March is just a week away, and I think it’s safe to say everyone is ready for March Madness. Now, Bracketology is something that has really swept the nation as a means to a year-long spectacle of where a person’s favorite team is going to land in the NCAA Tournament. A huge win can skyrocket your team while a crushing loss at home to an underdog can tank them.
Here at Rocky Top Talk, I’m going to be doing a bit of Bracketology of my own, dipping our toes into the waters in an analytical, unbiased (do I have to even say unbiased? Okay, disclaimer: Tennessee is not a one seed!) fashion with some visual aids to go along the way.
We will break down the top 20 seeds more in depth and then reveal the six, seven, eight, and nine seeds in abbreviated fashion before getting to our bubble teams.
If you want a deeper dive into a laid out bracket, the auto qualifier bids, and conference seed breakdowns, here is a link to my spreadsheet.
With that being said, let’s dive into our top four teams.
1. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE — SEC
— 24-4 (14-1) | NET: 2 | KenPom: 3 | Résumé Average: 2
— Quad 1A: 3-3 | Quad 1&2: 14-4 | Quad 3: 8-0 | Quad 4: 2-0
— Best Wins: @ 1 Houston (71-65) | @ 19 Arkansas (84-69)
— Bad Losses: @ 61 Oklahoma (93-69)
No real shocker here. Just speaking about the Tide on the court here, Alabama was the tournament committee’s top overall seed this past weekend as they continue to be the cream of the crop in the SEC this season. A hiccup at Thompson-Boling Arena against Tennessee is their lone blemish in conference play as they survived a scare at South Carolina on Wednesday. This team has rolled through a very competitive SEC, winning eight of their 13 games by 15-plus points, including at Arkansas by 15 and at Missouri by 21.
2. HOUSTON COUGARS — American
— 26-2 (14-1) | NET: 1 | KenPom: 1 | Résumé Average: 4
— Quad 1A: 2-1 | Quad 1&2: 12-1 | Quad 3: 4-1 | Quad 4: 10-0
— Best Wins: @ 49 Oregon (66-56), 7 Saint Mary’s (53-48), @ 16 Virginia (69-61)
— Bad Losses: 125 Temple (56-55)
One of the preseason national champion favorites has been unmoved from the one line for essentially the entire season. Kelvin Sampson has his best Houston team yet, and it’s starting to feel a lot like the last five years of Mark Few and Gonzaga. Houston has become a national power and are the top dogs in the American, and no one is particularly close.
3. KANSAS JAYHAWKS — Big 12
— 23-5 (11-4) | NET: 6 | KenPom: 7 | Résumé Average: 1
— Quad 1A: 5-4 | Quad 1&2: 17-5 | Quad 3: 3-0 | Quad 4: 3-0
— Best Wins: 18 IU (84-62), 9 Texas (88-80), 12 Baylor (87-71), @ 22 TCU (63-58)
— Bad Losses: 22 TCU (83-60)
If not for a three game skid against three of the better teams in the Big 12 and the country for that matter, would comfortably be the top overall seed. Kansas’s five wins in Quad 1A are tied for the most in the country. Their 13 Quad 1 wins are four more than the next closest, Purdue. No one has more quality wins, and yes, there are some concerns about this team away from Allen Fieldhouse, but Bill Self could not have asked for a better team to try and defend this program’s crown.
4. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS — Big Ten
— 24-4 (13-4) | NET: 5 | KenPom: 4 | Résumé Average: 3
— Quad 1A: 3-3 | Quad 1&2: 14-4 | Quad 3: 5-0 | Quad 4: 5-0
— Best Wins: 14 Marquette (75-70), 13 Zags (N) (84-66), 24 Maryland (58-55)
— Bad Losses: @ Maryland (68-54)
Purdue has been the most up and down among the top four seeds. They’ve bounced around from the top overall seed, but now, they’re on the fringe of maybe being bumped down if they don’t right their recent struggles. Though they’ve lost three of their last five, they still have the sure-fire National Player of the Year in Zach Edey and one of the best offenses in the country.
