Monday, March 6, 2017

Bracket Projection: 3/6

The regular season is done, and conference tournament season is upon us. Four teams have already punched their ticket to the tournament: Jacksonville State, Winthrop, Florida Gulf Coast, and Wichita State. Everyone else is pretty sure whether they're in or out, with the exception of possible bid thieves and a few bubble teams whose fate will be determined by the results of conference tournaments. The biggest thing to figure out is the seeding, and here's where I have things as of today (green highlight means the team has secured an automatic bid):

1 Villanova Kansas North Carolina Gonzaga
2 Baylor Oregon Kentucky Louisville
3 Florida Butler Arizona UCLA
4 Duke Virginia West Virginia Florida St.
5 Cincinnati Purdue SMU Saint Mary's
6 Creighton Notre Dame Iowa St. Minnesota
7 Dayton Maryland Oklahoma St. Wisconsin
8 Miami FL Arkansas South Carolina Wichita St.
9 VCU Michigan Northwestern Virginia Tech
10 USC Seton Hall Wake Forest Xavier
11 Illinois St. Vanderbilt Marquette Providence
11 Michigan St. Syracuse
12 UT Arlington Nevada Middle Tennessee UNC Wilmington
13 Princeton Vermont East Tennessee St. Bucknell
14 Ohio Florida Gulf Coast Cal St. Bakersfield Winthrop
15 Iona Northern Kentucky South Dakota UC Irvine
16 Eastern Washington Jacksonville St. New Orleans Texas Southern
16 Mount St. Mary's North Carolina Central

Biggest Movers (since last Monday): Xavier has been crashing hard the last few weeks, finishing 9-9 in the Big East and suddenly a legitimate bubble team. I have them as a 10. California closed out the season with crippling losses to Utah and Colorado, and Kansas State finished 8-10 in the Big XII. Both of those teams have some work to do in their respective conference tournaments if they'd like to get back into the tournament picture. Replacing them is Vanderbilt, who turned things around to finish 10-8 in the SEC, and of course, Wake Forest.

1 seeds: No changes. These will probably hold, although Gonzaga's spot is the shakiest. If one of the 2 seeds goes on a run and wins their conference tournament, they could potentially jump them, but I doubt it.

Big Ten: Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan all hold steady on their seed lines. Maryland and Northwestern each move up a seed after their wins over Michigan State and Michigan, respectively. The Spartans, meanwhile, move down into the First Four after dropping their final two games at Illinois and Maryland. The Illini, meanwhile, were closing in on the field before dropping an embarrassing game to Rutgers, essentially ending their tournament hopes. And somehow Iowa is in the conversation after closing the year on a four game winning streak to finish 10-8 in the Big Ten. I still don't think they'll get in, but they're certainly making things interesting. Barring a magical run from someone in the Big Ten Tournament, the seven Big Ten teams in the field now will probably be the same come Sunday.

Michigan: The Wolverines got to that elusive 10-8 in conference play after a heartbreaking buzzer-beater against Northwestern before setting the nets on fire in Lincoln last night. Let's take a look at how likely that 10-8 mark was as the season progressed:

January 2: 20%
January 9: 16%
January 12: 10%
January 23: 12%
January 27: 22%
February 1: 18%
February 9: 14%
February 12: 24%
February 17: 33%
February 20: 28%
February 27: 52%
March 5: 63%

It's amazing to look back at the team's struggles and think about how unlikely it is that they ended up finishing the way they did. The turnaround has been fun to watch. So now they will certainly be in the tournament, with a game this week against Illinois, a game Kenpom claims Michigan has a 70% chance of winning. If they can win that one, another showdown with conference champion Purdue awaits. The only thing left to play for is seeding, and I think Michigan will be in an 8-9 matchup in the NCAA Tournament unless they can knock off the Boilermakers again. 

Be on the lookout for continued updates throughout the week, before my final projection is made, probably minutes before the actual bracket is revealed. 

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