Predicting 2017 March Madness tournament field
Remember when N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. was hitting everything off the dribble and throwing down thunderous dunks at the buzzer against Duke? The Blue Devils and all their NBA talent seemed to be crumbling before our eyes just a week ago. Well, fortunes can turn quickly in the loaded ACC.
After winning at Wake Forest on Saturday and at Notre Dame on Monday, Duke is 2-3 against the RPI Top 25 and 5-4 against the Top 50. The Blue Devils seem to be finding their identity, with Luke Kennard serving as the go-to guy down the stretch at Wake Forest and Grayson Allen finally stringing together consecutive productive games for the first time in a while. See how far the Blue Devils have risen in FanPicks (Register) latest bracketology, as well as who is trending up and down.
1: Baylor (Big 12 AQ), Villanova (Big East AQ), Kansas, Gonzaga (WCC AQ)
2: Arizona (Pac-12 AQ), North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia (ACC AQ)
3: Louisville, Kentucky (SEC AQ), West Virginia, Butler
4: Oregon, UCLA, Cincinnati (AAC AQ), Duke
5: Wisconsin (Big Ten AQ), Creighton, South Carolina, Maryland
6: Notre Dame, Florida, Northwestern, Purdue
7: Saint Mary’s, Virginia Tech, USC, SMU
8: Minnesota, Xavier, Marquette, Iowa State
9: Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan State, Georgia Tech
10: Dayton (Atlantic 10 AQ), Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Seton Hall
11: Texas Tech, TCU/Clemson, Middle Tennessee (Conference USA AQ), UNC Wilmington (Colonial AQ)
12: Michigan/Miami (Fla.), Illinois State (Missouri Valley AQ), Valparaiso (Horizon AQ), Nevada (Mountain West AQ)
13: Akron (MAC AQ), UT Arlington (Sun Belt AQ), Monmouth (MAAC AQ), New Mexico State (WAC AQ)
14: Vermont (America East AQ), East Tennessee State (Southern AQ), Princeton (Ivy AQ), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun AQ)
15: Bucknell (Patriot AQ), UNC Asheville (Big South AQ), North Dakota State (Summit AQ), Belmont (Ohio Valley AQ)
16: Texas Southern (SWAC AQ), New Orleans (Southland AQ), Mount St. Mary’s (NEC AQ)/Weber State (Big Sky AQ), UC Davis (Big West AQ)/N.C. Central (MEAC AQ)
Last four byes: Texas Tech, Seton Hall, Oklahoma State, Kansas State
Last four in: Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Clemson, TCU
First four out: Tennessee, N.C. State, Wake Forest, VCU
Next four out: Rhode Island, Pittsburgh, California, Wichita State
Big 12: 8
Big Ten: 8
Big East: 6
*AQ = automatic qualifier, determined by current projected regular-season champion.
Georgia Tech: Yes, the Yellow Jackets belong in the field at this point. They are 3-3 against the RPI Top 25 and 5-5 against the Top 50, with wins over North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame. And they have not only thrived exclusively at home, they’ve also won at VCU in December and at N.C. State two weeks ago. A home loss to Ohio gets less and less problematic with each new win over a top-of-the-pack ACC foe.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats could have lost to Xavier last Thursday and been fine, for the time being at least. But the AAC is weak this year, leaving Cincinnati just one more shot at a quality win on February 12 at SMU. A loss to Xavier, coupled with a loss to SMU in two weeks and another setback to an inferior AAC opponent, could have sent the Bearcats’ seed plummeting. But now, with wins over three solid RPI Top 50 (Xavier, SMU and Iowa State), Cincinnati has some breathing room and a realistic shot to crack the No. 3 seed line.
Tennessee: The Volunteers were under .500 two weeks ago but rattled off three straight wins at home to improve to 11-9. The marquee victory, of course, came against Kentucky, but they impressively followed with a 70-58 defeat of a solid Kansas State team. Tennessee has risen to No. 41 in the RPI. They picked up two RPI Top 50 wins in the last week to go with their No. 4 strength of schedule. Yes, the nine losses don’t look good at first glance, but lots of nearby bubble teams have similar loss totals and either significantly weaker schedules or less impressive wins.
Kentucky: With a win over Kansas, the Wildcats would have preserved their shot at a No. 1 seed. Now, after falling at home, their chances are bleak. The Wildcats are 2-3 against the RPI Top 25 and 4-4 against the Top 50. That would not be a dagger if they played in a league such as the ACC or the Big 12, where they would have opportunity after opportunity to improve those marks. As things currently stand, Florida (twice) is the only RPI Top 25 opponent remaining on Kentucky’s schedule. Tennessee, amazingly, is the only other Top 50 team.
Could Kentucky win every game between now and Selection Sunday? Sure. Could more of their opponents finish inside the RPI Top 50? Sure.
But take a look at the current projected No. 1 seeds. Baylor is 3-0 against the RPI Top 25 and 9-1 against the Top 50. Villanova is 4-1 and 7-1, Kansas is 3-0 and 6-1, and Gonzaga is 3-0 and 6-0.
With the exception of undefeated Gonzaga, the No. 1 seeds have plenty of opportunities to improve on those marks. And Gonzaga probably could lose at Saint Mary’s on February 11 and still get a No. 1 seed over Kentucky.
Sure, Baylor, Villanova and Kansas also could lose to RPI Top 50 teams, but that seems to be Kentucky’s best bet for a No. 1 seed. And it’s not a good bet.