— UCLA and Arizona are in a fight right now to see who will get that 2-seed in the West Region. Though the Wildcats own a win over UCLA in Tucson, their losses to Washington State at home and at Stanford bring them down a peg below the Bruins who have won six straight and lead the PAC-12.
— Marquette edges out Baylor for the final two seed due to two things: 1. they lead a top heavy Big East with wins over Creighton (x2), UConn, and Xavier, and 2. they beat Baylor by 26 back in November. Baylor overall has “better” losses, but that head to head does matter here for now.
12. UCONN HUSKIES — Big East
— 21-7 (11-7) | NET: 8 | KenPom: 5 | Résumé Average: 16.5
— Quad 1A: 4-4 | Quad 1&2: 10-6 | Quad 3: 5-1 | Quad 4: 6-0
— Had I done this before Saturday, Tennessee would have been the last two seed. Marquette and Baylor are the most interchangeable pair of teams among the top 20 right now.
— Gonzaga’s “down year” still sees them top 10 in the NET and just a game back of a great Saint Mary’s team in the WCC. If they win out and win the WCC Tournament, they’re potentially in line for a two seed.
— UConn is looking like the UConn we saw in November that was a proverbial death star.
— Virginia was a shoo-in for the final three seed before falling on the road to Boston College. The mediocre ACC makes it very difficult for any breathing room.
—Kansas State bounced back from their recent rough stretch, picking up huge wins at home over Iowa State and Baylor over the past week. It vaulted them to the top of the four seeds.
— Xavier has lost three of four. They’re on the cut line for the four seeds as their pair of wins over UConn are doing a lot of heavy lifting.
17. IOWA STATE CYCLONES — Big 12
— 17-10 (8-7) | NET: 17 | KenPom: 19 | Résumé Average: 22
— Quad 1A: 4-5 | Quad 1&2: 10-10 | Quad 3: 1-0 | Quad 4: 6-0
18. SAINT MARY’S GAELS — WCC
— 24-5 (13-1) | NET: 7 | KenPom: 8 | Résumé Average: 22.5
— Quad 1A: 2-1 | Quad 1&2: 8-3 | Quad 3: 11-2 | Quad 4: 5-0
— Iowa State has fallen victim to the Big 12. They’ve lost 8 of their last 12 games and have dropped from the final three seed to first five seed over the past two weeks.
— Assuming they beat Pacific tonight, a win at The Kennel on Saturday would vault Saint Mary’s from second five seed to potentially the top four seed.
— Miami has won seven straight and have taken over the top spot in the ACC. As always, there’s little room for error, and losses to either FSU or Pitt over the next two weekends would bump them to the top six seed.
21. Creighton Blue Jays — Big East | 18-10 | NET: 14 | KenPom: 12 | Résumé Avg: 33
22. Northwestern Wildcats — Big Ten | 20-8 | NET: 39 | KenPom: 42 | Résumé Avg: 22
23. Illinois Fighting Illini — Big Ten | 19-9 | NET: 30 | KenPom: 27 | Résumé Avg: 38
24. TCU Horned Frogs — Big 12 | 18-10 | NET: 25 | KenPom: 21 | Résumé Avg: 32.5
25. Maryland Terrapins — Big Ten | 19-9 | NET: 23 | KenPom: 17 | Résumé Avg: 33.5
26. Providence Friars — Big East | 20-8 | NET: 40 | KenPom: 30 | Résumé Avg: 38.5
27. Duke Blue Devils — ACC | 20-8 | NET: 29 | KenPom: 36 | Résumé Avg: 32
28. Michigan St. Spartans — Big Ten | 17-10 | NET: 35 | KenPom: 29 | Résumé Avg: 25.5
29. Texas A&M Aggies — SEC | 21-7 | NET: 22 | KenPom: 24 | Résumé Avg: 20.5
30. Rutgers Scarlet Knights — Big Ten | 17-11 | NET: 37 | KenPom: 33 | Résumé Avg: 47
31. Iowa Hawkeyes — Big Ten | 17-11 | NET: 44 | KenPom: 46 | Résumé Avg: 45
32. Missouri Tigers — SEC | 20-8 | NET: 52 | KenPom: 63 | Résumé Avg: 25
33. NC State Wolfpack — ACC | 22-7 | NET: 36 | KenPom: 39 | Résumé Avg: 30
34. Pittsburgh Panthers — ACC | 20-8 | NET: 55 | KenPom: 61 | Résumé Avg: 43.5
35. Florida Atlantic Owls — C-USA | 25-3 | NET: 19 | KenPom: 37 | Résumé Avg: 27.5
36. Arkansas Razorbacks — SEC | 19-9 | NET: 16 | KenPom: 15 | Résumé Avg: 26
IN SAFELY...FOR NOW (LAST FOUR BYES)
39. Nevada — Mountain West | 21-7 | NET: 32 | KenPom: 32 | Résumé Avg: 26
— Nevada have had a very good season in year four under Steve Alford. On paper, they have the best chance of these four teams of winning out to finish the regular season as they’ll hit the road to face Fresno State and Wyoming, two teams at or near the bottom of the MWC before returning home to face UNLV. However, all seven of their losses this season have come on the road.
