The biggest moment of the college basketball season—Selection Sunday—is almost here. While basketball analysts argue over the No. 1 seeds and bubble teams in the final hour before the bracket is announced, here are a few tips to help you have success in your March Madness predictions.
Don’t go all “chalk”—Only once, in 2008, did all four No. 1 seeds make the Final Four. With all of the attention focused on the top teams and their respective regions, it is very tempting to lean towards going chalk—choosing the better seed—but stay strong and resist the temptation. Only 14 No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four in the past decade and there were no top seeds in both 2006 and 2011.
Don’t pick Gonzaga to advance past the Sweet Sixteen—The Bulldogs are a staple for the NCAA Tournament after making it every season since 1999 but they only one Elite Eight appearance in that span. While Gonzaga has never been a No. 1 seed, the Zags lost in the Round of 32 as a No. 2 and No. 3 seed in 2004 and 2005. The Bulldogs have proven that they can make the Sweet Sixteen, with five appearances since ’99, they have struggled to make a deep run in March.
Expect Georgetown to be upset—In the past three seasons, the Hoyas are 1-3 in the NCAA Tournament and were eliminated by No. 11 North Carolina State, No. 11 VCU and No. 14 Ohio. While Georgetown will likely by a No. 2 seed, they don’t have a good recent track record in March.
Pick at least one No. 12 seed to upset a No. 5 seed—No. 12 seeds upset No. 5 seeds in 34 percent of the matchups and at 12 seed has defeated a 5 seed in 11 of the past 12 years. Keep in mind that No. 12 seeds have a winning record in Round of 32.
Don’t overthink the 8/9 and 7/10 matchups—The differences between these middle seeds are small. Flip a coin, choose the team with the longer name or simply go with your gut because anything can happen in these first round matchups.
After five consecutive weeks of teams moving up to the No. 1 spot one week and then back down the next as if there was a revolving door for the top spot, Indiana has held on to the No. 1 rank for the past three weeks. Miami (FL) has continued its ascent up in the polls from No. 25, No. 14, No. 8, and No. 3 to No. 2 and 23 first place votes behind the Hoosiers.
The Big East leads all conferences with six ranked teams, followed by the Big Ten with five and Big 12 with three.
With three weeks left of regular season conference play, here is my college basketball stock report:
Michigan State Spartans-(22-4, 11-2)-Ever since losing by five on the road to No. 7 Indiana, the Spartans have rattled off five wins in a row, including a 23-point drubbing of No. 4 Michigan. Michigan State is tied for first in the Big Ten with the opportunity to have sole possession of first place with a game against No. 1 Indiana tonight in East Lansing, Mich.
Georgetown Hoyas-(19-4, 9-3)-The Hoyas have taken advantage of Syracuse’s three losses in the Orange’s last six games; Georgetown has won seven straight games, including three against ranked Big East opponents, and is in a three-way tie for first place.
Gonzaga Bulldogs-(25-2, 12-0)-Gonzaga has won 16 of its last 17 games and the Bulldogs’ only loss in the new year was a one-point defeat at the hands of Roosevelt Jones and the Butler Bulldogs on the road. Gonzaga played and defeated the four teams remaining on its schedule by an average of nearly 13 points this season. It would be no surprise if the Bulldogs do not lose until the NCAA Tournament.
Butler Bulldogs-(21-5, 8-3)-Butler has proven that its best is very good after the Bulldogs defeated No. 1 Indiana in December. However, Butler has lost three of its past eight games. Even though the Bulldogs play in an improved A-10, they have gradually fallen from their top 10 ranking.
Michigan Wolverines-(22-4, 9-4)-There is no doubt that the Wolverines have a roster that has the ability to play in Atlanta for the Final Four but Michigan has slipped up several times lately. The Wolverines lost three of their past five games. All four of Michigan’s losses this season have come on the road and the No. 7 team in the country will have to be able to play away from Ann Arbor, Mich. in order to go deep in the tournament.
Cincinnati Bearcats-(19-7, 7-6)-Cincinnati has been ranked for most of the season but fell out of the top 25 this week after losing three of their past four games and four of seven. All of the Bearcats’ losses have been by ten points or fewer, with four of them being by less than five points, UC has struggled to emerge as one of the best teams in the Big East. Cincinnati is tied for ninth in the conference with games against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville remaining on its schedule. The Bearcats were projected to be a No. 3 seed in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s projected NCAA Tournament but they are falling quickly.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish-(21-6, 9-5)-In the past two weeks, Notre Dame defeated No. 11 Louisville in five overtimes and No. 20 Pittsburgh on the road. However, the Fighting Irish also lost to No. 9 Syracuse by 16 and unranked Providence by 17. Notre Dame has a lot of potential but the team has been too inconsistent.
