Today is the day it really starts. The Madness begins as all conference tournaments get underway today, including a plethora of bubble teams in action. Wall-to-Wall College Basketball for the next 3 days (Sunday has become less important in the overall landscape until the Selection Show). Here are the things I am looking for over the next 3 days, as well as some thoughts on my bracket.
The Overall #1 Seed
Kentucky vs Syracuse. Kentucky has been #1 now since Syracuse took their first loss, but it could be argued that the Orange have played a tougher schedule and that the Big East is stronger than the SEC. If only one of them wins their conference tourney, its an easy choice. If both do, it will be interesting which way the committee goes.
The Final Two #1 Seeds
Kentucky and Syracuse are locked in as #1's. Book it. Conceivably Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio State, Missouri, Duke and Michigan State are still alive for the final two #1's. I think Kansas and North Carolina control their own destiny. The messiest scenario has Duke beating UNC in the ACC Final, Missouri beating Kansas in the Big 12 Final and Ohio State and Michigan State playing in the Big 10 Final as the committee is finishing the bracket.
Michigan State minus Brandon Dawson
While not a star player, Dawson plays a significant role for the Spartans, especially his athleticism on defense. If Michigan State does not show well on Friday or Saturday, I think a 3-seed may be more fitting for Sparty.
Mountain West Free-for-All
At times this year, UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico have all looked the part of best in the Mountain West. It is still difficult to separate these teams, outside of UNLV's win over North Carolina that the other two don't have. The tragic aspect of the Mountain West Tourney is that UNLV is the host, but I am interested in seeing if the results the next 3 days will give a clearer picture of the order of these 3 schools.
Strong Mid-Major vs Decent High-Major
Currently, the 4 through 7 lines are potentially littered with best of the Mid-Majors this year. The second level of High-Major teams have been going backwards lately (think Florida) and there has been little movement from behind with any late chargers. Typically, there are a couple of hot teams that budge their way into this area (think Kansas State last year) and bump a few Mid-Majors into the 8-9 games against the underachieving High-Majors. Ultimately, the committee is going to have to compare a bunch of 10 and 11 loss High-Majors vs some 6 and 7 loss Mid-Majors.
The PAC-12 Debacle
Forget any East Coast bias, the PAC-12 has stunk this year. Their non-conference performance was beyond brutal. California should have the only legitimate at-large shot and even that will be iffy depending on when they would lose in the PAC-12 tourney. That said, the conference tournament should be wide-open from here on out, and I could see Cal, Washington, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, UCLA or Stanford winning it. Seriously. These teams can lose to anyone on a given day, and none is particularly hot right now.
I challenge the following teams to improve their resume and show why they deserve to be in the tournament ahead of Iona, Drexel and Oral Roberts (and Nevada if the Wolfpack would fall to a good New Mexico State team)...South Florida, Texas, Northwestern, Miami, Xavier, Mississippi State, Tennessee, NC State, Mississippi, St. Joseph's, Dayton and to some extent, St. Louis, Southern Mississippi and Colorado State.
Streaming Bracket Thoughts
The last two #4 seeds are giving me some headaches, so hopefully some clarity will come the next 3 days. I think I will end up with Murray State on the 5-line if Nashville is a viable destination. If the committee sends them to Portland I would be shocked. Despite RPI and SOS, doesn't St. Mary's deserve to be ahead of (even with) Gonzaga after winning both the regular season and post-season WCC titles? Teams I am most likely mis-seeding...St. Louis, Cincinnati, California and Southern Miss.
That's all for now. Merry Christmas in March everyone!!