to have a shot at dancing.
ACC (Projected Teams: 6)
In: N.C. State*, Duke*, North Carolina*, Miami*, Virginia*
Skinny: Virginia has a softer resume than people realize, but you can’t really argue with the Top 5 from the ACC. Maryland just needs to avoid a meltdown and they should punch their ticket to the tournament. The Terps host surging North Carolina on Wednesday and then have to go to Virginia – where few road teams win – on Sunday. If they can split those games and avoid a first-round upset in the ACC Tournament, then they are golden. But if they lose both games they may need two victories in the ACC tourney to move on.
Big 12 (Projected Teams: 5)
In: Kansas*, Kansas State*, Oklahoma State*, Oklahoma*
Bubble: Iowa State*
Skinny: Oklahoma has a weak nonconference resume, but they have done enough to earn a berth. Iowa State is really right on the cusp. But they close the year with Oklahoma State (no pushover) and then at Morgantown against West Virginia. A split and a win in the Big 12 Tournament should do it. But if Iowa State loses both of those regular season games they would be heading to Kansas City on an 0-4 slide with their last three wins coming over TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech. That’s not promising. The Cyclones did squat in the nonconference, and this team is dangerously close to playing its way off the dance card.
Big East (Projected Teams:8)
In: Syracuse*, Louisville*, Pittsburgh*, Marquette*, Georgetown*, Notre Dame*
Bubble: Villanova*, Cincinnati*
Skinny: Cincinnati is another team that is trying to play its way out, apparently. They are going to finish in the bottom half of the Big East, and, heading into Saturday’s must-win against South Florida, they are just 2-6 in their last eight games. Granted, the Bearcats schedule has been brutal. But they still need a couple wins to pad their resume. Nonconference wins over fellow bubble teams Iowa State, Oregon, Villanova and Alabama are really what is bolstering Cincy’s case. Villanova closes the regular season against white-hot Georgetown. I would like to see the Wildcats get to 20 wins (they are 18-12 with a regular season finale and the Big East tournament left). But the fact is they are still clinging to those wins over Louisville and Syracuse, and those are two pretty big chips to play in lieu of a nonconference resume. It should hold up when you compare that to a team like Kentucky, which hasn’t beaten anyone.
Big Ten (Projected Teams: 7)
In: Indiana*, Michigan*, Michigan State*, Ohio State*, Wisconsin*, Minnesota*, Illinois*
Skinny: Illinois has quietly and surprisingly taken care of its business over the last month while going 6-1 in its last seven. Road games at Iowa and Ohio State to close the regular season are tough. But this team has beaten OSU and Indiana, and they have nonconference wins over Gonzaga and Butler. They are in. So is Minnesota, thanks to its victory over Indiana last week. Iowa is a long shot of all long shots. The computers like the Hawkeyes. But they really haven’t done anything in or out of league play to warrant a bid.
Conference USA (Projected Teams: 2)
Bubble: Southern Mississippi
Skinny: The Tigers are going to be a lower seed than people expect. They are inexplicably inside the Top 25 – despite losing at Xavier last week – and they are running away with Conference USA. I am generously calling Southern Miss a bubble team, but they have virtually no shot at an at-large bid. Barring an upset in the conference tournament – which could definitely happen – this looks like a one-bid league. I don’t know why, but I have a sinking suspicion that someone will knock off Memphis in the tourney and the Tigers will end up stealing a bid. Call me crazy, but I see it happening, and that is why I have two projected teams from this league but just one star.
Missouri Valley (Projected Teams: 2)
In: Creighton*, Wichita State*
Skinny: “Arch Madness” begins this week in St. Louis, and I believe the top two seeds in this tournament are secure in the Big Dance. If Wichita State can take down the Northern Iowa-Illinois State winner in the semifinals, then they should be golden as well, although the Shockers will be one of the teams people are discussing as “on the bubble” until Selection Sunday. Wins over VCU and Iowa in the nonconference, a win over Creighton in league play and Detroit in the BracketBusters, and solid computer numbers should help the Shockers slide in.
Mountain West (Projected Teams: 4)
In: UNLV*, San Diego State*, Colorado State*, New Mexico*
Bubble: Boise State
Skinny: Boise State had been charging hard. But they blew a late second-half lead at the Thomas and Mack on Tuesday night, and that all but sunk their NCAA Tournament hopes. I still think the Broncos will be a very tough out in the MWC Tournament – and a run to the finals wouldn’t stun me – but I think they are heading to the NIT. The other four teams from this league are solid, and combined with the A-10 they should represent the mid-majors well on Selection Sunday.
Pac-12 (Projected Teams: 5)
In: Arizona*, UCLA*, Oregon*
Bubble: Colorado*, California*
Skinny: California is absolutely on fire right now. They have won seven straight games, and no one can stop Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. They are an absolute force. But Cal still has work to do. They need to win at home over rival Stanford, and they need to win at least one, and maybe two, games in the Pac-12 Tournament. They are hot right now and will need to max out in order to make it to the dance. But this team is peaking at the right time. Arizona State has fallen off a cliff, losing five of seven, and will be hosting an NIT game. Colorado is interesting. They absolutely, positively should be in the field. Their best nonconference win is an underrated victory over Colorado State. And they have wins over Cal, Oregon and Arizona. The Buffs have a two-game home stand this weekend against the Oregon schools. They need a sweep to up their Q. If they get it, I will be stunned/angry if they get left out. (Their stunning loss at Utah is an anchor around their neck right now.)
SEC (Projected Teams: 3)
In: Florida*, Missouri*
Bubble: Kentucky*, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas
Skinny: As I said in my previous version of my NCAA Tournament projections, the SEC is absolute garbage and is by far the worst of the BCS conferences. Florida and Missouri are in. But none of the bubble teams really deserve an at-large bid. Kentucky’s nonconference resume is pathetic. Their SEC accomplishments pretty much stop at a win over Missouri and a win over Ole Miss. I’m not impressed, and that shouldn’t be enough. But UK is still a “name,” and I have a sinking suspicion that will be enough. Of course, a home win over Florida this Saturday would lock it up. Ole Miss is an NIT team. They are just 4-6 in their last 10 games in this feeble league. Their best wins: Rutgers, San Francisco and Missouri. Again, not impressed. Alabama’s loss in Oxford may have sealed their fate. Arkansas has wins over Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri and Kentucky. And they played some big nonconference games. But they are so pathetic on the road (see: Tuesday’s road loss at Mizzou) that they aren’t a real threat. In the end it might come down to which of those three teams is most able to make a run in Nashville next week. But if this league ends up with more than three or four teams, it will make a farce of the entire selection process.
WCC (Projected Teams: 2)
Bubble: St. Mary’s*
Skinny: BYU is deservedly off the bubble. Those guys have talent but absolutely no idea what they are doing. They are the Mormon version of UMass or Detroit. If they avoid an upset, the Cougars will face St. Mary’s (the Gaels have a double-bye) in the semifinals. St. Mary’s has a light resume, and if they don’t at least make the finals and put up a good fight against Gonzaga they could be left out in the cold. St. Mary’s, like Colorado, absolutely deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament, and they are clearly two of the best 68 teams in the country. But the Gaels have been snubbed before, and they best not leave anything to chance.
Automatic Bid Leagues (Projected Teams: 20):
America East – Stony Brook
Atlantic Sun – Florida-Gulf Coast
Big Sky – Weber State
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 – Robert Morris
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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