Marquette Golden Eagles-(18-6, 9-3)-With the exception of a loss at Green Bay in December, Marquette does not have any horrible losses this season. The Golden Eagles were routed by Florida and Louisville, two teams that have been at the top of the polls for most of the season, but they have faired well in their conference schedule. Marquette hasn’t proven that it’s a great team but has exceeded expectations in one of college basketball’s toughest conferences. With four road games and two matchups against ranked opponents remaining on their schedule, the Golden Eagles have a challenging home stretch before the Big East Tournament.
There’s a new sheriff in town in the Big Ten, even if it’s only momentarily. For the first time of the 2012-13 college basketball season, No. 8 Michigan State (21-4, 10-2) has sole possession of first place after handing No. 4 Michigan a 75-52 loss in East Lansing, Mich. on Tuesday.
In order to keep pace with the Spartans, No. 1 Indiana (21-3, 9-2) will have to defeat Nebraska (12-12, 3-8) at Assembly Hall tonight in Bloomington, Ind. The Cornhuskers are in eleventh place in the Big Ten with two wins against Penn State and one against Northwestern. When at its best, Nebraska has played some of the Big Ten’s best close with a six point loss to Wisconsin, 10 point defeat at No. 22 Michigan State and a seven point loss against No. 11 Ohio State; however, the Cornhuskers have four conference losses by at least 15 points, which is why the Hoosiers enter as a 23.5 point favorite.
This week is the closest thing to a respite that Indiana will have during its Big Ten schedule with home games against Nebraska on Wednesday night and Purdue on Saturday afternoon. Last week, the Hoosiers were unable to play a full 40 minutes in the front of an orange sea of Illinois fans at Assembly Hall West in Champaign, Ill. when they lost 74-72 on Tyler Griffey’s last second layup. Indiana redeemed itself and held on to its No. 1 ranking with a decisive 81-68 victory against No. 10 Ohio State. The win was Indiana’s first road win against a ranked opponent since November 26, 2002 against No. 21 Gonzaga, which was a major step for the Tom Crean era at Indiana University.
The top-ranked Hoosiers are electric on offense. They ranked second in the country in points per game with an average of 83.2 points per contest. Indiana shoots 50.2% from the field as a team, which is good for fourth in the nation. IU is a nightmare to defend because the Hoosiers have six players who have proven that they can score 15 to 20 points on any given night. Sophomore center Cody Zeller leads the team in scoring and rebounding with averages of 16.5 ppg and 8.3 rpg. However, the pre-season All-American and national player of the year candidate may not even be the best player on the Hoosiers roster. Junior guard Victor Oladipo, who is coming off of a 26 point and 8 rebound performance against Ohio State, does not take any days off. The Upper Marlboro, Md. product averages 14.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg and 2.3 spg. It is not uncommon for Oladipo to have at least 20 deflections in a single game.
For Nebraska, a trio of upperclassmen leads the way. Junior guard Ray Gallegos leads the time in scoring at 13.3 ppg. Gallegos’ partner in the backcourt, senior Dylan Talley, averages 13.1 points per game and he is the team’s second best rebounder at 5.4 rebounds per game. The third Cornhusker that averages double figures in points scored per game is senior forward Brandon Ubel. Ubel scores 11.9 ppg and grabs a team-best 6.9 rpg.
Nebraska’s biggest woes are on offense. The Cornhuskers average 59 points per game, which ranks 332nd out of 347 Division I men’s basketball programs. The team shoots 41.2% from the field, 68.4% from the free throw line and just 30% from behind the arc. Only Gallegos and Talley have made more than six three-pointers this season but both players make less than one-third of their shots from long range.
Nebraska has held Big Ten opponents to 71 points or fewer in 10 of their 11 conference games but it’s tough to win games when a team struggles to score.
Cody Zeller-So.-Center-7’0″-240 lbs. vs. Brandon Ubel-Sr.-Power Forward-6’10”-234 lbs.
Over the past four games, Cody Zeller has averaged 19 points, 9.5 rebounds and seven free throw attempts per game. He will be facing Nebraska’s Brandon Ubel, who is statistically Nebraska’s best offensive weapon because of his 47.8% shooting percentage. Ubel is very inconsistent and Zeller could be a dominant force if Ubel does not show up at Assembly Hall ready to play. He made six of his seven shots for 13 points against Minnesota two weeks ago but was limited to only one rebound and fouled out after 26 minutes of matching up against Trevor Mbakwe. Nebraska’s big man made just two of his 10 shots against Ohio State, 4-13 against Northwestern and 4-11 against Illinois. Brandon Ubel gives up only a two inches and a few pounds to Cody Zeller, which means that the control of the paint will be determined by whether or not Ubel shows up to play and how often Indiana feeds Zeller early in the game.
