March Madness: Tournament Watch 3/7

By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut

Connecticut (CBS) – The smaller conference tournaments are in full swing or already have finished and bigger conferences like the ACC get underway today. Power mid-major teams such as Belmont, Monmouth and Valparaiso have seen their tournament hopes dashed in their respective conference tournaments which is adding to the drama and excitement of conference week, but is probably weakening the NCAA tournament field and the opportunities for 14 and 13 seed upsets.

Tonight four more teams will punch their ticket into the tournament field in the Northeast Conference (Mt. St. Mary’s or St. Francis PA), Horizon League (Northern Kentucky or 11 win Milwaukee), Summit League (Nebraska-Omaha and South Dakota State) and the West Coast Conference (Gonzaga and St. Mary’s). The loser of the Gonzaga/St. Mary’s game will still make the tournament as an at-large team, but the loss could affect seeding. Gonzaga should wrap up a number 1 seed with a win tonight.

 

In = The team could lose all of the rest of their games between now and March 12th and they would still be in the tournament. Obviously their seeding would take a hit, but it would be a complete shock if they weren’t in the tournament.

Almost In = These are the teams who are not quite there yet, but only need a win or two more, or to avoid any devastating losses between now and the end of the season.

Bubble = Teams that might be in if the field was announced today, but are in direct competition with many other teams.

 

ACC

In (8) – Louisville, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, Miami, Virginia Tech
Almost In (1) – Wake Forest
Bubble In (1) – Syracuse
Bubble Out – Georgia Tech

 

Wake Forest scored a huge victory at Virginia Tech on Saturday which came on the heels of their big victory over Louisville at home. They have now won three in a row and are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the bubble pack down the stretch. If Wake loses to BC in the first round of the ACC tournament tonight, all bets are off. But if Wake Forest avoids that bad loss, they would play Virginia Tech again on Wednesday night. I can’t see a loss hurting them enough to knock them out of the field unless a lot of crazy things happen the rest of the week.

Syracuse won the battle against Georgia Tech on Saturday pretty easily. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise as Syracuse has been a very good home team in conference play. Unfortunately for them, there are no more games at the Carrier Dome. Right now I believe Syracuse would be in the tournament, but they have a tough first game in the ACC tournament tomorrow night against Miami. A loss wouldn’t be a bad loss, but it would knock them out of the ACC Tournament with no more opportunities to improve their resume while other teams like Kansas State, Iowa, Illinois and Rhode Island could still be playing. That’s not what the Orange want. Beat Miami and it would be hard to ignore them.

Georgia Tech lost by 29 at Syracuse on Saturday and their bad losses are starting to pile up to the point where they just simply can’t be ignored. Yes they do have good wins, but do they really look like a tournament team right now? Their last real impressive win came 6 weeks ago and their overall resume doesn’t hold up against some other teams on the bubble. If they beat Pitt and then Virginia, we’ll give another look.

Big East

In (3) – Villanova, Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall
Almost In (3) – Providence, Marquette, Xavier

 

Seton Hall has moved up to the “In” category with their win at Butler on Saturday. They have now won five of their last six with the only loss being to Villanova and some of the wins coming against Creighton, Marquette, Xavier and Butler. They face Marquette in the second round of the Big East tournament on Thursday and I believe both teams have done enough to get in. The win might mean a little more for Marquette in the end, but I’d be really surprised if both team’s names aren’t called on Sunday.

Providence avoided a sweep to a bad St. John’s team by winning in NYC on Saturday in mostly convincing fashion. Providence locked up the number three seed in the Big East tournament and play Creighton in the 2nd round on Thursday. Very similar to the other Big East teams, they’ve done enough to be considered in to this point, and none of the scenario’s that involve these teams losing will damage their resume’s enough for them to fall back to the pack.

Marquette beat Creighton and has now swept the Blue Jays along with their sweep of Xavier as well. They also have the huge win against Villanova and a win over Seton Hall as well. Out of conference they have a win over Vanderbilt that is looking better and better as time goes on as well. Marquette should be in.

Xavier looked shaky for a little while against DePaul on Saturday but pulled out the must needed win to temporarily stop the bleeding. They got the number seven seed and face the Blue Devils again tomorrow night. Beating DePaul in back to back games isn’t exactly the hardest thing to do, but avoiding any bad losses is just what Xavier needs to do that this point. A win in that one and the Musketeers would get Butler next.

Big 12

In (5) – Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Iowa State
Bubble In (1) – Kansas State

 

Kansas State beat Texas Tech and would be my last at-large team to make the tournament if the season ended today. The Wildcats are in a very similar position as Syracuse in that their first conference tournament game is a very hard one against Baylor and a loss to the Bears would leave Kansas State sweating it out as other teams still have opportunities at big wins in their respective tournaments. If they happen to win that one, they should probably feel relatively safe.

 

Big Ten

In (5) – Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, Northwestern
Almost In (3) – Michigan, Michigan State
Bubble In (1) – Illinois
Bubble Out (1) – Iowa

 

Michigan took care of Nebraska on the road and Michigan State lost a heart breaker to Maryland by three. Not much has changed with them and I consider them to be in the same group as the Big East schools. They are basically safe, but I’ll keep them just below “In” status barring the craziness that is usually conference tournament week. If Michigan State loses to the Penn State/Nebraska winner, my thoughts might change. Michigan faces Illinois, more on that below.

