I mentioned that I might give this a whirl about a month ago, so instead of ranking the D-I basketball teams, I’m doing my own little exercise in “bracketology.” For reference, here’s Joe Lunardi’s latest, the current national rankings and standings, and Ken Pomeroy’s latest rankings.
Ordering the Top Seeds
Some of the early seeds were difficult, but I’m going to stick to my guns on several of the more “out there” choices.
Duke is #2 in the major polls and the RPI, but I still don’t see them beating Memphis, Kansas, or UCLA head-to-head at this point. UNC is another story, and it will be interesting to see how the second Duke-UNC matchup turns out with Ty Lawson back in play. For now, Duke is a #1 and UNC is a #2, and they’re both in the same bracket.
Among other #2 seeds, it’s amazing to me that Wisconsin isn’t ranked higher, and that in some cases (USA Today/ESPN), Louisville isn’t ranked at all. Louisville is vastly improved over the team that lost to BYU and Dayton (which are still good teams), and they’re doing a fine job in Big East play. To me it’s a tough call between them and Georgetown for the best team in the Big East, and they won at Georgetown last week, so I give them the edge.
Tennessee is in the top 5 of every poll and is #1 in the RPI, and Lunardi has them as a one-seed. I still see them as just another top 10 team, since the SEC is relatively weak compared to most years. Pomeroy has them at 13, but I’m giving them a 3-seed for now in a tough bracket.
I’m all for giving the mid-majors some love, but I think the won-loss records of Butler and Drake are a tad misleading. I don’t see how Drake makes the top 15 in the polls without beating a top 50 team all year. Butler is possibly deserving of a ranking, since they beat Ohio State, but you just can’t slip up when you play such a light schedule.
I’m a little iffy on some of the Big 10 team placements, since I’m not sold on Michigan State (turnover issues), and Purdue still has some non-conference losses to bad teams bringing them down. Indiana plays them both between now and Tuesday, but their program issues make me somewhat skeptical about the Hoosiers’ future.
Picking Conference Champs
I did the best I could on conference champions. While I didn’t pick every current conference leader, I was looking for some fairly convincing evidence if I decided to pick someone else to represent a one-bid conference. It’s easy to pick a team like Davidson, but Cal State Northridge and Winthrop were somewhat shakier choices.
Breakdown by Conference
If you’re interested, I picked 8 from the Pac-10, 7 each from the Big 12 and Big East, 6 from the SEC, 5 from the Big 10, 4 from the ACC (that was tough), 2 each from the Missouri Valley, West Coast, and Mountain West, and one from every other conference. I looked hard at picking second or third teams in conferences like the MWC, A-10, and Sun Belt, but eventually I decided against it. This probably isn’t a totally realistic breakdown of teams, but I was doing my best to get the top teams in the tournament.
What Could Mess Things Up
Obviously, a win by some other team than the one I picked from any of the one-bid conference tournaments. That’s not a problem in the worst one-bid conferences, where only one team would make it regardless, but here are a few teams that could cost a deserving at-large team a spot if they choke in their conference tournaments:
- Xavier (A-10) is #17 in Pomeroy’s ratings, and I have them as a six-seed. They would make the tournament even if they don’t win the A-10, so there are some possible at-large teams really rooting for them right now.
- Drake (MVC) basically came out of nowhere this year in the Missouri Valley. Creighton is a good team, but they probably won’t make it without a tournament win, while Drake would at this point.
- Butler (Horizon) is head-and-shoulders above Wright State and everyone else in the Horizon League, so they would be doing some teams a favor by winning that tournament.
- Davidson (SoCon) played well enough against some top teams in non-conference play that they might get some consideration for an at-large spot. They haven’t locked that up yet, but a perfect SoCon regular season might do the trick. They’ll need to hold off UTC, Appy State, and Georgia Southern.
And who’s rooting for those current conference leaders?
- UNLV/BYU/New Mexico/Utah (MWC) – These are four solid teams in a conference that doesn’t get a lot of respect. Pomeroy rates the Mountain West 8th among 31 conferences, solidly in the top third. Lunardi has both UNLV and BYU in the tournament, as do I, but New Mexico and Utah could make a case between now and then. It’s also possible that a Drake/Butler loss knocks one or more of them out.
- Cal/Oregon/Arizona/Arizona State (Pac-10) – Any of these teams could theoretically be left out of the dance if the committee sees two deserving teams in a lesser conference. The Pac-10 is extremely strong this year, and all of these teams would deserve a bid at this point.
- Ole Miss (SEC) – That undefeated non-conference record is getting more distant in the rear-view mirror. They’re 3-6 in the SEC with a particularly bad loss to Auburn.
- Florida (SEC) – They’re not doing as poorly as Ole Miss, but a home loss to LSU is not going to help their chances at impressing the committee.
- Syracuse/West Virginia (Big East) – Both are around .500 in a conference that already stands to get a lot of bids, which is probably not good news for their chances (even though there are 16 teams in the Big East, so that should count for something).
My #1 seed rankings are: Memphis, Kansas, UCLA, Duke
I tried to make the regional and sub-regional matchups as geographically relevant as possible.
There aren’t a lot of other teams out there that could mess things up for some of the deserving teams, but UMass is one of them, ranked #22 in the RPI.
I’ll try to do this again between now and tournament time.