Victor Oladipo-Jr.-Guard-6’5″-214 lbs.
Oladipo is one of the best defenders in the country and has the ability to defend almost every position. Nebraska struggles to break 60 points on a nightly basis and by having him guard Ray Gallegos and Dylan Talley, the Cornhuskers will have even more difficulty establishing their offense than normal. Victor Oladipo is coming off of his career best scoring game and he will have the opportunity to improve his season averages tonight against a struggling Nebraska squad.
IU is at its best when the Hoosiers play at Assembly Hall and they will want to seek revenge for last season’s 70-69 loss in Lincoln, Neb. Indiana wins 84-59.
During Week 15 of last year’s college basketball season, it was evident that the Kentucky Wildcats were the premier team in college basketball and UK’s freshman center Anthony Davis was the best player in the country. The Wildcats had a 25-1 record, with their only slip up being a 73-72 loss at Indiana early in December that will forever be remembered for the “Wat Shot.” Kentucky lost only one more game, the SEC Championship, the rest of the season and lived up to expectations by winning last year’s NCAA Tournament.
There is no Kentucky this year. In the past six weeks, the No. 1 team has changed five teams. No one has separated from the pack and any team that enters the top five seems to play hot potato with the No. 1 spot by losing. Last week, four of the top five teams–Indiana, Florida, Michigan and Kansas–in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll lost at least once. Kansas dropped consecutive games for the first time since November 21-22, 2005. Every team in the latest AP Poll has at least two losses, the average number of losses per top 25 team is slightly over four and No. 20 Wisconsin has seven.
So what does it all mean?
A) The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee are going to have a difficult time determining the field of the 68 teams that make it to the Big Dance.
B) Once the teams and seeds are finalized, the national championship is truly up for grabs.
Without further adieu, here are my NCAA men’s basketball power rankings for Week 15:
1. Miami Hurricanes (19-3, 10-0)-Miami is the only team in one of the power six conferences to have a perfect conference record. The Hurricanes’ 10-0 record in ACC play has given Miami a two-game cushion over Duke. The Hurricanes have proven that they can run traditional college basketball powerhouses out of the gym as seen by their 27-point win against Duke and 26-point victory over North Carolina.
2. Indiana Hoosiers (21-3, 9-2)-Indiana let an 11-point lead with seven minutes remaining against Illinois slip away, which could been a major concern for the Hoosiers if it wasn’t for IU’s bounce back win at No. 10 Ohio State. The 81-68 victory was Indiana’s first road win over a ranked opponent since 2002 and kept the Hoosiers atop the AP Poll.
3. Michigan Wolverines (21-3, 8-3)-If Ben Brust’s half-court prayer didn’t force overtime in Madison, Wisc. and eventually lead to a Badgers victory, Michigan would likely be No. 1 team in the country. The Big Ten’s abundance of tournament-bound teams has taken its toll on the Wolverines, who are tied for third in the conference with Wisconsin.
4. Duke Blue Devils (21-2, 8-2)-The Blue Devils have finally gotten their feet under them after losing senior forward Ryan Kelly to a foot injury. Duke lost two of its first three games without Kelly but have rattled off five straight wins as the team sits in second place in the ACC.
5. Michigan State (20-4, 9-2)-Don’t look now but the Spartans are tied for first in the Big Ten with Indiana. The Spartans still have to play Michigan twice as well as Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin a second time; if Sparty can survive the gauntlet, they have a shot at a No. 1 seed in March.
6. Florida Gators (19-3, 9-1)-The Gators should not be judged too harshly for their 80-69 loss to Arkansas. Every team has off nights and Florida showed that their lone conference loss was a fluke. They returned to their prior form by beating Mississippi State by 25 on Saturday.
7. Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-2, 10-0)-Barring a horrible loss or two, Gonzaga seems destined for a No. 2 seed with an outside chance to be a No. 1 if the teams in front of them don’t finish the regular season on high notes. The Bulldogs are a major question mark because of their weak conference schedule. They aren’t tested on a nightly basis the way that ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 teams are. Gonzaga played against three ranked opponents and lost two of those matchups, which could hint at an early exit in the tournament.
8. Syracuse Orange (20-3, 8-2)-If Syracuse can settle senior forward James Southerland’s eligibility issue, then the Orange may be the favorite to win the Big East and ‘Cuse could match last year’s Elite Eight appearance.