Illinois lost a game it just simply could not lose on Saturday at Rutgers. They were doing so well too. Now they are under .500 in conference play with a bad loss on the resume. Their first tournament game comes against Michigan that they really need to win. A loss there and they’ll be toast. A win and they can re-enter the conversation as to who is the most deserving. The game definitely means more to the Illini than it does the Wolverines.

Iowa beat Penn State and is now officially on a roll. Maryland and Wisconsin both won this past weekend so the Hawkeyes recent wins over those schools get a little bit of a bump as well. Iowa needs to beat Indiana and then probably Wisconsin as well to get serious consideration. A win over just Indiana probably won’t do it.

 

Pac-12

In (3) – Oregon, Arizona, UCLA
Bubble In (1) – USC
Bubble Out (1) – Cal

 

USC did what they needed to do and swept the lowly Washington schools in the last two games. They will face Washington again in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday. They are in a similar position as Xavier. Right now they are in the tournament and all they need to do is avoid a crushing loss to a bad team in their first tournament game. Losing to UCLA in their second game won’t damage the Trojans hopes.

Cal has a lot of work to do after losing again this time to Colorado. Their first two games in the Pac-12 tournament would be against Oregon State and then Utah. Even two wins there doesn’t do enough to move the needle. I’m thinking they’d need to beat Oregon in the semi’s as well to get in. That’s a lot to ask. It might be too late for Cal at this point.

SEC

In (3) – Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina
Almost In (1) – Arkansas
Bubble In (1) – Vanderbilt
Bubble Out (1) – Georgia

 

Arkansas won at home against Georgia and their resume is starting look solid enough that a loss in the first SEC tournament game if it came against Auburn or Ole Miss it would only hurt their seeding. If Missouri is somehow their opponent and they lose to them, that might be a tough one to overcome depending on what happens in the other leagues.

Vanderbilt came from behind at home against Florida on Saturday and now has a sweep of the Gators which greatly improves their resume. They are always boosted by their great strength of schedule numbers and now have wins over Arkansas, South Carolina and Iowa State on top of the sweep over Florida. If they had somehow pulled out that win at Kentucky last week they might be in the field no matter what. Vanderbilt plays Texas A&M on Thursday before a possible 3rd match up with Florida on Friday.

Georgia lost at Arkansas and now needs to make a serious run in the SEC tournament for consideration. They will need to beat Tennessee and Kentucky in their first two games for starters.

American

In (2) – Cincinnati, SMU
Bubble Out – Houston

 

Houston is hanging around the bubble if barely. I still feel as though they need to win the American tournament to get in, but they do have a slim shot. If they beat USF/Uconn and then Cincinnati and lose to SMU it’ll be really interesting to see how the committee views them. Hopefully they can beat SMU in the championship game as well for their sake.

Atlantic 10

In (2) – VCU, Dayton
Bubble Out (1) – Rhode Island

 

Rhode Island beat Davidson at home to close out the regular season and have now won five in a row since the embarrassing home loss to Fordham on February 15th. Their resume lacks a lot of depth and while wins over the Umass/St. Joe’s winner and then St. Bonaventure might be enough, a win over Dayton in the semi’s would definitely go a long way for the Rams.

 

Missouri Valley

Bubble Out (1) – Illinois State

 

– Wichita State is now in the tournament by way of their 20 point win over Illinois State on Sunday in the Missouri Valley Conference final. Illinois State will now have to sweat out the next 5 days until Sunday. Illinois State has 27 total wins on the season but only one of them was to a quality opponent in Wichita. They’ve lost to San Francisco, TCU (which looks worse as time goes on), Tulsa and Murray State. While the 27 wins look nice, the MVC just doesn’t have many good teams that could help support the gaudy win total. They’ve come against mediocre to bad teams. There just isn’t enough here for the Redbirds unfortunately.

 

Bracket Projection

** = Won automatic bid into tournament via conference championship

 

Midwest

1. Kansas
16. North Dakota/New Orleans
8. Dayton
9. Michigan State
5. Virginia
12. UT Arlington
4. Butler
13. Akron
6. Minnesota
11. Xavier
3. UCLA
14. East Tennessee State**
7. Wisconsin
10. Providence
2. Baylor
15. Texas Southern

 

West

1. Gonzaga
16. UC Irvine
8. Michigan
9. Seton Hall
5. SMU
12. Nevada
4. Purdue
13. Bucknell
6. St. Mary’s
11. USC/Kansas State
3. Arizona
14. Cal State Bakersfield
7. Creighton
10. Virginia Tech
2. Oregon
15. Nebraska-Omaha

 

East

1. Villanova
16. Mt. St. Mary’s
8. VCU
9. Miami
5. Cincinnati
12. UNC Wilmington**
4. Duke
13. Princeton
6. Maryland
11. Syracuse/Vanderbilt
3. Florida State
14. Iona**
7. South Carolina
10. Marquette
2. Louisville
15. Florida Gulf Coast**

 

South

1. North Carolina
16. NC Central/Jacksonville State**
8. Arkansas
9. Wichita State**
5. Notre Dame
12. UNC Wilmington**
4. West Virginia
13. Vermont
6. Iowa State
11. Wake Forest
3. Florida
14. Winthrop**
7. Oklahoma State
10. Northwestern
2. Kentucky
15. Northern Kentucky

 

Last 4 In: USC, Vanderbilt, Syracuse, Kansas State

First 4 Out: Rhode Island, Illinois State, Illinois, Iowa

Next 4 Out: Cal, Georgia Tech, Houston, Georgia

Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter @MikeBachini

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