40. Boise State — Mountain West | 22-6 | NET: 24 | KenPom: 26 | Résumé Avg: 27.5
— Boise State is riding a four game winning streak into the final stretch of games. However, unlike Nevada, the competition is steep. They’ll get San Diego State next Tuesday and Utah State on March 4 to wrap up the regular season. Nevada just barely edges the Broncos here because of Boise’s two poor losses in non-con to South Dakota State and Charlotte.
41. Memphis — American | 21-7 | NET: 38 | KenPom: 38 | Résumé Avg: 30
— Memphis finds itself squarely on the bubble, a place all too familiar under Penny Hardaway. It’s going to be hard for them to play their way off of it at this point, too. They’ll get Houston to end the season, but that’s the only game of their final four that comes against a team in the NET’s top 75.
42. West Virginia — Big 12 | 16-12 | NET: 26 | KenPom: 20 | Résumé Avg: 39.5
— The Mountaineers nab the final ‘Last Four Byes’ spot this week after beating Oklahoma State and essentially flipping places. However, that was coming off the heels of a home loss to Texas Tech, and life being the way it is in the Big 12, they finish up the season at Phog Allen against Kansas, at Hilton Coliseum against Iowa State, and at home against Kansas State. Winning two of those games likely gets them off the bubble, but they cannot afford to lose all three.
LAST FOUR IN (REMAINING 11 SEEDS)
43. USC — PAC-12 | 20-8 | NET: 49 | KenPom: 41 | Résumé Avg: 43
— USC has become a staple of the bubble under Andy Enfield. The Trojans sit in third in the PAC-12, and when you combine a poor non-conference showing with a couple rough losses in a pretty average power conference, this is where it gets them. Losses to FGCU to open the season and to Oregon State crater what would otherwise be a decent résumé.
44. Oklahoma State — Big 12 | 16-12 | NET: 41 | KenPom: 40 | Résumé Avg: 45.5
— Oklahoma State played their way back into the bracket with a five game winning streak, but this recent three game skid has them firmly back on the bubble. They didn’t fall terribly far, but the bad loss at West Virginia has the Pokes as the final team on the chopping block.
45. Mississippi State — SEC | 18-10 | NET: 42 | KenPom: 43 | Résumé Avg: 49.5
— Beating Marquette and Utah in non-conference bolstered a strong start to the season, but losing eight of nine at the start of SEC play cratered what looked to be a sure fire tournament team. Now, with wins over TCU, Missouri, and Arkansas, the Bulldogs find themselves back in the bubble. That being said, with just Texas A&M, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt remaining, the home game against the Aggies feels like a must win for some security unless they want to leave their fate to the SEC Tournament.
46. New Mexico — Mountain West | 20-8 | NET: 46 | KenPom: 49 | Résumé Avg: 53.5
— The Lobos are the first team on the chopping block right now. With their résumé average sitting at 54.5, they’re right outside of that sweet spot of 50 or below. That being said, there is some context needed with this Lobos team recently. Though they’ve lost five of six, they lost at Air Force and at home against Wyoming without Jaelen House, their point guard and arguable best player. New Mexico also has a bunch of strong wins against surefire tournament teams. They beat Saint Mary’s and San Diego State on the road, about as good of two wins as you’ll find for mid-major non-conference teams.