9. Kansas Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3)-Last week may have been the darkest period in the history of Kansas basketball with three losses. Texas Christian University’s first Big 12 win, an unexpected 62-55 upset of the Jayhawks, was sandwiched by Kansas losses to unranked Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. With four teams within one game of the conference lead, Kansas doesn’t have any more room for error in a wide open Big 12.
10. Arizona Wildcats (20-3, 8-3)-Arizona was one of the hottest teams in the country and arguably the best team out West early in the season with wins against No. 5 Florida, Miami (Fla.) and No. 17 San Diego State during its 14-0 start. However, the Wildcats have started to show their true colors and fade from the spotlight with losses to unranked Oregon, UCLA and California.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs (21-2, 8-0) are ranked sixth in the country and have a half-game lead over Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference. However, Gonzaga has lost two of its three games against ranked opponents. The Bulldogs lost at home to No. 11 Illinois 85-74 and at No. 13 Butler 64-63 this season. Even though they have one of the best records in college basketball, most of their wins have come against unimpressive WCC teams and good but not great non-conference opponents.
This afternoon, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi held a live chat on ESPN.com at I asked him if Gonzaga’s seed can (not will) only get worse from their current two seed projection. Click here for the full live chat.
The Fighting Illini started the season 12-0 and defeated No. 10 Gonzaga on the road by double digits. However, since Illinois’ victory over Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 16, John Groce’s squad is 3-5 and 2-4 in the Big Ten. The Illini lost to unranked Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern, which does not bode well since their schedule will only get tougher as the season progresses. They still have to play Michigan twice, Indiana and Michigan State for the first time, in addition to rematches against Minnesota and Ohio State.
The Spartans were on the verge of dropping out of the AP Top 25 after three losses in the 2012 calendar year. Michigan State’s challenging non-conference schedule paid off; Tom Izzo’s squad is leading the Big Ten with a two game lead over Michigan and Indiana. Three of Michigan State’s Big Ten wins are by three points or fewer, which separates great teams from the good ones in March.
The Ducks sit alone at the top of the Pac-12 standings after defeating No. 24 UCLA last Saturday. Arizona and UCLA only appear once on Oregon’s schedule, which means there are no ranked opponents remaining on the Ducks’ schedule. Oregon is in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 now that the team’s biggest challenges are in the Ducks’ rearview mirror.
Bo Ryan’s Badgers are a very perplexing team. Wisconsin lost four of its first 10 games then rattled off seven consecutive wins, including victories over No. 12 Illinois and No. 2 Indiana. After defeating the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall, the Badgers dropped two games to Iowa and Michigan State by a total of six points. Wisconsin has the coach and the talent to finish in the top three in the Big Ten or the Badgers could end up sixth or seventh. They have been too inconsistent to determine how good they can be in college basketball’s toughest conference.
The 2012-13 Musketeers are possibly one of the weakest Xavier teams in the past decade and most Atlantic 10 projections have Xavier as a middle-of-the-road team in the conference yet Semaj Christon & Co. have started to turn their season around in conference play. Don’t look now but Xavier is tied with Virginia Commonwealth for first place. The Muskies have pulled out close wins against Temple, St. Bonaventure and La Salle after losing four straight games in non-conference play. They don’t play VCU and Butler until late in the season, which means that Xavier has over a month to improve before it faces two of the A-10’s best teams.
Conference play is officially underway in most conferences, which means that it’s time to evaluate whether it’s time to buy, sell or hold stock in some of the country’s top college basketball teams.
The Bulldogs’ two losses came in the team’s first five games and since their loss to Illinois, who is currently ranked eleventh, Brad Stevens’ squad has rattled off nine straight victories, including a win over No. 1 Indiana. Butler is playing their trademark tough defense and the Bulldogs have wins over Marquette, North Carolina and Northwestern in addition to knocking off the Hoosiers. Butler is the favorite to win the A-10 and its stock can continue to rise with a good conference record.
The Rams suffered three early losses to Wichita State, who is likely the second best team in the Missouri Valley, Duke and Missouri. However, VCU rebounded and is 12-3 with favorable chances to win a wide open Atlantic 10.
The Golden Gophers started the season unranked but have won their way to the ninth spot in the rankings. Their lone loss was to Duke, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of considering the Blue Devils’ success this season. Minnesota is on a nine game win streak and has won six consecutive games by double digits, with the latest being a 76-63 home win against No. 18 Michigan State.
In Bruce Weber’s first year as head coach of the Wildcats, Kansas State is off to an impressive 12-2 record. K-State lost to Michigan and Gonzaga early in the season but have put those behind them with wins over Florida and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats will be in the mix of teams competing for second place in the Big 12 behind Kansas.
UK was way overrated at No. 3 in the preseason but the Wildcats have had time to work out some of their kinks in their non-conference schedule. Ryan Harrow gives them a good option at point guard that they were missing early in the season. They lost to Duke and Louisville, two of the top four teams in the country, and Notre Dame in their first true road test. Many of the growing pains are out of the way and a top three finish in the SEC isn’t out of the question as the will compete with Florida and Missouri for the conference title.
The Buckeyes have faced three ranked teams-Duke, Kansas and Illinois-and lost all three games. With six ranked teams in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes will have to win big games, especially on the road, and they haven’t proven that they’re up to the challenge just yet.
The Panthers cracked the AP Top 25 with an appearance at No. 24 but it will be short-lived after losing to Cincinnati and Rutgers in their first two Big East games, which makes then tied for last place in the conference. Pittsburgh had two freshmen in the starting lineup, which could make for a slow start to conference play.
Mick Cronin’s Bearcats reached as high as eighth in the rankings but Cincinnati lost to New Mexico and St. John’s in the team’s last three games. UC has a challenging next matchup when it hosts No. 21 Notre Dame on Monday.
The Badgers entered the season in the AP Top 25 but fell quickly out of the polls after losses to Florida, Creighton, Virginia and Marquette. Wisconsin plays Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State in consecutive games in January, which bodes for a difficult month and a bad start to Big Ten play.
The Blue Devils have passed every test that has been thrown at them this season but they can only move down in the rankings from the No. 1 spot. Duke will be expected to win the ACC but North Carolina State, North Carolina or Maryland all have the talent to upset the Blue Devils in conference play.
Sean Miller’s Wildcats are the best team out West but San Diego State, Colorado and Utah’s close losses have shown that Arizona is vulnerable and it could suffer its first loss to a PAC-12 opponent this month.
The Fighting Illini are a very difficult team to examine. They won by double digits against Butler and on the road against Gonzaga. Then Illinois lost to Missouri and Purdue in a three-game stretch, followed by a dominating win over Ohio State. Illinois is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten but their up and down play gives the impression that they will have their share of impressive wins and tough losses this season.
The Cowboys blew out North Carolina State early in the season but have lost consecutive games to No. 10 Gonzaga and No. 25 Kansas State, which means that Oklahoma State still has room for improvement in the remainder of the season.
The country’s No. 2 team is off to a 15-0 start but it is only a matter of time until the Wolverines lose their first game. The Big Ten schedule for every team is a mine field–one bad step or slip up and Michigan can receive the first blemish on its 2012-13 campaign. However, the Wolverines are one of the best teams in the country and will give Indiana a run for its money to win the Big Ten.
Stay tuned for the next edition of Sports.Eat.Sleep.Repeat.!
It is November 12. Some college basketball teams haven’t even had their season opener yet but it’s never too early for the man with the greatest job in the world, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, to hypothesize about what next spring’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will look like. Last Tuesday, he made his second bracket prediction of the year.
Immediately, the strength of the Midwest Region stood out to me. The number one overall seeded Indiana Hoosiers are the best ranked team in the region. Florida is a No. 2 seed, North Carolina State is the No. 3 seed, followed by No. 4 Arizona, No. 5 Creighton, No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Cincinnati, No. 8 Marquette, and No. 9 Saint Louis. Indiana and North Carolina State are national championship contenders, which is why it’s surprising that Lunardi has the Wolfpack as a No. 3 seed when they are currently No. 6 in the country. From top to bottom, the region is filled with dangerous teams that could knock off a lower seeded opponent. Florida will compete with Kentucky to be the best team in the SEC this year. Arizona will be at worst a Sweet Sixteen team but has Final Four potential if it the Wildcats get the right matchups. Creighton has preseason All-American forward Doug McDermott. Even the Cincinnati Bearcats can shock the nation thanks to its pair of high-scoring guards, Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Five of the teams in the Midwest Region are currently ranked in the top sixteen teams in the AP Top 25.
The weakest region projection is by far the West Region. Ohio State is the No. 1 seed but the quality of the teams goes down in a hurry. Duke is the region’s No. 2 seed and has two future NBA Draft picks in Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry. UCLA is not nearly as intimidating now that freshman Shabazz Muhammad has been ruled ineligible for the entire season by the NCAA. UNLV and Gonzaga are not in one of the power six conferences, which means they won’t be tested nearly as much and they may not deserve their rankings.
College basketball is going to pick up this week, with Kentucky and Duke playing Tuesday night. Until the next bracketology update, enjoy the start of college basketball season and stay tuned for the next edition of Sports.Eat.Sleep.Repeat.