BUBBLES ARE EVAPORATING (FIRST FOUR OUT)
47. Utah State — Mountain West | 22-7 | NET: 34 | KenPom: 35 | Résumé Avg: 38
— Utah State is the first team out right now, and it largely stems from them just not being able to get it done on the road in conference play against the top teams in the MWC. Against potential tournament teams, their non-conference was a dud. Oral Roberts at home is their best win, and they have to beat UNLV but especially Boise State in their final two games to have any hope of moving up.
48. Wisconsin — Big Ten | 16-11 | NET: 70 | KenPom: 64 | Résumé Avg: 40.5
— Wisconsin personifies the split between analytics and bracketology. Analytically, this team wouldn’t be mentioned at all. They sit near 70 on just about every team efficiency site. However, they took Kansas to overtime in a one point loss, and wins against USC and at Marquette made for a successful non-conference year for the Badgers. Within the Big Ten, they’ve feasted on the bottom of the conference but struggled mightily with tournament caliber teams. They’re 8-9 in Big Ten play with just one win over the top seven teams in the conference.
49. North Carolina — ACC | 17-11 | NET: 47 | KenPom: 47 | Résumé Avg: 49
— The Tar Heels have found little success replicating their March run last season. The loss of Brady Manek has hurt this team in numerous ways, and this defense is just plain bad. On top of that, they don’t have a Quad 1 win at all this season. The Ohio State and Michigan wins have not fared well with time, and their lone good ACC win over NC State at home is their only win over an at-large tournament caliber team. What helps them is they don’t have what can be considered a bad loss, something many teams on the outside looking in all have. Could the Heels be the first ever preseason number one team to miss the field of 64? It’s appearing likelier by the day.
50. Penn State — Big Ten | 17-11 | NET: 56 | KenPom: 50 | Résumé Avg: 54.5
— Similar to Carolina, Penn State fell short in the résumé boosting non-conference games, losing to both Virginia Tech and Clemson, but they’ve avoided the bad loss as they have no losses in Q3 or Q4, and they’ve swept the season series with Illinois and hold a win over Indiana. They have a really good opportunity to boost their chances of getting in coming up, but I think they’d need to win all three games the rest of the way to do so. They’ll host Rutgers, then go to Northwestern before returning home to play Maryland to finish the season. Also just look at this hilarious dichotomy:
So close to the never-done-before first/first/last/last.
BURSTED BUBBLES (NEXT FOUR OUT)
51. Arizona State — PAC-12 | NET: 66 | KenPom: 66 | Résumé Avg: 56.5
— Arizona State is facing a similar problem to bubble teams in the ACC right now. They don’t have strong enough non-conference résumés, and, unless they’re beating UCLA or Arizona, it’s tough to pick up quality wins in conference. However, their win over Creighton when they were missing Ryan Kalkbrenner continues to look better, and they get Arizona, UCLA, and USC on the road to finish the season. It’s more than too much to ask a team to win all three to save their chances as an at-large, but it’s what they would have to do.
52. Texas Tech — Big 12 | NET: 48 | KenPom: 51 | Résumé Avg: 59
— Texas Tech represents what’s fundamentally ridiculous about this college basketball season. They had zero wins against top 100 teams per KenPom in the non-con, and they lost their first eight conference games. However, they’ve now won six of eight and four in a row and have beaten Iowa State, Kansas State, and Texas at home and West Virginia and Oklahoma on the road. Combine that with their worst loss being Ohio State whose NET ranking of 71 sits roughly even with Wisconsin, it stacks up to be a solid résumé. They have four Quad 1 wins, but I can’t move a team that’s been this poor in conference up further than here. They’ll have a chance to keep building, and if they win out, they have a good chance of being the top team on the bubble.
Thank you for joining me in our first ever Bracketology deep dive. Again, if you want to check out the entire spreadsheet I have on my seedings, bracket, and conference seed breakdown, here’s the link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1zRxSgwlbF-Gtc656FKjFxUy45cA18t82N4BQrnJFMQE/edit?usp=sharing
You may comment your thoughts either here or over there as well.
As always, have a great week, everyone.